I should never have sold the house, Estelle thought, as she wandered her condominium like a real estate appraiser might, touching furniture and frowning into corners. Several weeks now since her last cigarette, the stale smell of her beloved Marlboros seeping from every pillow, drape, and rug raised her craving for a smoke, although the Valium kept a lid on it, somewhat. Maybe she would ask the doctor for her own prescription. She didn’t want to get Charlie in trouble.
She absent-mindedly drew a line in the layer of dust on the Queen Anne side table that had been her mother’s. The framed childhood portraits of Adam and Charlie could also use a going over. Staring into their little faces, she felt a void in the pit of her stomach. She had nothing to leave them. Eddie, of course, had no life insurance, and his pension was so meager she’d had to get a part-time job to pay the bills. She had nothing. Nothing but this horrible little box and all its contents.
“You’ll take the sofa,” she said.
Adam, who’d been checking one of her light switches, turned. “What. Now?”
“Later. Tell Charlie he can have the armoire. It was your father’s. It’ll be nice; he doesn’t have any closet space in that apartment.”
“Ma. You’re still here. Stop giving your stuff away.”
She held up her hands. “I just don’t want any arguments. I’ve seen people go without telling anyone what’s what and the family argues.”
“We won’t argue.”
Estelle wasn’t sure. Mostly, Adam and Charlie seemed to get along well. There was that business with Liza, with Charlie knowing her first, but that was old news. “It’s human nature,” she said.
Even though she vowed to get what she needed and get out as soon as she could, she found herself dawdling. The blinds needed an adjustment. She put away some dishes that had dried on the rack next to the sink. She tested the dampness of the soil in her potted philodendron.
“What are you doing?” Adam asked. “Liza watered that plant a few days ago.”
She shrugged. “I’m just checking to see if she forgot. When I was in her condition, my brain was like a sieve.”
Adam rubbed the back of his neck. “Ma. I got to tell you something.”
Estelle couldn’t hold it in any longer. “She’s drinking.”
“Liza.” Estelle felt vindicated to have this out in the open. “With the baby. I smelled alcohol on her breath last night. After she came home from the neighbors. I knew that Cara girl was trouble, with those tight dungarees and the bosom out to there and the husband never home and the kids running wild. I didn’t say anything. I just thought you should know first. As her husband.”
“Ma. There’s no baby.”
Oy, will this one never get it? She stretched out her hands. “Because she’s been drinking!”
Adam just shook his head like she was a crazy woman.
Estelle continued. “Didn’t I warn you? Properly raised Jewish girls don’t drink like fish! It’s the father. I told you. Unitarian? What kind of meshugge religion is that? With all that coffee, and talk about the origin of the universe, and letting people believe in God or not?” She paused to catch her breath, and then lowered her voice. “You know her father was drunk at the wedding.”
“Ma, I was drunk at the wedding. So was Charlie.”
Apparently her elder son still failed to see the distinction. “No. There’s drunk and there’s drunk. You were celebrating. He was drunk. It’s in the genes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you come home one day and find your wife passed out on the sofa–on my sofa–and your son sticking his finger in electrical sockets and eating rat poison.”
“Ma.” He rubbed his temples with both palms, squeezing his eyes shut. “There’s no baby because there’s no baby. It was a false alarm.”
No grandchild? Estelle thought, feeling her breath catch. “False alarm?”
“She got her period last week. We didn’t want to tell you before the procedure.”
Estelle let the heft of this sink in for a moment. So now, once again, the children are the parents, conspiring against me to spare my feelings? A hot ball of anger rose from her belly. She felt her eyes narrow, and that anger rocketed into her arm and smacked the side of Adam’s head. “Schmuck.”
“Hey!” He blinked stupidly at her, his hand going to where her palm had landed, and she did not regret having done it. “How is this my fault?”
“It was your fault it was a false alarm. It’s bad luck. To go around tempting fate, talking about things when you don’t know yet.”
“But we’ve been trying. When she was late, I thought–”
“You thought. You thought you’d get a sick woman’s hopes up for nothing? I was gonna make a blanket.”
“You can still make a blanket. It’ll happen. One day.”
She glared at him. “One day. Stop talking already and help me pack.”
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