- Mother’s Summer Vacation
My mother never stops speaking before the answering machine cuts off. "It's hot," she says, "and I am so bored and I'm in the car, we're in the desert and Daddy is going potty and I'm hot and there's nothing to look at." We have asked her not to phone before 11am, but she does. My brother has told her, "People like us do not get up before 11am."
We punish her by never picking up the phone. She punishes us by phoning again and again.
Sometimes she punishes us by not phoning for weeks, and though my brother and I are relieved when this happens, we panic sometimes and know, she has told us, we'll be sorry when she's dead.
When she visits New York, she visits for weeks at a time. "I hate Fresno," she says. "I hate that hell hole." She has lived in Fresno for twenty-three years. For twenty-three years she has said, "I hate this hell hole."
"Go on and do what you would do if I weren't here," she says after the second week of her visit. "I can read. I'll clean the closets."
"Don't clean my closet," Ethan says.
"It's a disaster," Mother tells him.
"Don't clean my closet."
"Gay porn," I say. "He doesn't want you to find his gay porn."
Mother says, "That is not funny, Julia."
I am not being funny. Ethan knows I am not being funny. He nods and shrugs. "Clean out my closet," he says. "And clean underneath my bed, too."
Mother gets a line down the center of her forehead. "I'll read instead," she says. [End Page 60]
My father always implies we have nothing to say to one another. When I phone and he answers, he says immediately, "I'll let you speak to your mother."
"No Daddy, I'll talk to you."
"I'll just get the gossip from your mother."
"Don't you have gossip?"
"Your mother fired the gardener again. I can't talk, darling, I'll get the gossip from your mother."
My mother takes the phone. "I'm depressed," she says.
"Because I have wasted my whole life in this town and your father always leaves me alone."
The two of them, now, have decided to build a house in Michigan. Mother has pinned all her hopes on this house and on the little town where everyone chipped in to buy a swimming pool for the local high school. My father thinks the house will make him poor.
"I'm coming out to see the architect," Mother says, "and I think I'll come see you kids for a while too."
My mother refuses to go to the dentist in Fresno. She has not seen a dentist for twenty-two years because, she says, "I don't want the whole damn town gossiping about my teeth." The only time my mother swears is when she uses the phrase "the whole damn town."
"No one's gossiping about your teeth."
"You don't know, Julia. What it's like in this town."
"Who cares. You hate everyone and you hardly leave the house anyway."
"I have to get work done and I don't want everyone talking about it."
"What kind of work?"
"Embarrassing work! Reconstructive dental work. I don't want you talking about it either. Please just make me an appointment with a dentist in New York."
I made her an appointment with the dentist of my friend Bill. Bill is the only person I know who has ever talked about his dentist out of context. Also, Bill has very nice teeth.
"I made an appointment for you. Bill says this dentist is very good about having no pain."
"Is he gay?" [End Page 61]
"Bill is gay."
"The dentist, Julia!"
"I don't know, Mother, I didn't ask the receptionist."
"I don't want a gay dentist."
I hung up the phone. Ethan had been listening. "Did she ask if the dentist were gay?" he said.