When she called me to come over, I shot over there like always. I brought my rubber gloves, the spray cleaner and dish soap plus a new box of her favorite chocolate-covered doughnuts. Even when she’s on one of her diets, she still likes her doughnuts.
When I got there, Velma was already stuffed into that red dress that’s supposed to make you look thinner, but which only makes you look squashed. And hot. Like she’s trying too hard. A beautiful young girl like her doesn’t have to try. All she has to do is breathe.
So, after she left and I finally got Sara Jane down for her nap, I went right to work on the kitchen. Then, I moved on to the downstairs bathroom.
I was stuffing another load of towels into the washing machine — was that a grinding noise coming from behind the machine? God, I hoped not. Noise costs money.
So, the phone rings. I wasn’t going to answer it, but it kept on ringing and I didn’t want it to wake up little Sara Jane, so I answered it.
It figures that it would have to be him. It would be him when it was me here alone with my shirt soaked from the cleaning and the hair hanging in my eyes and the baby starting to whimper.
You can see how it could only go the way it did. Hot and sweating, the baby starting to cry, what else could I do?
I hung up. I stared at the phone for a minute. I’d actually done it. I’d hung up on the bastard.
Then the phone rang again. She doesn’t have caller id, but I know it’s him again. He’s the kind of creep who never gives up.
I pick up the receiver and I hang up, waiting for a minute so that he knows that I hung up on him. Then the washing machine noise gets louder, like it’s serious, so when the phone rings again, I take it to the back porch with me so that it won’t ring again while I’m figuring out what to do.
The machine is starting to shimmy a little, but the towels are still swirling around in there, so I figure it can’t be too bad. While I’m analyzing my options, the phone keeps on ringing and I keep on hanging up. He’ll get the message soon enough.
It’s maybe the tenth or fifteenth time that we’re doing this little ring/hang-up routine when I get an idea. The phone rings and I pick up. I don’t say anything.
“Don’t hang up!” he yells. So, I decide that maybe I’ll hear him out. I take the phone back into the kitchen and open the fridge. It’s just what I expected, the usual mess of apple juice, jars of baby food and pizza boxes. Oh, well, I’d clean it out like I always do.
He’s talking again. “Don’t hang up. Please. Just listen. Okay?”
I breathe. I am not going to waste my breath talking to him.
“Let me hear that again. Closer? Okay? Hold the phone so I can hear what’s going on.”
It’s like he thinks he can tell me what to do. I hold the phone so that he can hear the washing machine.
“You’re off-balance.” He says it like that, all flat and plain like I’m supposed to care what he thinks.
“You’re a whoring jackass,” I tell him. He is.
“No, no, no, I don’t mean it like that! The washing machine is off-balance. You gotta prop up the back foot.”
Ha. Like I’m going to do what he says. I look behind the machine anyway, just to see if he knows what he’s talking about.
I’ll be damned. There’s a stack of match books stuck under one of the little feet in the back, the place where the boards are warped from all the rain we got a couple of summers back. One of the books has shuffled out of the pack, so it’s hanging out kind of crooked.
“How?” Is he crazy? I can’t lift this thing.
“I’ll be right there.” He hangs up.
He hung up. On me. And now he’s coming over here?
I don’t know what to do. I look like a slob. Eight years I haven’t seen this prick and now, today when I’m hot and wearing my sweats, he’s coming over?
I drag my hair back tight into the ponytail holder. I splash cold water on my face. I get the baby who’s stamping her feet like she’s been in that crib forever when it’s only been an hour.
He bangs on the door. The baby reaches for him and he takes her from me like he knows what he’s doing. Sara Jean snuggles her head under him and calls him Gampy.
He’s looking at me hard. I tug down my t-shirt and look back at him.
“You look great, Cheryl.” His eyes are still that deep blue that I used to love.
“You, too,” I say. It’s true. He does. He’s lost that pudge he had when I left him for the last time.
He smiles. “So, about that machine…”
Sara Jean tugs on his ear. “Be horsey! Let’s go, Gampy, let’s go!” He laughs down at her and bounces her all the way to the back porch.
When Velma comes stomping in, we’re on the back porch. I’m holding the machine and he’s laying on his side shoving more paper under the little foot thing. Sara Jean is sitting on the back steps eating animal crackers.
“Well, isn’t this nice!” Velma says. Only it’s not like she means it. I know my girl. This is the voice she uses when she says the opposite of what she really thinks.
James leans back and looks up at her. “I just fixed your damned washing machine, baby girl. The least you could do is get your mom and me a beer.”
We sit with Sara Jean making crumbs between us. Velma is back somewhere in the house talking loud on the phone to the guy who just stood her up.
It feels nice. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it feels really nice to be sitting here with him on these rickety steps feeling the July heat shimmer and fade.