Dawn tapped, passed the open door at Giarma’s sigh, leading with a hanger and floral skirt.
She said: “Here!”
And her stepdaughter (frustrated again, interpreting a call for attention as a request for action) edged round in her chair. “Oh, I couldn’t wear that!”
They were prickly together, trying to become friends.
Yoharie had had no handle on his daughter as a grown-up, and they hadn’t expected her to come to them, just when they’d made the move. She hadn’t visited in the apartment days, but in token, to see her father…pretending hard to see nothing particular about him, and under pressure of the holidays.
At Thanksgiving, she would stop for the length of a meal. “It’s easier traveling in November. I hate driving when it’s cold. You don’t have to cook,” Giarma, confirming, told Dawn on the phone. “Please don’t cook.”
Cooking took place.
Well…her mother needed to be party to family things, too. Dawn couldn’t keep Tina away on pretexts—quickness to suspect was one thing about her mother. She would suspect, she already did, that Yoharie’s kids disliked her. They did. This holiday was a clearinghouse for visits no one wanted to make. Tina brought foil-wrapped casseroles needing carrying up one at a time, a free hand spared for the elevator buttons; things cheesy and potatoey, that couldn’t be served on the couch with sandwiches.
So they had turkey. Giarma picked and sighed.
Tina asked Val, fifteen the year Dawn was thinking of…the year of their first move as a couple (from Yoharie’s terrible little house, and a month or two before Val came to live with them), point-blank if he was gay.
“It’s okay,” Tina said.
That was her mother, saucy gal, tell-it-like-it-is Tina. And if the topic came up, she would tell her friends, too…she actually knows someone who’s gay…
“…and he’s very sweet.”
Well, then. No doubt, Tina would say it. There was no stopping this.
Giarma had sat outraged, saying next to nothing.
“Do you have hobbies?” Tina asked her. “Your name is what? Sorry.”
She’d meant only to start a conversation.
“No, hon, I’m saying. You know when I bought this? Thirty years ago. It’s a size ten.”
“Really?” Giarma put out a hand. “That’s kind of depressing. I wear a six…but this looks snug.”
“Well, that’s the thing. And back then, if you wore a ten, you were fat. You had to be an eight.”
“Hmm…okay. Now I have to try it on. I don’t really like it.” She said this last warningly.
“No, it’s prim…” It had taken Dawn a second to come up with the word, and Giarma had already slipped into the bathroom.
That was how she’d dressed, at eighteen, at her second first job.
Work began with her mother’s friend, who had an H & R Block in an office strip that had just gone up.
“Dawn can come in four hours in the afternoons.”
She heard them from the kitchen. She was cutting slices of cookie dough, quartering the slices, eating two, dropping the others on the sheet. Hearing, not really listening. Her mother caught her on the sofa, on Monday, watching a soap opera. It was still June.
“Dawn! You have to be at work! Put on some shoes. Put on a skirt!”
Her hair in a rubber band, a matronly dirndl (her own purchase, though) digging into her waist under the tee she hadn’t changed, and her patent leather church shoes without hose, Dawn scuttled from her mother’s station wagon, stuck with it.
The office was glass in front, windows over waiting chairs, partitions, desks, a little supply room at the back with a coffee machine. Behind the last set of partitions, two of four, were filing cabinets and a metal typewriter table, sides folded down. Selectric, gathering under its edge hair-tangled paperclips, an emery board, a little pot of rouge-colored glop for dipping fingers…dirty brown stains on the keys.
It all smelled like carpet and cigarette smoke. There was a place two doors away where you took things to have them make copies for you. Dawn’s heels got a good pair of blisters that day.
“Don’t be late again,” Diane said…and she hadn’t been mean. But Dawn somehow held a memory of this.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)