She paces around the kitchen, listening to the grating ringback tone that her daughter has never bothered to get rid of. The sky outside her window vacillates between stark rays of sunshine and the thick, graying, marshmallow fluff of storm clouds. It’s six thirty PM, and Margaret is running late. A pot of bolognese rests on the stovetop, wasting her gas bill to keep warm so long after being finished.
“Erin,” Margaret says, answering the phone sarcastically.
She sighs, adding another dash of salt to the sauce she’d spent hours perfecting, “Must you call me that? Why not mother? Or better yet, mom?”
“Because mothers show their children affection,” Margaret spits, “You’ve never shown me more than your checkbook.”
Even with the sound of the car’s open windows screaming in the background, she can tell her daughter is chewing gum. There’s a stinging sensation on the back of her neck that she’s always associated with Margaret eating. A blinding rage. It takes everything in Erin’s power not to ask her to spit it out.
“And a happy birthday to you too, my dear,” Erin says through gritted teeth. She burns her arm on the burbling pot, cursing under her breath, and asks, “When can I expect you this evening?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” Margaret starts.
“No, you can’t do this to me. Not today.”
“I’m not going to make it tonight, Cindy is taking me out for tapas,” Margaret says, turning the radio in the background up. Soft pop music plays, more bearable than the trash she listened to as a teenager, but certainly not helpful right now, as they talk on the phone.
“We made these plans weeks ago,” Erin groans, “You were supposed to meet Glenn.”
“I know, but I’ve never spent my birthday with her and I promised. I’ll meet him next time, I swear,” Margaret finishes. She chooses not to correct Margaret’s thousandth misgendering of her partner. This wasn’t the time for that.
“Listen, Erin, I’ve got to go. I’m at the restaurant and I’m running late.”
“And happy birthday to you too.”
The line goes dead and Erin can’t contain herself. She grasps the pot of bolognese from the stove, bare handed, and dumps it onto the other dirty dishes in the sink. She lifts the cheap Home Goods vase Margaret gifted her last year, on their shared day, and smashes it into the ground. She collapses, sobbing softly among the shards.
There’s a rustling in the other room as Glenn bursts through the door to the kitchen. When they arrive, Erin’s sitting on the linoleum with tears streaming down her face. She reaches up into the junk drawer, rustling around for her pack of emergency cigarettes and a lighter. Glenn nods silently, retrieves the broom and dustpan, and sweeps up the broken teal remains.
“Cindy?” Glenn asks as Erin lights herself the last bogey in her crumpled pack. It's stale. She quit a year ago.
“That bitch. What does she have that I didn’t provide?” Erin scowls, inhaling deeply, “Tell me that one thing.”
Glenn sighs, joining Erin on the floor and rubbing her back with one hand and wiping tears from her reddened cheek with the other. Their skin is softer than one would expect from an iron worker, and their touch can, for a moment, calm her rage. A thunderclap soars outside as the sun peaks through, one final time, and transforms into torrents of rain.
“Blood, honey,” Glenn coos, “That’s it. Just blood.”