Chapter Nine: An Evening of Introspection
Gloria was curled up in one of the armchairs, a favorite book in her hands, not because Jane Eyre was a classic, but because she'd read it so many times that she hardly had to think about the words. And it wasn't even so much that she wanted to be reading, but she had nothing else to do. It wasn't a laundry day, it wasn't a cleaning day, it was too late to go to the library. Breakfast would consist of tea and a small dish of cottage cheese, so there was no meal preparation that needed to be done.
"Bother you if I watch my poor old antique TV?" Maria asked, as she came into the room.
"No, not at all. I'm not really reading, I'm just -- hmm, adjusting, I suppose. When I was living with Ben and Mom and Lolo, there were always things that needed to be done. Laundry for four, food for everybody, strategies to think out. Now I feel like I'm on an extended vacation." Maybe Maria would tell her what she could do to help out besides pay rent and clean up after herself.
"I think I know what you're talking about. Before my operation, I came home from work, turned on the TV and fell asleep in my chair. Too tired to do anything but what I had to. Now here it is, eight-thirty, and too dark and cold to go for a walk, and all I can find to do is wash walls, and I'm not doing that, not that bored." She pressed a button on the front of the television. "Here, you tell me if Elsie is right about this box."
Elsie was indeed right. The television was out of the eighties, if not before. The picture clarity absolutely stunk. Gloria simply said, "Wait a minute," and went upstairs to collect her laptop. She booted it up on the way back down. When the screen was lit, she clicked open a media player and started a movie that she'd been required to watch for one of her last college classes. She turned the machine around so that Maria could see it.
"Oh, boy, that's beautiful," she said wistfully. "You got a movie on this thing? A real movie?"
"Anything that's out on DVD can be played. This is just something I had to save to watch for school."
"That's even a better picture than the TV in the hospital. You lucky I don't drag you out to the car and make you take me shopping right now."
"On Wednesday you and Elsie should stop at the Best Buy by the mall and just look at what they have. I wouldn't buy anything right away, but it should give you some ideas." She's going to faint when she sees the prices, though.
"Ideas? I got so many ideas I think I need two more lifetimes. This coming year, when I get vacation, I'm going to go -- somewhere. To a beach, maybe and wade in an ocean. Maybe I go to Portugal and try and find relatives." She pointed a finger at the laptop. "What do you do to -- use internet?"
"Oh, I'd go to the library and use their wi-fi -- wireless connection --"
"We can't do that here?"
"Ah, you'd have to get your cable company to wire in the right cable hookups, and get what's called a router to send your wi-fi signal. Then we could access the internet." Gloria was bewildered by the sudden onrush of questions.
"See, I knew it would be a good idea to rent you a room. How would I know about any of this sitting here in the dark by myself with a TV older than you? I wasn't making it up when I said I needed your help, I just didn't know what it was I needed help with!"
Laughing, Gloria shook her head. "I didn't have any idea you would want to know about computers. Most people who didn't grow up with them seem to despise them."
"Look, I'm not kidding you when I say I feel better than I have for years. I was sick and didn't even know I was, just thought, oh, well, we all get old and feel like shit. Like crap, sorry. I must have been getting sick by the time my oldest boy was out of the house, that's when I noticed I was tired all the time.
"Now, I got so much energy it isn't even funny. Don't feel like a young girl again, but don't feel like an old woman so much any more."
"I'm so glad to hear this. You were looking pretty worn out there before Thanksgiving." This is it, I have to ask. "I don't want to change things, but I find myself wondering ... do you still really need an assistant cook in the Baker kitchen? You seem capable ... of handling everything."
"Shh. Bakers are good, good people. They know I been sick for years, try to take care of me. My vacation times come, I didn't have enough energy to want to do anything but my job. Bakers understand that, let me roll over my vacations. I got maybe three months of vacation accrued, if not more. If I take my vacation time, they have to have a good cook in the kitchen. That's you. Sure wasn't that poor fink Susa.
"I know I'm not the easiest person in the kitchen to get along with. We needed someone special, that can put up with my bossy ways. Never had an assistant before that I trusted all the way. Don't you worry about your job, Gloria. I need you, the Bakers need you. You're on the Baker House team. We all take care of you, too."
Her eyes suddenly stung with tears, and she turned away so Maria wouldn't see. I took the job in the kitchen because I had to find work, any work -- and this job turned into the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. "You know what?" she said, looking toward the kitchen, "I'm going to indulge in a little glass of wine this evening. It isn't every day you find out you made the team."
"You have a brilliant mind. You want the red bottle or the white?"
"White for me. You want the red, don't you?"
Maria pulled two small glasses out of the cupboard. "Of course. I need the extra vitamins."
Gloria poured wine into the glasses, slid into a kitchen chair. "Maria, I still don't know what to do with my family. It's only a week until Christmas, and I've done no shopping, made no plans ..."
"You're right, Christmas is coming like a freight train. You and me, we're done as soon as food hits the table at noon, then no work until day after New Year's. All paid, remember. Why you worry?"
"Eh, this whole last month and a half has been a roller coaster. Every other Christmas I can remember, we had our Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, presents appearing in piles under the tree bit by bit, big Christmas dinner, everyone -- everyone, my father was still alive -- loafing around the house playing with their gifts.
"This year, instead of Dad, we have Mr. Joe, my mother a newlywed, all us kids pissed off and resentful. What are we supposed to do?" she sipped the sharp and fruity white blend.
"Shut your eyes, Glory. How old are you this Christmas?"
"Twenty-three. I'll be twenty-four in March."
"What if you had got married when you were nineteen? What would you be doing for Christmas?"
Gloria opened her eyes and slapped her palm on the table. "You should have been a psychologist. You get right to the core of things. If I had a husband and a new family, I'd be doing Christmas at home, and inviting my parents and brothers to visit if they wanted to, and not really worrying if they had their own plans. But I'm not married yet, and my mother is going to expect me to --"
"Wait a minute, you telling me you can only honor your own household if you have a man in your bed?"
The younger woman was caught with her mouth hanging open in astonishment. "No, of course not!"
"You can call Stevo up tonight and tell him to marry you before Christmas and he'd do it as soon as he could get the marriage license, I bet you that."
A hot, burning sensation rose to Gloria's cheeks. "I can't do that. And he wouldn't, anyway."
"He's an idiot, but he's not stupid. He'd marry you in a second, but that's not my point. You don't have to have a house and a husband to make your own home, you can see that. Your mom took her own path, following her own instincts, doing what she wanted to do. You and your brother Will, you follow what you need to do. Won't he?"
"He will," she replied ruefully.
"You're older than he is. Decide what you want to do for your household, and do it."
"Uh, I don't have a household?"
"You're paying for a living space, and it doesn't matter if part of the living space is shared with me. You want to hang out here on Christmas, that's fine. You want to go snuggle in with Steve, no one can stop you. Your life, your Christmas. You say you and your brothers are pissed off, who can take that away from you? Your mom, she says, 'You can't be pissed, because I control your opinions?' "
Gloria tossed back the rest of the wine, focusing on the hot feeling in the back of her throat, following it down to her stomach. Christmas things had been brainwashed into her soul since she'd been old enough to watch the holiday TV shows, that Christmas was for Mommy and Daddy and Kiddies and staying together, holding hands around the tree, singing and swaying and every possible conflict was forgotten.
"How do you know all this?"
"I know everything, remember?"
Gloria glared at her reproachfully.
Maria chuckled a little. "Listen, I got married to a man who was the best ... best one of the bunch I was allowed to marry. I had kids because his family and mine wanted me to have kids. How I grew up, the wife, the woman, had to keep her mouth shut and do as she was told by husband and parents, didn't matter if I had a brain of my own. I did as I was told, and I remember every stupid decision I let someone else make for me, I remember how my heart was hurting, I remember every time I thought that I would never do that to anyone ever in my life.
"I can laugh about it now, a little bit sometimes, but I still remember it. I know now it didn't change the history of the world, or how my sons grew up, or how I live my life after Bedencourt died. So I tell you, do what you know to be the good thing, and don't let others push you into something you feel bad about."
She finished her wine as well. "And if you do, don't say I didn't tell you about this."