She’s on the phone again. I grab a butter knife and pretend to slit my
wrists but she doesn’t notice. I turn up the radio. The news is on and
Nam is still eating up all the gorgeous boys. I take her True
Confessions to lie on the couch and read. It’s another hour before
she’s off. Been talking to Doris, her bestie. Beastie is more like it.
They get into trouble together, my mother and Doris. They are flirty,
outrageous, and mean. They do a sexual innuendo routine that’s a
lust-life version of Laurel and Hardy. I don’t think they’re especially
horny, just bored.
“Is that my magazine!”
I close my eyes. If I pretend sleep, she won’t speak. Oh yes, she will.
Never shuts up, that one, unless she’s landing a wallop. “Cut the sass,”
she snaps when in fact she’s the one who’s doing the talking.
My mother says, “Doris told me your science teacher, Mrs. Orvil, is
Oh cripes, what is it they got against my teacher? I mean sure she’s a
skinny harridan but she’s mine to hate, not theirs.
“The teach is thinking her old man and Doris got something going on.”
I roll my eyes. Not that again. My mother and Doris are like nippy
mice playing chase-the-tom-cat around the room. I’ve met my teacher’s
hubby and he’s no hunky. Fat slob, packing shotguns and moonshine. He’s
funny though. And those two, they do like funny.
“Is that your song?” I ask and put a finger to my lips. “Shhh.” I get
lucky. Proud Mary is playing.
She stops talking and hums a few bars. Snaps her fingers and gyrates her
hips. Before breaking into full dance, she shoots out a last quip, “That
bitch give you any lip, you let me know.”
There’s an aim for college in this but it’s hard to see how it will
happen. Doris and my mother are cutting me off at every pass. The high
school counselor hates me, goes as far as to suggest Community Tech. I
say, “Ain’t no way.” The counselor’s old man is a looker. Who was it
that time? My mother maybe. What sorrows a small town must endure when
there’s a war shortage of eligible fellows.
My mother is pouring iodine into a bottle of baby oil. “Let’s lay out,”
she says. “Behind the Dodge we can go topless.” But who’s looking out
the upper floor windows is what worries me. Is it the lunchroom lady who
spits in my soup or the librarian with her fat overdue stamp and
ten-cent fines? Doris arrives after dinner. Says her old man is at the
Shriner’s trying on a hat. My mother and Doris mix martinis and plot
College comes, no thanks to anyone but a dead daddy who was a Vet. Full
scholarship and ride at State. I never go home.
“Summer internship,” I say.
“What’s that?” she asks.
Thirty years pass and one day, Doris is gone. Dead by cancer and the
little inferno who is my mother grows overnight old.
Me, I’ve made it safely across the nation. Here’s some advice: Whenever
you are escaping, you must blast your way free. When you’re ready to
claim yourself, cannonball out.
My mother calls. She’s eighty and aflutter. “Big funeral this week.
Doris’s third husband’s step-son stepped in front of a truck.”
“Who’s behind it,” I ask, knowing all the old plot lines.
“So, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m watching TV. The big acorn is dropping
in Raleigh when right there on the screen is the wife with another man,
her dead husband hardly cold.”
“And you think it was more than his just being down in the dumps?”
“Oh, Lordy yes!” There’s a beat or a breath before my mother chuckles.
Outside, the California sunset casts a pink sheen across the kidney
What’s an old troublemaker to do without her sidekick but entertain
herself with idle gossip. Problem is, there’s no one left to tell it to
anymore. No one to listen, except for the one girl from way back when,
way back home.
I wedge the phone against my ear and turn the radio down low. I stir a
martini then head out to the patio to put up my feet. “So, tell me,” I
give her. “What else is new?”