Cathy Eats Her Words

November 5, 2008

day three

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 5:08 pm

Mom’s flirting was not lost on Gray. He flirted back, of course; Cathy always knew where to find him in a crowd – chatting up the pretty women – and he acted no differently around Mom. It was almost upsetting, but Cathy had it figured as harmless. It kept Mom a little more content, and she could see that Gray enjoyed it.

Star, on the other hand, thought it was shameless. “Why don’t they behave themselves?” Cathy’s mom was rubbing elbows with Gray in the kitchen, giggling like a schoolgirl, and Gray was beaming back at her and leaning over to say something in a low voice. “Mom, do something,” she said, clutching her hand to her stomach. “It’s so wrong. I think I’m going to be sick.”

But Cathy said nothing. And the flirting continued. And grew more blatant with every day.

Cathy came upon Mom  standing in the bathroom, modeling her sexiest bra and panties set. Old lady bras are like bandages, and the underpants were those huge big ones that went up over her belly button. She turned this way and that, sweeping her thinning hair up on top of her head and batting her eyes at the mirror.

“Oh, Cathy, do you think I look better in the pink blouse or the green one?” She picked up both shirts and held them under her chin, turning so Cathy could see how well they brought out her eyes.

“I don’t know, Mom,” she said. “Gray likes black.” Maybe prison orange would look good on you.

“Oh, do you think? Black is so ugly on me. It brings out all the grey in my hair.” She grabbed a fistful and peered closely at it, hair that hadn’t been anything other than chemical-colored for decades. What grey did show up out from under the dye was quickly plucked, and would bother her for days. “Maybe I should get a perm.”

“Maybe you should never mind getting it dyed anymore. I’ve never seen your hair its natural color, you know. Besides, Gray likes grey hair.”

Mom brightened. “Oh, he does? Well…” She leaned into the mirror and stared at her roots. “I’ll think about it. But I feel so much younger when I’ve had my hair done.”

You’d feel much older if it all fell out from too much treatment with those nasty chemicals. “Well, I could set up an appointment with the hairdresser down the street. She knows all the gossip, you’d feel like you lived here.”

“Yes, okay,” Mom said, distracted by signs of grey that weren’t there the last time she looked this closely.

This was a mistake. Mom came back from the hairdresser’s full of information only partially exaggerated.

“What’s this I hear about Star being in jail?”

Cathy mentally shot herself in the head. “What? Where’d you get that?”

Mom stalked to the bathroom, where she gave her new do a once-over. She’d had it dyed the same brassy red, and got the hairdresser to put in silvery highlights. “That lovely Andrea.” She bent her head forward and looked over her glasses at her hairline. “She told me Star was in jail sometime last year.” She turned to stare accusingly at Cathy. “You never told me.”

Cathy acted affronted “I did so. I must have. It was a big deal, and I would most certainly have told you.”

Mom harrumphed. “She also said Star was in rehab. How come I hear about these things first from a stranger?”

Cathy laughed guiltily. “Mom,” she tried to make a joke, “you just musn’t have been listening. I remember telling you.”

Mom scowled at her and went back to fingering the grey streaks. “You’re hiding more than that from me, I can tell.”

Cathy gulped. Even after all these years she found it difficult to lie to her mother. “Well,” she decided for an aggressive answer, “if you think that it must be that you’re getting senile, because I tell you everything that happens.” Cathy grabbed a coffee cup that had been abandoned on the counter and made for the door while Mom spluttered into the mirror. “I’m making lunch.” She was suddenly filled with dread. “Mom, did you two talk much about Star?”

Mom narrowed her eyes at Cathy. “We talked about her pregnancy a lot, and I told her what a controlling, mean mother you had turned out to be.”

Cathy was full of dread. If they’d been talking about Star, then she didn’t even have to ask to know that Mom had told the hairdresser that Star was living upstairs in their house. Which meant that it was news for the whole neighborhood. And if Spike happened to wander about the neighborhood asking question, then he’d hear it from everyone he stopped to talk to. They were sunk. She wondered if she shouldn’t go down to the hairdresser’s and have a talk with her, let her know how serious it was. But, no, that would be like talking about it on camera.

Cathy went to Gray for advice. “Should I go and tell that gossip to keep her mouth shut?” Gray looked at her and said nothing. “Right. Like that would happen.” She wished she’d offered to dye Mom’s hair herself and never let her go near the most reliable news source in town. She went back upstairs muttering, “Oh god oh god oh god oh god.”

But Mom had moved on. Cathy found her downing another thick, gloppy mess of ground up flax seed. “You really should be taking this,” Mom said around a grain mustache. “It’s so good for you. I feel so much better when I drink it. And I love the taste. It’s really nutty.”

Cathy felt nauseated. “Thanks. I’ll stick to yogurt.” Mom had changed out of her street clothes, which she’d taken so much care over choosing, and was currently sitting at the kitchen table wearing her housecoat and slippers. Her hair looked like it wouldn’t muss if she were caught in a hurricane, a shiny red helmet with grey streaks. She was carrying the portable phone sticking out of her pocket, and her glasses dangled at the front of her housecoat where they’d caught on a button. She had her wallet and its contents spread over the table top. “Mom, what are you doing?”

Mom fiddled among the credit cards. “Oh, I’m looking for a phone number,” she said vaguely.

“Any number in particular?” Cathy was worried that maybe she was going to call someone she wasn’t supposed to.

“No, just someone I want to talk to.”

“Okay…” Her instincts told her that Mom was up to something. So she busied herself around the kitchen, and when Mom located a slip of paper at the back of her wallet and snuck off to the spare room to make a call, Cathy quietly picked up the other receiver and listened. Mom punched in a number and got the answering machine, where a male voice muttered something short and garbled. It sounded like Spike’s voice. Mom left her cellphone number. Why would she do that?

“Mom, who were you calling?” Cathy asked, sticking her head around the corner, where Mom quickly hid the phone behind her back.

“Oh, nobody.” Mom looked around for inspiration. “I was just calling a florist to get some flowers in here and brighten this place up.” Then she attacked Cathy in order to deflect her suspicions. “What are you doing letting Star smoke cigarettes while she’s pregnant? I can’t believe you would let her get away with it.”

Cathy had already gone there with Star. And now Mom was blaming her. “Okay, Mom, tell you what. You can tell Star not to smoke, and take her cigarettes and flush them down the toilet, and yell at her about what she’s doing to her baby.”

So Mom did just that. Except that she couldn’t get up the stairs to the attic, and Star had quite a cache up there, and wasn’t afraid to smoke in the house, and so all Mom’s yelling and lecturing and threatening washed over Star just as it did when Cathy had tried it. Only this time, Star didn’t even pretend to listen, didn’t look guilty and repentant, didn’t agree to stop. She just stared at her grandma as if she were speaking Chinese. And when she went back upstairs, it was to blow smoke down the steps and cough as if she were dying.

So Mom went and found Cathy and yelled at her some more about what a horrible mother she was. She was really mad this time. Star was doing something not only risky but reprehensible, and Mom felt completely justified in heaping blame anywhere she could find. “And another thing,” she shouted as Cathy fled downstairs to find Gray. “You keep it so cold in this house that I can’t sleep at night. That poor girl upstairs must be freezing. Either you raise the heat in this house, or I’m calling child protective services and turning you in.”

“She’s just being an annoyance, love,” Gray tried to assure her. “She won’t call anyone, just ignore her.” Cathy was shaking with anger and beginning to panic about the danger Mom posed to her plans.

“But what if she does? What if she calls them, and they come out and take her to jail?” Nothing Gray could say made her feel any better. “I know my mom. She gets this righteous thing going and nobody can stop her. Oh, how can we make her go away?”

Gray had a few ideas, but they involved having to hide a body, and Cathy rejected them out of hand. “that’s not funny,” she said, and stalked back upstairs.

Where Mom was waiting for her with more complaints. “ It’s filthy in here. I don’t wonder we aren’t all sick. Just look at the dust on the floor.” Cathy handed her a broom. Mom angrily thrust it aside. “I’m serious, Cathy. You need to be more sanitary with your daughter pregnant.”

“I’ll go boil some water.” Cathy busied herself in the kitchen, doing some of the cleaning Mom was so keen on her doing. She didn’t want to go downstairs for more questionable reassurance from Gray, it wasn’t time for a dog walk, and Mom wouldn’t leave her alone long enough to write her blog. So she washed dishes and tried to ignore Mom.

Who wasn’t shutting up. Now it was about the food. “There’s nothing to eat in this house,” she complained. Cathy had a fully stocked pantry and the freezer was full to bursting. What she didn’t have was processed food. No Campbell’s soup. No TV dinners. No microwaveable anything. Just raw ingredients. And Mom felt that cooking was beneath her. “Maybe I’ll take Star out and we’ll go to Kentucky Fried Chicken for a change.”

Cathy looked at her mother, aghast. “Mom, you’re allergic to MSG. Kentucky Fried Chicken is full of MSG. You know that.”

Mom shrugged it off. “No it isn’t. Maybe extra crispy. But original just has the eleven secret herbs and spices. I don’t get a reaction from it at all.”

Cathy couldn’t believe it, and went to check on the internet. Sure enough, a sampling of the original fried chicken showed that the secret herbs and spices were salt, pepper, and MSG. apparently the other eight secret ingredients had dried up and blown away years before. She printed the information sheet out and brought it back to wave under Mom’s nose.

She refused to look at it. “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet,” she scoffed. “The more I think about it, the more it sounds like a good idea. Why don’t you go tell Star to get dressed, and we’ll go out for a bit, maybe do some shopping.”

Cathy shook her head. “Mom, I’ve told you several times. She’s under bed rest orders from the doctor. Even going up and down the stairs isn’t good for her.”

Mom’s face grew stormy. “Sitting in a car isn’t going to do her any harm,” she insisted, stomping her foot on the floor. “You’re keeping her a prisoner in this house, and I’m not going to put up with it. She needs to get out, and away from you,” she spat, and moved to get past Cathy, who was standing in the doorway to the back, where the attic steps were.

“No, Mom. You’re not taking her out. She’s staying right here where I can keep an eye on her.”

Mom went back to her room muttering about child protective services. Cathy ran downstairs. “Gray, you do have a tap on the phone, don’t you?”

He did. And a recording device. And an alert buzzer whenever anybody picked up the phone to make a call. In fact, he was working on a device that would route all calls thru the phone in the workshop first.

But Cathy was spooked. “I want you to shut off access to the phones upstairs. Entirely. I don’t want Mom making any phone calls. She’s more dangerous than Star is.”

Gray agreed. And he was prepared for it. He flipped a switch on his workbench, and there was no more phone service upstairs. And Mom didn’t have a cellphone. And Cathy had already confiscated Star’s. They were safe. Until Mom figured something else out. Cathy immediately felt better. Now nothing could go wrong, she thought. No phone, no car, no unsupervised outings. And Mom too cheap to take a taxi, and too proud to take a bus.

Relieved, Cathy decided that she was safe enough to go on the lunchtime dog walk, the first time in the week or so that Mom had been there that she felt safe leaving Mom and Star alone while she walked around the block with her husband.

They strolled arm in arm. The dogs did not cooperate, and Gray and Cathy were torn apart every time they passed something that smelled good. Cathy had Stumbles and Scootie on their leashes, and Gray had Tabasco. Stumbles was quickly picking up bad habits from the other two dogs, and Tabasco was the ringleader. He stopped at the base of a tree, and stiffened against Gray’s tugging. Scootie and Stumbles gathered around and all three dogs sniffed in ecstasy. Gray and Cathy tugged, Cathy gently in order not to hurt the little dogs’ little necks; Gray yanked on Tabasco’s chain with all his strength, which moved the dog slightly, but Tabasco compensated by leaning sideways and reaching back with his snout. Just one more sniff. Girls, isn’t it wonderful? Scootie and Stumbles lunged to get back to the spot, but Cathy was moving on, so they raced ahead to the next likely stopping place. Hey, wow, this is tremendous, Stumbles thought excitedly. Something died in these bushes. The dogs clustered around, and there was the same battle to get them moving again. About a dozen feet, until they came across old dogshit lying on the sidewalk. Hey, do we know this dog? Tabasco asked. I know him, Scootie declared. He walks by the house twice a day. Can I meet him? Stumbles wanted to know. I want to meet him. I want to have his baby.

Stumbles was going into heat. She’d been swelling, and now she was stopping to pee every few yards. Any interested male could follow the dotted line around the block and right up to the front door. Stumbles was not shy about inviting other dogs to come up and see her. She sat in the living room window all day, barking like mad at every passer-by, and frantically signaling all other dogs as they passed. Cathy was already sick of it. It was just one more thing for Mom to complain about.

“Ah, Gray,” she sighed, and linked arms again. Scootie immediately stopped to pee, yanking Cathy away from Gray. “I swear she’s doing that on purpose,” Cathy remarked, eyeing her dog suspiciously. “You’d think they wanted us apart.”

“It would take more than that to separate us, lover,” Gray said soothingly, taking her hand.

“Like my mother?”

“She’d have to work overtime. I don’t find her nearly as attractive or sympathetic as I do you.”

“Well,” Cathy said doubtfully, “you have a funny way of showing it. You’ve been flirting with her as if you were serious about it. I’m almost jealous.”

Gray laughed and drew her closer as they walked. “Your mom is no threat to our relationship, except maybe if she becomes more of a pain in the ass. I’m just humoring her. She behaves better when she’s in a good mood.”

Cathy agreed. “Well, it’s more than I can do to put her in a good mood, so thank you, I guess. I can’t seem to do anything but piss her off. She’s driving me crazy.”

“Let’s tell her to go home, then” Gray suggested. “If you want, I’ll do it. I don’t think she’d take it from you.” Tabasco stopped again. Scootie and Stumbles crowded in on him. It was a flat squirrel in the middle of the road. Tabasco dug his heels in as Gray pulled him away. His toenails scraped along the road.

“No, I’m pretty sure she’d just dig her heels in,” she said as she pulled the little dogs away from the dried entrails. “I do wish you’d go ahead and ask her to go, tho. I’m so afraid she’s going to do something to put Star in danger.”

Gray patted her hand. Tabasco yanked it away as he darted across the street. “I’ll go tell her to pack when we get back home.”

If only. They got back with the dogs to find Spike’s enormous truck parked across the street. He wasn’t inside, however. Cathy panicked, dropping the leashes to sprint across the front yard and up the steps.

Spike was standing around in the living room. “What are you doing here?” Cathy asked, glad to see that Star was nowhere around.

Spike stared evilly at her. “Your mother asked me in. She’s going to get Star so I can talk to her.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she snapped. “Star’s not here.”

Spike looked triumphant. “Yes she is. Your mother told me she was staying in the attic.” He leaned toward her threateningly. “You should have told me the truth.”

Cathy felt cold. “I did tell you the truth. Star’s not here.” She was fidgeting, waiting for Gray to come to her rescue. Gray was out trying to catch Scootie and Stumbles, who had darted two separate ways the moment Cathy dropped their leashes. Cathy looked around the room for something she could hit Spike with. And then she noticed the gun sticking out of his waistband. She got angry. “I told you not to bring guns into this house,” she stated.

He ignored her.

“I’d like you to leave now,” she continued. He smiled, an evil grimace. Like she could push him out the door.

But then Gray came in with the dogs, who began to bark furiously. “Hello, Spike,” he said. Spike reached over and they shook hands.

“I told you to leave. Now,” Cathy screamed, looking at Gray for help.

“Why don’t you come out on to the front porch with me?” Gray suggested. Cathy raced to the attic, where Star was getting dressed to come downstairs and see her baby’s daddy.

“Oh, no you don’t. You can’t see Spike. And I’m telling Mom she has to leave today. Right now.”

Star started to protest. “Spike’s okay, Mom. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. I’m carrying his baby.” She started to cry.

Cathy looked at her. “Oh, sweetie, men don’t attach the same importance to babies as women do. He’s just here to take you to jail so he can get his bail money back. How many times do I have to tell you this?

Star tried to get past her down the stairs. Cathy pushed back, and Star landed on her bed with a thump Cathy was sure could be heard downstairs. Mom appeared at the bottom of the stairs and yelled up at Star to come down and see Spike. “You stay up here, and stay away from Spike, or I’m not going to come visit you in jail,” she hissed, darting down the stairs. Star sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing her belly and sniffling. “I’ll deal with you later,” she said to Mom as she passed her in the back room.

Spike was gone. “What did you say to him?” Cathy asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I told him your mother has alzheimer’s, and only tinks Star’s upstairs.”

Cathy looked at him in amazement. “Wow. I hadn’t thought of that. That’s good. And he believed it?”

Gray shook his head. “I wouldn’t imagine so. But it was good enough to get him to leave. We’ll have to think up more ways of guarding Star, tho, because he’s pretty sure she’s here.”

Cathy thought of the obvious. “We’ll get rid of Mom right away.”

“Maybe we should send them both away. Star could stay with your mother until she has the baby.”

“Yeah, right.”

go to tomorrow’s writing


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