Chapter Thirty-eight: Almost Adapted
Gloria's face went cold with shock as she looked at the sales flyer in the stack of mail. With a minimum twenty dollar purchase, she could buy a 15 pound turkey for six dollars and eighty-eight cents. That would be like getting the turkey for less than fifty cents a pound. I can get Ben to go with me, and we can easily split up the shopping, each of us go through the line today and Thursday -- four cheap turkeys is like four weeks of meat!
According to Ben's list, celery was on sale, avocados, canned beans ... her mind was automatically generating a menu for the next week.
Amazing how easily we adapt, she thought. Will took to manual labor far more quickly than he had to dragging his dirty clothes hamper to the laundry room -- in fact he never had until recently, the hog. And it surely felt easy running the home kitchen. Maybe we just needed something of more epic proportions to make us better able to take care of things here.
Since she intended to wait until Ben was home before going shopping, she tackled the heavy cleaning of the kitchen. The boys were doing all right, but they still tended to fry things and then forget to scrub the oil spatters off the back of the stove, or move the bread box and scour the inevitable Valley dust from the tiles. All in all, it could be worse, and Gloria wasn't too unhappy moving all the appliances and counter things and scouring the area with Barkeeper's Helper. While she was in a cleaning mood, she ran hot water in the sink and added soap, then cleaned out the refrigerator. That was another area in which they had improved; there weren't nearly as many leftovers any more, and they were not throwing much of anything out. There was a little container with pasta and meat sauce -- not enough for Will or Ben, but perfectly sized for her own breakfast. She emptied the plastic cup into a small sauce pan, added water, and set the burner on low.
What to do on a day off? she mused. If she had accepted Steve's offer, she could have been looking forward to a movie tonight. She didn't regret turning him down, but she was curious, nonetheless. Was he a nice man, or a creep? Did he speak well, or grunt over dinner? Did he smell nice? His eyes seemed kind, and he had a pretty smile. Why was he hired help at the Bakers? Maybe the same reason she was? But the Bakers were pretty snotty about hiring an assistant for Maria, wouldn't they have been equally particular about hiring a man they handed a checkbook to and told to do the household shopping?
I wonder what he looks like when he's sleeping?
That thought surprised her -- where had that come from? -- and she got up from the table, the second perusal of the store flyers, and went to shower and change her sheets.
Around ten, Philli emerged from her room, seeking strong tea. Gloria put water on for her, and asked carefully, "How are you, Mom?"
"Eh. I'll survive. My boss replaced that mouth-breather I started with -- now I'm training her successor, and she will NOT be watching TV while we work, I guarantee. That's better, I guess. How about you?"
She asked how I'm doing! Gloria thought with a leap of her heart. "I'm doing okay, but my boss isn't. She has to go have a hysterectomy after Thanksgiving -- she's pretty bad off, I think."
"That's terrible. Who replaces her while she's out?"
"Me. Next week or so we'll be training my assistant. Maria doesn't like her much -- I don't think Maria likes Mexicans. Or Dutchmen. Or any men."
Philli laughed, a welcome sound. "Can you cook better than she does?"
Gloria thought for a while. "I don't really know ... we cook for the Bakers, for what they like. I wouldn't cook some of the stuff the way we cook it, but neither would Maria. It's not like being a chef, and being expected to do wonderful creative things in the kitchen, it's just knowing how to prepare the things they'll like. They set the menus, not us."
"Control freaks," her mother said, taking a sip of her tea. "Afraid of change, I'll bet."
Well, duh, aren't we all? Isn't that why we're so desperate for money to stay in this house? "I do have a story for you, though, unless Will has found a way to tell it already."
"I haven't seen my son except in passing since September. That's another reason I hate my damn job. I feel about like a childless widow."
"Well, this will make your day then. Your older son is a conniving genius." She related Will's story about the computer fix, not forgetting to imitate Van Duyken's accent, not forgetting to note that he had earmarked his windfall for their food.
"All my kids are geniuses, I'm convinced. You guys are amazing. Maybe the Bakers will make you the head cook if Maria doesn't come back."
"I don't really want that, Mom," Gloria said, shaking her head. "I still have a lot to learn from her. Thanksgiving is going to be a real trip -- all kinds of guests, I hear. I'll have to work that Wednesday and Thursday, but then we get off Friday, Saturday and Sunday."
"That still loses you a day off, if I remember my addition tables."
"I get paid by the hour. I'm not complaining this time. I'll get overtime, too. The Bakers aren't stupid -- if they want a good feast, they have to compensate their feast makers."
Philli giggled. "Poisoned by a Portuguese cook ... no, I wouldn't risk that myself. Does Maria make them polenta?"
"No, that's never on their menus so far. And thank god, the staff hasn't had to eat that, either. Watching the fish heads boil has been tough enough, and we're supposed to have a fish chowder on Friday. Maybe we'll have fish head polenta as a surprise." It was good to laugh with her mother again, good to see the echo of her own features on her mother's face, good to feel like family again.
They prepared lunch together, slicing some of the pork roast onto cheap hamburger buns, flavoring the meat with Gloria's homemade barbecue sauce, cutting up salads. It was a warm feeling, different from when Gloria worked with Maria. Here Gloria could make a mistake, screw something up -- it was only Philli and her, after all, and livelihood didn't depend on every teaspoon of sauce.
Lunch tasted good.
Then the phone rang. Philli got up and answered it. Although Gloria could not make out the words from the caller, she could hear an agitated voice, a woman's voice. "What?" Philli exclaimed, sounding outraged. "They just closed the doors and walked you all out? Why? How can they do that? No, no, stop crying, listen to me. Did they give you your final paycheck? Okay, at least that. Don't cry, don't say that, I'll be right over, I'm coming over right now." She hung up the phone.
"Mom, what happened?"
"Bastards just closed the car dealership, no notice, just shut the doors and told everyone 'Have a nice life.' God damn it, this world has just gone crazy. Glory, I've got to go. Say hi to Ben and Will for me." She grabbed her purse and headed out the front door.
The car dealership? The car dealership? What the hell? Which car dealership are we talking about? Where all our cars came from?
The only reason she would even know about that is from -- Lolo.
Was it possible that her mother was still in contact with that slut, that damned dirty whore who took her father's money in order to maintain her damn dirty expensive apartment, and who was at least in that way responsible for their current economic predicament? Why would Mrs. Melton take a call from the erstwhile Mr. Melton's mistress? The car dealership closed? Shouldn't her mother being saying, "Good, eat shit, bitch"?
There were about two hours left before Ben came home. Gloria decided to spend some gas money. She took her car from the driveway and drove over to the dealership on McHenry. Sure enough, there was a new chain link gate closing off the entrance. She turned into the party store parking lot a block down the boulevard.
They closed the whole thing, she thought. Sales, rentals, service. She couldn't remember a time when that dealership wasn't there, when Dad didn't deal with them on a regular basis. No where else he trusted for service of their cars, no where else did he buy. And that's where he dealt with Lolo, Lolo alone, according to her mother. Well, now the bitch got her comeuppance, which she truly deserved, Gloria thought. No more of Dad's income, no income at all. Whore. As Gloria put the car in gear and drove out of the parking lot, she bitterly suspected that Lolo would have another patron in the wings, willing to support her.
The comfy mommie-and-child start to the afternoon evaporated completely as Gloria drove home. It was plain to her that her mother was, as she had assessed at the start of this financial carnage, less than competent. Not only had she comforted her husband's mistress at the funeral, but also had apparently maintained contact with her. Can't keep track of money, but worries about her late husband's mistress. That's just plain old nuts, from the core out.