‘Mom, what are you doing here?” exclaimed Christy, nearly dropping three luncheon platters on her way to a booth. It was the first time her mom had dropped in unannounced at the coffee shop where Christy waited tables.
Carole had shown up deliberately near the end of Christy’s shift because she wanted to check on her. Carole figured if she just showed up, she could tell if Christy was working too hard. She felt a touch of remorse about surprising Christy. It wasn’t her style to be sneaky, and she didn’t like to invade Christy’s privacy. Carole hated the stereotype of the overbearing mother, even though, in her heart of hearts, she would have liked to be a mother bird sheltering her four chicks for all eternity. She often had to restrain herself from running their lives. But in this case worry trumped caution.
Carole watched Christy as she worked. She had such a lovely, graceful way about her. She must have gotten that from Mary Louise, thought Carole. She visualized her mother-in-law, who, after her husband was killed in a hit-and-run in 1964, had raised Jim and the girls by drawing elegant fashion ads for Lord & Taylor. Christy certainly hadn’t inherited grace from Carole’s family. Neither her mousy mother nor her bullying father had any sense of style. That’s probably why I don’t have any, Carole thought ruefully, wishing for the zillionth time there was something glamorous about her. At least she would always have her shapely cheerleader legs. How cute she had looked in that short pleated skirt and varsity sweater!
As Christy approached the table near the window with a glass of water, a napkin, and silverware, Carole closed the menu and announced, “I’ll have a chicken salad sandwich and coffee.”
“Good choice, Mom,” said Christy, smiling too brightly, her cheeks flushed. “Zagat’s says The Daily Planet has the best chicken salad in Manhattan. Rye or whole wheat? Or would you like a roll?”
“Rye would be nice for a change, dear, and make it toast. And some lettuce.” Carole smiled at Christy with extra politeness, knowing the flush on her cheeks meant Christy was angry. Carole hoped she wasn’t too mad.
“Honey,” said Carole, taking Christy’s arm as they turned up Eighth Avenue, “I’m sorry if my little surprise upset you, but I’ve missed you a lot. I haven’t seen you at all since your father’s been in the hospital, except for your short visit the other day. We’ve barely talked. You’re not calling me any more, and I don’t have much time to call you these days.”
“Don’t give me that, Mom,” said Christy, dropping her mother’s arm as they waited for the red light to change at 24th Street. “You’re up to something. You know how I know? Because all you’ve done since Dad had his accident is complain that you don’t have time to do things for yourself or money to cover expenses. So why do you suddenly have time and money for lunch? You can’t fool me. Why’d you come?”
Carole took her time answering. “I’m worried about you, honey. You seemed really tired on Sunday. I’m afraid you’re working too hard.”
“I’m fine, Mom, just fine.”
Christy could feel her cheeks burning. How could she get her mother off her case? Arguing wouldn’t help. Should she try to placate her?
The two walked the rest of the way to the highrise on 28th Street in silence.
“Are you satisfied, Mom?” Christy asked, sitting in a rocking chair opposite Carole on the couch. “You see I’m working hard, but I am taking care of myself. And, no, even though you didn’t ask, Ramon is not here every night.”
Carole’s head jolted back. How well Christy knew her!
“But, honey girl,” said Carole, leaning toward Christy, examining her face closely, “you look tired. You just got over strep. You don’t want a relapse. Are you sure you’re getting enough sleep? You’re not used to working a full shift six days a week. It has to be hard on you.”
“Back off, Mom. The doctor at the clinic gave me a clean bill of health three weeks ago.”
“But are you getting enough sleep?”
“M-o-m.” Christy paused, her eyes flashing at Carole. “I’m getting eight hours a night. Get off my case.”
“So why the dark circles? You’ve never had dark circles before.”
“Grandma has them, and I take after her.”
“But your grandmother is 67.”
“She told me she got them when she was young.”
“She told me she got them after her first pregnancy,” countered Carole. “You’re too young to have dark circles.”
“Aren’t you going to be late for Dad? You don’t want to be late.”
“You don’t have to be rude, Christy. I’m just worried about you.”
“Well, stop worrying, Mom. I’m doing fine!”
Carole sat in silence, staring at Christy. Something was wrong. She knew it, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Yet she knew enough not to push any further. She really hated it when Christy was annoyed with her.
“So I’ll go.”
“Good timing. I have to pee.”
There it was again. Carole tried to hide her worry as she stood up and gave Christy a hug and kiss good-bye.
“I’ll see you Christmas morning at nine. Please don’t be late. We have to open presents then, so we can be at the hospital by noon.”
As she waited for the elevator, Carole chastised herself. Maybe she shouldn’t have come? Maybe she’d been too obvious? The visit hadn’t cleared up anything. All she’d done was put Christy on the defensive. But the mother bear in Carole disagreed. She was glad she’d checked on Christy. She was even more sure something was wrong.