Cathy Eats Her Words

November 2, 2007

Day Two

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 5:22 pm

Star settled in, complaining bitterly about how hot it was in the house. Cathy and Gray were comfortable, tho the temperature was probably ten or fifteen degrees above what Star expected in these days of air conditioning. But the summer was almost over, and it was actually almost cool at night. And in their house, the ceiling fan was king. Cathy offered to get Star a small fan to keep by the side of her bed to cool off with, but this offer was indignantly rejected.

Star complained about Cathy wanting to do laundry in her room. She complained about the couple’s habit of not shutting the bathroom door when they were using it. She complained even more about their decision to leave their bedroom door open to catch the breeze. She complained about the fish they had for dinner, walking thru the kitchen on her way to the bathroom, holding her nose and grimacing. She complained that there was no food in the house, even tho the pantry was stocked and the freezer was full to bursting.

Star wanted to eat frozen dinners, she wanted to eat things that came in a box, she wanted to go out to eat, she wanted to order delivery, and she blamed Cathy for having food sensitivities. Cathy cooked all her own food, from scratch, and Star didn’t want to eat anything that wasn’t processed. So at first she wouldn’t eat.

Whenever Cathy or Gray went to the store, she would appear from her room and thrust a hastily scribbled list into their hands. At the store, it was always a guess what brand of frozen dinner she wanted, what kind of yogurt, what kind of bread. Her list was always incomplete, as if they would understand the shorthand she used. Yogurt, Bread, Cheese, Froz actually meant Yo-plait strawberry and banana, Sunbeam white, shredded mozarella, and Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese. But they didn’t know, and she would give them hell when they came back from the grocery with the wrong things.

Star’s daily routine rapidly became fixed. Get up around noon and turn the TV up, venture out to the kitchen for the specially sweet cereal she had them buy, leaving the box and the milk out, the cabinets and drawers open, the empty bowl lying on the counter. Then she’d spend the afternoon in her room, watching TV or sitting on the computer playing the Sims.

Oh yes, and on the phone all the time. Cathy and Gray soon stopped reaching for the phone when it rang, because she picked it up on the first ring. And the phone was always for her. Cathy suspected that she hung up on people who had the gall to want to speak to her or Gray.

Star never ate dinner with them, but always came out silently and took her plate back to her room, the very picture of non-violent protest. Cathy would find the plate sometime the next day, or the day after, half-eaten, everything glued to the surface. And no matter how often she told Star not to eat in her room, or at the very least to put her dishes in the sink, she was always ignored.

Cathy and Gray went to bed around nine, which was when Star was at her most energetic. She would take a bath and spend an hour or two in the bathroom, they could hear her talking on the phone thru the wall. And then Cathy would hear the TV whenever she got up to pee at night; some silly reality show, Law and Order, a DVD.

Once in a while she would venture into Star’s room to find her asleep, and surreptitiously turn the TV off, especially when the show was violent. The gunfire and screaming always disturbed her on the other side of the house, and she thought it must also disturb Star, who gave no sign of it, and resented it volubly whenever she woke up to discover her television off.

Star left the phone hidden in her bedclothes, so that whenever it rang and Star was in the bathroom or sitting on the front porch, smoking, or off with her friends, it was impossible to find before it quit ringing. What made Cathy particularly irritated was the fact that the phone was likely to ring at all hours of the night – just once, if Star was awake and expecting a call, but repeatedly if she was asleep. It always woke Cathy up, and she usually had trouble getting back to sleep after that. But Star refused to limit her phone calls, and they couldn’t take the phone out of her room because that’s where it was wired. They did discuss getting a cordless phone and confiscating that at night, but they knew Star would raise hell, and keep raising hell until she got her way. Even after a few days of Star, Cathy was exhausted by the effort to live a normal life.

Richard had never discussed the real reasons for turning Star over to her mother’s care. He made it clear that she was driving him crazy, but he never said why. Cathy soon understood. She was secretive. They never knew who she was talking to on the phone, and when one of her friends came by to pick her up, she was gone until she came back. It could be several hours, it could be a day, or two days, or three, and they wouldn’t hear a thing from her, and wouldn’t know where she was or who she was with. She refused to answer any questions, and became huffy every time Cathy tried to get any information out of her.

As the days passed, Cathy found several more reasons why Richard wouldn’t have wanted her around. She began to notice that her things were being rifled. Someone was going thru her drawers, and Gray’s, and she noticed that one of their hiding places had been tampered with. She never found anything missing, but she was concerned. After considering using the space where they kept their sex toys as a hiding place, she decided to ask Gray to move the valuables downstairs to his workshop. It gave her a creepy feeling to have her things gone thru, even by her own daughter. It was like harboring a thief.

Her friends weren’t sterling, either. Star brought home a bunch of guy friends who looked like they’d spent time in juvenile detention. They were all scruffy, most of them had badly executed tattoos, expensive jewelry, gold teeth, and they all made gangster rapper motions with their hands and used slang neither of them could understand. The girls Star went around with looked like teenaged hookers on crack, slovenly, skimpily dressed, with too much makeup on and no manners.

Worst of all, Star had gotten in trouble with the law. She’d gotten a speeding ticket. Her dad had gotten her a lawyer, and they were going to fight it, tho why they didn’t just pay the ticket, Cathy was at a loss to understand. Richard had stopped letting her borrow his car. No wonder Richard dumped her. He hated dependence. Well, Cathy hated it too, because she flatly refused to drive their stick-shift battered old truck, so every time she wanted something, she wheedled and begged Gray to go get it for her, or tried to get Cathy to take her. And since she had no money and wouldn’t get a job, she expected them to pay for it, as well. Cathy started suggesting that Star get a job around the corner at the garden center, or the convenience store, or at one of the restaurants a block or two away, close enough to walk to. But Star stared her down each time, and continued her habit of only getting up after noon. Cathy supposed she was depressed, and felt vaguely sorry for her, but cautioned Gray not to give her any money, all the same.

Cathy wanted to meet the kids Star hung out with. She felt she could tell what Star was up to, maybe a little, if she knew enough about her friends to make judgments. When she described them to Miranda, she was disappointed. Cathy was looking for confirmation of her worst fears, and Miranda acted like all teenagers dressed and acted like they did. For all they knew, Star’s friends could be upstanding, grade-A students and college hopefuls. But Cathy feared that they were all druggies heading for jail and rehab. When asked, they all aspired to college, and they all wanted to be doctors or social workers, lawyers or career soldiers, but Cathy strongly suspected they were just telling her what they figured she wanted to hear.

Except for two of Star’s friends. Greane and Saphyr. Greane was eight months pregnant, very redneck, and freely admitted to once having been a methamphetamine dealer. Her friend Saphyr was proud of being a witch, and said she was pregnant, too, but it was early and she wasn’t showing yet. They didn’t say anything Cathy wanted to hear. They were the girls who usually came to pick Star up, now that she had no license, and they acted like they lived there, too, coming into the house without knocking, hanging out in Cathy’s kitchen eating whatever they found in the fridge, and leaving with Star in tow without any mention of where they were going or when they’d be back.

Except when they were lying. Cathy soon realized that whenever they did say where they were going or when they’d return, they were making it up to mollify her. It was an inverse proportion kind of thing. If they said nothing, they might return Star that day. But if they said they were going shopping and would be back in a couple of hours, Cathy finally figured out that they wouldn’t be back for days, and never with anything they could have conceivably bought.

Star had a boyfriend. Cathy knew this only because she would get calls from him in the middle of the night. And all day long. Whenever it was the boyfriend on the phone, Star would start primping, twiddling her hair with a finger, pulling her shirt tightly down over her breasts, standing in the bathroom staring at herself in the mirror or walking back and forth in the front room with an exaggerated sway in her hips. And she would always answer, “No-one,” when Cathy asked her who was that just now on the phone.

But that was all she knew about him until Greane and Saphyr mentioned him. His name was Spike, and he was a dangerous man. Great, Cathy thought, wondering what he did for a living and if she was ever going to meet him.

So she started pressuring Star to invite him to dinner. And surprisingly, once the invitation had been relayed to him, he said he’d be glad to. Cathy was bowled over. It appeared that he was being polite, and responsive, and wanting to do the right thing and meet Star’s parents despite all that Star could do to dissuade him.

Spike turned out to be the real reason Richard didn’t want Star living with him. “The boy’s a criminal,” he stated on the phone when Cathy raised the subject.

“Oh, don’t start on that again. Not all Star’s friends are criminals.”

“Don’t be fooled. They are all criminals.”

Cathy got impatient. “Okay, I don’t want to hear about it. What else do you know about this Spike person?”

He snorted. “I won’t let him on the property. One look and I could tell he was a drug dealer. If he got inside the house and saw the things I have laying around, I’d be robbed the next day.”

“Oh, really?” Cathy couldn’t believe anything he was saying. “Do you know anything factual about him?”

“Star says he’s a bounty hunter.”

Visions of Dog, Bounty Hunter drove thru her mind in an SUV. She saw a big, burly guy wearing studded leather, with heavy jewelry and long flowing hair, pistols on his belt and wearing alligator boots. Looking like a wrestler. Great. My girl and the badguy.

“Well, I’ve invited him to dinner, so I guess I’ll have to form my own judgments.”

Richard sneered, “I’m sure he’ll turn out to be a fine, upstanding young man. Just don’t turn your back on him.”

In fact, he turned out to be a polite, thoughtful young man of about 24. But physically he was nothing like she’d pictured him. Spike was tall and gangly, with army-short hair and ribs you could see. She could see his ribs because when he entered the house, he went immediately back to Star’s bedroom to take off his weapons. She walked back, trailing behind them, and saw him with his shirt off, sporting several shoulder holsters and a gun stuck into the back of his waistband. “Guns?” she said, alarmed. “What are you doing with those?”

He smiled proudly. “It’s my job,” he said, hurriedly putting them out of the way when he saw her expression.

Cathy was very close to saying “No guns in my house,” but she didn’t even want to know whether they were loaded, so she just avoided the subject. It wasn’t like he could leave his guns in the car, after all. They lived in the city, and he was from the suburbs, and Star had already mentioned that he was afraid of getting broken into while he was inside having dinner. So she just frowned and went back into the kitchen.

During dinner, Cathy found young Spike a strange mixture. He was as polite as could be, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” every time he was spoken to. And Star evidently adored him. She hardly ate for looking up at him. She didn’t say a word, but she also didn’t treat Gray with the contempt she always showed, and she didn’t sass Cathy once. That was something.

Gray was asking him about his work. “And what do the police think about what you do?”

Spike laughed. “Oh, the cops think I’m a scumbag just like the people I bail out of jail. They hate me.” He sounded like it was an achievement.

Gray looked up from his chicken. “So you bail people out of jail? How interesting. What does it cost them to get bailed out?”

“Whatever I feel like charging them.”

Cathy didn’t like the sound of that. “You mean there’s no standard charge for bailing someone out?”

He shrugged. “Well, it’s usually ten percent of whatever the judge sets as bail. But if it’s the middle of the night, or I don’t like how they sound when they call up, then I can charge them whatever I want to.”

Star spoke up enthusiastically. “If they’re from up around here, he charges double.” She looked at her mom as if she’d just proved that she was indeed being forced to live in the most dangerous neighborhood in the country.

Oh, I’m scared, Cathy thought. She knew, from when she was living with Star’s father, that more crazy shit went on in the suburbs, where nobody was on their guard, than in a city where people are aware of their surroundings. But try telling that to these two. Spike evidently thought they were in constant danger, and must have brought his guns inside to protect them. Yeah.

Cathy ate her sweet potatoes, watching Star and Spike. They were sitting at the table, touching, Spike was looking confident, and Star was hanging on every word, her eyes bright and wide. Cathy thought she was swaying a little bit as she sat there, like a mongoose mesmerized by a snake. She didn’t seem to have much of an appetite, but then she never saw her actually eat anything, normally.

Spike was telling tales of a capture he’d made, some horrible gangster rapper who lived just a mile from where they were sitting now, and was charged with DUI and possession; how he’d skipped his court date and Spike had traced him up here holding a bench warrant. Cathy knew the neighborhood.

She heard him say, “Staked out the block for two days,” like nobody in that area would notice a white boy in an F350. “Observed the dude make numerous drug deals right on the street.” Cathy could actually believe that; the street was filled with crack houses. “Sucker even tried to sell me some. That’s when I showed him my gun. He dropped to the ground right in front of me, and I had him in cuffs in two seconds.”

That was too much. “I thought drug dealers carried guns,” Cathy said. “I thought shootouts were common.” Cops with flashing lights and backup certainly were on that street.

“He was so overwhelmed by my badass appearance, beg your pardon, ma’am, that he shook in his Nikes. Cried like a pu-, a baby while I rode him back to jail.” Star looked at him – my hero. Cathy glanced at Gray, who was smiling to himself as he speared his beans.

The evening went on, Spike’s tales of bravery and danger getting taller by the moment. When Cathy served them apple pie on the front porch, Spike began to look nervous. Cathy and Gray spent many evenings on the front porch, waving at the passers-by. Spike asked them if they weren’t afraid somebody with evil intent would come up on the porch and try to rob them. They looked at each other. It would never occur to them. But Spike was sure they were in danger.

“I could get you a pit bull,” he offered. “I raise pit bulls, and there’s no better guard dog.” Tabasco whined his indignation from behind the screen door. Gray declined.

“You should keep a gun in the glider there with you,” he continued. “You never know when you’ll need it.” Cathy assumed he had a spare one he could give them, but he didn’t offer.

“I don’t like guns in my house,” she said flatly. Spike didn’t seem to notice that she meant his guns. Guns must be like toothbrushes to him.

When he got up to go a few minutes later, Star left with him. He went on and on about how good the meal was, and how nice it was to meet them, and then left as fast as he could get his guns out of the back room. “I’ll have her back before midnight,” he promised as he went, and Star gave an evil grin. Cathy knew they wouldn’t be back, and locked the door for the night.

A week went by, maybe two. Star continued to be uncooperative; downright nasty whenever she felt crossed. She borrowed money from Gray to buy cigarettes, she slept all day and watched TV all night, she ate all the wrong food, she went out with her friends and didn’t come back.

For all Star’s isolation, Cathy found that she had much less time to herself. She would have thought that Star sleeping all day would leave her loads of time to do her research and write her blog (, work in the garden, go for dog walks, have sexy moments with Gray.

But she didn’t have any time. Every time she and Gray got up to spreading good feelings between them, Star would wander out of her room to use the bathroom and catch them at it. When Cathy was in the garden, Star would pound on the upstairs window for her to come in and make her something to eat because she couldn’t cook. When she was on the computer in the back hall, Star would insist that her internet connection was down and that she had to get online for something right that minute. It was like Star had radar. But she was never nice about it, never sweet, never the loving daughter that Cathy had raised. She was like a demon in her child’s skin, always picking the opportune moment to torture her.

It must be payback for what I did to my mom, Cathy thought. She began calling Mom up at odd hours just to apologize for how she’d treated her when she was a teenager. Mom was always suspicious. “Are you trying to run a guilt trip on me?” she said after the third time.

Cathy was confused. “No, I’m just reminded what a stinker I was when I was young, and think it’s about time you heard me say I’m sorry.”

Mom was not mollified. “Well, I think it’s bad grace for you to be bringing it up now. It’d be one thing if you were apologizing for the rudeness of your child or her father, and better yet if they’d do it. But it was too many years ago for you to be saying you’re sorry now. Why are you really calling me?”

Oops. “Uh, I guess I’m just being reminded how bad kids can get.” She tried to be vague.

“What’s Star done now?”

“Oh, nothing,” she said lightly. “She’s just unthinkingly rude sometimes. It’s like she goes out of her way to be nasty.” Cathy did not want to tell her mom how Star was being nasty. Mom would undoubtedly blame her behavior on either her own methods of child raising, or her having married that jerk Richard.

Mom gave a harsh laugh. “She can’t be anything like as horrible as you were.”

“That’s why I was calling to say how sorry I was that I treated you that way.”

“Well, it’s about time you said you were sorry.”

“Yeah.” Cathy got off the phone feeling defeated. Her mom twisted everything she said, and it made her mad. She ended up sorry that she’d called up to say she was sorry.

Cathy was getting more and more unhappy. She didn’t notice, but Gray did. She was spiritless on the dog walk, and lethargic in bed. She didn’t even try to grope him when she squeezed past him in the kitchen, and Cathy was notable for her insistent libido. Gray missed it. She was starting to seem twenty years older than she was, which would put her at the same age as him. He wasn’t sure he liked it.

She took to venting her frustration when they were out walking the dog. It was the only time when they were alone and there was no possibility that Star would interrupt them. They always went around two blocks, the same direction, three times a day. Mostly they were alone on the street, but sometimes they passed joggers or people out walking their own dogs. It was their time to talk over their day, to share what they’d been thinking about, to warm up to each other before separating again to accomplish whatever they had on their agenda. And at the last dog walk of the day, it was like foreplay. Except now that Star was living with them.

“I don’t know how much longer I can go on making two sets of dinners,” she said as they rounded a corner and stopped to let Tabasco sniff and pee. “She won’t eat the food I cook for us, and I can’t eat the food she wants for herself, and I’m frankly tired of nuking cans of this and frozen packages of that. Have I shown you the ingredients list on those packages? They’re full of chemicals and poisons.” Gray listened sympathetically, squeezing her hand, and then jerked Tabasco out of a bush he’d jumped into.

“And she’s getting you to buy her cigarettes for her. I wish you’d stop doing that. It makes me sick thinking that you’re paying for her drugs while she sits in her room all day doing absolutely nothing to pay you back.” He mumbled something about not supporting her bad habits, but Cathy wasn’t convinced, because he was such a soft touch he would give money to the neighborhood homeless guy who made no secret of using it all for crack.

“What I really can’t stand is how she never leaves us time to be alone together. It’s like she’s got a microphone in our room and can tell whenever we start to make love.” She tugged on his arm as he walked, throwing him off balance as Tabasco tugged on his other arm. He veered into a low-hanging branch and scraped his head. Cathy didn’t notice. “She’s such a burden. I wish she would move back in with her father.”

Gray said, “You know, we could go downstairs and make love. I’ve got a folding bed. She never comes downstairs.” The dog thought this was a wonderful idea. He spent a lot of time downstairs, and would love the company. Maybe he could help. He wagged his tail hopefully and jumped up onto Cathy’s chest.

She pushed him of and swatted at his head, missing. “She’d be downstairs in a moment if we tried something like that. But you’re right.” She stopped and looked at him. “I guess I just don’t feel sexy with her in the house. I’m always scared she’s going to catch us at it, and I guess I’m too bothered by how she’s acting to feel like doing anything amorous.”

He smiled gently. “I know. When you’re feeling better, maybe we can start up again.”

And she tried, the next morning. Gray got up early and brought coffee back to bed with him, and they sat in bed talking and sipping coffee while they woke up. He grinned at Cathy as she stuck her hand under the covers and grabbed him, and they kissed and cuddled and stroked each other gently. After a short while things got more urgent, and Cathy was just flipping the covers back to go down on him when Star came staggering thru the room to use their bathroom, covering her eyes so she wouldn’t see Gray’s nakedness. Cathy threw the covers back over them and reached for her coffee, feeling guilty. She knew damn well that later on Star would tell her sternly that old people shouldn’t have sex. And Cathy would feel that somehow she was right. Star wins again.

Gray began spending more time in the workshop downstairs. Cathy began spending more time in the garden, out of sight of the windows. She began to be short-tempered, with Star, Gray and even the dog. She stopped doing her research and slowed down making blog entries about the poisoning of America, but she became angrier about the wrongdoings of the food industry, and would go on at length about it whenever Star mentioned something she wanted to eat. The cost, the lack of nutrition, the artificial additives. Star would roll her eyes and ignore her.

But Cathy felt like she was throwing it in her face. The one passion Cathy had, besides sex with Gray, was with the state of food in today’s society. Her blog was all about how horrible the food industry was screwing things up, and there was Star, the poster child for processed food. She began to resent Star, and think of her as being responsible for all the misery in her life.

Because she was miserable. She wasn’t sleeping well, she wasn’t enjoying her food, Star was treating her like a neurotic old lady, and she wasn’t getting any sex. It couldn’t get much worse.

go to tomorrow’s writing


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