Friday, May 15, 2015

Chapter Twenty-Nine...Is She On To Me?




Chapter Twenty-Nine

 “Shush, Diamond; they’ll hear you,” Mom chides, ignoring the persistent knock at the front door. “Just sit tight.  Give them a minute, they’ll go away,” she directs, lounging with feet propped on the low rectangular coffee table.
This is ridiculous, I think, taking in the drawn drapes, lights turned off, and dead embers in the fireplace—hiding out in a living-room turned graveyard.
But more the source of my irritation in this semi-darkness: Mom’s hand raising her glass to lips prepped for another swig.  What’s her problem?  That’s her second drink to my one since I’ve come in just ten minutes ago.  Who knows how many she had before.  Lately, you’d think her lips and fingers played Pied Piper with the liquor constant and mysteriously streaming in.  What happened to, “We’ll have some fun; make up for lost times?”
If she actually stayed sober this could be perfect, being back together.  Yes, we’re back together again, but not as family or friends.  Instead, we mimic mini-mice scared, although in the dark.  We perch on opposite wing chairs with me cold and silent, commissioned to wait for munchkins, these tiny little people to disappear. 
My attention back to outside, I figure, we shouldn’t have too much longer to wait, though. The sun is setting fast; maybe they’re winding down.
I saw them earlier when I came in from secret shopping—secrecy keeping Mom’s jealousy at bay.  Supermen, Spider men, Little Princesses and ballerinas squealing and giggling, while costumed and non-costumed parents, trailed behind talking with other parents, or solo, holding the hands of their little ones.  Everywhere the streets were sprayed with cobwebs across evergreens, jack-o-lanterns on lawns, black cats on porches, and witches on brooms.
I listen to dejected voices drifting away from our door; then revived, high-pitched giggles, as they race to better prospects across the lawn.
Again I look towards Mom.  Halloween isn’t the reason for this graveyard; it’s been one since last week.  What happened to her?
She stays mute; just blows off all normal activities like bathing, eating, and house-cleaning.  Well . . . maybe not house-cleaning, that never bringing her pleasure. But right now bathing and eating don’t make her “to do list” either.
And regarding me?  Oh, forget it.  Her actions say, “Fend for yourself, girlfriend,” which I don’t mind doing.  Actually I’ve learned to love it.  But still . . . seeing her in this state has curbed my otherwise healthy appetite.
Is this my compensation for keeping her job and trying to restore her house?  To watch this this increasing joy in the bottle?, reminding me of earlier years.
Maybe she never stopped, just slowed down, remembering how the bottle camouflaged her unhappiness, but deepened mine.  The memory makes me question why I’m even staying under these conditions.
Not unless.  Could she just be delayed in mourning for Steve?
Yes, that could be it . . . a broken heart.  I can understand a broken heart . . . if that’s it.
Tapping my fingers on the arm of the wing chair, while staring at her complacent form I count: One, two, three, four, five weeks.  Does it take five weeks for people to click?  Because it’s been five weeks.  Have we clicked?
Not.  Ticked—as in off, probably fits us more, those first few days of camaraderie delusional.
But I can’t leave now; it’s too soon to fly the flag.   Madame would say—if I chose to tell her about it, “I told you. You don’t listen.”  I get up to peep out of the window—shoot!  Stub my toe on a sofa leg, wanting to shout, “This is stupid!” as I hear her little giggle as I fight not to scream for the pain of my little toe.  Honestly . . . sneaking around in your own home because of some little kids. 
Glaring out of the window, as I ignore Mom's delight at my discomfort, I try to focus on the older kids rushing across the lawn triggering my own last trick-or-treat experience.  I watch, finally grinning; glad for some distraction remembering the episode, though I didn’t think it funny at the time.
After a minute I turn around, directing my attention to Mom’s silhouette.  “Mom.  Guess what happened the last time I went trick-or-treating.”
“Come on, Diamond--,” she starts not looking up.
“It’s okay.  No one’s out there now,” I say, craving to break through, looking for a mutual past; hoping to initiate a bonding.  “Guess what happened.”
“I don’t know, Diamond. . . What?”
Her exasperated “not interested” tone doesn’t prevent my continuing.  “Well my friend dressed up like a cute little clown and I a bum,” I begin, after squatting, next kneeling before her on the floor.  I lean against the coffee table, close enough to see her clearly despite the dimness and unfortunately close enough to catch fire if someone lit a match.
“But of course being kids,” I continue, “we kept lagging behind the group.  So when we came down off the steps of this one house, we were rummaging around in our bags”—my hands demonstrating animatedly.  As my hands stop, my face and tone proceed with the performance.  “Suddenly, these dark figures, shadows, came from around a bush and snatched our bags.  First we thought they were ghosts, but their laughter convinced us they were just a couple of mean teens.”
“Just like that,” I snapped my fingers, “all our candy, gone.”
“Really,” Mom says, again turning up her glass.
I wanted to tell her what happened after that, but do I dare after her “I don’t care” sip.  Would she go ballistic, if I continue?
Still kneeling I recalled arriving home.  Madame heard my story but offered no condolences.  Instead she asked, “Again not paying attention to your surroundings?”
Me, a nine-year-old, paying attention while trick-o-treating?
Of course I had to shake my head staring up at her massive height, a towering redwood with this thunderous voice raining down counsel. 
“So, I guess you learned a valuable lesson today.  Did I not tell you to keep your head up and your eyes open,” she reminded me, “otherwise people would catch you off guard?”
“And since you were not focused,” again emphasizing my deficiency, “it cost you.  Now in the future, if you can concentrate on things with value and stick with it, maybe no one will steal from you.  You determine what you want to give up,” she concluded, never once stopping whatever she was doing to explain. 
Yes, I remembered exactly what she said; but what did it mean to me a kid?  Was she really discussing candy?
And, what did it mean to me now?  Is that what Madame is doing, going for what she wants?  Is that why she was too busy to return my calls? questions that I felt Mom could give me insight into.  Did Madame ever say things like that to her?
Though, even if Madame did, obviously Mom didn’t pay much attention, not unless her value lies inside a bottle.
“I never went trick-or-treating,” she suddenly speaks, her voice low, horribly slurred.
Oh.  Actually, I’m sorry, I think, not saying anything, no longer comfortable with the conversation.  And if she’d listened she’d know that Madame didn’t take me either.  But, no since in explaining; she doesn’t want to know the truth, I think returning to my seat, feeling tricked instead of treated.  Crystal’s face spurns all laughter.
And not just her face.  At the job, the same.  Expressions I encounter daily reveal hostility, hiding intentions, forcing me to adopt a charade myself.  My practiced expression proclaims, “I don’t care,” when actually I do.  I prefer peace, to be a team player, not defensive.
But where's the team? ... Does it exist?  And, what's Mr. Riley's game plan?  Recruit more players?
My only consolation?  Today no Vie, which really surprises me.  Of all days, for her not to appear—Halloween?  When we were kids, wasn’t this was her favorite holiday?
Well, one of them.  Between Halloween and April’s Fool day, Vie horrified us all with her wicked little tricks. You learned not to speak too freely around her.  Though, fact was, you could never prepare for her, her mind way ahead of you, actively evil.  All during the year she watched us for any indication of our heart’s desires.  Then, wham!  Her random choice, she’d make you bleed.
Once in high school, a girlfriend of our group--a rather shy unremarkable teen, disclosed her secret crush on a basketball player with Vie absent.  To be truthful, her catching an elusive leprechaun seemed more likely, until March.  Then the improbable happened.  He started casting admiring glances Lil’ Shy’s way, which she enthusiastically returned with blushes, strolling by his locker.  The unlikely continued; he asked her out. 
The date? 
The eve of April 1st.  All day we avoided Vie, since she was not in the know and especially since we needed to concentrate on Lil’ Shy’s date.  Four of us dressed her, did her makeup and drilled into her topics to hold his attention—talk about Him.  Fail proof.  Don’t digress; unless he asks about her.  Hopefully that’s the way it would go.  Intense interest in her the reason for the date, right? 
Well, the moment arrived.  He looked “hot,” arriving to escort her in his Dad’s large Lincoln.  Our Cinderella beamed that day, her story ending resembling a movie. 
Matinee?
No, monstrous.  Lil’ Shy hysterically escaped date rape by her Prince Frog.  Fortunately, she kept the note he threw into her face.  Our girl group sought to discover the foreign handwriting starting this nightmare.  Admittedly, Vie was a prime suspect.  But the handwriting didn’t match.  Yet, people spotted her lurking around the players’ locker.
But she hadn’t really gone that far, had she?
She had.  Vie admitted she plied our sports hero with gifts “From a bashful admirer.”  Lil’ Shy stepped right into her role.  But to a note requesting a date and promising to display her appreciation, Vie vehemently swore ignorance.  So with no proof and her constant apologizing and insistent, “I didn’t mean for that to happen.  I was just trying to help,” I gave in.  I guess I just felt sorry for her, such a lonely girl.  My girlfriends, though, wrote her off; only sporadically permitting her presence because of me. 
Funny, in some ways she reminds me of Mom, having no one—partially the reason I’m here.  This brings me back to the subject of work.
I think: it's probably not a good time to broach the subject about Mom taking over the job.  But we have to talk about it sometime.  So here goes.
“Mom, guess what.  Mr. Peters has retired to Arizona.  We already gave him a small party Wednesday,” since he bucked fan-fare.  We kept it small at the agency by ordering take-out and a cake.
“Really?” she said, her eyes never opening.
That’s it, huh?  The man you wanted to work for leaves and all you have to say is “really”?
“Yes, everyone in the office was surprised about him leaving too.  His arthritis is pretty bad, but another agent has already arrived.”  I continue to chatter away as if she’s thoroughly interested.  “Mr. Peters vouched for the new guy, Mom.  I’ll think you’ll be alright.” 
She doesn’t open her eyes or respond for a moment, then she says, “A new agent, huh?  Well, that’s good to know.”
I just look at her, no longer surprised, though she did say she wanted to work under St. Peters.  Well there goes that opportunity. 
“Mom?  Are you still interested in working at the agency?” I blurt out.
“Why do ask that?” she asks, surprisingly irritated.  
“It’s just you don’t seem yourself; and every time I mention the job you seem uninterested.”
“And how would you know what myself is?”
Really she has a point, though heartless, but—forget it; I was just trying to get the full picture.
I get up and play at lighting the fireplace, while thinking, you know it’s the drink, Diamond.  So I keep silent so as not to antagonize her further. 
Those doubts about my coming creep up; push through, persistent.  The usual question, why did I come?
Knowing my answer: I thought I could help.
Maybe Madame was right; maybe motherhood isn’t for Mom, because now I feel like I did as a child.  I felt she didn’t want me around then, that my presence was more than she could bear.  And it feels the same today.  This scares me.
“Diamond.  Do something about that stupid cough?” Mom says.  “What’s the matter with you anyway?”
Funny, I didn’t think it was that bad.  But lately the coughs have been constant.  Frequent.  I now also have a headache.  Getting up to go to the bathroom, I feel Mom’s eyes following me.  I saw earlier that she put a new bottle of cough syrup in the medicine cabinet, so I take a couple of large swallows, and some pain relievers, then carry the bottle back with me into the living room.  Just in case.
Seated back on the sofa, I try to figure out what I should do, Mom’s non-cooperation placing me in an awkward position.  Okay, so Mr. Peter’s gave you the job, but he’s gone.  Now Mr. Riley believes you’re a solid member of the team.  And I am for now . . . but for how long?
New York waits for me with full steam ahead.
I glance again at Mom, as she struggles to get up.
“Diamond, I’m tired.  I’m going to lie down.”
Lie down?  That’s what she’s been doing all day, I think, more annoyed.  All this time wasted time, expending absolutely no energy on anything of importance.
“Okay, Mom.”
My throat still aggravated, I swallow more cough syrup.  But I keep quiet, wondering, what about Cowen?
Mom quickly turns around, asking, “What was that?”
“I’m sorry.  I didn’t say anything.  I was thinking out loud.”
“About?”
“About tomorrow.  About going to work tomorrow.”
“Oh.”
As she walked away, I remember, we hadn’t eaten dinner.  But I disregard my growling stomach, instead thinking, I’m glad that I’m taking the outfits to Nanette myself.  Nanette needs to see my dedication and I need a break.  Maybe I won'the even come back.
As her door shuts I call the airport reconfirming my flight arrangements.  This small action lifts my spirits. . . I’m going home.
After a few minutes I peek into Mom’s room to check on her.  Her body lies still buried under the comforter.  Wondering why she’s depressed, I creep in bed on top of the covers behind her, holding her close like she once did me, hoping to comfort us both.  But she squirms angrily, tossing me off.  So I scurry back to the living room to lie on the sofa, hurt, cold, and sleepless, her slighting tying my stomach in knots. 
As I lay in the dark, debating whether to put another log on, I let the tears roll, as the cold draftiness of the house makes me shiver under the throw.  Needing to sleep I finish the rest of the cough medicine. . . .
What’s that?  The creaking door wakes me from a deep sleep.  What time is it?  I try to see my watch in vain, looking up instead to. . . Mom?
A bright moon lights the bathroom haloing her frame, as she stands in the hallway’s door, her face shadowed.  I hear her breathing; belabored, almost panting.  I wipe at my eyes, wondering, what’s the matter?  My body stiff with cold.  Is she sleepwalking?
I wait very still, forgetting what to do about sleepwalkers.  Her figure in a sheer white silk nightgown comes to stand over me and my heart seems to stops beating.  I hold my breath waiting for her to say something.
Finally she speaks, saying, “Just who do you think you are anyway?”
The voice descending upon me is deep, distorted, and spiteful.  I continue not to move, feeling that a sudden movement might initiate an attack.  Her hot breath, as she leans over me, floods my nostrils stale and awful.
“What?  Why aren’t you saying something now?”
I peer horrified, who is this woman supposed to be?
“What?” she laughs.  “Do I sicken you?” she asks.  “Well, you sicken me.”
“Why?”  I whimper, frightened, but wanting to find out anything to help me understand her.
“You just do.  Always have,” she sneers.
“That’s not a reason,” I say, the edge of the throw balled up between my fists.  “What have I done?” feeling like a wimp.
Her answer is immediate, “You should’ve died.”
With that statement she floats back into her room; slams the door behind her; leaves me wondering if I’ve hallucinated this.  But sensations: the cold of the room, the hurt of her words and the knot in my stomach say, “No, Diamond.  You’re wide awake.”
I should have died?  Instead of who? . . . Who died?  And whose voice was she imitating?  Though I thought I knew the answer to that one: Her tone sounded like Madame’s.
Did Madame say those words to Crystal?  Were those words really directed to Crystal?  Or were they for me?  Though I wouldn’t wish that on anyone—those words.
Shaken, I drag myself upstairs.  I hate to fail, but I’ll call Mr. Reilly from New York, hopeful he’ll understand.