Monday afternoon, Dallas
“I can finish up in here, Laura. Thank you for loading the dishwasher and picking up. I’ll clean and dry countertops, and then I’m going to sit down with my Bible for a while.”
Ariel rested her head under her grandmother’s chin, eyes half closed, as Gloria stood, rocking back and forth, patting the baby’s bottom.
“Okay, thanks. I’ll take the girls into the family room for some quiet time. Both of them will probably fall asleep if I read to them.” Laura gently moved the almost-asleep Ariel to her own shoulder.
In Laura’s opinion the kitchen already would pass the most stringent requirements of the clean police. Her mother’s devotion to cleanliness struck her as bordering on the obsessive, but today the order and attention to detail evident throughout her parents’ home reassured her. It felt like an island of safety. As she left the room she looked back and in that moment understood her mother’s satisfaction with a job well done.
“Allison, tell Nana ‘thank you’ for lunch.” After her daughter obeyed, she took her hand and they left the room.
Gloria stood back, folded her arms and admired her kitchen. Funny how quiet it seems now, she thought, after all the noise and activity of the last few hours. She agreed with whomever had called the kitchen the heart of the home. Beginning this morning when she had awakened early to bake Laura’s favorite coffeecake, and continuing through the last couple of hours when all of them sat around the table, all activity radiated from the kitchen.
She supposed it was so satisfying to her because, no matter what anybody said, she remained convinced that a woman is most satisfied, most fulfilled when she is doing something to nurture her family.
She thought of her mother again. She couldn’t remember her anywhere but in the kitchen, bathed in the heavenly aroma of her famous bread or flaky pastries.
Gloria admired her mother’s ability to immerse herself in baking, giving her children a sense of security. Thinking back, she remembered her mother as keeping herself busy, probably to avoid feeling fearful, wondering if Dad would make it home from work and if he would have anything left of his paycheck if he did.
As an adult, Gloria came to realize that her father had been an alcoholic, but her mother had never admitted it. It might have been better if she had. It would have explained her father’s long absences and his abusive behavior when he finally came home. She might have been less inclined, at least intellectually, to feel his actions were personally directed at her. When he did stay home, Gloria felt as if she were in the way, a nuisance. As if her father’s actions and the turmoil around the home were somehow her fault.
Gloria longed for the only safe feelings of early childhood, when she had come home from school to yeasty rolls so fresh and warm that the butter melted between her fingers and ran down her arm.
Cooking and baking are extensions of nursing babies, a continuing commitment to their nurture, she thought, smiling at the idea of what Will would say if she told him. He would probably ask if she had been watching Oprah again.
Gloria acknowledged that she needed a solid, even-tempered man like Will—she would probably fly to pieces without him, but she couldn’t help wishing, sometimes, that his mood swings would swing a bit wider.
To be fair, he had often told her how much he enjoyed her enthusiasm and energy. They were perfectly suited to each other!
“Come away my beloved…” Remembering the words from Song of Songs always warmed Gloria’s heart. A picture of Christ’s love for His bride, the church, touched deeply her need to be wooed, cherished.
This wonderful feeling called for a celebration!
She put a kettle of water on to boil, set the table with one tea cup and saucer, a bowl of honey, and a cinnamon scone from the “care package” the neighbors brought over earlier. Moving from the stove to the table to the sink and back again, she found herself humming a little chorus they sang at the closing of midweek church services. When she recognized the tune, she sang it, pleased with herself for remembering the words.
She sat down. “I’m so glad I’m a part,” she sang, stirring honey into her tea as she sang. “of the family of God…”
It was early on a golden spring afternoon, the sun high overhead. No actual rays of sunshine penetrated the cool, elegant kitchen or she might have been distracted by dust motes, but it was bright and cheerful as she sang, and her heart was at peace.
Into this idyllic scene Will stormed; tired, pale, dark circles under his eyes. The first thing he noticed was her hair and the way the soft light seemed to illuminate her elegant hairdo from within. Elaborate rituals, from which he was excluded, involved Gloria’s hair, and her hair stylist.
He next became aware of the refined tableau in front of her. The incongruity of bone china teacups in the midst of distress begun at a grimy truck stop offended him in a way he couldn’t have explained.
Furthermore, though Will hadn’t defined what he would have considered appropriate behavior for waiting out the long hours of their crisis, he was dead certain that singing wouldn’t have made the top-ten list of best possibilities.
Without bothering to greet her in any way, he licked his lips a couple of times, waiting for her to take note of him.
He slapped several pages of a computer printout on the table, rattling her cup.
“O my dear, I am so pleased you’ve joined me. Would you like a cup of tea? And I think there’s another scone. Wasn’t it kind of Nancy Martin to bring us these goodies?”
“No, I do not want any tea nor do I care for one of those dry things from the neighbors. Don’t let me stop the music. I hate to interrupt your little tea party, but while you’re here having a good time, some of us are trying to find your grandson.”
Her astonished expression convinced him that she was completely out of touch with him. Not on the same plane at all.
“What’s the deal here, Gloria?” He demanded. “What is going on? I’m calling and FAXing all over the country trying to find Austin, and here you sit, dreaming about God only knows what.” He looked around, made a move toward sitting down, but changed his mind and remained standing, rigid. “At least, mercifully, you were singing in here and not in front of the rest of the family.”
“My goodness, dear, I know how tired…”
“Don’t patronize me,” he cut her off. “Of course I’m tired, but my feelings are not the point right now.” He paused, “You always do that! You can’t stick to the point. You come up with one of your touchy-feely observations and that’s supposed to calm me down. This is a serious situation, and trying to calm me down is inappropriate! Not everything is about feelings, you know.”
“What’s wrong with feelings,” Gloria interrupted, but Will cut her off.
“Our grandson is actually missing, and, you might be interested to know, this Jake Garret guy, who probably has him, is the brother of your hairdresser. How’s that for a coincidence? Maybe Austin’s kidnapping isn’t such a random thing after all.” He glowered at her.
“Alex’s brother has Austin? How do you know that? I didn’t even know Alex had a brother.”
He opened his mouth to answer her, but before he could say anything, Gloria charged off in a different direction.
“Our grandson is missing and now it is somehow my fault?” Her anger rose up to meet her husband’s. “I’ve never figured out how you do it, but when anything bad happens it’s my fault. Am I responsible for bad weather, too?”
“See, there you go again, exaggerating. You always do that!”
“And you always do that! You’re always saying ‘always’ or ‘never.’ You’re the one who makes a whole sinister syndrome out of one situation.”
She stood up and took all of her tea things to the sink, slamming them down with just enough force to make the cup rattle against the saucer without breaking anything.
“That’s right. Turn it back on me,” Will grumbled. “You’re sitting here with tea and crumpets, pretending I don’t know what, while I’ve been up for two nights straight, tearing my hair out, trying to find a single ray of hope about Austin, and you turn it around so that I’m the bad guy, here. You know something?” he asked, looking at her as if he’d just discovered a profound truth. “You’re just like your mother!”
“My mother? How does my poor dead mother have anything to do with our grandson’s kidnapping?” Her voice rose to match her anger. “What did my mother ever do to you? She was a wonderful woman!” Gloria’s voice was quavering now, obviously about to lose control. “And they’re scones, not crumpets.”
“Whatever. Your mother was a piece of work, I can tell you that!”
“It wasn’t her fault!”
“Your father hung around the periphery of her life with his tail between his legs, and she was an island of calm. Saint Alicia.” Will shook his head sadly.
“My father, my…” Gloria protested.
“Watch it,” Will interrupted. “Let’s not make this situation worse by using crude language.”
“I was going to say, ‘my father, my foot!’ What do you think I was going to say? Is your mind so consumed by fear that in your anger you transfer your rotten motives to everybody else?”
“Now you’ve decided I’m consumed with fear? Or is that one of your psychobabble insights? Oprah have that shrink on again today?”
“What other reason could you possibly have for being so angry with me?”
When he didn’t reply, she fished a hanky out of her bra and blew her nose. He hated it when she kept a hanky there, which was probably why she did it rather than grabbing a tissue from the box on the counter.
“My father couldn’t have kept bread on the table if my poor mother hadn’t hid his pay check as soon as he brought it into the house.” She dabbed her eyes. “I’ll tell you something, William Stoner. My father was the kind of man who was totally disinterested in his daughter. He never came to a single one of my school concerts or plays. Not once in twelve years.”
She turned to face him and stepped closer. “And here’s another insight: You know how I’ve always bragged about what a genius you are at problem solving? Well, I was wrong. Your true genius is timing.”
He fixed her with a glare, daring her to continue, which she did, in a soft, rational voice, such as one might use on a very young, not overly bright, child.
“One of the things I was thinking as I sat here for a couple of minutes after clearing up lunch things, was how blessed we are to have each other, how thankful I am for you. It’s a wonder my heart didn’t stop when you roared in here like a grizzly bear, talking to me as if I were your enemy.”
He wouldn’t meet her eyes, but neither did he relax his stiff posture.
“You and I have talked about what a good marriage we have, and it is. It’s still an exceptional marriage, but you aren’t yourself right now and just this minute, I can’t stand to be in the same house with you. No,” she said, holding up her hand as he opened his mouth to try to reason with her, “I can’t handle you being so mean to me even though I know how sorry you’ll be later—you aren’t a mean person. I know you are devastated and bone-tired—we all are—and I know we’ll make it through all this, but I need to get out of here for a while.”
Trembling, she paused for control. “I don’t know what to do. It’s probably because you haven’t slept since we found out Austin is missing, but what you said about my mother…you’ve crossed a line. This is so out of character…” She took a deep breath. “Maybe if you were more in touch with your feelings and could talk about them, you wouldn’t be lashing out at me.”
She looked over at him, but he couldn’t move, and she didn’t touch him or try to comfort him.
“The things you said…you said them under stress, I know, but you did say them. At some level you must believe them to be true, like about how I always exaggerate, and I’m just like my mother, as if that’s a bad thing. And what was the crack about my singing? Where did that come from?”
“Singing right now is inappropriate, is all. Come on! What do you think you’re doing? Don’t be ridiculous!” It was ridiculous; almost funny, but evidently she wasn’t amused. “You aren’t leaving now, are you? What will I tell the kids? How will it look if you leave me?”
“You have my cell phone number, and you know eventually I’m likely to wind up at Suellen’s. You can tell the kids whatever you please. You’re the problem solver, so solve.”
She retrieved her purse off the top of the refrigerator, found her keys and headed for the door.
“Gloria…” He felt confused. “When can we expect you back?”
“I’ll be back as soon as I’ve sorted this all out and settled in my heart what I’m going to do with it. Oh, I forgive you and you’ll forgive me for whatever set you off like this. You know we always forgive; it’s part of the package. But I can’t talk to you about it now. Please try to sleep.”
“Aren’t you going to tell me to pray, too?”
“I’m not your spiritual advisor. I presume you have been praying.”
“I love you, Gloria.” Quietly.
“I love you, too. I just don’t like you much right now.”
She left, closing the door behind her.