Topaz is curled up on a caramel velveteen pillow with one paw resting on my left elbow. Sweetpea snores peacefully a few inches from my right thigh. In a few minutes, she'll inch closer to my hip, then closer again, then lay her head on my lap and stare at me with the boo-boo eyes, then crawl on my lap. She won't stay. She's a restless sort. And Drusy's upstairs, telling Pete all her girlie secrets. It was only two nights, but according to the cats we were gone forever.
Sweetpea actually pretended not to know me. I was like, "Girlfriend, PLEASE."
Saturday morning, we drove up to Cape Cod in the misty and sometimes blinding rain and fog that was the tail end of Hurricane Ida. We had arranged a quick trip to replace the warped and waterlogged storm door and cross a few small tasks off the big DIY list. Sunday morning, Mom, Tom, Pete and I drank coffee and talked about the door, which came with a frame. Mom busied herself elsewhere. Pete tore out the old door while I counted hardware pieces and Tom read the instructions. It quickly became apparent that this was a two-person job. Mom proposed that she and I go visit Grandpa. I cleaned up and we hopped in the car, where Mom recounted the saga of Grandpa's shoes.
Briefly: a few weeks before, she'd picked up a second pair of Grandpa's favorite shoes at KMart, but the shoes were too small when he tried them on. Mom tried returning them but KMart didn't have a pair half a size larger. An employee - let's call her Alberta - promised to call when a shipment of Grandpa's favorite shoes arrived. Alberta called Mom the day before we arrived: a pair of shoes would be waiting for her. I didn't think much of this except that this meant we were going to KMart, and shopping with Mom is fraught with peril. It's hard to explain.
The strip mall was sad. At the other end, a Filene's Basement had gone out of business, leaving a huge empty space. The parking lot was full of holes and broken places. As we walked through the store to Customer Service, we passed people whose skin was colorless, people who were oddly shaped and looked damaged. At the desk, we found one lushly beautiful young woman of Middle Eastern descent to page Alberta for us. When after a long moment Alberta did not appear, the young woman went to the shoe department, which was maybe 30 feet away and plainly visible from where we were standing. We saw her walk around. We saw her pick up the phone at the jewelry counter. She came back to the desk. Then out of nowhere Alberta appeared. WHOOSH! And she looked mighty familiar because when we walked in and asked for her, she walked right past us. Anyway: WHOOSH! At the same time Alberta appears, we hear her talking.
Alberta: Hi, I'm Alberta! Did you get my call? I called you! I called because I knew you wanted these shoes so I put aside a pair for you and another for another man. He was actually here at the same time as you. You might have seen him. Did you see him?
In the shoe aisle, a large box sits on the floor and a number of shoeboxes await Alberta's attention. Mom is no slouch when it comes to talking a blue streak and I don't quite understand what we're doing so I keep wandering off and coming back. Finally, Alberta realizes I have something to do with this situation and extends a hand.
Alberta: Hi, I'm Alberta.
Tata: Hi, I'm Domenica and you've met my mother.
Alberta: That is your mother? That cannot be your mother. How old are you? And how old are YOU? I cannot believe you have a daughter her age. You're both kidding, right?
Tata: Want to see a picture of my grandson?
Alberta: You can't possibly be old enough to have a grandchild! You don't look old enough to have a kid who has a kid. It's the curly hair. That makes everyone look younger. See how young I look? It's the curly hair! How old do you think I am?
Mom and I look at each other.
Tata: There's no right answer to that question!
Alberta laughs, rushes to me and pulls her hair out of a clip.
Alberta: It's the curly hair that makes me look young. My youngest is 18. I don't look that age, and curly hair makes you look young, and you too -
Mom's hair is poker-straight. Alberta keeps talking as Mom's phone rings and Tom says, "I have a few things to tell you." I am holding the shoebox of replacement shoes in the correct, larger size. Mom repeatedly listens to something Tom says then responds the same way over and over. Alberta has noticed my nose piercing and we are off to the races.
Alberta: Did that hurt when you got that pierced because it really hurt when I got my tongue pierced -
Tata: I had to take my tongue ring out because it started chipping away at my dentalwork. Mom, say goodbye to Tom.
Mom: I don't have time to talk about this.
Alberta: I was never sure about leaving my kids with babysitters -
Tata: It's always a dilemma. Mom, hang up.
Mom: I don't have time to talk about this.
Alberta: Your hair was more recently frosted than mine but we have the same hair. It's nice hair. Do you wear makeup? I can't believe you have a grandchild -
Tata: You've been very helpful. Thank you so much. Mom, HANG UP THAT PHONE. WE ARE LEAVING.
Mom shut her phone and stared at Alberta. Mom doesn't listen like other people listen. You don't so much talk as have a story sucked out of you. I am not at all kidding when I say Mom makes car dealers cry. All she has to do is fix her gaze on them and listen until they beg her to sign something and for god's sake please go listen to someone else. Though I was absolutely certain Alberta was hopped up on diet pills and hair dye, I knew what would happen if matter and anti-matter suddenly realized they were at the same party and wearing the same dress. To save the universe, I stood up and shouted mysterious words. I think they were something like, "ISN'T THAT ANWAR SADAT? I NEED HIS AUTOGRAPH!" And I bolted toward Customer Service, knowing that Mom would follow because obviously there was a story to suck.
If she'd followed a little more closely I would have sprinted to the exit. I stopped at Customer Service, declared to the lushly beautiful young woman that we'd made our exchange and didn't wait for an answer. Mom turned the corner, staring at me with wide eyes and the same expression cats fix on mice. I said, "We're done here," and made a break for the door. I hate shopping! I was thrilled when Grandpa's shoes fit because I didn't want to discuss hair care products with Alberta.