It’s nearly six when Kelsey gets home. Her mother looks as if she’s been ladled into her chair in front of the TV. Brian somebody is sitting in for Tom Brokaw, who is on assignment in Iraq.
Kelsey likes the sound of “on assignment.” She’d like to be sent some place where things are different—totally different from this shabby little house with its ratty furniture and a mother splayed out every afternoon like a dead person.
Lydia’s nest consists of an old Barcalounger recliner and a metal TV tray for her drink and cigarettes. There’s nothing else to sit on except a hassock and the ratty sofa neighbors put out in front of their house with a “Free” sign on it. Her mom found a coffee table at the State of the Ark thrift store out on the highway, then buried it under stacks of mail order catalogs, some ugly, multi-colored Rite-Aid yarn for her knitting, and a few of her precious photo albums. The newest thing in the house is a used television from last month’s Botanical Gardens’ Pack Rat Sale.
Kelsey sheds her mist-covered coat and shakes her head like a wet dog. “Hi, Mom.” She crosses to the kitchen.
Lydia doesn’t move.
The vodka bottle is down nearly two inches from the mark Kelsey put on it this morning. Knowing how much Lydia drinks when Kelsey’s not watching let’s her gauge what to expect when she gets home. It also lets her know when it’s safe to join her friends on Laurel Street without her mother noticing. Tonight it doesn’t matter. She’s staying in. The judge really scared her this time and it will be easier to stay out of trouble if she steers clear of the other losers who hang out in the alley off Laurel Street.
The judge was wrong about her not being good at shoplifting. She’d stolen lots of things and not been caught. Just a couple of weeks ago, she and Carly went to trade in their worn out sneakers for new Nikes, leaving the old pairs in the boxes so the clerk wouldn’t notice the weight change. They walked out when he went to get another size. This last time, though, it had been all Kelsey’s idea. The gardenia was beautiful, and it was the last one Rite Aid had.
Kelsey takes last night’s grilled cheese pan off the burner where she left it. “Dinner looks yum, Mom. Roast turkey. My favorite.” She drops the frying pan into the sink and turns on the water.
Her mother stirs.
“Don’t get up,” Kelsey says. “You cooked; I’ll serve.”
She opens the freezer to see if there are any pot pies left. She’s tired and hungry and doesn’t feel like cooking anything. There are two small, freezer-burned Boboli pizza crusts, two fifths of vodka, a fifth of gin, a quart of vanilla ice cream, refrozen since the last time PG & E turned off their power, and some fish sticks. Kelsey can’t remember whether the fish sticks pre-dated the power outage or not, so she chooses the Bobolis.
There’s half a jar of spaghetti sauce in the fridge and a package of government-issued cheese slices. She spoons the mold off the top of the sauce, and spreads a clean layer on each of the pizza crusts. She covers them with the cheese slices and tops them off with some of her mother’s martini olives, which she pinches to flatten.
Lydia sits up when the toaster oven bell goes off. She blinks a couple of times, and turns to search for her glass.
Her mother looks surprised to see her. “Where have you been?”
“I just got home from work.”
“You got a job. That’s nice. Doing what?”
It’s been two days since they were in court, and this is proof her mother doesn’t remember being there.
“I’m helping a doctor in his greenhouse.”
` “I love flowers,” her mother says.
“The pay’s not much, but he really likes me and promised a raise after six months. Did you eat today?”
“I’m sure I did.”
“I made pizzas if you want one.”
“That would be nice.” Lydia finds her glass lying on its side on the rug. “And maybe you’d rinse this out and fix me a little vodka and water. Would you mind? My knees are killing me.”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
“No, I don’t. You know how hard it is for me to sleep.”
Kelsey comes from the kitchen, takes the glass and puts one of the pizzas on the table next to her mother’s filthy ashtray.
“Thank you, sweetie. Now just a little something to wash it down with, please.”
The news from San Francisco is on. Her mother turns up the volume and flips through the channels.
Kelsey takes the ashtray with her to the kitchen and checks to make sure there aren’t any smoldering butts before emptying it into the bag under the sink. At least she can get that stink out of her life for a few minutes.
She brings her mother’s drink and puts it on the TV tray. Lydia smiles.
One of the photo albums is open on the coffee table. Her mother likes to look through them and remember when she was young and happy. But the more she drinks, the more depressed she gets, until every picture reminds her of what’s gone wrong in her life.
“Why do you make yourself miserable looking at these pictures?” Kelsey closes the album.
“Shhhh,” her mother says. “Judge Judy’s on.”