Cathy Eats Her Words

November 22, 2008

day seven

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

Miranda came over one afternoon. Cathy’s best friend, and Scootie’s real mom; she had a break in her caseload and popped by to see how everyone was getting along. Scootie didn’t remember her, and backed away whenever Miranda tried to get her attention. Stumbles, on the other hand, was delighted to have someone to smell and lick and let her fall asleep in their lap. Tabasco was uninterested in anything beyond the first crotch sniff. He was lying in the front hall waiting for the mailman.

They sat at the kitchen counter with coffee. Miranda stirred in sugar. “So how’s Gray holding up with all this family?”

Cathy reached for the honey and twirled some onto her finger. “He seems distant,” she said, licking it off idly. “Uninterested. I guess it’s my family and all, but I wish…” he wouldn’t keep disappearing downstairs and leaving me to deal with two hormonal females. She growled softly.

“You wish he’d help out more?” Cathy looked worn out, but Miranda pretended not to notice.

“Wish he’d split the chores down the middle. He could deal with Mom, I’d take Star.” Hey, that might work. Bet Mom would like it. Rent a husband. I’ll ask him later, he might even enjoy it. She started humming, “Just a Gigolo.”

“You want a holiday from your self-imposed mission?” Miranda was smiling behind her coffee cup. She knew Cathy had taken on too much, and had tried to warn her, but Cathy was an eternal idealist.

“Sure, I need a break. What’s wrong with benefits?” Hell, it used to be me getting taken care of?

Miranda thought she must be missing something. “I see him helping. You tell me he’s helping. He makes dinner half the time. You said this.”

“Yes but he leaves me to do all the running around and picking up after everyone while he’s downstairs.” Gallivanting. Having fun.

“Doing guard duty, from what you’ve said. Hey, I want to go downstairs and see what he’s been cooking up.” Miranda squirmed in her seat. “Think he’d mind if I popped down there on my way back to the office?” Cathy was riven by a stab of jealousy. What, is everybody after my husband?

Miranda took another sip and continued, lowering her voice. “How are you two doing, and all? Getting any nookie,” she suggested.

Cathy sighed and traced designs in a coffee ring and just let her words spill out. “There’s never time and there’s always someone wanting something or making noise or popping their heads around the corner, so we don’t get any time together really.” She looked morose. “We tried to take a bath together one night, but both Star and Mom came wanting their turn.” She hid her face behind her cup, feeling foolish for her emphasis on not getting any. But it really bothered her. It was like rejection. “Mom’s been spooning after him,” she mentioned, not looking up.

Miranda glanced at Cathy and hesitated a little before swallowing. She found the idea hilarious. “How cute.”

Cathy scowled. “It’s disgraceful.” The embarrassment was mortifying. Her old mother thinking such thoughts. “Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be jealous.”

Miranda put her cup down in case she spilled it. “That’s rich,” she said, picturing Gray screwing around. She paused and thought. “Well, it happens a lot. The husband runs off with the daughter, the sister, the dowager aunt, the cleaning woman.” She was going to continue with the people the wives ran off with, but she could see Cathy starting to freak out. “It doesn’t seem like Gray’s style,” she said reassuringly. “He loves you.” She drained her cup and pushed it in the direction of the coffee maker.

“More?” Cathy got up and refilled both cups. She slouched over the carafe. “Lately he just seems happier being with Mom than me. He really comes alive when they’re together.” Mostly she caught them sparking off each other right where she was standing, in the kitchen next to the coffee pot. Women were at their most powerful and dangerous in the kitchen. Could Mom be casting spells? She laughed, No, I’m the witch. Wait until I’m old and crazy and flirt with Star’s husband like that. Accept food or drink from me at your soul’s peril, Ah Hahahhaha.

Miranda caught the witch laugh and wondered what was going on in Cathy’s head. “And nothing for you? No affection, no playing?”

Cathy sighed and sat back down. “It’s like we’re an old married couple.” Aw, how sad. She felt her throat tightening up.

“He’s probably just waiting for a good time to act. Maybe he’s stressed out by your mom and Star or the threat of discovery.” It surprised Miranda to see Cathy down, she had it so good. She fished, looking for supportive things to say. “Maybe he thinks you’re not in the mood. Maybe you’re stressed out and sending mixed signals.”

Cathy didn’t want excuses. “Whatever, I’m still not getting laid.” Grrrrr.

Oh kay. Miranda sat and sipped her coffee. The silence stretched out. “What’s the latest on Richard?” she finally asked.

Cathy frowned and pulled on her hair, finding a tangle and yanking on it without thinking. Ow. Even the thought of her ex annoyed her. “He’s changed his prescriptions and is now having trouble staying awake.” Miranda shook her head. “In the car. At work.” Timing his uppers and downers wrong for staff meetings and commutes. “He doesn’t answer my calls because he’s asleep whenever he doesn’t have his phone turned off at work.”

“Why doesn’t he see a doctor? Has he seen a doctor?” Miranda was afraid to ask. She never liked dealing with basket cases.

“No, you had it right the first time. He had a bout of swelling awhile back. I badgered him, and Star badgered him, and even his sister the nurse badgered him to go in for it.” Miranda hesitantly asked what he had. “Nobody knows. His ankles swelled up and turned red and purple and he couldn’t feel his feet. We all figured it was diabetes. Or gout.”

Miranda’s toe hurt in sympathy. “Well, at least they’re controllable.” Relief. Change the subject now.

“Yeah, well, he never got it diagnosed. He made an appointment and went to the doctor’s, but after waiting 45 minutes he got disgusted and left.”

“Disgusted? That he hadn’t gone sooner?”

“That they made him wait. I can just see it. He sat there fuming and coaxing it up to a barely coherent rage. And then he suddenly got up and self righteously marched out of there without anyone ever noticing.”

“You’d think he’d be happy being unnoticed,” Miranda shrugged. “I bring a book. Doesn’t he have some sort of anxiety syndrome? He could bring his laptop.”

“Anxiety and agoraphobia, but he’s also got a computer geek’s superiority complex. He’s worth more because he’s smarter than anyone in the room. How dare they take up his time with their mindless rigamarole. He probably sat there fantasizing the bill he would hand them when they called him up.”

“And he walked out.”

“No doctor. No blood test. No diagnosis, no medicine.”

“And this was to punish them, right?”

“He’s the soul of nonconfrontation.” Paranoid, passive aggressive, autistic, and in denial. About right for a genius. “But I had to listen to it later, with extra venom.”

“At least you know what’s wrong now. Will he get his script doctor to put him on something for it?”

“We’re not convinced it was anything at this point. He says he’s positive he’s not diabetic, tests his blood sugar all the time, he says. Changed his diet just in case. Turns out he’s been injecting himself with steroids for some reason that I am not clear on, and decided it was the steroids that made him swell up. Who knows what he’s not saying?”

“How bad was it? Swollen, I mean.” Miranda had been slowly curling her lip all this time. Involuntarily. Queasiness. She didn’t want to know.

“Oh, god, he’s like a twisted balloon creature. I’ve never seen anyone that puffed out. He looks nothing at all like he did when I married him – I’m afraid to be around him with sharp objects.”

“Do you think it’s the steroids?”

Cathy shook her head with distaste. “Who knows? Drug interactions, maybe. He’s on several varieties of antidepressants and sleeping pills. He’s double patching again and still smoking two packs a day and chewing the gum, still trying to quit. Is he still doing coke, or ecstasy, has he gotten hold of any acid lately? Does he still smoke weed? I don’t know.”

“I’m still not clear on the steroids.”

“Well, don’t expect an explanation from me.”

“Something sex related, perhaps.”

“Star tells me he got himself a cock ring.”


“A Prince Albert.”

“What the hell is that? No. Don’t tell me.” Both sides of Miranda’s mouth were curled and she was breathing air thru that smell gland that cats have under their lips. It’s what they do when they’re faced with danger. “Don’t steroids make your gonads shrivel?”

“The thing’s probably bigger than his dick and balls together.”

“Gross. It could catch on something and rip.”


They changed the subject. “How’s Star like her luxury hilltop spa?”

Cathy drew herself up and drained her cup. “Well, that’s right. It is a spa. It was an awful lot of effort, and I’m giving her the red carpet treatment. She’s a guest in this house, and now that Mom’s here she doesn’t even do the laundry. She doesn’t lift a finger except to make a mess cooking what I must admit is pretty good food.” Miranda looked surprised. “But I have to clean the kitchen afterwards.” She ticked it off on her fingers. “She gets a massage every evening, she’s got her movies, she sleeps all day long. She should be blissful.” She got up to put the cup in the sink. “We even finished putting in a bathroom just for her, and she complains that there’s no bath.”

Miranda had done the grand tour when Cathy was building Star’s aerie. “Oh yeah, from just the pipes, from when it was renovated years ago?”

“Yesss,” it came out in a satisfied hiss. How exciting it was getting to that final detail. Cathy had imagined it for months as the crowning glory of the nest. Star was put out, of course. “We started with the PVC and 2×4 studs that were already in place, and I built false walls with silk and satin, lined with sleeping bags, and put down an alpaca used-to-be pillow for a rug, and installed an oil filled radiator that really overheats it.” That was a good thing. “Gray put in an old sink and toilet we found on the sidewalk, and we used acid and ceramic paint to pretty them up.” Fairies drinking out of the sink and sitting on the side of the bowl. She smiled. “It turned out great.”

“”Maybe I’ll go up and see it. Does she appreciate it?”

“Well, she sneered. But it was pink, and fluffy and cozy and warm.”

“And she’s using it.”

“Hardly ever comes downstairs anymore. Only for showers. So thanks, Mom.”

Suddenly they heard a muffled call from the next room.

“Shit, she heard us. I wonder if she’s been listening?” Cathy disappeared into the bedroom and returned with an armful of dirty plates and glasses. “Mom wants coffee.”

When she’d finished ministering to her mother, Cathy sat back down at the counter. She whispered now. “Yeah, Mom has excellent hearing. She doesn’t hear most of what you say. But if you’re talking about her, or discussing something she’s not supposed to know about, she can hear you a mile away. And she snoops.”

“She lurks and she snoops. That reminds me of Scootie.”

Cathy saw an ear twitch on the floor. “There she is at the edge of the counter where she can keep an eye on us.”

Scootie inspected the ground under their chairs and sat back down around the corner. I’m just waiting for you to drop something, I’m not interested in you. That’s my food. The others musn’t get to it before I do.

Miranda bent over and played intimidate the doggie for a few moments. Scootie outwitted her every time. Cathy wondered if Mom was okay in there with coffee or should she go find out if she needed something. No, that was asking for trouble. Better not get involved. But Mom’s presence seeped thru the door and clouded the air in the kitchen.

Miranda’s coffee was cold. “Has Star gotten used to the idea of a home birth?” she asked in a low voice.

“Sort of. The moment she raises any objection I insist that her only choice is having the baby here or having it in the hospital with handcuffs on, and she shuts up. I know she’s not happy about it. She doesn’t seem worried, tho. Not like I am.” She clapped a hand to her forehead. “Don’t get me started.”

“Okay.” Miranda eyed the bedroom door. “What does your mom think about the whole home birth thing?”

“Actually, I think we’ve been lucky. She got sick right after she got here, and hasn’t given a thought to Star, who’s staying out of her way. Maybe she’s even forgotten Star’s pregnant.” Miranda looked at her questioningly. “No, I wish she was senile. She’s as sharp as a tack. Too bad she’s starting to get better. Maybe I can get her sick again somehow, put flax seed in her oatmeal and don’t give her any water. Never mind. Anyway, now she’s better, I’m going to have to start making things up, because I can’t tell her the truth. And I’m not very good at making things up.”

Miranda laughed. “You couldn’t tell a lie if they were holding Gray hostage.”

“Well, as long as I repeat it and never waver, she’ll accept whatever I come up with. I’ve learned that much, at least.” It works for politicians.

The doorknob rattled, and the bedroom door swung back into the dark, creaking. The crypt door opened. Some of Mom’s stuff blocked the doorway. She had to back into her room holding the doorknob before edging past into the kitchen, her housecoat fluttering ghostly in the gloom, emerging into the kitchen light blinking, squinting, scowling. Wispy hair floated around her head like a demented halo.

She looked down at the table Gray had put up for her. It’s in my way. That’s not very convenient. I need to get by. Maybe I can get them to move the cabinet over and give me more space in this corner. She jostled past the table and made her way to the coffee pot. There was none left. How thoughtless.

Mom was about to complain, but Cathy had already gotten up to make more. Mom showed every sign of wanting to hover until the coffee pot stopped burbling. Cathy found herself wanting to show Miranda she could stand up and take charge. “Go sit in the corner, ” she told her mother. Then she was stunned. Wow, that took forty-five years. Cool.

Mom gave her an irritated stare and made her way unsteadily to the chair, staggering a little so Miranda could bear witness later. See how they treat me.

Cathy made coffee while Mom and Miranda discussed how wonderful Gray was. So generous, so thoughtful, so calm, so pleasant, and nothing like as full of anger and hate as Cathy and that Star.

Cathy knocked some dishes around in the sink and half rinsed a cup. “Here, Mom. Your coffee’s ready, what do you want in it?” Get up and make it yourself.

Mom looked dismayed. She’s forgotten how I like my coffee. I never forgot their preferences when they were growing up. “Oh dear, I guess I’ll have to get up and make it myself,” she said breathlessly. She made a half attempt to rise, and sank back heavily. “Honey can’t you get it for me?” she smiled, “Please?” She turned the smile on Miranda. See how I’m abused. “Where were we?”

Cathy turned away. Steal my husband, steal my friend, turn me into a slave. “I never said I wouldn’t fix you coffee. So how do you want it, black?”

“You know very well I take sweetener.” Cathy looked at her blankly.

Just as stubborn as when she was little. No. Don’ wanna. “The pink stuff.” Cathy looked in the junk drawer for the toxic chemical sugar. Mom huffed in exasperation. She’s being slow and stupid just to irritate me.

“No, two,” Mom snapped as Cathy closed the drawer with a single packet in her hand, then went back to laying out her case for rearranging the kitchen. Miranda approves. At least some of Cathy’s friends seem sensible.

“Milk?” I shouldn’t ask.

“Heat it up first.” Mom eyed Cathy as she dramatically heaved her shoulders and shuffled over to the microwave.

“What kind of law do you practice?” Mom leaned in to show Miranda she was really interested.

“Family law. Women and children, mostly.”

Mom peered at her suspiciously. “You weren’t Cathy’s divorce lawyer, were you?”

Miranda tossed up her hands. “Don’t blame me for that. Divorce cases are too traumatic. I do abuse, custody, child snatching, runaways. Sex, drugs, and violence. It’s a lot more clear cut.”

“If I’d thought you could sue your relatives for treating you badly, I would have gotten myself a lawyer twenty years ago,” Mom said with a tight pressed smile. Who can I sue now, poor me, they’re almost all dead and I’m almost the only one left. I could sue my brother’s children. I could sue my children. Ungrateful little brats. Ah, what a nice thought. How empowering. I feel better already. She smiled brightly at Miranda and started to tell her about her revelation.

Cathy saw Mom winding up, and assumed it was to drone the sad story of her childhood and her martyrdom as a mother, something that could take hours once she got into it. She decided to step in. “People have treated Mom badly in the past, but she’s getting the treatment she deserves now.” An old charm she’d learned. Put anything bad into past tense.

Mom snarled to herself and shut up, shooting a sidelong zot of anger at Cathy. Deserve? What an insult. I don’t deserve the way you treat me. Oh, you’ll get yours, missy. I only hope I’m around when you get it.

Cathy felt Mom’s withering stare, and went to the sink to look for something else to clean. How about the counters? She used elbow grease and was able to ignore Mom telling her best friend why she had such a failure for a daughter. Miranda had a job, at least, a career. Cathy didn’t do anything. Such a loser. All my dreams for her. Cue violins.

Cathy scraped gunge out of the grout with a spoon and made as much noise as possible with the scrubby. Lalalala I can’t hear you. Loser. Mom doesn’t see the way I cope with totally different circumstances than she had. She doesn’t appreciate the difference or the wisdom or the good job. She’s always critical. She’s never satisfied. Nothing is good enough for her.

Mom looked up and didn’t like the way Cathy was hunching over the counter with her back to them. There was something hostile about it, as if Cathy’s back were sneering at her. Star had that same hunch. Why were they so angry?

“I really think you should do something about Star’s total lack of respect toward me,” she said suddenly, prepared to tell her just what was wrong with Star. “She’s worse than you are.” Discipline. I should have used a stricter hand. We were so permissive in those days; look what it’s brought us.

Cathy bristled. Worse? Respect isn’t something you get for passing Go. People earn respect. And you’re not working very hard for yours. Keep bitching about my daughter and I’ll make you sit in the corner and face the wall.

Cathy sat down beside Miranda and stared into her coffee cup. It was cold and evil. Mom told Miranda all about the houseful of college students next door, maybe fifteen feet away across the alley from Mom’s bedroom. They were hooligans. Unbearable, the noise. The parties. And Miranda had taken the phone so she couldn’t call the police at three in the morning when they were screaming. And the girl didn’t have the decency not to walk naked in front of her bedroom window. And she had multiple sexual partners. And one of the kids was homosexual and had his little friends around all the time, and he got drunk and sang at the streetlight, and sounded like a cat. Miranda nodded and didn’t say anything. Mom didn’t notice her silence. She was wailing about what she thought of that kind of immoral living and the justice they would get real soon now, and it felt righteous.

Cathy heard the zealous bleat in her voice. It pissed her off. Those were nice kids. They came over to borrow the lawnmower every couple of weeks, and they were all struggling to get an education. Mom probably took notes. She got up and went over to reorganize the knife drawer. We don’t go around here thinking we’re better than our neighbors.

Mom heard that. She drew herself up. I’m entitled to think I’m better because I’m saved and they’re going to Hell. How dare you tell me I’m wrong? I go out of my way to be gracious and forbearing to all these sinners. I’ve got manners. I’ve got breeding. I’m one of the select and I demand respect and obedience. In the name of Jesus. Yeah.

Cathy heard Mom start to mumble the start of a powerful prayer. She thought it was Mom getting ready to try and convert Miranda. Say something to distract her. “Hey, Mom. I thought I’d make some split pea soup.” The look on Mom’s face was making her nervous.

Mom took a deep breath and flexed her shoulders. She smiled graciously and started having food thoughts. The dogs searched under her chair for something that might have come loose. “I think that’s a wonderful idea. You’re going to put carrots in it, aren’t you?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Cathy said, rooting in the pantry for the dried peas.

Mom looked concerned. “You’re going to use potatoes, right?”

“Wasn’t thinking of it.”

“Tomatoes, at least.”

“I don’t know. I might have some catsup.”

Now she looked put out. “You’re going to use onions, surely?”

“Not necessarily, I was thinking about garlic.”

She started to look angry. “You can’t use garlic and not use onion.”

“I might be out of onions.”

“What are you going to use for flavor?”

“I thought maybe a bouillon cube.”

She rose from her chair in a fury. “Let me make it.” She felt like she’d been tricked into it.

Cathy was surprised to see Mom getting up. She figured she’d have to listen to her harp and bitch and lecture and instruct and get mad and do everything but cook right up to dinner time. She never expected she’d want to take over. She must be feeling pretty good. “Well, that’d be great, Mom. I’ve always loved your pea soup. If you’re feeling up to it.”

She sat down next to Miranda and looked to see how much colder her coffee’d gotten. Miranda showed her a high five – Mom’s famous cooking. Mom saw it and her face got dark as she rummaged around in the cabinets for the right pot, which of course Cathy wouldn’t have the right pot. I don’t like the flip way she’s acting around her little friend. They don’t realize how much effort it takes to make good food. She certainly isn’t sufficiently grateful. I might well have to lie down and let Cathy finish it anyway. I’m still weak and need my rest. As long as she does it the right way.

Cathy’s coffee had congealed on the surface. She squeezed past Mom and put it into the microwave, then went to the bathroom to make space for more coffee.

“For instance,” Mom was saying as she came back into the kitchen, “if your gall bladder or whatever is acting up, you just hold the lights over the affected part and you can feel the pain easing.” Cathy got her coffee and sat down.

“Does your gall bladder act up?” Miranda asked.

“Oh, terribly. You can’t imagine the pain.” Cathy wasn’t listening. She was staring into her coffee cup while Mom told Miranda about these amazing healing lights that you could use to cure anything that’s bothering you. Mom was on the cutting edge of quack medicine, and Cathy thought her mom was mostly on the right track, or at least a harmless diversion, as long as nobody talked her into investing in anything.

“No, you can feel it working. In fact, if you’re using it on your bladder, it turns you on, if you know what I mean. You have to be very careful where you put it. There’s a lot of energy in those lights. They really affect you.”

Cathy looked at Miranda. “They must be very strong,” Miranda said. “I’m glad to hear you’ve found something that works for you.” Mom felt like a schoolgirl being held up as a good example. I like Miranda.

“Never too late,” Cathy added, feeling embarrassed for her friend. One of those devices has to work. But turned on? Gross. I hope she moves on to something else next week.

Mom heard Cathy say Mom’s a slut, and read her discomfort as condemnation of her own mother. A whole string of unpleasant things happened inside Mom’s head. Cathy and Miranda had a last, peaceful sip of coffee, unaware of Mom the bomb ticking down.

“I’m sick and tired of being talked to in that manner,” she growled, moving into action. She slammed the cabinet door and rushed back to her room, pinging into the fridge and the door and knocking the side table completely over. Bang clatter clatter bam.

“I deserve respect,” she stated, tossing her head with every word. She slammed the door. It made a resounding noise, and shook the floor. Dust fell on Gray down in the basement.

Cathy would never know why her reaction was so extreme. How many childhood humiliations it brought back to be made fun of that way. The abuse she’d suffered at the hands of her brothers, the neglect of her own mother. And now her own descendents, flesh of her own flesh. She felt how Our Lord must have felt knowing he was betrayed and going to die, and it was people He loved that did it.

A heaviness seeped into the kitchen. “God, let’s go sit outside, Cathy said. “Want some more coffee?” They fixed fresh cups and snuck outside while Mom seethed loudly from behind closed doors.

Cathy sat on the glider with her feet up on the end table in front of her. Miranda sat in the wicker armchair and put her coffee on a table full of orchids. It was a quiet afternoon, warm enough in the sun. People walked by now and then, heading home or up to the convenience store around the corner. They spoke in normal tones now that they were outside. Cathy asked Miranda what she’d found out about the kids’ police charges.

“When’s the court date?”

“They haven’t set it.”

“What have they been charged with?”

“The case is still pending charges.”

“Why isn’t anything happening?”

“There are a bunch of different offices looking at different pieces of the case.”

“Can we get the police report? Who’s got the case?”

“The DA has the police report.”

“Will they give it to you?”


“Why not?”

“Narcotics isn’t thru with it, and DEA’s federal and they don’t know when they’ll be thru with it. They’ll give it to the DA when they’re thru with it.”

“When do we get to see it?”

“The defense will have to go thru discovery first.”

“And we can’t see it because?”

“I’m not Star’s defense lawyer. They haven’t started discovery. The DEA’s not done with it.’

“What about the right to a speedy trial?”

“Yeah, never mind that. It can take years.” They laughed about it. but its continued unresolvedness ate at Cathy.

They sat at the bend in the porch, where they were halfway between the front door and a side door into the master bedroom. Both doors were still open, for the circulation, and the dogs liked to scratch at the screen once in a while, hoping to be let out. Suddenly the bedroom door opened, and Star stomped out onto the porch. “Have you been listening all this time?” Cathy wanted to know. Star stared her down. “You’re just like Grandma. She listens to every word.”

Star completely ignored Cathy’s complaint. She was angry. She stood in front of her mother, her fists on doublewide hips, her face screwed up, about to cry. “Mom, this is so unfair. How come I don’t get any friends over, any, and you can see anybody you want? I’m sick of this.” Star stamped her foot and her thighs thundered. Defiant, knowing Cathy wanted her out of sight, she sauntered, well, tottered over and sat in the rocking chair in full view of the street. Cathy hissed at her to get back inside.

Star turned her chair away from Cathy, and incidentally away from the street. “Miranda, can I be forced to testify against someone if we’re married?” Cathy hadn’t heard anything about that.

“In many states, you can’t, if you’re legally married.” Star looked relieved. “But the rule is suspended where both people are involved in criminal activities.” Star looked crestfallen. Miranda wondered if she’d be willing to talk about it. Next time she was over. Maybe she could help.

Miranda glanced at her watch. “Oh wow, I’ve got to go.” She got up front the chair and patted herself down for the keys.

Star voiced her objection. “But I wanted you to see my room. Maybe you have to use the bathroom?”

Miranda did, in fact, need to go. All that coffee. But Mom was in the main bathroom, and she knew it was going to be at least five minutes admiring Star’s setup if she went into the attic, and she was dead late at that very moment. So she went ahead and left. Some court appearance, Cathy assumed. Star wondered if she were trying to avoid dealing with Grandma.

A mother and a very pregnant daughter stood inside the screen door, waving goodbye. Cathy put her arm around Star’s shoulders and she let it sit there for a moment before shrugging it off. “I’m making split pea soup tonight,” Cathy mentioned, savoring the contact.

Star turned to go back to her room in the attic. “Are you making your split pea or Grandma’s? I don’t like her soup.” Oops. I guess I should go start the peas. I wonder who’s going to end up making it.

Mom was waiting for Cathy just inside the kitchen door. She was furious about whatever crack she’d made to Miranda about her. “You have no idea how your words cut me. You’re deliberately trying to shame and humiliate me. And how dare you talk about me in the third person, as if I were dead?” The fact that she’d heard most of the third-personing from behind a door didn’t seem to bother her.

“Wow, Mom. Whatever I said, I wasn’t trying to insult you.” She went thru the possibilities for wrongdoing. It could be anything. “What did I say?”

Mom glared. “Some remark,” she snapped. “Don’t try to make me repeat exactly what you said. It was the tone of voice you used. It was angry and mean.”

“Um.” In this condition, Mom was explosive if mishandled. Do not drop or shake. Ignoring her might work, but only if the countdown hadn’t already started. Something as audacious as asking if she were jealous of Cathy’s visitor, like Star was, would be pressing the red button.

Mom stood there, her face white with rage. Her neck and shoulders hunched together and her hands were crablike, clutching her coffee cup and the crossword puzzle. “You really hate me, don’t you,” she stated with conviction.

Cathy felt like screaming. “Don’t be ridiculous.” You don’t laugh at Mom, it’s dangerous. And you don’t argue with her, or yell at her, or show meekness and contrition. It was such a fine line she had to walk. “If I hated you, would you be here?”

Mom slammed her way back to her bedroom, knocking the side table over and sloshing coffee all over the side of the fridge. “If I felt better,” she yelled, “I’d pack up and leave right this minute.” She came back and stood in front of Cathy’s nose. She smelled old. “I’m being kept prisoner here,” she insisted, her eyes bleary, the fine capillaries in her nose swollen and red. “Just like poor Star.” The skin on her face was wrinkled and wrinkled some more. Dirt and old face powder obscured the pores. “If I were well enough I’d go across the street and call the police on you.” Her housecoat had stains and dried food all over it, and there were crumbs in her hair. “The first chance I get, I’m turning you in for keeping me and Star against our will.”

Mom stomped off into her room. Then she was back. It was too silent in there. That reminded her of a major grievance. “It’s criminal, you know. I’m going to bring criminal charges against you. You won’t let me borrow the car to go to my favorite televangelist church while I’m here, and you won’t take me. I’d have to take the bus, and I’m not well enough to do that.” She raised her fist and came closer. Cathy stood her ground, but flinched. “You’re so heartless you won’t even let me watch the service on television.” Her face was puffing up like Harpo Marx. “You’re keeping me from the comfort and guidance that I need. That’s abuse.”

Cathy pretended to ignore her and tried to get to the sink with a plate she’d found, held in front of herself like a shield

Mom practically ripped it out of her arms. The plate fell to the floor and broke. “I’ll bet the nice elderly lady across the street would like to go to church with me,” Mom said triumphantly as Cathy bent over to pick up the pieces. Cathy’s butt looked like it needed kicking.

Cathy rose and swiveled away from Mom’s foot. “I’m not keeping you. Go.”

Mom slammed the bedroom door again. A plaster crack in the corner grew two inches.

Yeah, go. I’ll drive you to the station. No, I won’t. You’ll take a taxi, or walk to the bus. Cathy finished the conversation in her head several times, always ending with Cathy’s turn at slamming the door.

The plan had been to not have Mom around while Cathy was keeping Star hidden from the law. Then Mom arrived unannounced and promptly got sick, and the plan became to fix her up as quickly as possible and get rid of her. But she’d been sick for a very long time for not seeing a doctor. So now the plan was to get her out of there somehow, before Star went ahead and had her damn baby.

The plan included nothing about Mom making friends in the neighborhood , or taking over the household, or moving in, or finding out anything of what was really going on. But this part of it was now in jeopardy. Cathy’s idea of managing her mother’s ignorance looked pretty stupid.

Mom had made one slip-up after another since she’d been there. The phone, opening the door, pulling the drapes. Security had become a matter of patrolling the house for Mom’s trail of changes and adjustments. Cathy dreaded the possibility of a serious effort to reach the outside world. She would certainly ruin everything if she was given her head.

Cathy was swamped by images of how badly it could go down. Mom could ruin everything and not even notice. She could ruin everything just by being herself. She could ruin everything out of spite. She could ruin everything out of self-righteous anger. She could go out of her way to ruin everything just so she could stand there and say I told you so. Nyananananana.

A quick enquiry of Gray brought her back to reality. It was worse than she expected. “She’s been leaving the house?” Gray showed her still pictures. Mom in her housecoat jaunting down to the corner. Mom coming back from the convenience store with something in a black plastic shopping bag. “When does she get the chance to do this?” she said. “I’m there all the damned day long. She’s in her room.”

He was glad she’d finally asked. “Well, she’s pretty spry for her age,” he suggested.

“She’s not in her room all day?”

“While you’re napping or spending time out back she tends to be more adventurous.” Cathy had a sudden feeling of panic. What if Mom was watching her getting high out in the back yard?

“Does she do anything when she’s out?”

“She borrows people’s phones.”

Oh my god. “Who does she call?”

“Her brother. Your brother. Your sister.”

Okay, that’s as good as I can hope for. “Any 911 calls?”

“I thought about putting in an automatic shutoff for 911, but decided against it. But, no, she hasn’t made any.”

“What’s she say?”

“She tells the boys she’s having a great time and you’re being really sweet. Your sister gets all the dirt, and to her you’re a horrible, ungrateful girl.”

“Oh.” I can live with that.

“What can we do about this? This is serious, she’s wandering around the neighborhood.”

“Wel, I’ve already told people she’s got Alzheimers, and they’ll be watching out for her and won’t pay too much attention to what she says. And I’ve been working on this,” he said, flourishing what looked like rhinestone-studded handcuffs. “If we can get her to wear these, we’ll be able to tell whenever she leaves the house, and electronically persuade her not to.”

Cathy was impressed. “Wow. Maybe we can use these ourselves.” Gray grinned bashfully.

go to tomorrow’s writing


1 Comment »

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

    Pingback by day six « Cathy Eats Her Words — October 12, 2009 @ 2:18 pm | Reply

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