On the weekends when Kate came home after showing a house, she would shed her work items, peeling things off one by one…keys in the dish on the foyer table, purse hung on the hall rack, suit jacket on the newel post, paper jammed briefcase in the closet, shoes with panty hose stuffed in them placed on the bottom step of the staircase, off to the side. Graham’s rules were everything had to be kept neat, nothing lying around. The shoes and jacket were a compromise, if they were on the stairs to go up and you were still downstairs then that was okay, acceptable.
Next Kate would go into the kitchen and head straight for the wine, kept in the lower cabinet to the right of the sink. She’d use an old fashioned glass, not a wine goblet, and fill it to near the top, leaving just enough room for an ice cube. Then she would go into the living room, close the drapes and sit in the dark with her feet up on the couch, still in her remaining work clothes. After about half an hour, her wine finished, she’d be asleep, curled up in a near fetal position and snoring softly.
Nola watched this process, or some parts of it, often. If she had something to talk to her mother about, Kate would invariably tell her to wait, to give her some time to decompress as she called it, like she was coming up to the surface and didn’t want to rush the process lest she get the bends. The stories of the day would wait. Monday morning permissions slips would wait. Help fixing a toy would wait. Even bedtime, hours later, would wait.
Most of the time, but not always, well after 8:00 in the evening Kate would rouse herself off the sofa and come in to the kitchen, ostensibly to start dinner. She’d mumble something about, “why’d you let me sleep so long?” as she automatically opened the fridge or went to the stove. Inevitably she would discover that dinner had already been taken care of, some semblance of sandwiches or take out, the remains of which were evidence that finally made Kate realize the meal was over without her. At this she would say, “Well then, fine,” and with an annoyed huff she would go back to the cabinet where the wine was kept, pour another glass and take it with her upstairs to the spare room. She stayed there till morning.
On occasion, Kate stayed on the couch, never even attempting to fake making dinner. At some point during the night she would wake up and go upstairs, because Nola never found her there in the morning.
Nola's father would come and go throughout this, depending on his schedule at school or what book he was working on. Sometimes he would be locked in his study writing while Kate slept on the couch, sometimes he’d come home and shower, get ready and go back to school for workshops or evening classes, or to do research in the library. He told Nola to make sandwiches for them both if he was working at home, or sometimes he’d tell her to order food and he’d grab a slice of pizza or carton of Chinese food to take back to the college with him. Nola always ate alone on the weekends now.
Graham wasn’t quiet as he went about the house, he would slam things as usual, thump around, pound up and down the stairs. Kate never stirred. Nola always wondered if her mom was pretending, like playing dead.
On the days when Kate was there when Nola got home from school, it was a little different. She would announce brightly, enthusiastically that she felt like a little wine, as if it were a novelty. She would also announce that she wasn’t going to use the good glasses, why bother, it was just her after all. For the rest of the afternoon Kate would sit in the kitchen drinking her wine, only replenishing her glass when she thought no one was looking. Nola noticed the glass was refilled if she left and came back, so she knew her mother must be furtively pouring while she was gone.
If Nola were busy, playing outside or in her room, Kate would look at the calendar and “figure things out” or sort thru the mail, do her nails, putter around, eventually get dinner started. Nola would happen into the kitchen now and then and that’s the kind of stuff she would see her mother doing. She never talked on the phone anymore, unless it was business.
But most of the time, on afternoons as Kate drank her wine in the kitchen, always in the kitchen, most of the time she talked. She would tell Nola all about how things were going for her at work, she’d tell stories about the people in her office, or the people to whom she showed houses or the people who were selling them, and especially she’d tell Nola all about the houses themselves. She liked to talk about architecture, history, even town planning and zoning. Kate loved to talk about her work. She loved to talk about the people she met and the houses she saw.
Eventually, though, it always happened that some story, some person or house, would remind her of Ethan. All stories lead to Ethan. When Nola was little she used to like her mother’s Ethan stories. She liked them because they made her mother happy to tell them. She liked them because her mother would let her stay up late to hear them. She also liked them because her mother only told the nice ones.
But now, especially when Kate was drinking wine for a while, now the stories were not always the happy ones. Now sometimes Kate talked about sad things, about the accident, the hospital and about the funeral. And each time she would tell Nola these stories she acted like it was for the first time, forgetting that just yesterday, or the day before, or many times before that, she had told the same story. Kate forgot things from one day to the next.
Nola was fascinated by all of it at first. She had only heard bits and pieces, only been able to surmise or guess at things that had happened based on the little she’d heard. So when her mother began filling in the gory details Nola ate them up greedily, hungry to understand all facets of the Ethan story, all the mysterious parts she had been left out of. She egged her mother on, let her repeat herself, hoping to gain a better picture of what had happened, how things had been.
But after a few months the repetitive stories made Nola uncomfortable. They made her sad, but it was more than that. Nola couldn’t help feel that Kate was using Ethan somehow; she was using his death for some sort of explanation, an excuse. Because of Ethan things weren’t the way they were supposed to be. Because of Ethan life had gone in a certain mistaken direction. Because of Ethan everything was wrong. Nola felt defensive for her dead brother. It wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t help being dead. Nola liked it better when her mother was happy about the memories or sad about the loss, she didn’t like it when Kate used Ethan to rationalize. Ethan was more than that. He deserved better than that.
six words: see ya soon - minor eye injury still needs healing