“What about what you were doing before? In England? Teaching writing courses? You were doing really well with that.” The toaster beeped again.
“That sounds like an alien spacecraft,” I said. “And it’s so loud.”
“Yes, well, your father is going deaf so it has to be loud if he’s going to hear it from his office. Can’t you do that kind of thing here?” She handed me a plate of buttered toast and leaned against the counter.
I picked at the toast. “I can try, I guess. Oly’s both a great place and a crap place to try to teach writing. It’s the kind of community that’s bound to be super supportive because of all the arts and creative kinds of things that already exist here — but for the same reasons it’s going to be crap because I imagine that there’s a dozen other people already in the area who are already teaching writing and who are more qualified than me to boot.” I took a bite of toast and sighed. “God, this is good. I can never get bread this good anywhere else.”
“You never know until you try,” Mum pointed out. “If you want to sit around moping about Erik then that’s your prerogative, but at least you know you are perfectly capable of teaching, and you do have five years of teaching writing on your resume. And you can always temp until you find something else. Or you might see if the State will hire you back.”
“Mum, it’s been years since I last worked for the State,” I said, tearing off a corner of toast and turning it around in my fingers. Tempting to imagine it was Erik. Rip, rip, tear, tear. Mutilaaaaaate… Om nom nom. “And I refuse to temp. It’s always an absolute nightmare.” I groaned. “No, what I really need to do is get that damn book published.”
“Sweetheart, not that I don’t want to seem supportive, but what you need is a job.”
“At least you didn’t say what I need is a husband,” I muttered. “Emily’s mother’s been after her for the last three years about getting herself a husband. ‘Get a husband, Emily! Then you won’t need to worry about a job, darling!’ Hah.”
Mum’s phone beeped from the table. “You’d be bored to tears as a housewife, Katy,” she said as she walked over to the table and picked up her phone. “But you’ve been trying to get that book published for a year now and it just hasn’t happened. I’m not saying it won’t, and I know you love your writing, but if you can’t make any money off it then don’t you think you should be doing something else?”
“I was doing something else, Mum,” I said irritably. “I was teaching writing, remember? For five whole years. Woohoo. That’s why it took so damn long to get the thing written in the first place, because oh, let’s see, things with Erik were spectacularly unfair. And even with that I had more time to write than I would if I had a ‘regular’ job—and I refuse to give up doing what I love just because I don’t make buckets of money.” I slid down from the counter and folded my arms.
“I’m not going to have an argument with you on your first morning back,” Mum said, picking up her phone and reading a text. “Oh, dammit, I have to go deal with your grandmother.” She made a face. “Not that your father is ever around to deal with her. That would be nice, you know, seeing as she’s his mother after all…”
Mum looked guilty. “I’m sorry. The woman is always texting! We never should have given her a phone. She’s a menace…” Sighing, she set down the phone and began gathering up her purse. “I’ll probably take her to Farmer’s Market, if you want to come along. But I’m going now, so…”
I considered. “Let me throw some clothes on and I’ll come with.”
I dashed upstairs and threw on a pair of leggings and an oversized shirt, and tied a bright yellow scarf over my hair. Grabbing my trainers out of the closet, I dashed back downstairs and sat on the bottom step to put on my shoes. “Where’s Dad today?”
“He’s meeting clients in Portland,” Mum said, peering into the closet with a frown on her face. “He’ll be back in time for dinner. Have you seen — no, of course you haven’t seen my purple scarf. I must have left it at your grandmother’s. Oh, well, I’ll look while we’re over there. Are you ready yet?”
I stood up and stretched. “Is my bike still in the garage, or did you sell it?”
Mum looked at me as she opened the door. “Your bike’s still in there, your punching bag’s still in there, your softball glove’s still in there…”
“Okay, I get the picture! It’s just that I really should try to get some exercise — I feel like a blimp.”
The worry lines reappeared between Mum’s eyes. “You certainly don’t look like a blimp. You’re too thin. Do you want to drive?” She held out the keys.
“Licence is expired, remember?”
“Oh right.” Mum slid into the car and fiddled with the settings. “Clearly your father was the last to drive this,” she muttered, her feet waving in the air as she moved the seat forward. “I can never reach…” She started the car and started to back out of the garage, saying, “Why don’t you see if that young man who drove you home last night will give you a job? He owns a bookstore, doesn’t he?”
I felt myself blushing. “Mom, he was just being nice. I’m sure he doesn’t want to hire me.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll drop it.”
It had been three years since I’d last seen Grandma, and I was shocked at how frail she looked. She’d never been a particularly robust woman, but she looked like a leaf fluttering by in the wind might knock her over. Never mind about the wind—it would probably lift her up and carry her off to Oz. As in the Wizard of, not Australia. Although if it were a particularly strong wind…
I dragged my wandering mind back to the present and slid out of the car so that Grandma could have the front seat. She leaned on her cane and eyed me suspiciously.
“You’re too thin, Kathryn,” she barked at last. “Don’t you ever eat?”
“Nice to see you too, Grandma,” I said, hugging her carefully. “I love to eat.”
“Well, you don’t have to hug me like I’m made of glass,” she said huffily. “I won’t break, you know.”
“Of course you won’t,” I replied, holding the car door open for her. “Because you also love to eat and you always eat all of your veggies.”
She narrowed her eyes at me and I smiled cheerfully. “Ellen, where did this girl get her mouth from?”
“I wouldn’t dare answer that,” Mum said under her breath. “Are we ready to go, then?”
I shut the door, more than a little scared I might accidentally crush Grandma’s fingers without realising, and slid into the back seat. “Onward, James,” I said.
“We need to get your licence renewed,” Mum said. “If you’re home I want a break from driving.”
“Sure,” I said. “I don’t mind.”
“I can drive,” Grandma said. “Still have my licence and everything.”
“No!” Mum almost shouted. “I mean, that’s very nice of you to offer, Ruth, but it would be good for Katy to drive since she hasn’t driven much lately.”
“I haven’t driven much in twenty-five years but you don’t let me behind the wheel.”
“Your licence expired ten years ago, Ruth,” Mum said.
“It didn’t matter in the fifties,” Grandma objected. “I used to drive without a licence all the time.”
“Yes, and that was illegal,” Mum said. “For a reason. I’ve been in a car when you’ve been driving and I’m surprised you never killed anyone.”
Grandma looked mutinous. “I don’t see why it should matter, in any case. It’s not like your driving is particularly good.”