Unrelated – Part III

And now I give you, the conclusion…

             When I reached for her in the morning, she was gone. I climbed out of bed, and as I passed the office, saw that Judith had taken the futon. Downstairs, the coffee had been made and a mug left on the counter for me. Even in our most brutal fights, she could remain sweet. This wasn’t one of those fights – this was barely a fight – but it didn’t diminish the gesture. It didn’t take me much longer to realize that Maggie had left the house. I lifted my jumper from the hook in the kitchen, slipped on the nearest pair of trainers, and headed out the back. The garden gate was unlatched. I walked slowly toward the school because I knew what she was after by leaving, but I also felt anxious to talk to her as I do almost every morning.

            The chains holding up the swings were rusted. The slide would have worked just fine, but the wooden planks at the top were weathered and warped. Maggie twisted on one of the seats until the chains could not tighten any more. When she saw me, she let go, spinning out of control. As she slowed, I caught her and held the swing until it steadied. Without saying anything I sat down next to her. My face was unshaven, my hair matted, I looked quite scruffy. Fitting, since I hadn’t gotten much sleep. My Oxford Crew jumper was the only thing that might remind Maggie of the clever bloke she met at Uni, and perhaps I wore it for that very reason.

            “She’s winning.” I said gently.

            “I know. Doesn’t the fact that she’s on my turf mean anything? I am supposed to have at least a little advantage, aren’t I? Home team, all that.” she whined as she fell into my shoulder.

            “I’m not even sure what the game is, but she’s far better at it than you.” I said as a joke that fell flat. We sat in silence then Maggie stood up assertively. I followed and we started back to the house. She took my hand when I offered it to her and spent the two-block walk reminiscing about a time when she and her mother woke up early one day to shovel snow to surprise her father. She was seven years old.

*            *            *

            Judith sat at the dining room table, glasses low, concentrating hard on a crossword puzzle. When Maggie approached her, she seemed surprised.

            “What’s a six-letter word for ‘pride’?” she asked. All of the nonsense seemed to stop as Maggie leaned toward her mother as she took a moment to think of the answer.

            “Arrogant. No, no. That’s eight.” Maggie said, then paused again. “Hubris!” She exclaimed.

            “Hmm. Yes, that fits.” Judith confirmed. The two shared a warm smile.

            I felt a rush of relief, if for only a second. Having returned to her crossword, Judith threw the last twenty seconds of civility out the window with, “It’s nice you know the definition of the word. I was beginning to think-” She stopped abruptly when Maggie left her chair and headed toward the staircase, completely deflated and at a loss for words.

            I turned toward Judith and said, in the most sarcastic tone I could manage, “That was just lovely, Judith. Brilliant!” Judith said nothing. Maggie stopped in her tracks just before the hallway and turned on her heel to respond.

            Cutting her off, I said, “No, babe. She needs to treat you like a person, and I’ve grown very tired of this. I don’t know which one of you needs to grow up – maybe it’s the pair of you – but if you two won’t have the row you very likely need in order to get all of this sorted, then I’m going to take a turn.”  

            I collected myself, shifting my weight from left to right as I stood in the center of the kitchen, and said, “Judith, I love you. As much as a person can love someone they barely know, I love you. But I’m done with all of this. Maggie has tried and gone to great pains to please you but you insist on being miserable. You’ve questioned her every move – my every move, and you don’t know me that well, so I think that’s a little uncalled for. You’ve been judgmental and pressuring, done all the things Mags said you would, and frankly, have been quite mean. I don’t know if you noticed, but you and your daughter could have had a really nice time together just there, and you bloody killed it! I have tried to keep an open mind, to think she was just being dramatic, and I wish I could chock it up to a severe case of jet lag, but you are a piece of work. Mags is great. We might have a few issues, but Mags and I are great. You don’t get to come in here and cast doubt. We don’t have children because we’re happy just us two. There’s plenty of time for that, and not that it’s any of your business, but we have talked about it! Right now, we’re both feeling just a bit too selfish to bring – you know, sod it, we’ll keep you posted, alright! You don’t like our house, then get out. You don’t like London, then leave.”

            I caught my breath and instantly became worried that I had stepped too far, but when I looked over to Mags she was absolutely beaming. Judith didn’t respond this time, I’d like to think, because she knew she had no reason to argue, but as the seconds ticked by, I could tell that the guilt I felt in the pit of my stomach was now evident on my face.

            Judith slowly got up from the table wearing a hard-to-interpret smirk. Her eyes were fixed on me as she approached. I winced, but the hand that reached toward me carried no malice. She was gentle, motherly. Judith rested her hand on my face and kept her eyes on me, but instead spoke directly to Maggie.

            Nodding, she said, “You’ve done well, Maggie.” She emphasized her statement by patting my cheek lightly. Smiling, she dropped her arm and turned away, squeezing her daughter’s shoulder as she passed and coolly walked up the stairs.

            By the afternoon, her two enormous suitcases were waiting in the foyer.

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One Response to Unrelated – Part III

  1. Amy says:

    More please. 🙂

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