“And can you believe it? Good thing it’s over with.”
“And good thing you don’t have to go through that anymore. Oh, good for Tony for turning it around. He’s a good man. And he’s lucky to have you.”
“I’m just glad it’s over.”
“Don’t be modest, Mary. Poor summer. What a waste.”
Tony hobbled in with a platter of cheese. “What are you ducks quacking about?”
“Oh, just clothes and stuff,” Martha winked.
Joe rolled his eyes from the jukebox. “Do you have any Jan and Dean, Tony?”
“Did you hear Henry is walking already?”
“Oh, here we go,” Mary smirked.
“Is Davie walking, Joe?” Tony asked sliding the platter onto the center table.
“Davie is still crawling. He’s the fastest crawler there is.”
Martha lit up, prideful.
“Any Jan and Dean, Tony?”
“Joe and his Jan and Dean,” Martha chuckled.
Mary frowned sympathetically. “I’m gonna go grab some lemonade.”
She left the patio for the air conditioned kitchen still overheated by the buffet of finger foods sitting about the counters. An overwhelming wash of euphoria came over her. Wilson Phillips echoed from the garage and down their street. The neighbors were laughing civilly. Her kids were clean and white-collar, their wives hanging on their arms. Mary wanted to start sprinting. Instead, she took a deep breath and joined a conversation.
“And the doctor let me off fine but my hip might need surgery at one time or another.”
“Sorry to hear that, Frank,” Mary’s sister said.
“It’s time for us go anyway, Wendy. It’s about the kids now. All about the kids now. How old is Tommy anyway, Mary?”
“Thirty. They’re trying.” Mary leaned in. “They’re thinking about IVF. Dad and I are gonna come up with the cash as soon as we pay the lawyers off. We have to retain one special little one before we make another.”
Frank laughed, “Just how do you two do it?”
“It’s not easy. When Tony’s parents died, it was a wake-up call. We have to make it about the kids– just like what you said, Frank.”
Frank nodded, dignified with his insight.
“Peter is bed-wetting these days. His mom had the same problem. We’re gonna have to up the ante on his therapy.”
“Poor Peter,” Frank depressed.
“We’re doing the best we can.”
Wendy quaffed the rest of her soda and peeled away. She found herself in the den– her father’s old den. It was decorated with sticker typography celebrating “Life,” “Love,” and “Laughing” now. Facebook aspiration thrown up on the dated plaster walls wall-papered pink. Her father rebuilt the room for Mary in his last hour. He was selfless. Mary got the room with self-pity and praised the room with her self-pity. “I need it for my back, you know. The doctor prescribed fifteen minutes of upright sitting a day.” She didn’t let anyone forget it.
The house reeked of childhood memories– a reminder that she had made it this far and for what? She trudged through her entire life. What a thrill. The television was on– some homemaking show. A show specifically about cleaning. A co-host maneuvered back and forth with some handheld mop contraption while the host narrated. “Ya know, Donna, the best way to clean up caked-on dirt is to turn it into muddy waters and then wipe it clean. There’s really no other way!” The co-host brayed.
“Big Aunt Wen!”
“Would you look at the life of the party? My Little Little Nephew Pete.” Wendy lowered herself to her great-nephew.
“I’m the life of the party!” he said pointing with his thumb.
“You sure are. And you know–”
“Aunt Wendy,” Peter’s father said. “Peter, come here.”
Wendy stood up slowly. She took a step forward into the door frame and leaned with one foot resting on her shin. “Everything okay?”
“You been drinking, Aunt Wen?”
“Coke,” she sniffled.
He held Pete’s chest with the big palm of his hand.
“I’ll get you some water.”
Wendy rolled her eyes. She did an about-face to the straggling plastic wine glasses on the end tables in the den. An electronic frame passed photos of Pete and the boys– her beloved boys. She became choked up by the moment. She tossed the party cups into the garbage and sat at the kitchen table, hand on cheek. Mary was talking to Gary from across the street.
“I mean, he likes his Jan and Dean. She shames him for the smallest things. But maybe she doesn’t realize it. He’s been looking so.. beaten down lately.”
“I could tell he’s changed a little. Their dog died. Froze in the snow this past winter. Bones were weak.”
Pete set Wendy’s cup of water before her. Wendy kissed him on the nose.
“You know what? Martha did tell me about some doctor’s visits she’s had,” Mary started. “I think she’s started taking some kind of pill. She’s not taking it for this reason but it’s used to treat schizophrenia– will you excuse me?”
“Mom!” Mary’s eldest called from the living room. Her attention was doubly diverted. “Henry spat up on me. Can I throw this in the wash?”
“Sweetheart, I’ll dab it out,” his wife insisted.
“No, mom’ll do it,” he brushed her off. “Mom?”
Mary pardoned herself, glancing at her eldest grandson playing patty-cake with her sister. She waved her son to the basement. Wendy finished her water. She crushed the small plastic cup in her hand looking around for something else to do. Gary smiled at her discontentedly. Wendy smiled back with a crinkle in her nose.
She walked through the crowd of townsies talking about the simpler times when they were young yet the kids never knowing what hardships were like nowadays and it’s a shame their values were extinct. Looking to the future and looking to the past. Trivial talk. Trivial talk ending in definitive statements about it all not being about them anymore.
“Hey Trigger,” Wendy whispered to her childhood dog.
He barked, thrusting Wendy into a corner of embarrassment. Everyone quieted and then resumed their conversation. Wendy shot up shuffling through dressers of misplaced cutlery. She snatched the dog treats from behind a box of Life. Trigger leapt onto her chest. She let the bag go into his snatching mouth and watched where his hiding place would be. She heard him hacking the bag open from the top of the basement stairs. She also heard her sister.
“No, and she doesn’t even try. But that’s Blanca, you know?”
“You want to make sure you’re happy, son.”
“I think I’m happy, mom.”
“I just want you to make sure you’re happy. The happiest time of my life was and still is with Dad.”
The screen door swung open and then slammed shut crumpling into the lock latch.
“Let me see my nephew!”
Wendy looked. Mary flew up the stairs with the detergent in her hand. Wendy stumbled against her sister’s elbow.
“Now what in the world?”
“I’m calling the police,” Tony reassured his wife.
Wendy was frozen watching the front door from a distance; from the top of the basement stairs where her feet were glued.
“You guys are murderers, you know that? Domestic little Drew Peterson’s!”
“Aunt Deidre?” Pete said calmly and concerned.
“Yes, Deidre. Jenkins is her last name. No, Taylor. Taylor is her last name,” Tony scrambled on the phone. “I don’t know but can you hear this? Someone get here quick.”
“You people murdered my sister! You’re gonna raise him to be just like you!”
Gary and Frank grabbed her biceps dragging her around the front. She struggled. Wendy moved to her old bedroom facing the front yard. She pinched the blinds the length of an eye-slit, wide-eyed as the woman was pulled off the property. Her hair was wet. She yanked herself off crying into her knees. Gary and Frank moved back a bit. Their feet were square; their hands were symbolic shields for whoever this woman would attack.
When the police arrived, they patted her on the back and then lifted her by the arms.
Tony drew the blinds and shut the door. “No need to be out of control.” He laughed himself into a phlegmy cough over a bowl of chips.
The party resumed at Mary’s mercy. Everyone asked if she was okay.
“I think the lemonade calmed her a bit,” Martha chuckled.
Mary frowned sympathetically. The women covered their mouths from smiling.
“You’re too nice, Mary,” Martha insisted. “Look at you, detergent in hand and all.”
Joe switched a soundless Len Kasper to Olympic synopses on channel three. He shook his head and switched it back.
Wendy walked to her car choking on the air of the neighborhood– a murky well of entertainment and chitter-chatter. Every place was like it. Everyone prided themselves on their local gossip. No one neighborhood could establish rankings anywhere else. They were all they had. Talk about the past and the future was all everyone had after a while. If they could, they’d get everyone sucked in and stuck or chewed up and spat out like they were.
Life was no other way for her sister. Wendy’s life in solitude was no better. Wendy’s life in absolute solitude would be no better.
She tried to feel one last moment washed over with endearment but the notion wouldn’t complete itself. The sixth month of the year came and went– the hottest month of the year. She’d continue to trudge; to wait. She’d come back later to help clean up.