Sunday Night, Dallas
Laura heard her mother pull into the garage, and by the thump of the Volvo on a tire Will had hung there for just such occasions, she knew Gloria was ticked off. Laura sighed. Now they were in for it.
An angry Gloria presented a formidable sight. Really angry and she trembled. What riled her further at such times was that when she reached a certain level of anger she couldn’t control herself; she cried and her lips quivered so much she could barely talk. And then, when she walked into the house and discovered how her family occupied themselves in her absence, she was nearly incoherent.
Laura might have thought it was funny if she hadn’t found it so tiresome.
She recognized the instant her mother picked up a whiff of the strong aroma coming from the corner of the kitchen. Ariel, half-asleep in the highchair, urgently needed a diaper change, but that had just happened. Trust Gloria to walk at that precise moment. Allison, one hand massaging mashed potatoes and peas into her champagne blond hair, her other hand busily finger-painting Gloria’s prized antique oak table with the same mess, still wore last night’s pajamas. Well, it wasn’t as if they had gone anywhere. What was the point of getting the kids dressed up?
In an effort to ease her own strung-out nerves, Laura sat in the family room, one leg draped over the arm of Gloria’s favorite rose damask chair, reading a romance novel while twirling her fingers through her hair.
“At least she doesn’t have pureed vegetables on her hands,” Laura heard her mother mutter. She chose to ignore her. She had her own deal to worry about; she couldn’t concern herself with her mother’s problems. Laura needed support now, not her criticism. This situation was about Austin—her son—not about her parents.
Laura watched idly while Gloria checked out the flat-screen TV in front of which David had parked himself.
At the moment, a full-screen close-up showed Tiger Woods addressing the ball while the gallery around him waited in a reverent hush.
The golf channel had David under its spell but the whole scene seemed to ratchet Gloria’s anger up another degree. She looked around frantically, as if hoping to locate a whip to chase them out of the house.
“What is the matter with you two?” she managed to grind out between clenched teeth. “You’re all acting as if you don’t have a care in the world! The babies are at the table and nobody’s taking care of them, you two sit here like you think you’re vacationing on the Riviera, and meanwhile your mother is at Albertson’s buying groceries and getting cheated out of parking places by silicone-enhanced babes in their SUVs. I could be lying in a hospital with a broken neck and you wouldn’t miss me until the next time you wanted to eat.”
“Mother, honestly! Calm down! You are totally out of control. What do you think we should be doing? Daddy is taking care of…things. David and I need our rest so we can handle whatever we might face in the next couple of days.” Laura barely looked up from her book.
“And what in the world were you doing shopping on a Sunday afternoon. Isn’t this family day?” It still bugged her that, during Laura’s high school years, when she had wanted to go out with her friends, her mother had pulled the ‘family day’ thing, but when Gloria wanted to do something it was all right.
“How can you sit there with your nose in a silly book while your little girls need care? David’s in front of the TV in a vegetative state and you’re off in la-la land with a cheap love story. The kitchen and dinette are a disaster area. Any minute I expect the health department to walk in and condemn the place. Where’s Will? Are these poor children orphaned here?”
Good night, she really is on a tear, Laura thought. “Don’t you have a housekeeper?”
“She’s a housekeeper, not a hotel maid, and she doesn’t come until Friday. Surely you aren’t planning to leave the table in a sticky mess until then! You could begin by getting up off your silky little boohiney and giving those babies baths before putting them to bed where they belong.”
The woman clearly needed a reality check. “Put them to bed? Mother! It’s only 6:30. Do you want to take care of them when they wake up at 6:00 in the morning? You might as well know I have no intention of dealing with them at the crack of dawn.”
“How was your afternoon?” Will asked as he came in from the patio.
The man is a glutton for punishment, Laura thought.
A bit taken aback when his wife dropped her purse where she stood and grabbed him in a bear hug, he raised his eyebrows at the bemused Laura.
“There are no words to express to you what a relief it is to lay eyes on a sane human being,” she declared. “Your daughter and son-in-law apparently think they are at a resort, and the State of Texas is giving driver’s licenses to complete idiots.”
“Oh, now, Gloria. Isn’t it possible you weren’t at your best? You may have been a bit preoccupied.”
“Now it’s my fault? I drive down the aisle between cars, minding my own business…”
“My, my, this is a rare day!” Laura remarked without looking up.
“Laura! You know I don’t stick my nose into other people’s business. And you could stand to be more respectful. I am your mother.” Gloria protested.
“Don’t you think you might be over-reacting just the teeniest little bit? You need to switch to decaf.” Laura quipped.
“Enough, both of you. We’re all under a lot of stress; we don’t need to squabble.” Will seldom spoke this forcefully. Even David looked up from the TV.
“And Gloria, while I understand you are upset, I don’t think it does you or any of us any good to rant on and on about other drivers. We need to stay in God’s corner here, and I don’t think it is in anybody’s best interest to focus on the shortcomings of other people.”
Laura rolled her eyes but only David noticed.
Will continued. “Laura, your mother is right, now get busy cleaning up the kitchen. David, you take the girls upstairs, bathe them and put them to bed.”
“Oh, man,” David said. “I have a real problem with that.”
“Daddy, David cannot bathe the girls. He doesn’t know the first thing about safe bath water temperature, and I’m sure he wouldn’t be able to hang onto their slippery little bodies when it is time to lift them out. He’s absolutely useless with the kids.”
Honestly, men could be so totally out of touch, Laura thought.
“Laura’s right, Will,” Gloria said with a great weary sigh. “How about you putting away the groceries while I help with the babies?”
“Okay, fine. You take the girls upstairs, and David, you clean up the kitchen and dinette.”
David mumbled something about waiting for the next commercial.
Will reached behind the TV and pulled the plug out of the wall. “You have a commercial break until the kitchen and dinette shine. Don’t forget the floors. Have a problem with that?”
“No, sir,” David said quietly. He started toward the kitchen, hanging his head like a scolded puppy.
“When we’re finished, come with me to the den.”
When David paused, Will explained. “One thing keeps nagging my brain. I can’t figure out why somebody would take the little boy and not the girls. None of this makes sense. I want us to step it through together again. Maybe if we go over it another time or two you’ll remember seeing something or someone near the van.” He sighed tiredly.
“Anyway, they tell me at the truck stop, so many vehicles go through there it is going to take a long time to figure out who was there at the same time you were. And even if they know who was there, it’s almost impossible to find out where the people who were driving those cars are now, so I’m trying to rule out some of the possibilities. We need a shorter list of people to work through.”
Laura glanced back at her mother, a bit ashamed for her own attitude as she began to understand that Gloria’s passion, as seen in her seemingly irrational anger, was the strength upon which Laura relied. She could feel safe enough to check out with a romance novel as long as her mother expressed the pain they were all feeling. Mother as designated emoter. What a concept.
“I’m sorry for being such a crab,” Gloria muttered. “I don’t know why those women in their SUVs—every young woman in Dallas drives an SUV, you know—why they make me so mad.” She followed Laura up the stairs, Allison at her side.
“You’re just venting, Mom. Better those anonymous drivers than your own family, though. You could have yelled at them while you were there—they wouldn’t have heard you if you kept your windows up.”
“Thanks. I’ll remember that next time.”