Chapter Forty-three: On Any Other Given Morning
How do you get out of bed in the morning and take up your daily routine when a stranger has come to inhabit your house, a stranger you hate with a passion? Gloria stared at the ceiling, but it had no answer for her. On any other given morning, she would have risen, brushed her teeth, and gone to the kitchen to put water on for tea. Since the day her brother Will had gone off to work in the almond orchards, Gloria would have been up and fixing him and Ben breakfast by now. But both of them were home, and Gloria did not think she could get up and look at Lolo swigging their cocoa and eating their bagels, no, not first thing, not even if they could afford cocoa and bagels at this point.
She could dress, and climb out her window, and go to the mall for the day. Right. On Black Friday, with strident voices in crowds, being buffeted and bumped by fat people on cell phones hauling bags of junk, oblivious to anything but their diminishing line of credit. No, that was right out. How could anyone afford anything this year, anyway? Every day this past week, Ben had come home from the library, telling which stores had closed, what services were about to be cut from the city's budget -- including his library branch cutting hours, which meant that on Wednesdays as well as weekends, his access to news was going to be online ... and that was only if the clueless fool next door didn't wise up one day and decide to use an encrypted wireless connection instead of an unsecured one.
Besides not wanting to join the hedonistic buying frenzy, one, because she had no money to spare, two, because the way people acted in the stores on the day after Thanksgiving was horrible, and three ... she was just tired. The week had been a long one, and Gloria really needed to rest while she could, because the next two weeks were going to be nuts without Maria there.
Will had said that Lolo was going to be here for a few weeks, hadn't he? And if she was sleeping on a couch and not a bed, that kind of indicated that the short-term condition was true, didn't it? Well, then, what better weeks for Gloria to be off to work early and home late, and stressed enough to just want to stay in her room and sleep or read?
It was this weekend that was the problem. The idea of encountering Lolo over the kitchen table revolted her. Where do people go if they don't want to be home? A bar? That's what people did in Hollywood's version of life. But Gloria didn't have the money for bars, or shopping malls, or even damn movies. It was foggy as hell outside, she noted when she crawled out of bed and looked out the window. Too cold and damp to go sit in a park somewhere. The thought crossed her mind that she could call Steve, and say, "Hi, Steve, can I come over to your house today and read a book?" No, that wasn't an option, either, was it?
She called her friend Mindy, she called her friend Gail, got voicemail services, left feeble "Hope you had a good Thanksgiving" messages. They were either visiting relatives, recovering from visiting relatives, or out shopping, most likely. Gloria admitted to herself that she really didn't want to see either of them, but rather was just looking for a place to go and be away from her own house.
That was the crux of the matter, right there. It didn't matter that she and Will were making it possible for the family to stay in the house, it wasn't her own house. It was Philli's house, and Philli could damn well invite the Pope to flop here if she wanted to, without her children's permission or preference. If we had gone to a homeless shelter, this wouldn't be an issue. IS this situation worse than having Ben and Will on cots and in a soup line down town?
Reason overrode her emotion. No, it wasn't worse. It was annoying, it was tasteless, it was wrong, but it wasn't worse.
If Lolo decided to inform her brothers that she had been their father's mistress, then Gloria would have the excuse she needed to beat the living shit out of the bitch and throw her and her couch out in the street, but that was an unlikely scenario. Gloria herself would never have known that Lolo was a whore except for her mother telling her. And her mother wouldn't ever have told her except that Gloria wanted to know where the family money had gone, the reason that they might be on the street at any time.
It was desperation and fear that made my mother confess to me what Dad had done, Gloria thought. Back then, she really believed we had only a few weeks left in the house. Shock made her drink all those vodka sevens, the drinks made her injudicious and honest.
Gloria dressed in jeans and a thick cotton sweater, a welcome return to the clothing of everyday, rather than the pressed khakis and oxford blouses that comprised her work clothes. In the foggy dimness of the day, she sighed, wishing for the summer sun so that she could sit on the back patio and stay out of doors.
The house was quiet. No dirty harlots or stupid mothers were in evidence; Gloria heard a scraping sound at the front of the house and opened the door to see Ben raking leaves off the yard into the street. "Hey, Fool. Where's everybody?"
"I raked them all into the street, under that pile over there. Want to join them?"
He stopped raking and came to the porch. "Mom took off with Lolo for more shopping -- they were leaving when I got up at six. They're like a pair of first graders, giggling and hopping. I didn't know they were such good friends, did you?"
"No," Gloria said with the weight of truth. "I had no idea."
"And Will left only a few minutes ago, said he was going to Salvi's to work on their barn. I don't think he knows what to do with a day off."
"I don't either, Ben. Fridays I'm usually stressing over a fish dish."
"Ugh. Don't practice on me today. All I want is more of that turkey. It was great!"
"Yeah, that's breakfast," she told him as they walked back inside the house.
"That's what I had. Mom splurged and got good bread. It's like cake, Glory. You cut up some turkey, slice some filling real thin and put it on, oh, god, it's the best thing in the world."
"Two weeks ago you said my chili was the best thing in the world, you fart."
"That was then and this is now," he said earnestly. "This turkey is maybe the best ever."
"Now I'm intrigued, and famished. Sandwich on good bread for me."
She made herself a sandwich, with mayonnaise and just a hint of mustard, the dark meat predominating, a light sprinkling of salt. There was no need to taste the meat to know that the salt was necessary -- she had been eating Philli's turkeys for all of her life, at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, at Easter. Once or twice, the turkeys had not been as juicy or flavorful; those brands of turkeys were never returned to again. And although Gloria had been doing much of the cooking for years, Philli knew her way around a turkey and kept that preparation as her holiday tradition, her pride and joy. Gloria's first memories of turkey dinners included her mother's triumphant entrances to the dining room, bearing a platter holding a richly golden turkey, surrounded by apple quarters and pears and lemon slices.
Biting into the soft bread and tender meat, Gloria had to agree -- this one was, perhaps, as Ben said, the best one ever. But how could that be, when the turkeys Gloria had bought were bargain basement birds?
"This was a fresh turkey, wasn't it? From Raley's." Gloria turned to Ben in concern after her first bite.
"Yeah, how did you know that?"
"The taste. What did she pay for this? We already had a turkey thawed in the refrigerator, she knew that!"
Ben had no answer for her, did not really understand why she asked. But Philli had paid four times as much for this turkey as Gloria had for the frozen ones, she was sure of it. Yes, it was better, but for four times the price? Not that much better. And now there was a whole uncooked turkey left over.
Maybe she should just cook the cheap turkey up and they could eat turkey sandwiches for the next week. "Was it a big turkey, Ben?"
"Huge! Sixteen pounds and some. Mom said Lolo never in her life had had turkey for Thanksgiving, her being Mexican and all, so she wanted to make a turkey big enough for everybody to have as much as they wanted. Also, she didn't want me and Will to eat it all and not leave anything for the rest of you."
No point in cooking the turkey for sandwiches, then, her brothers would be burnt out on turkey in another couple days, and wouldn't be appreciative of the lesser quality. But the bird couldn't be re-frozen, so it had to be cooked. Gloria poured her tea, her mind automatically racing ahead to meals in the first part of December.
Turkey and gravy instead of chicken and gravy would work, served over mashed potatoes and oven baked dressing. Turkey pies might be cute, with carrots and peas and potatoes in them, but she'd have to buy foil mini-pie plates and spend a day in the kitchen preparing them -- forget that, she had three days off and had to think about the next two weeks' meals for here as well as the Bakers, and anyway, she hated cooked carrots as much as Maria did. Just roast it up and bone it and freeze it for whatever. If she cut the turkey up, it would roast more quickly, really in just a couple hours.
Suddenly Gloria was seized with a desire for revenge. Bring that slut Lolo into my house, will you? No, it was not going to be her house, but by god, she'd dumped all her money into the house and food, and that made it at least a little part of her territory. She'd cook up the spurned cheap turkey for freezing, but she'd season it so that it smelled like heaven raining from the sky, and let her mother sniff it up into her traitorous nostrils when she returned home and know that her daughter was the better cook. And that her daughter did know a mental and emotional backhand when it was dealt her.
She took a sip of her tea, found that it had cooled just enough, and then took a big, sweet gulp of it, soothing the tension that had taken up a station her throat.
"Are you going to eat that, or should I eat it for you?" Ben asked, eyeing her food.
"Working with Maria has taught me some of the finer points of kitchen fighting, so I'd keep my distance if I were you," Gloria smiled to him. "That is, if you want to turn in your homework Monday."
"Just for the record, bribery works better than extortion."
"Fine. I'll make an apple pie tomorrow if you'll just let me alone with my tea and this beautiful sandwich now."
"That works." He went back outside and resumed the scritching sound of raking.
Expensive turkey, but it sure is good. Not something I would have bought, but I'm not going to throw it out. She hoped that Lolo had chipped in, if not paid for the whole bird herself. I won't even give her the satisfaction of choking on it, she thought, and savored every bite of her sandwich.