Monday, June 13, 2011

Chapter 17: in which Katie's mother shows up and gifts are exchanged

"But I just want Melissa to know how sorry I am about everything," Katie said, staring mournfully at her sandwich. "I need her to ..." 

"Oh, Katie, she knows." Aunt Angela put the teapot on the low wooden coffee table, her long gray hair swinging loose around her face. "Just give her some space." Angela sat down on the sofa next to Katie, and patted her leg. "So what should we get up to this evening? Rent a movie, go for dinner, take a walk..." 

Just then the doorbell rang. Katie's heart leaped. Melissa! Eoin? Jehovah's Witnesses? She gripped her cup of tea, the heat radiating into her palm. 

Aunt Angela put her cup down and got up. "I'll get that," she said, her long, caftan-ish dress floating around her as she moved towards the door. Katie sat up quickly, and realized with a sudden pang that she really had to pee. Again. 17 cups of earl grey (not to mention buckets of free champagne) will do that to a lady. 

She didn't want to miss out on seeing who was at the door. But she also didn't want to wet herself in front of whomever it was. Practically won out and Katie rushed towards the bathroom, a lovely large room with tasteful art on the walls and a big stone sink. This place was much nicer than the house Angela had been "sitting" when Katie had her Terrible Four Months and she'd hidden in the guest bedroom. If only those months had been spent in this delightful home, perhaps those months might not have been so terrible.

She was washing her hands when she heard the voices. It was her aunt, in the living room, her voice low, calm, and another voice, a woman's. It wasn't Melissa. It wasn't Eoin. And it certainly wasn't a Jehovah's Witness, unless her formerly atheist mother had become a convert to the door-knocking faith. 

Katie slumped forward, pressed her forehead against the bathroom door for support. She and her mother hadn't really spoken since that awful night at her mother's house, with the chicken and the raw carrots and Jonah running wild. And those hurtful things they'd said...sure, they'd texted apologies, but as anyone who's been dumped or propositioned via cellphone knows, text messages don't really count in the long run as real life. 

There was a knock on the bathroom door. "Katie?" Her aunt was standing in the hall. Katie didn't answer. "I know you're there, Katie. We could hear you peeing." 

This was not a helpful announcement. Katie pressed her forehead tighter into the door. The caftan made a swooshing noise and then there was another voice.

"Katie. Come out. Please." 

Katie was aware that she was a 32-year-old-woman in an expensive party dress, a tax-payer with a pretty powerful job and a mortgage. She couldn't hide in bathrooms her whole life -- after all, she'd basically hid in the bathroom only a week ago at that breakfast place. She didn't want to be the sort of person who found herself seeking refuge in lavatories on a regular basis. That was not a quirk she wanted to cultivate. So Katie opened the door and stepped out into the hall. 

Her mother and her aunt were both standing there, their arms crossed, their mouths pursed into worried pouts. That was where the similarities ended. While Katie's own mother was tall, slender, with frosted hair, expensive jeans and a look of fatigue she'd worn ever since Anne had "gone away," as her mother put it,  Angela was softer, rounder, with flat sandals on wide, comfortable feet. Her face was lined, but not with worry. With laughter, sun, an excess of living. 

And yet they were sisters. Only two years apart, they'd traveled different paths, much like Katie and Anne had. Angela was the free spirit, never had a career, never settled down, "never committed to anything besides her own sense of entitlement" is how Katie's mother put it. She was also an alcoholic, 20 years sober. Katie recalled those days when Aunt Angela used to show up at Christmas dinner 6 hours late, invariably with no presents and a man called "Daryl? Dave? Something with a D, anyway," on her arm. Those had not been happy Christmases. But she'd gone on a trek to India and two years later she'd returned tanned with a bunch of saris, a high tolerance for spicy foods and hadn't had a drink since. 

Her mother on the other hand had completed a four year undergraduate degree in social work, worked for social services for three years, married her boss, and promptly quit work to raise her children. She'd never gone back to her job, claiming "raising two teenaged daughters is social work enough for anyone!" She didn't make those jokes about her children anymore.

Katie didn't feel drunk now. Mostly just tired. It was only 8pm but it felt so late. 

"Hi mum," Katie smiled weakly at her mother. Her mother just nodded. "How did you know I was here?" 

"Your aunt told me." 

"I did not!" Aunt Angela swatted her sister on the arm. She turned to Katie. "Now listen, I was on the phone with your mother when you drove up. I mentioned that I thought you might be in the truck. And you were!"

"And so you drove across town to see if it really was me in the pickup truck?" Katie's mother hated driving.

"Well, Angela said it looked like you were upset. She said...." 

Angela took Katie's hand, and began leading her towards the living room. "I told her that you looked like you needed your mother." 

Katie wanted so hard to yank her hand away, to say, "What do you know about mothers? If you could have seen us lately, if you could know what being a child in this family is like right now..." but she didn't. She wanted to be hostile but she didn't have the stomach for it. Instead she turned to her mother and her aunt and said, "Can we order a pizza?" Because pizza she did have the stomach for. 

In the end she didn't tell her mother anything about the wedding, about what went down.  It wasn't that she didn't think her mother would understand -- she knew she would. She'd understand a bit too well. So rather than remind her mother of the pain she'd caused everyone by leaving the perfect boyfriend, they instead ate pizza and Angela showed them pictures of her trip to Spain. She handed over their gifts -- a Spanish fan and a set of castanets for each of them. Katie imagined clicking them in meetings at work whenever she wanted to get Don Juan's attention. 

Her mother had loved Bobby -- only she'd called him Robert. She used to call him sometimes when Katie wasn't even home, ostensibly to chat about a computer problem or get his advice on what software to get but really she was calling because she loved him, liked him, felt he was the son she'd never had. The breakup had been hard on her. Katie didn't think that when you broke up with your boyfriend you should have to worry about your mother's own grief, but there it was. So she didn't want to bring it up, talk about the wedding, about the feelings it had brought up, about how she missed him. It would only make them fight or something.

(What Katie couldn't fail to notice when Angela dumped the stuff out of a shopping bag and spread it on the coffee table, was the three fans tumbling out, three sets of castanets. "Pick your favourite, one of each," Angela had said, and for a moment, both Katie and her mother sat frozen, unable to pick up either a fan or a pair of clicking castanets. For the third of each was for Anne. Finally Katie picked up a dark mahogany fan and a set of castanets on a dark green velvet ribbon, and her mother picked a blue fan and a red-ribboned set of castanets. The other two items Angela silently picked up and placed back in the bag, and Katie wanted to ask, "Just what is Anne supposed to do with a paper fan and castanets? For all we know she sleeps on a grate," but she didn't say anything. Neither Katie or her mother mentioned Anne, or the fact that they'd both left the yellow fan behind because Anne had always loved yellow; it was her favourite colour. All her bridesmaids had worn yellow, sallow complexions be damned.)  

"These are great, thanks," Katie and her mother played with their fans as Angela tidied up the pizza plates and went into the kitchen. 

There was silence for a while, just the sound of the tap running, dishes sliding into soapy water. 

"So." Katie opened and closed her fan. "Is Jonah still at the house?" 

"No." Her mother clicked her castanets. "He's back with Jason." 

"Ah." Katie took a breath, wanted to say more. Didn't want to. This was like walking on a freshly-healed foot, just minutes out of its cast. 

"It's a shame, really." her mother clicked softly.

"Why's that?" Katie braced herself for the inevitable. Jason's not coping/Your sister has turned up at their place in the middle of the night, looking for money/Jonah's wetting the bed and Jason's taken up with the babysitter

"Because I think that kid would really enjoy these little clickers," said her mother, with a genuine smile. She snapped the castanets at Katie. "Ole!" she said, and Katie laughed. 

"Well, that's a nice sound," Aunt Angela appeared in the doorway. She was holding Katie's phone in her hand. "While I was in there you got a text," she said. She held it out to her niece. "I checked. It's from Melissa." 

You decide! 

Melissa's text reads:
I'm srry 2. Evrythng is cool. I understand. Let's meet up + have a post-war drink. xo M


Melissa's text reads: 
I am still so angry. What u did was inexcusable. Dont call me 4 awhile.  I will find u when I am ready. -M


  1. Um, this is a hard one. One one hand, I would like to see the two of them make up, but some more conflict would inevitably lead to a better storyline, I feel. What the heck, let's go with conflict!

  2. as much as it makes me sad I have to go with conflict as well... .

  3. Me too.. Conflict!!

  4. me too -- conflict. Perhaps they will make up later.