her act

Turning her head, she neatly spit a glob through her very red lips, right into the sidewalk’s corner, then squarely squashed the cigarette underfoot. Hitching her backpack, she strode her way across the boulevard, one in a throng. She was belligerently aware she was one tough customer, banging shoulders with the best of them.

Yet, Mr. Tong’s words kept reverberating in her consciousness, “Clean up your act, Stacy, clean up your act!”

Systematically she disrupted his classroom, never turned in assignments, and always his calm gaze held no sign of animosity. Today she’d lashed out vituperative doses of malice to the point he’d instructed her to remain after class. She was braced, ready for the inevitable onslaught. She’d finally pushed his buttons and, smugly satisfied with herself, relished his frazzled reaction.

Over twenty minutes she’d stonily sat at her desk, scornfully awaiting his tirade. He’d methodically gathered papers, straightened his desk, then gathering his old jacket and briefcase, he’d motioned her to the door.

They’d stood eyeball to eyeball, her every muscle tensed, ready for his barrage. There was none. His eyes seemed to twinkle, and a kindly little smile played on his lips, as he succinctly said those nine words. Then, he’d bowed her out the classroom door and on her way.

That’d been it, totally all, and yet, and that was the part she didn’t get. And yet! The words kept going over and over in her head and she felt something she hadn’t felt in a hundred years. She felt like crying. Her? No way!

It would’ve been better if he’d yelled at her, suspended her, anything but this! And what was so bad about this anyway?

Yet, she headed home, not to the Bistro Shop where she knew her group would be hanging out, waiting for her, anxious to be entertained by her description of Mr. Tong‘s encounter.

Muffled sounds and cooking smells came from the other apartments as she made her way down the shabby hallway and unlocked the door. She slung her backpack onto the faded sofa and sank beside it, conscious of the cigarette smoke that still lingered from her Mum who would’ve left for her graveyard shift not so long ago.

They lived there together, two strangers going opposite directions day after day; two people, one an annoying cat, the other a vicious dog, absolutely nothing in common. How could they even be related? Yet, as she sat there, somehow the usual contempt couldn't be conjured. Where was the Friday night excitement? It seemed on mute, no usual Friday-night-out anticipation.

“What act?” she muttered. “How does one clean up an act? An act?”

Sitting there she saw herself, as though watching a movie, the toughness, the aloofness, the anger, the total disregard for others, and the hurt she was always hiding, always trying to give to everyone she met. Always projecting her hurt never helped, never lessened the pain, did not make anything better, not ever.

“What a thought,” she mused. “An act. It’s my act and I’m the star?”

An hour passed in deep and profound introspection, birthing a quantum leap within. Rousing herself, she gathered dirty dishes from the coffee table where Mum had eaten as she watched some soap before leaving for work. Depositing the dishes in the kitchen sink, Stacy turned on the hot water, filling it with soapy water. Then, she found and piled every dirty dish she could fit into the sink to soak.

The fridge had new food, meaning Mum had shopped today, leaving no time for cleaning. Avocados! At least she felt hunger. Making a mouth-watering avocado sandwich, salted and peppered just right, she added lettuce, sliced sweet pickles and green olives. As she munched her creation, she wondered about her friends and their Friday night plans. Amazing! She just didn’t care.

Rescuing her backpack, she entered her only refuge, a room thickly carpeted with rumpled clothes. “Well, how about starting here?“

Staring at the room, which appeared to have been ransacked, she began sorting dirty clothes, clothes to hang up, clothes to iron, dishes for the kitchen. Then, she got on her stomach and raked everything from under her bed. She found a conglomeration of bobbi e pins, hair bands, dirty underwear, missing shoes, magazines, note papers, candy wrappers, a collage of garbage.

Once her laundry was sorted, she went into her Mum‘s bedroom. Strange, she couldn‘t remember the last time she’d entered this room. Mum‘s narrow bed was neatly made, a cotton, almost chenille-less bedspread, covered it in faded peach. How long had she had that thing anyway?

Scooping dirty clothes from her Mum’s laundry basket, Stacy sorted them into her clothing piles, hauling it to the basement laundry. No one did laundry on a Friday night? Wow! She was going to miss the weekend queue she was used to waiting in to do wash.

Once the machines were agitating, she reached the apartment in time to grab the ringing telephone.

Liza’s breathy voice was wondering where she was, why she’d never shown up. “How bad was it anyway?”

Stacy almost responded with detail, but stopped. Somehow she couldn’t repeat what he said. She just couldn’t. It would never translate in the telling.

Instead, she cunningly exploded into a coughing fit, which once started, turned quite genuine to her sensitive throat and smoke-inundated lungs. At last, she was able to gasp to Liza that she wasn’t well, not at all. Her head was also killing her, and she wasn’t going out with them.

“You’re not going out? Take an Excedrin! You have to come! Are you kidding? You know Judd will be there, everyone will be! Stacy!”

Cajoling nonstop, Stacy finally mollified Liza by assuring her she’d take an Excedrin right now, rest, and would meet them at 9:00 if she could. If she wasn’t there exactly on time, it meant she was still sleeping, so not to wait, just go and have fun and tell her all about it tomorrow.

When she hung up, she stood in the quiet and wondered exactly what she was doing anyway. She could change her mind, could absolutely be there at nine. Yet, she resolutely washed dishes, and put them away before returning downstairs to transfer wet clothes to the dryers.

By the time the clothes were dry in the basement, she’d begun a concentrated cleaning effort on the one bathroom in the apartment, even hanging a shelf and organizing all her toiletries. Scrubbing, shining, polishing, mopping. It’d looked like this never. Wow! Who knew?

It was 5:00 in the morning when her tired Mum slipped inside the silent apartment. Snapping on the light, she froze. The little living room was neatly arranged, furniture re-positioned, a clean throw rug in front of the sofa with a bright blanket over the faded cushions. The smell of lemon cleaner and furniture polish permeated the air. The kitchen was clean and orderly, shining tabletop and spotless counters!

Her bedroom was lovely, with clean folded laundry stacked on her bed.

Wonderingly, she opened Stacy’s door, and did a double take. There was a floor, a clean floor with nothing on it! Her daughter was asleep, the jet-black of her dyed hair flowing like ink across the pillow. She hadn’t stayed out all night! There’d be no Saturday morning scene, no typical gut-wrenching screaming match!

Noon found the two of them apprising each other gingerly. “Stacy,” Mum finally broke the silence, and then tears sprung into her hazel eyes, “Everything is so beautiful, so…extraordinary…I just never …” and then she stopped.

Her Mum’s glowing mood continued as she adeptly made banana pancakes and they sat to eat. When cigarettes came out, they both hesitated. “How about our old rule?“ Mum suggested, “How about we only smoke outside, not in our home?”

“Sure, Mum,” Stacy smiled replacing the cigarette. “It’ll help us both cut down. We’ll save tons!”

They both laughed, and it seemed so natural. She’d laughed like this with her Mum before, why not lately? Why not? Together they washed up the dishes, both in awe over the change they felt, deep roots sending out tentative shoots.

“Well, let’s see,” Mum faltered, “What now? Cleaning’s done. So’s laundry! How do you feel about that new movie? A Saturday out, Stace?” she queried, hardly daring to hope for another miracle!

Stacy cleared her throat. Seeing her Mum’s joy was hurting her throat, so she could hardly swallow, and tears burnt at the back of her eyes. She loved this little lady, really loved her! Well, who knew?

Clearing her throat again, she managed, “You take a nap or hot bath, Mum. Just relax. I have some homework, quite a lot actually.”

Then Stacy laughed, “What the heck, I’ll give it a start, and we’ll take a break about four, just you and me, Mum. I can go for that.”

                                                                                                   The End