An older short story, recently revised for an upcoming collection.
Jane awoke with that familiar knot in her stomach. Every day was the same. Her husband sighed and rolled over, silencing the alarm. Jane pretended to sleep through it so that he would be quiet as he readied himself for work. Then, just before he left, he would softly kiss her cheek and whisper, “I love you.” She’d murmur her response and wait until the door closed behind him. Today was just like every other day.
She ran her fingers through her short hair and stepped over the dog as she climbed out of bed. Then after using the toilet, she washed her hands, swapped her glasses for contact lenses and stared at herself in the mirror. The strain was starting to show. Dark circles and fine lines framed her haunted blue eyes. She turned away and shuffled to the kitchen for coffee.
While the Breville heated, she fumbled in the liquor cabinet for just the right bottle. Bourbon? Yes. A shot of Woodford to kick start the motor. Perfect. With a healthy dose added to her mug, she ground the beans, packed the filter with the grind and set the mug beneath it to fill with the extracted coffee.
Rain battered the windows. Her daily walk would be impossible —only a zealot would be out exercising in this weather. She’d be trapped inside. Maybe a double shot was in order. With a heavy sigh, she splashed a little more bourbon in the mug and stirred. Taking the coffee with her, she sat on her sofa and tucked her feet beneath her. How had things gotten to this point? She used to be happy, used to leap out of bed in the morning. When had that changed? She laughed wryly, knowing the answer. Was it already ten years since she’d been manipulated into moving her elderly parents into her home? Her father was gone now and just Mother now occupied the apartment on the ground floor. Jane and her husband had been pushed upstairs into the smaller of the two spaces. Her reverie was broken when her mother hollered up from the bottom of the stairs. “Janie? Are you up yet?”
Jane muttered a curse under her breath. “Yeah, Ma. I’m up.”
“So what’s on the agenda today?” her mother asked, increasing her volume to be heard through the closed door.
“None of your damned business,” Jane muttered. If only she had the guts to say that out loud. “Nothing. Why? You have big plans?” she asked, sarcastically.
“Well, I need some things from the store and the drug store and…” her mother droned on and on, missing the sarcasm. “I was hoping you would go for me.”
“I have clients today, Ma. And it’s pouring. Can it wait?”
“Not really,” her mother whined. “Besides, you aren’t seeing clients ALL day, are you? You’re never that busy…”
“Fine,” Jane replied, ignoring the barb. “I’ll go at lunch.” She sighed. “As usual.”
“Did you hear the news?”
Jane rolled her eyes. Her mother seemed to think she was uninformed just because she didn’t watch the nightly news and the morning news and the noon time news as religiously as her mother did. “No, Ma. What happened?”
“A water main burst in Center City. It flooded an entire neighborhood!”
And this impacted our lives, how? “Oh yeah? That’s too bad.”
“You should see the pictures. It was terrible.”
“I’m sure it was, Ma.”
After a brief rundown of the rest of the broadcast, her mother toddled off to get her breakfast, leaving Jane to her thoughts. She missed her father. He had been the only reason she’d agreed to this badly thought out plan. She’d had three extra years with him and that was a blessing wasn’t it? Jane sighed and drained the last of her spiked coffee as tears filled her eyes. She looked heavenward to keep them from spilling over. “Pull yourself together,” she said to herself.
After she showered and dressed, Jane wandered downstairs through her mother’s part of the house to reach the basement office where she saw clients on most days. Another mistake —they should have devised some way for her to reach the office without having to pass Mother on the way. She was in the kitchen fixing breakfast as Jane strode past.
“You’re not going to let people see you like that, are you?” she asked, turning at the sound of Jane’s footsteps.
Jane looked down at her jeans and black pullover sweater. “What’s wrong with this?”
Her mother sniffed. “It’s awfully casual, don’t you think?”
“I want my clients to feel comfortable with me, Ma. Not intimidated by a business suit or dress.”
“You could at least put on some lipstick,” she grumbled as Jane walked away.
The irony of being of family counselor struck her every time she flipped on the lights and turned on the soothing music in her subterranean work space. Jane checked the time. She had ten minutes before the Hedbergs were due. They were easy. All she had to do was sit and listen while they got their grievances off their chests. After each session, the couple left smiling and holding hands. Jane was nothing more than a means to get them talking.
At lunchtime, she trudged up the two flights of stairs to eat and let the dog out. As she passed through the first floor, she heard the noon news broadcast coming from the TV in her mother’s bedroom. Jane rolled her eyes. She would get a full report when she got her mother’s list of errands.
Lunch was a vodka martini with extra olives and a few slices of cheddar cheese. Just a little something to take the edge off before facing the dragon again. When she descended the stairs, she was surprised to find the living room empty and the sound of the TV still blaring from the sitting room. Jane went to investigate.
“Ma?” she called out.
She peeked in the room. Her mother sat in the recliner with her eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. Jane knew without checking that the old woman was dead. She picked up the remote and lowered the volume. Then closing the door to the room behind her, Jane exhaled slowly and tried not to laugh out loud.