Here’s this week’s story:
Why would she?
By Laura McHale Holland
Cassie shuffles inside, tosses her keys into an ceramic bowl on the table and glances at herself in the foyer mirror. She hopes to see someone tall and willowy, like that Giselle who married the football guy. But Cassie isn’t willowy, never will be, even if she could lose weight. Just five-foot-four, she’ll never wake up one morning and suddenly be five-nine. But slim and graceful would do. Heck, even graceful would be better than what she is now, just like a cow.
Of course, people would never say that sort of thing these days. They’d feel guilty for even thinking it, unlike back when she was in high school, wishing she could camouflage her 185 lbs. as boys she longed to kiss would lean against their lockers and moo when she plodded by. Nowadays that sort of thing would be sexual harassment. She feels good knowing this, knowing those kids with all that stinkin’ power, that charisma that comes from some unknown place forbidden to most of us, those kids can’t do what they used to do.
But, life being what it is, she supposes they’d find other ways to be cruel and spiteful. And, god, now they’ve got guns, but that’s more of an urban thing, she supposes, although she doesn’t know. She hasn’t set foot in a high school since the day she graduated. Why would she? She isn’t a teacher. And she has no kids to draw her back. Never got hitched, not that she didn’t want to, you know. Nobody wanted her. Not even Nelson, her crush since third grade. Nelson who used to push her to the sky on the playground swings.
Good old Nelson played tuba in the marching band and played her for a fool, too, putting her on speaker phone, the rest of the band smirking and gathering around, as he asked real sweet like if she wanted to go to the homecoming dance. You should have heard that band roar when she said yes. All that honkin’ laughter crackling through the phone wires turned her head into a giant conch, and she couldn’t hear from nothing for hours. When was that, god, has it been twenty-two years? That long?
Cassie pulls off her work shoes, practical black pumps. Her boss wore red Converse high tops today with a casual brown suit and a blouse with all sorts of autumn colors, including a rich warm red. Cassie, the admin, short for the grunt who does everything nobody else wants to do, could never wear stuff like that. Couldn’t get away with it. Why would she want to call attention to her body anyway?
She stretches her dimpled limbs out on the couch and stares out the window of the mobile home she shares with her mom. Her mother, Barbara, belle of every ball, the same height as Cassie, manages somehow to be willowy, still manages to not have cellulite. How is that?
Men come knocking on the door. Like Jonathan down the row there. Cassie sees him all the time tending his potted roses. All the plants here are potted, except the trees the original owners didn’t cut down when they made this trailer park. So some pines and oaks and even a stand of redwoods remain, creating shade aplenty. That’s part of the reason she and her mom picked this location, the shade in the summer to help stave off the heat on those long, late summer afternoons when the thermometer rises and rises and these trailers welcome the heat like hungry puppies, except they’re not really trailers anymore.
What Cassie and her mom have now is a bona fide manufactured home. Some might actually call it spacious, even has an extra room for their assorted projects, things like crocheted afghans, macrame plant holders and doll house rooms that never seem to get finished.
Cassie turns on the TV. Oprah TiVo’d. She wonders why her mom isn’t home. She was going to join some friends for a swim this morning, have brunch at the adjoining clubhouse and then come home. She had only to walk down the lane and back. It’s where almost her entire social life, and love life, too, take place.
But Cassie, the daughter, has no social life. Her days consist of sitting at her desk at Nedler Corp. and answering the phone every minute or so. It’s a wonder she gets anything done. They sent her to class for that. They thought she sounded a little gruff. Gruff. What do they know from gruff? That willowy, graceful boss of hers? What would she know? She was probably one of those, what are they called? Silver spoon in the mouth types. She doesn’t know anything that matters, can’t even thread a needle. But the boss sent her to some kind of phone manners workshop. Cassie had to attend, no choice. She went and learned a few things about how the customer is always right an’ all. So, maybe it was worth it.
She hears a familiar laugh outside and stands up to get a better look. And there is her mother, Babs, almost 58 years old, strolling up hand-in-hand with a man Cassie doesn’t recognize. Probably met him at the pool, might be a new resident. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? she wonders. Shouldn’t she be walking up with her man? Shouldn’t the mother be looking through the window at her?
She scoots to the tiny alcove of a kitchen, grabs a handful of roasted, salted peanuts. God, they taste good. The salt, the oil all over her lips, the crunch. She takes another handful and another. She wipes the greasy residue from her mouth with the back of her hand as Babs and new friend walk through the door.
“Hi Cassie,” Babs says, “This is Rudy. He just moved in two days ago. He came all the way from Lubbock, Texas. Can you believe it?”
Cassie nods. “Nice to meet you,” she says to Rudy.
“Nice to meet you, too, Cassie. Your mom has told me all about you,” he says
“In an afternoon? I doubt it,” Cassie says.
“Oh, Cassie. Don’t be like that. How ‘bout making us some tea or something,” Babs say.
“I was just on my way out, actually. I have to do some errands. I’ll be back to get dinner ready. I assume you’re staying for dinner …”
“Whoa, now, I hadn’t assumed anything,” Rudy says, holding up his hand like a cop policing an intersection. “In fact, I was thinking of taking this lovely lady out on the town.”
“Really?” Cassie’s mom says. She claps her hands together and jumps up and down like a preschooler about to get an ice cream cone.
“What do you think, Babs?” He opens his arms wide. Babs, steps in.
“I’d love to,” Babs says, as he closes his arms around her.
“It’s settled then,” Cassie says, knowing that if the guy’s already calling her Babs, he’ll be staying the night. “Have a nice time, Mom.” Cassie steps past them, grabs her keys from the bowl, almost knocking it off the table. “Don’t you go anywhere, now,” she mumbles to the bowl while centering it on the table.
“Can’t have any runaway bowls, now can we,” Rudy says. He pats Babs’s shoulder. She giggles and snuggles in closer to him.
“See you later, maybe,” Cassie says. She opens the door, steps outside and dashes to her Ford Focus. She backs out of the carport and heads down the lane to the highway. Cassie has no errands to run, no friends to visit, no club meetings to attend, nothing. She stops in at the Mini Mart at the corner and buys more peanuts, god, they taste so good today, along with a Coke Zero, some Suzy-Q’s, five packs of Trident sugarless gum and several chunks of homemade fudge on display at the checkout.
She drives the car to a hill up the road. At the top is an old tire swing swaying from an oak sprinkled with mistletoe. She eases out of the car, Suzy Q’s in hand, and climbs into the rubber cradle. She kicks off and swings back and forth. Down below is the trailer park, her home in plain sight. She’s got a good view of the door; she’ll know exactly when they leave. She’ll watch them get into her mom’s Corolla and drive off. Rudy will be at the wheel. It always happens like that. She’ll wait a few minutes for her mother and paramour of the week or month to drive down the highway. Then she’ll jump off the swing and drive home.
Oprah will be waiting. So will her Lean Cuisine chicken and rice dinner. Nonfat pudding for dessert. If she’s lucky her mom will sleep over at Rudy’s. But she’ll lock her bedroom door just in case. She’s never going to let another one of her mother’s men stumble into her room on his way back from the bathroom, say it was a mistake, but refuse to leave. She told Babs about it. Babs just laughed it off, said Cassie must have been dreaming. But that was so long ago now. Why whould she even care now?
Cassie rips open the Suzy-Q package, crinkles the wrapper into a ball and drops it into her lap, securing it between her thighs so it won’t fall out. She nestles the Suzy-Q’s into her lap, too. She pumps her legs, swings higher, higher, higher and then feels a flush of satisfaction, for at least she’s not one of those lowlifes who toss off their garbage willy nilly wherever they go. She’s better than that. She slows down, lifts a Suzy-Q from the cardboard backing, takes a bite, eyes peeled on the front door far below.