Is there a chill in here or is mom home?
by Meg Tuite
I kept hearing about global warming. The problem with that theory was that the hotter it got outside the more glacial it became inside. Whenever Mom opened the door mounds of ice covered my sisters, the dog, and all the plastic furniture in the living room steamed out its breath when we sat on it.
Mom complained of the heat wave as she tugged off her heels. She headed for the freezer, ice cubes tinkled into a glass and out came the bourbon while her hazy blonde wig turned into an ice sculpture. Antarctica blasted out of her mouth.
“What are you looking at?” she’d ask one of us as she pulled out a Kool, lit up, throwing her head back as frozen rings drifted up into the stifled atmosphere.
“Hey, hey, hey,” she’d yell. “Get your asses out here. I want to see some rosy cheeks.”
The coated furniture blustered, farted as all four of us lined up on the couch, trembling together to stay warm.
“You know the drill. Don’t tell me I wasted my eggs for nothing.”
I was the oldest, so they all stared at me. Mom sucked down her frosty drink and asked someone to refresh it every few minutes. “Don’t forget the ice,” she’d yell. Mom didn’t want to hear that we made friends or joined the girl scouts or got on some baseball team.
“I went to Marshall Fields today,” I said.
“And?” she countered.
We all clutched our bags in our laps.
“Well, lay it out on the table. Last week there was nothing. You want to eat? You’ve got to produce. This is home schooling, people. Learning how to make it in this shit economy.” Smoke slithered around words.
“Got some necklaces, rings, and a whole rack of bracelets,” I said.
Mom leaned forward and looked the pile over, pushing each jewel with her finger while her face cracked.
She leaned back in her chair, grimaced and lit up another Kool. “You kidding me? A rack of beads and cubic zirconium? What are you? Twelve, thirteen? You’re hitting the age when hundreds of eyes watch you from every two-way mirror. A few more years and they’ll put you behind bars for this? Mother’s taught you better than that.”
The kid’s rifled through their bags and lined up the goods. Jenny was in charge of breaking into houses around the neighborhood. She usually came home with electronics, cash and real jewelry. Mom’s favourite, small enough to get in anywhere, fearless or stupid as a mouse.
Betsy was ten. She rode subways all day, memorized her script about lack of food and Mom out of work, neither that strayed from the truth. She came home with a hefty stash of cash she laid on the table.
“How much?” Mom asked.
Betsy was good at math. “Four hundred twenty eight dollars and eighty-two cents.”
“Nice. You’ll be getting dessert tonight. Now pour Mom another drink. Monica?” The cubes danced as Mom swirled her empty glass.
Monica was eight. The youngest always had the toughest task. Mom dropped her off in one of the rich suburbs and had her go door-to-door hawking cheap jewelry Mom couldn’t sell to her contacts. “Now remember, kid,” she’d say. “Innocence and a few dimples will get you everything. I didn’t spend the whole morning whipping up those Shirley Temple curls for nothing.”
Monica pulled out a wad of cash. She wasn’t as good at math as her sister.
Mom licked her finger and counted out the bundle. “Not bad, baby, not bad. Your father would be proud. He was one cold ass turkey without the ass,” she said and laughed. We stared.
Stalactites hung like earrings from the sides of Mom’s face. She shook her head at me, slush trailing down my cheeks. “Let’s go,” she flurried to the others. I didn’t pretend to follow the group. “Hey,” she slurred at me. Eyebrows raised and her cigarette voice erupted hailstones. “Good news is one day you’ll be buying Mom her bourbon and cigarettes. Now go practice picking some locks.”
I put on the smoldering face, stomped up to my room and slammed the door. But Momma was one sloshed fool for believing her posse was anything but piercing. There was always one kid shut out. So we’d taken some of the cash years ago and had a mini-fridge delivered. Stocked it with sandwiches and desserts stashed in the back of our closet. Also procured a case of brandy sent via eBay. You could get anything if you had the cash and a credit card. I’d eat the best meal of the night and the sisters knew it. Though we always made sure to have ice cream with brandy together with all the lights off after Mom was passed out and the freeze started to melt.