Cathy Eats Her Words

November 13, 2008

day five

Filed under: NaNoWriMo — jeanne @ 3:59 am

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.”

“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.”


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


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