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November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

Place Settings 26

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Twenty-six: Secrets

Ben had gone home, Steve had gone back to his apartment to begin packing for his move to Sonoma. Maria claimed her recliner, and Gloria curled up in the armchair. The New TV lit the dark room, the sound of it muted.

"There's something I don't understand about your family's friendship with this Lolo-girl. You and Ben worry about her, Will liked her, from what I could see when he was here on Christmas, and your mother liked her enough to give her a place to stay when her job ended. What has happened that your mother -- Philli, right? -- is no longer taking care of her friend? They have a fight?" Maria looked at Gloria so intently that Gloria thought she might begin to sweat.

"No, suddenly Mom had a husband. And I don't know why Mom decided out of the blue to cut Lolo off, but frankly I think it was -- is -- a kind of jealousy." Okay, I can run with this line, I think. She clasped her hands on her knee. "My mother is beautiful, but only started taking care of her beauty when she met Joe. Lolo is a stunner, was a stunner when I met her last spring at Dad's funeral. I think ... I think my mother doesn't want another beautiful woman hanging around her new husband, especially a beautiful woman who knows cars and how men like their cars." That sounds convincing even to me.

"Beautiful? Are we talking about the same Sad Girl Lolo who was here?" Maria sputtered incredulously.

"Oh, that's Lolo the Real Person, not Lolo the Looker. Here, I'll show you. Ben got our waitress to take a picture of us when we got together for breakfast before Christmas." She thumbed through the images on her phone, and found the group portrait, all of them smiling and flashing victory signs. Zooming in on the photo, she highlighted Lolo. "She calls it her 'war paint' for when she's at work selling cars."

"Holy shit, how does she do that?" Maria clapped a hand over her mouth. "Sorry, just took me by surprise." She waved her hands in the air. "Now I get it, and I think you're right. If I had a husband I wanted to keep around, I wouldn't want Lolo hanging around him, either. Remember how she sat up and bam! -- suddenly she was the boss? Ah, you combine that look with this look, and you got --"

"The best darn car salesman on the floor, you better believe it. She's selling cars better than any of the guys there."

Maria squinted at her. "You don't worry about Steve falling for her?"

Gloria laughed. "One, I'm bigger than she is. And two, younger. And three, maybe most importantly, I can cook."

"Also, your beauty doesn't wash off at night. You look the same in the morning as you do when you show up for work. You don't worry about it, either."

"I don't, at least not since I was done getting pimples at sixteen ... I thought my mother was overreacting, but you seem like you agree with her ...?

Maria sighed. "I can understand how she wants to make her marriage solid all by herself. You don't need to bring your glamorous friends along on your honeymoon.

"We should invite her over at New Year's, she shouldn't have to stay in that shitty -- that rundown house over a crazy holiday. You call her, ask her."

"I will. I'll text her, she's at work right now."

Gloria texted Lolo:

Hey, what are you up to on New Year's Eve? You want to come over after work?

"There, I invited her. I'm sure she's on the sales floor, we'll hear from her when she's between customers or on break."

"Is a different world for you and your friends than it was for me," Maria said. "Here in this house, with the dairy business being the -- Everything -- back in my young days, we didn't have so many issues. I had my life, married to Bedencourt, and nothing else. Maybe it was a trade off. I had security, a good place to live, stability, didn't have to worry about where I was going to live or the job market, or the government's economy. Cows are cows, milk is milk, and you just produced what the market would take -- and we were lucky, because California wanted lots of milk for cheese, the mozzarella, the cheddar, the Mexican cheeses."

"But you were unhappy," Gloria stated. "What's better, the uncertainty, or knowing that every day would be miserable?"

"I don't know," Maria replied. "I never had the uncertainty. I always had the miserable, and I didn't have the imagination to think about what could be. Always told how to be, always told the choices. No 'outside the box' like you kids have, you know?"

"But you never just dreamed about something different, when you were a girl, before your marriage?"

"No. I grew up on a dairy, we had no TV, only outside information was church and neighbors and relatives. What the hell do you do with that? You either get married or become a nun. Maybe if someone had showed me Bedencourt naked before I got married, being a nun would have been more appealing."

Gloria smiled. "If someone had said, 'Here's a picture of Bedencourt naked' you wouldn't have looked at it. Or if someone had, your father would have thrown them out the door before you could see it."

Laughing, Maria hitched the recliner foot-rest up. "You are right, all around. People keep secrets for reasons, is almost funny when I think of that now. Almost. What secrets got kept from you and your brothers?"

A snort escaped Gloria. Lolo and Dad, number one. Not going there. "That we could be poor and desperate. That we'd have to work hard to survive. That there are more important things than being like the rich kids in the school or being the richest kids in the school with the most -- stuff. That growing up and being responsible is a choice, not a jail sentence.

"I'm kind of embarrassed now -- I should have completed a four year college degree about a year ago. But I wanted to do the basics at Modesto Junior College because it was only a few minutes away from home, and I wasn't motivated enough to be in the first to sign up for the core requirement classes, and Dad didn't think there was any need for hurry about it ... so here I am, didn't even complete the two year degree.

"On the other hand, until this job showed up in my future, I didn't even know what to dream about. There was nothing I wanted to do, except hanging out with friends and going clubbing. Now, there's nothing else I want to do but cook. I love it. I dream about making food and tasting it. I dream about putting the prep bowls and potatoes away where they belong, and when I wake, I can't wait to get back to it."

"And now here you are, with a week off, and no cooking. What you want to cook tomorrow? Kitchen is all yours."

"Hmm. We got all that turkey ..."

"Don't mind turkey, I get them mostly for staff, give them something good Bakers might not think of. Crap, I didn't pay you for them, I do that tomorrow. You remind me."

"I won't. You'll either remember, or not. It's not a problem for me, not now, not when you let me rent a room for a lot less than the market does."

"Oh, hey, that reminds me. Can you use your internet to look up what happens when you turn on a toilet that hasn't been used for years? I had my son Rafael turn off the toilet in Bedencourt's room after he died, that so many years ago. After we cleaned, I think we should make the house functional, make it work all over." Maria leaned on the arm of her recliner. "Can you look it up now, then we can try it in the morning when we can scream and call a plumber if I flood the bathroom?"

Gloria got up and retrieved her laptop from a side table by the stairs. After a short search on the computer, she said, "Shouldn't be a problem, we just gradually turn on the water valves behind the toilet bowl, make sure nothing is leaking. If the seals and valves don't leak, you're in business."

"Business." Maria's voice sounded amused. "I used to tell my boys, 'Do your business and don't make a mess.' I think most of the time they just went out and did their business in the cow pens."

"Eww," Gloria replied.

"Hey, there's a reason I don't drink milk. You live on a dairy, you either don't drink milk or you pray to God all the scientific junk really works. Me, I don't believe in science enough to wade through all the cow shit."

"That's ... TMI -- too much information ... but come to think of it, I have never seen you use milk in anything. You used soy or almond milk in puddings, is that the Baker's choice, or yours?"

"I tell Martha about the dairy business, she says use almond or soy. Cream is a problem, though, hard to make some dishes with anything but dairy cow cream. We pay extra and get organic."

"Your mother never used milk or cream when you were growing up, then."

"Oh, we did, but always had the house cow for that, she was clean and -- a pet. We gave her baths and I sat on her back while she grazed in the yard, out back of the house. She was a Brown Swiss, never got dirty like the Holsteins. Lived a long time, was still the house cow when I got married."

Gloria was silent for a while. "A house cow. My mother had a pot on the patio for growing some chard in the winter, but other than that, we didn't know what grew or lived on the land, except for lemons, which our neighbor was always giving us, to get rid of his excess. We knew that Will's friend Pete lived on an almond farm, but what that actually meant -- we were clueless."

"People don't know where the food comes from," Maria intoned. "Maybe if they did things would be a lot different. But that doesn't change my question. What do you want to cook tomorrow?

"I was thinking about a pork roast. I haven't had one since we visited my aunts in Denver when I was a little kid. Will was a toddler, Ben hadn't even been born, my aunts didn't cook much, but they contracted with a neighbor to cook and share a big-ass pork butt roast. It was a big party, and what I remember was that the pork was tender and juicy. Mom never made a butt roast herself ... but I actually dreamt about it the other night. I thought that it could be a great dish with mashed potatoes and gravy, and that the leftovers could make a terrific chili for New Year's Eve."

"Good idea. Now see, you make me hungry all night. Bakers don't do much pork, and a big roast would have been too much just for me. You're going to have to start it early, though. Cook him low and slow."

"Lolo just sent a text message -- she'll be here on Monday after work. Her boss is closing the shop at three so they can all spend time with their families."

"Wait, don't tell me. Lolo has no family, that's why she stays in that ugly house."

"Her family is down in the Los Angeles area. She told me the gang stuff going on there was not something she wanted to ever have to deal with again ... her brothers were involved somehow. I don't know a lot about it -- she felt like she'd made an escape somehow and never wanted to go back."

"I don't think I'd call her living in that neighborhood across town much of an escape," Maria frowned.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-05-31
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
04:19:17 PM
This is a good example of why Gloria and Maria work so well together. They are friends, first and foremost, interested in each other's feelings and lives. Maria has become Gloria's mother; Gloria is the daughter Maria never had. Though neither is a child/daughter or a young adult/mother, they are still learning the definition of family that has escaped them until now.
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