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April 15, 2024

Going Hungry 56

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Fifty-six: The Future is Coming

Gloria woke at six; the sky was still dark, but her eyes opened and her stomach wrenched, remembering her mother's conversation the night before.

"A dinner party? Oh, that sounds like fun. I might not be here, though, Wednesday has become my night out on the town. I'm meeting with Joe Brady at lunchtime -- he's come up with a comprehensive list of our options for this house, and we're going to go over them and see what works best for us. And I've already accepted a late dinner invitation. With friends. Friends I've met through work. Sorry I forgot to mention it, but you guys are always so busy anyway ..."

Philli had been twitchy to the point of near incoherence, as though she'd been caught siphoning gas out of Gloria's car. She didn't meet her daughter's eyes, and had breezed off to shower.

Shower, bull shit, Gloria had grumbled in her mind. Gone to hole up in her room is where she is. Another Joe Brady day, another day that Philli Melton is ignoring her household and her kids. If she's doing something fun with friends, why is she so nervous? And shouldn't she be all businesslike if she's meeting Brady for financial concerns? "Might not be here" became "I already have a dinner invitation" in mere seconds.

In the pre-dawn creaking of the house, Gloria was sure that Philli had already made up her mind to get rid of the house, and that she'd somehow wrangled Joe Brady to help her do it, probably with the highest rate of return. She'd found her tool, and she was going to use it.

They had enough in their bank accounts to come up with the deposits on an apartment now. It wouldn't be a good apartment, but at this time in the family's evolution, Ben was the one who was spending the most time at home; at a few weeks shy of sixteen, he didn't need a full-sized house. It made sense to get out from under the lawn care and house repairs that would inevitably come.

She's not going to think about what downsizing this household will take. We didn't even think about it past the first week we knew we could keep the house. But it's time. What can we get rid of?

The house, as one might expect at six, was silent. Gloria went to the kitchen, drew water for tea, and put the pot on the stove. Behind her, she heard a step.

"Your mattress is as noisy as a rusty bicycle chain. I miss getting up to see Will off. What are we going to have to do to get ready to move?"

"I can hear you breathing at night, like a strangulated weasel. I miss Will, too. We're going to have to get rid of every frickin' crumb of shit we don't need." She hadn't intended to wake Ben, but she was glad for his company. "Want tea, so as to stunt your prodigious growth?"

He nodded, looking grim. "Is he working her to get an opportunity to sell this house, or is she wrangling him to get the best deal on this house?"

"I don't know, Ben, honest. I don't."

"Never saw the point in you and Mom guzzling down tea in the morning, and I watched Lolo bring in her coffee-maker and turn into a different person after her first cup. But I could sure use something this morning, something to make me wake up and want to wake up."

"Ah, hell. Caffeine might help, but breakfast and a plan of action will probably do more." Gloria dropped two tea bags into the pot of boiled water.

"So you do have a plan of action?" he said, watching the brown swirls of tea leaves move into the water.

"Get rid of everything we don't need. Everything. If we move to an apartment, we're going to have limited storage. We can't afford an apartment and a storage unit. I'm already thinking about my closet and what shoes and shirts and outfits I could dump -- god knows I don't need evening wear, or more than a few shirts and pants for work."

"Same here."

His voice was dispirited, low, alarming her. "No, you don't, you can't think that way. You need neat clothes for school, and better clothes for your computer business. You've built it up by knowing what you're doing, and kept it by looking like Mr. Ivy League."

"Fine. So what do we get rid of?"

"Jeeze, Ben, I don't know. I know what I can get rid of from my personal junk, but we do share the household with Mom, and I don't know what she wants to keep ... and she isn't exactly sharing her thoughts with us." She poured the hot amber water into two mugs.

"No kidding. I think she should be."

"Okay, tell me, honestly, have you shared every unique thought you've ever had with Mom? Did you toss your brainstorm in front of her to see how she'd feel about your putting on a tie and driving around underage in Dad's car? Before, or after the fact? She doesn't know about it now, does she? I know you never told her about your clandestine root cellar."

"She'd have told me not to do it."

"Fine," Gloria riposted. "And if she had said to us, 'We're going to sell this house and move to an apartment,' we'd have moaned and complained and said 'But this is our house, and we love it,' and then she would have had to put up with us whining and complaining about it ..."

"And we would have cleaned out our rooms and figured out what we could and could not take with us. Like Will did." He snapped his fingers. "Maybe we should take everything out of our rooms, and only put back the things we know we'll need. Apartment bedrooms are pretty much the size of ours, I think. What doesn't fit doesn't go."

"And that's your action plan -- before six-thirty! You make the toast, I'll scramble some eggs. Have some tea, flea."

"Why thank you, would you pass me the sugar, booger?"

"You are a hog."

He laughed. "That's the best you can come back with? You're getting feeble in the head."

Knowing that if she had to spend time with her mother, she would clearly telegraph her annoyance to Philli -- which might goad her into making poor decisions when meeting with Grady -- Gloria left the house with Ben to drop him off at school and then continue on to do the weekly shopping.

There was no doubt that their grocery costs were down with Will out of the house. Yes, they still had four mouths to feed, but Lolo could have eaten twice as much as she did and not matched Will's consumption. Hope he's not bankrupting Salvi's family with his appetite.

Big meals had been a source of satisfaction for Gloria, stuffing her brother for hard days' labor. Would he come to the house for Christmas dinner? Surely he would. But would he tell their mother that he wasn't returning home in a few weeks, and spoil her Christmas? Probably not, so how in the world could he join them for a day with family without Philli asking her son flat out when he was moving back to his room?

His room. Lolo was using his room ... would she still be there by Christmas? It had seemed as though Lolo was only going to be in the Melton house for a few weeks, but Gloria knew Lolo hadn't found another job. Where was Lolo going to go when the house was sold? Would she continue to live with the Meltons? Maybe they could afford a bigger rental if Lolo was contributing money into the household. I can't believe I'm even thinking about her as though she was part of the family. I thought she was just a dirty whore, and now the house would seem a lot sadder without her.

She had come to expect the washed-face woman to come to the kitchen or living room after work, hear about her day, tell her about all the quirks of the Bakers' kitchen, listen to her draw Ben out about his school work and his computers. She'd watched Lolo looking at Ben, her eyes searching his face for remnants of his father's looks -- a son she would never have, wearing the nose, the eyebrows, the smile of the man she had loved. If they moved to an apartment, and Lolo didn't come along, she'd rarely see Ben again.

Ben, the biggest worry. Gloria knew that she herself would land on her feet no matter what happened, but Ben was another story. He still had some fragile areas about losing their father; his anger at Philli and her antics made that clear. He was really fond of Lolo -- no wonder, since she appeared to take more of an interest in him than his mother did -- what would it do to Ben to lose Lolo from his life, as well?

There were no answers available. The future remained just as unknowable as it always had been. The only thing that they all could do was to keep putting one foot in front of another, as best they could. The future was either going to open up for them, or come down on them like a piano in a cartoon city, falling on a cartoon character from an unexpected cartoon window.

When the groceries were put away, Gloria turned to her room. Okay, I'm Will. I'm going to live in a room in a barn. What do I need to survive? She looked at the things in the room, and then chuckled. Mousetraps!

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-06-13
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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