Along for the Ride

Author: P Hana

Page 27

   

‘Hi there,’ I heard Maggie say. ‘Can I help you find anything?’

There was a pause, and I wondered if the person had heard her. Then, though, came the voice I knew better than just about any other. ‘Oh, dear God no,’ my mother said, and I could hear the shudder in her tone. ‘I’m just looking for my daughter.’

‘You’re Auden’s mom?’ Maggie said. ‘That’s great! She’s in back. I’m sure she –’

I sat bolt upright, then pushed my chair back and scrambled to the door. Even though I got out to the floor as fast as I could, it wasn’t quick enough. I found my mother, dressed in her customary all-black – dress, sweater over it, hair piled on her head – by the makeup display. She was holding a glass bottle at arm’s length, her eyes narrowed as she examined the printed label.

‘Booty Berry,’ she read slowly, enunciating each word. Then she looked over her glasses at Maggie. ‘And this is?’

‘Perfume,’ Maggie told her. Then she smiled at me. ‘Or, actually, body spritzette. It’s like perfume, but lighter and longer lasting, for everyday use.’

‘Of course,’ my mother said, her voice flat. She replaced the bottle, then took a long look around the store, her displeasure more than evident. When she finally got to me, she didn’t look any happier. ‘Well. There you are.’

‘Hi,’ I said. She was studying me with such seriousness that I was instantly nervous, then even more so when I remembered the pink jacket I had on. ‘I, um… when did you decide to come down?’

My mother sighed, turning past Maggie – who was now smiling at her, for some reason – to the bathing suits, which she surveyed with an expression one might reserve for observing some sort of tragedy. ‘This morning,’ she said, shaking her head as she reached out to touch an orange bottom, trimmed with ruffles. ‘I was desperate for an escape, but I seem to have brought foul mood and weather with me.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Maggie said. ‘The rain’s supposed to taper off tonight. Tomorrow will be gorgeous! Perfect beach weather. You’ll get that suntan yet.’

My mom turned back to look at her as if she were speaking in tongues. ‘Well,’ she said, in such a way I knew she was holding back everything she was actually thinking, ‘won’t that be nice.’

‘Have you eaten?’ I asked her, too eagerly. I took a breath, then said more calmly, ‘There’s a really good place just a bit down the boardwalk. I can probably take off for an hour or so.’

‘Of course you can!’ Maggie said. ‘You should totally hang out with your mom. The books can wait.’

My mom eyed Maggie again, as if doubting she could recognize a book, much less read one. ‘I could use a drink, at any rate,’ she said, taking another look around the store before starting for the door. Even her stride was disapproving. ‘Lead the way.’

I glanced at Maggie, who was watching her, fascinated. ‘I’ll be back in a little bit, okay?’

‘Take your time!’ she said. ‘Really. I’m fine here alone.’

My mother snorted softly, hearing this, and then, thankfully, we were out the door, back into the rain. As soon as it swung shut behind us she said, ‘Oh, Auden. It’s even worse than I expected.’

I felt my face flush, although I wasn’t surprised she was so up front. ‘I needed a rain jacket,’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t normally –’

‘I mean,’ she continued, ‘I knew any business Heidi owned would probably not be to my sensibilities. But Booty Berry? And what about those Lolita-esque swimming bottoms? Are we packaging women to look like little girls now? Or little girls to look even more so, in order to exploit their innocence? How can she be a woman, not to mention a mother, and condone this sort of thing?’

Hearing this, I relaxed, as my mother’s rants were as familiar to me as nursery rhymes. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘the fact is, she knows her market. That stuff really sells.’

‘Of course it does! But that doesn’t make it right.’ My mother sighed, opening her umbrella and raising it over her head, then offering me her arm, which I took, stepping beneath it with her. ‘And all that pink. It’s like a giant vagina in there.’

I stifled a laugh, covering my mouth with my hand.

‘But I guess that’s the point,’ she said, sighing. ‘It’s just so bothersome because it’s the most shallow, base depiction of the female experience. Sugar and spice and everything nice, peddling packaging, not substance.’

We were at the Last Chance now, where for once there was no line. ‘This is the place,’ I said, nodding at it. ‘The onion rings are to die for.’

My mother peered in the door. ‘Oh, no, no. I’ll require at least tablecloths and a wine list. Let’s keep looking.’

We ended up back at the hotel where she was staying, a small boutique place called the Condor just off the boardwalk. Its restaurant was tiny, crowded with only a few tables, and dim, heavy red curtains hanging from the windows, the carpet a matching shade. My mother settled into a booth, nodded her approval at the flickering candle on the table, and ordered a glass of cabernet from the hostess as she shed her sweater. After a pointed look, I took off Heidi’s jacket, stuffing it under my bag, out of sight.

‘So,’ she said, once her wine had arrived and she’d taken a big gulp. ‘Tell me about your father’s book. He must be done by now, ready to send it off to his agent. Has he let you read it?’

I looked down at my water glass, moving it in a circle on the table. ‘Not yet,’ I said carefully, as I knew she was looking for more than just the answer to this question. ‘He’s working day and night, though.’

‘Sounds more like writing than revising,’ she observed, picking up the menu and scanning it before setting it aside. I didn’t say anything. ‘But then, your father did always have odd work habits. Writing never came easily for him, as it does for some others.’

Right, I thought. Time for a subject change. ‘The baby’s pretty cute,’ I said. ‘She still cries a lot, though. Heidi thinks she has colic.’

‘If you think a baby has colic, it probably doesn’t,’ my mother said, taking another sip of her wine. ‘You know. With Hollis, there was no question. From the first night home, he screamed his lungs out. It lasted for three months.’

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