A hallway light flips on.
Amelia’s mother, Ruby Chatman, 50s, comes down the paisley carpeted stairs. He eyes are clear and unclouded for one her age. She pauses mid-level, hesitating, both wondering and worrying at who’d be calling so early.
But, then she surges forward, as if “what will be will be.” Besides, she’s preparing to go to work, herself.
Black pleated skirt stretches below Ruby’s calves. She rushes to button a high-collared floral blouse, step into black pumps sitting at the foot of the stairs, and strains to see through the curtained door window, all at the same time.
Ruby presents a matronly figure from her opaque panty-hose with reinforced toes, to her legs thickened by time and matted varicose veins, to the tight French twist imprisoning every strand of hair.
But, when she walks, her steps are light, her movements frenetic.
Ruby is an inherent contradiction, sometimes even to herself.
She pulls back a corner of the curtain just as Amelia finally negotiates the keys. Ruby jumps as Amelia, unknowingly, almost hits her with the full force of the door.
“Mom!!! I didn’t see you,” exclaims Amelia.
Amelia tries to keep the family Irish Setter, Kelly, from bounding outside. Finally, Ruby intercedes.
“Kelly!!! Go!!!!” says Ruby “In the kitchen.”
Ruby’s Tone? Harsh and cold as a Siberian winter. Kelly quickly obeys. Ruby’s a remote, recalcitrant woman with a visage that shows no hint of kindness.
Amelia hugs Ruby. Ruby half hugs, half pats Amelia on the back the way people never comfortable being warm do. Amelia’s expression says she’s used to it.
“Oh!!! I didn’t know you were coming so soon. Your brother wouldn’t come get you.” Says Ruby impatiently.
Ruby studiously ignores the tone. She’s determined to ignore any and all irritating statements from her mom, knowing that sometimes the fact that they came from her mother and not someone else was sufficient cause for it to be annoying.
“I didn’t want to bother him.” Says Amelia. “Besides, the way he drives, all up on people’s fenders. I’da been in some ditch.”
Ruby leads the way into the kitchen. Everything’s dour yellow. The walls. Stove. Fridge. Yellow. Dour. Ruby tries to lighten the room with a breezy tone.
“You painted again,” says Amelia.
“Just a few weeks ago. It rained. It leaked.”
Ruby’s the exact opposite of Amelia when it comes to words. Ruby’s inexpressive, uncommunicative. Amelia’s a speed-talker. Words, like swarms of bees, surround her.
“Mom, I keep telling you. You should get the leaks fixed so you don’t have to keep painting all the time.”
Amelia puts some water in a small pot on the stove to boil. She sits at the table. She’d really like a drink. But that would have to wait for later and certainly at a time when Ruby was absent. Despite the new millennium, Ruby was still back in the 60s when it came to women drinking.
Not that women didn’t drink back then. But, Ruby didn’t run in those circles. In fact, as far as Amelia could tell, her mother never ran in any circles that did anything fun. She just got married and had children, like most women who grew into their twenties in the 50s.
Ruby responds with irritation. It seemed the two had the same effect on each other.
“You don’t talk to me about painting my walls, I won’t say nothing about your hair.”
Ruby puts the water into a larger pot.
“That pot doesn’t cook water fast,” says Ruby.
“I’m not going anywhere fast,” Amelia retorts.
“I’m on the way to work,” says Ruby, “I don’t have time to make you breakfast.”
Ruby takes the suitcase from the corner that Amelia put it in and moves it closer to the door entrance. Her movements are nervous, frenetic, almost the opposite of Amelia’s.
Oddly enough, Ruby shys away from touching the hat that Amelia left near the suitcase.
Throughout her life, Ruby unconsciously redoes what others do, as if she’s fixing their actions.
Amelia looks at the plastic covering the table. She looks down the hall into the living room. Plastic covers the furniture there.
“Mom, why are you always covering stuff with plastic,” asks Amelia.
“Oh, Amelia, you know I like to keep my furniture nice,” says Ruby. Don’t start trying to change things.”
“I just always wondered. That plastic always sticks to my legs,” says Amelia.
“Not if you wore stockings like proper girls do. You girls never even wore girdles,” says Ruby.
Amelia smiles at the old-fashioned notion. Ruby takes it as an insult.
“You didn’t have to come home,” says Ruby.
A conversation of an echo…15 years ago.