You Might Have Gone Far ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Laurette stood in the small space between the couch and the wall and ironed the shirts of a stranger. She stole little looks out the window at the street and the houses across the way as she worked. Her mother, Oona Farrington, sat on the couch sipping Coca-Cola out of the king-size bottle through a straw, thumbing through a women’s magazine. Not a care in the world.
“I had such high hopes for you when you were young,” Oona said, starting out on a wheezing high note. “You were the only one of my children with 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.” Laurette said. “I can get a job as a stripper out at the Blue Grotto any time I want.”
“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.”
Laurette 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.”
Laurette 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 that still speaks to you.”
“I don’t know how you can talk to your own mother that way.”
“Because I dare to speak 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?” Laurette 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?” Oona asked.
“It’s 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,” Laurette 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,” Oona said. “It makes all my bones ache, but I don’t mind. I won’t take your bed.”
“Go ahead and take it!” Ruthie said. “You’ll need to change the sheets, though.”
“How about if you change the sheets?” Laurette said. “Grandma’s a guest.”
“Oh, all right!”
“Just a minute, little girl,” grandma said. “Come over here.”
Ruthie approached reluctantly and Oona took Ruthie’s 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.
“I said, did you know there’s going to be a new addition to the family very soon?”
“Mama, is this true?” Ruthie asked.
“Don’t worry,” Laurette 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.”
“What do you think about that?” Oona asked. “A baby brother or sister.”
“I don’t think anything,” Ruthie said.
“You’re not the least bit jealous?”
“No. Why should I be? I don’t care what they do.”
“Well, it’s a recipe for disaster if you ask me. You know your father’s a no-good bastard, don’t you?”
“All right, mother!” Laurette said. “That’s enough of that kind of talk! Quit trying to brainwash her.”
“What’s ‘brainwash’?” Ruthie asked.
“It’s nothing. It means it’s time to go change the sheets on the bed. Grandma’s tired and will want to go to bed early.”
After the supper dishes were washed and put away, Oona 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 Laurette and Ruthie were watching a mind-numbing crime drama, Ruthie turned to Laurette and said: “I don’t like grandma very much.”
“Nobody likes her very much,” Laurette 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.”
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp