Friday, February 22, 2008

The 1600 words I wrote Yesterday

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and now...

The Meaning Of Love (Beginning of Chapter 13 in Trees)

Kyle awoke that morning to the sound of a juicer. Still on the couch, his neck hurting from sleeping with his head tilted up on the armrest and his shirt twisted around his belly so tight he felt like he was swaddled in a papoose, he looked over at the television that had been on all night and watched two too cheerful women stuffing carrots, apples, ginger root and fennel, filiform leaves, peeling, seeds and all, down the chute of the juicer. A slurry that looked like something someone would puke after a lunch of split pea soup and orange soda foamed in the handy-dandy dishwasher safe pouring pitcher that came in three sizes. “Yumm-o,” one demonstrator kept saying while the other repeatedly warned “Watch your fingers,” as if the former actually could accidentally slip her hand down the chute and into the twin stainless steel gear press below. Some endorsement but a great lawsuit. A pinch of salt and cumin to taste and there you have it, a heart healthy high fiber non-dairy breakfast shake. The audience applauds loudly and someone whistles for a cab. Paid help, he was sure. No one would act that way just for a free three ounce sample.

He clicked off the tube and slid down in the couch to hang his feet off the other end so he could lie flat and straighten his neck. The blades of the ceiling fan overhead needed dusting. A lawnmower started outside and the late morning sunshine leaked through the spaces between the almost closed blinds on the windows on the east side of the house, painting bright stripes of light that widened at the ends farthest away from the windows across the hardwood floor, catching his loafers. Shoe warmers, now there’s a product.

A thump outside. The Saturday paper arriving late, thrown onto the porch? A car door? Someone is using a hammer next door. No, that is knocking; someone is wearing out that damn Blair House door knocker on his front door. He swung his feet onto the floor, ran his fingers through his hair and stood up. His shirt is terribly wrinkled and he tried to iron it out with his hands before he reached the door. He doesn’t bother to look through the peephole and threw it open wide.

A Jaguar sat at the end of his driveway and a mid-fifty-something woman dressed in a tennis outfit too short to hide varicose veins and cellulite dimples wearing make-up she has no intention of ruining with sweat and her hair pulled back so tight in a ponytail you couldn’t tell if it was that or a surgeon in a hurry that caused the pointy outside corners of her eyes to reach for her ears looked up at him. Her expression changed from worry to annoyance. “You look like hell,” she said.

“Good morning, Mother.”
“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“It didn’t ring.”
“I’ve been calling you all morning.”
“I guess I slept through it, didn’t hear it.”
“I thought you were in a coma.”
“Yet you took the time to get ready for tennis?”
“Don’t be smart, I had to get dressed in something.”
“Come in, I’ll make some coffee, if you have time.” Please say you don’t.
“I hope you’re drinking decaf, like the doctor said.”
“Why’d you call?” he asked, turning to go into the kitchen.

“Evelyn called yesterday; she said you didn’t look well.” She followed him, half expecting the offer of coffee to be revoked. “I wanted to check on you.”

“I told Dad I’m fine. Didn’t he tell you?” He pulled a bag of coffee from a cupboard and poured some beans in a grinder. “How many cups?” Before she could answer he put away the bag of dark roasted leaded seeds from Guatemala.

“Just one, I don’t want to be late.”
Thank God. “Just as well, I need to get to the office.”

“I hope you fix your hair first.” Virginia Adair Griffin had a way of putting things in as few words as possible. Somehow the sweet southern belle gene had skipped over her. It happens sometimes. She reached into the sink and lifted out the wine goblet Kyle has used the night before. “Please tell me you’re not having more than two of these per day.” Grabbing a paper towel she quickly wiped it sparkling clean.

“Please don’t badger me, Mother. I don’t need a nurse.”
“You know I’m an advocate for healthy living.”
“Dad still smoking?”

“Where does this go?” she asked, holding the goblet by its stem in the sunlight in search of lurking fingerprints.

“Over there, last door on the upper right.” He dumped the ground beans into the cone filter and began to fill the reservoir with water. He looked over his shoulder to ask her to pull down two coffee mugs, but stopped. She was reading his calendar. “Aren’t you nosey?’

“Is this why Nicole isn’t here? She’s out of town?”
“She’s in Brysonville visiting her Grandmother.”
“It looks like she had plans for you to go with her.”
“I’m going, just not as soon as she would have liked.”
“I thought you had that trial, something about some trees.”

“Mother, you know more than you want me to think you do. Spare me, just cut to the chase.” He flipped on the switch to start brewing the coffee, thinking for a moment he would almost rather be standing barefoot in a puddle of water than continue this conversation. He turned to face her, leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “Why are you really here?”

“Come play tennis with me.”
“I’ve got work to do. Maybe next weekend.”

“I think you would really enjoy yourself, a little exercise might relieve you of some stress. We could go to Neiman’s for lunch afterward.”

“I hate tennis.”

“Evelyn will be there. I’ve invited her to come; we can play doubles, you and her against Caroline and me.”

“I think you mean you, Evelyn and Caroline against me, plus whoever else you can goad into agreeing with your point of view.”

“Must you be so difficult?” She had started to rearrange the glasses in the cupboard. Sorting by color, tall ones in the back, the expensive ones within easy reach and the cheap ones set aside on the counter to throw away later.

“Must you be so intrusive?”

“I’m not intrusive, just interested. I only want what every mother wants, for her child to be happy.”

“You might think I’d be the authority on what makes me happy.” The coffee pot beeped and he reached for the steaming carafe. Two-hundred-five degrees, hot enough to burn the mouth, or the flesh, but not leave a scar. “Give me two mugs, will ya?”

“You were so happy with Evelyn, Caroline agrees.” She extended two mugs, handles toward him, and when he looped his fingers in to take them she wouldn’t let go. “She’d love for you two to get back together just as much as I would.”

“Get back together - she almost killed me!” He pulled the mugs free, just short of yanking them from her grasp.

“You know it was an accident, she would never have done that on purpose.”
“Mother, I’m not talking about the rake.”
“What are you talking about then?”
“How long have you and Caroline been planning this?”
“You make it sound like we are co-conspirators.”
“Aren’t you?”

“Caroline wants for her daughter no less than what I want for my son. We both have your best interests at heart. Our families go way back, you’d make such beautiful babies.”

“What’s the dowry, Mother? Beachfront property, a herd of cattle?” He angrily poured coffee in a mug for her, sloshing some over the rim and it spattered onto the kitchen floor. He handed the mug to her and stooped down to wipe up the spill.

“Don’t insult me, Kyle.”

He looked up at her. From this vantage he saw her nostrils flare with each breath, the ligaments in her neck go taut and that little clinching thing she does when she grinds her molars together on the left side of her mouth.

“I don’t mean to insult you, Mother.”

“Then try harder not to,” she said, moving to the sink and pouring out the coffee. “I’ll tell the girls you were too busy for us.” She marched toward the front door, the hem of her skirt bouncing on the back of her legs.

He stood and followed. When he reached the door she had already crossed the brick walk that ran parallel to the flower bed where he and Nicole had worked so hard putting down roots and was headed down the driveway. “Don’t leave in such a huff, Mom, please come back inside,” he called out.

She was at her car when she turned on her heels and gutted him. “At the very least you could try to understand the merits of legitimacy,” she nearly shouted, but in a dignified way, of course.

And so we get to Hecuba. Momma don’t want no bastard woman begettin’ her precious grandbabies.

“Do you know why they say “Love” in tennis, Mother?”
She paused before getting in the car and glared at him, waiting.

“Because the French believe that to do something for love is to do something for nothing.” He held his thumb and forefinger in the air, touched their tips together and made a zero. “And that explains why I hate tennis.” He stepped back inside and shut the door.

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