By Teresa Peipins.
“So when is she coming?”
“I don’t know why you’re so worked up about it,” Todd said. “It’ll be cool.”
“You’ll see,” Meagan answered.
Anxiety about her mother’s visit turned into dread by Friday afternoon when Meagan took the train out to JFK. Of course, Stella would choose the furthest airport. “Just to make it harder,” Meagan thought. From Cleveland you could fly easily into Newark or LaGuardia. Meagan had put off her mother’s visit for as long as possible, until finally she ran out of excuses. For two years Stella had been threatening to come.
Meagan stood in the waiting area with all the limo drivers holding signs. She felt like she was in India at JFK with the mass of people wearing everything from hijabs to dark suits rushing to their gates or waiting. She spotted her mother, strolling along, her arm on a man’s, looking as if she was sharing some deep secret.
“There you are, dear. I’m so happy to see you.” She kissed her daughter and motioned to the man next to her. “This is Frank. He’s been giving me some tips about what I absolutely have to see here.”
“Any bags?” Meagan asked, knowing her mother was not one to travel lightly.
“No, this is it.”
“Mother, you’re kidding.”
“You think I’m going to pay for a suitcase. I’ll just buy what I need if I have to.” Frank was still hovering by and finally pressed his card into Stella’s hand. “Let’s get a cab. I’m paying.” She turned to Frank. “It was lovely talking to you, and thank you so much for all your advice.” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand.
It wasn’t that Meagan didn’t love her mother. Stella wasn’t a mommie dearest kind of mother, just not very mom like. Meagan had always dreamed of the kind of mom her friends had, a woman who baked cookies. Even Hilary Clinton could bake chocolate chip cookies. It didn’t help that at sixty-three Stella was still very attractive, and that Meagan had never really cared about things like fashion and make up. For years she’d been in grad school working on a doctorate and struggling for funding, so there was nothing glamorous in her life of psychology and lab rats.
Stella acted like she was on a movie set when they got to Meagan’s tiny apartment in Brooklyn. “I love this place!” Her voice was too enthusiastic. “It’s what I imagine a New York apartment to be. When I was your age, you and Stevie were babies. New York was a dream.”
“Slaving over us.” Meagan had heard it all before. “Would you like a glass of wine? I have some nice olives and stuff.”
“What about dinner?”
“In or out? I’ve got menus I can call from.”
“No, let me take you out. This is the city. We have to go out.”
Meagan looked around her apartment and tried to imagine it through her mother’s eyes and came up with one word, shabby. It was a studio and she felt lucky to have it, but Stella would see it from the perspective of her huge house in Shaker Heights. “Okay. We can look around the neighborhood. There are lots of places, and you can choose where you’d like to go.”
“Aren’t we going to meet your boyfriend?”
“He’s still at work. I’ll call him when we pick a place. He’s close enough.”
Meagan towered over her mother, at least she was tall. People used to joke about it, how such a petite woman was mother to an Amazon. It had taken years, but now Meagan was happy with her five foot ten frame, lanky though it was.
She let her mother choose a Mexican restaurant and texted Todd the address. It was the kind of place she never went to. Inside color blasted at them from all the paper flags and wall hangings. Meagan half expected a mariachi band to come out and serenade them.
They were sitting at a booth working on margaritas when Todd walked in. “Ole,” he gave Meagan a kiss and held out his hand to Stella. “Ole to you, too.“ Stella gave him a big smile.
He sat down next to Meagan, both of them seated across from Stella. The waitress brought out chips and salsa. “You know in Europe you have to pay extra for this. They don’t just feed you massive quantities of stuff.”
“Really?” Stella asked. She was playing with the salt on the rim of her glass. “Deadly, isn’t it?”
“The salt?” Meagan asked.
“Bet you have a story or two.” Todd looked at her.
“Don’t get me started. Mexico, 1982, Acapulco on vacation. I practically breakfasted on the stuff.”
Meagan slumped back in her seat and worked on a chip.
“So, Todd, tell me, what is it you do? I never understand Meagan’s explanations. I don’t even know what it is she does.”
“Mother, I’ve told you a hundred times. I’m doing a study on neurotransmitters and depression.”
“Well I get that much. I just don’t know how you do it.”
“Stella, believe me you don’t want to know.” Todd smiled. “My work is worse. IT in the chemistry department.”
It was all Meagan could do to keep from laughing. Stella worked in fundraising for the Cleveland State Alumni Association and never wanted to know the details of what Meagan did. A technical word and her eyes would glaze over.
Meagan was on her second margarita and heard Stella gush over everything Todd said. Then she started on New York. “I love New York. A big, vibrant city. No dead zones, no chaos.”
“It’s gentrified now.” Todd answered.
“Where are you from?”
“Long Island. North Shore. It’s not the city or very exciting either.”
“But so close.”
Meagan squirmed. By the time dinner was over they’d each had three drinks apiece. As they left the restaurant, Stella was leaning on Todd. Meagan wanted to cry.
They slept in late the next morning, both sharing Meagan’s bed since it was either that or a mattress on the floor. Over coffee, Meagan said to her mother, “Why do you do that?”
“Fawn all over men.”
“Don’t be silly. You mean Todd? I was just being friendly. If I didn’t talk what would we do, all just sit there looking at each other like fools?”
“We manage just fine. I just don’t get it.”
Stella was getting angry. “I try to have a nice time and you accuse me of, well, I don’t know what.”
“Flirting with my boyfriend.”
“Now you’re being ridiculous. I can’t help it if you’re insecure. You need to grow up.”
“Forget it, Mother.” Meagan could see where the conversation was heading.
They spent a quiet day shopping. To make amends, Stella bought her daughter a couple of cashmere sweaters. “The blue is perfect with your eyes. You really could dress up more.”
“I don’t have time for that.”
When there were no other distractions or people around, Meagan could enjoy the energy and spirit her mother had. But by Sunday she was exhausted and put Stella on a train, hoping she wouldn’t get a phone call about a missed plane. Then she collapsed on the sofa with the bottle of wine she never got to open.
Todd called. “She was fun. I don’t know why you were so worked up about it.”
“You didn’t think she was a bit over the top… how interesting, how fascinating?”
“You’re overreacting, Meagan. She’s a nice person.”
Todd really didn’t get it, and Meagan didn’t want to feel like she was crazy, that there was no reason for her anger. Absolutely not. No more Todd. Another victim of Mother.
TEREZ PEIPINS’ poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in publications both in the United States and abroad including Anak Sastra, Barcelona Ink, The Barcelona Review, The Buffalo News,Conte, Creeping Bent,, Hawai’ Pacific Review, Melusine, and Pedestal, among many others. Two chapbooks, A Remedy of Touch and Box of Surprises are available on Amazon. Her newest chapbook, “Dance the Truth” is published by Saddle Road Press. She recently won The Atlanta Writer’s Club second prize in poetry. She blogs at http://peipins.blogspot.com/.