The chicken smelled done. On the next commercial Fay eased her knitting off her lap, groaned herself to her feet and went off to the kitchen. Her daughter-in-law used a meat thermometer to see if a chicken was done. Young people were so silly.
She was a good daughter-in-law though; she and Fay’s older boy gave Fay three healthy grandchildren. Fay’s younger son, David, still lived at home. A man in his thirties. But at least it meant Fay didn’t have to live alone like most of her Mah Jong ladies did.
She took the chicken out of the oven, set it on a trivet and then realized she had intended to make coffee cakes that afternoon. Fay got out two pans for two coffee cakes, one for the Mah Jong ladies tonight and one for Paulie this afternoon when he came over for sex. Fay found it funny she even liked the sex. She never liked it all the time her husband was alive. But Paulie was different. Gentle. Sex and gentle never went together for her before. Not in the prison camps or with Mort. It was nice, Paulie’s way.
She got out the flour and brown sugar and the butter and cinnamon and all the other ingredients. Such a luxury to have as much sugar and butter and cinnamon as you wanted in the house. It was so many years since the war, but it still felt strange. You thought from the past, you didn’t think from now. She didn’t like riding in trains. Even now, years later, she felt like she was back in the train to the camps, whenever she was in a train. She made her son buy a plane ticket, even when it was only a few hours to go somewhere.
And even now, seven years after Mort died, she was still tense when she heard a car come in the driveway in the evening. Afraid it would be one of those nights, even though now it was only David coming home and he never hit her. A man hit his wife but a boy didn’t hit his mother.
David was a good provider. He could afford as many plane tickets and as much brown sugar and butter as Fay wanted. He made good money in his lawyer office. Still, it would be better if he were married. Paulie would be better off married too, but for now it was nice to have him come around.
She just had time to throw the ingredients together and get the cakes in the oven before the movie started again. Her friends all watched soap operas in the afternoon, but as often as she has tried, she can’t stay interested. It’s all I love you and who loves who. Silly.
There was a knocking at the kitchen door. The door has glass in the top half and wire mesh in the bottom half. Who ever had such a door in the old country? Like it would ever keep anyone out. Then she realized she had strong wooden doors in her house in the old country and they didn’t keep her and Mort from being taken away to the camps, now did they?
She looked over from the stove to see it was Paulie. Something must be wrong. It’s Tuesday; he wasn’t supposed to come over for sex before three. She let him in the door.
“Paulie, something’s wrong?”
Paulie’s eyes were so pained. Such beautiful blue eyes like a girl’s. He fell against her and buried his face into her bosom.
“Fay, he knows. David knows.”
She cradled his head, stroking his hair as he stood there holding onto her. Soft brown hair. On top of his head was the only place Paulie had any hair. Her sons were both hairy apes like their father was.
“No, no,” she crooned, “It’s all right. It’s going to be all right.”
He pushed away from her and stood staring. “All right? You didn’t see his face! He’s ready to kill me!”
“Come into the living room. Sit down. Tell me about it.”
The only part of him that moved was his eyebrows up and down all over his forehead. Such a good-looking young man. Even his eyebrows were beautiful. Fay had to take his two hands and lead him into the living room; he was too shaken up to move by himself. She turned off the TV and put her knitting into the basket, before settling him and sitting down beside him.
“Now, tell me what happened.”
He clutched at her hands. She wished she could go and wash the chicken and cinnamon smells off, but Paulie was squeezing her hands too tight.
“I went over to his office to get him so we could go for lunch. He was sitting at his desk. He said ‘You’ve got one minute to get your ass out of here.’ Fay, I just stood there. I didn’t get it at first. Then he stood up, just standing there at the desk and he said ‘I’ll kill you. I swear I’ll kill you if I ever see you at my house again. Don’t you ever go near her again.’ That’s what he said, Fay. I didn’t know what to do. I shouldn’t even be here now but I had to tell you . . . The look on his face, Fay. Like I was a monster.”
“He had to find out some time, Paulie. You’re partners in the same office.”
“Fay, are we really doing anything so wrong? I’m a single man. You’re a widow. You’re not my mother, you’re HIS mother. It’s not really wrong, is it?”
“Of course not. It’s a little strange, but of course it’s not wrong. I still don’t understand why you even want an old lady like me but who’s complaining?”
He dropped her hands. “You don’t get it, do you? I’ve told you over and over again, Fay. I love you. The women my own age – they’re all after me for my looks or my money. But you, you’ve seen life, you’ve seen death, you’ve seen . . .”
“You’re talking like a soap opera, Paulie. My husband loved me. That, I don’t need again, thank you very much.” She had told Paul about how David’s father was, just like she’d told him how it was in the war and in the camps. Young people. They can’t even believe things like that happened. Who knows, maybe if somebody took Paulie away to a prison camp he might change, like Mort did.
“I just feel so dirty. David’s my best friend. Damn it, he’s like my brother. You’re his mother. That makes me almost like your son. That makes me a mother-f . . . ”
“Paul! Don’t you use bad language in this house!”
He dropped to the floor at her feet, crying now, with his head in her lap. There wasn’t going to be any sex this afternoon. Paulie probably wouldn’t come around any more at all after today. She just waited, letting him cry.
While sitting there, with him crying in her lap, she detected the done-cake smell coming out from the kitchen. She’d better go attend to the cakes but she couldn’t just leave him there, so she kissed him first. He liked to be kissed. Hard, like in a movie, but of course he wouldn’t be in the mood for that now. So she just raised his head up from her lap and gave him a little peck on the mouth. “You stay here. I’ll be right back. I just have to check on the oven.”
Then she went back to the kitchen, took the two cakes out of the oven and washed the smells off her hands. When she got back to the living room she saw that Paul had collected himself and also got up from the floor and was sitting on the couch. There were still tears on his face but they were old tears. They’d fallen a few minutes ago and were drying up.
He sniffed and rubbed his face when he saw her come back in. “I guess I’d better go. I don’t know how I’ll face him at the office tomorrow.” He sighed, as though trying to expel all the hurt out his body with the sigh. It wouldn’t work, of course. Hurt stays inside no matter how hard you sigh it out.
It took another ten minutes of talking and soothing before she got him out to his car. She watched him drive off, hoping he would be able to drive home safely – he was so upset.
David was going to be difficult when he came home from work. There was going to be a scene for sure. He’d probably be too angry to eat. She’d have to take both coffee cakes to the Mah Jong tonight. Or maybe just freeze one.
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