After Christina

Jill had never stood on top of a pile of garbage bags before, but here she is, inside a dumpster, holding the bag of empty soap bottles. Her left foot has punctured one of the trash bags. Something that looks like mashed potatoes is stuck to her running shoe.

“Come get them tonight,” Jill messages Christina.

She takes an inventory of the discarded bottles and then drives to the organic soap store at the mall. As she pays for the replacement soaps, she spots a bit of mashed potatoes on her shoe.

Back at home, she puts the soaps on the front stoop, then sits in her living room and waits. She reads a novel. The hours pass. The neighbor’s hound barks each time a neighbor leaves the house and each time someone pulls into the icy driveway. In six hours, Jill finishes reading half of the book. The sky is dark. Christina has not arrived.

At eight o’clock, Jill starts dinner. Vegetables simmer, the rice cooks, and the dog does not bark. As she eats, Jill wonders what she will say to Christina. Why are you so angry? Don’t you know I was trying to protect you? Aren’t rules important? Am I such a bad parent?

Jill finishes her curry and cleans up the kitchen. It’s nearly nine o’clock. It occurs to her that the liquid soap may freeze if she leaves them outside overnight. She opens the door to bring them in and discovers they’re gone.

Jill’s heart pounds. She scans the darkness for a thief. Just then a pair of headlights pulls into the driveway. It’s a truck—her neighbor’s truck. The neighbor, a man in his sixties, exits the truck with his hound dog. He waves to Jill. The dog barks at her. “Drake, quiet,” says the neighbor. “It’s just Jill. You know Jill, don’t you?”

Drake recognizes Jill and wags his tail.

“Have a good night,” Jill says and goes back inside.

Her phone buzzes. “What happened to my apricot soap?” Christina’s message says. “You knew that was my favorite. Why can’t you respect my decisions, you THIEF BITCH.”

 

The next day, she returns to the organic soap store. She finds the bottle that Christina likes best, a scent called Sweet Apricot, and brings the bottle to the check-out counter. But as she digs into her purse, she sees her cell phone, which reminds her of the most recent message from her daughter. “THIEF BITCH,” Christina said.

“I’m so sorry,” she says to the clerk, who looks about Christina’s age. “I’ve forgotten my wallet.” Jill returns the bottle to the shelf and leaves.

In the mall parking lot, she sends a text to Christina: “I am not a thief bitch. I don’t deserve to be treated this way.”

Ten minutes pass. Christina does not reply.

“Remember when you felt fat and I comforted you?” Jill says. “I wasn’t so bad then, was I?”

“Don’t manipulate me,” says Christina.

Jill sees an opening.

“I just want you to know I love you.”

“So does Dad. And dad respects me, too,” she replies. “You have to give respect to get it.”

Jill fumes at this familiar line. It’s something Rick used to say when he came home from work furious about someone’s lack of respect for him. Rick was disorganized and careless in all aspects of his life, yet if someone complained about the quality of his work, he wasn’t to blame. “You have to give me respect to get my respect,” Rick would boast, as if his respect were something people craved. When they first started dating, she found this cocky attitude attractive. But later in life, Jill knew Rick well enough to know he was at fault. And now Christina’s words betrayed Rick’s influence.

“I’m your mother and I love you,” Jill says. Seething inside, she decides this conversation is over, even if Christina replies, which she does not.

Over the next few days, Jill fights the urge to call her daughter. She succumbs to the urge twice. Her first call goes to voicemail and Jill hangs up without leaving one. The second time, Jill says, “I’d really like an opportunity to speak to you.”

Christina does not call back. For a few days, Jill keeps her cell phone fully charged and nearby, in case Christina finally calls back. At work, she’s prepared to leave her desk and neglect her job to take the call, but only Farrah calls. She invites Jill to the cabin for some shots of whiskey. Jill declines, afraid she’ll miss an opportunity to meet with Christina, should Christina decide to show up with little or no warning. But days pass and Christina does not text, call, or drop by. After a week, Jill no longer checks her phone for missed calls.

on Jun 15, 14 by

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