Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Part Six: Katie has supper at her mother's house.

"Okay." Katie sighed. "What should I do for dinner?" Snow was falling gently outside the streetcar window; Katie leaned her forehead against the cool glass and looked out at the dark night.

"Why don't you go to your parents' house?" Melissa got up and started gathering her stuff. Her stop was coming up.

"My parents' house?"

"Well, we're right by there. I mean, they are practically my neighbours." This was true -- Melissa's new condo was about three blocks from Katie's parents' Cabbagetown house -- not the one she'd grown up in, but a smaller, swankier one that they'd got a couple of years ago when they'd retired.

"Transfer streetcars here with me, and then I'll walk you to their place." Dinner with her parents. Huh. Katie never had dinner with her parents, unlike Melissa, who saw her family every Sunday, (following, in fact, her pseudofamily breakfasts with Katie and four or five of their friends). Katie just knew that Melissa and her family spent those long Sunday afternoons playing board games or looking at photo albums or recording family history on their laptops for the Williams Family Digital Archive, or whatever it was that families-that-know-what-to-do-with-one-another did with one another.

"I don't know, Melissa. I might just head home." Katie wasn't sure she could handle her family today. But then she thought about Anne, and she wondered if her parents had heard from her lately. That, and the lure of a free meal, decided it for her. Katie would go to her parents' place.

Thirty minutes later she was standing in front of their house, wondering if she should knock, or just barge right in. Technically this wasn't her house. But these were her parents, and so, by default, didn't this make their house hers, too? Katie closed her eyes and pretended that she was at home and her parents waltzed into her house without knocking and thought about how she felt. She felt irritated. She felt like they were intruding on something that wasn't theirs. But then -- they were her parents. She was totally allowed to burst in on them without warning; it was kind of her right as their child. So Katie turned the knob and stepped into the cozy foyer of the old house.

She heard laughter, lots of it. A television was blaring, and the air was warm with the scent of a roasting chicken. "Good choice!" thought Katie. Her alternative had been a lonely night of pizza on the sofa, while snooping around on old boyfriends on Facebook. Roast chicken and peals of laughter were a much nicer alternative. Only....who was laughing? It certainly wasn't her parents. They weren't exactly laughers.

"Hello?" Katie stepped out of her flats and took a few hesitant steps forward. Come to think of it, roast chicken wasn't really their scene, either. They were more soup-and-salad types. Maybe she was in the wrong house? She hadn't really been there that much, to be fair..."Hello?" She called again in a louder voice. "Anyone?" The furniture looked familiar....Suddenly a tiny body, laughing a frantic, little-boy laugh, hurtled down the hall and flung itself out the front door. And there was her mother, barreling past her and out the front door as well, hollering "Jonah!" as she ran.

Katie didn't move. She just stood there, kind of deer-in-headlights like, until her mother reappeared with Katie's three-year-old nephew, in her arms. No longer laughing, Jonah was screaming, and her mother was trying to hold him, trying to soothe him, saying, "there there" in this monotone voice, over and over, and they pushed past Katie again, who was still standing in the hallway, and neither one of them noticed her. It's as though I'm a ghost, thought Katie, and she tried to remember if she'd been in a street car accident or been hit by a bus on her way over here, something that would have turned her into a soul trapped between earth and the spiritual realm.

But then the screaming stopped, and Katie's mother appeared in the hallway again, and smiled tiredly at her daughter. "Katie. You've come for dinner, I hope? I made this chicken...."

Katie pulled her jacket off and was, for a nanosecond, slightly disappointed that she wasn't actually in ghost-form, haunting people. She hung it up in the hall and followed her mother into the kitchen, where Jonah was sitting at the table, happily smooshing playdough into flat, colourful pancakes. "What's going on?"

"Oh, Jason brought him over for a few days. Said he 'couldn't deal'," Katie's mother made air quotes. "I don't know what he thinks, that he can bring him over whenever it gets tough. I mean, I do love him, but..."

"Mum, Jonah's your grandson."

Katie's mother sighed, and said, in a low voice, "I'm just so tired. Your father's away again, on some consultation somewhere, and I'm frazzled. Three-year-olds are lots of work and I'm almost 70, you know."

(Katie knew. She knew exactly how old her parents were -- and they were NOT almost 70. They were only 65, which Katie didn't really think of as old at all. The vice-president of Katie's company was 68 and he rode his bike to work. So she didn't think of them as particularly old, but they liked to talk about how they were at death's door. They were always reminding her that she was running out of time. "You can't keep behaving like a child forever," they'd say. "We're too old for that." They would tell her that if she ever wanted to get married, have children, and get her life together before they died, she had a lot of work to do, as they were almost 70 and could go at any minute. She had thought that buying the house would get them off her back, but they only said things like, "a whole room for handbags, vintage hats and jewelry? Why, this would make an excellent nursery," and "if you would spent less time fussing around with those paintings of flowers and more time on painting that peeling paint on the front door, your market value would increase tremendously.")

Katie sat down next to Jonah and picked up some of the playdough. "I guess Jason must be having a hard time if he's brought him here, Mum. Did he say how long Jonah would be with you?" Katie's mother was pulling dishes out of the cupboards. Katie started to put the playdough into the little matching pots, but Jonah just said, "No!" and pulled it out again.

"Oh, let him keep the playdough out. He's been so out of sorts since he got here. And I can't handle another fight." Katie's mother pulled the chicken out of the oven. "I really can't." She sighed. "What that boy needs is his mother."

Katie looked at Jonah. He looked so much like Anne had when she was little. That crazy curly hair and those fat cheeks. She left Jonah at the table, and went over to her mother. "Can I help?" Her mother smiled gratefully.

"Can you put out the carrots? They're on the stove. I hope they're not mushy." Katie took the plates over to the pot of carrots, sitting in water. She drained them in the sink and realized as she was doing so that the carrots were most definitely not mushy -- they were still uncooked. Her mother hadn't turned the pot on.

"Ummm...." Katie began. Her mother looked up from where she was washing a squirming, screaming Jonah's playdoughy hands with a washcloth.

"What is it?" She did sound frazzled.

"Nothing," Katie smiled at her. "It's fine." Katie placed a small amount of the uncooked carrots onto the plates, next to the piles of chicken. "I don't think we'll need butter for these," she said, and placed the plates, one by one, in front of her mother and her nephew. Katie said an inward prayer of thanks to the God of Sample Sale Shopping that Melissa had been considerate enough to think of her parents. Katie certainly hadn't been, and it looked like maybe she should start.

After supper, Jonah's bath, and about seven picture books, Katie and her mother sat in the living room with cups of tea. Katie was a bit nervous that without Jonah acting as buffer, she and her mother would have to start interacting for real. And as determined as she was to start being better to her parents, she still planned to make it a quick cup of tea. But she couldn't leave until she'd asked about Anne.

"So how are things with work?" Katie's mother asked.

"Oh, fine." Her parents wanted her to love her job. They never wanted to hear the truth.

(I spend a good part of each day writing lists of all the things I wish I were doing instead/I think the only two single men that I know at work are sleeping with one another down the hall from my desk /My boss makes me want to cry every time he tells me I have "potential" because that means I'm actually good at something I don't want to be good at and what does that mean if you are better at something you hate than the thing that you love? What does that do to your soul in the end? To know you are better at being Katherine than Katie? What happens to you then???)

"We're starting a new project, soon, something prestigious. I'm looking forward to the work," she said, and she sipped her tea, and she wished it weren't so goddamned hot.

"That's nice," Katie's mother reached for the TV remote. "Should we..."

"Err....Maybe not." Katie knew that if CSI: Miami came on she'd never leave. A)because that show was addictive and B)she needed to ask about Anne. "I can't really stay much longer. Work tomorrow," Katie added, lest her mother feel hurt. Her mother was so sensitive, you never knew what might set her off. Her mood could change so quickly.

"Oh, okay. It's been lovely to have you here. I know Jonah is a lot to handle, and you do have to get your rest." She stood up. "Would you like to take some chicken home?"

"Oh, Jesus, mum. Please don't play the martyr." Katie balled up her fists, banged them on her knees. "I am not leaving yet. I just can't stay for a whole other hour. I have to travel across town tomorrow. As it is I won't be home before 10 tonight. Please. I just want to enjoy this cup of tea. Okay?"

Her mother sat back down. "Alright." She reached for her mug. "No need to get so angry, Katie."

Katie swallowed hard, tamped the feelings down. She had to remain civil if they were going to talk about her sister. Speaking of which....Katie held the tea mug in her hands, wrapped her fingers around it so tight.

"Mum. So when Jason dropped off Jonah, did he mention Anne? I mean, has he heard from her at all?"

"What? Oh, no. Poor Jason hasn't heard from her in a couple of weeks, I think." She stared into her mug. "He doesn't even bring her up."

"And you and Dad?" Katie tried to keep her voice quiet, calm. "Have you heard anything?" It was like treading on eggshells. All the delicacy in the world wouldn't have helped, though. Katie's mother stared at her.

"Oh, yeah, Katie. Your sister called this morning. She's great, just great. I just forgot to tell you." Her voice dripped in sarcasm. "It must have slipped my mind."

Katie put her mug down. "Come on, Mum. That is not fair. I was only asking...."

"You know if either your father or I heard from Anne you'd be the first person we'd call. How dare you insinuate that we would keep that from you!"

Katie stood up. "For Christ's sake! I just want to talk about Anne!" She was shouting. It felt good. She decided to shout more in her daily life.

"There is nothing to say!" Her mother was shouting, too. "She's gone. She's left us, she's left her husband and her child--" at that, her voice fell back down to a whisper. "She's left her family, Katie, because she's an alcoholic who can't face us. She is gone. And now we have to let her go."

"But I can't." Katie knew she was about to cry. Katie supposed they should have just watched CSI: Miami. "I can't think about Anne out there, alone, and not try..." "

She's a grown woman, Katie. A grownup who has made her own decisions. We can't help her.
She has to help herself."

(Later, after she got home, and was lying in bed at 3am, unable to sleep, Katie would think about how bizarre it was that her parents felt that sober, home-owning Katie was still a fuck-up who needed to hurry up and become a Real Adult, while Anne, an alcoholic street person, was the "grownup who has made her own decisions", because before the breakdown, she'd been a lawyer on Bay Street, with a husband, a child, and a loft on King Street West. But she wasn't thinking about that now. Now she was thinking about how much she missed her sister, and how angry she was that her parents had given up.)

"But she can't help herself. She needs us. She needs me." Katie took a few steps towards her mother. "Can't you see that?"

"What I see is that you are delusional about yet another aspect of your life, dear. Please just let this one go."

"I can't."

"Fine." They stared at one another for a long while. Finally, her mother smiled this bright, wide smile. "Shall I wrap up the leftover chicken for you to take home?"


Should the next day be a work day, or a Saturday?




  1. I think it has to be a work day since she told her mother she had to go to work tomorrow. or you could have her have to work on a saturday...

  2. oh, man. how embarassing. clearly i shouldn't write these things at midnight and then publish them unedited.

    okay, keri, i like your compromise! she has to work on a saturday, or she gets the day off! and i can fix it up once some fancy publisher stumbles across this thing and decides to make it a book....

  3. Um, way back in Chapter 2 when the ladies were talking about skipping, you mention it's a Friday, so it has to be Saturday (unless the world has shifted on its axis). Just sayin'...

  4. Okay. so not only did I forget what I wrote in section 6, I forgot what I wrote in section 2...Thanks for keeping me in line, friends! I am pleased I have such close readers.


  5. It could be a workshop or First Aid course because she also tells her mom she has to travel across town tomorrow.


  6. She was a Friday truant, so I guess if she works Saturday to catch up?

  7. Work. Maybe a team-building retreat!

  8. She goes to work... :)