Chapter Forty-six: On the Mend
Hardware store for Will's birthday gloves.
Go visit Maria.
Go over menu again and check my notes for prepping.
And then what?
Gloria opened her eyes at six, wide awake, her habit of getting up to cook for Will chasing her sleep away. But Will isn't here. What the hell is he up to with Salvi? Don't like the idea of someone else having to feed my brother, times are too tough.
She shelved the thought, brushed her teeth. No point in combing her hair before a shower. In bare feet, she silently crept to the kitchen, rejoicing that no one else was there, not even turning on the lights. As quietly as she could, she drew water and put it on the stove for tea. Fog had settled in outside the windows; she could barely see the end of the small back yard through the morning's faint light. The only sounds in the room were the ticking of the wall clock, the swooshing air of the furnace, and the homey bubbling of water in the pot. Don't think. She poured water over the tea bag. Just focus on the moment, the moment of quiet.
"Holy shit, we did it!" A shout bellowed forth from Ben's room. His door opened, and Gloria's bedroom door was pounded upon. "Gloria! Gloria! Wake up and look at this, you broom-head witch!"
"Shut up, Ben, I'm in the kitchen! What are you shouting about?"
Ben ran out into the kitchen clad only in boxer shorts. "EBay, we sold one of Mom's necklaces on eBay! Come look!"
Gloria hurried back the hallway, walked over to Ben's computer. She felt faint, not believing what she saw. "My god," she whispered, "is that for real?"
"Real deal. My knees are shaking."
"What'd you do?" came Philli's raspy morning voice behind them.
"That emerald necklace. We got $2500 for it." His voice cracked. "Isn't that two mortgage payments?"
"Seriously? I had no idea it was worth that much," their mother said in a low voice. "What on earth was he thinking? Real emeralds?"
"Yeah! I took the box and necklace back to the jeweler's, showed them my student ID, and told them our sad story. The lady -- her name is Marsha Townes -- said she remembered Dad and that the necklace was a special order, she could tell by a little tag that was under the bottom of the necklace case. She looked it up and told me it was gold and emeralds, and that I should treasure it forever."
Philli snorted. "Well, good. In fact, great. Yes, it's either two mortgage payments, or a mortgage payment and three car payments. I think I'm ready to treasure that forever. Good job, kids. Wake me at ten."
Gloria turned to Ben, her eyebrows raised. "And keep your trap shut in the meantime, mind you. She wanted to add that, but was too polite." She began to laugh.
"I haven't seen you walk around the house without a shirt since you were twelve. And did you forget that we have a house guest, Underwear Man?"
Ben clapped his hands over his nipples. "Omigod, pull the curtains and arrest the neighbors! They all lookin' to see mah junk!"
Philli's head popped back out her door. "Ben!" she hissed. "Stop it!"
Gloria put her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter and retreated to the kitchen. A mortgage payment and three car payments. We're good through Christmas! Morning tea was never better.
Maria was better, too. "Gloria!" she called when Gloria poked her head around the door to her hospital room. "Hey, girl, how are you doing? Worrying about menu yet?"
"That's on my list for later today. You look a lot more happy today."
"I am. I thought I would be hurting a lot, but no. They tell me I still have to take it easy, take it slow, but I feel pretty good, except I hate nurses. They act like I'm a stupid old woman, like I don't know nothing."
"That's because they don't know who you are or what you do, and they probably don't have any idea of how much you have to know to do what you do. Do you think any of them have the time or expertise to cook well? They went to college and nursing school and have worked their a -- their fingers to the bone all day and overtime ever since. If they have kids, I bet their kids eat hot dogs and box macaroni and cheese three times a week."
Maria laughed, a hou-hou-hou sound, so as not to shake her midsection. "Hey, Steve catch up with you last night?"
"How do you remember that when you were so drugged up?"
"I'm not a stupid old woman, Gloria, what, these nurses tell you different just now?"
"Steve and I had dinner together at Little Danny Angel down town. It was delightful. I ate french fries until I could hardly walk."
"Ah, good. He's an idiot, but a nice one. I like you and him -- you focused and strong, him kind and competent."
"No match-making, Boss, I'm not leaving your side."
Maria grabbed Gloria's hand. "You make me happy when I hear that. I can't wait to get back to our work."
A little rap came at the door. "Good morning, Maria! It's time for you to get up and get a little exercise!" A nurse in colorful balloon-patterned scrubs set her clipboard on the bedside table.
"What, in this bare-hiney pajama?" Maria asked truculently.
"We have a little robe we'll drape over you," the nurse said. "And here are some warm sock-slippers, I'll just put them on your toesies."
"Gloria, you go now. I don't want no witnesses when I kill this one."
"Don't say that, Maria, they'll make you stay another three days for psych evaluations."
"Read the newspaper headlines. You'll see."
The nurse hung Maria's IV on a portable rack, and assisted her to stand and don a thin robe over one arm, draping it over the other shoulder. "If you do all right after a little walk, I'll see about getting rid of the IV. Okay, it's up and down the track two times, Mrs. Bedencourt."
"Maria," Gloria and Maria said in unison. Maria looked at Gloria and nodded, a little smile on her lips, a conspirator's smile. "See you later, Glory."
A chubby woman with curly hair dyed blond blocked the doorway. "Hey, Maria, you on your feet already?"
"Elsie! Yes, this nurse-person wants me to walk up and down the hallway with no pants."
"I'll come with you and protect your virtue. And make sure Miss Nurse doesn't go too fast. Miss Nurse, don't you disrespect my friend."
"Not planning to, I promise." The nurse wasn't quite speaking through gritted teeth, but getting there.
"Good. I've been in the hospital a couple times, I know what goes on in here. Teaching grannies to suck eggs. I don't take that from any doctor, let alone a nurse," Elsie gritted in a no-nonsense voice.
The nurse looked at Gloria, as if for commiseration or support.
"Don't disrespect her," Gloria said, looking the nurse in the eye.
Steve was the next door-knocker, a bit surprised by the crowd near the door. "Good morning, Maria, you're feeling better?"
"I am, Gloria will fill you in. You listen to her."
As the nurse assisted Maria along the hallway, Gloria said, "Well, I think you and I have been dismissed, and I for one am not going to argue with Elsie. She's feeling good -- Maria, that is -- surprisingly so after as drugged up as she was last night."
"Her doctor said last night she'd recover quickly. Glad he's right. Good morning to you. I hope you slept well?"
"I did, thank you. When I got home I brined a turkey, and fried turkey hearts and giblets for a lark."
"Who did you make eat them?"
"My brother Ben. And then Mom emerged from the recliner and sampled a slice or two, and then her friend Lolo came out and ate up almost all the liver. I never would have guessed it, but they were good. Maria told me how to do it, of course."
"You know what I did when I got home? I turned on the television, started to watch a movie, and fell asleep on the couch. Sounds like you had the better entertainment."
They walked slowly towards the elevator, watching Elsie gesticulating at the nurse. "It was fun, more fun than I thought it would be. It was almost like being on a stage, performing magic. I loved Ben's expression when he bit into the little slice of heart -- I've rarely been able to surprise him so much."
"You going to spend the rest of the weekend worrying about the menus coming up?"
"That's on my list. Before that, I have to cook up my experimental brined turkey. I'm using a recipe and technique I've never done before."
He's asking me what I'm doing for the day, for the weekend. He wants to know if I'm free to do something with him. My manners say it's too soon to spend too much time together, but my brain says, why are you turning him down when you like being with him so much? Do I feel a need to suffer alone because ... why? Because he's a man? He hasn't asked for love, he hasn't asked for sex. Can I be friends with a man and enjoy his company, just that?
"It's a turkey spread with mayonnaise and herbs. I have no idea how it will come out. Probably I'm just going to end up freezing it for lousy sandwiches in the future. Want to come over and help me?"
Steve's eyes widened a little. "Sure. Your family won't mind?"
"No, I don't think so. If they do, we'll put bags over our heads."
"Should I bring my own bag, or do you have extras?"
"We save every bag we get, every twist-tie, too. In case we have to get out of town fast."
"Okay, I'm game. But I'd like your address, in case I lose you in the fog."
"You got it."
When Gloria had mixed the ranch dip seasoning with the mayonnaise, Ben, Philli, and Steve all dipped a finger into it to taste it. Philli and Steve were impressed, but Ben offered an opinion. "Can you shoot it with some lemon zest? Tastes kind of dull."
With yet another of the lemons from the bagful the neighbors had given them, Gloria grated off a teaspoon of lemon rind and mixed it in. Ben dipped his pinky finger into the mix. "Yeah. There you go. Now you're cool."
Gloria tasted it after him, grudgingly admitting he'd been right. After slathering the turkey parts with the seasoned mayonnaise, she threw them under the broiler for ten minutes, then switched to the oven at 350 degrees. "That's it, folks, it's over when it's done."
Ben looked at the kitchen clock. "When do you think?"
"Hour and a half, maybe. I don't know, I've never done this before."
"Okay. I have a computer I have to look at over on Camborne Street -- probably just a user issue, hopefully not a virus. See you in an hour or two."
"Ben, be careful," Philli said, "the fog is horrid."
"Got my orange bicycle vest, Mom, don't worry. I'll stick to the sidewalks while I can."
Ben left, grabbing a kitchen garbage bag from the pack under the sink and stuffing it into a back pocket. He'd watch for discarded water bottles and aluminum cans along his bike route, collecting them for his additional income.
"Is he expecting rain?" Philli asked, not knowing all her youngest son's professions.
"The weather forecast did say possible showers," Gloria answered, less than helpfully. At least by next Wednesday.
"I'm meeting someone for lunch before work, so I'm off to make up the old face. Nice meeting you, Steve."
"I'm glad to have met you, too, Mrs. Melton."
"Why are you frowning, Gloria?" Steve asked, patting her hand.
I don't have money to meet someone for lunch. Ben doesn't. Will doesn't. How does my mother have the wherewithal to have lunch out? "Oh, for a long time she didn't bother with make up, but now she does. Just wondering what's going on in her head, that's all."
"I have a mother, too. Best advice I can give you: don't ask her."