It Should Be Easy

by Kathleen

Pulling out of the driveway, Claudia’s car passes their car, waiting to pull in. Max is driving. Lacey’s auburn hair casts remarkable light. From behind the windshield, Claudia forces a smile. But she sees Lacey about to open her window—obviously to say hello. Claudia presses the gas pedal. They’ll get to that later.

She promised Lacey, no hiding. After all, in the spring Lacey will marry this man, making Claudia his mother-in-law. Arranging this visit, Lacey explained, “We’re eloping, Mom. Partly because of how you are and partly because Max’s family is the other extreme. Still, you must meet him, shake his hand and say hello.”

This isn’t the same as when she used to avoid Lacey’s high-school friends, letting the kids enjoy the house on their

How that annoyed Lacey, even after Claudia portrayed it as an example of trust. “Ha!” her daughter scoffed. “That’s your excuse.”

Possibly. Claudia feared embarrassing Lacey. The idea haunted her.

Her own mother, obnoxious from drinking, had embarrassed Claudia so much that she had done whatever possible to hide her. Lacey doesn’t know that.

Of course, by now Claudia and Lacey both recognize Claudia’s problem as plain fear. Until Lacey started high school, Claudia coped well enough. But once her daughter’s friends grew big, and circumstances shifted, rarely forcing Claudia to face other people, she withdrew. When Lacey went to college and moved to the city, Claudia phoned and emailed regularly. But before long, even Lacey’s presence proved daunting.

Claudia’s overnight job requires processing catalogue orders over the phone, never in person. She shops at a 24-hour Piggly-Wiggly, after her shift, at five a.m.

At work, Claudia concentrates on her plan. No more nonsense. She vows all night to rise to the occasion.

Home at daybreak, she sets the table and makes coffee. Soon theyre scuffling overhead. Lacey’s giggling. Claudia senses their young bodies stretching, their backs arching. She listens to water running, their voices sounding like chimes.

It should be so easy. She imagines calling out, “One egg or two, kids,” in her telephone voice. They’re coming downstairs. Lacey says, “Smells great, Mom.” But Claudia panics. She ducks into the front closet the moment their shadows appear.

Smothered between coats, Claudia strains to escape the trap she’s built for years. Why doesn’t it explode? It’s charged like that.

Lacey mock-screams in exasperation.

Max says, “When your mother feels right about it, she’ll appear.”

Yes, Claudia thinks. Max understands. I can appear when I’m ready.

Eyes squeezed shut, she rises, weightless a split-second. A sweet aroma, separate from the coffee, surrounds her face and moistens her cheeks. And then, not giving in, she darts out of the closet!

They watch her but don’t say anything. She blinks and her right hand swings stiffly up. “Hello.”


Paul Burman said...

Lovely piece, Kathleen. The bizarre always appeals to me and the idea of this woman popping out of the closet with her eyes shut is delightful. Also the suggestion in this that the daughter and mother's roles have reversed to some extent is great.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks, Paul. Mother-daughter roles, I think, need to teeter in small measure from one to the other almost as soon as the daughter can freely speak her mind. Along with that, however, the mother should remain the protector until she's too old to hold her own.
This mother lost her balance much too soon. But here, compared at least to my previous experiment, the mother manages to spring free from the worst and the daughter might well flourish, after all.

Rufus said...

Gives new meaning to coming out of the closet!

kathleenmaher said...

I guess that's true. But in both meanings, someone's just trying to find a way to be him- or herself, which the world has implied (or worse)isn't normal, without causing anyone grief.

Mike French said...

Great stuff with the Mum becoming a child herself and hiding in the closet.

Strange how we all behave.

Sometimes when I see people I know in the street I have a split second to decide to cross over and say hi, or to put my head down and increase my pace. Sometimes I say hi, sometimes I don't. Can't really explain why.

I wonder here if the mother really understands why she is avoiding her daughter? Which is good - you are left imagining what happens to their lives.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks, Mike. With these short pieces, I'm confident for once that I'm not telling too much. Of course, whether that fits the famous advice to leave the reader wanting more is another question.

Stella said...

I'm joining the chorus about liking the role reversal between mother and daughter. I also liked the way you used the present tense - it makes the scene seem to be developing as fast as you can type it.

kathleenmaher said...

Stella, thanks. I'm glad you liked the present tense. This one didn't feel right to me in the traditional past tense. Then, too, the present cut several words.

Stella said...

The present tense is difficult to pull off. It usually sounds artifical, but you made it seem natural.

kathleenmaher said...

Stella, I certainly hope the present tense sound natural here, especially since you're right: it so rarely does. But the moment was such a breakthrough for this woman, I wanted to highlight that, even though from the outside in, it looks like no big deal. Other than: what weirdo literally hides in a closet?

Stella said...

It was just right - stream-of-consciousness without being annoying or confusing.