Chapter Twenty-three: Resignation to a Fate
There would be enough to get them by, at least until the end of the almond harvest, provided she made it through her probationary period with the Bakers. Two of the cars would have to be sacrificed to the banks for non-payment of loans, but Gloria hoped that the income they had would be enough to keep a car for her and a car for her mother and Will to share. She'd investigated the bus schedule, and found that she could take public transportation to work, but she'd have to leave the house at eight in the morning to get to work by ten; with her car, it was a fifteen minute drive.
It was stupid. The big city buses rarely had more than five people on them, even when gas prices were insane. Why didn't they have something like minivans running more routes, with better gas mileage, and get people where they had to be?
Gloria had got herself out of bed in time to see her brothers off to work and school again. Will was looking different to her, his loss of weight obvious. Ben also looked a little trimmer, but then he hadn't been chubby at all. Was she doing enough to keep them nourished? They appeared to be fine, but she was worried. She'd thought her mother would be trying to feed them or make food for them during the day, but she had not.
Wishing she could wait for her mother to wake up, Gloria took herself and her shopping list to the grocery store. She picked up a slightly rusty head of iceberg lettuce that was on the bargain cart, a bunch of celery, yellow onions, and a bundle of spinach -- it was a pain in the ass to clean, but it was much cheaper than the pre-washed "baby" spinach sold in plastic bags. She picked up a loaf of the bakery department's french bread -- huge loaves were on sale for ninety-nine cents, then backtracked to get cream cheese. This was just what Ben needed as an after school snack. Then she picked up three of the store brand loaves of sliced bread. One and a half of them would be torn up to go with chicken, the rest for Will's sandwiches.
Perusing the meat counter, Gloria spotted a whole chicken that was marked down for "Quick Sale" -- it meant she could get it for half price. And then she saw another one, and she was enflamed by the prospect of making a really HUGE batch of chicken in gravy and freezing half of it. She grabbed the other and shoved it into her cart.
She pushed her cart along, looking at the various cuts of meat, appalled that hamburger was selling for three and some dollars a pound, while something called a "ball roast" was less than two dollars a pound. Too bad she couldn't grind up their own meat.
She was still putting groceries away when her mother staggered out to the kitchen to make tea. Philli seemed to have shrunken, dark circles under her eyes, her posture stooped. Gloria watched her in silence, wondering if her mother was really awake before noon, or if she was somehow sleep-walking.
The silence lasted until the water boiled, the tea bag dunked the requisite amount of times, and sugar added to it. Then Philli got a couple ice cubes and added them to her big cup. She sniffed it, sipped it, and sighed. "Gloria, I just want to say this once, and possibly for all time, that I hate working a night shift."
"Oh, Mom, I'm sorry."
"Eh, it's a job. I just had no idea how much I would hate it."
"Is it disgusting?" Gloria asked.
"Not really. But my partner -- we all go out in twos at least -- is so damned stupid ... all our clients' places, she immediately turns on a TV if they have one, and stares at late night reruns of goddamn Gilligan's Island or MASH or Bewitched or Seinfeld while she half-uses her arms to dust or run the vacuum. It's like TV is what keeps her running, her battery or something. And if a commercial comes on, she just stops in her tracks and stares." She sipped her tea, drawing a deep mouthful. "It's not a hard job, but my god, it's so damned boring it makes me want to puke."
"You look ..."
"Like shit, I know." Philli rubbed at her eyes. "I get home and all I want to do is sleep, and after I sleep for a while, all I want is more sleep."
Gloria let a long silence seep into them both. It sounded to her as though her mother was starting? continuing? to suffer depression after the death of her spouse. Her parents had been married for twenty-three years before he abandoned her by dying. She had no idea how people would feel about each other after twenty-three years of sharing the same bed. Or of how a wife would feel after so many years of knowing that her husband had been cheating on her with some dog ass slut. Both ideas were daunting, and Gloria was sure, capable of depressing someone. Add to that her mother's unhappiness at having to become a cleaning woman, and you got the basics for big time clinical depression.
"Do you need to see a doctor, Mom? In case you need a prescription for depression?"
"No, I don't need to see a damn doctor, Gloria. I need to see a millionaire who will tell me I don't have to work nights and that my kids don't have to work shitty jobs. Don't treat me like I'm your idiot child, okay?"
Her heated tone took Gloria aback. "I'm not, Mom, honest. I'm just worried."
"Worry about yourself and your brothers, not about me. You three have some damned pact for survival, just get on with that, and leave me out of it."
Her bitterness cut Gloria to her heart. They had left their mother out of it, because their mother would have not approved of their solution, and because she had left them out of the loop of knowing what was happening to them.
"We're scared, Mom, and you're having to work shifts that don't let us be reassured. Don't get mad at us because we're huddling together trying to stay alive."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. What's your plan for today?"
Gloria would have loved to be able to just stand up, hurl her car keys at her mother, and say, "Here's your plan, flying" -- but she couldn't do that and watch her mother and brothers end up in a homeless shelter. Her mother's bitter and angry voice hurt her. She thought of Will coming home for food, and became an employee of the household, not responsible for emotional output, required only to say yes, ma'am, no ma'am and give the most elementary and literal of answers.
"I had planned to make chicken in gravy, enough for two batches, one to freeze."
"I've never seen you use a pressure cooker before. You've always been afraid to."
"I was just going to stew the chicken until it was done."
"That would take hours. In the pressure cooker, it's what -- fifteen minutes?"
"Well, as you say, I don't know how to use it."
"Then it's time to learn, isn't it? First thing you do is cut up the chickens. Do you remember how to do that, or do you want me to do it?"
"I pretty much remember, except for the backs."
"Get the cutting board down, no, not that one, that's for vegetables, the other one, the white one. That one is dishwasher safe, and can be automatically cleaned and sanitized."
While Gloria stood by and watched, feeling like she was back in Maria's kitchen, Philli plied a certain knife and cut a whole chicken into manageable portions. "There," she said. "That much will fit into one pressure cooker. Just pour a cup of water into the thing before you lock and load it."
"But I don't know how to -- "
"Gloria," said her mother irritably, "read the manual or listen to what I've said a million times. Pour a cup of water in, close the hatch, put the regulator on the top of the damned thing, and then turn the heat on. When the regulator has jiggled for fifteen minutes, turn off the heat, put the pot in the sink, turn on the cold water, and when the locking mechanism drops, it's all done.
"It will still be really hot, though, so don't put it in your lap and try to sue me later when you get burnt."
"Thanks, Mom, I needed your rudeness today to bolster me along in my job."
"You're welcome." Philli went to her bedroom and shut the door loudly. The water pipes in the house hummed, indicating that Philli was most likely taking a shower.
Gloria had no idea where her mother's hostility came from, unless she was just jealous that Gloria was the one who communicated with the boys. She'd be more hostile if Gloria started using the sink and messed up the hot and cold water supply, so it made sense to put the chicken livers, necks, hearts, and gizzards on to boil; by the time the onions and celery were cut up, Philli would be out of the shower and maybe in a better mood to supervise use of that blasted pressure cooker.
But when Philli reappeared, she was dressed for work.
"I thought today and tomorrow were your days off," Gloria said, confused.
"Turns out Hampton Rentals, one of the companies we contract with, is throwing a maternity leave party for one of their girls, and the boss knows the place will be trashed, so he asked for a special clean-up. Joyce asked for volunteers for an extra two to midnight shift. We need the money, so off I go."
"But you were just saying how much you hate --"
"I hate the shift, I don't hate the money. A couple extra shifts here and there and we can keep one of the cars an extra month. You and Will aren't the only ones who can go above and beyond, you know."
"Mom, I know you work hard. I just thought we'd have some time today as a family, all four of us. You haven't seen Will in days."
"Oh, has he been pining for me?"
Gloria's stomach twisted. Of course he hadn't. The whole Chelsea Wants to Get Married Drama had occupied his thoughts, obliterating just about everything else. She very nearly snapped Ben has, but stopped herself -- you just don't say something like that when Mom has agreed to work overtime to help her kids. "Please don't be angry. We just all miss how it used to be."
And just like that, Gloria wasn't at all sure that they all did. Maria was set in her ways, grumpy and frumpy and hard to read, but when she let her assistant actually work, her assistant was going to be really eager to get her freckled white hands on some of that wonderful kitchen equipment. The cook's new assistant didn't miss junior college classes one little bit, or the constant vying with her peers for fashion statements and relationship statuses. As for Will, Gloria could not remember ever seeing him this happy and productive. Dirty and hot as his workplace was, he was up every morning on time and ready to get back at it, without a single complaint. Ben ... maybe Ben missed how it had been, but it was more likely that Ben was missing how he, too, could be out of the house and bringing in cash.
Philli snorted, shaking her head, and Gloria knew that Philli knew the same thing she did. There was nothing left to say that would convince either of them.