Soap Opera Sunday is an event inspired by Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe's . Today's entry is a fictional piece I've been working on--hope you enjoy!
The wire whisk stopped mid-stroke. “You want to go to San Diego? Why?”
“Listen Grace, I’ve been reading. They have a zoo, a sea world, a huge museum, a planetarium, beaches. And if we run out of things there, we can hop on the freeway and be up in L.A. in an afternoon and go to Disneyland. Come on, admit it. You’ve said you wanted to go to Disneyland ever since you were a slip of a girl and watched old Walt himself turn the first spade of dirt on the future home of Disneyland.” Leland’s words tumbled out trying to find favor with the ridged backside of his wife.
As his words continued, naming this place and that from all the tourist brochures he’d received from the San Diego and California Tourism boards, Grace once again worked the whisk until the eggs and milk were a yellow foam. Adroitly she reached over to the small length of countertop and picked up saucer after saucer, dumping their contents of sliced mushrooms, diced green peppers, onions, and ham into the froth. Soon the click, click, click accompanied Leland’s remarks as she turned the ingredients through the omelet, never letting them settle until she was ready to pour them into the awaiting pre-heated pan.
Quickly she moved the two feet back to the small double sink and placed the large bowl, now devoid of its mix, the wire whisk and assorted saucers, spatulas, measuring cups and knives into the sink. Briefly she allowed her thoughts to encompass the sizeable array in the small metal sink. How fixing breakfast muffins and an omelet for two could possibly take up that many utensils was a mystery, she chuckled. Nothing like fixing breakfast for five strapping teenagers come in from farm chores, she silently avowed shaking her head in testament.
“It’ll be fun, Grace. We’ll map out all the places we want to see between St. Louis and San Diego. Make a real trip of it. No holds barred!” Leland said with great relish. “I can send for information from each state we’ll go through. They all have tourism boards. They all want you to spend your money in their state, so they have all that stuff free,” he almost drooled over the prospect of sending for more pamphlets. His days would soon be filled with more pictures of distant places. Spots he had spent a lifetime envisioning while milking placid cud-chewing cows in the bitter Wisconsin winters, and while riding high atop a hay wagon pitching bales skyward to the next level, sweating profusely in the sizzling summer sun.
“I thought you said we could go home this year.” The words came slowly as if drug from the very depths of her soul.
“Home? Home to Wisconsin? Are you crazy woman? Life is in the living, not in the sitting,” recited Leland. “Why on earth you’d want to spend another hot humid summer in that state is beyond me. Cool ocean breezes. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Let’s do it, Gracie, let’s let ourselves wade in the Pacific, watch dolphins and whales. Yeah, did I tell you that one? The brochure said there was a beach where you could watch whales swimming right off shore. They even have a beach with seals,” his voice warming to the subject, he once again launched into a full description of the many and varied attractions all to be found in sunny California.
The timer on the oven began its insistent dinging, calling Grace back to her task at hand. Opening the small oven door with her large oven-mitt, she could see the muffins had come up full and perfectly golden. They had just begun to pull away from the muffin tin. As the oven door opened, the room was flooded with their light spicy cinnamon aroma. Grandma Iris would be pleased, Grace inwardly beamed.
Giving the omelet pan a slight swirl, she assured herself it wasn’t sticking and put the heavy glass lid over the mixture to allow it to cook and rise. She prided herself on her light fluffy omelets. Everyone wanted to know her secret. Her secret, she knew, was so very simple, a sprinkle of cream of tartar in the mix. Something every McAlester woman knew from the time she could see over the countertop--maybe even earlier, she smiled.
Leland’s voice sounded something like a fly buzzing, or maybe, she ruminated, like a mosquito that invades the bedroom at night with its high-pitched whine assaulting your ear in the darkness. Her knuckles whitened as she leaned on the sink edge wishing she could stop the never-ceasing drone. He was definitely on a roll, she thought, shaking her head wearily, shoulders sinking with her sigh.
She raised her gaze from the child-sized sink to her lovely flower box in the window sill. One thing the man got right, nodded Grace with approval. The box had been his attempt to meet his wife’s complaints over her lost herb garden and flower beds from the farmstead. She reached out now and lovingly caressed the light purple flowers on the chives.
“Leland, I just can’t do it,” Grace drew herself up and braced for the reaction to her announcement.
“Can’t do what?” Leland’s voice rose an octave. “Can’t sit in the damn car and look out the window? Can’t lounge around motels and sit pool side in the evenings? Can’t eat out at fancy restaurants and dress for dinner? What the hell can’t you do? he demanded, his voice continually rising with each query.
Never turning, she knew his face would be beet red by this time. She didn’t want to see it. She wouldn’t look. It would drain her resolve.
“Please, Leland. After last year’s trip up the Alaskan highway, you promised we could go home this year. You said we could take the camper and stay in the park near the farm. I could cook for the kids. The only time we get to see the grandkids is in pictures in our email. They’ve grown so,” she implored. “You know you’re their favorite grandpa. Don’t you want to see them while they’re still small. Soon enough they’ll be grown and won’t want to have anything to do with two old people.” She turned irresolutely hoping she’d see some sign of him weakening.
There Leland sat, face fire red. “That’s hitting below the belt, Grace!” he boomed. “Bringing the kids and grandkids into this is just not right. We can fly home for the holidays like we did last year. One week with that crew is enough. Good Lord, woman, you spent thirty years plus raising that wild bunch. Why in the world do you want to spend what good years you and I have left raising another set? You know damn well that’s what would happen. We’d been there for one hour last Christmas when Delores asked you to watch the baby for Christ’s sake.”
“Leland, she hadn’t been out of that house for weeks with Tammy Lee sick with chicken pox. It was all she could do to get ready for the holidays, what with shopping and cleaning and all the farm chores. You know she doesn’t have children yet with any size to them. She has to fill in the chores for Mick when the summer hands are laid off.” Grace poured out the defense from all the years she had done the same, and been glad for Grandma Iris, and her own mother Ida’s helping hands.
“Just the same, she’d do it again in a New York minute, summer or winter! Never saw a woman so anxious to get to town. Don’t know how Mick took up with a city girl. Told him right off it was a foolish move. Love my ass,” Leland snorted, settling back into his kitchen chair in a huff, arms crossed defensively across his heaving chest.
Grace searched her husband’s face for some sign. Something that showed he’d heard a word she’d said. That he might feel something she felt for her home, her lost life. Of her being trapped inside this “senior housing” unit that she referred to as a gerbil cage. The reddish purple had worked its way down Leland’s neck to his chest. She could see the veins swollen from his brow to his shoulder. There would be no home visit this summer.
Turning back to the stove she realized she’d almost allowed the omelet to over-cook. Hastily she grabbed the oven mitt and removed the glass lid, skillfully cut the omelet in fourth’s with the spatula edge, and flipped each section. Reaching over to the tiny counter, she retrieved the shredded cheese and scattered it across the surface of the overly brown omelet hoping once melted Leland wouldn’t see the dark surface. She was ashamed she’d allowed herself to be so distracted from her task.
With his wife’s back to him once again, Leland opened his arms from across his chest. He knew she’d say nothing more about it. He’d won. He’d have his trip. Her stiff back robbed him of any sense of victory.
Grace brought the muffins, now cooled, over to the table and returned to the counter, her haven. Leland reached for the muffin and broke its golden top open, smearing it with heaps of butter. As his teeth sunk into the soft tender meal, its aroma still filling the small room, his muscles loosened and so did his anger.
Sheepishly he began to coax her. “Come on, Gracie, old girl. Those kids are doing just fine. And we got lots to see and do together, now, eh? Tell you what. You don’t want to make the drive, right? Well, fine. Let’s fly out, eh? That’s right. We’ll fly out and lease one of them economy cars from one of them easy rental shops. Hey, there’s lots to do right there in San Diego, we don’t need to do the whole cross country trip if you think it will tire you too much.”
With each seeming “concession” Leland grew more animated. He was, after all, a reasonable man, a loving husband. “We’ll have a helluva time, Gracie gal, you’ll see!” And with that he piled into his next muffin warming himself to the task of getting the best airfare rates--more brochures and a trip on the internet were going to be the order of the day.
Grace brought the omelet over and placed it on Leland’s plate and returned to eat her meal at the counter as she had done for more years than she could remember. She watched the sun dance on the leaves of her parsley plants.