After dinner I realized I hadn’t checked on Roger’s cat all day. I thought it would be nice to get away by myself for a few minutes but Opal invited herself along.
“I’m just dying to see what that prissy man’s house looks like.”
Better than mine, that was certain. Roger had the best taste and never had to compromise because of spouse or children. Everything was beige and tan with splashes of blue, green and burgundy. My house is decorated in blue. The kitchen is blue, the bathroom is blue, and the living room is blue. Gordon thought his “you-know-what” would fall off if flowered fabric touched our bedroom or living areas.
I found Roger’s key on my jumbled key-ring and we dived out of the frigid air, closing the door behind us. My mother-in-law started snooping immediately; leafing through piles of papers and looking at his mail.
“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”
“Look at this”, she said excitedly.
I glanced in her direction. “What? A manila envelope?” I used my best “who gives a crap” tone.
“Where is that cat?” I decided to let Opal be nosy. I’d never known Ginger to miss a feeding, most of the time food acted like a magnet on that cat. After checking the bathroom and glancing in the other rooms I told myself that she was probably sleeping under a bed and hadn’t heard me come in. My mother-in-law was on the floor with her hand under the sofa and jumped up as I walked into the living room.
“This man definitely keeps a clean house.”
“Let’s see, I put food and water out. I think I’m forgetting something. Oh, yeah, the litter box, but I can do that tomorrow. It’s all the way in the basement.” I didn’t think one night with a dirty litter box would kill her.
The next morning we awoke to a cacophonous din in the kitchen. It could only be one thing.
“Ugh, your mother is cooking.”
“Sounds more like smashing”, was Gordon’s less than humorous comment.
I rolled out of bed and slid my fuzzy slippers on. As I rounded the corner to the kitchen, I wished I’d stayed in bed. All of my cooking supplies were dumped in piles around the kitchen and on the counters.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m organizing your cupboards. They were a mess, dear. I can’t believe nobody taught you to keep house better than this. I’m sure your mother did, you just didn’t listen.” She was waving a saucepan at me when I decided I needed some coffee.
“Where’s the coffeepot?” Dammit, she buried my lifeline. After I cleared a space on the counter and started the coffee I surveyed the damage. My kitchen was salvageable. It’s not that my cupboards didn’t need to be cleaned I just hated my mother-in-law pointing it out. I mentally shrugged my shoulders; might as well take advantage of her digging.
I found three empty boxes in the garage and a green tote that I couldn’t remember the contents of. I drug them all in and heard the coffeepot give a final gurgle that signals its completion.
“Are you ever going to get dressed today?”
I looked up at the clock on the microwave; it was 7:45. And it was Sunday for crying out loud! I took a swig of coffee—this was going to be a long day. I drug a chair into the kitchen and took the lid off the tote.
“Come and look at this, Mom.”
It was full of stuff from the boys’ childhood. There were drawings, pictures, and miscellaneous stuff from school. I couldn’t believe I forgot about it.
“Look, Alex drew this after Sean was born.”
“Oh, and look at this!” She was holding a clay circle with handprints in it.
The more I dug the more disgusted I was with myself.
“You know, I really need to get some scrapbooks and organize some of this stuff.”
“We’ll get some while we’re shopping today.”
“Where are we going shopping?” This was the first I heard about leaving the house.
“I definitely need to get some groceries so that I can cook dinner tonight and I need to buy a new outfit.”
Gordon rounded the corner and looked confused when his mother inserted herself between him and the coffeemaker.
“There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
I was wondering when she was going to get around to this. Gordon gave me a wide-eyed look of panic, but I wasn’t going to save him.
“You need to make some phone calls about finishing off the basement. I’ll need a small kitchen and bathroom, I’m not that picky. . .”
This was going to take a while. I decided we needed some pancakes for breakfast and dumped the pile I had made back into the tote.
“Mom, it’s Sunday. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t get ahold of anyone.”
He sidestepped her and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“I think we should look at some small apartments. You get a pension from Dad’s retirement, right? We’ll have to look at your budget, and see what you can afford. Have you decided whether or not you’re going to sell the house?”
“I don’t want to live by myself. Do you want me to get raped or murdered?” Her arms were crossed now, and I knew she meant business. “If you can live with your guilt.” She finished with a flourish up the stairs. I had to give her points for drama.
“She’s not living with us.” He hissed at me.
“Maybe we should look at bigger houses.”
“We just got this house paid off, I’m not going to sell it and get into another mortgage because my mother tells me to. I’m 46 years old for chrissake.”
He was angrier than I had seen him in a long time. This was great; here I was, stuck between the guilt-queen and my husband. I yelled a silent scream and heaped my plate with pancakes.
“She doesn’t drive, so we’ll have to find an apartment close by.”
Gordon set his plate down beside mine and nodded his head. We ate in silence until Opal made her appearance again. Gordon was heading out the door before I could look up.
“Where are you going?”
“To get the paper.” The door slammed behind him.
“I guess all I get is toast. That’s all I deserve anyway.”
Crap. She was off and running with the guilt machine.
“I’m not one to complain, but my son has gotten even more rude. I took care of my parents in their later years. I diapered and fed him, and what thanks do I get?”
How do you answer a question like that? I decided she didn’t need an answer and started cleaning up the mess she had created in my kitchen.
“I’m going to have a few boxes to take to the Goodwill drop-box soon. You wanna go to the mall with me?” I was waving the white flag of truce.
“I need to go to JC Penney and try on clothes.”
Immediate danger of war had been averted. Why was I thinking in newspaper headlines? And thinking of newspapers, where did Gordon disappear to? He probably wandered into the yard or something. I looked out the dining room window, trying to see the mailbox. Gordon was laying in Roger’s yard with his arm in the evergreen bushes dividing our yards. What was he doing?
I hustled out the front door.
“What are you doing?”
“Ginger got out somehow, I tried to shoo her back into the house.”
I glanced at the open back door, and began digging in the evergreen too. I touched fur in my wild groping and pulled out a hissing ball of anger. I ran through the back door with Gordon on my heels. As soon as I heard the door slam I chucked Ginger and examined the damage to my arm. If Roger knew I had let Ginger escape he may never talk to me again. My heart rate began returning to normal, and I started to wonder: How had Ginger gotten out? My instincts told me that it hadn’t been my fault.
“How did she get out? I remember vividly shutting and locking the door behind me last night.”
“The door was locked. I had to dig in the planter for the spare.”
I looked around the room; nothing seemed to be disturbed. Something wasn’t right, though, I could feel it. I walked slowly around the living room, scanning for anything amiss. I walked to the bar where I had been stacking the mail and wondered if it had been this messy last night, but I couldn’t be sure. I stood there chewing my lip until Gordon asked me if anything was wrong.
“No. I guess not. I mean, well, maybe.”
He gave me a puzzled look.
“Last night I couldn’t find Ginger. I just assumed she was inside. She had been inside in the morning and I hadn’t been here all day, there was no way she could have gotten out. Right?”
“Well she obviously did. Maybe she ran outside when you opened the door.”
“Maybe.” But I didn’t think so.
“Well, Ginger’s safe now.” Gordon turned and walked outside toward the mailboxes.
I almost shut the door but hesitated when I spied Opal speed-walking up the driveway. She closed the door, clutching her robe. I assured myself she wasn’t going to have a heart attack and decided to make sure the cat had food and water.
“Oh, my goodness.” I could hear the barely concealed excitement in Opal’s hushed voice. “I bet there was a burglar in here. Maybe he’s still here, hiding in the basement. Better yet, I bet there’s a body down there. We should go look.” She threw open the door to the basement stairs.
The idea of a body laying somewhere in the house scared the pee out of me.