Unscrewed

By: Lois Greiman
1

I’d trade every last one of you for a moment’s peace and a dog that don’t pee on the carpet.

—Glen McMullen, arbitrating his progeny’s latest dispute regarding favoritism



DON’T WORRY ABOUT me. I’m only your mother,” said my mother.

But I was unruffled. It was 7:17 on a fine spring Saturday, and I’d had a rejuvenating yet relaxing afternoon at home.

I smiled beatifically into the phone, found my fabulously placid center, and refused to be dragged into a McMullen skirmish, or Weirdsville World, as I like to call it. I was past all that now, a grown woman, my mother’s equal.

“I’ll call you tomorrow. I promise,” I said. My tone was as smooth as a dove’s dulcet coo.

Maybe it was the years of higher education that had finally allowed me to overcome my clinging blue-collar roots. Maybe it was the framed Ph.D. that hung in my office in Eagle Rock, where I counsel the poor unfortunates of the greater Los Angeles area…or maybe it was simply my innate classiness shining through. But regardless, I was serenely anticipating a quiet evening with a gentleman caller.

“Tomorrow!” Mom’s voice dropped to a boxerlike baritone, a sound reminiscent of my acne-infested adolescence. But I was uncowed. I was, after all, a licensed psychologist…and there were a couple thousand miles of windswept prairie and inhospitable desert separating us. “Tomorrow? This happens to be your brother’s life we’re talking about.”

I tilted my head at the image of myself in the full-length mirror that was anchored to the back of my bedroom door. Not bad.

“I’m well aware of that, Mother, but Peter John is an adult now and must learn to work through his own self-imposed life crises.” His current crisis involved a woman. Her name was Holly. In point of fact, Pete’s last five dozen life crises had involved women. But this one had the added drama of an impending infant. My idiot brother was about to procreate.

“Don’t you get uppity with me, Christina Mary.”

“I assure you, I am not getting uppity,” I said. “I’m simply suggesting—”

“I know what you told Holly.”

My clever rejoinder withered on my lips. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“You call that girl back,” Mom warned. “You call her back this instant and tell her you’re just a bitter old pill and that Peter John will make a fine daddy.”

My lungs felt too big for my rib cage. It was the same feeling I’d had when I’d come home late smelling of boy and Boone’s Farm’s finest. “I’m sorry…um…bad reception,” I rasped.

“Don’t you hang up on me, missy. I talked to Holly just last night and she said—”

I rubbed the phone frantically against my skirt, then brought it back to my ear. “Sorry…going…tunnel.”

“…tell you this much, nobody’s going to be talking about my grandbaby behind my back. It’s a McMullen and it’s gonna have the McMullen name if I have to cart that girl down the aisle on my back. I’m not just going to—”

“I’ll…you…soon,” I said, then frantically clicked the phone shut, tossed it into my underwear drawer, and closed my eyes.

It was 7:21 and I didn’t feel quite so serene anymore.

I stared at myself again. My skirt was the approximate size of a Post-it Note. And my push-up bra, though religiously true to its promise, squeezed out a little roll of fat beneath the black elastic. I looked pale and a little bit like I was going to throw up.

But that was ridiculous. I am, after all, a secure, intelligent woman. Comfortable in my own skin. Independent and happy to be so. Well educated and…

Closing my eyes again, I bent at the waist and refused to barf. Secure, intelligent women who are comfortable in their own skin do not hurl just because they’re about to embark on a date. Secure, intelligent women greet their escorts with secure, intelligent smiles then make secure, intelligent conversation.

I straightened with firm resolution, tugged the abbreviated skirt toward my distant knees, and cringed. Maybe I should change into something less…naked. I turned toward my closet but stopped abruptly, remembering one basic truth.

Life is short.

Crap! My brother was going to have a baby. A baby! Which probably meant that I wasn’t getting any younger.

And life is unpredictable. That singular fact had been proven to me with startling clarity some months earlier.

I’d been counseling a fellow named Andrew Bomstad. He was wealthy, attractive, and famous. Turns out he was also deceptive, perverted, and dangerous. Which was unfortunate. Even more unfortunate was the fact that he thought it amusing to chase me around my desk like a Doberman after a pork chop, then drop to the floor, deader than kibble.

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