Train Wreck – The Wrath of Mom
Judy sat at the kitchen table, cleaning weed out of a bag for her morning joint. She dusted off her fingers and reached for her coffee, but it’d gone cold while she was seeding. She got up to nuke it, briefly wondering if she shouldn’t add a splash of whiskey for the flavor. Nah. Better save it, there’s not much left.
She was getting ready to tackle her day. She and Frank had already had breakfast; the encrusted dishes lay there beside her bag of pot – she was going to have to lick food off the baggie before sealing it up again. And she was going to have to humiliate herself buying more rolling papers soon, too. Why not just smoke a pipe or a bong? But that would mean never feeling how good it was to hold a cigarette. It was a well deserved indulgence. Worth a little humiliation. Maybe get them online – nah – humiliation before surveillance.
On her schedule for today were a few things that she could probably put off until tomorrow. They involved getting out of the house, driving, dealing with people, spending money, things she’d really rather not do until she had to, when she would steel herself and get everything done at once.
So with one thought she freed herself to do the million things she had to do around the house. The big one being reorganize the attic, there were other real, pressing tasks before her, like cleaning the kitchen. But she had to check email and there was The View at 11. Realistically, if she was diligent, she’d get around to sweeping the floor in the front rooms, but that would be it. The dishes, maybe. She sat back down with her coffee and gathered the weed into a little pile. She sighed. Life is tough for the organizationally impaired.
The phone rang as she was licking the edge of the joint closed. Ak. She jumped, and it flew out of her hand onto the floor. She stared at it angrily, but left it there and went to get the phone.
“Hi, Mom,” she lilted, striking a happy note. She returned to the table with the phone, stopping by the pantry for the whiskey bottle. “What’s going on with you?”
Mom started right in. Why don’t you do something with your life? Was I too lenient raising you? Why did you choose the road to hell when I tried so hard to get you to do the right thing?
Judy practiced holding the phone just barely in hearing range and saying uh-huh at random moments. Light up now or wait until Mom’s off the phone?
Mom kept going. If you’d loved me you would have listened when I told you about whatever. I was always right and you were always wrong. You’re a loser. I don’t love you.
Judy lit the joint and took a deep breath. Mom heard it.
Are you SMOKING? Judy had the phone wedged under her ear and Mom’s screech made her loose her hold on it. It clattered to the floor. “Sorry, Mom,” she yelled at the phone. “What?”
It sounded like you were smoking. I distinctly heard you take a puff. Believe me, I know what that sounds like. You can’t hide from me. Have you gone back to smoking?
Cigarettes or pot? You never stop disapproving. “I don’t smoke, Mom. I’ve never smoked.” Mom fumed silently. Judy could feel the electricity thru the phone. She looked longingly at the still-lit joint, and sneaked a small hit, holding the phone to her chest. Can Mom hear thru her shirt?
“Um,” she said with a bit of a squeak as she tried to hold the smoke in. She exhaled quickly and continued. “So how are you doing, anyway?” She went back to the joint, free to take another hit now that she’d asked Mom’s favorite question.
I feel terrible. Something’s wrong with me that the doctors can’t find, and no matter how many I go to they all treat me like I’m a hypochondriac. I’m going to die right in their office one day and they’ll misdiagnose that, I’m sure.
Judy made sympathetic noises between hits.
But that’s not why I called. I called to berate you for the way you keep your house, and to yell at you because you never come and see me, and to abuse you for not showing me the respect I’ve lusted after all my life.
Quick. Get off the phone now. “Mom? Sorry, I can hear Frank calling me. I’d better go see what he wants. Call you later. Bye. Love you.”
Judy hung up, took a loud, sibilant, rebellious hit, and hated her mom for as long as she could hold her breath.
* * *
Rick was in his Porsche, driving to the office. He’d been going for hours already, with a conference call at home that the kids interrupted with their noise, a meeting with a vendor at Caribou ruined by a panicky call from his wife – about nothing, and a bunch of traffic he had to skirt in order to get to the staff meeting on time. Of course, he could be as late as he wanted because it was his staff, but it was good to maintain discipline.
The phone rang. Mom. He didn’t need this. “Hi, Mom. I’m driving.”
Well, I won’t keep you. You want to be safe when you’re driving, and only a fool uses a cellphone when they’re driving. But. I was thinking about your money problems.
Aw, Mom. “Mom, I’m in traffic. Can we discuss this later?” Always rubbing it in.
Fine. If you want to be that way. I just think it’s criminal the way you neglect those poor children.
Rick nearly sideswiped the guy in the lane next to him. He muzzled a curse and shot him a violent finger. “Mom, I’ve really got to pay attention to the road now. I’ll call you later. Love you. Bye.”
He disconnected. Die, bitch.
* * *
Cindy was going around the house touching things. She did this now and then, just to keep track of where everything was. It was a comfort. She touched her antiques, she touched the frames of her museum quality paintings, she caressed her silk rugs, She lay down on all the beds and then smoothed the wrinkles back out of the Italian linens.
She was just rubbing the banister on the way downstairs to touch the things in the garage when the phone rang.
She checked caller ID and didn’t pick up. It was Mom. Not home. I don’t have to listen to you tell me how Judy is your favorite daughter and how my things aren’t as nice as yours and why I’m not going to get anything when you die.
She heard the call go to the answering machine, and listened to Mom’s querelous tones as she descended into the basement. La la la I can’t hear you. Not calling you back. Not until after the funeral. Then it’ll ring off the hook.
* * *
Gordon was sleeping off a fierce hangover when the phone rang. He’d been finessing a deal last night and it had gone on way past the time the garbage guys emptied the dumpster in the parking lot, which was where he’d stashed the stuff. It was a nightmare. He’d had to return all that money, and he’d been so drunk that he wasn’t sure he didn’t give them back more than they’d paid him, because he didn’t think he had a twenty in his pocket, and wasn’t sure where his pants ended up so he could check. The phone rang a long time, but since he didn’t have an answering machine, it would ring forever. It must be Mom.
“Uh,” he snarled into the phone, just in case it was someone else. An indeterminate grunt, it could be threatening or could mean he was in pain. It depended on who it was. This time, of course, it was Mom. “Mom, I’m sick,” he moaned, feeling around for the glass of water he kept by the bed.
Mom wanted to know in agonizing detail what was wrong with her baby. Gordon just groaned again, taking a gulp. It was piss, because he’d been too drunk to go to the bathroom. He threw up over the side of the bed.
Mom threatened to come right over. Gordon sputtered, “No, I’m fine, really. I’ve got medicine, I’ve got chicken soup. I just need to sleep. Call you later, okay? Love you bye.” Don’t you fucking come here, ever. Or else.
He fell back into bed, exhausted, and lit a cigarette. The room stank of smoke over sweat and stale piss and a certain chemical tang. He fell asleep still smoking, but when he dropped the butt it landed on a wet spot and sizzled out.
* * *
Mom sat in the living room. Pat Robertson just got thru telling his flock that they should reach out to those who have trespassed against them, forgive their enemies, and turn the other cheek, but always and without fail to hate the sin. Well, her kids had certainly given her enough sins to hate, but she still loved them, especially when she thought of how they were as kids. Judy was always asking questions and would listen for hours to her explanations. Rick mispronounced the simplest phrases, making such wonderful fauxpas that she still used them in conversation. Cindy used to bring her things she’d found around the house, little presents like her father’s filthy shoes and empty cosmetic bottles out of the trash. And Gordon the youngest, her favorite, just simply adored her and still did. Filled with warm memories of her infant brood, she reached for the phone.
She called her eldest first.
“Hi, Mom,” Judy said, sounding guilty. “What’s going on with you?”
“Oh, I was just thinking of when you guys were kids,” she said, fiddling with the phone cord. “You were so cute. So innocent. I remember…”
Judy must be preoccupied with something. “If you’re busy I can call you back later,” she offered.
“I was just thinking about how easy it was to love you all when you were younger. You were so trusting, and so cuddly, and we had the most amazing conversations about everything.” She remembered driving somewhere when Judy was three. “There you were, asking about everything you saw…”
Is she even listening? “What did I just say?” She heard a cigarette lighter. “I didn’t know you still smoked,” she said mildly.
Clumsy Judy dropped the phone. The noise stung Mom’s ears. “I think you could be more careful when I’m using my hearing aid,” she started, but stopped because Judy was still fumbling for the phone.
“Sorry, Mom,” Judy said as Mom switched the phone to her other ear and rubbed the bruised one. The bruises came so easily these days. Must take more vitamin C. “What?” Judy continued, sounding just like she did when she was six and Dad caught her trying to make Cindy eat mud pies.
“I said you could try to be more considerate, is all.”
“I don’t smoke, Mom. I’ve never smoked.”
That wasn’t the point. Oh, why did she bother? It’s not like she had any influence over Judy’s behavior. “I just wish…” she trailed off.
“Um,” Judy said after awhile, sounding emotional. “So how are you doing, anyway?”
“That’s very sweet of you to ask. I don’t want to complain, but I’ve had better days. My knees have been giving me a little trouble the past few days.”
Judy agreed that bad knees were no joke.
This pleased Mom. Judy’s being sympathetic. She wants to hear what it’s like getting old. I’ll just mention what I’ve learned about things we used to think were okay. Maybe she can learn from me and change her life before it’s too late. “I think if maybe I’d done some things differently, we would be in better shape today,” she began.
“Mom?” Judy interrupted breathlessly “Sorry, I can hear Frank calling me. I’d better go see what he wants. Call you later. Bye. Love you.”
Mom sat with the phone to her ear, a little stunned. She hadn’t gotten a word in sideways. Sometimes she thought she was making some deeper contact like they used to have, but Judy was so distant most of the time, and didn’t live a very interesting life. She’d shown such promise as a child, she was so dull now, but there was still time to blossom. She said a quick prayer for her daughter, and reached for the phone again at the next commercial.
She tried Rick’s house first, but hung up when his wife answered, and tried his cellphone.
“Hi, Mom,” he said, sounding angry. “I’m driving.”
Did something happen, is he in trouble? “Are you alright, son?”
“Mom, I’m in traffic” He sounded overly patient, like he was lecturing a cretin. He spoke slowly and loudly, threatening with his tone to repeat it even louder and more slowly. “Can we discuss this later?”
“Fine. I just wanted to chat about when you were little, that’s all,” she said, with affection.
He was curt. “Mom, I’ve really got to pay attention to the road now. I’ll call you later. Bye.”
Such a busy boy. So headstrong, so sure of himself. Cocky. Like when he was four and announced he was going to be Daddy from now on and make everyone do things his way. Stay up wait eeet ookie.
She tried to call her youngest daughter Cindy after awhile, suddenly thinking of her while flicking past the Home Shopping Network. She knew it was futile; Cindy was never home and didn’t have a cellphone. She was busier than Rick, and she didn’t even have a job. The life of a socialite. How different from the way they raised her: poor, a Depression baby, a life of hard work and struggle and decent values. But her kids had life handed to them on a platter, and they developed habits of easy virtue. She said a prayer for her wayward children, asking for the Lord to take them into his fold.
She was watching a CSI program when she thought of her youngest. He loved to sit and watch them with her. He would come over more often but he was booked up at work. She knew right away that something was wrong because the phone kept ringing and he didn’t answer. She just knew he was home and not picking up the phone. “Gordon,” she urged as it continued to ring. Finally he answered.
“Uh,” he croaked. He sounded awful. Feverish perhaps. She started patting her pockets for her keys.
“Baby?” she called. He needs his Mommy.
He was throwing up. “Mom, I’m sick,” he moaned.
Where did she leave her medical supply kit? She looked around, got up, went into the kitchen and looked under the sink. “Okay.” It’ll take twenty minutes to get there.
“No, I’m fine, really. I’ve got medicine, I’ve got chicken soup. I just need to sleep. Call you later, okay? Love you bye.”
She stopped and put the medical kit on the counter. She felt like going over there anyway, just to check up on him. He’d be grateful. But he was right, he needed his sleep. I’ll drop by and see how you’re doing later. Maybe go shopping for some healthy food and make a nice dinner for my baby.
Mom fixed herself another cup of coffee and went back to the living room. Maybe it was prayer time and she could call in a request for her poor children.
* * *