Starbucks Memories (Story A Day #8)

            I saw you at Starbucks today. I was alone with my iPad doing a crossword and drinking black coffee. Weird, isn’t it? Who goes to Starbucks to drink black coffee? I did because I was waiting for my son to finish his session with the speech therapist, and I always hated all those fancy coffees: cappuccinos, lattes. It’s coffee for people who don’t really like coffee.

            I looked up, and you were walking in the door with two girls so lovely they had to be your daughters. Both of them were dark-haired though the smaller one had your soulful brown eyes and the taller one had eyes that sparkled like a cool lake.

            It took me a moment to realize it was you, not because you looked twenty years older. You didn’t. Sure, you had a few lines around your eyes, but you still had that terrific smile, and even in those old jeans and that faded orange tee shirt, you looked amazing. You still wore your hair long, and you had it pulled off your face in a really sloppy bun. I liked it.

            I watched you order Vanilla Beans for your girls and a skim milk latte for yourself, and for once I didn’t feel like a coffee snob. You made me smile because you talked to the barista like she was a real person and give her a two-dollar tip.

            She said, “Thanks, Mrs. Evans”, and I filed it away because I thought maybe I’d look to see if you were on Facebook later.

            I saw you wore a good-sized diamond on your left hand, and I hoped he treated you well. Your girls wore uniforms, so I figured they went to some kind of private school. This area is full of private schools. That seemed a little out of character for you, but maybe not. You’d want only the best for your kids.

            Even though I was watching you, it was hard for me to think of you as a mom and not the girl who loved camping under the stars and wanted to learn to fly that old red bi-plane Joe Greevy used to take out for thrill rides. But I guess you got tired of always moving around. I know I screwed things up too. Dumb things. Drinking too much. Hanging with the guys instead of coming home. Not looking for a job. I told you I didn’t want to be tied down. You said to grow up and stop pretending I was some kind of cowboy. Then one night I came home, and you were gone. I figured you’d come back, but you never did. I found out later you took the bus home. I guess that’s where you met your husband.

            I wanted to come over and tell you that over the course years I’d found out the hard way you were right. I had a lot of bad nights and rough years. I finally did get straight though. I found someone who helped me through the worst of it, and now we have a terrific son. We even have a business. I’d always been good at making things out of leather—belts, vests—Ellie handles the books and the computer stuff. We aren’t millionaires yet, but we’ve made enough to move here, buy a house, and start to expand.

            I promised Ellie when I married her, we’d move back to her old hometown and I’ve kept my word. I just didn’t figure on seeing you.

            I wanted to tell you I changed and thought if you lived near the Starbucks, and if you came in regularly, maybe I’d see you again and we could talk about what went wrong.

            There were so many things we left unsaid, and I wished I had the nerve to get up and say hello to you. Would you even remember me? Would you still smile or would you turn around and walk away?

            I watch you hustle your girls toward the door. I hear you say, ”We have to move, girls, so we can get to the barn before five. You’ll have to change in the car.”

            The girls look at each other at grin. “Strip tease,” they say in unison.

            You laugh along with them. “I don’t want to see any booties shaking out the window, ladies.”

            The taller girl says, “Pizza for dinner, Mom?”

            You shake your head. “You know your poor Dad doesn’t want to eat pizza every night, Miss Katie.”

            She gives you a knowing smile. “But we won’t be done till after six, Mom.”

            I watch you bite your lip for a second then kiss her on the head. “Let’s just move along, doll face.”

            Katie skips ahead, and I watch you shift your oversized purse and the jacket that’s slung over your arm. You pull out a phone, look at it quickly, and for a moment you pause and take a breath. Two seconds later you’re out the door and down the street.

            I don’t know you any more, but I recognized something in that pause. You used to do that with me when I’d come home at eight in the morning hung over and you knew I’d been with another woman. Or maybe it was just a trick of the light. Maybe I want to see something that isn’t there.

            A moment later my own phone rings. It’s Eric calling to say he’s finished. I tell him I’m on my way. Slowly, I follow you out of the Starbucks, chucking the cold coffee into a nearby trashcan. I watch you piling your girls into a silver Mercedes SUV and hope you’re happy. I’ve found peace after all these years. Ellie’s brought me that and given me a family to fight for. I want you to have that as well. I tell myself that, but those old memories linger like fragments of a song you can’t get out of your head.

            Once upon a time you and I used to imagine that life would always be carefree and nothing would ever change. Now our lives are filled with therapists and lessons,  pizza dinners and other people. But it looks like you’ve found your stability, and I’ve given up being a cowboy. I want to tell you I’m respectable now, but you’ve already slid into your seat and pulled out of the parking spot. You turn left and zip out of the lot. I watch your car fade into the traffic.

            I walk up the street to fetch my son and feel a passing relief that you won’t see us getting into our five-year-old Honda. I guess in the end we get what we deserve, and you always deserved more than I could give you.

            The dregs of the coffee taste bitter in my mouth. I wonder if your latte tastes any better.

 

Road Trips Can Be Fun! (Story A Day #6)

There’s nothing like a road trip, especially when you’re six feet two and cramped in the middle of the backseat of a Honda Civic with two other people. It’s great to drive over the magnificent interstates, watching cars fly past you, and stopping every hour or so to get coffee or soda at the local rest area. Actually, it’s a good thing we did stop or I’d probably have come home with a broken back.

            The aforementioned road trip sounded like a good idea before the details came out. My girlfriend invited me to go to Charleston, South Carolina for a week to visit her father’s family. I thought why not? Wasn’t Charleston just named the Friendliest City in the U.S. or something like that? I said sure. Charleston’s a beautiful city with lots of theater and music and history.

            What wasn’t to like?

            Well, the first hint came when I reached Megan’s house and saw the Honda parked in the driveway, but I wasn’t alarmed. I figured her dad was going to rent a bigger car. Usually, he drives a big Caddie, but I found out the Caddie was in the shop.

            “He couldn’t wait till the Caddie’s out of the shop?” I asked.

            Megan just shot me a look. It said all kinds of things like “moron”, “forget it”, “we’re doomed”. It’s tough to start a trip when someone gives you that kind of look. I just set down my duffle bag and shut up.

            Her sister Kendall stormed into the family room and flipped on the television. She was still in a tee shirt and pajama pants. She sat on the sofa with her arms folded and a deep scowl on her face. Kendall didn’t want to go to South Carolina.

            Usually, I get along with Kendall pretty well, even though she’s fourteen and is a giant pain in Megan’s ass. It’s funny because they don’t even look like sisters. Megan is dark and curvy while Kendall is thin and blond. She likes to give Megan a hard time her curves. Megan likes to torment her about her minus-A cup bra size. I guess it all works out.

            My brother and I used to beat the crap out of each other then go outside and play pirates or batman or whatever. We used to have pissing contests where we’d stand on the back porch and aim for the holly bushes just to see who could hit them. Tim usually won. Finally, Mom caught us and told us if we wanted to live like stray dogs she’d fix us a nice house outside. Dad backed her up, but I caught him smirking.

            Megan’s parents are divorced. So I guess you could say, her family is going through a tough time of it. Her dad Bill walked out two years ago and took up with Charlene who’s a real piece of work.

            Everyone hates Charlene.

            Charlene is one of those women who views every other woman as the competition. She was once the Tri-County Dairy Princess and got a sash and tiara and all that. It turns out that being the Dairy Princess was not a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Charlene now lives off the income from her late husband’s estate. She used to peddle crap on one of those commercial TV channels, but got axed because she gained a bunch of weight. She said it was from the medication she has to take for her back.

            In any case she needs constant attention because something is always wrong with Charlene. Her back, her feet, her stomach, her bowels—she’s a walking medical disaster according to her, though she looks perfectly healthy and eats like a horse.

             Sometimes I think Bill gets tired of Charlene except she cooks and cleans for him and calls him her “sugar bear”. Every time she does, Megan sticks her finger in her mouth and pretends to gag.

            I don’t usually have strong feelings about people one way or another. Live and let live is my motto, but Charlene has the personality of a sea snake. She constantly makes cracks at Megan and Kendall and Megan’s mom and her new boyfriend. She bitches constantly at Bill. “You don’t do this right; you should have done that.”

            I’m the only person Charlene doesn’t totally attack. Megan says it’s because I’m a guy under forty who’s decent looking and doesn’t hold up a cross when she comes near. I tell Megan that Charlene just hasn’t gotten to know me.

            Anyway, Bill decided that we’ll leave at four in the morning, so Megan’s mom Jan and her boyfriend Tom graciously let everyone camp down in their house. I offered to make a pizza run and she gave me a kiss.

            “Oh, Dan, you are such a love. Take Megan with you.”

            Kendall wanted to come too and put on a pair of shorts. She sat glumly in the back seat. “It’s gonna be a disaster,” she said

            “We haven’t even left yet,” Megan said, but I noticed her kneading her purse. She gave me a shaky smile.

            “It’ll be better once we’re on the road,” I said.

            It wasn’t.

            We overslept. It wasn’t a surprise because when you eat pizza at nine, it’s hard to get yourself in the mood to sleep at ten. I didn’t fall asleep until after one, partly because Megan’s dog Moonie decided to sleep on my chest, and Moonie really needed a bath, and partly because the couch in the family room was not the most comfortable in the world.

            We weren’t up until eight. Then we had to get dressed and eat and finish packing. Bill’s master plan was to leave at four a.m. because he figured we’d get in by four p.m.

            As it turned out we left around noon.

            Traveling to South Carolina is actually pretty easy. You get on I95 and head south. The problem is that you have to get through Baltimore and DC and Richmond traffic.            

              It was hot, already eighty degrees and humid. Charlene put on the air, but after ten minutes she got cold and turned it way down. My back was soaked in ten minutes. Kendall’s head lolled against the window.

            “I can’t breathe back here,” she said.

            I thought, “Oh shit,” because Kendall and Megan both get car sick which is why they had the windows and I was squashed in the middle with my knees pressed against my chest. The front seats were all the way back. I could understand Bill. The guy was taller than me, and outweighed me by at least one hundred pounds, but Charlene was just over five feet.

            “Do you think you could move your seat up, Charlene?” Megan asked. “Dan has no room.”

            “I have a bad back. Sorry, Dan.”

            “No problem,” I said. “I do yoga.”

            “You know, they say that’s very calming. No wonder you’re so laid back,” Charlene said.

            I don’t do yoga, but right then I wished I did.

            We were only in Delaware and I wanted to strangle Charlene with my legs.

            “If I don’t get air, I’m gonna vomit,” Kendall said. I glanced at her. She looked kind of green, so I hit the button for her window. Hot air poured into the car, but at least it was moving.

            “Jesus, Kendall,” Bill said. “You’re letting the hot air in.”

            “Turn your head that way,” I said, pushing Kendall towards the window while Megan frantically looked for a plastic bag. It occurred to me, I’d get hit right in the face by any blow-back chunks.

            “She’s gonna vomit, Dad,” Megan said in her I’m-not-bullshitting voice. When she uses that voice, you know something bad is about to happen.

            “Shit. Goddamn,” Bill said. He glanced in the rearview mirror then pushed the air up to high and closed the window. It began to feel marginally cooler in the back.

            “Oh fine, don’t worry about me,” Charlene said.

            “I’m not,” Megan said. “I’m worried about my sister.”

            “It’s okay, honey. I’ll get you a blanket at the next rest stop,” Bill said.

            “That’s my sugar bear.” Charlene gave him a smacking kiss on the side of his head. Megan looked sick. My knees pressed tighter into my chest.

            “You see, kids, that’s a real man for you,” Charlene said.

            “And you’re a real bitch,” Megan muttered low enough so just I could hear it. I kissed her on the top her head.

            “That’s my sugar bear,” Megan said.

            Five hours later we were on the other side DC, and Bill was cursing. There’d been an accident on 295, and we’d crawled for two hours staring at the bumpers of the cars in front of us. We couldn’t even get off for a coffee break because traffic was so bad, and Charlene wasn’t sure where in DC we’d end up.

            “It’d be okay if we were in a nice part of town like near the White House or the National Mall, but what if we ended up in some bad section? We might be car jacked or robbed and never get home.”

            I wanted to tell her I pay someone to car jack us if they took her and left the rest of us on the corner, but I didn’t. Megan texted me: “DC carjack 🙂”.

            We stopped for dinner someplace past Richmond in a roadside diner. You could tell they catered to the interstate trade by the number of trucks and packed up cars and SUV’s lined up in the parking lot. I didn’t care. I needed real food.

            The swampy air was thick with the aroma of diesel fuel, but I was still hungry. Even Kendall perked up at the sight of the soft serve ice cream machine inside. Charlene immediately pranced off to the bathroom, wiggling her ass as she walked, and followed by Bill.

            “Talk about muffin top,” Megan said as we slid into the booth to scan the menu.

            When they came back, we left and got back in time to see the waitress, a pleasant-looking woman named Betsy, taking orders.

            “Sorry guys, we were so hungry, we thought we’d just get started,” Charlene said in her sweetest voice. “Why don’t you take a second to look over the menu?”

            Megan and I ordered turkey clubs and Cokes, our usual diner fare, but Kendall was shifting in her seat. I glanced at her and thought, Oh shit.
“I want a vanilla milk shake, please,” Kendall said, “and pancakes.”

            “Would you like whipped cream on those pancakes?” Betsy asked.

            “Yes. A ton,” Kendall said. “I can eat whatever I want because the doctor says I need to gain weight.” She shot a poisonous look at Charlene whose aqua shirt gapped enough that you could see her black frilly bra underneath. “I take after my mom.”

            “Well, aren’t you lucky,” said Betsy. She smiled at Charlene. “It’s so nice to have a daughter who thinks so highly of you.”

            “She’s not my mom!” Kendall shouted loud enough that the whole restaurant turned silent for a moment. “She’s My Dad’s Bimbo!”

            I don’t know why, but my first thought was where did she hear the term “bimbo”? It was followed by Betsy saying, “Why don’t I just put in that order for y’all.”

            Charlene’s face was the color of a fire engine; a couple of women in a booth in the corner were trying not to laugh; two big guys at the counter gave Charlene a cursory glance then looked away. Bill didn’t say anything to Kendall; he didn’t say anything at all. He just stared down at the table, and I thought he looked like he’d aged about a hundred years in that moment. Charlene was fuming, but she didn’t say anything either though I guess she gave him an earful later, or maybe she didn’t. There really wasn’t much to say.

            We ate in silence. After dinner, Bill gave Betsy a big tip, and we left. No one spoke all the way to South Carolina. Somewhere between Virginia and North Carolina Kendall fell asleep with her head on my shoulder. At least I thought she was asleep until I felt her uneven breaths and my shoulder began to grow damp. Megan was already hunched against the window, her head against the glass, and it seemed kind of weird to have this little kid huddled into me.

            In my house, I was the kid brother always running to Tim for comfort, such as it was. But here I sat like a big block with my knees pushed up against my chest, while this kid lay against me and cried. I put my arm around her shoulders and started to whisper, not words of comfort, because I knew whatever I said would be useless and pathetic.

            I said, “Did you know that Charleston was named for King Charles the Second of England? Charleston was founded in 1670 and was originally called Charles Towne. It’s known for its art music and cuisine and was voted the ‘Friendliest City in America’ in 2011. They hold the Spoleto Festival every spring, though I think we missed it this year, but it’s a big deal. All kinds of artist and performers come to participate, and it runs for 17 days every spring. Anyway, there’re still lots of things to see, and Charleston is right on the water.”

            I was dredging up every fact I knew about South Carolina, speaking as soft and quiet as I could. I heard her sigh a little as her breathing started to become even.

            “Maybe she’ll fall in the water,” Kendall said sleepily.

            “Maybe, but if not, did you know Charleston has these things called Palmetto bugs. They call them that, but they’re really great, big flying roaches.”

            In the darkness, I could feel Kendall smile.            

           

 

Mother’s Helpers (Day Three of Story A Challenge)

Mother’s Helpers

 

 

            Anne fumbles for the front door keys, juggling Matthew to the left and struggling to keep the gaping baby bag from dropping its contents all over the front porch. His head rests on her shoulder, heavy as a bowling ball, his blond hair, slightly damp, smelling faintly of shampoo. He must have gained five pounds and grown three inches today.

 

            Katherine shifts from one foot to the other, and Anne can hear the impatience in her movements. She finally gets the door unlocked and pushes it open. She tells Katherine to go ahead and watches her daughter march through the door. Her long, brown hair, pulled up in an overlarge yellow hair bow, bounces with each step; her neat blue school bag is clasped at her side. Katherine walks with precision, every move economical. She places her sweater neatly on its wall peg and takes her bag into the kitchen where she’ll reveal her work from the day and begin her homework after she’s retrieved her snack. Katherine is like a clock, a smaller version of her father.

 

            Matthew is a mischievous ball of clutter. Anne lays him on the family room sofa and straightens her back, hands on hips. She feels like an old woman in the worn stretch pants and oversized tunic. The tunic is a relic from her pregnant days, but she hasn’t gotten around to buying new clothes. She mostly fits into her pre-child things except for her jeans. Her stomach will never lie flat again. Covered with a web of stretch marks, it has a small C-Section kangaroo pouch that won’t go away without surgery. It’s a gift from her two children, whose heads wouldn’t fit through her pelvic canal.  Anne can’t bring herself to buy jeans in the next size up. Jeff winces at her stretch pants and leggings.

 

            “Jesus, Anne,” he says, “Nobody is going to check what size you wear.”

 

            “I’ll know,” she says, but she knows he’s right. Sometime on the weekend, maybe, she’ll try to sneak out, if Jeff feels up to watching the kids for a few hours. 

 

            The family room is a mess. Matt’s trains lie scattered throughout the room, along with his many puzzles and picture books. Anne tries not to rely on the television for entertainment, and it’s easy enough. Matt knows his letters and tries to sound out words, and he will play with puzzles and trains for hours. He likes to build and destroy what he’s built. The trouble is she can’t take her eyes off him. She never knows when a lamp will crash down or a train will smash into the television. It’s already happened. Sometimes he’ll hide out in the cabinets in the kitchen and bang pot lids together or take wooden spoons and bang pots as if they were drums. It’s noisy, but at least she knows where he is. He hasn’t tried to scale the kitchen counters yet. 

 

            Still, she knows Jeff hates the clutter, so she needs to get it tidied up and dinner on the stove before he gets home.  Next year, when Matt starts preschool, maybe she’ll go back to work, but for now, she’s a full-time mom. Anne’s afraid she’s beginning to forget how to have adult conversation, but Jeff thinks its cheaper for her to stay home than try to find a full time nanny.

 

            “You taught elementary school, honey,” he says. “You’re great for the kids. Besides, it wasn’t like you were raking in the big bucks. That’s why you have me.”

 

            Anne sometimes wishes she had gotten a law degree, but she doesn’t know if she’d be any better off than she is now. Lawyers are getting laid off too.

 

            She goes to the kitchen where Katherine is busy preparing her snack. Katherine is seven going on twenty.

 

            “Can you manage the milk?” Anne asks. “It’s a fresh gallon, so it’s heavy.”

 

            “Yes, Meme. It’s not that heavy.” Katherine never calls her “Mom”.  Since she was a baby, she’s called her “Meme”. It sounds like the name Mimi. Anne isn’t sure whether Katherine saw her as an extension of herself and was saying, “me me,” or perhaps thought of her as a large plaything and meant, “mine mine.” Katherine calls her father, “Dad”, but she’s always been “Meme”. Anne gets tired of explaining it to people.

 

            Katherine has placed three Oreos on a plate and carries them to the table; she goes back to pour her milk.

 

            “Did you have a good day?”

 

            “I made this.” Katherine pulls out a drawing. It’s not perfect, but it is striking: a black dragon spewing its yellow and orange fire against a purple sky. “Mrs. Blackstone, the art teacher, says I have amazing talent. What do you think?”

 

            “I think it’s very fierce looking.”

 

            Satisfied, Katherine lays the dragon on the counter. “I love dragons. I’m writing a story about one, but I didn’t finish because we’re doing co-operative writing, and I had to work with Virginia today. She wanted to write a dumb story about Victorian girls. Like Little Women.” Katherine wrinkles her nose. “I didn’t like Little Women. And Virginia’s a pain.”

 

            “What’s wrong with Virginia?”

 

            “Nothing really, except she thinks she’s smarter than every one, which she isn’t. Lydia is better at math, and I’m better at history and English and writing. She’s just a year older than the rest of the class. I saw on the Science Channel that you might start out smarter when you’re little because of something about your brain, but that by middle school other kids catch up to you so you really aren’t so smart unless you’re really a genius or prodigy. I think they called it neuronplastic.”

 

            “Neuroplasticity,” Anne says. Katherine has scored in the genius range on the IQ chart. The psychologist said to have her retested in two years. Katherine can read at the high school level though she’s only in second grade. It amazes Anne how the brain is formed. What genetic strands wove together to form this child who on the surface seems so much like her father with her need to collect data and facts, yet who has such a love for drawing and stories. “And don’t be mean. Maybe in a few years, they’ll catch up to you.”

 

            “Mrs. Miller says I’m unique. I’m going to be important, and I’m never going to have children. No offense, but I’m not going to be like you. I’m going to be a professional. Maybe I’ll be a doctor like Dad.”

 

            Anne says nothing. She simply holds her arms around her chest, as if that would protect her heart. “I’m not going to be like you” is something she’s heard many times before.

 

            Katherine takes her milk and walks to the table where her empty plate awaits.

 

            “Wait, Meme. Didn’t I put out my cookies?”

 

            Katherine looks around. The bag of Oreos sags open on the counter behind her.

 

            “I thought so.”

 

            “Well, they aren’t here, and I didn’t eat them.”

 

            Katherine stalks over to the bag and pulls out three more then places them on her plate.  She stands with her hands on hips staring at the table in annoyance. “Now my milk isn’t cold enough. She turns to face Anne who wishes Katherine would just eat the damn snack and get down to the business of doing whatever homework assignment she has to do.

 

            “I’m putting ice in my milk,” Katherine says. “I hate warm milk.”

 

            Anne wonders if all children are this picky. She watches Katherine carefully place a few ice cubes into the milk cup and return to the table where once again the plate is empty.

 

            “Meme!”

 

            “Oh, for goodness sakes,” Anne says, exasperated. She walks into the family room to look for Matt but he’s gone. “Matthew? Where are you?”

 

            Katherine marches up behind her. “Come out this minute.”

 

            Anne hears a sound behind the couch, “We hear you Matt.” Nothing. At last she starts to push the sofa aside, but before she can move it more than an inch Matt scrambles out. His big blue eyes stare up at her innocently; his mouth, rimmed in chocolate crumbs opens in an O.

 

            “You little thief!” Katherine’s voice rises, and Matt shakes his head. His cheeks are stuffed with cookies.

 

            “Oh, Matt, how many cookies did you take?” Anne says. She kneels down in front of him, trying to look stern. It’s hard to do. Matt looks exactly like a cherub. It drives his sister crazy.

 

            Matt holds up one finger then thinks better of it and adds a second finger.

 

            “You’re such a little liar. You took all my cookies,” Katherine says, outraged. “You shouldn’t get any more cookies for at least a week. I’m telling Dad.”

 

            Matt’s eyes fill with tears. He gulps a little, and Anne watches him swallow. “I sorry, Katty. Here.” He offers her two damp, half squashed cookies.

 

            Katherine just snorts in annoyance. “Just keep them. I don’t want them now. Don’t steal my cookies. You aren’t supposed to steal. Don’t you know that? And you aren’t supposed to eat so many sweets. You’ll get diabetes.”

 

            “Katherine,” Anne says, “don’t tell him that. I’ll deal with him.”

 

            He comes over and hugs his sister. “I love you, Katty.”

 

            Katherine doesn’t hug him back, but she does give him an awkward pat on the head. “All right. Go away now. I’ve got to do my homework.”

 

            She stalks out to the kitchen, and Anne sits down on the floor with Matt. He gives her a chocolate kiss and holds out the cookies to her. “I love you, Mommy.” He plops down in her lap, and when she shakes her head at his offering, starts to eat.

 

            “Katherine’s right. You shouldn’t steal cookies, Matt,” Anne says. “Too many will make you sick.”

 

            “I know, Mommy.” He gives her a weary sigh that implies he’s learned his lesson. Or maybe it implies that he just wants her to stop talking. “Will you tell me a story?” He wiggles closer, and Anne wonders at his ability to get himself out of trouble. If Katherine is all sharp edges and precision, Matt is soft and sweet and cunning. People tell her all the time he’ll grow up to be a heartbreaker, but for now she is content to sit and bask in the glow of her son’s love.

 

            She hears an ominous rumble then smells something akin to rotting garbage. Matt looks up at her and frames her face with his grubby hands. “I made a dodo.”

 

            “Yes, you did,” Anne says. The steps look awfully long this afternoon. She stands and reaches out her hand. “Shall we walk upstairs together? You’re getting to be a big boy.”

 

            “I am a big boy,” Matt says. “Okay, Mommy.”

 

            They walk up the stairs, and he lies still while she gets him cleaned. Anne has a horrible vision of Matt lying on the changing table as a teenager while she cleans him up and sends him on his way. He’s almost three and isn’t the least bit interested in using the toilet. Anne is about to slap on a fresh pair of disposable underwear when he lets go with a stream of urine that hits the wall. He laughs while she takes a breath, wipes him down again and puts on fresh underwear.  She pulls up his overalls and snaps them shut.

 

            “You’ve got to start using the potty,” she says, and he hugs her.

 

            “I love you, Mommy.”

 

            “I love you too.”

 

            “Can we have pancakes for dinner?”

 

            “No, Matt. Daddy doesn’t like pancakes.”

 

            Matt sighs and hugs her again. “I like pancakes.”

 

            “Maybe tomorrow for breakfast. Okay?”

 

            “Okay. You smell like dodo.” He kisses her and wanders off. She doesn’t have to worry about Matt on the stairs. He’s as dexterous as a monkey.

 

            She cleans up and drops the dirty underwear into the old diaper pail. She stands in the middle of the bathroom. Her hair is in need of washing; she has circles under her eyes; and she looks like a bag lady. She smells like dodo.

 

            Anne wonders if she has time for a shower before she tidies up the family room and makes dinner. She figures she has just about six minutes to shower and dress before Matt annoys Katherine, and they begin to fight. She turns on the shower then reaches into the medicine cabinet for two Valium before she begins the second part of her day.