pen rainbow

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday: The Reading Corner—The Meadows

Continued from February 25 — Chapter 1

Click HERE to start at the beginning 

Introducing Betty & Dee...

jumping cholla

Chapter One

Princeton Street

Inside of the house, Betty was pouring Deanna the last of the morning coffee.  Her twenty-four year old daughter sat at the yellow Formica breakfast table with her thin, white legs comfortably crossed underneath the table.  She dangled a pink rubber thong at the end of her big toe.  

Betty leaned in toward the percolator on the green tile counter and poured two cups of coffee into diner mugs, adding a teaspoon of sugar to hers and a spoonful of dehydrated powdered milk to her daughter's.  She whisked the floating, dry granules into the hot coffee and turned back toward the kitchen table.  She set a hot cup of coffee onto a napkin in front of Deanna, and then placed her own cup of coffee in front of her chair at the opposite end of the table.  Betty was fast and efficient when it came to serving food.  She withdrew a chrome and yellow Naugahyde padded chair from underneath the table and slid herself onto its comfortable cushion.  Air escaped from the perforated sides of the thick seat as she shifted her shapely behind.  

They each pulled a cigarette from a pack of Kool's next to Deanna’s cup and tore matches out of a beige-colored book of matches from The Sands.  They lit their cigarettes and inhaled long, satisfying drags.  They released the smoke toward the ceiling and gently propped their cigarettes against the nooks of the black ashtray in the center of the table.  The smell of burnt sulfur and tobacco filled the kitchen and drifted down the hallway.  

Cindy suddenly lurched from underneath Betty’s chair and awkwardly scrambled to her feet, her toenails scratching against the smooth surface of the linoleum.  She stood momentarily as if to gather her thoughts, then ambled across the kitchen toward the hallway that led to the back bedrooms.  She stopped momentarily and sniffed the floor underneath the highchair hoping to retrieve a tasty morsel from breakfast.  Betty tapped ashes into the ashtray from the Horseshoe Hotel and looked at Deanna. 

"So, what did Johnny have to say last night?"

Dee's eyes lowered to her lap.  She brought her cigarette to her lips and took another long drag before she answered.  

"Well, he said that he's been busy with classes.  He told me that he studies at night at the library, and that's why I can't reach him."  

She sensed her mother’s doubt.  After a brief pause, she continued.

"I don't know, Mom.  He might be telling the truth.  He's a smart guy, and when he puts his mind to it, he can sail right through classes.  If nothing else, he won't disappoint his mother, so he’s probably telling the truth.  I just don't know if..." 

She paused as she tried to separate the truth from her own suspicions.  

"Well, I wouldn't put anything past him."  

Their eyes met as they each took another long, slow drag off of their cigarettes.

Their conversation was interrupted by the loud clanging of metal against wood.  They both turned their heads toward the living room and tried to figure out what was going on without actually going to the trouble of getting up to check.  They knew that Mason was playing with his sister, and they recognized the sound of a metal toy being raked across the bars of the playpen.

Betty leaned back in her chair and called out to her seventy-year old mother who was supposed to be keeping an eye on the kids.

"Mother, what the Hell is going on in there?!  Are you watching those kids?"

"Yes, I am, and they're fine," Harriet snapped.  

Her voice sounded like a cross between Rocky the Squirrel and Wilma Flintstone, high-pitched and feminine with a definite edge of authority.  

"Mason is playing with his shovel." 

She smiled knowing that her granddaughter and her daughter were both wondering if they should come in and take over.  She had grown accustomed to being questioned by her daughter.  Betty had invited her to come and live with them when she began to have difficulty staying upright.  Her health was deteriorating, and her adult children felt that she was too frail to be left alone in the old house in Searchlight.  With Deanna and the four grandchildren moving in, Betty saw the advantage of having her mother around.  Watching kids was something that Harriet Reid had done for most of her life, and she was more than happy to help with Deanna’s young brood.  

Deanna looked mildly concerned, but did not have the energy to get up and check the situation herself.  She had already been awake for three hours, and she still had a long day ahead of her.  Deanna started every day at five a.m.  She was usually the second one up, after her grandmother.  It was her job to start the morning pot of coffee.    

Every day, she made sure that the children and pets were fed, and the kitchen was swept.  She checked the bathroom and straightened up after the kids had been sent outside to play.  She usually did three loads of laundry and hung the clothes on the line in the back yard.  Once a week, she vacuumed the entire house.  After the laundry was folded, she and her mother usually had a cup of coffee with Hazel, then they started dinner before Walt got home.  After the dinner dishes were cleared and washed, she gave the kids a bath and got them into their pajamas.  When they were finally tucked in and kissed goodnight, she ran a hot bath for herself.  It was the only time of the day when she had time to herself.  

Deanna felt obligated to take on more than her share of the housework after Johnny left last September to start classes at Pacific States University in LA.     

As for the clanging of the toy shovel against the play pen, her mother and grandmother were handling it. Harriet was as sharp as ever and perfectly capable of watching the kids.  She had raised her family of ten in a shack with no electricity and an outhouse.  She was more than qualified to handle Dee’s two little kids in the living room.  

Harriet had learned to compensate for her lack of mobility in a way that made her formidable with respect to children and pets.  She had discovered that small bodies could be captured with the crook of her cane, and she was as quick as a rattlesnake.  When she wanted to, she could snag a passing child by the bicep from three feet away.  The kids were wary of Gramma Reid, and most of the time, they managed to stay out of striking range.  They were not particularly fond of the old grandma, mostly because she smelled like unwashed hair and stale urine.  But, Harriet was as much of a fixture in the living room as the tattered gold sofa, the battered upright piano, and the mallard duck TV lamp.  

Mason stopped jabbing the toy shovel through the bars of the play pen when he realized that the adults were dialed in.  Heidi was using a miniature wooden baseball bat that belonged to her 13-year old uncle as her weapon of choice.  Now, she was an even match for her brother.  Both kids waited until their mother, grandmother, and great grandmother had gone back to their respective activities involving coffee in the kitchen and The Today Show.  Mason stabbed at Heidi’s thigh with the edge of the shovel, and Heidi aimed for his knuckles.  It really did not matter who won this battle.  It was the fight that mattered.   

Harriet leaned back in her La-Z-Boy recliner and closed her eyes.  Before nodding off, she glanced past the big picture window into the front yard where she could see Brooke and Troi on their hands and knees digging a trench in the yard with their spoons.  The raccoons had settled down and were curled up on the plywood shelves of their modified rabbit hutch under the shade of the big Elm.  The temperature outside was 90 degrees.  It was going to be another blazing hot day in July.

To be HERE