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.”
Erin and Glenn have been together for the better part of a year, but Margaret has still yet to meet them. She lives not five miles from her mother, but every time there are concrete plans for a week, two, in advance, she calls at the absolute last minute to cancel. Or she doesn’t show up at all. Erin isn’t sure why she’s surprised by the betrayal, on today of all days, but she shouldn’t be. Her relationship with her daughter has never been an easy one.
“I don’t give a shit that the woman pushed my baby, kicking and screaming, out of her womb,” she moans, “I’m still the one who raised her. Where was Cindy when Margaret went to pre-school? Where was she when she broke her leg in fourth grade?”
“God knows,” Glenn agrees. “Why don’t we get ourselves out of here, let me buy you some dinner?”
Erin looks out at the window and tries to imagine herself going out in the downpour. She’d have to change into long pants and find some sort of marginally waterproof boots. She’d have to dig through the linen closet to find an umbrella big enough for the two of them. She’d have to get safely between the porch and the Mazda she has parked around the block without getting soaked. She can’t bare the thought, and shakes her head, letting the ash from her cigarette fall onto her dress, singing it.
Glenn takes the cigarette from her mouth and stubs it out on the bottom of their boot. They pick her up in their muscled arms and carry her out of the kitchen, depositing her onto the fading leather couch. For awhile, they’re in the kitchen cleaning up the rest of her mess, but when they return, they’re smiling, “Pizza’s on the way.”
Erin’s as happy as she can be, given the circumstances. Her partner is loving and caring and knows exactly what to do when she melts down. She wonders if this is why Margaret is so resistant to meet them. Margaret always looked down on her for attempting to go it alone. She was so relieved to find out that her bio-mom had the stereotypical doctor husband and two kids and tire swing and white picket fence life that Erin had resisted for so long.
Glenn isn’t the father that Margaret had longed for, and they’d never try to be. Despite Erin’s loose definition of acceptable family structure, Margaret harbored in her an intolerance she’d never understood. And even if that weren’t the case, it’s far too late for them at this point, with her grown and outside of Erin’s grasp, but she had hoped her daughter would warm up to them. Would pose for a single, measly picture that she could post on Facebook to prove to her sister Diane that the three of them, in fact, had something resembling a familial relationship.
Two large pies show up half an hour later, without incident. One’s smothered in ham and pineapple, while the other has peppers and anchovies. Erin’s favorites. They each take two slices and devour them while marathoning DVR’d reruns of Law & Order: SVU. They sit in silence, and Erin can’t help but zone in on the sound of Glenn’s beautiful jaw as it works its way through another chunk of warm pineapple. The way their nostrils flare up in pleasure with each lingering bite.
She has an urge and follows it, grabbing their plates and abandoning them on the glass coffee table. She straddles Glenn and wraps her arms around their neck. “I don’t know what it is, baby,” Erin says staring into her lover’s eyes, “but something about the way you eat just turns me on.”
She kisses Glenn hard. She forgets about her daughter. She forgets about the pizza. She gorges herself on other things, things that she denied herself for too long, in that life before. That life where it was just her and Margaret and no matter what she did, it would never be enough. She would never be like Cindy, and she’d have to accept that.
She’d have to try.