"It's Deliverance," Tully said, giving a weak smile as she reached for the door handle.
They all got out at once, moving forward in formation: Tully in the lead, advancing with false confidence; Fat Bob beside or in front of her, capturing every instant on tape; and Johnny behind them, holding Marah's hand, reminding her to keep quiet.
Tully went up to the front door and knocked.
No one answered.
She tried to listen for footsteps, but the barking dogs made that impossible.
She knocked again, and was just about to give in to relief and say, No luck! when the door swung open to reveal a huge, straggly-haired man in boxer shorts. A tattoo of a woman in a hula skirt covered the left half of his swollen, hairy belly.
"Yeah?" he said, scratching his underarm.
"I'm here to see Cloud."
He cocked his head to the right and stepped out of the trailer, moving past her, going toward his dogs.
Tully's eyes watered at the smell that came from the mobile home. She wanted to turn to the camera and say something witty, but she couldn't even swallow, she was so nervous. Inside, she found piles of junk and old food containers. There were flies everywhere and pizza boxes full of leftover crusts. But mostly what she saw were empty booze bottles and a bong. A huge pile of pot lay on the kitchen table.
Tully didn't point it out or make a comment.
Fat Bob mirrored every step, filmed her journey through this mobile home hell.
She went to the closed door behind the kitchen, knocked, and opened it, revealing the grossest bathroom of all time. She slammed the door shut and went to the next door. There, she knocked twice and then turned the knob. The bedroom was small, made smaller by the piles of clothes everywhere. Three empty half-gallon Monarch Gin bottles lined the bedside table.
Her mother lay curled in the fetal position on the unmade bed, with a ragged blue blanket wrapped around her body.
Tully bent close, noticing now how grayed and wrinkled her mother's skin had become. "Cloud?" She said the name three or four times, and got no response at all. Finally she reached out, touched her mother's shoulder, gently at first and then not so gently. "Cloud?"
Fat Bob got into position, pointed the camera at the woman in bed.
Slowly, her mother opened her eyes. It took her a long time to focus; she had a vague, vacant look. "Tallulah?"
"Tully," she said as if just remembering the nickname her daughter preferred. "What are you doing here? And who the hell is that guy with the camera?"
"I'm here looking for you."
Cloud sat up slowly, reaching into her dirty pocket for a cigarette. When she lit up, Tully noticed how palsied her mother's hand was. It took three tries to touch the tip to the flame. "I thought you were in New York, getting rich and famous." She glanced nervously at the camera.
"I'm both," Tully said, unable to squelch the pride in her voice. She hated it that still, after all the disappointments, she craved this woman's admiration. "How long have you been living here?"
"What do you care? You live in some fancy place while I'm rotting away."
Tully looked at her mother, noticing the wild, unkempt hair now threaded with gray; the baggy, stained cargo pants with the ragged, torn hem; the worn flannel shirt that was buttoned wrong. And her face. Lined, dirty, and grayed from cigarettes and alcohol and a life poorly lived. Cloud was barely sixty and she looked fifteen years older. The fragile beauty of her youth was gone now, scrubbed away by harsh excess. "You can't want this, Cloud. Even you . . ."
"Even me, huh? Why did you come looking for me, Tully?"
"You're my mother."
"We both know better than that," Cloud cleared her throat and looked away. "I need to get away from here. Maybe I could stay with you for a few days. Take a bath. Eat something."
Tully hated the tiny lurch of emotion that followed those words. She had waited a lifetime for her mother to want to come home with her, but she knew how dangerous a moment like this could be. "Okay."
"Really?" The disbelief on Cloud's face revealed how little faith they had in each other.
"Really." And for an instant, Tully forgot the camera was even there. She dared to imagine the impossible: that they could become mother and daughter instead of strangers. "Come on, Cloud. Let me help you to the car."
Tully knew she shouldn't believe in the possibility of forging a connection with her mother, but the idea created a dizzying cocktail of hope that, once drunk, made her light-headed. Maybe she could finally have a family of her own.
The camera caught it all: Tully's hope and fear and need. On the long drive home, while Cloud slept slumped in the corner, Tully spilled her heart to the lens. She answered Johnny's questions with an unprecedented honesty, revealing at last how wounded she'd been by her distant mother.
Now, though, Tully added a new word.
For as long as she'd known her mother, Cloud had been hooked on drugs or booze or both.
The more Tully thought about that, the more it seemed like the cause of their problems.
If she could get her mom into rehab and help her through the program, maybe they could make a new start. So sure of this was she that she called her boss at CBS and asked for more time off so that she could be a good daughter and help her broken mother heal.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Johnny asked when she got off the phone.
They were in the sitting room of the luxurious Cascade Suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. By the window, Fat Bob sat in an overstuffed chair, capturing this whole conversation on tape. Cameras and equipment covered most of the floor; huge lights created a staging area along the couch. Marah lay curled catlike in an overstuffed chair, reading a book.
"She needs me," Tully said simply.
Johnny shrugged and said nothing more, just looked at her.
"Well." She stood up, stretching. "I think I'll hit the sack." To Fat Bob, she said, "That's it for the night. Go get a good night's sleep. We'll start again at eight."
Fat Bob nodded, packed up his gear, and headed to his room down the hall.
"Can I sleep with Aunt Tully?" Marah said, letting her book fall to the floor.
"It's okay with me," Johnny said, "if Tully doesn't mind."
"Are you kidding? A slumber party with my favorite goddaughter is a perfect end to the day."
After Johnny went to his own room, Tully played mommy to Marah—telling her to brush her teeth and wash her face and get into her jammies.
"I'm too old for jammies," Marah informed her smartly, but when she climbed into bed, she snuggled up to Tully like the little girl she'd been only a few short years ago.
"This was so awesome, Aunt Tully," she said sleepily. "I'm going to be a TV star, too, when I grow up."
"I don't doubt it."
"If my mom lets me, which she probably won't."
"What do you mean?"
"My mom won't let me do anything."
"You do know that your mom is my best friend, right?"
"Yeah," she answered grudgingly.
"Why do you think that is?"
Marah twisted around and looked at her. "Why?"
"Because your mom rocks."
Marah made a face. "My mom? She never does anything cool."
Tully shook her head. "Marah, your mother loves you no matter what and she's proud of you. Believe me, princess, that's the coolest thing in the world."
The next morning Tully got up early and went to the bedroom door across the hall. There, she paused, gathering her nerve, and knocked. When no one answered, she quietly opened it.
Her mother was still asleep.
Smiling, she left the suite and closed the door quietly behind her. At Johnny's door, she paused and knocked.
He answered quickly, dressed in one of the hotel's robes, his hair dripping wet. "I thought we were starting at eight."
"We are. I'm just going to get Cloud some clothes to take to rehab and some breakfast for all of us. Marah's still asleep."
Johnny frowned. "You're moving awfully fast, Tully. The stores aren't open yet."
"I've always been fast. You know that, Johnny. And everything is open for Tallulah Hart. It's one of the perks of my life. You have a key to my room?"
"Yeah. I'll go over there now. You be careful."
Ignoring his concern, she went to the Public Market and stocked up on croissants, beignets, and cinnamon rolls. Cloud needed to pack on a few pounds. Then she went to La Dolce, where she bought her mother jeans, tops, shoes, underwear and bras, as well as the thickest jacket she could find. She was back at the hotel by nine.
"I'm home," she called out, kicking the door shut behind her. "And wait till you see what I've got." She draped the garment bags over the sofa and set the bags on the floor.
At the small table in the sitting room, she began setting out the rolls and beignets.
Fat Bob was in the corner, shooting her entrance.
She gave him her best smile. "My mother needs to put on a few pounds. This should do it. I got practically every coffee Starbucks sells. I don't know what she likes."
Johnny sat on the sofa, looking tired.
"It's like a morgue in here." Tully went to her mother's door and knocked. "Cloud?"
There was no answer.
She knocked again. "Cloud? Are you in the shower? I'm coming in."
She opened the door.
The first thing she noticed was the smell of cigarettes and the open window. The bed was empty.
"Cloud?" She went to the bathroom, which was still damp and cloudy with steam. Thick Egyptian cotton towels lay in a heap on the floor. The washrag and hand towel were stained with dirt and lying in the sink.
Tully backed slowly out of the steamy bathroom and faced Johnny and the camera. "She left?"
"A half an hour ago," he said. "I tried to stop her."
Tully was stunned by how betrayed she felt, like that ten-year-old girl again, abandoned on the Seattle street. Worthless and unwanted.
Johnny came over to her, took her in his arms, and held her. She wanted to ask him why, ask what was wrong with her that no one ever stayed, but the question caught in her throat. She clung to him for too long, taking the comfort he offered. He stroked her head, whispered, Shhh, in her ear as if she were a child.
In time, though, she remembered where she was and pulled back, forcing a smile for the camera. "Well, there it is. The end of the documentary. I'm done, Bob." Sidestepping Johnny, she went back into her room, where she heard Marah singing in the shower. Tears stung her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. Her mother wouldn't break her again. She'd been a fool to even think there could be a different ending than this one.
Then she noticed the empty nightstand beside her. "The bitch stole my jewelry."
She closed her eyes and sat on the end of the bed. Pulling a cell phone out of her pocket, she hit Kate's number and listened to the ringing. When her friend answered, Tully didn't even bother with hello. "There's something wrong with me, Katie," she said quietly, her voice trembling.
"She ditched you?"
"Like a thief in the night."
"Tallulah Rose Hart, you listen to me right now. You are going to hang up the phone and get down to the ferry right now. I'll take care of you. Got it? And bring my family with you."