Chapter 42: This Is Thanksgiving?
Susana's training began on Monday, but it wasn't just training for her to be Gloria's assistant. Gloria herself was being trained to be in charge. Maria did very little but sit and suggest things now and then, critically watching Susana for the least mistake. "You have to be perfect, Susa. You do something wrong and you won't get blamed for it, Gloria will. We know you make great tamales, so we know you can cook."
She was also watching Gloria, to make sure that Gloria knew she was in charge and had the authority to decide what to do when. "This isn't fun time get together with the girls. You be the boss, this is your job, keeps your roof over your head and food in your brother's bellies."
In fact, Gloria did know how to take charge. She'd had years of practice bossing her brothers around even before her family thought they were losing everything; since the morning of her mother's revelation regarding their finances, Gloria had taken charge of the household. Where mere siblings might have just been yelled at or nagged, her brothers were also wage-earners, deserving to be treated with respect as co-workers who were doing their best in a tough situation. Working with Susana, Gloria thought often of Will's willingness to take on farm work, and Ben's initiative.
Even as large as the Bakers' kitchen was, it was a small space for two grown women to inhabit. Gloria needed to remember that, but she also took a page from Maria's book and dispassionately let Susana know exactly what she had to do when. No down time, no pondering relationships outside the kitchen. Two break times, one lunch time during each day. The rest of the time was movement, prep and cook, clean stations, set out implements, prep and cook again.
By Wednesday afternoon all the ahead of time things had been done; the cranberry and orange sauce was cooked and put into individual glass serving bowls in the chiller; the margarine and seasoning mix was ready to toss with the whole grain bread cubes. Dessert pies were ready to cut; the vegetable course of corn and squash was ready to be mixed with fresh avocados the next day. They had trays of crudités and toppings for crackers mixed and ready to be doled out; a thin, clear onion soup was ready to be heated and garnished. Potatoes were cooked and ready to be heated and mashed; the gravy was mixed and also ready for heating.
Once Gloria got over the idea that she was in charge, she felt comfortable enough with the plans. In her training with Maria, Gloria had learned the procedures thoroughly; and in her partnership with the older woman, she had grown more confident in her own skills. At first, she had been sure that Maria would always want her to be a flunky -- that was the job she had thought she was taking. But it was not the case, not at all. Maybe it would have been for someone else, but something about Gloria -- possibly the fact that Gloria was fighting to stay alive, and not taking the job out of idleness, touched the old cook's sense of comradeship.
Her own lunch breaks were far more than just times to put food in her stomach, more than just a time to relax. After Monday, when she had waved to Steve as he came into the lunch room, and had engaged him in conversation once he sat down, he automatically showed up to join her for the midday meal. Still a bit wary of him, because of his age and his education, Gloria found herself looking forward to the time they spent together, and not a little intrigued by his mild way of interacting.
He didn't grin wolfishly; he didn't stare lasciviously. He didn't brag and boast, he didn't brush against her or grope. (Well, that would have got his ass fired, the very first time he did, Gloria mumbled to herself one night as she went over the words of their conversation.)
She missed his company when he was off Thanksgiving Day, but fortunately, there was enough going on that she didn't have time to sigh about it.
After the three magnificent turkeys had been carved and served, eaten and praised by the guests, the desserts dished up, and the remainder of the birds left for the ravenous staff, Gloria approached Maria, who was sitting in her chair near one of the ovens, looking weary. "You haven't had anything all day," she said to the cook. "Do you want me to make up a plate for you?"
Maria shook her head. "No, they tell me not to eat after noon. I had plenty of canapés before then, but now I fast, nothing but water until midnight, then nothing. By this time tomorrow, I'll be all done with this bullshit."
"What hospital?" Gloria asked, feeling her eyes grow wet.
"Memorial. It's a good hospital, my doctor is good, too. Don't worry, Glory girl. I'm going to be fine. You're going to do good work, Bakers will be pleased."
Feeling exhausted relief at her shift being done, Gloria returned home. The house smelled of turkey, and Will and Ben were making sandwiches for themselves. Ooh, Mom's turkey, Gloria thought with a sigh. Better than the Bakers', of that there was no doubt. Turkey sandwiches for breakfast, for sure. She walked into her bedroom and stopped cold.
Her bed was gone.
She dropped her purse on the floor and returned to the kitchen, where Will and Ben were eating their sandwiches over the sink so as to keep from getting crumbs everywhere, and so that they would be poised to make another set of sandwiches before they left the kitchen.
"Either one of you know what happened to my bed?" she asked.
"Mom traded yours out with hers. She wanted more room, because she's got a friend staying here for a few weeks. We moved Lolo's couch into Mom's room, and you get the double bed, she wanted the twin. You don't like it? Hell, I'll trade it out with mine in five minutes. Let me finish my sandwich, okay?"
Gloria felt her heart stop and freeze in her chest. "Lolo? LOLO?"
"Yeah, her friend. We met her at Dad's funeral, don't you remember? You want to trade the bed, or not?" Will asked.
She could not see. She could not breathe. Her mother was WHAT??? -- moving that damn dirty whore into their house? Why? How could she do this? How could she do this in her children's house? She turned and left the kitchen to stand in the cold air on the back patio, alone, ready to walk over to the shrubs and heave her lunch all over them. She's my mother -- how can she do this to me? To us?
The door opened again. Ben came out. "Glory, are you okay? You went all white, even your lips."
He doesn't know, she thought. He has no idea that Dad wasn't the perfect dad, that Dad squandered half his income on keeping that bitch in her fancy apartment, that Dad fucked around on the side just as a part of his life ... or that Mom didn't just overlook it, or pretend not to know, but actually befriended her husband's whore.
She could tell him, yes she could, and Will, too. But there was no way she could tell them right now without screaming it at the top of her lungs, telling all the neighbors at the same time. She could go back into the house, and back Ben into a corner, and by then maybe grate out that he and Will had moved their father's mistress into their house, the mistress for whom he had taken money from the family's bank account to buy her treats and trinkets and help her rent a luxury apartment. She could tell Ben this, and watch his eyes go dark with horror and shame and sadness, when he was still less than half a year out from his father's death, when he still cried in his sleep and woke up shouting denial of the loss.
No, she couldn't. Not to Ben, it would hurt him so deeply. And not to Will -- maybe he was old enough he wouldn't hurt so, but it would have an effect on him, and the effect might be such that he would fall sick. Gloria was old enough to know that shock can do that to you, and they simply could not afford for Will to be sick and lose work, for however long the work lasted. And if Ben fell ill, who would take care of him? No, she wouldn't tell him. "Ben, today was a bee-yotch of a day at work. We keep the kitchen cool because we wear heavy aprons all day, and the ovens heat things up a lot. The house seems awfully warm to me right now."
"Sorry about that. Mom said to turn the heat up a little, because she and Lolo were cold, and with Lolo helping with the bills, we could afford a little more heat. I'm freezing out here, Glory, don't you want to come in? You could put on shorts."
I could grow wheels and take to the road, Gloria snarled in her mind. But rather than say that, she nodded and followed her brother inside. "Hey, Will, let's switch out those beds. I don't need a full size mattress, and you might like to not have your feet hang off the bottom of the bed. Catty-corner, you might even fit."
"Deal," he said immediately and went to drag his mattress and frame out into the hall.
Gloria stomped off to her room to do the same, stopping only in the hallway linen closet to pull out a set of clean twin sheets. Not sleeping in my brother's farty stuff, no way.
Ben followed her to help her move the mattress and headboard and rails and box springs. Gloria tried to find the space of calm she had had coming home from work. "Where's Mom now?"
"She and Lolo took off to hit some freak sales. Uhh, I heard them talking about Beds and Baths, and Kohl's. I think they're nuts, but I haven't seen Mom so happy in months, so what the hell."
"Really," Gloria replied drily. "What the hell."
You come home from work and find your house invaded by a whore. "Oh, Gloria won't mind if I take her bed, no problem! Me and my late husband's boink on the side can be roomies!"
Her mother wasn't enthusiastic about shopping as much as she was enthusiastic about getting the hell out of the house before her daughter came home. The daughter who knew the story behind Lolo and her home-wrecking attempt. The daughter she knew would hit the ceiling in rage at this travesty.
She and Ben and Will wrestled the beds and the mattresses to and from their rooms. With clean sheets, and her pillows in place, Gloria felt battered by the stress of work, and the insult of home. All she wanted to do was hole up in her room with a book, open a window to let the cool air in, and sleep for a million years, or at least until Monday, when she could get out of here, and get back to some sort of sanity.
The car dealership had closed. Lolo was out of a job. She couldn't afford her fancy apartment. She was on the street, basically ... only Philli was willing to bail her out, bring the slut into her home. If her life depended on it, Gloria could not understand why.
She wanted to have a screaming row with her mother about it, one that would culminate in kicking Lolo's fornicating ass out on the curb, but realistically, that was not going to happen. The boys were off this weekend, from school and jobs, so she could not fight with her mother in front of them and expose their father's folly. She felt that she would love to have the first violent fight of her life and mess Lolo's face up with a hammer, but then she would go to jail for assault and her brothers would be out of the house with nothing but a knapsack full of clothes, and however angry she was with her mother at this point, she was not so angry as to endanger Ben and Will. No fights.
Her room properly arranged, Gloria showered, put on clean pajamas, and curled up in bed with a book she had loved when she was in sixth grade, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. I want to go back in time to Then, she thought, When I was innocent in mind, and thought the world would be just fine. She read until she was falling asleep over the story, imagining herself as Meg and Steve as Calvin. With Steve's calm smile as balm, Gloria allowed herself to fall asleep.