Cathy Eats Her Words

November 1, 2007

Day One

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 7:16 pm

Cathy Eats Her Words, Chapter One

Euuw, Mom!”

Cathy opened her eyes to see her daughter, Star, and Star’s dad, standing in the bedroom door, both of them scowling at her.

She looked around herself. She was lying naked on the bed. The bed was violently rumpled. Her legs were entangled with those of her husband, Gray, who was just coming out of sleep. Star and Richard stared at her from the doorway. Cathy felt immediate embarrassment. She moved to cover Gray’s nakedness, and then pull the sheet up over herself, but this was unfortunate, because the shifting bedclothes uncovered a variety of well-used sex toys. She glanced over at Star, alarmed. Star rolled her eyes and made gagging noises, then turned away and left the room.

Cathy looked at Gray. “Oh my,” he said mildly. He would have grinned at her, but he could already see she was upset by being discovered in this condition, and he didn’t want her to take his head off.

Cathy looked back toward the door to see her ex standing there, still scowling. “You might have had the decency to cover up before you drifted off to sleep,” he said resentfully, and then he followed Star out of the bedroom.

“Well,” Cathy muttered, “you might have had the decency to knock on the damn front door.” She reminded herself that she needed to get the key back from Star, who had moved back in with her father over a year ago. She cautiously crept out of bed, crossing naked to where she’d dumped her clothes in a corner last night and got dressed, and with a final, almost pleading look at Gray, went out into the kitchen to face the music.

Star was off in the spare bedroom that used to be hers, and was now Cathy’s office. But Richard was sitting at the counter, fuming.

“I can’t believe what I just saw. You’re shameless.”

I’m desirable, she thought, something you’d never notice.

“All those…devices.” His lip curled with distaste. “What happened to plain old normal sex like regular people have?” This was one more piece of evidence that Cathy was abnormal, and he was right to have let her go.

You never even wanted the plain ordinary stuff, she thought angrily, going around the counter to put some coffee on. She said, “I’m sure you didn’t come here to catch me in the warm afterglow of all-consuming passion, right?”

He frowned at the thought. “Maybe that’s your daughter’s problem. She’s got a slut for a role model.”

“Whoa, there. What’s the problem with you?”

“You have no idea how hard it is to raise Star by myself. Since you walked out and left me to handle everything by myself, it’s been…”

Cathy was beginning to get angry. Was he this abusive when she was married to him? And why was he here, first thing in the morning? And why was Star with him? She reached a pair of cups from the shelves, then got a third one for Richard, reluctantly. A chipped one. Then she stood at the counter with her back to him, watching the coffee finish dripping into the pot.

He was going on in a whining tone. “I can’t leave her for three seconds without her getting into trouble. I’ve got to keep everything under lock and key, and I don’t trust her friends even a little bit. They’re a bunch of criminals and psychopaths.”

She looked at him. “Star’s friends are all in high school, at the oldest they’re 22 or so. Maybe they’re just kids, rather than dangerous criminals. Honestly, Richard, you always think the worst of everyone.” She handed him a cup of black coffee, and got out the milk and sugar and made Gray a cup. She was going to escape back into the bedroom to bring him his coffee in private, but he appeared at the door and started making small talk with Richard, who apparently wasn’t going to complain about their sex life to him.

Cathy heard Star moving something heavy in the spare room, and took her coffee with her to investigate. Let Gray keep Richard happy. Maybe her stupid ex would toddle off to work soon, or take Star and go home, or go shopping, or whatever it was that he had her with him for.

She walked into the spare room to see Star shifting the bed sideways on the wall, making more room between the closet and the bed by moving it closer to the laundry area. “What are you doing?” She moved to push the bed back, but Star resisted her. “Did you leave something under the bed when you lived here before? I’m certain I cleaned everything out after you left, and would have given you anything you’d missed.”

Star looked at her like she was an idiot. “I’m moving back in,” she said with dripping scorn. “God knows this is the last place I want to live, but he’s making me.”

Cathy stood in the door, trying to take it in. Moving back? But she was having such fun being alone with Gray all the time. They were like newlyweds. And the last time Star lived there, she was horrible to Gray. They were real newlyweds then, and Star went out of her way to be nasty and mean to him. “You what?” she said.

Star stood looking at her with contempt, and said nothing. Cathy turned and went back to the kitchen. “You were going to discuss dumping Star on my doorstep?” she asked a suddenly sheepish Richard.

He stirred his coffee with an irritating clink of his spoon, pretending to be absorbed in the ripples. “I just can’t handle her anymore. She’s never home, she never calls and tells me where she’s going, she promises the moon and delivers nothing but lies. The girl’s a pathological liar. And her friends…”

She stopped him from repeating everything he’d already said. “I’m talking about why you’re here with Star this early in the morning, and why she’s moving furniture around in my spare room.”

He met her eyes and then looked away. “I told you, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t sleep at night, worrying about where she is and who she’s with. She’s been getting in trouble. My work is suffering. I’m under such a time bind at work, with three projects due and no help, and an asshole boss who won’t listen. I can’t use my wayward, criminal kid as an excuse – they’d fire me.”

She knocked her coffee cup hard against the counter. “This is such bullshit.” She looked at Gray. He was unconcerned, enjoying his coffee, sitting next to Richard who was starting to fidget. Her ex looked as if he wanted to say something else to excuse himself, and she was tired of it. “Let me ask this – how long is she supposed to be staying here? Is this going to be temporary, or is she going to move all her stuff back here and live with us?”

He shrugged. “The car’s packed, outside, and I can bring everything else up a few bags at a time over the next couple of days.” He buried himself in his coffee cup. “You always did make good coffee,” he smiled shyly.

Cathy sneered. I put extra arsenic in your cup, she thought. “Want some more?”

He stood up. “No, thanks. I’ve got to get to work. I’m really late” He nodded in Gray’s direction. “Feel like helping me unload some of her things from the car?”

Gray put his cup down and got up from the counter. “If you can’t take the heat,” he said

Cathy poured herself another cup of coffee and sat at the counter, combing her matted hair with her fingers. Star was busy shifting the furniture in the spare room and she was going to need supervision, but she’d get to that. She wanted to tell Richard to just get in the car and go away, and take his daughter with him. She’d been such a pain in the ass the last time she was here, and had left with such a nasty attitude that Cathy was really surprised to see her back. Apparently her attitude hadn’t changed. She was still a hostile, rebellious, deliberately hurtful teenager.

Cathy signed. She probably deserved it. She remembered how it had been when she was Star’s age. She couldn’t wait to leave her mom’s house. Her mother was stupid and controlling and mean-spirited, and all Cathy wanted was to be free to live her own life. She supposed it was a typical mother-daughter thing, but it the last couple of years of living at home were so painful that it had taken her a very long time to get over it.

Now that she had a daughter the same age, with the same attitude she must have had, it was more amusing than maddening. She and her mother had had fights that could’ve killed. They used to throw mental daggers at each other, and Cathy knew she’d said things that were as mean and hurtful as she could, out of childish pain and rebellious spite. But hearing the same kind of thing come from her daughter, she couldn’t help but remember, and instead of becoming infuriated, like her mom had, she found it funny. Which amused Gray no end, but pissed Star right off.

However, having a ticking time-bomb living in the same house wasn’t pleasant, whether it was funny or not. It was the way she treated Gray that bothered Cathy so much. Star joked about him being old and decrepit. She insisted he was creepy, she sassed him or she ignored him, and no matter what he said she acted like he was speaking a foreign language. It was Gray’s house, and his hospitality, and she never had a kind word to say, not even once. She went out of her way to torment him. Well, she wasn’t going to get away with doing it again.

The men came back in with black plastic garbage bags over their shoulders. Gray hauled a plastic box full of DVDs and CDs, the power cord of a Nintendo unit trailing on the ground behind him. Richard tried to make some joke about Christmas coming early, but Cathy stared at him and the words trailed off. She was sure he was hiding some vital bit of information, but he disappeared as soon as everything was out of the car.

Cathy could see that she was going to spend the rest of the morning moving Star in. Everything Cathy had put into the room when Star moved out was going to have to be taken into the back hall, and Star was already making a big deal about rearranging all the furniture. Nothing Cathy had put in place would be the way Star would want it. She’d tried to make major changes when she’d lived there a year before, so Cathy wasn’t surprised when she started back in with the same demands.

“I really don’t want the washer and dryer in my bedroom,” she insisted.

Cathy was unmoved. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said calmly. “There’s no other place. That’s where the water lines run, so we can’t move it.” Before Star could suggest it, she continued, “We can’t put it in the hall bathroom, either, or in the small bathroom in our bedroom. There’s just no space. It has to stay here.” Star accepted it, gracelessly, and moved on.

“I can’t see that little TV. I want the other one back.” They’d moved the large TV into their bedroom when Star had left. Now they would have to squint across the room to see their programs. No use arguing that the people with the bad eyes and poor hearing should have the bigger, louder TV. Star needed it because she watched more TV than they did. From now on they would be able to hear MTV at all hours of the day and night, oh joy.

“What did you do with my drapes? I need them back. It’s too bright in here.”

Cathy sighed. At least that wasn’t a problem. They’d been laundered and put away in the linen chest a year ago. Cathy liked uncluttered windows; Star liked to live in a cave. Like her father.

Cathy tried a few demands of her own. Theirs was an old house, built over a hundred years ago, way back in the days before air conditioning, when ceiling fans and good circulation kept the house cool. Gray and Cathy had never liked air conditioning, and took advantage of the house’s design to keep it shut off. It had been a bone of contention when Star was here last.

“Don’t try to get us to turn on the A/C,” Cathy began. Star signed dramatically. “And I don’t want you keeping your doors shut all the time. The air won’t flow thru the house like it’s supposed to if you shut them.” She could see that Star wasn’t listening, but she continued anyway. “I don’t want you to have the TV on all day and all night the way you used to. I don’t want you to eat in your room – last time you were here you had old, crusty dishes everywhere, under the bed, in the closet, in your drawers.” Star wasn’t listening. “Do you hear me?” Star turned on the little TV and switched channels until she found a rerun of Law and Order. “I’m talking to you,” Cathy insisted. Star ignored her. She got mad. “Most important of all,” she said harshly as she got up to leave the room before she said something she’d regret. “I don’t want you treating Gray like you used to. He’s a nice man, and he’s bending over backward to have you here. You need to be polite at the very least.” Polite was all she could expect for a start, but it would be a good start if she could get any concessions out of her.

“He won’t notice. He’s old and stupid. Maybe he’ll die.” Star dug into a bag of clothes and dumped them on the floor. Cathy left, furious.

Gray was getting ready to walk the dog. They’d been interrupted before the day had properly begun, and he was going about his business now that Richard had left. Cathy joined him gratefully as he leashed Tabasco and headed out the door.

“Did you lay down the law?” he asked.

She grumbled. “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to stand this.” Cathy took his arm as they ambled up the street, the dog pulling them along. Tabasco was always pulling, and it made Gray’s gait more of a lurch. Cathy’s arm thru his stabilized him somewhat, so they walked that way a lot.

“You’ll be okay,” he said. Gray never got upset. Things that drove Cathy nuts just amused him.

She looked sideways at him. “You probably find all this funny,” she said, “the way Richard just carted her up here and dumped her on us.”

She saw he was smiling. “I’m thinking that your ex-husband was no match for the two of you.”

It was true. Richard’s whole mission in life was to be left alone. That’s why he was a computer programmer. Coding was far easier than dealing with people. If Cathy and Star had acted logically, he could have figured them out. If they had gremlins, he could just reboot them or run a virus scan, and they’d behave. But they changed and grew, and they had demands, and he couldn’t control them with an on/off switch, and so he gradually grew allergic to them. And after a few years of being ignored like a piece of hardware with a glitch, Cathy got tired of it, and left. And now he was having the same problem with his little girl who used to be her daddy’s pawn in the fight against Cathy.

Tabasco stopped with his nose in a bush, smelling rapturously. Gray stopped to indulge him. Cathy turned to him. “It’s just that she hasn’t changed any. She’s still the nasty piece of work she was when she left here the last time.”

He smiled and jerked on the dog’s chain to make him leave off sniffing. The dog looked disappointed, and stuck his head right back in the leaves. “She’s just acting like a teenager. You should enjoy it, because it won’t last long.” Gray jerked him again.

She thought about it. “It’s just that she’s so mean to you. I can’t stand the rudeness. She owes you the roof over her head, and she’s not grateful at all.”

Cathy felt grateful enough for the both of them, he thought. He hated seeing her getting all worked up over her daughter. “She’s not such a bother, really.” He tugged at Tabasco again, who was now sniffing the side of a wall. He peed on it and moved off. “She’s just a kid, and she’s going to cause herself more grief than she could ever cause you or me.”

“Maybe you’re right,” she said doubtfully.

They paused to untangle Tabasco from around a phone pole. “Stupid dog,” she muttered.

You’re letting your daughter manipulate you, the dog thought, looking back at her. Who’s the stupid one? He pulled them along again, trying to reach the tire of the car up ahead.

Cathy snuggled closer to Gray and together they resisted Tabasco’s pull. “At least we got some fun in before they interrupted us,” she said, her had slipping down to cup his bottom. He smiled slyly at her. “I really enjoyed what you were doing to me near the end.”

He chuckled. “I really don’t remember what I was doing. I hope you don’t want an exact repetition the next time.”

“You can use your discretion,” she whispered, stopping in the street to nibble at his earlobe. Tabasco lunged forward at a passing cat, and the moment was over.

Cathy spent most of the afternoon moving the computer. A year ago, when Star left to go live with her dad, she had spent several days turning the spare bedroom into an office. She’d put the computer in, with all its cables running under the carpet, she’d moved the bed out of the way and put in her sewing machine, she’d had Gray build her a sewing table so she could piece her quilts standing up, she’d moved the TV into their bedroom, she’d taken down the drapes and opened up the laundry area. And now she had to undo every change she’d made. Just recabling the computer into the back hall would take until dinner. If she did it right. If not, it would take days to get the computer working again, and maybe she’d even have to call her ex to come do it for her and berate her for her sloppiness.

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, Cathy decided what to have for dinner. She and Gray ate a lot of fish, so she reached into the freezer and got out a pair of salmon filets and put them into water to defrost.

She asked Star what she wanted for dinner, and was told that Star wasn’t eating. “I’m probably not going to be here for dinner,” she said cryptically. Cathy left it at that.

Star was talking on the phone while she was setting up her own computer on Cathy’s desk. She’d been on the phone constantly since she’d been there. Maybe she would have one of her friends come get her and take her out to eat at Taco Bell, Cathy thought, and went back to work. It occurred to her that Star didn’t have her car that Richard had bought for her. She wondered what had happened to it, but didn’t feel like enduring whatever scathing remark Star would make to punish her for asking.

The phone rang, and of course Star picked it up. Cathy could hear her talking. She sounded very unfriendly. Wonder who it is, Cathy thought, and was surprised when Star yelled, “Mom,” from her bedroom, instead of coming to the hall to inform her. That’s rude, she thought, putting everything down carefully, hoping she would remember which cable went where when she came back.

It was her mom. Mom lived in another state, thank God, and they mainly talked on the phone. It was just as well. Mom was a pain in the ass whenever her visits lasted longer than two days. “Hi, Mom,” she said as cheerily as she could manage.

“What’s wrong?” Mom was never fooled. She was a suspicious creature, and always assumed the worst of everybody. Especially her children.

“Nothing,” Cathy persisted in pretending. “Nothing. Star’s here,” she started, wondering what she was going to say.

“I noticed,” she said dryly. “She was terribly rude to me just now. I just asked her how she was and she cut me off.”

“Oh, she’s just here visiting,” Cathy said. “She’s getting ready to leave and she was waiting for a call from one of her friends.”

Mom didn’t sound convinced, but she was hooked by Star’s rudeness. “She would be a much nicer girl if you two had taught her manners when she was young. When I think of the way her father has always treated me, it’s no wonder Star sounds like she hates me.” She was starting to sound pitiful. Richard hated her, it was true, but she hated him, too, so Cathy had always just stepped aside and let them at each other.

“Yes, Mom,” Cathy said weakly. “She doesn’t hate you. She’s just stressed out.”

“By what?” Mom demanded. “She’s just a child. What kind of stress could she be under?”

Obviously, Mom had forgotten just how stressful being a teenager was. “I think she’s had a fight with her dad,” she said, hoping Mom wouldn’t pick up on the implications and start digging. She wished she knew, but she would never tell her mom.

“Maybe she’s got more sense than I give her credit for,” Mom said sourly.

Cathy spent another few minutes misdirecting her mother, and then made an excuse to get off the phone, with a few feeble “I love yous” and “Call you soons.” Then she stormed in on Star. “Damn it, girl, I won’t have you treating the people I love with so much contempt.”

Star looked a little surprised at her anger, but went for a contemptuous look after that. “So what? They don’t mean anything to me. I wish you all would just go away and leave me alone.”

“Wow,” Cathy said. “You sound just like your father.” She left Star there, looking highly offended, and went back to recabling her computer.

Later she called her friend Miranda, and told her that Richard had sent Star back to live with them. Miranda was well versed in the details from the last time Star had lived with them, and wasn’t at all surprised to hear that she hadn’t changed her attitude at all.

“It’s going to be hell on you until she grows up,” she predicted.

“From what I gather, she’s not planning on staying long,” Cathy replied. “She said something about this being temporary, and gave me to believe she’s making other plans. She won’t let me hear any of her telephone conversations, but she keeps looking at me with victory in her eyes. I know she’s up to something.” She sighed.. “I’m not sure I can deal with this very long.”

“Well,” her friend said, “maybe you won’t have to. Maybe whatever fight they were having will blow over. If you keep making her follow your rules, she’ll be aching to leave again as soon as her dad backs off whatever is bothering him. You know the two of them never stay mad at each other very long.”

“I don’t know.” Cathy would rather look at the dim side. “She just might decide she can flaunt our rules and wheedle money and favors out of Gray. If she has a free ride, she might decide she can put up with unmet demands and feeble protests.”

“Give yourself a break. She’s a child, she’ll do what you expect her to do. You don’t have to let her win before the battle’s even started.”

“Yeah, but I’m tired. I’m not sure I can fight back. And she loves treating us like shit.”

Miranda could tell she wasn’t going to be able to change Cathy’s mind. “It’s early days yet. Try to stay calm and see what happens.”

“Someone’s going to end up in the hospital if it goes on like it’s started,” Cathy warned.

go to tomorrow’s writing

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