Find the Rules at Rachael Ritchie’s blog: http://wp.me/p7rsge-cB
Genre: Realistic Fiction
The Devil is in the Details
Anita picked up the cordless and counted down the speed-dial list with a finger. No wooing, nor scheming, nor monetary enticements had worked. She had made the effort each time with high hopes. Nothing had changed in five years. She drew in an unsteady breath. The phone chirped in her ear. Once. Twice. And again. A tired female voice answered.
“Hello, Grandma, that you?”
I’m not your grandma, darnit. Simmer down, Anita. She rolled her shoulders and pasted a smile on her face. Everyone knew a smile traveled through the telephone and out the other end. “That you, Sylvia? How are you? How are the boys? What about Emma?” Her face hurt but she maintained the smile though her jaw quivered and her eyes leaked.
A pause and an impatient sigh. “Everyone is fine. To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?”
“You’ve been on my mind. Miss the kids like crazy.” Anita bit her lip. There, I’ve said it. “Haven’t heard from them in ages. Something wrong with your Skype? I guess everyone has things to do and places to go.”
“Grandma, they’re busy with homework, baseball, and ballet. You know how it is.” A door slammed. Rowdy arguing followed; a girl’s shrill voice sliced through her brothers’ booming power struggle. The sounds muffled a moment. “Quiet. Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” A muffled drone filled Anita’s ear, then the sound of footsteps clomping on ceramic.
“Are you there, Sylvia? Can I talk to Emma… please?” Anita’s heart thrummed. How can she refuse? I know Emma’s there.
“It’s just—alright but make it quick. She has ballet in a few minutes.”
“Before you go, I have an idea. It’s been so long, I thought I’d come up to see you all for a couple days. Save you fare and travel time. Don’t want to be any trouble. I’ll stay in a hotel. How about it?” She ran a sleeve over her eyes, the smile cemented in place.
“I’ll have to talk to Phil. See what his plans are.”
“I don’t mind staying with the kids, if you have special plans—save you a babysitter.”
In the silent pause, Anita pictured her daughter-in-law’s eyes roll. “They’re teenagers and Emma is ten now. Here she is.” A hushed drone and a young voice gushed through the miles between them. “Hi, Grandma. How are you? I miss you.”
“Bless your heart. I miss you too, and your sweet face. We haven’t Skyped for months. How about this weekend?”
“Maybe. Gotta go, Grandma. Mom’s waving her car keys at me.”
* * *
“She offered to visit again, Phil. I can’t manage it: me working, you never home, the kids with their lessons and friends.” Sylvia paced before her husband, each point punched onto the pads of her fingers with a lacquered nail.
Her husband threw his arms in the air. “What do you want from me? The guilt of turning her down is killing me. Guilt over making extra work for you is too. Can’t keep putting her off forever. Figure something out that works. Get it over with, okay?”
“She’s your mother and a lonely old woman. I’m not up to playing nursemaid. I work all day, too, and have a household to run. Will you at least be around to help out?”
Phil pulled out a chair. “Sit. You’re making me dizzy.” Hands shoved in his pockets, he paced.
* * *
Separated from foot traffic, a bird of a woman sat in a wheelchair. Dark, wraparound glasses too large for her, covered half her small face. She clasped a red carry-on on her lap. The airport attendant behind her held up a sign with two words: Anita Martin. Phil rushed through the Arrivals door, his wife took her time behind him.
“Mother? Are you all right?” Sylvia crashed into him at his abrupt stop. The attendant nodded and melted into the crowd.
“I’d recognized that voice anywhere.” Anita raised a hand for a shake. “That you, Sylvia? Good to see you both. You still have those cowboy boots you bought in Texas. The hesitation of your left foot since you busted your knee in football has always been a dead giveaway.”
“What’s with the chair, Mom.”
“Those are some ugly glasses, Grandma.” Sylvia made a face. She always spoke before thinking.
His mother-in-law ignored the affront, offering a weak smile instead. “It’s a long walk in today’s airports, sonny.”
“Gotcha. So… are you walking or riding?”
“Riding if you don’t mind. Too many people around and I’m slowing down these days.”
“You’ve lost weight haven’t you, Grandma? You’re not sick, or anything?” Sylvia studied her mother-in-law’s slight frame with a frown.
Anita clenched her teeth. “Don’t you worry about me. Let’s roll, sonny. Can’t wait to see Emma and the boys. Will they have classes tonight?” Leaning forward, she pursed her lips and hugged the case in her lap closer. “I can’t believe I’m here. The flight attendants took good care of me. Did you know they don’t serve free meals anymore?”
* * *
A supporting arm beneath his mother’s elbow, Phil guided her through the open door Sylvia had keyed open.
‘Powder room, Grandma?”
“Call me Anita. Please. Your timing is wonderful. Where…?”
“Around the corner and down the hall, first door to your right.”
The older woman toddled forward, a hand on the wall as if for support. Sylvia watched and sucked her teeth. She elbowed her husband’s ribs. “Something’s wrong with her eyes.”
“She’s fine. Just tired and shaky after the flight.”
“I believe she’s going blind, Phil. We’ll be stuck with her forever now.”
“Hush. If that’s true, we have to do right by her.”
Sylvia’s jaw dropped.
“Your mom and dad have each other. She can’t live alone—and so far away.”
“She’s my mom, Syl. Oh my god. It just hit me. Being an only child is a curse.”
© 2017 Tess and How the Cookie Crumbles
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