After boiling some eggs, I throw together a large salad for Mom and me to eat with a loaf of French bread, not sure whether what Vie said earlier about Mom in Little Italy was true.
Also, I think, a glass of red wine would set this off; though Vie was right. The refrigerator is bare.
Yet it doesn’t matter. While chopping up red onions, bologna, salami, and cheese, I smile: This feels good. I hadn’t realized how much I missed cooking for myself. As I toss the salad, then cut up the last boiled egg for presentation, sprinkling on a few red pepper flakes, I hear a grating—the key turning the lock of the front door.
I wondered; did Mom do her usual?—sit outside awhile before coming in. I’ve been here to see it a couple of times. A good ten minutes in the car before she takes a leisurely stroll up the walk to the door. Watching her from inside, I’d sometimes open the door to a woman whose face emanated serenity. She wore this wistful dreamy glow. She’d give me that vacant smile, practically floating past me to enclose herself in her bedroom. Although, some days her face wore a smug self-satisfied look. But either way, a few hours later, when she emerged, she’d sit at the piano and play that song—the haunting one, again and again. At that point, I usually leave to do either yard work or shopping because I found her actions insulting; disturbing even—like living with someone hypnotized. Especially when she ignored me, this being always lately.
“Hey! How’s it going?” I call from the kitchen door, drying my hands on a dishtowel, hurrying to greet her, as she closes the living room door—Mom’s a vision in chartreuse.
“Wow, Mom! You look great,” I say giving her cheek a peck, although she stopped extending it.
“Thanks.” She bends, leaving the laptop by the door—a slim lightweight speedy model. Very feminine.
I bought that, I acknowledge, and obviously she’s using it. When I first brought it home, I barely survived her hugs and squeals. She’d practice typing at the kitchen table, her face wrinkled in deep concentration when opening windows and word documents. Then she’d ask questions, emphasizing her interest and appreciation for the gift. I felt wonderful watching.
Well at least she carries it.
Now she prepares to go to her bedroom. I get bold. “Hey Mom. Mr. Peters is leaving. You said you wanted to work under him, so now’s the time,” I say trying flippancy.
“He is? Well, that’s sudden,” she says walking towards her room.
But today I refuse dismissal; we need to talk. I follow Mom into her bedroom—pardon me, her “boudoir.” Visually the term “bedroom” didn’t fit. “Opulence,” springs from your lips when you first see this room. It’s overwhelming, particularly in contrast to the rest of the house. The door opens and you practically fall into a great mahogany-carved canopy bed veiled in cream chiffon. Its size consumes your eye and the room, as if centered, but it actually hugs the right wall. California King—it had to be. Luxurious silk pillows ranging a spectrum of rich colors covered the purple silk comforter. And smaller pillows of identical shades top a mahogany trunk at the foot of the bed.
Then flash to a vanity table on the left wall crowded with gobs of expensive perfume battling the mildew odor. And next to it an ornate dressing screen. You practically miss the big picture window straight ahead, because it’s concealed with heavy purple velvet drapes blocking out all light.
So today, in the dim setting, I sit on the edge of the bed waiting in this urban harem with the sheers before me, for “Ms. Sultan” to unwind, determined to find out about her afternoons and to continue our conversation.
Mom relaxes at the dressing table, facing the mirror just gazing at her image.
I think, maybe I should sit on the table to get her attention. After a few minutes I say, “Mom, I’ve missed you. Tell me about your day. What do you do in the afternoons?”
“Oh. Nothing special. Just hang out at Reginald’s,” she says, moving glass perfume bottles around the tabletop.
“What’s Reginald’s, Mom?”
“In Little Italy.”
“Really? I would love to go there with you.”
“Maybe one day,” “or not?” she finished under her breathe.
Did she really say that?
She now picks up her brush and starts to brush her hair until satiny smooth.
After a pause, I think, forget it. Why not just proceed with the work topic? But instead I ask, “Mom. Why did you start this Reginald ritual?”
Briefly she comes out of her reverie, laughing; “Say that ten times.”
Wow. I laugh too, in shock, but wait with my feet propped on the wooden steps still playfully shielded by the hanging bed sheers, thinking, obviously the key to this job problem lies in Mom’s secret. Will she tell me? She can tell me. And now is the perfect opportunity to mention it.
“Well,” she finally begins, and wonder of wonders she seems non-irritated. “Hum. . . It started after Steve’s health got worse. I was a wreck and I needed to get away to regroup, so I hired a home attendant to stay with him a few hours. I came upon this restaurant quite by chance. It had such a pleasant atmosphere and the food was excellent. It became my special treat.”
She stands pulling the dress over her head and tossing it over the top of the screen, before seating herself again at the vanity table, turning her back towards me in her cream silk camisole and matching tap pants, as if the discussion’s finished.
It isn’t. Poking my head through a small opening, I say, “This must really be a fancy place, because you always look gorgeous when you go.”
“Oh, not really. It’s family style. It’s just my way to feel good about myself. Getting dressed-up does that for me. My ‘pick-me-up,’” she says, looking at me through the mirror as she powders her face.
I agree, “I know the feeling.” Clothes do that for me too. Genetics.
Convinced that Mom’s settled into her comfortable routine with me here, I do wonder: what’s her plan? A needling suspicion makes me think; it’s not the agency. And where does that leave me?
Seeing her sit preening, again brushing her hair, gives me an idea.
I let the bed sheers fall closed, while I lay back, brainstorming my approach. I picture Mom and I dressed to impress—my designs of course—gallivanting to different restaurants gathering clients. She’ll make a beautiful elegant petite model. She could help establish me as a designer in Chicago.
Business partners. . . .We don’t need this agency job.
It could be fun and the word “lonesome” would disintegrate from our vocabulary. At least she once appeared lonesome. When she wrote, then called, I got that impression. Since Steve just recently died, what else was I to think? And she doesn’t receive any phone calls from girlfriends, or anyone for that matter—not that I’m aware of. And as far as mail is concerned, I’m never here to pick it up. She may receive letters, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t, because she never talks about anyone.
So, I decide to tackle the subject of my career—inconspicuously, of course. Sitting up, pulling back the bed sheers, I stare at her in the mirror, then ask, “Mom? Why don’t you ever go out with any of your old girlfriends?”
Mom again shifts around the perfumes bottles on her vanity. “I don’t see them anymore.”
“No? How about some of the friends that you and Steve had?”
Picking up her hairbrush Mom starts to pluck out hairs, her head down, but her eyes lift peering at me through the mirror—questioning? After a second, she straightens up; angles the stool in my direction, swinging her legs—impatiently?
“Well, honey,” she begins—reminding me of my childhood. “Usually, you make friends in high school or college, or at work. Since I only went to high school and was consumed by Seneca, the girlfriends I had I lost after we were married. It’s difficult to find couples that both mates like.
But I met Steve long after high school and Steve isn’t from this area. He was more or less a loner, if you can believe that lawyers are loners. So I didn’t want to find my old girlfriends and reintroduce them to another husband after Seneca and I split. They had their own lives and I didn’t think they would be interested in mine.
So there. No friends. No one to go out with."
And no associates either? Though she doesn't sound unhappy, I can't help but feel sorry for her.
“So Mom, how about you and I going out some evenings. We haven’t been out in awhile. Let’s dress up. I can design some simple little outfits and we could go out to different restaurants or concerts. Wouldn’t that be fun? . . . We could become ‘partners in fashion.’”
Mom turns back towards the mirror and drops her eyes, smiling. “Maybe one day we’ll do that, honey,” she says sweetly; “but not anytime soon. I really have too much to do.”
Too much to do? What Mom? What exactly do you do?
She looks at herself lovingly in the mirror, running her fingers through her hair. “Honey, do you mind? I’m really very tired.”
Beyond stunned, I respond while getting up, “Okay, Mom. . . No problem.”
Arriving into the bedroom I felt confident; take charge ready. Upon leaving? My thoughts—what about Mr. Riley?—weight heavy.
I turn around.
“Good-night,” I repeat, though I feel I’ve earned the right to say, “I’m tired too. I’ve worked all day.” But I stay quiet.
Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.