Cathy Eats Her Words

November 30, 2008

day eight

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 6:01 pm

Cathy started hiding from her mother and her daughter. She couldn’t sit in the back yard without fear that her mom was watching her from the window, and there was nowhere in the house she felt a sense of privacy. She might have gone off to sit in a coffee shop and write blog entries on her laptop, if she’d had a laptop. But she was seized by anxiety whenever she left the house these days. Something might happen. She was haunted by visions of Star in labor, of Mom calling the cops, of both of them descending on Gray with their endless requests. So she took to hiding down in Gray’s studio, sitting in the corner reading a book while he tinkered.

She was down in the workshop one evening after dinner. They’d had their dog walk and come back to the basement rather than go inside and face the music, Mom’s singsong “Cathy,” Star’s minor-key “Mom.”

It was peaceful in the workshop. The dogs nosed around every c orner, sniffing, maybe chancing a quiet pee in some corner to mark it. The only lights were high intensity workbench spots. It gave the place a warehouse look, with rows of stacked equipment fading from sight down the length of the room. Cathy looked around. There’d been vast changes, recently, but she couldn’t exactly tell what they were. Whole sections had been torn down and rebuilt, a nd yet everything had the dust of ages on it.

“This looks almost comfortable in the gloom.” She wandered about and noticed an old mattress roled up on its end beside the fireplace, tied with electrical cable and covered in sawdust.

Gray put his soldering iron down and came to investigate when she started swatting the dust off. “Whatcha doin?”

“I was just thinking we might be able to use this.” She coughed at the dust.

“Are you tired?”

“No, I was thinking of something else.”

“I see. Well…” He kicked a few things aside, walked over to the fireplace and untied a cord wrapped around the chimney, and a shower curtain unfurled across that part of the room. “How about if I get us a room?”

“Get a room,” she repeated. Uh oh. She panicked at the thought of getting naked in the basement. Mom might listen thru the floor. But he was clearly delighted. “Wow,” she said, finding something to be positive about. “A privacy screen. You’ve been thinking.”

“Yes, I have. I’ve been thinking we could do this. And this. And this.” Cathy laughed maniacly.

They laid out the futon behind the wall of monitors,.Gray couldn’t see what was going on around the house. The thought kept intruding at engrossing moments, and he made himself ignore the nagging suspicion that he was missing something. It was the first chance they’d had for ages, the first time they’d both been interested since Cathy’s mother arrived, and he wasn’t going to pass it up. Besides, he’d be able to rewind the tapes and see what happened later. He turned his attention back to Cathy’s flabby aging body and shut his ears off except to listen to her moans, while his subconscious had a field day with the stuff coming over the speakers.

Gray’s next conscious thought was about alarms. They were lying on the furon in the middle of the workshop, resting after a particularly exhausting quickie that had taken most of an hour. Cathy seemed to be asleep.

If he had a way of monitoring the monitors. He wouldn’t have to pay constant attention if he could figure out some sort of intelligence that would watch it all for him. Maybe the dogs? No, they didn’t like TV. A complex computer program he wasn’t capable of writing? Face and voice recognition software? Maybe, ah, a device that would interfere with some other device and squawk when Spike was around. Yeah. And something to plant in Star’s clothing, her shoes maybe, that would let him know when she left the house. Maybe he could adapt a house-arrest bracelet thingie like the cops use. And once he had alarms, by god he was going to use that new GPS device to notify him when the alarms went off no matter where he was. Waste not want not. He found himself whistling the dwarves’ work song as he got dressed.

Cathy noticed. He looked like he couldn’t be more eager to get rid of her.“You sound like you’ve got a new project,” she said, fishing. You sound like you’ve going to see a new girlfriend.

“Um.” He looked a little guilty. Oops, breaking husband’s rule number twenty-three. After sex, act smitten to disguise your impatience to get away; a dull loook of love assures her that you haven’t lost interest now that your pants are back on.

He didn’t want to discuss his idea because it was too fresh, and it might not be possible with his tools. She would ask a lot of questions and he’d lose valuable insights. He wanted to rush over to his bench and start drawing and figuring. He felt that it would be more than gracious if he went upstairs with Cathy and got a cup of coffee before starting. He had work to do, and he needed to get right to it. He tried to decide whether to take a few notes and go to bed, or stay up half the night working out his ideas.

He felt like she wanted him to be close after making love, but this was a quickie, a break in the day, and the evening was still young. She seemed to want to curl up on the futon and stay there all night. But that wouldn’t happen until both Star and Cathy’s mom were gone. So a quickie was great, and now back to work.

Cathy stood there wondering why he was looking guilty. Why’s he so eager for me to leave? What’s he hiding? Gray was putting on his socks, and lost his balance, ending up on the futon. He looked a little dazed. Cathy thought it was funny for a moment.

“Are you alright?” she asked. She felt guilty. Maybe he’s ill and I haven’t noticed the signs. That might explain why he’s acting odd. She helped him up. The difference in their ages showed. He was getting frail, where she was still spreading out into middle-aged stolidity. It made her want to cling to him more. “I’m so glad we came down here and made love.” Touching him made her want to continue touching him.

“Me too.” He dodged aside and headed toward the door. “Right now I’ve got things to do.” He was beginng to lose the details already and it was going to take some effort to retain the rest. “How about we grab some coffee?”

“I was thinking about things,” she said as she trailed him up the steps. “While we were having sex.”

While they were having sex, she was being all insecure and does he still love me, despite his body’s frenzied response. She’d been distracted, running Mom things and Star things around in her head, then coming back to Gray’s ministrations for a short while, and enjoying them, but then concentrating on what she was doing to him and thinking about things and getting all distracted and forgetting to feel what was going on. Again. If I was conscious of a third of what Gray was doing to me, I’d think I’d faint. Thinking cuts off feeling. However. This was a great change from the new normal. I’ll treasure our moment always. She reached forward and pinched Gray’s baggy butt thru his jeans.

Later, lying in bed in the middle of the night, Cathy replayed certain things about their illicit adventure. His brusqueness. The way he didn’t meet her eyes afterward. How easy it was to read another woman into his enthusiasm for some new project. She was seeing rivals everywhere. If it weren’t laughable, she’d suspect Star of being after Gray. Why not? He’d give her anything she wanted. Take me, my mom’s too old, and I’m young and nubile. Cathy felt spiteful. What a golddigger. Then she just felt old.

Gray, meanwhile, was feverishly trying to design an alarm alarm from first principles. He immediately hit a series of walls. Engineering walls. Parts walls, How-to walls. His sense of urgency was notched up a couple of degrees when he found a listening device that Spike had placed at the entrance to his workshop. When he tested it, he found that he could hear right thru his windows and pick up what was coming out of the wall of speakers. His dilemma – leave it there and use it to feed Spike false information, or dismantle it and use it for parts. It wasn’t much of a dilemma, actually. Gray figured Spike had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Not easy to fool a guy who was parked on the sidewalk and in possession of a cellphone.

Gray did a quick inventory. He needed a few more things before he could do anything, so he did a mental search of what was in the house. He’d already taken Mom’s TV, but Star still had hers. There were various clock radios, Star’s smuggled-in cellphone, a couple of cameras, a blender, a toaster, two hair dryers, an electronic key finder, several old wrist watches, and an entire working computer with modem and router. Hmmm. He was still stuck with only an idea and no way to put it all together out of what he had to hand. He began a list of things to get from Radio Shack, and wish he was more up to date on microelectronics.

Cathy tossed and turned that night. She hadn’t written in her blog for some time. It made too much noise in Mom’s bedroom for Cathy to sit in the back room and type. She sometimes wished she’d left the television in there. She tried to get up in the middle of the night and write a post, but she would inevitably rouse Mom, who would then want to know what she was writing. Which by that time were mostly rants about her family, rather than the food industry. When she did get a minute, when Mom was marathoning in the bathroom, for instance, she found she couldn’t organize her thoughts, couldn’t get into the mood to write anything coherent or topical.

She was awake; it was two in the morning and she couldn’t get back to sleep. So she wrapped a housecoat around herself against the cold, and snuck back to her computer as quietly as possible. She had an idea in her head and figured she might as well write it out and post it. The title was going to be Relative Vampires: How Family Can Suck The Life Out Of You.

She swaddled the keyboard in a towel so the clicking keys wouldn’t make enough noise to wake Mom. The blog host servers were having a busy night, and autosaves took a lot of time, and Cathy kept getting colder and colder. The wind rattled the trees against the roof and sides of the house. Another thing for Gray to get to. Surely she’d mentioned it to him for months now.

Her fingers were getting cold. She feather-typed a few freshly inspired sentances and waited for the page to update, rubbing her fingers for warmth. They felt like celery stalks. There was still more to write, but she was starting to freeze. She’d tucked her feet up and sat crosslegged for awhile, but her feet went to sleep and she had to rest them on the cold tile floor while they tingled and burned and froze at the same time.

Enough. She got up and looked for the oil filled electric radiator she dragged out every year around this time. It was a life saver. She always set it up right in front of her knees and rested the keyboard on it. It kept her coffee warm when she pulled the keyboard into her lap to type. She looked in several places, but it wasn’t there. Finally she gave up and went back to bed to inflict her frigid hands and feet on Gray’s warm unsuspecting body. Morning would be soon enough to ask him if he’d moved it.

“I gave it to your mother yesterday.” They were lying under the covers with their morning coffee. The little dogs were snuggled together between them, oblivious.

“Excuse me?” She wasn’t expecting that. She was immediately affronted. How could you?

He was blithe. “She asked me if we had an extra heater, and you weren’t using it.”

“Yet.” I would have started last night. He shrugged. She thought he was thinking she was just making it up, and felt guilty, so she didn’t say it. It was true, but it didn’t sound like it. “What did you give it to her for?”

He took a sip of coffee. It was starting to get cold. “She asked for it.”

“But it’s mine. I need it.” She felt like stamping her feet – it isn’t fair. “What mad eyou think you could go giving away something I use every year without telling me, or asking me? I have to discover it in the freezing cold when I’ve got some actual time to write in my blog.” She kicked at the covers. Stumbles got up and moved to Gray’s side of the bed, offended.

Gray said nothing.

“You know shell never give it back. I won’t be able to write in my blog at all now because you’ve given away my heater.”

Gray thought about getting up. “We’ll get another one.”

Cathy made a face. “No we won’t. We’re already going broke with all the extra groceries these two are costing us. Not to mention the electric bill. Or the water bill. We’ve doubled our expenditures since t hey’ve been here.”

“It’s more like two and a half to three times,” he pointed out. He kept the books and they were spending way more than they were bringing in with Cathy’s daughter and mother living there.

Cathy was starting to steam. “Never mind. I’ll eat dirt and rocks because you gave Mom my heater. And you had to give it to Mom, didn’t you? I wouldn’t have minded if Star needed it, becaue she’s pregnant and I’m babying her. But Mom just takes and takes and never says thanks. She orders me around like she was Mom and I was still a kid. In my own house.” She turned to see how he was taking it. He wasn’t reacting, just lying calmly with his coffee cup on his belly, patting the dog with his free hand. Cathy felt hurt. He’s not patting me. “And you’re enabling her. You make her comfortable, you do things for her, you give her tables and fmake eyes at her all day long. She’ll never leave.”

Gray pulled the covers off and got out of bed. Better things to do than sit there and be yelled at.

“Go get it back.” Cathy felt abandoned. No, she wanted to whine, don’t get out of bed. Come back, I’ll do all the things you like. But there he was, putting on his pants. She got angry again. Fine, abandon me. “You go get it back. You gave it to her. Tell her I need it.” Damn independent husbands, always going off and doing something I won’t like. I’ll probably never write another word until she’s been gone and I’ve fully recovered, maybe six months. But I need it just for the principle of the thing. Mom’s got to learn she can’t get away with stealing other people’s property.

“You don’t listen,” she said resentfully, getting out of bed on her side. The floor was cold. “How many times have I told you to stop doing nice things for Mom? It’ll only give her the leverage to stay.” She’s only using you to win her battle with me. Just bow out, say no, be too busy. That shouldn’t be too hard. He wasn’t reacting much to anything she said. She wondered whether to provoke him.

“Are you listening to me? Why aren’t you responding?” She went on before he could say anything. Or else he waited until she went on by herself. He stopped listening. She went on.

Later Cathy was making dinner and Star was down from the attic, backseat cooking. She wanted macaroni and cheese, and Cathy had her way of making it, which was different than Star’s way, and different yet from Mom’s way, and both of them tended to bitch at her about the differences, but at this point Cathy was in a hurry to get dinner, and didn’t feel like doing anything anybody else’s way, so she ignored the bitching. “Make it yourself.” And since Star had no intention of getting up from the chair in the corner, and Mom was unhappily in bed, she got to make it her way.

Star was beginning to get panicky about the birth. She’d been looking over some of Cathy’s midwife texts and was filled with fear about all the unlikely things that could go wrong. “Mom, three day labor? What’s that all about?”

“Well, sometimes it takes a long time.” There were so many vairables.

“It says that the first birth usually takes the longet. Do I really have to be in pain for three days?”

“The part that hurts is the part at the end, sweetie.” Cathy tried to reassure her, but Star was skeptical. The movies she’d seen looked like the woman was in excruciating pain the whole time.

“I don’t think I want to do this,” Star said in a small voice.

Cathy was floored. “Well, it’s kinda too late for that. There’s no way not to go thru with it, I’m afraid. It’s not like you can undo being pregnant at this point.” Even if the baby were to die prebirth, god forbid, they’d stce labor in order to get it out of her. She didn’t want to mention it to Star, because she knew it would freak her out. Hopefully she wouldn’t have read tabout that eventuality.

“Well, I still want to go to the hospital. I don’t care if they lock me up and take the baby away. I’m not having you deliver it. It’s just too gross.”

“Shhh.” Cathy nodded toward the closed bedroom door. “You can be heard.”

Star snorted. What did she care if Grandma heard? Maybe she would take her side for once and force Cathy to do the right thing. “But Mom, I’m scared. So many things could go wrong, and you’re just not equipped to deal with it.” Her mind sought things to object to. “I don’t want you to see me naked.” Cathy snorted. “I could die. The baby could die. The cord could wrap around his neck and strangle him. You could drop him when he comes out.” She tried to think of all the horrible stuff she’d been reading.

Cathy started to tell her that she was being hormonal and suffering with the same fears every pregnant woman had to face. Star didn’t want to hear, didn’t want to be reassured. She wanted to panic. Cathy tried to talk sense into her while she made dinner. Star sat in the corner and twisted her hair into knots, and then started chewing on her fingernails. Cathy could see she was driving herself deeper into irrationality and fear. Soothing pregnant ladies with overactive imaginations was one of the things she liked the least about her time as an apprentice midwife.

“Mom, I’m not sure if I even want the baby. I don’t think Spike wants a baby, either. I just want to go off with Spike and start over?”

“Over, like in not having a baby? Like pretending you didn’t bring a life into this world? You want to stay a kid all your life and not face any responsibility? Just wander around the world having adventures?”

Star looked like she was happy that her mother understood her.

“You might have thought about that when you decided to get pregnant. I remember you telling me that you two made a baby on purpose, so that nobody could separate you. Now you have to deal with it.”

“But I’m not ready to have a baby.” Star was crying. She looked pitiful. Cathy pitied her.

“But you can’t just abandon your baby.”

Star looked up hopefully. “Will you take her if it’s a girl? Spike is dead set against having a girl.”

Cathy was appalled. “ No way. It’s your baby. You’re strong enough to raise a child.”

“But I’m not ready. You’re so much more experienced. You did a good job, really Mom, you can do it again. Please take it off my hands, I can’t do it.” Star had her head in her hands.

Panic. Talk sense into her. Make her do the right thing. Cathy searched for arguments to counter Star’s objections, but the objections were so silly and unrealistic. Take the baby off my hands. I don’t think so. “You’ll manage,” she snapped. “Women manage.”

“But I’m just a kid.”

“You’re old enough to live with the consequences of your actions, Star. I tried to tell you before, but you wouldnl’t listen. And now you’ve just got to deal.”

“But I can’t,” she wailed. Panic panic panic, maybe if she flailed enough someone would rescue her.

But Cathy couldn’t rescue anyone. “If you take the easy road all your life, you’ll never get anywhere. You’ve got to deal with the hard stuff. You’ve got to face facts and learn to cope with the situation. A baby is a wonderful thing…”

“But I don’t want a baby,” Star interrupted. “I just want to be with Spike. I don’t want a life of pain and suffeirng just because I got pregnant. Maybe I’ll just leave when he’s born, and you can deal with it.”

“Are you threatening me?” Cathy wasn’t sure how to take Star’s panic. She was just saying anything that came into her head. She started talking sense to her again, how adversity and struggle built character. But Star was panicking, not listening to a word she said.

Gray walked into the kitchen to get more coffee and disappear back into the basement. Something about how Star was acting reminded her of Gray’s latest transgression. The process was the same. They both were up to something Cathy didn’t think was right, and she would try to talk sense into them, but no matter what logical arguments she made, no matter how much she appealed to their self interest and better instincts, they both just went on the way they were going, and she had no influence at all. Why did she bother? “You two are so annoying,” she said. They looked at each other with questions in their eyes. She passed around Gray to get something from the pantry, and leaned into his back, growling. She felt the growl reverberate thru his body. He was as thin and hollow as a shell. She told them what was happening and what they should do about it, and they persisted in thinking and feeling and doing what they wanted to. And it was wrong. And she couldn’t do anything to change their behavior. Grrrrr.

During the evening dog walk, they chanced past a neighbor who was taking groceries out of her car while talking on her cellphone. Stumbles stopped to take a dump a few feet away. Cathy would have wished she’d chosen to shit around the corner, and felt embarrassment having to stand there and watch the dog do her business. The woman scowled at her and said something into the phone. Cathy almost dragged the dogs around the corner, wanting to get away.

The next morning when they came up to the neighbor’s house, Cathy and Gray were surprised to see the ground cleared around Stumbles’ small pile of already decomposing shit. Someone had drawn a circle around it and written “bad neighbor” in the dirt.

Cathy fumed all the way around the block. She was used to getting away from stressful situations when they went on the dog walks. It was too much to be hounded by the neighbors as well. She encouraged Scootie to take a dump in front of the woman’s car. “Come on, right where she’ll step in it.” But Scootie declined; she had her favorite spot and was saving it.

Three days later, both the little dogs crapped on the bad neighbor’s sidewalk. Cathy stood there watching them, hoping the woman wouldn’t come out and catch them. She looked at the sidewalk, which was full of leaves. She looked at the garbage cans, which had trash piled up all around them. She looked at the recycle bins, full of beer and wine bottles, pizza boxes and empty vegetable cans. It was a place designed to attract rats. She snorted. Bad neighbor. Who’s the bad neighbor? Someone who walks their dogs regularly, or someone who trashes the neighborhood? She called to Gray to wait for her; he’d gone around the corner with Tabasco looking like a sailboat being propelled by high winds on rough seas.

The nieighbor came out of her house as Cathy was rounding the corner. She looked suspiciously at the fresh shit and called out after her, “I’ve got bags.”

Bags, Cathy thought. Why don’t you use them to contain your trash? The little dogs stopped to smell a plant Tabasco had just peed on. “Come on dogs,” she said, pulling savagely. The little things jumped, looking guilty. “We’re not out here so you can stop to smell and pee every three feet, we’ve got to get home. Gray, wait up,” she called. It was cold out, she wanted to hold his hand and warm up beside him. She scurried to catch up to him, walking fast, almost angrily. “The bad neighbor almost caught me,” she confided, wanting to share something with him.

Gray didn’t say anything, but jerked at Tabasco’s leash, pulling him out of the street where he’d spotted a flat squirrel. Nobody noticed the neighbor, who was stalking along behind them, talking on her phone.

After lunch, Cathy and Gray went out again with the dogs. There was a bulging plastic grocery bag hanging on their doorknob. It was full of plastic grocery bags. There was a note. Cathy fumed.

“I stepped in dog feces in front of my house recently. My daughter set her bookbag down in dog feces the other day, and spread it all over the back seat of the car. I’m not suggesting that your dogs are the ones who leave feces on my sidewalk, because there are many dogs in this neighborhood. But I want you to k now that it’s the law that you have to clean up after your dogs. Please help solve this important hygiene and sanitation problem.”

Gray read the note without comment, and tossed the bags into the trashcan. Cathy fished them back out. “I’m going to collect dog shit for a couple of days and return the bags to her that way,” she said with a sneer. “See how she likes it.” Gray walked off down the street, being dragged by Tabasco. Cathy caught up. Gray was being silent all the time now. What was wrong? “What’s wrong?”

He made no answer. Was he holding his tongue so as not to say something to set her off? Because she was ready to be set off.

“I can’t believe the tone of her note. What a bitch. She’s the kind of angry liberal that gives the party a bad name. Unforgiving, rigid, coercive.” She was thwacking the dogs’ chains with every word. Gray walked faster.

“Important problem,” she continued. “She’s trying to make it our problem. Like we’re the bad guys for not solving it her way. She sounds like a Republican.”

“Well, we see the world differently than she does,” Gray said, mildly.

Cathy ignored him. “Making us responsible for her not watching where she’s stepping, and her daughter’s inattention,” she snorted. “Like dog shit hasn’t been around for millions of years. Like it’s a goal everyone should strive for – nothing of any kind on any street. How does that work? A consumer society with no waste. Hah.” She dragged the dogs over to the curb of the neighbor’s house. “Just look at their recycle bins.” She kicked the one with all the bottles in it and the dogs flinched at the noise.

Gray gravely continued to say nothing. Normally he would have had something remark about people’s standards being useful for them. Something that acknowledged all sides. But Cathy’s rant was beginning to annoy him. They walked on. Cathy composed a nastygram to leave with a bag of dog shit on the neighbor’s steps.

Cathy could tell that she was being agravating. But she couldn’t help herself. She had to rag about the bad neighbor. The impudence of the woman, her self-righteous assault, her insulting accusation. Having to endure it was sitting on top of having to listen to Star complain that she’s not ready to have a baby, and having to listen to Mom complain about how bad a mother she was being. She was tired of having to listen to all these emotional irrational people. It was affecting her sleep. She felt petty, impatient, and dissatisfied. Overwrought emotionally, ready to snap. She kicked at the dogs when they stopped to smell a phone pole.

And that’s not all that’s bothering me. The stress of Star getting ready to go into labor. The long arm of the law reaching up my ass. Mom being such a time bomb and pushing all my buttons. It’s wearing me down. It’s winding me up. I’m springing leaks. I can’t take much more of this.

For weeks Cathy had been gradually been sinking into self-doubt and insecurity. She was revealed as a failure even before the final test. Nobody knew it yet, but she was ready to admit it to herself. It felt awful. Hollow and achy, false and brittle. Maybe another serious quickie would ease the angst. She sidled up to him and took his arm. “You’re kind of cute.”

He brushed her off and made a joke. “It’s dangerous being the focus of your attention.”

“I don’t love you either,” she snapped, withdrawing his arm. This isn’t helping.

He made another joke. “At least I”m not on a leash.”

Cathy heard it as condemnation. Confirmation that she was a fraud. A simple reference that she took as badly as her mother did. She worked up a real paranoid ‘you really hate me and you’re doing things behind my back.’ There’s too much you’re not telling me. You don’t trust me anymore. You don’t love me anymore. You’re sorry you married me. You want me to go. You’ve found someone else. She didn’t say any of what she was thinking, but chose to break the silence as they neared the house. End on an honorable note. “If you want, you can move into the workshop, if you need some space or some time or…” She trailed off. He must hate me.

For the rest of the evening,whenever she got the chance, Cathy said some of what she was thinking. Not the stuff that sounded silly to her ears, like you want to sleep with Star of Mom. But all asorts of minor assertions that he didn’t respond to. He was ignoring her. She would ask him what he was thinking, because that always worked. But she was too impatient for assurances that he still loved her, and would finish the sentance for him. But she couldnl’t keep herself from coming back to the oil filled radiator and what it said about his respect for her. Digging at him. Showing him how emblematic it was. Always in a resentful tone, or with grrrs. And tho she never accused him of desiring someone else, she thought it constantly.

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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.”

“No.”

“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.”

“Eww.”

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. http://www.laleva.cc/food/food.html

“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?”

“No.”

“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

November 21, 2008

author’s note

Filed under: Author's Note,NaNoWriMo — jeanne @ 4:30 am

this is such a long final little bit of the chapter. It was meant to be the standard 8-10 pages that i end up with per chapter. But the little bit that had to be covered in the outline turned into page after page of exploring the building events, and now it’s as least twice as long.

Feeling my way. And i just today thought up what has to happen in the next and last chapters, which is a whole interlocking series of events involving the minor characters, who interact with each other. This is like a story in itself, and i find as i finish this sixth chapter that i’m thinking of things that i’ve just set up and how they must play out, and rushing down to the bottom of the outline and putting down what has to happen before i forget it.

So the following chapters are getting bigger, but it’s the end of the book and it’ll turn out as big as it needs to be. I’m really busy mowing the grass behind this wall calling publishing, striking out and rewording as fast as i can. It’s just that i’ve planted so many seeds and they keep sprouting up and needing to be trimmed.

It could get worse. I’ve just maybe decided to include a suspected meth lab in our neighborhood into the story. At least, i suspect there’s a meth lab because of the funny smells, but it could just be somebody dumped their toxic waste in their side yard or something. But i’m sitting here writing what does whom to what and i keep wondering how it could fit in.

more pages, bigger, longer, incapable of being finished in the time left in the nanowrimo contest and so maybe we’ll wait until next year to finish cathy eats her words? i don’t fucking think so. i don’t want to spend three years on this unpublished novel when i could be writing a book that my entire family will never speak to me again after it’s unpublished on the internet for them all not to read – train wreck: the wrath of mom.

i’m actually spending all the time i was going to take finishing the sixth chapter finally, and i probably might could have finished it today. but i’m spending all my time rewriting how the story has to go from here, and it’s a major rewrite, with all sorts of emerging motivations and twists in the plot.

it’s beginning t o get musical, mathematical, there’s rhythm to what happens and then what happens and then what happens. a waltz maybe. It’s much more complex than it was, but when i wrote the outline there was a fuzzy spot at the end where a miracle needed to occur. so, cool, i sat down this morning and pulled one out of the air in front of me.

i love when that happens. It means you could just sit down and start writing without a thought in your head beyond the opening scene – which appeared to you while you were sitting in the bathroom. and the story would write itself. And you wouldn’t know the ending until you read it on the screen. this technique is called no plot, no problem, and it’s how one of the founders of nanowrimo writes. just write. shit happens.

November 14, 2008

day six

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 6:48 pm

Gray was down in the workshop. He’d escaped to it early, right after breakfast. Mom had awoken in a foul temper and he couldn’t stand the way she berated his Cathy. Mom never spoke to him that way, in fact she went out of her way to be nice to him. Gray got the impression Cathy’s mom was a little afraid of him, or intimidated, the way she smiled at him. As if she were trying to placate him for some power she imagined he had over her. It creeped him out. And since he was not the kind of fool to try and get between a squabbling mother and daughter, especially since he suspected they enjoyed the squabbling, he found one day that he’d been hiding down in his workshop for a few weeks now.

But he wasn’t wasting his time. Gray had a control room now, and that took constant tending. A dozen televisions stacked in rows in the middle of the workshop, a battery of stereo speakers hung up on the pegboard behind the workbench. Mom’s TV was on the bottom of the stack, in the middle because it was the largest screen. As a token gesture, Gray had the feed from her bedroom showing on it. Mom liked to sneak food.

He was keeping an eye on the street, the front yard, the sides and back yard, mom’s room, star’s room, their room, the kitchen, and the bathroom. He needed another half a dozen cameras to get everything. And there was the need for backup. But he was stretched for materials, and wondering about the wiring.

He made up for a lack of eyes by a vast proliferation of ears. He’d been collecting speakers and microphones for donkey’s years, and saw nothing wrong with putting them in closets, under tables, in vents, trees, overhands. He had the whole street covered. If you where whispering at the end of the street, it came out of a bent and tinny speaker on the left side of Gray’s board. The gay couple down the street was having huge screaming fights every other night, and the kid next door seemed to be running a gambling ring on his cellphone.

It was a calming sussurus of white noise coming from all those speakers. They picked up the traffic, the wind, the creaking steps and beds and doors, the rustling of bedclothes, the tread of feet, the bark of dogs, the slam of cabinets, the flush of toilets and the running of water. Strangely enough, Gray found that his mind could pick out the significant things from all the background noise. Words popped out of the noise in soundbites, coughs expressed meaning, footfalls communicated attitude. Star liked to talk sex and cuddles into her cellphone all night.

Gray was weighing the expense of going to the thrift store for more TVs against the trouble of scrounging the wider neighborhood for tossed-out computer monitors. Cheap won immediately. Gray was practical. Where Cathy had insisted on practically nailing boards over the windows upstairs, he couldn’t stand turning on a light when it was daytime, so his windows were uncovered, and to minimize the glare on the control room monitors, he was rigging a false wall out of braces and pegboard, and was fixing to transfer the speakers and rearrange them, this time with labels so he’d know where a sound of interest was actually coming from.

Gray was the type of genius inventor who gets carried away with a sudden inspiration, selects a previously inspired mess on some tabletop, sweeps it away onto the floor, and sets up the newest inspiration right there in the rubble. That’s why the TVs ended up in the middle of the room. There was space there. But only because a folding table and a complex piece of parquetry that hadn’t yet been laminated onto the board had been in that space, and he’d been loathe to dismantle it until now. He’d probably lost some of the intricate pieces of wood he’d cut when he swept them all into a bag to stick on top of the shelves in the other room. Oh well.

His latest fascination was with the world of 1s and 0s. Cathy’s computer had a password, but any fool could guess IXSTAR. She claimed she couldn’t remember a  string of numbers and letters like the internet safety experts recommended. When forced to use another one, she picked GRAYYY. In the face of his wife’s transparency, Gray was going on the assumption that either Star or Grandma, or both, was able to send emails and visit websites.

So he installed a keystroke monitor program while nobody was looking, built himself his own computer from lucky finds on the street, figured out the wireless network thing and hooked himself up to Cathy’s computer. It only took superhuman feats of persistence and alien thinking to figure it out. That, and a computer geek buddy of his.

Star had been busy tracking her pregnancy on her MySpace page, complete with cellphone-shot photos. She took the precaution of pretending to be updating her page from a Secret Location, but her pictures showed the attic stairs and the bathroom and even the front porch. And Spike’s truck.

The other evening, Cathy mentioned – well, she went on and on, heatedly – about Mom’s veiled threat to turn her in for dependent abuse. “After unleashing her on the hair dresser woman, I don’t dare let her out again. She’d go up to Spike himself and invite him over for dinner.” She had her arm in Grays’ and she was tugging him down the street, dragging the dogs behind them. Tabasco was very much put out. “Can we put in land mines on the walkway or something?”

He’d been thinking along those lines for awhile. The electric-shock door knob. The automatic bird dropping and dog shit dispensers. The subsonic sidewalk that induced a fear reaction, and the subliminal-message cricket and tree frog deterrents. So he was working on a wooden owl that would be the source of a nauseating aerosol derived from tear gas. He had part of the workbench cleared of its electronic parts to make way for the bits and pieces he wanted to put into the owl. He could watch his monitors as he worked was why he’d chosen that spot, tho he had a woodworking area on the other wall. However, it was being used to stage vcrs that recorded select close circuit TV feeds. So okay he was getting sawdust on his electronic workbench, but he was careful enough, and blew it away before it got too plentiful. He was almost thru carving and sanding the owl now, anyway, and going to need to clear up a little more space once he decided  how to paint the markings. He was glancing at the reference photo of the real owl, and one of the monitors attracted his eye. He stopped to watch Cathy sneak down to the back yard to sit by herself and smoke pot.

The final, important thing that kept Gray occupied, aside from all the unimportant things that kept Gray occupied, was Spike. He and Spike were in a pissing contest. Spike had the money, the professional expertise, the dog bounty hunter attitude. Gray had his wits, spy enthusiast magazines, and family to protect. It was an even match, so far. Cathy’s Mom made it so much harder. Gray suspected, but couldn’t yet prove, that Grandma was in league with Spike. He was aware of Spike’s comings and goings, he heard one if not both ends of their nightly lovebird cellphone calls, he’d caught objects being passed from Spike to Grandma to Star and back again. He suspected more but as yet had nothing on tape. Certain cameras kept fuzzing out; he was planning to replace the corner camera altogether. That materials shortage. He looked up, and stopped to watch Star uncover a hole in the attic floorboards and light up, blowing cigarette smoke down onto Grandma’s ceiling tiles.

The latest challenge Spike had lain before him was a handy little gps monitoring system he’d found attached to his car. He’d downloaded the manual and was trying to decide whether to slap it on Spike’s truck or do something else more creative. Who did he need to track, and why?he could put it on the dogs. He could let that yappy Stumbles run loose with it on her collar, and see how many times she successfully crossed the main drag on her romp. Or maybe he could combine it with something else, or send the information somewhere else, or send the wrong information somewhere else. He twisted the thing in his hands, this way and that, thinking. His eye caught movement on a monitor. He watched as Cathy’s mother took a flashlight and did rhythmic, then spasmodic things with it under the covers. She seemed to like it better with the light on.

go to tomorrow’s writing

November 13, 2008

day five

Filed under: NaNoWriMo — jeanne @ 3:59 am
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Gray and Cathy got up before anyone else stirred. He brought her coffee in bed and they sat and talked quietly while the dogs and cats slept all around them. They no longer had sex. At best, Gray would burrow his hand under the cover and rest it on Cathy’s thigh, and if Cathy could shift one of the dogs, she might grope for his penis and stretch it to where she could comfortably cup it with her hand on his belly. But she was careful not to stroke it too often, because it would be unfair to get Gray excited for nothing. It was sad, really. They didn’t even feel like talking about sex. It had been so long, and there was so much else to deal with that they were becoming used to sliding out of bed and getting dressed without so much as a smooch. Cathy kept meaning to raise the subject, but she felt too tired, and didn’t want to upset Gray. Gray figured she just wasn’t in the mood, and didn’t feel like making many innuendos.

So they’d get up, and go about their day. The dog walk, but mostly they strolled along with their hands in their own pockets and didn’t say much. The dogs were always entertaining, but Cathy tended to snap at them whenever they got rambunctious..

They always made enough noise to wake the dead once they got started on breakfast, or that at least was how Mom expressed it. Gray would prepare oatmeal and Cathy would feed the dogs and bring Mom coffee and bring Star yogurt and fruit and ice water.

Mom spent hours in the bathroom, and sounded almost fearful whenever Cathy knocked on the door, afraid her daughter might need to come in and would be exposed to the toxic waste emitting from her infernal regions. As far as Cathy was concerned, shit is shit whether it’s from a baby or a dog or your own mother. But she’d walk in on Mom frantically lighting a match and waving it around even as she continued to sit there and fart. So Cathy ignored her discomfort and said whatever she’d come to say. Do you want cheese in your eggs, do you want toast, can I heat up your coffee, where’d you put the something.

It wasn’t clear to Cathy whether Mom was suffering from diarrhea or constipation, because Mom was always very vague about it. Cathy just knew that she was in a lot of pain and that everybody had to be quiet and let her get some rest. All that banging and knocking, and those horrid dogs barking all the time.

It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth day of continuing intestinal emergency that Cathy figured it out. It wasn’t until she came upon Mom downing an extra-thick flax seed drink. “Oh it’s okay, honey, flax seed keeps you regular. I always take it whenever I go anywhere.”

http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/flaxinfo.htm

“And when’s the last time you had this?”

“Oh, at Harry’s,” her brother the doctor. Overachiever and knowitall. Their mom’s favorite.

“That’s when you were in the hospital?”

“Of course not. I was in the hospital the first time. Years ago.” If you loved your mother you’d remember these things. If you really loved me.

“So you get these attacks all the time? And you’ve never gone back to the hospital?” Can they do colon transplants?

“No, not all the time. I never have this trouble when I’m at home.” She got up from the toilet, yanking up her pajama bottoms. I’m too fragile for this kind of abuse. “It’s all the horrible food I have to eat when I go somewhere. Or the uncomfortable bed. Some stress that I just can’t handle at my age.”

“Do you ever eat flax seed when you’re at home?”

Mom stiffened and turned her attention to the cabinet and started rearranging Cathy’s essential oils.

“Do you think you might be getting a little too much flax seed, and maybe that’s reacting badly with your intestinal processes? I notice you don’t drink a lot of water.” Bread dough. Wallpaper paste. Cement.

“No,” she said dismissively, “I’m sure it’s something in the food. You’ve got to be feeding me MSG.”

“Mom, I’d like you to stop using flax seed for awhile. We can see if that doesn’t make a difference.”

“Well, I’m almost out of it anyway.” She’d brought a 16 ounce can with her. It had been in the fridge for weeks, blocking the milk carton.

Mom still had enough energy to bitch at Cathy about the food, the heat, the noise, the brightness. But she stayed in bed most of the day, and Cathy never saw her without her pajamas and housecoat. Cathy only saw her in the bathroom, in the kitchen eating, or in the bedroom.

Mom did not have enough energy to bitch at Cathy about Star. She hardly ever mentioned Star. No, the whole focus of Mom’s attention was on Mom these days. You don’t know how I suffer.

But Star had enough energy to bitch about Mom. “She smells. I can smell her up here. It makes me nauseous.”

“Nauseated.”

Star shot a sideways glance. Cathy was upstairs rubbing her belly with oil. Around and around and around. It was so soothing Cathy could fall asleep right here. She loved being upstairs with Star. Not that they had a great time together, because of Star’s constant moodiness, but Cathy was grateful for anything, even abuse. Star didn’t have enough energy to abuse her mother. She abused her mother’s mother instead. “She’s disturbing me with her snoring, too. I’m not getting any sleep at night.”

Cathy examined her face. Star’s skin glowed, she had no bags or circles under her eyes, she looked fresh and healthy. If bored. “You’ve only got a few more weeks,” she observed, sliding her hand around and around Star’s belly. “Are you ready to have your baby?” Star sang out ready, but Cathy doubted it. She herself wasn’t ready. Thoughts of what could go wrong accompanied her tossing and turning every night.

Cathy looked around, feeling contentment. A warm cozy little attic tent, everything rounded and soft, lots of cushions everywhere. Last week she’d found a plug-in fountain on the dog walk, and now there was a water feature by the steps. “I love it up here,” she sighed. She glanced at Star, who was forming a snarl. “I know you don’t. but I’ve always found it peaceful and removed from the rest of the house. Especially now.”

“You’ve noticed I never come downstairs anymore, now that Grandma is here.”

“I realize you must be really suffering with that.”

“No, really. If I go downstairs to get something to eat she’ll come out and talk to me.” Star winced and clenched her hands. “Can’t you tell her not to talk to me?”

Cathy smiled. “I’m not getting between you and Grandma. You arrange things with her.” She stopped massaging and pulled the covers over Star’s gigantic belly. Her little baby had ballooned out until she could only waddle, inflated legs and arms waving about, her round head lolling. The funny thing was that Star didn’t notice that she’d gained way more weight than just a baby and the broth it was marinating in. She would prance in front of the mirror just like she used to, a tiny thong, a huge belly, a bra she was spilling out of on all sides. Venus. Cathy would be looking in horrified fascination at thighs the size of watermelons pocked with great gobs of cellulite, and Star would be going on about how she still had her legs.

“Well, if she insists on keeping her TV so loud we’re going to have war.”

“We’ll take the TVs away just like we did the phones. Use those headphones Gray gave you and ignore her. You know, she still thinks Gray fried the phone and that’s why we don’t have one upstairs anymore.”

“He didn’t fry the phone?” Why hadn’t mattered, so she never noticed the why, just the insult of having the phone taken away.

“No.” She never listens. “We took the phone because neither you nor Grandma can keep from picking it up when it rings.” And we’ve agreed a hundred times why this is necessary. She stood up and went around the room, adjusting the hang of a blanket here and there. “Are you sure it’s not getting too chilly up here at night? We could bring up another oil heater.” I wonder just how many appliances the wiring can take.

Star kicked at her covers, a down comforter underneath one of Cathy’s blue jean quilts, and thousand-thread cotton sheets over a feather bed. She was proud of her bed. She always had a nice bed. It was a thing with her. The rest of the attic can go ahead and be a filthy, creepy old attic, but at least she had a proper bed. “I’m fine, Mom.”

“I guess it’s the heat you’re generating because you’re pregnant.”

Star was tired of hearing about how everything was different because she was pregnant. How she had to do everything different because she was pregnant. Being pregnant was supposed to be fun. Here she was being held captive. “I don’t feel hot. I feel normal.” She felt depressed and tired. That was normal.

“I hope you’re not mad at me from keeping you away from Spike.”

Star rolled her eyes. “I’m getting used to it. I know you think he’ll turn me in, but you’re wrong.”

“Well I’m glad you see the reason.” You’ll thank me later. Cathy might have said it, but it stuck in her throat. She brushed a layer of dust off a floor lamp.

Star waved at the approaching dust. “I don’t see it. but you insist on it, and if you think it’s right…” There was a lack of conviction in her expression but Cathy wasn’t picking it up.

Cathy sat down on the edge of the bed. Star moved reluctantly, half an inch over. Cathy draped her elbow over her daughter’s hip and patted her arm. Star squirmed. “I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t trust Spike, you’re right. He doesn’t look us in the eye since you’ve gone into hiding. But maybe he loves you like you say he does.”

Star turned her head. “Mom, I don’t want to talk about this.”

“All’s I’m saying is that maybe it’ll turn out okay in the end. I can see how it might.” Shadowy, but Cathy could imagine both of them suddenly coming to their senses, realizing that they needed to be together to raise their kid, and rearranging everything about their lives to make it happen. It would take a couple of hundred separate miracles, but it could happen.

Star bowed her head and looked pitiful. Cathy leaned over and kissed her flossy golden hair. What’s her shampoo have in it anyway?

As Cathy came down the stairs and turned off the attic light, she saw a shadow move, and heard the heavy clumping of feet and then the squeak of a bed. How good is Mom’s hearing? Does she listen every night?

Mom pretended to be asleep when Cathy went thru to give her a fresh glass of water for the night. “How you feeling, Mom?”

“Mmmm.” Mom lay there and debated with herself. Did she want to confront Cathy with things she and Star had been talking about, or make nice? She decided to wait. “Turn on the television for me,” she asked resentfully.

“Where’s the remote?”

Mom rustled the blankets. “It’s somewhere.”

Cathy walked to the TV and pushed it on. It came up with two commentators shouting at each other at top volume, the screen filled with banners and scrolling words and flashing colors. Cathy’s first reaction was to punch it off again but she stopped herself, and instead stabbed the volume button repeatedly until it stopped yelling.

“Turn it up. Turn it to channel 89 for me.” Gray had jury rigged the vcr and the cable and the dvd player to the TV, and there was no remote for the vcr, which is where you could change the channel. Cathy and Gray didn’t care because they only ever watched movies on tape or disk and they left the channel set to weather. Anyone wanting to watch actual TV had to get out of bed and thumb the down button on the VCR. Mom loved catching Cathy coming thru the room.

Mom had spent some time earlier that day working up a real good fit of righteous indignation on the hate channel, and was now going to get down with God and hear His spin on the day’s events on the love channel. And it would have been almost tolerable, shut the door and ignore it, except for the fact that Mom liked to have the volume up to 53. And no matter how Cathy fussed at her, she wouldn’t put it lower than 22. Even at night. Cathy could hear the ranting in her sleep.

It was part of Mom’s mission to spread the word of the Lord, and by God everybody in this house including Cathy and her wayward daughter needed to have the words of the Lord crammed into their mouths and scrubbed around like strong soap.

Cathy walked thru the dark hall to their bedroom and almost dislodged a baffle of bubble wrap and foamcore that Gray had just installed over their door.

“That was interesting,” she said, seeing Gray lying in bed with the covers over his chest. “Does it help?”

“We’ll find out in a minute.” The noise was muffled, but they could hear every word of a car ad.

“I guess it helps,” she said.

“A little.” The dogs just looked at each other and buried their noses in the covers.

Cathy noted it with satisfaction when the empty flax container turned up in the garbage. She’s out. The following days saw an improvement in Mom’s apparent energy and health. But no change occurred in her daily habits, and Cathy thought about hinting again.

But Mom had no plans to leave. She now had established a nice routine for herself, in a place where she could be waited on hand and foot, and she could stay as long as she liked. Maybe she would go home in time to do the yearly taxes, but it would be just fine if she filed late.

By wheedling, sneaking, demanding and sulking she had managed to get the heat cranked up, get one more spare heater than Star, had all the television she wanted, and had darkness and quiet when she needed it.

Mom became so far improved that she started spending time out of her room. Cathy caught her standing in front of the screen door, staring out at the street, a cup of coffee dangling from one hand. “Mom?” No response. “Mom?” Cathy opened the screen door and reached in to shake her mother, who continued to share until Cathy got in her line of sight.

Mom wrenched her head to one side. “Shhh. There’s a homeless man lurking around next door.” Cathy turned to look. Mom said, “I’ll go call 911,” and turned to hustle out of the room. “Where’s the phone?”

“The phone doesn’t work.”

Mom reacted angrily. Clearly she didn’t believe Cathy.

“But it’s true.” How pathetic.

“It’s not safe not to have a phone. What if something bad should happen? What if I needed to call 911?

“The sound of your hitting the floor would alert Gray, downstairs. He’d call for you.”

Mom snarled. “That’s not funny, young lady,” and returned in a huff to her sweltering, dark, loud room.

Then one day Mom’s TV broke. “This is an outrage,” she stated, coming out of her room to pace back and forth across the kitchen. “You’re doing this on purpose.” The pockets of her housecoat were filled with papers, brushes, and bits of clothing. Cathy saw her fabric scissors poking out behind a folded newspaper section. “Mom, you haven’t been using my fabric scissors on paper, have you?” nothing dulled them faster than paper, never mind the stupid child’s game with the rock and paper.

Mom felt her pockets. “No.” Were was that article she’d clipped?

Cathy went over and took the scissors back. She suddenly wanted a locking closet, like Richard had. She made to leave the room, wondering where she could hide her things.

Mom stopped her as if she were stealing something. “Where are you going? My television isn’t working. You’ve got to go fix what’s wrong with it.”

Oh? Cathy went in Mom’s room and flipped on the light. It reminded her of when it was Star’s room. Clothes everywhere on the floor, open suitcases with the contents strewn around the room, a pile of dirty clothes waiting to be washed, papers, everywhere, dishes everywhere, food everywhere. The television was blissfully silent, unusual for either occupant.

She pushed the on button. A field of snow came up on the screen, hissing angrily. “Hmmm.” Mom had already turned it sideways to check out the cables. “Hmmm.” She followed the cable to the wall and wiggled it. “Hmmm.” She went back and thumped the top right hand side of the television. “Humph.”

Cathy straightened up and pushed the off button. “I guess I’ll get Gray to come up here and check it out.”

Mom was horrified. “He can’t come in and see me like this,” she cried, and scurried back to bed. “Cathy,” she hissed, “get me my brush.”

“It’s in your pocket.”

“I know that,” she snapped. “Get my purse.”

Cathy looked around, then mentally ran thru the house. “It’s in the kitchen,” she said, leaving to get it.

“Cathy, where’s my makeup bag? It’s in my suitcase. It’s in the bathroom.”

It was in the freezer. Cathy took the opportunity to pick up dirty dishes and dishes with food in them and dishes secreted under the bed and a couple of dishes at the top of the closet while Mom put on her face.

“Maybe I should get dressed,” she said, looking hopefully at Cathy. She saw herself acting the part of the maid in one of those depression-era society movies. Beulah peel me a grape. Yes’m.

“Well, I need to get dinner started,” Cathy said.

“Cathy, tell Gray I simply have to have the television working. House is on in a couple of hours.” Mom was brushing her hair, forty nine, fifty, fifty one. She was rosy cheeked and bright eyed, and this was thru the makeup.

Cathy felt resentful as she went to get a hand mirror. She feels fine now. Gray winked at her as he passed him in the kitchen.

He spent some time in Mom’s room, fiddling with the set, chatting away and having a great time. Cathy felt a twinge of jealously as she heard Mom’s laugh come trilling out of the room. Oh Rhett, you musn’t talk so. Why a girl could get so I just don’t know.

That evening, Mom came out of her room for dinner. She wouldn’t sit up to the counter but asked Gray to set up a side table near the chair in the corner. “You know, you should keep this table right here.” She patted the arms of her chair and smiled at him, crossing and uncrossing her feet in pleasure. “It works so well for those who can’t be perching on high stools all the time.”

The dogs set up watch at the three points of Mom. Scootie lurked under the table, Stumbles sat under the seat, and Tabasco positioned himself in the outfield. Mom ate heartily, laughed at everything Gray had to say, and kept Cathy up and getting things for her. A knife. The salt. Some butter. No, Gray’s spread. A glass of water. Some more cheese.

She patted the table contentedly. “Yes, you really should put this table here permanently.” Scootie got up and patrolled her perimeter, growling softly at Stumbles, who’d looked up hopefully at the noise.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Mom,” Cathy began. When are you leaving?

“Oh, I’m not feeling better at all,” she said briskly, waving a chicken leg. The dogs tracked it like it was a field exercise with live rounds. “What makes you think that? No, I’m not sleeping well at all. I’m up all night with you can’t imagine the discomfort.”

Cathy ate her food in silence. Mom told Gray about the terrible noises she heard constantly from the rest of the house. Gray told her about the ghosts that lived in various rooms. Mom gave little shrieks and wiggled around on her seat. Like a cat in heat. The dogs pranced and capered as Mom shed pieces of food that had fallen among her clothing. Cathy was embarrassed.

Joining them briefly to get seconds of starch and fat, Star was disgusted.

“Star, look how good this table looks in the kitchen,” Mom crowed. “You could take a picture.”

Star said, “Sure, I’ll get my cellphone,” and spooned macaroni and cheese into a bowl. The dogs turned their allegiance to her and set up new territorial boundaries.

Cathy looked at Gray. Cellphone? “How nice to have the both of you together while we eat. We should do this more often.”

Star snatched her bowl up and marched out of the room. “That’ll never happen. I’m on BED REST, remember?” The dogs followed swiftly, toenails clicking in three different brisk rhythms.

Mom motioned for Cathy to pass her the salad bowl. “I just love sitting here, with this comfy chair and this lovely table. It’s so comfortable and so handy. I almost wish I had it in my room. Anything’s better than the wobbly nightstand that’s in there.” She rubbed the surface sensuously and sighed fondly, gazing in Gray’s direction. Was she rubbing the table leg up and down? “But I guess the most practical place for it is right here.” She looked at Cathy angrily. “I have to insist that you leave this table right here all the time.”

The dogs, settled back into their stations around her, looked defiantly at Gray and Cathy. We’re guarding our stash. Grandma eats right here from now on. Cathy got up to collect the dinner dishes and run some water to wash up. She ignored Mom, who didn’t skip a beat, but turned to Gray about the horrible racket the dogs made all day long, especially when she was trying to sleep. Gray nodded sagely and slowly, ate his food, and said little.

On the way back to bed she paused at the door. “You’d be fools not to keep this table next to the armchair from now on. It’s not my house, of course. But it’s not an option, in my opinion.”

This is her way of rearranging our kitchen? He whispered to Cathy.

She shook her head frantically. “Don’t talk about it here. She can always hear it when you’re talking about her.”

“What?” Mom yelled from the next room. “Cathy?”

She groaned and got off the stool to go into Mom’s room.

“Was Gray saying something about my television? My show is on in just a few minutes.”

“No, we were talking about how big that table is.”

Mom seemed offended. “Oh. Well, if you think it doesn’t fit. But I’m going to ask for it again, because I like it that way.” I win. She settled in under the covers and shivered with the cold in the drafty room. “Shut that door. And go ask Gray if my television is fixed yet.”

go to tomorrow’s writing

November 11, 2008

day four

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 9:45 pm

Cathy went in to Mom’s room the next morning, full of resolve, looking for the telephone to call and make her reservations on the first flight out of there. The mid-afternoon flight out of there. Okay, the last flight. Let’s face it, Mom was a train wreck. It would take three times to pack as expected. Maybe she should go around and start collecting Mom’s things before she was even out of bed. Go thru every room and pick up her stuff, put it all in a garbage bag and drag it into the room along with a cup of coffee to sweeten the blow. Hi Mom, you’re going home today.

Mom moaned as Cathy opened the door. Pitifully.

Cathy felt herself losing weight, wasting away. She could stand there with her hand on the door knob for a thousand years, she could turn to stone and weather away, and Mom would still be there. Cathy sighed.

“Cathy? Is that you?” Mom called, barely audible from under the covers, an old lady’s querilous bleat. Mom might as well be reading from a script.. No no no, the director shouts, say it like you’re on death’s door.

Cathy sighed. “What’s the matter, Mom?”

“Oh,”

“Mom?” The covers hadn’t moved. Cathy couldn’t tell exactly where Mom was under the lumps. Was her head at the bottom? Was she sideways? Maybe under the bed.

“Oh, honey, I’m not feeling very well,” Still no movement. Cathy thought she could hear Mom sighing, or maybe wheezing; a muffled droning noise.

“Mom?”

On cue, a weak cough. The covers shifted slightly. Cathy caught a whiff of curdled fart. “I think I’m running a fever.”

Cathy rolled her eyes. Here’s Mom, right before I’m ready to kick her out, getting sick. No, making herself sick. What is she, psychic? She turned around and went to get the thermometer, furiously shaking it down on her way back to the bedroom. “Mom’s sick,” she muttered to Gray as she passed.

100.5. And this was significant because, as Mom explained, “I always run half a degree below normal. So it’s really 101. And for someone my age, that’s not good. I’m closer to death than you think.” It had been a long speech, and Cathy should be proud of her stamina. If it weren’t acting. If everyone didn’t run half a degree below 98.6. If the stupid inventor of the thermometer hadn’t miscallibrated it to begin with.

Cathy couldn’t be more angry. But how do you kick your ailing mother out into the cold to catch a bus to the airport? Actually, she could fantasize every moment of it, in great detail. And it gave her a big jolly to think of throwing all Mom’s crap onto the front lawn. She would have never thrown so well or with so much strength and authority. She would scream like a banshee, she would give a martial arts yell from the core of her being that would forever dislodge the evil spirit that resided in her mother.

She sounded like Mom. Cathy was horrified. It felt so good to be so righteous. She backed out of the room, muttered something comforting to Mom, went and got her some water, and shut the door so she could get some sleep. Fleeing,

So Mom settled in a little deeper. Cathy’s step dragged more. Gray grew a little more distant. Star grew a little more petulant. The dogs acted out.

Cathy and Gray were out on a dog walk. The after the workday and before dinner dog walk. Cathy had been cleaning the house, something she almost never did when it was just her and Gray. For some people, cleaning is an activity they do to make themselves feel better, a godliness kind of thing. Cathy associated cleaning with the depths of depression. When she was feeling good, she did creative things. When she felt horrible, she noticed all the gunge and furballs.

Gray had been better occupied. He’d successfully turned the handheld phone Cathy confiscated from the girls into a first rate hidden microphone, currently in service in Mom’s room. He had it connected to the old reel to reel he’d had lying around all these years, and every time Mom snored, it would cut on and record it. Hours of snoring. Stentorian noises that rattled the speakers. Maybe he’d move it, or lower the gain. Maybe run it thru an audio filter on the computer.

Tabasco was feeling frisky because it was a chilly day, and was looking forward to the leaking water meter at the corner. Scootie wasn’t in the mood for a walk, and kept sitting down and straining against the leash. She reminded Cathy of a toy donkey. Sometimes she just pulled Scootie along as if she were on wheels until she felt like trotting forward and behaving herself for three steps. Stumbles was now in full heat, and mounted Tabasco’s leg every time he stopped to pee.

It was a slow walk. Cathy leaned up against Gray, and he winked and put his arm around her. “What’s wrong with your mother?”

“Diverticulitis.” Cathy snuggled in while the dogs yanked and lunged in three different directions. “She’s had it before. Little bits of ex food get stuck in these little pouches in your intestines,and fester. It can be quite dangerous,” she said brightly.

“Shouldn’t she be in the hospital?”

Cathy felt a little guilty. “Well, we could stick her there, but Mom says all they do is make her stay in bed for three days, and she can do that cheaper at home.” She shook her head. “Now it’s home. I can’t stand it.” She clutched at Gray. “I meant so well.”

“And it’s not over.” Tabasco was in a big hurry to go forward, and kept straining, breathing like a leaf blower. ”Do you think she’ll be here when Star has her baby?”

“Oh, God. Maybe that’s part of her plan. And then she’ll be in a position to move the rest of her stuff in and say she’ll be taking care of the baby. But really it’d be me caring for the lot of them.”

Gray patted her hand. “I won’t let it get that far.” They held hands briefly before the dogs noticed and pulled them apart.

Tabasco finally reached the broken water meter. It pooled nicely at the corner, a warm, muddy place with loads of smells and all t hat gooky stuff that felt so good to his flea-bitten hide. He finished pulling Gray with all his strength and stopped to sip the rich liquor of the pool. Then, delicately, he positioned himself at the deepest part and lowered himself with a plop into the water. It was such a cool shock, delightful. Then he started to roll and wag from side to side, twisting to get all of his back wet. Ecstatic, Tabasco crawled a little ways, rubbing his chest and his belly and his pizzle and his thighs in the soothing mud. Spa day.

Cathy backed up when Tabasco came rising up out of the muck and shook off. Gray’s pants legs turned dark in big spots. Scootie looked up from her delicate lapping at the edge of the pool, annoyed. Stumbles changed color entirely. Tabasco looked like a wildebeest with a mohawk.

“Seen any more of Spike?” Cathy asked as they rounded the corner and started for home. Scootie was now the lead dog, and started pulling, looking for a trophy. Stumbles decided she could probably part with some of her hard earned shit, and started wheeling around looking for the right spot.

Tabasco was rushing around undecided if he wanted to smell or pee on things at the maximum right or left reach of his chain. Gray staggered like a drunk. “As a matter of fact,” he replied, stopping to wheel Tabasco around by his leash. Tabasco went what and wagged his tail. I’m not doing anything wrong. “Spike has been by daily, and he seems to be making no effort to hide himself.”

“I should stand and peer thru the front shutters more often.” Stumbles shat out two little balls and delicately stepped six inches, still hunched over, and squeezed out another. Scootie followed her around, watching closely and inhaling deeply. When Stumbles moved on another six inches, Scootie squatted and tried to shit an even better pile, but nothing came out and she finally tottered along remembering she had to get home. “So Spike’s doing what, exactly?”

“He’s cruising by slowly once or twice a day. Sometimes he sits at the end of the block where he can see anyone coming or going. Once he came up to the house and walked around it without waking the dogs.” The dogs preened. Scootie jumped up and licked Tabasco’s nose, and he graciously let Stumbles smooch his dick.

“How many cameras?”

“Counting the one on the roof…a hundred and twelve.” Covering the front, Gray had a camera in the door knocker, one in the tree shading the front yard, one on the neighbor’s front porch eave, and two on the utility pole looking both ways down the street. Covering the sides there was one in the dogwood tree and one strapped to an old ham radio antenna. And in the back, one on the roof. Inside, he had every room covered, and every door, and several mystery places besides. Gray had discovered the joy of watching people going about their daily business. It’s what’s kept god amused all these years.

“But why would he come by at random times? Does he expect to catch her sitting on the porch having a smoke?” Gray just looked at her. Cathy untangled the leashes and carefully stepped out of a leg snare the dogs had woven for her. “I mean, I’ve caught her smoking in the attic. Why would she bother going out of doors?” Gray just looked at her. He figured that she’d ask when she really wanted to know. Right now she was just hedging.

go to tomorrow’s writing

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

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

November 1, 2008

day one

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 3:36 pm

Mom called.

“Hi, Mom, how’s your health?” Cathy asked, trying to jumpstart the process.

Mom sounded distracted. There was background noise. There was a public address announcement.

“Mom?”

Cathy heard her say, “No, not that one. That one. Sorry, honey, these people are just so…”

Cathy worried. “Mom?”

Mom sighed. The world of stupid people was just too much for her. “Oh, honey, can you come pick me up? I have too many bags to take the train.”

Cathy’s heart sank. Oh no. Her worst nightmare. Well, one of several worst nightmare, more of an unending series of nightmares, starting now. “Mom?”

“I just can’t…”

“Mom, where are you?”

“Oh, honey, I thought you knew. I’m at the airport.”

“Which airport?”

“I was praying, and the Lord told me to come for a visit and see that lovely daughter of yours. How’s she doing?”

“Um.”

“But I brought far too much luggage to carry it thru the streets, so you’ll have to come get me. Unless it’s inconvenient and you’d rather I take a taxi. I’d much rather not, of course, because of the expense…”

Cathy wasn’t listening. Cathy was panicking. Cathy was looking around and trying to figure out how she could make this come out right. She couldn’t not go get  Mom. She couldn’t not let her stay. She couldn’t kick her own mother out in the cold. Well, she could, and she’d like to, but there’d be hell to pay. And Mom was only trying to help. Said the spider to the fly.

She put on a bright voice. “Well, we certainly weren’t expecting you, Mom. I’ll have to go ask Gray if it’s okay…”

Mom bristled. “You have to ask permission for your own mother to come visit you?”

Cathy shook her head in despair. “No. It’s just that you didn’t give us any notice. The house is a mess. We don’t have anywhere to put you. Star’s being hormonal, she needs more notice than that.”

Mom’s voice turned cold. “Well, if you don’t want me, I guess I can get back on the plane and go home.” Self pity started to drip thru the phone. Cathy wiped it off with distaste.

Well go home then, she thought. “Okay, I’ll be right down. I’ll pick you up outside baggage claim in about half an hour.”

“Half an hour? But it only takes fifteen minutes to get to the airport. I have to wait? I’ve been waiting for hours already.”

“Huh?” Cathy got the impression she’d just landed. “Well, you just amuse yourself with the skycaps and I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She hung up the phone and burst into tears.

Gray found her sitting in the bathroom, sniffling.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, rubbing her back gently.

“Mom’s at the airport and I have to go get her.”

“Oh no.”
She started crying again. Gray felt like crying himself. There went any chance of peace in the house. Or sex. “Well, I guess you’d better go get her.”

“But what are we going to do with her?” she wailed. “How are we going to deal with Star and her baby with Mom around?”

“Oh, we’ll think of something. Duct tape, for instance. Or I could rig an electric fence.”

“How about poison?” Cathy wiped her eyes and got up to go.

“Be careful not to drink the coffee when you come back,” he warned.

Cathy cruised around and around, looking for Mom. Mom was nowhere to be found. She called Gray on her cellphone. “Have you heard from Mom while I’ve been touring the airport?” she asked.

“Why, yes. She called to say that she’d run into some trouble getting all her bags, so you’re likely to find her inside.”

“Shit.” Mom was nothing but trouble. Cathy found a spot in hourly parking and walked the five miles to the terminal. It wasn’t easy to find her mother among the vast hordes of travelers, but she finally located her, way off in the lost luggage area. She was abusing an airport employee, threatening the wrath of god if he didn’t find her bag right this minute.

In the mood her mom was obviously in, Cathy didn’t want to get in the way, so she lurked behind a column until a little guy came up, sweating and looking worried, and handed Mom a bag that looked like it had been run over by a truck. As Mom was launching into her “Somebody’s been going thru my luggage” routine, Cathy decided to spare the poor bastard she was beating up on, and walked up as if she’d just arrived.

“Mom,” she said, thinking to put her mother on the defensive, “you said you’d be outside waiting for me. I had to park the car…” She was going to bitch at Mom, but Mom wasn’t in the mood to be defensive.

“What took you so long?” she snapped. “I could have used your help getting these cretins to do their job.”

Cathy flashed an apologetic look at the cretin in question and wondered if she’d brought enough money to tip the poor bastard. Probably not.

“Well, let’s get this stuff to the car,” she said.

Cathy was unprepared for the amount of luggage her mother had brought with her. She was sure that it was way more than the airlines allowed without hefty excess luggage charges. But her mom would never pay extra fees for anything, so she must have bullied them at the other end as well. Maybe they would blacklist her and stop selling her tickets to come visit.

Even with a giant rolly bag handle in each hand, and a bag slung over each shoulder, Cathy had to make two trips to the curb before she had all Mom’s luggage together. Mom struggled along carrying her coat and an oversized tote bag. She seemed angry that Cathy’s truck wasn’t sitting there at the curb. “Where are you parked?” she whined. Cathy pointed vaguely to the far lots. “How unthinking of you. You know I can’t walk that far. You could have taken a little extra time out of your leisurely stroll to get me, and found somewhere closer to park.” She sat down on one of her enormous bags and fanned her face with a newspaper. “I’ll just sit here until you come and get me.” Cathy made to drag one of the suitcases with her, but Mom wasn’t having any of it. “Just go get the car,” she practically screamed. “I don’t know why you’re making this so hard for me.”

Cathy trudged off to find her car, after having made Mom promise to stay right where she was. But when she got back to the curbside, Mom was nowhere to be found, her luggage abandoned at the curb. Cathy heaved and pushed and dragged the luggage into the bed of the truck, thankful that she hadn’t brought the car with her. She’d have had to make two trips, or more, if it was just the car. Mom would complain about that as well. The truck wasn’t comfortable, the cab was too small, the air conditioning didn’t work.

But Mom was nowhere to be found. And Cathy couldn’t leave the truck parked at the curb. So she circled the airport. Mom wasn’t there after one trip around, which took about seven minutes. She wasn’t there after the second trip. She still wasn’t there after a third trip. Cathy was beginning to get annoyed. She was thinking about panicking. She called Gray, but he still hadn’t heard from her. So Cathy circled again, alternately screaming and wailing and talking to the air about how crazy her mother was.

Finally, there was Mom standing at the curb, looking pissed off. Cathy pulled over and started to fuss at her for not staying where she promised she’d be, but Mom was too angry to let her finish.
“Where were you? What were you doing? Did you take a nap or something? I’ve never seen you as inconsiderate as you are today. Did you not want me to come? I could just get my things back out of the truck and go back home.”

Cathy let that pass in silence. Yes, please go back home. She wondered if pissing her mom off would do any good in the long run. Several months of wounded silence from Mom would suit Cathy down to the ground. She had enough to deal with from Star, never mind Mom’s temper tantrums.

But she wasn’t willing to be the doormat her mother thought she was. “Just tell me why you weren’t where I left you.”

Mom snarled. “I had to go to the bathroom, and you took so long that I thought you were never coming to get me.”

Cathy sighed. “You were gone a long time. I circled several times.”

“Well, I met this nice Christian woman in the bathroom, and we had a nice chat about incompetent servants and resentful daughters.” Mom glared at her.

Cathy shut up and drove home. Mom didn’t notice her silence, she was still fuming at how much trouble everybody put her to and didn’t need any help with her monologue.

Things didn’t improve at all when they got home. Gray was out walking the dogs, so Cathy had to struggle with the bags. Mom left her to do that, and went inside to find Star. And couldn’t. Cathy was proud of that, for a moment. But then Mom wanted to know why the spare room was empty, and where Star had gone.

Cathy thought fast. She’d rehearsed what to tell friends when they came over and found everything closed up and all the windows covered. But that wasn’t going to work for Mom, who was as suspicious as they come.

“Um, she’s kind of playing house in the attic. She didn’t want to be so close to me and Gray…” She trailed off as she saw Star appear on the front porch, and looked around the neighborhood in horror.

“Star,” she cried, dropping the bags and rushing up the steps. “You know you’re not supposed to be out of…bed.”

“Not out of bed?” Mom asked, going up to peer closely at Star. “She looks okay to me. Why does she have to stay in bed?”

“Uh, the doctor said she was developing…pre-eclampsia, and ordered complete bed rest.”

“Nonsense.” She pinched and poked at Star, who strangely enough was putting up with it. “She’s fine. In fact, she needs exercise. And sunlight.” She turned on Cathy. “What are you keeping her cooped up for?”

Cathy grabbed Star by the arm and hustled her inside. “Mom, if you’re going to second-guess the doctors, you can just go home right now. I’ve got enough trouble without your interference.”

Mom looked hurt. “I was just offering my opinion,” she complained as she followed them thru the door. You don’t have to take it.” She looked at Star again. “Aren’t you going to say hello Grandma?”

“Hello, Grandma,” Star whispered shyly, looking at Cathy for guidance. Cathy smiled wanly.

“Uh, Mom, let me put you in the guest room, and you can get settled in,” Cathy said. “Star, why don’t you go back to bed, and we’ll come up and see you in a couple of minutes. As soon as Grandma is comfortable.”

“Like that’ll ever happen,” Star and Mom said together.

“It’s so cold here,” Star said.

“It’s so dirty,” Mom said.

Why don’t I put you both on the first plane out of here, Cathy thought. Somewhere really cold and dirty. Thule, Greenland, for instance.

“Mom, I’m hungry,” Star said as she disappeared around the back of the house. “Make me something to eat.”

“That’s a great idea,” Mom enthused, her first smile of the day. “Why don’t you make us something yummy. Grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. And I’d like a cup of coffee.” She snorted. “If that wouldn’t put you to too much trouble.” And she disappeared into the spare room.

Cathy beat her head against the refrigerator and then opened the door and started rummaging.

Gray came back with the dogs to find her sniffling in the bathroom again. She shoved her head onto his chest and wailed softly. “Why did I ever try to interfere in this?” she wondered. Gray said nothing.

go to tomorrow’s writing

October 31, 2008

tomorrow it begins

Filed under: Author's Note,NaNoWriMo — jeanne @ 6:15 pm

tomorrow is november the first, when the annual nanowrimo kicks off, and i’m participating again this year. i’m finishing the novel i started last year at this time. it was something like 65,000 words when i was only half done, and because shit happens, i never got around to writing more.

but jim and i have been reading my daily output from last year, a night at a time, and we’re going to finish it up tonight with the 21st day of writing. we’re only halfway thru the plot.

we’ve only just gotten into the real fiction part of the story. the first part was almost verbatim what actually happened, and now it’s almost completely fiction from here on out.

i thought i would get to the end of what i’d written last year and change everything that was to come, but at this point i haven’t figured out what to change, so i’m going to stick to the plot i figured out last year. it’s somewhere in the beginning of this blog, if you’re interested in scrolling way down.

i hope you’re entertained by it. it should approach farce pretty quickly.

the trouble will be, as always, getting time to sit down and write. last year it was my first priority, but this year i can’t actually go somewhere and isolate myself from everything, so i’m not expecting it to go as smoothly as it did last year.

but we’ll see.

stay tuned as i write page after page of hopeless drivel that nonetheless keeps me and jim pretty entertained.

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