A pandemic and life sends a woman back home with her tail between her legs.
|If Elle had a tail, it would have been firmly tucked between her legs. Standing on the sidewalk in front of her childhood home, she was every small-town girl cliché gone bad. Her stomach churned. God, she wished her dad was still alive. She winced. Not to say she wanted her mom not to be. Things had just been easier with Dad. She’d always been able to talk to him. He got her. Mom had never tried. Elle glanced at the apartment over the garage. She had her favorite child. Mommy’s baby boy.
Matt could do no wrong. In their mother’s eyes at least. Law enforcement had other ideas. He’d been in trouble with them since he was twelve. Each time Mommy had been there to gloss it over or bail him out. Funny how Elle’s call for help had gone to voicemail. Closing her heart to the bitter flood of memories, she shouldered her baggage and stepped up onto the porch.
When the door swung open, tired eyes lit with recognition. It only took a moment for the pleasure to morph into disappointment.
“Hey, Mom,” Elle whispered.
They stood there, just looking at one another. A lifetime of ‘I told you so’ hanging between them. It was up to the daughter to bite the bullet.
“With everything shutting down because of the virus, the restaurant had to let me go. Jimmy must have seen the writing on the wall. He was gone when I got home. That was three weeks ago.”
Her hand faltered on her belly as her mother’s gaze locked on the barely perceptible mound. She hadn’t even realized she was doing it again. An older lady on the bus had commented on the cradling. Jesus. Was this going to be a Meghan Markle thing?
“Does Jimmy know?”
“He knows,” Elle confirmed, blowing out a stuttering breath.
Her mother’s lips pressed into a thin line, but stepping back, she motioned Elle inside.
“Not much of a choice. Tough love obviously wasn’t the answer,” her mother muttered as she brushed by and into the kitchen.
The words stole Elle’s breath. While she’d long felt her mother considered her a disappointment at best, at worst a failure, confirmation was gut-wrenching.
“You can take the guestroom for now. That would be your old room. If this damn virus doesn’t kill us all and you get a job, we’ll talk about the apartment. I can’t afford to pay the extra utilities right now.”
Biting her tongue, Elle nodded and carried her couple of bags down the hall. If she’d been worried about another round of memories when she opened the door, she needn’t have. Every trace of her was gone. The pale-yellow walls, white furniture and floral comforter would’ve given her hives as a teen. They still might.
“I suppose you’re hungry,” her mother called from the kitchen. “When you get done feeling sorry for yourself, we can throw something together. You should be thankful. The accommodations might not be five-star, but there are plenty worse off than we are.”
Empty stomach cramping, Elle grabbed hold of the gratitude. Regardless of the welcome, her mom hadn’t had to open her door or her pantry.
“That sounds great, Mom. Let me wash up and I’ll be right there.”
Running damp fingers through her hair, she twisted the tangled blonde mess up into a knot and called it good. With a last lingering look at the tub, she forced her feet to hurry for the kitchen. A hot shower would have to wait.
“What’s the real story with Jimmy?”
Lifting the edge of a grilled cheese sandwich to check the color, Elle mulled over how to answer that. With a mental shrug she decided on full honesty. What the hell? It wasn’t like her mom could hate Jimmy more.
“Things weren’t so bad the first five years, then he got a wild hair up his ass and quit a good job because his boss wouldn’t give him a raise. That’s when things started going to hell. Nothing was good enough. Not anything I did, or the jobs he claimed to be interviewing for. Unfortunately, there’s not much money in sitting on your ass, drinking beer and playing NASCAR with your on-line buddies. Then I started feeling sick.”
Taking a long drag on her cigarette, her mom held out plates for the finished sandwiches. Sitting down at the bar to eat, she waved a hand for Elle to continue. There wasn’t a lot more to tell.
“Jimmy lost it when I told him I was pregnant. He started ranting about how we couldn’t afford another mouth to feed. Between all the extra hours and fighting nausea every step of the way I was exhausted and maybe didn’t handle his feelings that well.”
Her mom snorted. “Spoke the truth, did you?”
Elle smiled into the rich tomato soup. “I told him he hadn’t so much as fed his damn dog in eight months. It was like I already had a kid. It’s a good thing my front teeth are already screwed in.”
“I should have let your father kill that bastard the night we caught him crawling in the window. It would’ve been justifiable.”
Laughing, she choked. “I still don’t know how he got the wrong window.”
“Your brother moved the ceramic planter that was under your window, to under ours because Jimmy was using it as a step stool.”
Laughter fading, Elle accepted a napkin. Wiping the soup from her chin, she tried to process what her mom had said.
“Matt told you that?”
“Well after the fact, when we were talking about you one day.”
“Why would he do that?”
“No matter how you fought, your brother loved you, Elle.”
“Past tense? I thought you were the only one that cut me off when I left,” Elle said, the reach for a teasing tone falling flat.
Standing, her mom tried to put her glass down. It missed the counter and shattered on the floor. Milk splattered Elle’s pantlegs and soaked into her socks as she jumped up.
“Mom! I’m sorry!”
The slam of the door was her answer. Blinking against the hot burn of tears, Elle grabbed a stack of napkins and bent to clean up the mess. When was she going to learn to curb her sarcasm? It hadn’t washed with her mom the first seventeen years of her life. What made her think age had mellowed the woman?
Picking up glass and running a mop over the worn hardwood, gave her time to get her emotions under control, and hopefully allowed her mother’s temper to cool. Standing on the porch, arms wrapped in a self-hug against a brisk wind and thoughtless daughter, the older woman flinched when Elle draped a cardigan over her shoulders.
“That was uncalled for,” Elle said, leaning against the railing beside her. “I guess I came home and tried to pick up where we left off. We’re not those people anymore.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Thank you for letting me stay here.”
“Your daddy built this house. Your little handprints are in the foundation. It’s your home, no matter what.”
Silence was smothering. Biting her lip, Elle tasted blood.
“Everything you warned me about came true.”
“And as screwed up as it sounds, maybe at one time that would’ve made me happy.”
“Not anymore?” There was nothing her mom liked more than being right.
“Being right doesn’t bring your baby back.”
“Oh, Mom,” Elle whispered, the lump in her throat making her voice break as she reached out to squeeze her mom’s arm.
“Your brother is dead.”
Elle jerked her hand back like burned.
“He’s dead,” she repeated, brushing a glowing ember from her cigarette off the railing. “Two years ago, now. All those times I said that Matt couldn’t go to jail, to prison, that my boy was too sweet, that he didn’t belong there. I was right. He couldn’t handle it. He killed himself.”
Elle bent at the waist, hands holding her stomach. The pain and guilt ripped through her. How many times had she sneered at her mother to let Matt face his punishment? Commit the crime, you do the time. Let him sit in there with the drunks and losers and see what his future held if he didn’t straighten up. Scare the kid straight! She’d resented the double standard in their household.
As if reading her mind, her mom said, “It was different with you. You’re strong. Your dad was so mad at me when I let you sit in jail overnight. That’s the closest we ever came to divorce. But I was right. You learned. Other than Jimmy, we never had another bit of trouble out of you. Matt wasn’t like you.”
“God, Mom, I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I can’t believe he’s gone. Why didn’t you call me?”
“I couldn’t. I was mad at you for being strong. I was pissed at your father for dying and leaving me to face this alone. I was mad at the whole damn world. It felt like I was the only one that saw who your brother was. Friends tried to be here for me, and I pushed them all away. I didn’t want to share my grief.”
“I never wanted something like this to happen.”
“I know, honey. I didn’t say it was rational.”
They were both quiet for a while. Her mom likely lost in memories and regrets, Elle, just not sure what to say. In some messed up way, she felt closer to her mom than she could ever remember feeling. Her hand stroked the barely raised bump of her belly. Maybe being a mother gave her a different perspective.
Suddenly taking her hand, her mom led her inside.
“I’m glad you’re home, Elle.
WC ~ 1636
© Mara McBain 3/2020
Created for :
Prompt: Character Prompt for March 2020:
Your character is returning home again after being away for a long time.
They can be looking forward to returning home, or dreading it.
They can return as triumphant, or as a failure in whatever it is they left to do.
Write the story of your character's homecoming experience.