She hated the weakness that made her answer.
“And the problem is … ”
Ruby felt like crying. “I like her.” She swallowed thickly. “No.I love her.”
Val was quiet for a moment, then he said, “I’m sorry, Ruby.”
His concern was harder to take than the yelling. “I am, too,” she answered dully.
“You’ll be on the plane then, right? I’ll have Bertram pick you up.”
Ruby hung up the phone in a daze. She wandered out onto the porch, found the FedEx envelope. Inside, there was a first-class ticket and a short itinerary. They were taking her to Spago to celebrate after the taping of Sarah Purcell …
A week ago that would have thrilled her.
She walked dully past her mother’s door. At the last minute, she stopped, pressed her fingertips to the wood.
“I’m sorry,” Ruby breathed. But she knew those two little words wouldn’t be enough. Not nearly enough.
With a sigh, she turned and went upstairs. She flopped onto the bed and tried to sleep, but she couldn’t keep her eyes closed. At last, she flicked on the light and reached for her pad of paper.
I just got off the phone with my agent.
The joke is on me, it seems. I can’t get out of this deal. I have to deliver the article as promised or some corporate Mr. Big will sue me until I bleed.
And I will lose my mother this woman whom I’ve waited and longed for all of my life, whom I’ve alternately fled and vilified. Whatever we could’ve have become will be gone. And this time it will be all my fault. The whole world will see the bankruptcy of my soul.
I finally learned that life is not made up of big moments and sudden epiphanies, but rather of tiny bits of time, some so small they pass by unnoticed.
All this I can see now … and it is too late.
Monday, I will appear on The Sarah Purcell Show, and after that, what I see will matter only to me. My mother won’t care.
But I want to say this-for the record, although I’m aware it comes too late and at too great a price-I love my mother.
I love my mother.
Ruby released her hold on the pen. It rolled away from her, plopped over the edge of the bed and onto the floor, where it landed with a little click.
It was too much, all of this, and on the day she’d finally believed in a happy-ever-after future for herself. She couldn’t write anymore, couldn’t think.
“I love you, Mom,” she whispered, staring up at the spidery crack in the ceiling.
Nora sat at the kitchen table, reading a fifteen-year-old newspaper that she’d found in the broom closet and sipping a cup of lukewarm coffee. The front-page story was an outraged report that Washington State officials had set off underwater firecrackers to scare away sea lions at the Ballard Locks. The sea lions were eating the salmon and the steelhead. Beside that story was a smaller column-complete with photograph. President Reagan’s dog had received a tonsillectomy.
Mostly, she was waiting for Ruby to come downstairs. Nora had tried to wait up for her daughter the previous night, but at about twelve-thirty, she’d given up. It had to be a good sign that Ruby hadn’t come home early.
At least, that’s what Nora told herself.
She was about to turn the page when the phone rang. Ignoring the crutches leaning against the wall, she hobbled to the counter and answered. “Hello?”
“It’s me. Dec.”
Nora sagged against the cold, pebbled surface of the refrigerator. “Hi, Dee. What excellent news do you have for me today?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“That’s hardly surprising.”
“I just got off the phone with Tom Adams. He called me at home. On Sunday, to tell me to tell you that if you didn’t get those blankety blank columns on his blankety-blank desk by Wednesday morning, he was going to slap a ten million-dollar lawsuit on you. He said the paperwork was already done on it, he was just giving you a last chance.” She made a little coughing sound. “He said he was going to sue everybody you’d ever worked with including me.”
“He can’t do that,” Nora said, though, of course, she had no idea whether or not he could.
“Are you sure?” Dee sounded scared.
“I’ll talk to Tom myself,” Nora answered, before Dee could really get going.
“Oh, thank God.”
“What else is going on there? Is the brouhaha dying down?”
“No,” and to her credit, Dee sounded miserable about it. "Your housekeeper went on Larry King Live last night and said … terrible things about you.
“Adele said bad things about me?”
“A woman named Barb Heinneman said you’d commissioned an expensive stained-glass window from her and never paid for it. And your hair lady-Carla-she said you were a lousy tipper.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, what does that have-”
“The Tattler reported that guy in the pictures wasn’t your first … affair. They’re saying that you and your husband had an ”open“ marriage and you both slept with tons of other people. And sometimes …” Dee’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “You did it in groups. Like in that movie, Eyes Wide Shut. That’s what they wrote, anyway.”
Nora’s head was spinning. Honest to God, a part of her felt like laughing, it was that ridiculous. Eyes Wide Shut? Group sex? For the first time since this whole mess began, she started to get mad. She’d made mistakes-big ones, bad ones-but this …
This, she didn’t deserve. As she’d heard in a movie once-this shit she wouldn’t eat. They were trying to make her out to be some kind of whore. “Is that it? Or am I carrying some space alien’s mutant child, too?”
Dee laughed nervously. “That’s mostly it. Except … ”
“Yes?” Nora drew the word out, gave it at least three syllables.
“There was a thing in Liz Smith’s column this week, one of those gossipy hints she loves to make-you know the ones. It sorta made it sound as if someone was writing a tell-all story about you. An ugly one.”
“It’s supposed to be by someone close to you.” Nora released her breath in a sigh. She wasn’t surprised; she’d expected this, and yet still it hurt. “I see.”
“And your housekeeper said you ripped up parking tickets and threw away jury summonses. Some guy on the city council said they were going to launch an investigation.”
That was it. “Good-bye, Dee,” Nora said, uncertain as to whether her assistant was still talking or not.
She hung up the phone and wrenched the cupboard doors open.
There they were: the cheap, yellow crockery plates she’d bought at a garage sale a lifetime ago. She picked one up, felt the heft of it in her hand. And hesitated.
There was no point in making a mess.
Launch an investigation.
She wound her arm back and threw the plate. it went flying through the air and smacked the wall by the arch, shattering.
Like Eyes Wide Shut … group sex.
She threw another one. It hit with a satisfying smack.
Open marriage … lousy tipper.
Another plate flew.
There were bits and pieces of china everywhere now; dents in the walls, scratches in the paint. Nora was breathing heavily. And smiling.
She should have tried this years ago. It actually helped. She reached for another plate.
And sent it sailing across the room.
Just then, Ruby came running downstairs.
“What in the he-” She ducked, flung a protective hand across her face. The plate brushed past her head and hit the wall. When the pieces clattered to the floor; she hesitantly looked up. “Jesus, Mom … if you don’t like the plates, buy a new set.”
Nora sank to her knees on the hard, cold floor. She laughed until tears leaked out of her eyes … and then she was crying.
She buried her face in her hands, ashamed to let her daughter see her like this, but she couldn’t seem to stop …
It was too much for her suddenly, all of it-Eric’s illness, her career; her ruined reputation.
She felt lonely, and old. A woman who’d traded everything in her life for a treasured gold coin, and found that in a heavy rain, the gold had washed off, leaving an ordinary bit of copper in her hand.
She looked up at Ruby, saw her daughter through a blurry curtain of tears.
“Mom?” Ruby knelt in front of her. “Are you okay?”
“Do I look okay?”
“In that Courtney Love, presurgery, after-concert sort of way.” She reached out, pushed a damp strand of hair out of Nora’s eyes. “What happened?”
"A lady is suing me for fraudulent advice. And someone close to me-apparently a friend-is writing an ugly tell-all about my life.
Oh, and don’t be surprised when you hear that your dad and I engaged in group sex.“ She tried to smile; it was a dismal failure. ”But don’t you worry, I can get through this. I’ve been through worse. It’s just a mid life tantrum. The only thing that matters is how much I love you."
Ruby jerked back, let her hand drop into her lap. “Oh, man …” she whispered.
Nora climbed awkwardly to her feet and hobbled to the kitchen table. She slumped onto a chair; plopped her casted foot on another one.
It occurred to her then, as she watched her daughter; who still knelt on the floor with her head bowed, that there was no silence more cruel and empty than the one that followed that simple declaration: "I love you.
She’d spent a childhood waiting to hear those words, from her father; then an eternity waiting to hear them from her husband.
Now, it seemed, she was destined to wait again. And she’d thought things were going so well with Ruby …
“Would you like some coffee?” she said pushing the newspaper aside. Her voice was calm and even, as if it were completely ordinary for them to be here together; amid a smattering of broken yellow china.
Ruby looked up at her. “Don’t.”
Nora saw that her daughter was crying; it confused her. “What is it, Rube?”
“Don’t pretend you didn’t say it. Please.”
Nora had no idea how to respond. Ruby got up, turned, and went upstairs.
Nora heard each footfall on the steps. She couldn’t seem to draw a steady breath. What in the world just happened?
Then she heard the steps again; Ruby was coming back downstairs. She walked into the kitchen, carrying a suitcase in one hand and a tablet of paper in the other.
Nora’s hand flew to her mouth. "I’m sorry. I thought we’d gotten to the point where I could say that to you. Ruby dropped the suitcase. It landed with a thunk that shook the thin windowpanes.
“Ruby, honey . . .” The endearment slipped out on a current of longing and regret.
“It was never about forgetting or forgiving,” Ruby said slowly. Tears welled in her dark eyes, bled down her cheeks. “It took me so long to figure that out. And now it’s too late.”
Nora frowned. “I don’t understand-”
“I love you.”
Ruby’s voice was so soft Nora thought at first she’d imagined the words, drawn them up from her own subconscious and given them the substance of sound.
“You love me?” Nora dared to whisper. Ruby stood there, a little unsteady. “Just try… to ”remember that, okay?"
“How could I possibly-”
Ruby slapped a yellow pad of paper on the kitchen table. “I spent all of last night making you a copy of this.”