Are You Adaptable: part one (short story)
Are You Adaptable
She thought, “Do Tolhursts really deserve accessories?”
The scarf was too much…it seemed crocheted from pillow stuffing, and bore the handicrafted preciosity of the chronically regifted gift. A Tolhurst gift. Not even a real one.
Last Thanksgiving, Heidi, Beloye’s near mother-in-law, had come out of her bedroom following noises of a tissue-y rummage, saying: “I don’t know where I got this. But I don’t want it.”
The scarf bulged under Beloye’s earlobes. Her left hoop popped off. She squatted down to look along the edge of the armoire, lifted the bedskirt, saw nothing that glinted.
The sweater…she couldn’t blame them for that. She liked her cardigan, that had pockets for Kleenex and phone, cold hands. She wore it on weekends with jeans. With black pants, its mohair shed was notable. Worse, it had dropped shoulders. Worse, it fell to mid-hip. Beloye adjusted her posture. She still looked wide and slovenly. She jerked open the closet door, and Boz wedged his head between her ankles.
In her closet Boz had once spent a day imprisoned, clawing furrows in a good leather boot, fringing one or two garment hems, making use of a corner. Released, his cat’s life restored to even keel, he’d tripped under Beloye’s feet, chattering, weaving infinite figure eights.
Dan, she’d been about to interrogate…loafing deaf in his chair all day. Without glancing from the TV, he’d said, “Yeah, cute.” He had that in common with Boz. You caught him in the act, or you wasted your breath haranguing.
She dragged Boz back now, and reached for her black dress.
A motor drilled, looming close, a rubber bumper thunking the doorframe. Boz flung himself behind the shoe rack, snagging in passing a claw on Beloye’s toe. The hanger she tugged grappled onto another. Her black dress fell to the floor.
“You need a good vacuum,” was Heidi’s answer, shouted over the roar and whistle of Beloye’s, Dan’s complaints. “See how there’s nothing in the bin? That’s why nothing gets clean.”
Heidi vacuumed after meals to get crumbs; she vacuumed in her bedroom while Beloye and Dan watched TV.
“Why are you vacuuming?” Dan would yell.
“I’m vacuuming for a minute,” his mother would yell back.
My own fault, Beloye told herself.
They, the advice-mongers, were always saying, “learn to say no”. You don’t have to be nice all the time. No, because (with certain Tolhursts) only extra nice counted…or, in some way ordinary responsible behavior—holding down a job, keeping your credit good, not drinking—was like a commodity to them. You had plenty and they had none. You had to be fair. She wished she had the courage to be heartless.
“The economy is picking up…”
Perhaps a month ago, she’d mentioned.
“Yeah. And being a rich guy, I feel like I can take some of the credit for that. I hate to brag, but, you know, whenever I get bored I just buy myself a new car, fancy watch. Drop a thousand here, thousand there. Makes jobs for the little people. That’s the only reason I’m not working, ’cause I gotta let the needy ones get their shot in first.”
Not that Beloye would argue. In respect of sarcasm, Dan had his own pocket of wealth, his own cornered commodity. He would either spin on in this vein, or get mad at her for not playing. He had asked her, gracelessly, if Heidi could have the other bedroom.
“Your mother needs to live with us?”
“She’ll pay half the rent.”
“What is she going to pay rent with if she’s broke?”
“Social security. Nine hundred a month. We only need six.”
There were two things wrong with this. That “we”, when it was Beloye’s apartment, and she was the only one paying anything, and…she could hardly bust Heidi down to three hundred dollars income. Heidi had Arnold to support.
She didn’t, so far, pay rent, but she cleaned.
Beloye’s mother had told her, “Don’t buy a house with a man you aren’t married to.”
She and Dan were never going to be married. The house would never have been bought if she hadn’t become co-party to the loan…but of course there was a lot of advantage in real estate. They’d get an apartment and rent the house ’til it was paid off, then sell it. Rinse and repeat.
Now the house, with its “cosmetic” flaws, might never be sold. But that was hardly Beloye’s affair, since she and Dan no longer owned it. Through some alchemy, a loyalty filtered through dislike for her partner, her parents were willing now to help with rent, but had refused, when it counted, contributing to the mortgage payments.
She heard voices—Nola’s and Arnold’s. A knock, and Dan’s:
“Someone at the door.”
She heard Heidi. “She’ll get it.”
Are You Adaptable
Are You Jealous
(copyright 2015, 2018 Stephanie Foster)