I sat down on my bed, then reached into the bag, pulling out the package. It was heavy in my hands as I shifted it into my lap, my fingers already loosening the wrapping paper.
“Honestly,” she called out, over another thunderclap, “how are you supposed to plan for a day like this?”
The paper was coming off now, wrinkling, ripping, and even though I knew there was something familiar in the shape that was emerging, I couldn’t place it.
“The lawn, the catering, the tent,” my mother said, passing by again. “What happens now?”
I just sat there, looking at my gift, feeling my heart beating loud in my chest, then lifted my hand and pressed it over the one on the sculpture in my lap. A lot of things were beginning to make sense, while others were more confusing than ever. All I knew was that this heart in hand was mine. I’d wanted a sign, and all this time it had been so close by, waiting for me to be ready to find it.
My mother’s last question was still echoing in my head as outside my window there was the biggest thunderclap yet. It shook the house, the windowpanes, the very earth, it felt like. And then, just like that, it was pouring. She’d gotten her answer. And so had I.
When I came downstairs, all hell was breaking loose.
I’d put my heart in hand on my bedside table next to my angel, then stood up, sure now of what I had to do. As I came into the kitchen, though, I found my mother and sister in a frenzy of furniture rearranging, pushing chairs and couches up against walls in an attempt to somehow open up space for seventy-five people in our dining room, foyer, and living room.
“Macy,” Caroline said to me, rushing past carrying an end table, “do something about the stools.”
“Stools?” I asked.
“The island stools,” my mother shrieked as she passed going the other direction, dragging a settee. “Put them against the wall. Or in my office. Do something with them! Just get them out of here!” Her voice was loud, wavering, crazy sounding, and for a second I just looked at her. But only for a second. Then I did exactly as I was told.
I’d seen my mother under pressure. I’d seen her grieving. But I’d never seen her look as out of control as she did just then, and it scared me. I turned and looked at Caroline, who just shook her head and went back to pushing one of the recliners against the den wall. There was no way a person could carry this much stress for much longer, I thought. Eventually, something had to give.
“Mom,” I said to her as she passed by again, reaching out my hand to touch hers. “Are you okay?”
“Macy, not now!” she snapped. I pulled my hand back: now, even that was too much. “Please, honey,” she said, shaking her head. “Not now.”
For the next twenty minutes, I could see the tension building, in her neck, her features, the shaking timbre of her voice as one bad thing after another kept happening. When the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. When the superintendent called to report that one of the windows in the model townhouse was leaking from all the rain. When the lights flickered, went out, then flickered back on again, still not seeming too steady. Each time, I watched my mother react, her body tensing, her voice rising, her eyes moving wildly across the room, scanning for one thing or another. Whenever she caught me watching her, I’d quickly look away.
“I’m worried about Mom,” I said to Caroline as we tried to push the huge, oak-framed couch in the living room a foot or so backwards. Even with both our weights, it wasn’t even budging. “I don’t know how I can help her.”
“You can’t,” she told me. “It’s not worth even trying.”
“Caroline.” I stopped pushing. “God.”
She pushed her hair out of her face with the back of her hand. “Macy,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do.”
Just then, I heard the front door open and someone’s heels clack into the foyer.
“Good God,” Kristy said. “What the hell is going on here?”
I let my arms go slack, grateful for an excuse to do so, and turned around. There she was, standing in the foyer, carrying a stack of foil-covered pans. Monica was beside her, holding a cooler with a couple of cutting boards balanced on top. Bringing up the rear, carrying several long loaves of French bread under each arm, was Delia.
“We’re having,” I said to Kristy as the lights flickered again, “a little bit of a crisis.”
There was a rattle, then a clank, as Bert appeared in the door, forcing Delia to step aside as he pulled one of the banged-up stainless-steel carts over the threshold. Outside, the rain was still coming down sideways.
“Crisis?” Delia asked. “What kind?”
Then in the powder room to her right, there was shriek, a crash, and everyone fell silent, the only sound the rain pelting the windows. Then the door opened, and my mother emerged.
Her cheeks were flushed from all the exertion of moving things, her lipstick smeared in one corner. She was still wearing my shoes, which were markedly too small for her, and there was some sort of dirt stain on the hem of her skirt. She looked tired. Beaten down. Or maybe even just beaten. And in her hand was the decorative soap dish from the powder room, which was now in two pieces.
It was just a soap dish, innocuous enough that I couldn’t even remember when we’d gotten it. But my mother, staring at it in her open palm, was for some reason close to tears. I felt something rise up in my chest, and realized I was afraid. Terrified. I was used to seeing my mother many ways, but never weak. It made me feel small enough to disappear.
“Mom?” Caroline asked. “Are you—”
But my mother didn’t seem to hear her, or even notice that any of us were there. Instead, she started down the hallway to the kitchen, taking slow, deliberate steps. She reached up, wiping her eyes, as she turned the corner toward her office, not looking back at any of us. A second later, I heard the door shut with a click.
“Oh, my God,” I said.
“It’s just a soap dish,” Kristy offered helpfully. “I bet she can get another one.”
Beside me, I could see Caroline already turning to follow, assuming, of course, that she would be the one to handle this. But I’d been waiting for a chance to talk to my mother for too long, always finding myself thwarted in one way or another, by my fears or her own. It was time to try again.
So as Caroline started down the hallway, I put my hand on her arm. She looked up at me, surprised. “Let me,” I said, and then I went to my mother.