This week, Trish challenged me to write a story including the line "behind her the noise escalated". I'm not sure where this idea came from, exactly, but it jumped into my head fully formed, so I just went with it. My challenge will be answered by FlamingNyx.
Melissa worked from home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday- but she made herself get up and dress, all the way down to stockings, modest heels, and makeup. It helped tell her daughters that Mommy was working, and shouldn't be bothered for anything short of armed revolution in the streets. It also helped her convince herself that she was working- being slightly uncomfortable helped her focus, reducing the temptation to spend the day IMing with her hugely pregnant sister, stuck on bed rest in Topeka and dying for conversation.
Just like in the office, she gave herself from 12 until 1 for lunch, so after she ensured that Frick and Frack, her 9 and 12 year old girls home for the beginning of school vacation, were going to eat something other than Cheez Doodles for lunch, and once she had prepared her own turkey sandwich and Diet Coke, she allowed herself a few personal moments on the computer. She checked in with Amy, listened to her grousing about the miseries of the 8th month, then signed out and called up her word processor.
Years ago, after graduating and marrying Roger but before career and babies took hold, she made herself promise to write. "Write every day", she told herself, "no matter what. No matter what else you have to do, write something." She had been writing since she could remember, from adventures starring her stuffed animals to anguished teenage reflections to poems she tried, and occasionally managed, to place in the college literary magazine. She didn't talk about it, or make a big deal of it- it was just a secret love that she promised herself, 22 and full of promise, she would not forget about.
Like a lot of promises, she hadn't managed to keep it. Events pressed, and weekend getaways stole her time, and then eventually the girls came, dulling her nerves and killing her senses. She kept the flame burning, dashing off paragraphs when she could, but it had become a weekly thing more than the daily work she knew it had to be. She tried to memorize scenes- the unspoken exclusion she felt at Saturday's soccer game, for one thing- committing to later reducing them to words. But she seldom followed through.
She stared at the screen, remembering what it was like on Saturday. The little clots of parent groups, some oohing and aahing at new babies, others deep in conversation about common friends or, more likely, common foes. She thanked God regularly that her daughters didn't seem to have her own social issues- they both blended and mixed easily, rich girls and poor, popular girls and not, quiet girls and loud. But Melissa stood apart, returning greetings that were offered to her, but never having more than a sentence or so to say. Nobody ever said it, but the lines were clear- like you drew them in the grass.
It could not have been clearer, she typed. The house was as quiet as it ever got, bangs and thumps from upstairs, the echoed speech of 12 talking on the phone, then the footfalls of someone coming down the stairs. It was too loud to be 12, who moved like a ghost, teenage anxiety making her want to disappear most of the time, so it had to be 9, with the heedless nature of the tween who didn't yet care what she sounded like.
Behind her the noise escalated. Nine had turned the TV on, loudly declaring as she did so, "Mom-MEEE! Can I watch some TV?". In theory, Melissa thought, you asked for permission before taking action, not after. "Sure," Melissa said, distracted, saving her file and shutting the word processor down. There wasn't going to be any more work done on that idea, she thought, wondering why it was she compromised so much, and when exactly it was she sold her 22 year old self down the river.
It wasn't their fault- Melissa and Roger had welcomed their arrival. But Melissa couldn't help thinking, burying it into the little corner of her heart, that she had not bargained for all that had come with them, the sacrifices of body, and mind, and soul, and the sheer energy it took to hold their little lives together. She hadn't agreed to that part, and when she tried to steal away a moment to bring her old self to the front, to compose something beautiful and striking, to make even a line or two that captured exactly how it was, it seemed like they resented the exclusion. No, Mommy, they seemed to say- all of you isn't enough. We want more.
She opened the door to the porch, hearing 12 calling from the top of the stairs. She heard her daughter begin the sentence, but shut the door deliberately on her words. It was childish, she thought, pretending you didn't hear someone. But there were times when you just had to get away from them, if only for a minute. Melissa watched the breeze move the leaves on the trees and wondered exactly how much she had left to give.