Stacey Baer closed the door of the cab as a sheet of rain slammed the side of the vehicle. Victory over the weather cheered her considerably until she saw the congested roads ahead. She groaned and opened her brief case removing a small laptop. The long trip home would be well spent marking portions of the deposition she took today. As she worked, her cell phone rang.
“Baer,” she answered.
“Stacey, it’s Doug.”
“So help me God, if you cancel on me—”
“Babe, this dinner is just as important to me as it is to you.”
“Obviously not, Douglas.”
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
He hung up without waiting for her reply, trusting that she would give him another chance. Whether or not she forgave him wasn’t his concern.
Stacey tried not to obsess about being stood up again. Instead, she turned her thoughts to dinner and the fact that nothing had been defrosted. Perhaps there was still a carton of Chinese in the fridge. Forty-five minutes later, she unlocked the door to her apartment and walked into the smell of cooking.
“Mom?” she called.
“In here, honey,” Golda Baer replied.
Stacey found her mother in the kitchen pulling a roast chicken from the oven. A platter of latkes and bowl of warm applesauce had been paced in the middle of the table.
“Grab some plates and pour the wine,” Golda said.
“Mom, what are you doing?”
“Making dinner, what does it look like?”
“Doug and I made reservations at Piatto.”
“Well, he called and cancelled your dinner plans.”
“Did you listen to my messages again?”
“No, I answered the phone when he called. Now sit down and let’s eat.”
Stacey slammed her briefcase and purse on the countertop. “Mom, I love you, but you cannot keep making these intrusions into my life. I gave you a key to my apartment for emergencies.”
“This is an emergency. I’m trying to feed my unmarried daughter who always eats alone, and when she does eat, it’s takeout.”
“Yes, well, I really just want you to leave,” Stacey said. “Mom, did you hear me? Please put down the chicken and go.”
“I don’t understand this. I just want to have dinner with my daughter.”
“You don’t respect me or my choices, so… ”
“What? You choose to be single and take every meal by yourself? That’s not healthy. I’m being kicked out because you chose a putz for a boyfriend?”
Stacey walked to the door and opened it. She couldn’t look at her mother when Golda passed.
– – – – –
Theo Baer tapped decorative finish nails into the chair he was reupholstering. He heard the door to his workshop open and his mother call out Hello.
“Over here, Ma,” he said with nails held between his lips.
“Theo, what on earth are you doing?” Golda asked.
“Finishing this chair, what does it look like?”
Golda harrumphed. “That old thing? I thought it had been thrown on the trash heap years ago.”
“Do you remember the chair?”
“Of course I remember it. How could I forget the chair your father died in?”
“Yes, well, I thought you would remember it as the chair he spent so much time in while he was alive,” Theo said.
“I remember he watched endless baseball in that chair while I raised you kids.”
“And he read bedtime stories to me and the girls every night,” Theo offered weakly. “I wanted to surprise you by fixing it up.”
“Oh, you surprised me all right. Surprised me by leaving a perfectly good job as a stock broker to become a carpenter. I should have named you after he whose name shall not be mentioned. How do you expect to support your family playing at this?” Golda gestured to Theo’s saw-dusted covered clothes. “Besides, that fabric is the wrong color.”
“What do you mean? I took a swatch of the old fabric with me to choose. It is twenty years old. I did the best I could.”
Golda waved her hands to dismiss her son’s comment. “That’s not the point. Green was never the right color for that chair to begin with. You should have asked me and I could have told you blue would have been a much better choice.”
“Well, I‘m asking you now, Ma, to please—just leave.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“What wrong? Ma, I can’t take your constant criticism anymore. Or your disappointment. Nancy totally supports my decision to take over Dad’s furniture business.”
“Nancy gave up grad school to open a flower shop,” Golda said.
“Please, Ma, make sure the door latches on the way out.”
– – – – –
Gwen Baer was exhausted after a night of grading test papers. She turned back the covers and was about to slip into bed when she heard the doorbell ringing insistently. With a groan, she dragged herself downstairs to the front door.
“Momma, what are you doing here at this hour of the night?”
Golda brushed past her youngest daughter and looked around. “Are you alone?”
“Of course I am. Who did you expect to find here?”
“Well certainly not your husband.”
“Ex-husband, Momma. Rick is my ex now,” Gwen sighed.
“You didn’t waste any time relegating him to that role, now did you?”
“What did you expect? We are divorced.”
“Never mind. I came by to make sure you made it home okay.”
“You can see that I did.”
“This neighborhood isn’t so good, Gwenie.”
“Momma, we’ve been over this several times. I couldn’t afford the house I shared with Rick after the divorce.”
“But you can afford to go out every night?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been getting reports at temple that you’ve been burning the midnight oil and not coming home. They tell me you’ve been sleeping around.” Golda whispered the last two words.
Gwen laughed. “So a few old biddies at temple have been gossiping about me? What do I care?”
“You should care about your reputation, little girl. Come home once in a while and sleep in your own bed.”
“Good grief, Momma, you make me sound like a slut.”
Golda shrugged and whined an I don’t know in her throat.
“I’m just saying that a fast girl won’t be looked at twice by a suitable man. You do want a husband, don’t you?”
“No, Momma. I just got rid of a husband who cheated on me all six years of our marriage. Being a good girl didn’t save our relationship,” Gwen said.
“That’s no reason to go sleeping with so many other men.”
“Who said I was? No, forget it. I don’t want to know.”
“And why is your nightgown so short? Who are you trying to catch, Gwenie?”
Gwen grasped handfuls of her hair and screamed through clenched teeth. “That’s it, Momma, you have to go. Now, please.”
“Is someone upstairs, honey?”
“No. I just need you to go and take your judgmental condemnation with you.”
Gwen stormed back upstairs without waiting to make sure her mother had left.
– – – – –
Golda sat on the subway alone, her handbag clutched on her lap. She crunched a peppermint, and then searched her purse for a comb to rake through her hair.
Two teenage boys shared the car with her. Their pants were low on their hips exposing plaid boxers, their expensive sneakers unlaced. Every other word out of their mouth was a swear word.
“Hey—quit that cussing,” Golda snapped.
“Mind your own business, old woman.”
“I tried to mind it, but they didn’t want to hear what I had to say.”
She rambled on and on about her unappreciative children until the boys became annoyed. They shook their heads at the crazy old lady talking to herself. She was such an easy target sitting on the seat alone, not paying attention. They mugged her for four dollars and a gold Timex watch.
As Golda sat in the now empty subway car, stunned and bruised from being roughed up, she wondered what the hell was wrong with kids these days. Their parents ought to be ashamed at the way they disrespected their elders. Why Golda herself would have died if her own three children had ever behaved in such a fashion.
She pulled her cellphone from her inner coat pocket. Little monsters didn’t think to check there, she thought. Stacey’s number was dialed first, and then Theo and Gwen were conferenced in.
“I’m making brisket and honey cake for dinner on Friday. Be there at 5:30 on the dot.”
Three voices chorused Yes, Mom, and then she hung up.
“They’re good kids,” Golda said to her own reflection across the aisle. “They just need some direction.”