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Living Fiction - Chapter 34 (unedited)
Writing Fiction was always my working title, but over the weekend I realized I want to change it to 'Living Fiction'. It's still the continuation of the same story, but I will start using the new title from this point forward. I've made quite a few minor changes to earlier chapters to accomodate this shift in title. Thus the unedited version of this chapter...since I'm working from the beginning and moving the changes forward
Here's where Chapter 33 left you.
“Lunch, Mom? Don’t you mean dinner? What’s wrong with you?” I told you, that girl is as sharp as a tack. “Sssshhh…” I said, “I have a wicked headache. Let me find some aspirin and something for us to eat, and then you can ask me all the questions you want.”
And now we continue with Chapter 34.
Jessie’s curious eyes glanced around the kitchen as I made a beeline for the aspirin bottle. I was so thankful I’d gone on a cleaning binge a few days ago. I wasn’t so thankful for my beer binge with Millie, though. My headache had come back with a vengeance.
I tried to remember if I had eaten Millie’s scalloped potato casserole the night before. I vaguely remembered scarfing down something warm and comforting, so I was surprised and happy to see a shiny foil covered package in the fridge. “Jessie, can you turn the oven on? I have a scalloped potatoes and ham casserole here we’ll reheat, and we’ll have that with a salad. See? I told you I was eating right!”
As I heard her click the oven on, I wondered for a second if the salad I’d bought a few days ago had gone bad. It hadn’t. Those prepackaged bags seem to last forever in the crisper drawer. I wondered why that was. I probably didn’t really want to know. I’d only started buying them after my husband had … ummm… ‘started shopping at celestial grocery stores’. He’d always objected to them, telling me it was silly to pay so much extra for lettuce, two shreds of red cabbage, and five pieces of carrot.
After rustling around in the fridge and reassuring myself the lettuce still looked pretty edible, I noticed my daughter was no longer in the room. “Jess? Where’d you go?” I said loudly. When she didn’t answer, I glanced out the back door and there she was, sitting on the steps with her head hunched down between her shoulders. I started to open the door when I noticed her shoulders shaking. Either she was cold, or she was crying. Cold I could manage, crying not so much.
Whenever someone I love cries, it makes me cry. My husband had always asked me why I couldn’t just be an observer to someone elses emotions. “Why must you always become a contributor to the drama?” he would say in a slightly sarcastic voice. Although I had tried explaining it to him a thousand times (at least) he had never ‘gotten’ it. I suspect if he was able to comment on my behavior after his ‘unexpected departure’ he would have said the same thing. And even though what he said was true, for some reason that criticism had always made me mad.
I debated with myself. “Cold? Crying? Comfort? Avoid?” I peeked out the window after several minutes of my unresolved internal debate and saw she had stopped shaking. “Okay, Pearl,” I told myself, “Just give the girl some space.” And I did.
I took a few more aspirin, put the lettuce into a bowl, and set the table. I dug around and found a trivet for the casserole. I went into the dining room and found some cloth napkins. When I heard the back door close, I knew that Jessie had returned. I kept my face turned away from her to give her a sense of privacy and when I looked up after a moments busy work, she was already sitting at the table.
Looking at her, I experienced an odd feeling. It was almost as if I could see both the little girl she had been sumperimposed over the grown up she had become. It startled me. I had never been willing to actually believe that my children were grown up and gone. In some ways, I think I had been trying to kid myself for years…”Oh, they’re away at school. Oh, they’ll be here on Saturday as always.” You might be surprised to know that I had never even changed their rooms after they left the nest. I was saddened and surprised realizing how many years had actually elapsed between then and now.
Jessie’s voice broke into my painful little trip down memory lane, “Mom, are you okay? You don’t seem like yourself at all?”
How was I supposed to answer that question? What was I supposed to say? Was it okay for me to start screaming and crying and tell her how frightened and lonely I was? Was it acceptable for me to abandon my long-held role as protector and rose colored eyeglass wearer and tell her the actual truth of my life? Would it be a violation of all the ‘mom rules’ that had governed my life since my children had been born if I talked to my daughter like a friend?
I had no answers to any of these questions and when in doubt, take the path of least resistance. Go with what you know. So I did.
I straightened my shoulders. I went to the oven. I got the casserole out and put it on the table between us. I cleared my throat and centered my thoughts. “Jessie, I’m just fine. Let’s eat.”
And Jessie, God bless her sweet little heart, just went along with me following her own path of least resistance pretending that I was the adult and knew all the answers. Or so I thought.
When she uncovered the scalloped potato and ham casserole, her eyes widened. “Ummm… Mom, really…what’s going on?” she asked, motioning toward the steaming dish of beef stew.
“Aha,” I thought to myself, “I thought I remembered eating that other casserole.” “Uh oh, “I thought to myself, “Think quick, Pearl!”
“Gosh, Jessie, so many people bring casseroles over that I get them confused sometimes. I meant to say beef stew. Remember when you were twelve and became a vegetarian for about four days?”
As I began to tell her more about my memories of that, I noticed her head was lowered. I also noticed tears dripping from her face onto her plate.
I began to talk a little faster, “…and then you got all angry at the restaurant, pushed your salad away and said…”
“MOM! Stop. Just stop. I get it. I get your point, okay?” She shoved her chair away from the table so abruptly that it wobbled on two legs for a moment before crashing to the ground. She covered her ears with her hands like she had when she was young. “Stop talking! Just stop talking! I get it! You’re great! You’re wonderful! You’re taking belly dancing lessons! You’re the leader of your grief counselling group! You’re so busy running around and being over DADDY, that you forgot about me! You’re so busy having a GREAT TIME that you can’t even go to jail on visiting days! What about me? What about how I feel? Oh, just forget it! Just FORGET it, Mom! Seriously, Mom. Just go write on your stupid blog or something. I’m really sorry to have bothered you on one of your happy, frickin’, party days!”
And with that, she grabbed her purse and slammed out the kitchen door.
What? What was she talking about? Belly dancing lessons? Grief counselling group? I tried to sift through all the words and anger she had filled the room with. And then, I decided to run after her. It was only as I grabbed my own purse, that I noticed her car keys sitting snugly in the bowl beside my own. “Like mother, like daughter,” I thought right before I went outside.
I walked around the corner by the garage and saw her car sitting in its usual spot. She wasn’t in it. I looked on the front steps. No daughter. I looked up and down the sidewalk and couldn’t see her at all. I paused, “Think, Pearl, think. Where would she go?” After a second, I knew exactly where I would find her.
When I walked into the backyard, I saw that she had pulled the rope ladder up into the treehouse. The rough, painted boards of the structure were evident now that the sturdy branches had lost their bright green, summery leaves.
“Jessie? Are you up there?” I tipped back my head and looked up into the darkening gray-blue of the autumn sky. Instead of a reply she simply dropped the ladder down. It dangled there in front of me as both a challenge and an invitation. I put my foot onto the unsteady bottom rung.
To be continued on Tuesday, May 10th.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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