Alright, for the past week I’ve felt neglected. No longer the family member; more the roommate spawned crawling from a cesspool.
And what do I do? Deposit all my physical and mental energy into learning a job I despise.
Does this make sense?
Well, maybe I don’t despise the actual job; more so the fact that Mom spends her afternoons perfecting make-up, flawless and feminine, wearing new outfits I picked out; voyaging. Where? Who knows? I know these mysterious expeditions leaves her eyes distant when she returns. Drifting past me clothed in her recommended drabs.
“Who wouldn’t feel a little resentful?” I complain, entering a dim living room; flipping the light switch near the door.
Not much better. This whole house needs rewiring, I note before proceeding with my former line of thought, after a glance in the living room mirror.
Hicksville. Of course I first took the job not minding that I looked like this escapee from Mayberry, since Mom rushed to greet me at the door; danced me around the room; plied me with questions, then told me how much she appreciated me. What a wonderful a daughter I was.
I hurry home from the agency, female incarnate Paul Revere, carrying the message: Cowen is coming; Peters is leaving; but Cowen is coming, for what . . . Why? I ask. Today won’t be any different; she won’t be there.
And I’m right and tired. I’ve held this information over a week waiting for the right time to tell her. Clearly that time doesn’t exist. Mom returns home either too tired, too distracted, or too upset, leaving me to wear the label “fraud,”—if only to myself.
“Cowen Riley,” I say gazing past my image reflected in the mirror. A name like that inspires loyalty, I think, finally turning towards the steps to my bedroom. I’m not his team player. “Mom wanted that position,” I continue out loud. Two weeks is long enough, I decide about the position. It’s not fair to him or the agency. He’ll need a steady crew knowing the ropes to rebuild the agency, a difficult, almost impossible assignment as it is.
Either Mom takes this job now or I’ll just quit. . . .Where is she anyway? Where does she go? I wonder, rubbing my temple due to a headache from the exhausting drive through bumper-to-bumper late afternoon traffic.
Then I stop.
Listen to me. This isn’t like me—lately always griping; irritated. I sound like a disgruntled cow. I’m beginning not to like myself. I reason: Be happy she’s busy and happy.
But what happened to her original enthusiasm about the work idea? My foot balanced on the bottom step, I wonder, what’s the hold-up? She was so “gung-ho” for me to get the job and then nothing?
She must be dating. . . But if so, why the secrecy? Is it because Steve’s death is so recent? I wouldn’t judge her about that. Who am I?
Is he married?
No. Madame’s training on that note was intense. “You can never, never trust a man that will cheat on his wife,” she drilled. “If he cheats on her, he’ll cheat on you.”
I believed her. And I’m sure that Mom got that same spill, so she must too. Or would she? . . . .Why should she? . . . .They don’t get along anyway.
No. The trueness of the statement remains.
But if Mom is dating—since she acts like a woman who is, I think heading upstairs: Why not forget the agency? Why have me dangling? since I am dangling. What I bring home to teach Mom tosses aside like dirty hosiery, forcing me to swallow irritation as she smiles sweetly, asking, “Is that all?”
It is making me ill. I resolve: We’ll discuss the switch today. Then I’ll explain the situation to Mr. Peters. He’ll understand. He’s very reasonable. Plus, I did reorganize the files and centralize the needed forms. That took some doing; he owes me. And it’s not as if Mom doesn’t exhibit aptitude for the job. Though her typing leaves a bit to be desired, I concede, close to the top of the stairs.
Yet, typing isn’t the bulk of the agency’s work, I rationalize. Mom already speaks the insurance lingo and identifies the various insurance forms for different policies like an agent. I found that out when my face registered surprise at her demonstrated ability. She just laughed, explaining that the terms and paperwork became second nature during Steve’s illness.
Okay, maybe that’s why she’s dragging her feet. She already knows this stuff. But shouldn’t she say so. Plus, didn’t she express the desire to work with the soon departing Mr. Peters. . . Where. . . In Boca Ra—“Boo!”
“Shoot!” I yell, grabbing the wooden railing in time to keep from tumbling backwards down the stairs, my heart pounding, as a hand reaches down to grasp the collar of my leather coat.
Bronco-bucking mad, I glare upwards; shouting, “Are you crazy?” throwing off her hands; lifting myself upright on the stairs. “You trying to kill me?” remembering, this is just like her.
It’s a good thing the carpenters finished the staircase a few days ago. I could’ve broken my neck.
Vie, leaning over the renewed stabilized railing resembles a female pirate wearing a red flowered bandana covering all hair except pieces flipping up the back and earrings galore—a studded eyebrow and tongue, with hoops in her lobes. But the wicked spark in her eyes and a smirk on her face makes me want to spit cannon balls at her.
“Now why would I do that?” she asks in reference to my question about killing me. “How would that help me? . . . Anyway, what took you so long? I fell asleep in your fabulous new room.”
I noticed. Deep creases line one side of her face.
Why did she have to wake up?
“Looks like you plan on staying awhile. Making yourself quite cozy, huh?” she continues.
Why shouldn’t I? Who wants to continue sleeping on that old sack of a baby bed? It doesn’t take much to make a place habitable. And anyway, why does she care? I wonder, convinced that she does.
My heart struggles to regulate itself as I walk up the last few steps.
“So Vie, Mom let you in? . . . Why?” I ask, staring at her as I pass. “And where is she?”
“I saw her in Little Italy earlier, but she didn’t see me. But you’ve been fending for yourself, right?” she asks, following me into my new old room dressed in jeans and jacket. Underneath, braless in a tight white sheer jersey top.
The room does look vintage good, with antique white and rose toile wallpaper and Roman shades gracing both windows in a matching fabric. It took no time—for the store clerk’s son, to paper the small room; but whipping up the Roman shade was a breeze for me; the biggest problem? Mom’s old sewing machine. I also replaced my baby bed with a Victorian mahogany head and footboard and a firm new mattress.
“So what’s there to eat?” she asks slouching in the slip-covered burgundy club chair by the small window near the bathroom door, rolling loudly back-and-forth across the wooden floorboards. The wool area rugs covered only the floor under the bed and the spot before the love seat right across from it.
Vie’s noisiness has me considering putting one under that chair too, while she sweeps the room with a quizzical look on her face. She takes in replicas of old-fashioned granny boots in matted frames on either side of the small window, the new cotton coverlet of Belgian mantle rumpled by her nap, a small walnut side table covered with a sheer cloth holding a cream bowl and pitcher set and an empty plate of fruit. And the small antique dresser beside her holding my laptop, a small a CD player and my book of sketches.
Vie’s expression asks again, “Settling in?”
I answer her non-verbalized question with, “I will be visiting her often; so I might as well make it comfortable. Mom didn’t object,” so why should you?
“Why should she?” she asks crossing her legs. “Anyway, I’ll ask again. What have you got to eat?” The contents in the small wire trash can—an apple core and banana peel—consumed a little while ago by their color probably aggravated her hunger.
“What did you bring?” I answer still upset, since I could’ve broken my neck.
You thought I learned to cook when you went away?” she mocks. “You’re funny. . . I looked in the frig and didn’t see anything. . . What happened? Crystal not a house mom?” she asks leaning over to pick up my sketchpad.
I ignore Vie while stripping out of the navy wool suit, throwing it temporarily on the loveseat—the room next door now converted into a walk-in closet. I then pull on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt from out of the dresser.
Flipping through the pages, she says, “Designing, huh?”
Ignoring her question, I do silently surrender to Vie’s company, reminding myself that this is Vie. To know her is to unfortunately know her.
“You can tell me why I deserve this unexpected visit as I make us a chef salad. If I recall the ingredients were in the refrigerator. . . .Don’t tell me you can’t even do that?” I ask over my shoulder. She trails behind as we head downstairs to the kitchen.
“No, because I hate salads. If that’s all you have to offer me I’m going home.”
Just like that?
“So what did you want? Why did you wait for me?”
“So what did you want? Why did you wait for me?”
“Oh, no particular reason. I didn’t have anything else to do? Wanted to see your set-up.”
“Well you might as well stay now and tell me what you’ve been up to while I make the salad. Or there’s some cereal if you like,” I say opening up a cabinet door.
“No, Gotta run. See ya later,” she says taking off. “Don’t worry about walking me to the door; I can let myself out.”
So Vie leaves whistling, and me wondering: What was that all about?