Chapter Thirty-nine: No Questions Asked
The next day Gloria did not ask her mother about the phone call, or the closing of the car dealership, or about her relationship with Lolo. She didn't want to know. She wanted Lolo to fall off the face of the earth into the far reaches of outer space.
Her mother did not notice, or maintained the façade that she didn't notice Gloria's disaffection. Over her tea at noon, Philli surprised Gloria by asking, "If we had to leave here and go to a small apartment, what would we do with all the furniture?"
Oddly enough, it was a topic that Maria had brought up on Sunday. Maria went to church early Sunday mornings, and spent some time gossiping with her church buddies who were keen to talk about people having some spectacular yard sales as they lost their houses and had to move in with relatives, or as they tried to move from the huge houses they'd furnished to small apartments.
"They never going to get what they paid for the stuff," Maria had said sadly. "They go buy, buy, buy, and now it's all junk. People who are shopping the garage sales, they want big bargains, not fair prices. Saturday I drive through town to get here, and I see this big house up by Pelandale, all kinds of big furniture sitting out in the fog, big sign in the driveway that says 'Free Take It Away.' That tells me they have to move out, and don't even have the money to hire a moving van because they don't know for sure where they're going."
It was a subject that made Gloria shudder when her mother brought it up. They were fairly sure that they could find an apartment, and had enough money banked now that they could probably afford the guarantee fees needed (first month, last month, and cleaning deposits in advance) but the time was not so far past that they had wondered if they would end up walking out the door, leaving everything behind but some suitcases with clothes.
"Have a yard sale, I suppose, and then what was left, probably ask neighbors and friends to come by and take what they needed, I guess. I understand people just aren't buying much at yard sales unless it's going for really cheap. Maria told me that a lady she knows saw a Lane recliner at a yard sale, looked brand new. The owners wanted five hundred dollars for it. She went back at two-thirty in the afternoon and offered them thirty-five, and they took it. It's getting bad out there." Gloria tried to control her voice. "Why, are you thinking we need to move? We've got the mortgage payment covered so far."
"No, I'd rather not move -- not so close to the holidays. Although if we have to, we have to. But I'm hoping we won't. I was just wondering."
"I hope not, too, because we just bought two turkeys yesterday, and we're going to buy two more today. There's this fantastic sale going on, and we can stock up the freezer with it."
"Less than fifty cents a pound good, Mom."
"Oh my God, Gloria, that's almost like stealing. One of them -- I want to make turkey salad with the leftovers. I love that stuff, even if you kids don't. On Russian rye ... that's what I want for Christmas!" Philli licked her lips.
"Christmas dinner?" Gloria asked, teasing, trying to keep her tone light.
Philli chatted about work, and how her own particular route was safe for the time being, but how some of the clients were dropping cleaning service in residences because they could no longer afford it. Businesses were in better shape, for the time being. The company Philli worked for did a lot of lawyers' offices, quite a few of the City support businesses, some community church premises. Her boss, the owner of the company, was trying hard to get new business for them, believing that a tough economy was the time to get out and hustle, not sit back and cry about how bad things were.
That chick is going to keep going through this mess, Gloria thought, listening to the boss's strategies. And when the upturn comes again, she's going to take over the world.
Philli even offered to peel potatoes when Gloria began to make a pot of beef stew. "Not the onions, I don't want to smell like them when I go out," she explained, without explaining why a cleaning woman would worry about onion smell. She did comment on Gloria's use of the pressure cooker to cook the beef, smugly proud that she had shoved her daughter into learning how to use it.
In all, Gloria was pleased that she was able to mask her annoyance with her mother and get through the early afternoon without conflict. Ben's arrival home from school was timely, giving both of them an opportunity to turn away from the fences between them and welcome son and brother home. After they heard the gate click, there was some rustling and clinking; looking at the clock, Gloria suspected that Ben had been scavenging recyclables again after school.
He came in, washed his hands in the sink, and then gave his mother a big hug. "You're getting downright skinny, Mom. Are you all right?"
"I'm in better shape than I have been since before you were born, Benjamin. I feel great."
Gloria took a moment to assess her mother's build. Yes, she had lost weight. And in spite of the hard work and weird hours, Philli looked younger than she had at the outset of this mess. She still looked a bit puffy under the eyes, with crow's feet at her eyes' outside corners, but her complexion was clear and healthy. She was no longer chubby, and Gloria was surprised to note that. How long have I not really been looking at her? The answer was, well, from the moment Gloria had found out her mother was tolerating her husband's affair with goddamn Lolo.
"I stopped at the library and read the Modesto Bee," Ben told them in an excited tone of voice. "Cranston Ford closed its doors yesterday!"
"We knew this," Philli informed him. "But did they say why?"
Ben looked puzzled, but went on. "Yeah. No one is buying cars! They're not the first dealership to close, and not the only one by a long shot. Three places in Manteca, two in Ceres, and FOUR in Modesto have already gone bust. And that's the new car lots -- a bunch of used car places are just signing over their inventory to that auction place out in Oakdale -- trying to get any money for the cars while they can!"
"So much for service on our cars," Gloria sniped.
"But Glory, listen. If the people who finance their cars can't sell any of them, maybe they'll have too many cars to repossess. It could maybe give us a few weeks, or even months leeway with the cars we need."
Gloria cocked her head, thinking. "Really? Would it work in our favor like that?" She didn't ask her mother, as just the mention of the car dealership made her remember her mother's phenomenal stupidity.
Philli dumped the cut potatoes into the biggest stew pot and covered them with water so that they wouldn't turn brown. "It might," she answered Gloria. "I don't know." After rinsing her hands in the sink, she took herself off to her room to prepare for working another partial shift for the overtime.
"You're mad, I can tell," Ben said. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No," Gloria told her brother. "It's just some shit that should have been settled months ago, maybe even years ago. Nothing to do with you, don't worry."
"Okay. Hey, by the way, your bags of potatoes are doing just fine in our little root cellar, and so are the apples we haven't used. Did you tell Mom about the hole? No? And she hasn't found it, has she, see, what did I tell you!" He peered into the pot on the stove. "What's in the stew and when will it be done?"
"Carrots, potatoes, onions and beef, that's all. You and Will bitch if I throw in green beans or corn." Gloria scraped the carrots into the pot with the potatoes. "Done in about twenty minutes to half an hour, though it's better if it simmers longer. Why?"
Ben looked at his watch. "That works. I have homework to do, and then I have two computers to look at tonight. One I think has a simple virus, they other sounds like bad news. That one will take up time, and I won't get paid for it. I don't charge if I can't fix, and it sounds like something burned up inside of it."
"We still need to go to the store one more time tonight," Gloria reminded him.
"Shit, you're right. Okay. Homework, food, store, computers. I can do this. I didn't get that last load of laundry folded, though."
"I'll cover that, I don't have anything more to do after shopping."
Ben headed off down the hall to his room, then turned back. "See, this is why when superheroes team up into a league, they get a lot more evildoers behind bars, and don't get beat up as bad."
"All the superheroes I know say that, but then which one of them finds the free time and takes out the garbage?"
Ben grinned. "Well, the tall freckled jerkweed who gets in last and is already dirty anyway, right? I'll let you tell Will about that when he gets home."
Gloria resumed her stew-making, and when Ben was doing his homework in the kitchen, once again Philli gave him a quick kiss and said her goodbyes on her way out the door. Gloria noiced that Philli had painstakingly used a pick on her curly hair, letting it dry into rusty ringlets that looked exotic, and had done makeup, making her look stunning.
Did she meet someone at work? Gloria wondered, and then thought of her own face and how it might look the next morning, and Steve.