Cathy Eats Her Words

November 2, 2008

day two

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 2:12 pm

The next few days were one lie after another. Mom didn’t understand why Star had to be upstairs in the attic. Mom didn’t understand why Star couldn’t go outside. Mom didn’t understand why she couldn’t take Star shopping for baby clothes. Mom didn’t even know about the plan to have a homebirth.

And when Mom didn’t understand something, she wasn’t interested in an explanation, but assumed that it was wrong, whatever it was, and whatever she did understand was right. So poor Cathy had a sudden battle on her hands. Her daughter and her mom versus Cathy, with Gray abstaining. It was hell.

The exchanges always went like this:

“I don’t see why you have to put Star upstairs in that filthy attic. Why don’t you give her your bedroom, if you’re that short on space? She’s pregnant, for heaven’s sake.”

“Mom, I told you. She’d rather be far away from us.”

Mom would snort, “That’s ridiculous. You just have to move her back downstairs. I can’t climb those stairs, remember.”

Cathy would shake her head. “No, Mom, we’re going to keep things the way I’ve got them arranged.”

“Well, you’re a terrible mother. You’re just doing this for your own convenience. Do you want me to stay in the basement, so you can have your privacy?” She would say privacy as if she was saying Satan.

Cathy would sigh. “I’m not going to argue with you about this.”

“Well, if you don’t want an argument, then you’d better change your mind. It’s filthy up there. The dust is terrible for pregnant mothers. And climbing those stairs isn’t good for her if she’s been told to get bed rest.” She would stop, and Cathy would hope that would be the end of it for awhile, but then Mom would snap back into it. “And another thing, who is this doctor, anyway? I want to call him up and talk to him about his diagnosis. She doesn’t look like she’s pre-eclamptic to me.”

Cathy worried. “Do you know what pre-eclampsia looks like?”

“She just looks the very picture of health, that’s all. I can’t believe she’s got something wrong with her.”

Cathy was relieved. That meant no. “It’s the silent killer, Mom. She’s got to stay put or we’ll end up with her in the hospital until after she’s had her baby.”

Mom shook her head in sorrow at her foolish daughter. “Maybe that would be a good thing. They could watch over her better, and send her right home when they decided there was nothing wrong with her. Better than her negligent mother keeping her prisoner in her room.”

Cathy wanted to break down and tell her mom the truth, but she’d been pretending Star was an upstanding citizen since before she got into trouble with drugs and the law. Once she started telling even a little bit of the truth, she’d have months of explaining to do, and Mom could get really hurt when Cathy forgot her birthday, never mind telling her lies. So she kept telling lies and hoped she’d never find out.

“She can’t answer the phone because she ran up a huge long distance bill a few months ago, and she’s grounded.”

“She can’t go out shopping because she’s not allowed out of bed. Why don’t you order online?”

“She can’t sit in the sun on the front porch because…she’s allergic to pollen. She’s photosensitive. She’s worried she might get the evil eye from some stranger passing by.”

Cathy found it very difficult juggling her mom and her kid. Both of them made endless requests and demands, both were equally graceless and insulting, and both of them had an uncomfortable relationship with Gray.

Star hated Gray with a passion, and continued to go out of her way to be rude and insulting. Mom reacted the opposite way. She was passionately interested in Gray. “He reminds me of your father,” she would say wistfully. Cathy would walk into the kitchen to find Mom rubbing elbows with Gray, flirting and simpering at him. She caught her primping in front of the mirror in the bathroom, putting on makeup, adjusting her clothes and changing outfits several times a day. It was as transparent as plastic wrap.

And Mom showed no signs of wanting to leave. Cathy kept hinting at it, but Mom resolutely ignored it. Even when Cathy would tentatively raise the subject, with “Say, Mom, have you made your reservation to go back home yet?” Mom would just change the subject – How about those Braves.

Cathy was taken with the similarities between her mother and her daughter. Both of them preferred to stay in bed all day watching TV. They just switched off on the hours – Mom watched TV all day, Star watched TV all night. Their choices of channel were different, too, Mom preferring Fox and the Xian channel while Star watched MTV and violent movies. But they both liked to have their programs turned up as loud as they would go, and both of them wanted the damn thing on all the time, whether they were in the room or not. Both of them complained about the heat all the time, too. And both of them complained about the food, and the state of the house.
Neither of them offered to clean up, however, and Cathy found herself picking up after her mother and her daughter, both of whom liked to leave their things lying around in unusual places.

One day Cathy found herself going around the house picking up other people’s clothes. She found Mom’s hairbrush in the front hall, she found Star’s socks in the bathroom, she found Mom’s housecoat in the living room, and Star’s underwear on the steps to the attic. She found Mom’s Bible in the refrigerator, safe from the burning fires of Hell, perhaps. She cleaned up Mom’s various pill bottles off the kitchen table, and gathered up dirty dishes from both of their rooms. She cleaned up super-small dog shit from the back hall and washed the rug that Stumbles liked to pee on between dog walks.

Bring out your dead, she muttered as she went from room to room with piles of stuff in her arms. I’ll just haul them away with everything else I seem to be responsible for. What’s dead bodies compared to having to clean up after them all the time? It would be a relief to put them on the curb and let the trash guys take them off.

She was sick and tired of cleaning up after two supposedly competent adults. But she had no choice. If she didn’t clean it up, it would just lie there. And if Mom or Star missed it, they would just yell at Cathy to go get it for them. Mom was getting old and forgetful, and kept thinking that Cathy was taking things out of her room on purpose. Star was negligent, and kept accusing Cathy of ruining her life any way possible.

“Why does Grandma have to be here?” she complained. “She smells old.” Star was sitting in the rocking chair in her attic room, fretting and rubbing her belly while Cathy changed the sheets.

“Oh, well, that’s a crime, certainly. Should I have her shot?” It might be doable, actually.

“I wish she’d go home. Then I could move back downstairs. It’s creepy up here, especially at night.”
Cathy picked up half a dozen food-encrusted plates from under the bed. “Honey, you know you can’t go back downstairs until after you’ve had the baby and are ready to turn yourself in.”

“But Mom,” she whined. Cathy felt sorry for her, for the thousandth time. But Grandma’s being downstairs was working to keep Star right where she was. Cathy was a tiny bit grateful to Mom for being there.

She went downstairs and found Mom sitting at the kitchen table, mixing up a dose of something foul. “What’s that?” Cathy asked. Mom’s hair was uncombed and her shirt was buttoned wrong – too early to start dressing for Gray, maybe. Cathy felt sorry for her, an old woman barely managing.
“Oh,” Mom said brightly, displaying a glass full of lumpy brown liquid. “It’s ground flax seed. I’ve been taking it every day. It’s great for something or other, I forget. I make sure I take lots of it every time I go somewhere and can’t eat my usual food.”

“Oh. What’s your usual food, then?” Cathy ran hot water into the sink and started doing the dishes. Now that she had Mom and Star, she washed dishes five times a day.

“You know. I can’t have anything with MSG in it. I have to be really picky. In fact, I think something you made for me last night was full of it, because I had such a bad night. I was up for hours in the bathroom, and never got a wink of sleep. It must be something you’re feeding me,” she snapped, stirring her flax drink furiously.

Cathy had heard her snoring whenever she woke during the night. Every night. “Oh. Well. Maybe you’d like to take over the cooking. You’re such a good cook.”

Mom took a drink, and sneered thru a gummy mustache. “You want me to cook? Mom comes to visit and you put her to work, is that it? With me sick all the time?”

“You’re sick? What’s wrong with you?”

Mom glared at her. “I told you. This place is filthy, obviously a health hazard. I should call the health department and get this kitchen condemned. I think you’re trying to poison me.” Cathy stifled a laugh; Mom’s kitchen at home was a science lab of mold and rot, a breeding ground for new and ferocious strains of bacteria.

“No, really. Are you not feeling well?”

Mom waved her hand across her brow. “I don’t ever feel well.” Her expression turned fierce. “And the bed in that room needs to be thrown out.”

Cathy nodded. “Star says that, too. She wants a tempur-pedic bed, but it costs too much money. The mattress isn’t that old, and hardly ever gets slept in.”

“Hah. It’s got three different sets of feet holes. A new mattress would be the least you could do to make me more comfortable, but I don’t suppose you want to spend any money on me. And why can’t you turn up the heat? I’m freezing all the time. In fact,” she said, drawing her shirt tighter around her neck,” I’m freezing right now.”

“Why don’t you let me get you a sweater, then? Or a scarf you could wear around your neck. It would warm you up a lot.”

Mom coughed pitifully and swallowed the last of her cloudy drink. “I don’t want half-measures. If you can’t be considerate of your guests, I just don’t know what.”

“You could always go back home where everything is just how you like it,” Cathy suggested.

Mom blew up. “Is that it? Are you trying to make me so uncomfortable that I’m willing to leave? Well, I’ll tell you right now. That little girl upstairs needs my help, and no matter how badly you treat me, I’ve got a duty to my granddaughter, and my great grandson, and I’m not going until they ask me to leave.”

Cathy did the math. The kid would be old enough to tell Great Grandma to go home in about four years.

go to tomorrow’s writing


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