–Friday, June 28, 8:00 a.m.–
Susan Blankenship peers through sleep-sticky eyelids. Whether it’s the chattering magpies outside, the alarm’s monotonous snarl or baby Kerry’s “Mommy! Mommy!” crib-side call, she cannot say. But like it or not, she has been jarred awake into yet another in a string of days which she is certain are the unequivocal definition of infinity.
At breakfast, Kerry refuses cereal, eggs or yogurt like every other time. Meals are always a burden. Susan runs each option by her eighteen-month-old, the portable phone wedged between her chin and shoulder.
“Susan, I tell you, the stress is getting to me,” her older sister, Mary, is gushing from her office phone in what Susan imagines is some bustling and fashionable district in New York City.
She cannot know this for sure, never having been there, or to any city larger than Portland, Oregon, for that matter. Even then, her images of city life in Portland–of a park-like university district, a seedy waterfront where bums live for fortified wine, and steep urban hillsides decorated with the shiny picture windows of million-dollar homes and their multi-mountain views–fade with every year she stays on in remote Salish, Washington as the luckiest wife in the world.
“You’ve got it made, kiddo,” Mary’s voice rings with the accent she has adopted after living so many years away from home. “I’d give my front teeth to stay home with the kids.”
“Mary, you don’t have any kids. And someone cleans your apartment.”
Kerry, her dark hair swirled in fuzzy bedhead curls, holds her sippy cup in a daze, her eyes riveted to Sesame Street on the portable t.v. on the kitchen counter. “Mo’? Mo’?”
Susan refills. Kerry sucks.
“So why did you call, anyway?” Susan does not mean to sound rude, but there is still her shower, The Hugsy Club, groceries and a column to write before naptime. And always, the laundry.
“What, you have an appointment or something?”
“Is that so hard to imagine? You have no clue how busy–”
“Susan, nobody gets more than twenty-four hours–”
“When you give up your front teeth for children and do all your own laundry and scrub all your own toilets and begin washing your hands to rawness that blessed day, you’ll learn to acknowledge that all time is not alike.” There, she thinks, that’ll put big sister into place.
There’s a pause. “Hey, I just needed to spin my wheels, that’s all. Gotta big klatch with some French distributors who might be interested in pogs.”
Mary brokers small amusements: temporary tattoos, bubble guns, glow-in-the-dark whatever and, now, pogs. Her business sells such trinkets in massive quantities to big companies looking for trade show toys or dime-store merchants in resort towns who stock family-friendly crap. “The French. Who’da thunk they’d want pogs?”
“Well.” Susan refills again. Kerry sucks again. “Make them Jerry Lewis pogs and you’ll be a millionaire.” It’s a cheap, easy joke, she thinks.
“Damn, Susan!” Silence. “You gotta knack.”
“No,” Susan smiles, “I’m just bored, girl. B-O-R-E-D.”
A drip has formed on her bare back, a slow leak from long, wet hair pony-tailed with a braided band. In one of the women’s magazines she’s come to read blindly at the doctor’s office during Kerry’s many visits–for earaches, sinus infections, tummy aches and fevers, the usual and customary once-a-month routine–Susan read that hair pony-tailed while still wet will eventually break off. At the time, it concerned her. Now, with nails ragged from handwashing and cleaning, skin breaking out from her postpartum hormone rollercoaster ride, and sagging weight where her navel used to wink flatly, she has decided that wash-and-wear is worth the risk.
Susan can feel the drip tickle its way between her shoulder blades, just to the left of her spine. She leans against her dresser, turns a page. The drier and washer, busy spinning their loads, have delivered her a quiet moment of compulsive reading.
Kerry tugs at her towel then, which is still wrapped around Susan from the shower she had taken half an hour ago.
“What, honey?” Susan knows it isn’t good to let her irritation come across in the tone of her voice, but she thinks how Kerry seems always to burden her when she is reading, and the sound of vexation slips through anyway.
“Doba say too, Mommy. Sseepa. Doba.”
“That’s nice, honey.” Her teeth grind. She marks her spot in this latest issue of Mothers Underground and sets it on her dresser.
The editors of Mothers Underground theorize in their mission statement that “society refuses to embrace the dark side of motherhood; it is the side ignored by men, denied by working women, romanticized by the older generations.”
Susan could not help subscribing when she noticed all the stay-home mothers documenting in vivid detail the life she had so suddenly and haplessly assumed the day she had given birth to Kerry. So much of it reduced to the work of perpetual housekeeping:
The endless assault of laundry. The constant vacuuming and sweeping to keep the floors safe for Kerry’s cruising. The weekly toy soak in the mud sink. The straightening of the house–the toys, the books, the dolls Kerry dragged out constantly–at least three times a day, to keep the hallways and the living areas passable. Handwashing, before and after meals, before and after diaper changes, and constantly when she or Kerry–usually both of them–came down with a cold. Dishes, toilets, dusting. The labor seemed to Susan to be nonstop, in a way it had never been before Kerry was born.
This week’s newsletter has five writers, all of them publishing rants of motherhood under the safety of carefully chosen nom de plumes — Ariadne, Seersucker, PaulineK, Dot59, Hen-n-Chix.
When Susan contributes, she charades as CraterLake, a name she chose after her favorite childhood place, a deep blue pool of a lake in the Oregon Cascades with a dormant volcano island in its center. She’d reminded Kyle just last week that they ought to take Kerry down there, how it could be a nice trip, and didn’t he think it was time they’d taken a family vacation?
“I don’t know,” Kyle had said, eyes on the road. They’d been driving home from the cannery, with fresh oysters packed in a cooler in the back of his forest service vehicle. Kerry’d napped, her face glossy with the warm sweat of sleep in the blue velour-padded car seat that Kyle called her throne.
“What do you mean? Don’t you ever want to get away? Doesn’t Salish get boring to you?”
Of course, Kyle would never be bored, she thought. He traveled frequently for the state as a specialist in forestry. Wildfires division. Whenever the state flared up, he left. Big fires in Oregon, Idaho, even California meant he’d be gone as well, obliged to take part in interstate fire-service reciprocation. Between April and December, Kyle Blankenship was away from his wife–the luckiest wife in the world–fifty percent of the time, without respect for the division of weeks to weekends, of days to nights.
Life can never be redundant for people like Mary and Kyle, Susan thinks as she peruses the newsletter’s latest columns between loads of laundry. Hen-n-Chix rants about tedium, while Ariadne questions the social reduction of a stay-home mother’s time: “If time is a commodity, mine was surely bought for me when I became a mother, pulled from a K-Mart clearance rack and given to me like a gift in afterthought, except it doesn’t fit, the color doesn’t become me and there’s a rip in the seat of it besides! Should I be surprised to know I can’t return it? Not without a receipt. Such bargains are always final.”
At this, Susan chuckles. Time is her particular foe, as well.
Seersucker demonstrates “the rule of the longest line” as a way to recapture personal time away from the kids. And PaulineK argues –ever the devil’s advocate– that it isn’t white-male domination which historically squelches female artistic expression, but the voluntary acts of motherhood and housework.
“Hey, PK, put two and two together, would ya?” Susan hoists one full basket of laundry to her hip and, propping the newsletter in her left hand, walks down the hallway lost in her reading.
“Sabo dobby, Mommy! See? See?”
“That’s nice, honey.”
Kerry starts crying, stomping. “Doba! Sseepa! SSEEPA!”
Susan rebalances the basket on her hip, then turns to her daughter. “Five minutes, please! Can’t I just take back a measly five minutes of my life?”
Susan thanks God the light has turned red. It will give her time to plan. Groceries now or after The Hugsy Club? She consults the list.
something for snacks on Tues
There isn’t much. Kyle is, naturally, gone for the weekend. His absence has made for cheaper living at the Blankenship residence, Susan thinks. If she could be grateful for living the life of a single mother while still being married–at least, technically speaking–it is because there is no longer the expectation of hot, home-cooked meals to meet, come dinnertime, that had plagued her at the beginning of her motherhood.
Susan’s lucky pocketwatch, wound around the stem of the rear-view mirror, warns her she has only thirty minutes before The Hugsy Club. Can she do it? The Grand General, Salish’s elegant antique grocery, beckons kitty-corner from her position at the light.
Susan gauges the weather. It’s too warm to leave food in the trunk. She’ll have to bring the milk inside, the yogurt, the chicken fingers. There’s a fridge in the playroom kitchen area, she recalls. If she buys her groceries now, Kerry’s naptime would come early today, and then she might finish her column on “the socially expected expansion of household tasks to fill time.” Her concept is a political and domestic variant upon a specific rule about time which she cannot recall fully.
She still suffers from new mother memory.
With Kerry’s early naptime to free her, Susan knows she can dig up the information she needs to finish the piece.
Groceries in thirty minutes? Time would just have to contract for her, she thinks with a grin. No problem.
The light changes. Susan waits for left-turn traffic to cruise through the light before pulling into the lane herself. It annoys the drivers of the cars behind her. Too bad, she thinks. I’m a mom. Get out of my way. I have my burdens. You can wait.
In the store, Kerry toddles. A piece of Betty Andresen’s homemade sourdough sprouts from her chunky fist like a crumbling baton. The register ticks off items as the checker scans their bar codes.
“Fifty-four thirty nine.”
Susan checks her distorted reflection in the round security mirror hanging high above the counter. She tries not to seem surprised. She had not expected the bill to top fifty bucks. There are only three bags of groceries.
It must be the ginseng, she rationalizes as she pens the check. Or maybe the peppermint foot soap or the little chocolate cookies shaped like cartwheels.
It isn’t until after Kerry has played ring-around-the-rosies with her pint-sized playmates that Susan remembers the milk, the chicken, the yogurt.
“Where you going?” Amanda Bennett’s mother calls out after her as Susan rushes out down the primary-colored hallway of The Hugsy Club.
“I’ve got groceries–”
She waves as if the motion will finish her sentence for her.
Under the yawning trunk lid of Susan’s Volvo, Charlotte Bennett helps her separate the perishables into a single bag to carry back to the park district playroom. “I do this, too. All the time.”
“I swear I lost my mind with the afterbirth.”
“We all do. But it comes back.”
The milk carton drips with sweat, and the chicken box has grown a frosty skin. Susan shrugs. “These are salvageable. Most of it’s for Kerry Berry, anyway.”
“The kids don’t notice,” Charlotte confides.
“Jesus, Kerry Berry! Just eat! Eat!” Susan tries to wedge the crooked pink spoon into her daughter’s mouth, but it only crashes into other blossoms of applesauce already dappling the girl’s roly-poly cheeks.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Kerry’s eyes swell with tears. “Sseepa! SSEEPA!”
“Sseepa…” Susan blinks. “Sleep? You wanna sleep? Slee-py?”
Bingo. The grin that spreads across her little girl’s face is certifiably cherubic.
Brahm’s lullaby twinkles down the hallway. Kerry has fallen into comfortable slumber.
The kitchen clock has solved Susan’s earlier puzzle about laws of time. She had looked up at its flat white face and read the tiny script which arced under the twelve: Parkinson Timeworks. When she went into the study to grab some new books to read to Kerry, she did a quick check in her Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and sure enough, it had been Parkinson’s Law:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Ah. She wrote it down on a sheet of shopping list paper and tucked the quote into the small stack of notes she had already written and collected on the subject of housework politics. She’ll get to it tonight, she decided, after Kerry is safely tucked in for the night.
But for now, it is time to finish more laundry, time to sweep up Kerry’s lunchtime mess, time to disinfect the diaper changing pad, time to pick up the toys…
With legs perched against the edge of the kitchenette table and ankles crossed, Susan cracks a new, glossy journal. With her chores successfully completed, it is now storytime for Mommy.
Susan loves to read, mostly short stories for their intensity, escape and convenience. Unless she dozes off, she can visit three, even four new and alien worlds in a single naptime. God knew, if Kyle wouldn’t take her on a real vacation, she could at least count on this, her intellectual exodus, however temporary it might be for her.
She folds open The Oyster Shell, a regional anthology funded by a group of aesthetes in a commune near Hoodsport. They are the same folks who organized a writer’s colony during the summer months. The same writer’s colony she has often wondered about.
Writer’s colony. What did they do at such places? Obviously, they wrote, but surely there was something more interesting than that going on. Extramarital affairs? Orgies? Junk food feeding frenzies? Alcoholism? Religious indoctrination?
It seems to her that writers who needed real time to write should be less inclined to be around more people, and more inclined to be around less people.
Though she wonders what it would be like, to go to one of these events, to socialize with other grownups, to exist for a time where the only housework would be wiping out the bathroom sink after she used it, and probably with one of those delicate little paper guest towels that would never see the inside of her own bathrooms, not now, not while Kerry was still exploring her usual and customary fascination with unrolled toilet paper.
Susan had been a writer once. Just a columnist for The Beacon cranking out recipe copy on a weekly basis. She had been, in fact, the food editor. If you could call it a position, being a food editor for a small coastal town where everyone is mostly eating the same thing every night: something previously frozen, then fried, that they’d picked up at the Costbreaker on a trip into Warrenton. Though she hastily asserted to any who would ask–including Kyle during their first date–that she had earned a degree in English from PSU, to make it clear to anyone who would ask that she was never, had never been, Sally Homemaker.
She was a real writer, after all. Just because Salish was too small to offer anything in the field for which she was best trained did not make her an unskilled person.
After their daughter’s birth, Susan’s ambitions, which had made her so appealing to Kyle in the first place, had begun to take on an unpleasant quality. He seemed to resent her late nights checking recipes, doing research, reading food magazines.
“You should be in bed,” he would tell her. And she would tell him that it was the only good time for her to get her work done.
“You don’t need to work, I make enough money. Heck, Susan, I like it when I can say that I have a wife at home. It’s downright cool. So let me boast, would you? To some people, you are the luckiest woman in the world,” he told her when she complained about trying to keep deadlines and naptimes simultaneously.
And then feelings of dread began to creep in, surrounding thoughts of deadlines, of the insignificance of writing about food, and she began to grow edgy over her assignments. As well, she felt from her husband a growing pressure to fill a more traditional role. Kyle continued to expect a clean house and food on the table at dinnertime even with the blending of her part-time work with the demanding task of caring for Kerry and keeping up the household.
Secretly, Susan wished her Kerry Berry would grow up quickly, become a maintenance-free adult. She suspected that only then would she be able to regain what used to be Her Life, an identity that, for now, seems to slip perpetually through her fingers like so much spent sand. Until then, she has decided that at least she has her vicarious joyrides through The Oyster Shell to buoy herself.
Besides the evenings, the only other time Susan has ever managed to find time to read anything has been during expeditions to Long Beach with Kerry, when she manages fifteen-minute forays into The Oyster Shell in her low-slung canvas chair, at least until Kerry ambles too near the surf for Susan’s comfort zone. Almost all the issues of her subscription have met beach sand, open-faced, at one time or another.
In this, the latest issue, a trickle of sand sifts from a space in the cracked perfect binding. There are two stories left to read.
Susan starts with one entitled “Homer’s Loop,” but ends it half-read, the tale’s momentum suddenly sacrificed to the seductive invasion of a cat’s nap.
The magazine slaps the floor, waking Susan. After a spike of iced peppermint tea, she clears her head and finishes “Homer’s Loop,” the story of a man who keeps repeating his mistakes while never recognizing them. Poor soul, she thinks. I’d hate to spin my wheels like that.
The back cover sports head shots of the anthology’s editors. A couple of them are gray-haired women; they remind her of her Grandma Tess, who lived to be ninety-nine and raised eight children, ran a farm and still managed to put together a quiet, beautiful little book of poems about her solitary life as a homesteader’s wife.
One of the editors is obviously Native American. Two are clever-looking bald-headed men in ties and spectacles. Naturally.
And there’s a youngish woman. Straight hair around oval face. No smile. Wrinkles. Deep-set eyes. Frieda Domini. Educated at WSU. Published author. Creative writing critic for the colony and traveling workshop speaker.
Mother of five.
Susan wonders about these women, how they manage to create anything when they live lives so overburdened with children, with the demands of their husbands.
She didn’t sleep at all the night Kyle formally asked her to quit. He did not do it on bended knee, not in any sensitive fashion. No, Kyle simply told her, as they climbed into bed for the night, to quit her job. He pulled more than his share of the comforter around him and turned over to face the wall. Before she could reply, Kerry began to cry. He got the rest of the comforter for the rest of the evening.
Dreams about writing the Great American Novel–dreams about writing anything, even recipes using condensed soup–whittled themselves away on the shavings of his words. And that was that.
Afterward, she couldn’t find any believable explanation for the way her energy plummeted after that. Her need for sleep increased and her desire to create vanished. As did her desire for sex. She began to spend whole days doing nothing but cleaning, not because she wanted to, but because she knew that if she didn’t, reclaiming a clean house would become an endless game of catching up, a kind of failure she feared more than the drudgery of day-to-day housewifery. Stay-home mothers are supposed to be tidy and on top of things, so organized that they should always be able to make time for the husband, the children, even for themselves, if they are extremely vigilant. Susan was certain that if she lost the battle with housekeeping, she would never find her way back to herself, a path already made dark and narrow, like an unlit tunnel at night, by motherhood.
Other mothers seemed to adapt to their voluntary sentences, which angered Susan all the more. They, all of them, seemed so satisfied, though none of them pursued personal dreams, at least not covertly. Somewhere in there, she suspected there existed a great, huge lie.
SherryAnn Caruthers was an exception to that observation. She painted nude women in her basement until her husband found out. Rumor had it he suggested they start a swinger’s club after he saw SherryAnn’s uncanny images of Karen Storke in a gallery in Long Beach. Karen is one of the women in Salish who the local men quietly obsess about.
And why not? Susan wasn’t surprised. Karen is thin, bosomy. Childless. And by virtue of that, lively and creative and sexual like mothers simple could never really be. Of this, Susan was certain.
Susan is staring into the bathroom mirror, splashing water on her face, pinching the layer of fat on her hips that hasn’t gone away since Kerry’s birthday. Poking at breasts which were once round and voluptuous, but now only hang, half full, under her sweatshirt.
Are they really half full, she wonders, suddenly. Or am I just half empty?
Kerry starts to cry before Susan can start in with this newest obsession. Naptime over. This time, it’s relief she feels.
The only other time Susan has ever been to Hoodsport was when she and Kyle had wedded in a quaint, white-washed chapel in Cathlamet. As the newly married Blankenship couple, they honeymooned in the salty little marina town a few hours’ drive north of there. The town had waited brightly for them along the southwestern shore of Hood Canal. A private landowner there had held a special cabin just for the happy couple.
Of course, Kyle had arranged it all. He had always been the one with the best connections, though, truth be told, if Susan had participated in their plans, she would have insisted they go to Hawaii instead.
Her decision to leave for Hoodsport today has developed so simply that Susan wonders why she hasn’t thought of it before. Kyle is in southern Oregon anyway, speaking at some conference about helicopter drop techniques for firefighters. He won’t be back until Monday afternoon. It occurs to her that he might be a bit disappointed that she didn’t make the trip to Hoodsport with him. After all, it is the place where they consummated their union. But Susan shrugs off such concerns. She’s not going to go to the place where they honeymooned, after all. She may be many things, but she has never been sentimental. Especially when it came to her marriage.
Kerry wolfs down a pbj sandwich while Susan rushes to pack a bag. Rushes. She tells herself there isn’t time to waste. That Frieda Domini and her five kids are not going to be receptive if she and Kerry show up, road-weary, at dinner time.
That would be rude and insensitive.
Two bags, then three finally emerge in a ready mound under the mirror in the foyer, along with Kerry’s collapsed play pen and nonperishable groceries still in their bags from the Grand General. Susan wonders why it doesn’t bother her today, packing all these loose items meant for every possibility like she is leaving for the moon or some other place where there aren’t any stores.
Before they leave the house, Susan empties the dishwasher, takes out the trash, and does a final load of laundry. For a change, she leaves Kyle’s folded things on their bed.
He ought to know where his clothes go by now, she decides.
Snap, buckle, tug. Kerry gurgles in her throne in the Volvo’s back seat, sippy cup wrapped in pudgy fingers. “Mommy, Mommy.”
“That’s me,” Susan chortles, almost delirious. “I’m Mommy.” It is all I have been for far too long, she thinks.
She half-rolls down all the windows in the car to let the hot June afternoon escape the car’s dark interior.
“Frieda Domini, here I come.” The car hitches into gear, grabs pavement and leaves behind a swirl of dust and bouncing gravel, which disturbs a pair of magpies sitting along the gutters at the front of their cedar-sided home.
Yawning, Susan watches the reflection of Kyle’s house–he’d built most of it himself–recede in the finite shape of her driver’s-side mirror. She’d never thought it was hers, ever.
Her lucky watch swings with the motion of a car like a pendulum.
Susan barely sees the woman. They are just west of Longview, in the winding, pine-shadowed bluffs near Mt. Solo, where hitchhiking cannot be more treacherous. Each bend winds blind, no good for pedestrians who must half-walk, half-crawl down the sloped sides of the narrow two-lane road just to stay erect and visible to traffic. Log trucks roar through this corridor. Susan marvels that the woman hasn’t already been knocked into the ditch by their backdrafts.
The hitcher is Native American, plainly tired, but nonthreatening in cut-off jeans and slippery Huskies jersey. She has no pack. Headed for Monroe, she says. When Susan tells her she isn’t sure where that is, the woman nods.
“North of Seattle, but I’ll take it to the end of your line.”
“I can take you as far as Olympia,” Susan offers. An awkward moment passes when she decides whether the woman should ride up front with her. Although there is space enough beside Kerry–all bright eyes and busy hands in the back seat–the thought of putting a stranger next to her only-born frays Susan’s maternal selvage.
Stopping for hitchhikers has never been Susan’s style, though neither is taking spontaneous day trips like this one with Kerry to Hoodsport.
Susan grabs her magazine from the front seat, throws it on the dash and motions for the woman to sit.
“Name’s Kali, with a K and an I,” the stranger smiles as she settles in, pulling the lap belt over and locking it into place. Kali thumbs at Kerry. “Cute. How old?”
“That’s Kerry Berry. Well, Kerry. She’s eighteen months. Got kids?” Susan pulls the car away from the road’s side.
“Naw, though I got lots of nieces and nephews. While I was away my sisters pumped ’em out, three, six, nine. Maybe more. I dunno.”
“And where do they live?”
“The Tulalip rez? North of Everett. We’re Swinomish, eh?”
Susan nods, though she doesn’t know to tell one tribe from another. “Going home, then?”
Susan raises her eyebrows.
“I work in Monroe by the State Reformatory. I’m a counselor for female Indian inmates at a halfway house not far from there. Soul-sweating’s what I call it.”
“That’s a fine calling.” A convert? Thank God.
“Well, didn’t pick it myself. I’d already been there.”
“I spent time in the lady’s pen. Got out on good behavior, so the state nailed me for missionary work.”
Susan blinks. An ex-con? Dear God. She glances into the rear-view’s reflection; Kerry pages innocently through Richard Scarry’s Things To Know. Beyond her child’s harmless shape, Susan notices the logging truck behind her bearing down so closely that all she can see is its grille and license plate.
“Oh, don’t worry!” Kali giggles. “I didn’t hurt nobody, eh?” Her voice sounds like trickling snowmelt. Cool, pure, sweet. Not the laugh of a hardened criminal.
Susan edges the Volvo off the road to allow the logger to pass. “Damn truckers!”
“I know! Aren’t loggers the worst?”
Susan brings the Volvo to the road again. It’s the silence filling the car which inspires them both to speak at once.
“Oh, look! It’s The Oyster Shell!” Kali says as Susan begins to ask why Kali is in this part of the state, so far from the penitentiary. The woman picks the journal gently from the dash. “I love this magazine!”
Susan relaxes and drops her question. “Oh?” Steering deftly, she dodges flying bark and other logging shrapnel which the truck leaves in its wake.
“Yeah! Read every one since they sent me up. Lots of time for reading, eh?” Kali flips through the pages. “‘Homer’s Loop.’ Did you read it? About that guy who kept buying tumbledowns to rehab? How he kept losing his shirt for it?”
Susan nods, smiles. “Just today.”
“Imagine doing the same thing over and over, never getting the drift.”
“The Drift. I don’t need to imagine it.” Susan chuckles. “At least the over-and-over part.”
Kali snickers. “S’pose it’s the same with me. Every day for years. Up at six. Oatmeal for breakfast. Ironing `til noon. Then, peas and applesauce and chicken, then reading until lockdown. Every night, every day, without no sunshine to keep it all separate. `Cept for weekends.” She shakes her head. “Time in the pen. It’s like one big-ass loop. `Homer’s Loop’, I guess. `Cept I learned from my time.”
Susan swallows. Don’t be impolite, she thinks. But she is curious, all the same. “What–”
“–did I do?” Kali sighs. “Armed robbery.” She looks over her shoulder at Kerry, who now swings her legs, one after the other, to the rhythm of some imagined melody. “Let’s just say I needed some money for drugs, so one day, me and my friend, we borrowed my cousin’s hunting rifles and held up a place. They weren’t loaded, eh?”
“Wow. I would have never guessed.” Susan isn’t being entirely polite. Kali’s story seems, to her, to have the glamorous quality of a Hollywood script. She’s not sure why she doesn’t believe it, because in a way, she wants to.
Traffic crowds the business route through Longview. Kerry peeps once, twice. “Mo’?” Susan pulls into a Dairy Queen drive-through and fills a sippy cup with milk to placate her daughter.
“Wish I had one of them.” Kali eyes Kerry with reverence. “Just can’t get close to men that way. Not like I don’t want to have sex or nothing, but it seems all the guys I know just treat women like whores.”
Susan stares at her, startled.
Kali stiffens. “Sorry, guess I shouldn’t talk like that around her.”
“Oh, no, it’s not that,” Susan waves it off. How many columns in Mothers Underground had repeated this very sentiment? “She doesn’t know what you’re saying. Anyway, it’s not exactly untrue.”
“You married?” Kali sucks at a milkshake through a straw which squeaks as it moves through the hole in the lid. She regards the ring on Susan’s finger.
“For eight years.”
“Whoa,” she laughs. “I don’t know how that could be better than jail time. Least there’s no expectations in jail. No funny ideas about happiness. Jail’s one big, long sweat. Do it right and you come out cleaner than rushwater after a three-day rain.”
Susan laughs — raucously, wickedly — as she pulls the Volvo onto the cloverleaf which spills Route 432 into I-5. In the back seat, Kerry parrots with a high-pitched squeal, her sippy cup held above her like a trophy.
They are suddenly, clearly, a team, she realizes.