Cathy Eats Her Words

November 5, 2007

Day Three

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 6:52 pm

Chapter Two

When you’re in your golden years, life is supposed to be quiet and peaceful. There’s supposed to be a gentle glow over everything. Having to make a living is no longer so pressing, supporting the kids is no longer an issue. Your time can be devoted to doing all the things you didn’t have time for when the you were swamped with responsibility and burdens.

When the kids move back in, it all gets snatched out of your hands. Suddenly you’re short of money again due to factors beyond your control. Suddenly there’s no peace in the house, and your time is not your own. Things get moved unexpectedly, activities are interrupted by thoughtless demands, your wishes are no longer important, and your pastimes are optional. You become sleep deprived, and all chances for sex go out the window. Even if you’re old.

Nobody was enjoying Star’s living with them. Cathy hated it because Star was just as nasty as she could be. Star hated it because she had to follow rules and sneak around, and had to really fight to get her own way. Gray hated it because Cathy was unhappy. And Tabasco hated it because Gray jerked him out of his favorite bushes more often than he used to.

It’d only been a month, but they were all tired of it. And Star’s attitude just kept getting worse and worse. She began openly insulting Gray and being hateful to Cathy, and her absences from the house got longer and more worrisome. Her friends got grungier, her excuses got lamer, she became even less tolerant of the couple’s slow, even ways, and she got even more obnoxious in her TV viewing habits.

One day, after going thru Star’s room to get to the back hall, and being yelled at by an indignant Star, “Stop coming thru my space,” Cathy stopped, standing in front of the TV set, which was showing some horrible, grating reality show where contestants were being berated by celebrity judges. The volume was turned up loud, and Star was craning her neck to see some poor kid getting shafted by the judge.

That’s where she’s learning how to treat me, she thought. “I’m sick of this.” She turned to Star. “You’re behaving as if you’re queen and I’m a bad servant.”

Star pointed the remote at the TV and tried to turn it up, frustrated because Cathy’s body blocked the way. “Well, you’re a pretty bad servant,” she said sourly. Then she saw Cathy’s face and said, “Joke,” feebly, and tried to turn the sound up again.

Cathy turned around and hit the off button. The room was suddenly silent, something she hadn’t had for weeks. “I’m sick of this stupid TV. I’m sick of all of your clothes on the floor. I’m sick of you wasting your life lying here all day and all night. I’m sick of the people you’re bringing home, and sick to death of not knowing where you are whenever you go out with them.” She looked around the room and saw dirty dishes everywhere. “I’m sick of the messes you leave and never clean up.” She started collecting the dishes, stacking them in her arms.

The moment she moved out of line with the TV, Star turned it back on. Cathy went to the kitchen with the dishes, dumped them with a loud clatter into the sink, and rushed back into the room to pull the plug from the wall. Then she went around the rest of the room and collected all the other dishes, bending to reach for those Star had stuck under the bed. A glass on an end table had several cigarette butts floating in moldy water.

“And how dare you eat in your room? And how dare you smoke in the house? These are two of our most important rules, and you just can’t be bothered to follow them. You don’t respect us at all, and we’re giving you a roof over your head and all your food.”

Star sat on her bed, her hand on the remote, staring malevolently at her mom. “You just care about your stupid rules,” she accused. “You don’t care what I’m going thru.”

“I might if you ever told me what you were going thru,” Cathy retorted. “But you’re the most secretive child I’ve ever met. You’re taking advantage of us, and it’s going to stop now.”

“Okay, I’ll move out. I don’t need you.”

Cathy looked at Star’s stony face; it was full of hate. She was shocked at her reply. She’d been revving up to tell Star she had to get a job and start paying for her food, at the very least, and was not prepared to hear even more insolence and rebellion. “Right.” She left the room.

And returned several minutes later, having thought of a zinger and being unwilling to let it go. She was angry at Star, more angry than she’d been in a very long time. “You’re so grown up that you won’t listen to a thing I say, and won’t follow any rules,” she snapped. “But here you are, sponging off of us and treating us like shit, and that’s unacceptable behavior.” It sounded weaker when she said it than when she’d rehearsed it, “Young lady.”

“Fuck you, Mom,” Star shouted as Cathy left the room. She kept going.

Richard showed up on his way home after work. Cathy hadn’t returned to Star’s room after their fight, and she wasn’t expecting Star to exit her room with garbage bags loaded down with her stuff.

“What’s going on?” she asked Star as they passed in the kitchen. Star didn’t answer. Cathy turned to Richard, who was heading into her room and picking up more garbage bags.

“She called me to come get her,” he said. He sounded angry.

“What did she tell you?”

“That you were being cruel, and forcing her to do things you never would have done when you lived at home.” He picked up her computer and gathered the cords.

Cathy was intrigued. “Like what?” She followed him out into the kitchen.

“Like paying rent.” She hadn’t actually gotten around to discussing that with Star. “Like spying on her phone conversations.” She hadn’t even thought about doing that. “Like hounding her about her smoking.” He smoked three packs a day, and had always resented having to confine it to the downstairs part of the house when they’d been married. “Like making her eat with you and your loathsome husband.” She hadn’t realized he hated Gray. “Like not letting her watch TV.” He kept the tube on constantly at home, on CNN or the Weather Channel or the TV Guide channel.

Cathy wasn’t sure what to say. “She’s been lying to you,” was all she could come up with.

He was not convinced. “I leave her with you to straighten her out, and you punish and abuse her instead. That’s not what I call proper motherly behavior.” He glared at her, and pushed thru the screen door. Star was just coming back from loading the car, and glared at her as she pushed past her into the front room, heading back for more stuff. Cathy followed Richard outside.

“And what are you going to do with her?”

“I’m not going to treat her like you’re doing, for one thing.”

“So you’re going to leave her alone every day while you go to work, unsupervised, to hang out with all those so-called criminals you’ve been warning me about?”

He put the computer in his back seat and strapped it in with the seatbelt. “She won’t be having any of her friends coming to the house.”

“How will you know?”

He looked sneaky. “Because I’m going to put up surveillance cameras on all entrances.”

“Wow.” Cathy was surprised to hear that he was going to take such measures. “Is that necessary?”

“She has assured me that her friends won’t be coming over, and I believe her. But I’m going to make sure.” He hesitated. “I’m also installing a keystroke monitor, so I’ll be able to read everything she types. Emails and instant messages.”

“Wow.” It gave her a creepy feeling to think he might have been watching her for the last few years of their marriage.

“So what’s she going to do all day, except lay in bed and watch TV?” They headed back in to get another load, passing Star on the way out. She looked unhappy that they were talking about her behind her back.

“She’s got a job.”

“Really?” This was compelling news.

“She’s been talking to our neighbors, that she used to babysit for. They run a restaurant in town, and she’s going to be a waitress.” He looked hungry. “Nice place, too. Italian food. Upscale. Should clean up in tips.”

Cathy would have been proud of her initiative, except that she resolutely refused to get a job while she was living with them. She murmured noncommittally.

“Anyway, she says she’s learned her lesson, living under such constrained circumstances with you, and she’s promised to let me know where she is. I’ve gotten her a cellphone, and she’s going to call me every hour whenever she goes out with one of her friends.” He picked up a garbage bag and started out of the room with it.

“Sure. And she arranged all this with you just today?”

He looked sneaky. “Well, we’ve been talking for some time. She’s been very unhappy here, and while I wanted her to learn a lesson living with you, I think you’ve gone a little overboard.”

That was enough. “How ungrateful. That little bitch. We bent over backwards to make her comfortable here, and only had a couple of rules, none of which she followed. How dare she?”

He stopped and looked at her with something like pity in his eyes, and reshouldered the plastic bag he was carrying. “Maybe you should take another look at how you live, and ask yourself whether it’s a normal and healthy environment to have a kid in.”

She kicked at a stool in the kitchen. “I didn’t ask to have her back here, you dumped her on me and ran screaming. And how I choose to live with my husband, who treats me a lot better than you ever did, is nobody’s business. We’re living a completely regular life. What do you think you’re doing, passing judgment on how normal and healthy it is?” She stopped short of mentioning his porn collection, or the stash of pot he kept in his locked closet, or his habit of sitting in bars and bringing home strange women. She felt indignant. “Normal and healthy,” she repeated, snorting.

“Yes, normal and healthy,” he spat. “Normal, healthy people use air conditioning in the summer. They go out to eat once in a while. They close their bathroom and bedroom doors. They don’t have sex in front of the children. Normal and healthy.” He continued muttering as he loaded the bag into the trunk, stuffing it in harshly among the other bags and slamming the trunk shut.

Cathy fumed. She had so many answers to his accusations, starting with how Star was lying about everything she said, going on to the definition of normal and healthy, and ending with how bad a father he was. But she said nothing, because Star came leaping out of the house and down the front steps as if she were escaping from prison, jumped into the car, and shut the door without saying a single word to Cathy. Richard glared at her over the top of the car, and got in. The engine roared to life, and they left like they were in a race. Cathy stared at them as they vanished around the corner.

Gray came upstairs from the basement workshop and stood next to Cathy, now looking vacantly down the street. “Ready for a dog walk?” he asked, taking her hand.

She squeezed it, and then burst into tears.

After lunch, with a heavy heart, Cathy rearranged the spare room. Again. She didn’t miss Star’s presence. She missed Star. She felt as if the girl who’d been living in that room wasn’t her daughter, and she missed the way Star had been when she was a little girl, full of affection and conversation. Star never talked to her anymore, never told her things, never talked about how she saw the world. She went out of her way to be rude all the time, and never stopped finding hurtful things to say.

Cathy was glad she was gone.

Down came the drapes. She could see around her now. Cathy was appalled at how filthy the room was. Dust everywhere, dried food, used paper towels and tissues, moldy bath towels, loads of Star’s clothes crumpled into corners and under her bed. She loaded the washing machine with the contents of Star’s newly-ex room, and started shifting the furniture back the way she had it before.

Hours later, many tears of frustration shed and dried, Cathy finished rewiring the computer back into the spare room, and moving her sewing machine and piecing table back in from the hall, sweeping and mopping the floor, and washing the windows. She’d need Gray’s help to move the TV back into their room, but the room was finally the way she wanted it. The day was nearly over, and she hadn’t done anything except clean up after her slovenly, nasty, lazy daughter.

“I don’t want her back here again,” she said to Gray on their evening dog walk. “I feel so abused. I’m exhausted.” He squeezed her hand.

“At least we’re alone again,” he reminded her. “And your ex has to deal with your daughter now.”

She laughed harshly. “Serves him right. He thinks she’s changed, and she’s promised him all sorts of things that she probably has no intention of honoring. Let’s see how long it lasts.”

Tabasco was being very rowdy on his leash. He kept lunging at nothing, running full tilt to the end of his leash and being flung around when Gray wouldn’t let go. Cathy felt like kicking the dog. “Damned dog. Why can’t he behave?”

I’m just modeling your inability to control your own offspring, the dog thought at her. Discern any similarity?

That night, Cathy was too tired and too emotionally drained to make love, so Gray held her and stroked her back until she fell asleep. For once she slept thru to the morning. No TV noises, no phone conversations half heard thru the bathroom walls, no surprise appearances by sullen ghostlike figures wandering thru their bedroom in the middle of the night.

They made up for it the next morning. Cathy woke to see Gray lying next to her in bed, sipping on a cup of coffee. There was a steaming cup on her bedside table. She stretched, then propped her pillows up and sat up next to him.

“We’re alone,” he said softly.

She listened to the silence. She could hear the birds outside, and traffic noise off in the distance. She smiled. “No TV noise.” She reached for her coffee, and they sipped and were quiet for awhile. Tabasco stirred under the bed, but knew enough to stay put until they both put their feet on the floor.

Which didn’t happen for an hour or more. He kept coming out to check and see what they were doing, but they were cleaning each other with their tongues, so he went back under the bed for another nap. Finally the pressure of his bladder became too much, and he hopped up and put his paws on Gray’s legs. It smelled really good up on the bed. He licked Gray’s leg fur until he got his attention.

Cathy frowned. “I don’t ever want another dog in the house. When Tabasco gets too old, let’s get fish.”

“Now, boy,” he said indulgently, “just a little longer and we’ll be ready to go out and do our business.” He turned his attention back to his wife. “Where were we?”

She patted her thigh. “Right here. You were getting somewhere” He went back to work on her, and she reached her hand out to stroke his hardness.

She’d forgotten how much she loved lying in bed having sex with Gray. He was so attentive, so loving. It gave him as much pleasure to see her come as it did when she concentrated on him. At his age, any sex was great sex, and even tho he didn’t get hard enough for actual intercourse anymore, there were many ways around that. Cathy supposed that they got more sex than most couples half their age, because they had more time. Couples with children never had sex, and by the time the kids left home, they were too much in the habit of being celibate. But this was their second marriage, and the honeymoon had never ended.

It’s just that she’d forgotten, while Star was living there, how much they both enjoyed making each other feel good.

She turned her attention to what Gray was doing between her legs. He was a real master of sucking and licking. Richard was a dud in bed, and after six years of their ten year marriage, he’d stopped wanting to have sex at all. Gray never wanted not to have sex. Cathy couldn’t be happier. If only Tabasco didn’t want to help all the time. At least he couldn’t get up on the bed with them.

Cathy spent the morning working on her blog. She was researching artificial sweeteners (, and was amazed at how much evidence there was that they all caused cancer, liver failure, and blood disorders. How could they get away with marketing such dangerous products? Because people couldn’t get used to living without sweet things. She fumed about it in her blog. “What’s wrong with learning to drink unsweet tea, leaving off the cookies and ice cream, avoiding soft drinks? The evil food industry would topple, that’s what’s wrong. They need your diabetes and overweight problems to keep themselves fat and happy.”

It sounded strident to her ears. She’d been unable to write the entire time Star was living with them. She kept her so busy with her incessant demands, and Cathy had never had a moment to get her mind around a topic. Now that she was alone, she was having trouble getting back into her rampage against the food industry. It used to be easy. She would find evidence that the FDA was too weak and toothless to do anything about an unsafe additive – like monosodium glutamate – and it would make her want to scream. The powerful food lobby stifled any kind of regulation or investigation, and paid food industry hacks attacked any nutritionists who blew the whistle. And the country kept eating more artificial flavors and colorings, more chemicals in their diet, more sugar, more trans fats. The modern American diet didn’t at all resemble the way people ate even sixty years ago. Highly processed food was everywhere, and it was getting harder and harder to find the raw, untouched ingredients in order to do it yourself. She started another blog entry: “The Standard American Diet – how SAD it is.” But after a few sharp accusations, she ran out of steam, saved the draft, and got up from her computer.

She missed having Star around. It was a foolish thing to be feeling, but it was how she felt. She didn’t miss the TV, or the sassing, or the dishes lying everywhere, but she missed the sight of her little girl wandering out of the bathroom looking radiant, and she missed the hope that she would smile at her mom and tell her she loved her. Cathy knew she was being silly, but she found herself moping around the house with a feeling that she wasn’t doing something she should be. She felt like baking some nice, wholesome double chocolate chip cookies.

She went into the kitchen, and absently got out a stick of butter and reached the sugar and molasses down from the pantry. The only wholesome thing about these cookies was the whole wheat flour she used; maybe the eggs. But they tasted just like Mom used to make, back when Mom could be bothered to cook.

While she was creaming the sugar and butter, the phone rang, and it was, in fact, her mom. Think of the devil. “Hi, Mom.”

Her mom’s voice came over the line, sounding weak. “Hi, sweetie. How’re you doing?”

Mom didn’t ask how she was doing unless she had a tale of her own. “I’m fine, Mom. How are you? You don’t sound very well.”

“Oh, I’m all right,” her mom said listlessly. “I’m just so tired these days. I think it’s my thyroid.”

“Are you going to go to the doctor about it?” Cathy beat the butter and sugar together, stopping to lick some off the spoon. It was her favorite part of baking, left over from the time when Mom would let her lick the bowl if she helped make the cake.

“Oh, I went to one years ago. He could never find anything wrong.”

“Well, why do you think it’s your thyroid?”

“It’s something Doctor Somebody () mentioned in one of his radio broadcasts. I’ve told you about him, haven’t I?”

Mom had told her about a hundred doctor someones, each with his own questionable advice on what was bothering her. She listened to each of them as if he had examined her personally, and followed his advice until she chanced to hear another doctor voice a different opinion. Cathy muttered noncommittally. She broke an egg into the mixture and started beating again.

“What are you doing?” Mom heard the noise of the wooden spoon against the side of the bowl.

“Making cookies.” She broke another egg and beat it in.

“I wish I could have cookies. I can’t eat sugar anymore.”

“You have diabetes?” Cathy was concerned. Mom was getting old. Diabetes would be dangerous because while she talked a good game, she didn’t really watch what she ate at all, and was as likely to go thru a package of butterscotch while she sat on the phone talking about how she was limiting her intake of sugar. “I was just reading up on sweeteners,” she began.

Mom cut her off. “I wouldn’t say diabetes as such,” she said. “Sort of pre-diabetes.”

“Hmmm.” Mom was a hypochondriac. She would never die.

“How’s Star?” Mom changed the subject. Cathy swallowed.

“I guess she’s fine. I don’t see much of her.” She measured out the flour.

“I thought she was living there with you.”

Uh-oh. Cathy had been avidly pretending that Star still lived with her father, hoping to avoid her mom’s insistent prying. She must have called one day and actually talked to Star, and got the news from her. “Um, no, well, uh…”

“Hasn’t she been living with you for at least a month now?”

Cathy felt embarrassed. “Well, her dad kind of threw her out, and we were letting her stay here for awhile.” She trailed off. The less she told Mom, the better. Mom tended to store things up for use when she had a bone to pick. And Mom had an uncanny ability to find Cathy’s sore spots and twist until they hurt.

“The jerk.” At least she could agree with her on that topic. “Where is she now?”

I might as well tell her, Cathy thought. “She’s back living with him. She decided she wanted air conditioning.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Mom said, as if Cathy should run right out and get her back.

“Well, she’s a big girl now.” Cathy didn’t want to discuss how Star had been treating them, because Mom would then find fault with the way Cathy put up with Star’s nonsense. She didn’t want to mention how Richard hadn’t been able to handle her, because Mom would go on about what a loser she had married the first time, and wonder whether Gray wouldn’t turn out to be just as bad.

“You should,” she began.

“Mom.” Cathy stopped her.

“What? All I’m trying to say is that you need to…”

Cathy sighed, a big, expressive sigh. “Mom, it’s out of my hands. I don’t want you telling me what I should have done or shouldn’t have done. She’s with her father.” She didn’t feel like cookies any more.

“It’s just that you should never have let her move in with you. She’s got to learn to stand on her own two feet.”

Cathy was surprised to hear her say that, but didn’t want to say anything to confirm it, because Mom would then sound triumphant, and that would make Cathy feel even worse. She decided to get off the phone. “Mom, I’ve got to go. I’ve got stuff in the oven, and I think it’s burning.”

“I can hold on,” Mom said, wanting to find more fault with her daughter’s child rearing habits.

“No, that’s okay. Talk to you soon. Love you.” She hung up. She hadn’t even turned the oven on yet. She felt like she needed a nap now, and went to put the half-mixed bowl of cookies into the refrigerator and finish making them later.

The phone rang again. “Mom, I,” she started, but then realized it wasn’t Mom. It was her friend Miranda.

Cathy spent several minutes complaining about her mother, and caught Miranda up on the news that Star had moved back in with her dad. Miranda didn’t like the sound of that, either, but unlike her mom, she didn’t tend to make Cathy feel like it was all her fault.

“That asshole,” she said. “He dumps her on you, and then when she complains, he takes her back. He probably felt guilty for foisting her on you to begin with. I’ll bet he’s promised her a bunch of goodies, or else he’s told her she can run wild.”

“Yeah, well, according to him she’s going to be on a tighter rein than before. He’s bought her a cellphone so he can keep track of her.”

Miranda said, “Ah hah. See, I told you he would buy her goodies.”

“Get this. He says he’s installing cameras and he’s going to be able to read her emails and stuff.”

“Wow. Was he watching you like that when you were with him?”

“I don’t know. He could have been. He made it sound like it’s no big deal to install devices that he can use to spy on people with. Good thing I never ran around behind his back.”

“Nah. You were too depressed.” Miranda had been thru a lot with Cathy, from when she was still happily married to Richard, thru the divorce, past a bunch of twenty-minute boyfriends, and into her still-developing relationship with Gray.

They chatted a few more minutes, mostly about how life was now that Star had moved on. Miranda was glad to hear the life back in her friend’s voice. Cathy seemed happier now, but there was still a little dead spot. Miranda had just the cure. “I’ve got a little problem maybe you could help me with,” she said.

Cathy was concerned. Miranda didn’t have problems. “Oh my God, what’s wrong?”

Miranda laughed. “No, it’s nothing. I’m fine. Joe’s fine. The kids are great. My job’s wonderfull. Have I left anything out?”

“Okay, I’ll stop worrying now. What’s your little problem? You have an extra million dollars you need to give away for tax reasons?”

That was better. A sarcastic Cathy was better than a worried Cathy. “No, it’s Scootie.”

Her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. “What’s the matter with her?” Little dogs had medical problems. Visions of huge vet bills swam in front of Cathy’s eyes.

“Oh, nothing. She’s fine. It’s just that she’s lonely.” Miranda worked all day. Head of her own law firm, she worked most of the night, and all weekend sometimes. And then there were the business trips.

“How can I help?”

Miranda hesitated. “It’s a big favor,” she began.

“Just tell me what you need,” Cathy said, thinking Miranda wanted her to watch the dog because she had to go out of town.

“Well, I’d like to give Scootie to you.”

Cathy looked around her house, good enough for a mutt like Tabasco, but nowhere near nice enough for a royal dog. She started to protest that she couldn’t, automatically, and then stopped, feeling guilty. Miranda did so much for her, whenever she could. “Tell me more,” she said, frantically thinking how she could convince her not to present her with a dog.

go to tomorrow’s writing


1 Comment »

  1. […] go to tomorrow’s writing Leave a Comment […]

    Pingback by Day Two « Cathy Eats Her Words — October 12, 2009 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

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