Short Fiction

Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Tina now had two kids. One so barely removed from her that she could still wear him close and lull him to contentment with just her heartbeat.  Her other son was closing in on four, which meant he was “big boy” enough to assert his independence with the close inspection of every public toilet.  Like any new mother Tina was exhausted all the time.  She slept in dark, deep snippets and woke quickly just before her baby stirred.  The first baby honed those waking instincts, but she had difficulty falling back to sleep after nursing her new, greedy son.  Over the last few weeks Tina had watched more than a few sunrises with a mug of hot tea salted by postpartum tears.  It wasn’t that she didn’t want and love her boys, but it was harder than she imagined it would be with Luke picking up night shifts in the ER.  She knew that these long chaotic days and nights would pass in time and they’d all get into a familiar routine, but now she just felt like a leaky, lactating, care-giving machine.

Tina wasn’t sure she would be able to go back to the office after her maternity leave. She and Luke hadn’t discussed her NOT returning and she alternated between guilt and self-righteousness about it. This ambivalence kept her from checking in with her work mates the way she did when she was home with Henry.  She had gone back to work after only eight weeks leave then, but her mother-in-law was close by and thrilled to baby-sit.  Since her stroke they couldn’t count on that safety valve anymore, and Tina was sure the cost of child care for two kids would be close to her salary, and then what would be the point?  The future landscape of diapers, assorted colds and unidentified messes in the company of two demanding people under five overshadowed her earlier dreamy fantasies of preparing healthful, hearty meals in their snug (read: too small) kitchen and reading to Henry.   Now most of her visions featured her costumed in baggy, dingy clothes, her hair pulled back to reveal that particular, vacant look of a woman with interest in neither her past nor her future.

Bleary and blowsy, still wearing her maternity jeans and an old hoodie of Luke’s, Tina took Henry to story time at the library to give them both a break.  It was only half an hour and if she were lucky little Tucker would stay asleep snuggled in the Baby Bjorn giving her the freedom of two hands to flip through a few magazines.  The thought of checking out a book out was as preposterous as giving herself a manicure and pedicure.  She barely had time to take a decent shower how would she ever carve out a block of time to read a book?

The library was newly quiet this overcast September day, except in the children’s room, of course.  A group of three- and four-year-olds is its own kind of joyful rumpus, and the librarian who volunteered to read today had enough life wisdom and her own brand of vigor to both wrangle and enjoy other people’s kids for a proscribed thirty minutes.  Henry was in his element with other kids.  He was a friendly and engaging little boy, and it gave Tina’s heart a little pang that he so readily jumped into the group without even a backward glance to his weary mother.

“I’ll just be right outside this door, Henry,” Tina said to the back of Henry’s shaggy, bobbing head.    She absently stroked Tucker’s warm leg, like a little fleecy sausage in his sleep-suit.

Tina strolled over to the circle of seats at the edge of the magazines and periodicals.  Should she torture herself with Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar?  Or read something more suited to her current lifestyle, like Redbook or Good Housekeeping?  Clearly she needed some escape, a brief respite from her current reality.  She couldn’t get that powdery smell of disposable diapers out of head and her hands were perpetually dry from the countless washings and rush to the next chore.  She tried to remember to apply hand lotion, but if the bottle wasn’t at hand it was just another lost opportunity for an iota of personal care.  It wasn’t all that long ago her finger nails were maintained with red polish.  She’d admire her hands twirling a pencil, tapping on the steering wheel waiting at a light. Now her nails were uneven, squarish, bordered by dry, ragged cuticles.  Yes, her hands were hard at work taking care of her young family, but they were also a reflection of her own self-neglect.  No matter how hard she tried to maintain the logic that these feelings of being overwhelmed and over-tired were temporary, Tina got caught up in her own private melancholy.

“Screw it,” she said, grabbing the thick as a painted brick Vogue and settling herself (and the snuffling baby Tucker) into a chair, but the chair was too deep with armrests too high for a mother wearing a sleeping infant across her chest to read an open magazine on her lap.  Tina tried holding Vogue in her two hands spread open at eye level but the bottom pages of the magazine were dangerously close to Tucker’s sweetly pulsing soft spot.  And it was too thick to fold and rest on top of the armrest without slipping down off the chair entirely. Which is exactly what it did, out of arm’s reach.  This was becoming an exercise in frustration, and to a sleep-deprived postpartum mother of two, the last straw.

Tina planted her feet widely, braced herself on the armrests and heaved herself up, leaving Vogue half sprawled, half curled on the floor.   She did not care if she was making a mess in the library, let somebody clean up after her for a change.  She stuffed a hand into her hoodie pocket for a tissue – she could feel her nose starting in run even as she willed herself not to cry over this inability to even hold a magazine.

She knew she couldn’t leave Henry out of her sight.  She could see the back of his head watching the librarian read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.   Maybe she could stand over the lower bookshelves and flip through the pages?  Or she could just stand in the doorway of the children’s room and sway with Tucker.  She liked the ending of the story when all the caterpillar’s eating resulted in his metamorphosis into a butterfly – an ironic smile curled her lips.

On her exit from the embrace of frustrating reading chairs, Tina noticed a table of books.  A collection of books curated around the light-hearted theme of escape.  Seems the librarians were a little behind in updating the display for Back-To-School, but then again, maybe with their kids going back to school, the local Moms had earned a little bit of child-free escape.    She was attracted to the bright cover colors and the sassy titles:  In Her Shoes, The Next Best Thing, Love, Lies and Lemon Cake, The Sweet Spot and Big Girl Panties. 

“Maybe a paperback book?  That’s one-hand manageable for sure,” she thought.  Tina circumnavigated the tiered table – there were both hard cover and paper backs free-standing, arranged as though they were having a bit of a gossip session amongst themselves.  There were a couple of loners stacked in the middle – their colorful spines facing her, but making her dip a bit to read them.  She put her hand protectively over Tucker’s head.

Tina had a thought that if the chapters were short, reading a few pages (or paragraphs) might be a nice thing to do for herself.  A slightly better activity than sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV until she fell asleep or Tucker woke her for a feeding. She flipped a few over to read the blurbs and author profiles.  She also tried to pick from the thinner tomes – no sense setting herself up for failure with a thick book.  She liked the idea of Big Girl Panties – another story of metamorphosis – fitting for a gal looking to shed her own old maternity panties.

Pleased with her decision she snatched up Big Girl Panties.  Tucker was just starting to stir. In another ten minutes story time would be over and she’d be checking out her selection with Henry’s picks in the children’s room.  And then the brisk walk back home before the routine of lunch and naps for the boys and a few minutes of reading for herself.  One small step for this mom. One giant leap for stimulation challenged, sleep-deprived mothers everywhere.

You’ve just finished Chapter 5 of the continuing saga of our duo, Ruby and Viv, and their hidden Benjamins.  Want to re-fresh your memory?  See the chapter links below:

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

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Short Fiction

Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Need to refresh your memory before digging in to the fourth installment in the money-hiding hi-jinks of  Ruby and Viv?  Visit Bright Lights and Big Bev City first.

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties 

Ruby and Viv were klatching in Ruby’s kitchen because Viv’s was always “in a state.”   Viv’s husband, Phil, was responsible for the disarray of Viv’s home.   Viv referred to him as her “late” husband because he was always underestimating the timeline on his handy-man projects.  He was frequently running out to the hardware store and losing track of time – making them “late” to events or prohibiting them from entertaining in their home. They were well-matched as Viv was a free-wheeling flower child and over time she learned how best to manage Phil’s many well-meant projects.  She would wait until Phil went on his annual fishing trip with his brothers and then hire somebody to finish all the semi-completed odd-jobs.  It was one of the unspoken contracts in their marriage.

Viv had brought a couple of warm bear claws and a pull-apart danish ring to enjoy with their coffee. Both women were early birds. Ruby was a creature of habit and liked to walk every morning no matter the weather. She was still glowing from her walk and had just unplugged the percolator when Viv rapped on the kitchen window as she headed to the back door.

By the time Ruby opened the door Viv was already stepping out of her shoes and stepping into the sunny kitchen.

“Good morning, Viv.  And what artery-clogging treats did you bring today, my friend?” Ruby asked.

Viv was stuffing a stubby, frosted bear claw finger into her mouth, “Bear claws and a pull-apart from Glossy’s Bakery,” she mumbled.  “Jesus, don’t you feed this damn cat?”

Ruby’s cat, Pinsky, loved to antagonize Viv, because he knew instinctively that Viv was not an animal person.  This was his cue to entwine himself between her legs.  He’d leave Viv alone as soon as she cursed him.

“Damn cat.” That said, Pinsky sauntered over to his corner to complete his post-breakfast grooming.

Our heroines settled themselves at the kitchen table with steaming mugs of coffee and carbohydrate-laden treats.  As is the case with most longtime friends, they were silent during their initial sips.  No need to fill the air with chatter until the delicious sugar and caffeine made its way into their brains.

Viv broke the silence, “So, you hear anything?”

It had been over three weeks since they left the first Benjamin in The Valley of the Dolls.  They didn’t know what to expect and had planned to be stealthy so Ruby knew there was a chance nobody would even find the cash in their remaining lifetime.   Also, how many people really checked out Jacqueline Susann in these “ought” years?

“Viv, we knew there was a chance nobody would find the money.  That’s not why we’re doing this.”

“I know, Doll, it’s just that it would be fun to hear people speculate.  We’d be like The Scarlet Pimpernel – “zhey seek ‘em here, zhey seek ‘em there, zhey seek ‘em everywhere…”  Viv’s French accent was tinged with a nasal cross of Bayonne and Jersey City.

Ruby chuckled at her friend’s bit of doggerel.  She didn’t think people would loudly cop to finding random C-notes in library books, and they had only planted one so far.  Ruby poured herself another cup of coffee and grabbed a banana – leaving Viv the tattered remains of the danish ring.  Viv had no guilt over tapping up the crumbs with her index finger.

“So, what’s our next book?”  Viv asked between crumb taps.

“Well, I don’t think we should pick a newly released book, but maybe we shouldn’t go back as far as the bestsellers of the 60’s,” Ruby offered.

They made a prospective book list the first time they met, but it got lost in the chaos of Viv and Phil’s place which slowed down the pace of their offering.  No matter, they had nothing but time to research and debate their next placement. Ruby booted up her ancient laptop.

“Maybe we should consider non-fiction? Biography?”

“How about home improvement?  Optimists like Phil are always lurking around there,” Viv suggested as she strolled back to the table from her latest trip to the bathroom.

“I don’t know.  I still think fiction is the best bet for someone looking for an escape.  Plus, doesn’t everybody just watch YouTube videos for home improvement projects now?”  Ruby ruminated out loud as she mined the web for book titles.

Viv and Ruby debated all morning until they were “hangry” – hungry to the point of extreme irritability.

“Look, Ruby, let’s just pull up our big girl panties and go get some lunch.  We’re debating a dead horse at this point.”

“Viv, you are brilliant.  Look at this – there is a book called Big Girl Panties out there.  It’s relatively new, been out for over a year now.   This author, Stephanie Evanovich, has a new book out now – so we have the increased odds of somebody looking for her first book, too.”  Ruby’s voice was rising with excitement.  Intuition was telling her this was the right pick.

“Ruby, you saucy minx!  It’s only fitting we stick the big face of a dirty old Ben Franklin into some girly panties.   Now maybe we’ll start seeing some action.   Let’s go get a tuna club at Max’s.  I’m starving already.”