When she told her mother, the divorce was final, Dorothy realized she had never seen that particular expression on her mother's face before. "Odd," was all as far as she could get, and she tucked it away into her mental filing cabinet under "O."
"Well, I'm happy for you, Babe," her Mom said after a moment, then turned her back and banged the saucepan on the stove just a bit more than she needed to stir the gravy. "You, know we liked, Frank, but we're not going to run your life." Dorothy stared at the back of her mothers head, the tight bun, bobby pinned on top. "Have you told your father?"
"No, I just got here."
"Well, he's in the garage as usual, why don't you tell him."
And get out of my hair, Dorothy thought. So she walked through the laundry room, into Dad's "domain." He was leaning under the hood of a 50's something fiddling with the engine, wearing the greasiest pair of coveralls she had ever seen. She couldn't help laughing. 'Orderly mess' her mother called it. "At least you agree there's an order," he always replied.
At the fender of the car she yelled, "Dad, I'm home. I'm staying for dinner."
Her father pulled himself out of the darkness of the engine and said, "What?" He always said 'what?'
"I'm here for supper, just thought I'd let you know."
"Great, Babe, glad to see you."
"So how's it going?"
"Well, it doesn't run quite right, but I guess it's okay for a 51 Dodge flathead." Then her father really saw her for the first time, "Any special reason?"
"Yes," still having to shout a little over the knocking motor. "My divorce is final." Her father's eye's glazed over for a second then recovered.
"I'm glad for you," he said, absentmindedly wiping grease off his socket wrench. "You know we liked Frank. I mean it took your mother a while, quite a while, but she came around. And now he's part of the family so we'll miss him. But since it's what you two wanted, I guess you did the best thing."
"I wish it had worked out, Dad, but it didn't. And we don't hate each other. We were just too different."
"Well, let me get some more work done here. Then I'll come talk to you."
Dorothy stood for a moment on one foot and then the other, now feeling dismissed by both of them. She went out the open garage doors into the back yard.
'This used to be my world, all of it,' she thought, seeing it new and then seeing it like her life flashing before her: the backyard at two, at four, at eight, at twelve. I used to know every blade of grass, every nick on the chain link fence, every right time to spy on the neighbors. She looked across the sea of lawns, clothes lines, charcoal grills and the split level ranch houses, and then she lay back in a reclining lawn chair, and closed her eyes.
She woke to her mother's firm song-like voice, which even penetrated the garage where her Dad had learned to distinguish it over the engines. "If I'm going to go to all this trouble to cook this, then you're going to have to get here while it's hot," her Mom had said a thousand times, if she had said it once.
A minute later Dorothy was at the table. Her mother had prepared two meats, which meant it was special, although only one bread so it wasn't that special. Three minutes later her father showed with the fixed smile he always wore at 'family' dinners.
The food was passed in silence; her mother said the prayer. And then they ate with only a few topics of conversation, the weather, the new neighbors, the washing machine. Dorothy realized she was out of practice.
But desert she reminded herself was better. At least then she and her Dad were able to talk more seriously, more playfully. In the middle of apple pie, Dorothy volunteered,"I feel like a bird let out of a cage."
"How's that," said her father.
"Well, I'm free now. I've got my own place, my own job. You know before I was married I lived here, so I guess I'm on my own for the first time."
"Is that all right?"
"We'll see. Like most birds I may find that I spend a lot of time back in the cage,, you know hang around my apartment, even though the door is open, just because that's where I'm used to eating and sleeping and..."
Her mother turned on the faucet full blast so it cut her off. Mom, says very little, Dorothy thought, but she sure can control the conversation.
From over the water, her mother said,"You know I pulled out the family album. The pictures of your wedding, the outings. I don't know what we should do with them now."
"Oh, Mom," Dorothy gulped.
"I mean do we put them in their own album, or keep them just where they are because that's the proper place for them?" And then she turned from the sink and looked straight at her daughter with an expression that made Dorothy shiver. "Tell me, Babe. Because I don't know what you young people do now after a divorce."
"I don't know either, Mom. It's all new to me. I thought it was until death do us part."
"Well, it wasn't," and her mother turned back to the sink.
"Now, now, Mildred," her father chimed in.
And then her mother started to sob. Dorothy and her father exchanged "I don't know either" looks, and shrugged their shoulders in unison.
In the morning at the Sears's photography department, Dorothy was polishing the glass shelves, and placing the cameras just so, before the doors opened. Next week she'd be starting business classes at the community college, and going part time with this job. The case looked perfect. She slid the back panel closed and locked it, humming under her breath. When the PA system came on, she was half dreaming about her up coming date with the guy in men's wear.
For a moment the woman on the loud speaker sounded like her mother. And then the uncertain feeling from night before, the feeling she had put away in the back of her mind once she'd returned home to her apartment, came rushing at her. It was like the car crash she'd been in, when a truck had gone through a stop light, plowed into her new Toyota, and the force of the collision had propelled the two joined vehicles to finally stop at the next telephone pole. All at once Dorothy understood more than she wanted to.
Her parents were envious of her freedom.
A shiver started at the base of her neck, reached into her feet, and when it left her she was trembling. She sat down on the stool behind the cash register.
Customers were weaving their way through the rows of back-to-school clothes, and she turned away from their direction as tears began to fall onto the linoleum tile. Tears for her and Frank. Tears for her mother and tears for her dad.
Then she allowed herself to complete the thought she had started, letting the other shoe drop in her mind, slowly and with certainty, banging hard against the floor.
It was her parents who wanted a divorce. But they would never let themselves.
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