You Might Have Gone Far ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Freda Ball stood at the window, in the small space between the couch and the wall, and ironed the shirts of a stranger. Usually when she ironed she went into a state of near-meditation to make the work less tiring and repetitive, but today she wasn’t allowed the luxury of escape. Her mother, Viva Lake, sat a few feet away on the couch, thumbing through the latest issue of her favorite woman’s magazine and sipping Coca-Cola out of the king-size bottle through a straw.
“I had such high hopes for you when you were young,” Viva said, wiping her nose on her knuckles. “You were the only one of my children to have what I would call natural beauty. And here you are taking in other people’s laundry to make a living for yourself and your child.”
“I don’t have to do this, you know.” Freda said. “I’ve been promised a job as a stripper out at the Blue Grotto any time I want it.”
“When you were little, people were in awe of your beauty. If you had cultivated your natural talents as a young person, you might have gone far in the entertainment world.”
“Doing what, mother? Twirling a baton? I’m afraid there isn’t much call for that after the age of twelve.”
“It wasn’t just the baton. You played the clarinet and you sang and danced. In the seventh grade, you were in the school play. Everybody said you were the best one, the only one with any real talent.”
“And then I grew up and reality set in.”
“How long has it been since you had an alimony check from that no-good ex-husband of yours?”
“It’s not alimony, mother. It’s child support.”
“Almost three months, I guess.”
“It’s been four!”
“If you know, then why are you asking me?”
“I think you should take that bastard to court and get every penny out of him that you have coming! Have him locked up in jail until he pays what he owes.”
“Being a racecar driver isn’t what it used to be, mother. He only works part-time now.”
“He never was man enough to get a real job!”
“You’ll have to talk to him about that, mother, and leave me out of it.”
“Did you know that pretty young wife of his is going to have a baby? Can you imagine a man like that bringing more children into the world?”
“I don’t care what he does, mother. He can impregnate as many women as he wants and it’s no concern of mine.”
“And what is Ruthie supposed to think? Her own father doesn’t care enough about her to make sure she’s properly taken care of, while he’s out making more babies with women half his age, without a care in the world.”
“I’m sure he cares about her, mother. He’s just…”
“Behind in his alimony payments!”
“It’s not alimony, mother. It’s child support.”
“If he was my husband, I’d shoot the son-of-a-bitch between the legs.”
Freda laughed and set the iron down. “I’m sure you would, mother, but I don’t think you’d care to go to jail any more than I would. You can’t go around shooting people, between the legs or anyplace else.”
“No jury in the land would convict you!”
“I’m not going to try it and find out.”
“You don’t have any backbone. That’s your problem.”
Freda counted the shirts she had left. “I’ve been standing here ironing these shirts all day and I have five more to go. Mr. Bartlett sure has a lot of beautiful dress shirts. All different colors and prints.”
“Yes, he’s a successful man, the kind of man you should have married.”
“You don’t even know him!”
“I know of him. I know his cousin.”
“When he comes to pick up his shirts, I’ll tell him I’m a divorcee and I sure would like to marry him because I admire his shirts so much.”
“And why not? You have to go after what you want in life.”
“Is that what you did, mother? You were a housewife your whole life, unhappily married to a man you didn’t love. You had five children and I’m the only one of the five who still speaks to you.”
“I don’t know how you can talk to your own mother that way.”
“I’m only speaking the truth.”
“I don’t know how you sleep nights.”
The clock chimed four and, as if on cue, Ruthie arrived home from school, breathless and sweaty.
“Did you run all the way home?” Freda asked.
“No,” Ruthie said. “We were practicing some dance steps outside.”
“Just some girls I know. I think they’re cousins or something.”
“Do you like dancing?” Viva asked.
“I like it all right,” Ruthie said.
“When I was young, I was quite a good dancer myself. I guess you’re taking after me.”
“I didn’t know you were going to be here today, grandma,” Ruthie said.
“Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“I guess so.”
“Grandma saw the doctor today,” Freda said. “She had a biopsy and isn’t feeling well. She’s going to spend the night.”
“Does that mean I have to sleep on the couch?” Ruthie asked.
“It’s just one night.”
“I can sleep on the couch,” Viva said. “It makes all my bones ache, but I don’t mind. I won’t take Ruthie’s bed.”
“Go ahead and take it!” Ruthie said. “You’ll need to change the sheets, though.”
“How about if you change the sheets?” Freda said. “Grandma’s a guest.”
“Oh, all right!”
“Just a minute, little girl,” grandma said. “Come over here.”
Ruthie approached reluctantly and Viva took her hands in her own. Ruthie thought she was going to play pattycake, but she just swung Ruthie’s arms back and forth and pursed her lips.
“Did you know you’re going to be having a little brother or sister very soon?” she asked.
“Yes, there’s going to be a new addition to the family very soon!”
“Mama, is this true?” Ruthie asked.
“Don’t worry,” Freda said. “It’s not me. It’s your father.”
“Daddy’s going to have a baby?”
“His new wife is.”
“I thought they just got married.”
“They did. Daddy works fast.”
“Well, now, what do you think about that?” Viva asked. “A baby brother or sister.”
“I don’t think anything,” Ruthie said.
“You’re not just a tiny bit jealous?”
“Why should I be? I don’t care what they do.”
“Well, it’s a recipe for disaster if you ask me. Your father’s a no-good son-of-a-bitch and that’s all he’ll ever be. You know that, don’t you?”
“All right, mother!” Freda said. “That’s enough of that kind of talk! Quit trying to brainwash her.”
“What’s brainwash mean?” Ruthie asked.
“It doesn’t mean anything. It means it’s time to go and put clean sheets on the bed. Grandma’s tired and wants to go to bed early.”
After the supper dishes were washed and put away, Viva put on her nightgown and her heavy quilted bathrobe and tied her hair up in her sleep bonnet. After watching her favorite situation comedy on TV, she said good-night and disappeared into Ruthie’s room.
During the nine-o’clock hour, while Freda and Ruthie were watching a frenetic crime drama, Ruthie turned to Freda and said: “I don’t like grandma very much.”
“Nobody likes her very much,” Freda said. “She’s not a very likeable person. She never was.”
“How long are we going to have to wait for her to die so we can get her money and her house?”
“Not long, baby doll. Just be patient. Good things come to those who wait.”
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp