Michael - Part 4 : Gloria's House (B@GoE)
Michael/ Gloria Story - Backstage at the Garden of Eden
Gloria lived in her house for most of her adult life. It was built in the early 1960’s, a modest backsplit with a sunken living room. As a single parent, having the house open from the kitchen, down into the living room made it easier for her to watch her children while she also made dinner, folded laundry, or looked through the weekly flyers for coupons and sale items.
She’d place a chair on its side in front of the stairs from the kitchen down to the living room to stop them from falling as toddlers. She raised her children before there were such thing as baby gates. Each of the children took a tumble down the linoleum steps at some point. But they’d also ‘learn their lesson’ through the odd fall or a whack from her slipper as a warning to stay clear of the steps.
Her daughter Judith had moved home to care for her mother. Gloria now occupied a hospital bed in the living room, so Judith could care for her. Gloria was bathed in the sunlight pouring into the living room from the large picture window overlooking the overgrown back yard. There she was in the centre of the activity rather than hidden away in an upstairs bedroom.
Judith was divorced and had retired early from teaching. Now, her mother needed her. Returning to the house she grew up in, she felt like she was living in a museum. The familiarity was a comfort and suffocating. She could make her way easily around the kitchen like it was her own. She reached for well-worn drawer and cupboard handles without looking. The tiny counter’s yellowing laminate was scratched from years of cleaning and meal prep. The minimal appliances and gadgets were from a bygone era, but they still worked so there was no reason to replace them. The harvest gold had mercifully been replaced in the 1990’s but now decades later, they too were on their last legs. The subway tile backsplash was original, still in the 60’s white and black contrast. The once paisley wallpaper and dusty pink paint had been updated to a sunny yellow. Photo albums held the only evidence of the funkier years. The teak starburst clock still ticked, a testament to Gloria’s ‘they don’t make things like they used to’ attitude and design time warp.
The Danish modern furniture, now back in style, was likely in too rough shape to be of much value. Its clean lines belied Gloria’s collector mindset. She had a hard time letting go of the things she had accumulated. She was sentimental about things and everything was sentimental. She was clean and did her best to be tidy but there was just a lot . Stacked, and stuffed and ‘put away’ in or on every piece of furniture. Judith didn’t relish the process of sorting through all of it when her mother passed. The thought overwhelmed her so she didn’t allow her eyes to rest on any of it for too long. One bedroom was filled to the ceiling with sale items: toilet paper, tissues, paper towel, cleaning supplies, socks, underwear, etc. Most still in the bags. As the years wore on, Gloria would stock up when things were on sale, forgetting that already had a healthy supply. Behaviour driven by her difficult single parent days.
Judith slipped into a ritual of folding laundry, doing the crossword, and watching over her mother from the kitchen table. She could get to her side quickly, if necessary. Gloria slept most days and was restless at night. Judith had not slept in a bed for weeks but rather, on the kidney shaped, teak sofa near her mother. The firmness of the sofa was a rebuke to someone lying on it. It screamed “Not designed for sleeping” even after all these years.
Judith had come home to live somewhat in the past too. There were conversations they’d had over these few months that had been a lifetime’s creation. Like sorting through her mother’s sentimental collection, there was also a collection of slights and miscommunications that had piled up between mother and daughter.
The cups of tea, long silences and dust dancing in the steams of light coming through the window gave way one afternoon when Gloria asked her daughter why her marriage broke down. The shock of such a question years after this event, was both relieving and confronting. But Judith was ready to talk. Time was of the essence. They both knew it.
She couldn’t hold back the secrets anymore about his sneaking around. Finding those phone numbers in his coat pocket and finally having the guts to call one of them. When a breathy woman answered, she hung up. Her mother had been right about him all along, warning her off marrying him and not attending the wedding in stubborn protest.
As they talked about their good-for-nothing ex-husbands, the tears flowed. It brought them together like a couple of old friends. The stacks of tissues hoarded in the guest bedroom were suddenly put to good use. When they had cried it all out, they laughed and laughed at their ex’s expense. Gloria shocked Louise with her language which made them laugh all the more.
Michael’s visits were tentative. He entered like a teenaged boy, not sure what they had been talking about. He didn’t stay long and he was quiet and distant.
On this day, the snow fell lightly. The cold weather not welcome but the newness of the first snow was always magical in its renewal. Michael had just snuck in the kitchen again, taking off his boots and coat. Judith startled him as he came in, they giggled and she put the kettle on. He helped himself to cookies.