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 own.
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 they’re 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.”