Judy didn’t feel well after lunch, so she took a rather long nap, leaving all those chores undone. Again. When she got up the sun was going down. Frank was still in his basement workshop; she could hear him running the drill. It was very irritating, and she was about to get up and tell him to have some consideration for her nerves, but then it stopped. A few minutes later, there started up a thump thump thump under the floor, and she tried to ignore it, but the rhythm was strangely in time with her heartbeat, and she couldn’t stand it.
Frank heard her walking around in the kitchen above, and put everything away for the night. He’d made some progress with the spring tension, but he was thinking of redoing the whole concept. Maybe dangling them by their paw in front of a cat wasn’t right. Maybe he should turn the whole idea around, impale the mice on skewers, and leave them as tasty t-balls. There had to be a reason the cats weren’t interested.
Judy was sitting at the table, a glass of wine in her hand, fishing a roach out of the ashtray and preparing to light it. She put it back when he came thru the basement door. He went to the sink to get a glass of water, and came back to the table to join her.
They talked about his work for awhile. He mentioned the trouble he was having and she plucked a fanciful solution out of the air and tried to convince him he needed to go in that direction. She always did that. Channeling. Opening her mouth and letting random things fall out that she then interpreted as secret messages from the spirit world. Or something.. Yes dear. He sipped his water. Judy sipped her wine. They fell into silence.
“What do you want for dinner?” he asked suddenly, at the same time she was saying, “Yeah, definitely you need to put a natural spectrum spotlight on the little things.” It was silent again for awhile.
They didn’t have much to say to each other. They’d been married forever and raised a couple of kids. Now that they were left to themselves, he just wanted to tinker and she just wanted to sit and think. They had all their meals together and sat on the couch watching TV at night, and they even kissed each other before going to sleep. But they hadn’t had sex in years, and she snored so loudly that Frank was grateful when she started sleeping in the kids’ beds. They loved each other; they accepted each other’s annoyances and failings and made the best of it. It wasn’t a bad life at all. Each was free to spend their days as they wished, and neither saw any reason to object to what the other one did.
Well, Judy found things to object to all the time, but Frank was a forbearing, patient kind of guy who was more amused than irritated by her antics. They were a good team, stable and boring. He was more stable than she was, of course, and she was never actually boring, always up to something. They were boring together. They never fought, they never went out anywhere, they had no friends, they followed the same routine most every day and night. Nothing ever happened.
Frank made burgers. Judy opened a can of beans and poured another glass of wine. Over dinner they talked about Mom. Frank didn’t share her animosity; he didn’t have the buttons she had, and whenever Mom came up he tried to steer an objective path without setting her off. It often helped to remind her that she was the peacemaker of the family.
“I think your mother’s just still trying to raise you,” he said, finishing off his burger. “Maybe you’re lucky. Some mothers go about their lives without a backward glance when the kids are grown.” Frank got up to start rinsing the dishes.
“I know she thinks she’s trying to help,” Judy said plaintively, finishing her glass and eyeing what was left in the bottle. “It’s just that Mom always wants me to do things her way. I can’t stand it.”
“She’s never acknowledged your right to make your own decisions,” he offered, clashing dishes together in the washing machine.
She picked up the roach out of the ashtray and fingered it. “The only way I could grow up was by rebelling against her.”
He took her dishes. “But that would mean you defined yourself as being Not Your Mother.”
She nodded rapidly. “I made a study of what she was like, and learned how not to do it.”
And here you are, two peas in a pod. He looked around for more dirty dishes. “You’ve become her perfect antithesis. She should be pleased.”
Judy frowned. “Well, she’s not. She’s still trying to fix me.”
He laughed. “You’re as fixed as you’re going to get. You’ve made all your own mistakes, and you’ve been living with the consequences ever since.”
You, for example. She uncorked the wine. “I just know she’s never going to stop doing it. It’s hopeless. She’ll afflict me till she dies.” She rose from the table, wine and roach in hand. “Hell, it doesn’t matter when she dies, I’ll still hear her voice until I’m dead.”
He tried to give her something positive to think about. “It’s okay to resemble your family,” he said, as she opened the back door to go out.
“No it’s not. I catch myself interfering in my kids’ grownup lives, and it makes me want to kill myself.” She shut the door, downed the wine in one gulp, and lit the roach, singeing her eyebrows.
* * *
Rick arrived home to chaos. The kids were screaming and running around. The house was a mess, the dinner wasn’t ready even tho he was an hour late. He found his wife in the laundry room scrubbing grass stains out of a tiny button down Brooks Brothers shirt.
“Where’s dinner?” he greeted her.
She looked up at him with a shy smile. “Hello, dear,” she said softly. I’m just trying to avoid getting Junior another shirt for class picture day. I don’t think it’ll show under his blazer, do you?”
“I asked where dinner was,” he snapped. “I think that’s more important than clothing, don’t you?” She dropped the shirt into the washer and scurried past him to the kitchen. Such a difficult day, and he had to come home to blaring incompetence. He took a deep breath and tried to rid himself of the weight of disaster. Then the kids banged into something and he stalked out, ready to spank their little butts.
Over dinner, the kids silently picking at their food, his wife meekly attentive to his needs, he relented and told them how bad his day had been. The ungrateful vendor, the old friends who were falling down on the job, the bank that was out to get him.
“It’s no wonder you were so hard on the children,” she said, glancing at the kids to let them know their father still loved them.
He harrumphed. “The children get away with murder around you.” He caught their eyes as they furtively looked at him. “That spanking was for things you did that I didn’t catch you doing.” The kids squirmed in their seats.
His wife cleared her throat. He turned to look at her. “The news said police arrested a criminal at some apartment building.” She didn’t want to say too much in front of the children. He shrugged eloquently. “Well, they might have looked like one of yours, but probably not.” She turned to the kids, “Eat your dinner.” Then she looked at him to see how he was taking it.
He thought for a moment. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. My tenants aren’t criminals.”
She changed the subject. Forbidden subjects were his company, unless he brought it up; his apartments, unless he brought it up; money, politics, religion or the weather, unless he brought it up. To mention anything about the kids would incur sarcasm and threats about whatever he thought they were doing wrong. She hesitated to draw his attention to herself because he could always find something to hammer her with.
“I went to the store today and saw some nice sirloin steaks, but they were so expensive that I put them back.”
“You sound like my mother,” he growled.
She blushed and looked at her plate. “Not that you don’t deserve the best food, but I thought with the trouble at work, I could save a little here and there…”
He was suspicious. “Have you been talking to her?” What did they say about him?
“No!” He didn’t understand. “She hung up on me. You know she doesn’t like me.”
“If you’d only make the effort.” He looked away. “Or not. You’re not her idea of a proper wife, anyway.”
She was silent. The kids asked to be excused and fled upstairs to get ready for bed. She sat there for a moment, waiting, and then gathered the dishes and left the table when he didn’t say anything.
Damn her. The last thing he wanted was for the two of them to be cozy together. Mom would infect his well-trained wife and they’d turn against him. Why not? Everybody else was turning against him. What more exquisite betrayal than by your mother and your helpmeet? He needed them apart. It was his ship, and he’d be damned if he was going to let a mutiny brew up.
* * *
Cindy was sick of listening to Bill brownnose his colleague. The guy was just interested in his Beefeater and soda, and Bill was playing like he was in the World Series. She was sick of smiling and tired of ducking off to the bathroom to be alone and self medicate. She’d had a long, boring day full of idiots and clowns an she just wanted to get her bare feet into those slippers. Chinchilla. She felt around in her clutch for another Xanax and downed it with a discreet sip of Jenssen cognac. Smiling.
Later after she let Bill have sex and he was sleeping, she lay in bed thinking until the Ambien kicked in. She’d been such a good daughter, and Mom hated and persecuted her. She married the first guy with prospects and escaped, and this is where she ended up. She blamed Mom for it all. A life of going thru the motions, of keeping up appearances. Doing all the things Mom had expected and demanded of her. Miss Achievement. She could just die, it was so empty.
She wanted to push Mom down the stairs at home, the stairs Dad sat on when he spanked them with the spatula every night. The stairs of pain. Humiliation. Red, inflamed bottoms.
Cindy slept soundly and didn’t dream. But at 2:17 Sindy got up and rearranged the curio cabinet in the living room.
* * *
Gordon hit the streets in his Camaro, stocking up on energy drinks at the convenience store, stopping to buy a fistful of prescriptions from some guy, at the pharmacy to turn those scripts into merchandise, a stop at a guy’s apartment for enough weed and a stop between apartment buildings for plenty of coke. He crumpled his last can of drink as he was pulling into the parking lot of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
He wasn’t late. He was never late. The party never started without him. There was no late in his line of work, anyway. The real Scarlet Pimpernel got nothin on me baby. The bouncer waved him in. It was still early, tho it’s never early in a strip club. The office workers and salesmen had gone home to their wives and the players were hardly up out of bed yet. It was a lull he loved. He could sit in his dark corner with his sunglasses on, nurse a drink, keep his eyes on everything, and do that thing he did.
Gordon was the majordomo of the Scarlet Pimpernel. You wanted to score, you went to Gordon. You needed a favor, you saw Gordon. When there was trouble, Gordon jumped into the fight. When the girls were having a bad night, Gordon comforted them. Everybody’s pal.
Mom thought he was a UPS driver. Before that she thought he’d been a computer programmer and kept offering to talk to Rick about a job, so he picked another job out at random and pretended to do that. But badly. Always going to get fired because of something that wasn’t his fault. Always being late on the rent. Always borrowing a little here and there. The fucking rest of them wanted to kill her, but he wanted her to live forever.
A guy he was waiting for came into the club, squinting against the gloom. He lit u pa cigarette and rehearsed how he wanted it to go.
“Hey, Johnny, how’ s it hanging? Getting any?”
“Hey, Gordon.” Johnny slid into the seat next to him “You’ll like this. Allen’s in jail.”
* * *
Mom had slowly filled the dishwasher over the last week, and tonight she made a little game of putting soap in it and starting the wash cycle. She’d done a lot during the day, tho she couldn’t point to anything. No matter, she was tired out and ready for bed, and now she could listen to the humming of the washer and pretend it was the kids back at home, talking in the kitchen. A nice sound, evoking lots of warm memories of when they were kids. When they were happy.
The trouble is that if they were back home now they’d be sitting in the kitchen whispering about her. Mom bashing, they called it, thinking she never noticed. Didn’t they know it hurt? They had to.
She vowed to cut them all out of her will. But first she’d have to write one. This started her thinking about her things, the valuable legacy she had to leave, things that she loved and cherished and took care of. She thought of the things she loved that had already been lost, or broken – or worse yet taken – by her own children. Her heart clouded.
She had almost given up on Judy, and poor Gordon needed her, but that Rick and that Cindy, they could be vicious. Some kids you really should drown at birth. She offered up a prayer that their arrows would be blunted and turned aside, and they be shown the mercy of the Lord in a way they’d never forget.
She really should at least make notes about the provisions of her will. Make sure Cindy or Rick didn’t come in and take it all while she wasn’t even cold in her bed. Or have her committed by one of their corrupt muckymuck friends and steal everything. Exclusion clauses, that’s what she needed. I hereby leave (the fruit of my womb) one dollar ($1).
* * *