All I Ever Wanted

Page 13


Mom, uncharacteristically, said nothing, which Dad took as encouragement. “Remember, Eleanor? It never faded, did it? The passion. The urgency.” He raised an eyebrow. “It was the best thing about our marriage.”
“Except for your three beautiful children, of course,” Freddie said.
“That had to mean something,” Dad continued, ignoring his son. “People don’t feel that for each other without it meaning something.”
“Too bad we didn’t have Republicans for parents,” I observed. “You can bet the farm they never talk like this.”
“There are no Republicans in Vermont,” Hester said. “They died out, like the Shakers. Is there any more wine?”
Mom and Dad just stared at each other. Hope, a tiny seedling, sprouted in my heart. Could it be? “He has always loved you, Mom,” I said gently.
Mom smiled. A real smile. “I’ll consider it,” she said.
“What?” Hester said. “What?”
“Holy shit,” Freddie added.
“If,” Mom said.
“If what?” Dad asked.
“If you introduce me to each of the women you slept with while I was gestating our son.”
The blood drained from my father’s face. I pictured the hopeful seedling being crushed by my mother’s sturdy shoe.
“Well, uh…women…there were only, ah…two, Eleanor,” Dad said.
She raised an eyebrow.
“Well, okay, three,” he amended. “And, uh, I’m sure I don’t know what happened to them. I barely remember them. I think they moved. Far away. To, uh, New Zealand, I believe, and uh…France.”
“Actually, I know where they are,” Mom said. “They all live within a hundred miles of here. I’ve kept tabs on them over the years.” She glanced at her children fondly. “I just love Google.”
Hester closed her eyes and shook her head.
“So, if you’re sincere, and it’s true that you’ve always loved me and want to rekindle anything, that’s what you have to do,” Mom said smugly.
Man. She really did enjoy burying people.
WHEN DAD HAD LIMPED away and Hester and the girls had gone home, and Freddie and Noah were hiding out in the workshop sanding a canoe, Mom and I stood side by side, doing the dishes.
“So that was interesting,” I said, rinsing a wineglass. I set it on the dishrack, where Mom picked it up and began polishing it with unsettling vigor.
“It certainly was,” she answered.
I studied her from the corner of my eye. Mom was attractive in her own way…big frame, strong features, kind eyes. She wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t beautiful, either. She looked…competent. Dad, on the other hand, turned heads on women ages seventeen to ninety-four, and was fairly incompetent in many ways…while Mom could probably overpower the Nazis and then climb in and drive their tank to the Allies, Dad…Dad would just surrender amiably and hope for the best.
“So are you really considering getting back with Dad?” I asked, turning my attention back to the legion of dishes.
“Of course not,” she answered. “He cheated on me, Calliope.”
“Right. So…no chance of forgiveness, then?” I placed another glass on the rack.
“I forgave your father long ago, Callie,” she lied, not looking at me.
“Really, Mom? Because—”
“How’s your love life, dear? Did that slovenly man in the café work out?”
“He wasn’t that sloven—”
“I’ll take that as a no, then,” she said. “Why the sudden interest in dating? I thought you were going to ask Hester for help on the motherhood front.” She snapped the dish-cloth and got to work on a plate.
“No,” I said slowly. “I’d…I’ve always wanted to get married. Have kids the old-fashioned way. Live happily ever after.”
“That chair was your undoing,” Mom muttered.
“It’s not the chair’s fault, Mom.” I paused. “Just because things didn’t work out with you and Dad—”
“Sweetheart, I defy you to find me three couples who’ve been married for more than ten years and are living happily ever after. With each other, that is. Here.” She handed me back a glass. “You missed a spot.”
“Noah and Gran. Nana and Dimpy,” I said, naming my grandparents on both sides.
“How about a couple born after the FDR administration?” Mom prompted.
“Annie and Jack?”
“That’s one. And for number two?”
I winced. “And…let’s see now…okay, you win. But, Mom, I think Dad’s sincere. He’s never gotten over you. You know that. And here you’ve been, hating him with the heat of a thousand suns lo these many years. You know what they say. Hate and love are two sides of the same coin.”
She gave me a look unique to her…pity, patience and mild disgust all rolled into one. “You’re so naive, Callie,” she said.
“True,” I admitted. I paused, remembering my father’s face at my birthday party. “I just can’t help remembering you two when you were happy. When I think about getting married myself, finding someone who really loved me for me and all that crap, I always picture you and Dad, dancing in the living room when he came home from a trip.”
Much to my surprise, her eyes filled. “Well. He stomped all over those times, didn’t he?” she said thickly.
“Right, he did. But maybe you could really forgive him, Mom.”
She sighed. “When someone cheats on you, Callie, they take a piece of your heart. And I don’t know that you ever get it back.”
I thought of Mark, and all the years I’d spent hoping for him. Waiting for him. Imagining the two of us together on that mythical front porch somewhere. Pictured him now somewhere with Muriel.
Mom had a point.
“OH, BLERK.” I LOOKED in the mirror, but it was undeniable. I turned to view my backside. Mistake! “Shit, Bowie! Look at me!” He stood up and came over, licked my knee in sympathy, then collapsed to the floor to offer me his stomach. I gave him a perfunctory scratch, then surveyed the issue at hand.
This morning at work, Muriel had received a large carton from her daddy’s company. With great aplomb, she’d handed out the goodies, starting in Reception with Damien, working her way down…Pete and Leila, Karen, Fleur, and then yours truly. She’d been quite stoked, laughing with Fleur, joking with Pete, dolling out clothes like it was Christmas and she was Santa. T-shirts in various colors, all with the Bags to Riches logo (a floating plastic bag). Multipocketed hiking shorts, the cute cargo type that went down to the knees. Hiking boots for everyone. A few backpacks.
And then she came to me.
“Callie,” she smiled. “Here you go!” She handed me a bile-colored T-shirt, then reached in the box and withdrew a handful of fabric. A small handful.
I blinked. “Um…” I held them up. My heart sank. These weren’t hiking shorts…they were bike shorts, the kind those bony praying mantis people wear on the Tour de France. “Are there any hiking shorts left?”
She pretended to glance in the box. “No, sorry. Well, there are, but they’re in my size.” She didn’t finish the thought…therefore you couldn’t even get your arm in here. “Callie, please. Don’t make this an issue. As long as it’s Bags to Riches, it doesn’t matter.”
Well, it mattered to me. As I stared into the mirror in my bedroom, I sighed. Miss Muriel deVeers probably weighed somewhere about ninety-seven pounds, all sinew and ropy muscle defined by countless hours with (according to Fleur) the same personal trainer who screamed at contestants on The Biggest Loser, a show I often enjoyed with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. If Muriel wore these shorts, she’d look buff and bony. Me? I looked…oh, just past my first trimester, I’d guess. Unfortunately, I wasn’t pregnant. Not with a child, anyway. With Betty Crocker vanilla supreme. That’s right. I had a food baby.
Tomorrow evening was the mandatory corporate hike with Charles deVeers and a couple of BTR executives. Mark had encouraged us all to bring friends, hoping to show how much we all embraced a wholesome and adventurous lifestyle. If it sounded pretentious, painful and affected, I can assure you, it really was. Pete and Leila were computer geeks who often bumped into doors and walls, too engrossed in cyberworld to pay attention to the real deal. Karen’s last attempt at physical exercise had been on the high school shuffleboard team, which she quit her sophomore year. Me…my dog pulled me up the steep hills when I rode my bike, and I didn’t like to paddle my kayak faster than I could walk.
Add to this the fact that we were heading up to Deer Falls Trail, which twisted its way four thousand feet up Mount Chenutney. Apparently, the trail was so named because of the alarming number of deer that fell to their deaths on said trail, something I found less than reassuring.
But more than the hike was, of course, the attire. Damn that Muriel! I knew this was deliberate. She wanted me to look bulging and soft and sluggish, and since I was all those things, I would.
“Blerk!” I yelled, startling my dog. As I flopped down on my bed, the waistband of the satanic bike shorts cut into what had yesterday been a pleasant amount of padding and today was clearly blubber. I glanced at my rocking chair, which held no solutions and indeed, didn’t seem to want to speak to me. When you’re with me, it seemed to say, we’re not going to be shallow. Got it?
“Got it,” I said, well aware that I needed to stop talking not just to Betty Boop and Michelle Obama, but to my furniture as well. “Don’t worry,” I told Bowie, who was looking at me, his lovely little brow wrinkled in concern. “I’ll always talk to you. Any way you can chew some of this fat off?”
My dog gave my hand a few licks, but otherwise declined. I’d already tried my Dr. Rey’s Shapewear, but that type of bondage was not going to work if I was supposed to hike up several thousand feet of mountain. Even a rush order of hiking shorts from BTR was not going to make it in time for tomorrow.
I groped behind me for the phone and called Hester. “Hey,” I said. “Is there some miracle drug you can prescribe for me that will take off about ten pounds by tomorrow?”
“No,” she boomed amiably, “but I can come over and lop off your head. That’d be about eight and a half, nine pounds. How would that be?”
“You’re no help,” I said. “I have to wear these stupid bike shorts tomorrow, and I have a food baby—”
“I’m hanging up now,” she said, and did just that. I really couldn’t blame her. Yes, yes, I was incredibly pathetic. But still. There had to be something I could do. I picked up the phone and tried Annie, who tended to be much, much more sympathetic about matters like these.
“Hey!” she said. “What’s up?”
“I need to drop a few pounds overnight,” I said, getting right to the point. In the background, I could hear the clatter of pans. “What are you cooking?”
“Well, maybe we shouldn’t talk about it, if you’re trying to lose weight,” she said, ever wise. “Seamus, spit that out right now. I don’t care. It’s raw.”
“Give him a kiss for me,” I said.
“Callie’s sending you a kiss, Seamus. Spit that out, I said!” She turned her attention back to me. “So what’s going on?”
“Corporate hike, skinny Muriel, formfitting bike shorts, food baby. Need I say more?”
“Ooh,” she said. “Okay, yeah, I understand. I can help. Write this down.”
We were best friends for a reason.
FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER, I was back in regular clothes and at a store I’d never patronized before: The Happy Herb. It was new, it was organic, it smelled funny, a cross between hay, garlic and pot.
“Can I help you?” asked the woman behind the counter. She smiled and pushed her lank and somewhat thin hair behind her ears.
“Oh, I’m fine! Just browsing!” I said, not about to admit I was a shallow dope who wanted to look good in front of her ex-boyfriend and his new woman. I figured I’d just float around the store, find the product I was looking for, possibly explain that I worked in advertising and was doing some research, hence my purchase.
Once Annie had given me the Holy Grail of weight loss medicines, I checked Google, and the online testimonials had been quite encouraging. One woman (Cindy G. from Alabama) said she lost seven pounds just before her fifteenth high school reunion. An entire dress size!
“So how’s business?” I called out, pretending to check out the natural hair care products. One brand of shampoo had eggs, yogurt and honey in it. You could shower and have breakfast in one fell swoop.
“Business is great!” she answered. “Are you from around here?”
We chatted amiably as I drifted through the aisles. Personal Care. Sexual Enhancement. Memory Improvement. Attitude Modification (perhaps I could slip some into my mother’s coffee). Ah, here we were! Intestinal Health. And bingo, the item I’d come looking for…Dr. Duncan’s Cleanse ’n Purge Weight Loss Jump-Start Tea.
“Hmm,” I murmured, picking up the box as if intrigued. “Interesting.” The copywriter in me wondered if a more subtle product name wouldn’t help sales. The box looked like something Dr. Duncan had assembled while watching TV…it was slightly crooked and held shut with Scotch tape. The front panel showed a blurry picture of Dr. D., a smiling, bearded and very thin man. The copy on the back was off center. Tsk, tsk. Perhaps I’d contact Dr. Duncan and pitch him.