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Authors: Tara McTiernan

Barefoot Girls (4 page)

BOOK: Barefoot Girls
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Answer it? Read? It was close to five, so her mother would have already had her first drink. The first drink was okay, it was the one that made her mother cheerful, not maudlin or paranoid as the subsequent ones sometimes did.

She flipped open her phone. “Hi Mom!”

“How could you?” The voice on the other end was not the cheerful and still-sensible voice of one drink. It was sloppy and loose with lots of expensive wine, the kind her stepfather Ben kept in large supply for his beautiful and volatile younger shiksa wife. Ben’s response to any criticism of his wife’s drinking was, “She’s an artist of life - she
feels
! What does it matter if she needs a drink or two?”  He drank, too, but in moderation.

“How could you?” her mother repeated. “The first time I read the review, I thought, I must be going crazy. I’m imagining things.” Keeley paused. “I just couldn’t believe it. You know why? It’s my
daughter
this stupid woman is talking about, and my daughter would never do something like that to me. My daughter loves me. She wouldn’t betray me like that.”

“Mom, what? What are-“

“Be quiet! I don’t want to hear it. You’ve done enough talking, enough spreading lies about me all over town. Do you know what? I can’t go back to Fairfield now. My life is over. I might as well climb under my bed and just live there! How could you? How could you do this to me? I admit I made mistakes, but telling
lies
! You’re a big liar!”

Hannah felt cold then, something shifted inside with a thud. “I did not lie about anything, what do you mean?”

Keeley made an impatient sound and took a loud slurping sip of her chardonnay. “I did not
neglect
you! I admit I went on a lot of dates, but you always had some kid from the neighborhood or one of the Barefooters watching you. You had more love in one day than most kids get in a year. And I did not ever
ever
in your life abandon you!”

Colder, shrinking sensation. How could she forget? “Oh, Mommy, but you did.”

A gasp on the other end of the line. “I…oh! How dare you!” Another smaller gasp. “How dare you? You’re…, horrible horrible! I, I, can’t even talk to you! Apologies, now that’s what I expected…but this! What? I, I can’t even talk to you. How could my own daughter, who I gave up everything for, treat me this way?”

There was a click. Hannah looked at her phone and saw the call had been ended. Her mother had hung up on her.

She put down the phone slowly, feeling the old familiar ache in her heart, one she had felt for most of her life. It was the feeling of being consciously loved and unconsciously hated in equal measure by the one person in life who is supposed to only feel a total and encompassing love for you. A mother’s love, that holier than holy love.

Hannah sat and stared at nothing, her eyes unfocused, feeling the pain throb in her chest. Minutes went by. A fly flew in through the open car window, waking Hannah from her stupor.

She opened the folded piece of newspaper in her lap and read.

It was a glowing review, speaking of Hannah’s beautifully crafted prose and the perfect pacing of her story. Beth Hiller, the reviewer, called Hannah’s
Wait Another Day
a “moving novel that offers deep insights into the dark side of the mother-daughter relationship”.

That was bad, “dark side”. Then she saw the last paragraph.

However talented a wordsmith, this reviewer calls into question how a child of twenty could write so astutely without plundering her own memory stores. It seems likely that the writer’s rumored childhood as a neglected and often abandoned daughter of an alcoholic parent is still a sore point, one she is working out using the medium of fiction to seek resolution. That is the novel’s ultimate weakness in the end as it never truly leaps into the realm of fiction. It would have been a better book, a great book, if Ms. O’Brien had been honest with herself and her readers and written it as a memoir.

“Oh, no,” Hannah said, her voice low and gravelly with a new stabbing pain that clenched at her throat. “Oh, Mom.”

Tears filling her eyes, she picked up her cell and dialed her mother’s number. The phone rang twice and was picked up.

“Mom, I’m-“

Click. The connection was broken.

Hannah dialed again. Again, when the receiver was picked up, it was put back down as soon as Hannah started to speak. She tried two more times and then simply sat, the clipping in her lap, the phone in her hand, tears rolling and dripping on her shirt and into her mouth, feeling an exhaustion so deep she couldn’t find the energy to weep aloud.

The late summer evening wound down around her, the locust ratcheting chatter giving over to the gentler chorus of crickets. Then darkness settled. Hannah stirred, climbed out of her car, and went into the house. Upstairs in the bedroom, she crawled on top of her still-made bed, and fell asleep in her uniform, curled up on her side with her phone still in her hand and the clipping on the bed next to her.

Two hours later her cell rang. It wasn’t her mother’s ring, but Daniel’s – Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).”

Hannah moaned and scrambled looking for it, running her hands over the bed’s quilt, as it had fallen out of her hand in her sleep. She found its cool smooth shape.

“Hey,” she said, her voice hoarse from sleep and tears, pulling herself up to a sitting position.

“Hey sweetheart! Did I wake you up? What time is it?” Daniel said, who never knew the time, was always turned around from his flight schedule as an airline pilot. A pilot! When Hannah had first started dating Daniel, she thought it was a romantic career. Now that she knew the truth of their crazy hours and stressful lifestyle, she wondered how anyone could see it as a fun or glamorous.

“It’s,” Hannah looked over at her bedside table. “Nine-eighteen. It’s early. I’m, I… I had a really bad fight with my mom. I just had to lie down.”

“Oh, no. What happened?”

Hannah sat up a little straighter. “You read my book, right?”

“Of course.”

“Would you say it’s a work of fiction, or a memoir?”

“Well, um…, no, it’s a novel. You’ve told me some stuff about your childhood, and, yeah, a little could have ended up in it. But it’s a novel. Why?”

“There was this book review in the
Fairfield Tribune
and the woman who wrote the review implied that it was a true story.”

“Balls! What did it say?”

Hannah lay back on her bed, leaning against the pile of decorative pillows she hadn’t removed earlier, “Oh, it was very flattering until the last paragraph. My head grew two sizes before being shrunk to the size of a peanut. She said that the book was obviously a memoir and it should have been one outright. The worst is really in one sentence; uh, let me find it.” She reached over and turned on the bedside lamp and looked all over her bed before spying the folded clipping on the floor where it had fallen. Picking it up and unfolding it, she read, “’It seems likely that the writer’s rumored childhood as a neglected and often abandoned daughter of an alcoholic parent is still a sore point, one she is working out using the medium of fiction to seek resolution’.”

There was a pause at the other end of the line. “Whoa.”

“That’s what my mother said. And then some.”

“Well, it’s easy to understand why she’s upset.”

“Hey! Whose side are you on?” Tears started to prick at her eyes again. What was this? Couldn’t she just stop crying?

“Yours, Hannah. Always yours,” Daniel said. “No, I meant upset with that book critic. She should sue. You could sue.”

Hannah put down the clipping and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “But Mom’s upset with
me
. Not the critic.” She shook her head and said, “She won’t even talk to me. She just keeps hanging up.”

“Crazy mothers. She’s probably freaking out…”

“What am I going to do?”

“She won’t talk to you, huh? Wait; why not write her a letter?”

“Do you think she’ll read it?”

Daniel laughed. “From you? Yes! She loves you. She’s just upset, justifiably upset. She’s not justified in blaming her daughter, but her being pissed off is totally normal. I’d be ballistic if someone questioned how we raised our children. When we raise them.”

Hannah gasped, remembering. “Oh, honey. She did abandon me, though. I wasn’t writing about her, but she did. I told you. The thing is, oh, it’s amazing. It’s crazy.”

“What?”

The ache was back in Hannah’s throat. “She doesn’t remember.”

 

Three days later, Hannah’s letter of apology was winging its way to Manhattan, where her mother lived in a huge fantasy-worthy apartment overlooking Central Park with her Manhattan real-estate mogul husband, Ben Cohen.

Ben had entered her mother’s life shortly after Hannah had moved out. Keeley and Hannah had come to a cease-fire in Hannah’s late teens, but it was a tense and cold agreement and Hannah was glad to go. Hannah’s blossoming beauty and her strict need for structure and peace battled with her mother’s increasing need to act and feel young and free, creating a tumultuous home life. Keeley started to throw lots of wild parties and Hannah was usually the one to clean up after them, sometimes breaking them up if the neighbors complained about the noise.

Hannah moved out right after graduating high school, started waitressing, and quietly started writing short stories as well as her novel, a novel she had been thinking about for years that would draw on her life but, of course, be fictional. Meanwhile, Keeley joined a local singles group in Norwalk. One night the singles group had an event in Manhattan at the Monkey Bar. Ben had been sitting at the bar with a colleague. Noticing Keeley from across the room and liking what he saw, he launched his pursuit immediately, cutting short his conversation with his colleague and walking right up to her with his usual confidence. The romance had taken off quickly, both of them equally enamored with the other and well-matched: fiery and passionate, they both took life by the horns.

The first time Hannah met Ben was at a dinner her mother had arranged for the three of them in Greenwich at La Figaro restaurant, a little French bistro on Greenwich Avenue. When Keeley left the table to use the restroom, Ben leaned over to Hannah while watching Keeley walk away, her signature saunter making her hips swing. “You know what made me fall in love with your mother? She’s
alive
. More alive and just plain happy than any other woman I’ve ever met. Beautiful, yeah. So were the rest of the women I’ve dated, and they had less years on them than your mom, let’s be honest. But no one knows how to live like your mother! What a woman.”

Hannah had to agree. No one was like her mother. Hannah wondered what Ben thought of his stepdaughter’s novel and the disastrous review. Would he see it was all just an overblown mess? No, he would stand by his wife – was probably furious with Hannah. Better not to think about it. She had done the best she could with the letter.

 

September 10, 2010

 

Dear Mom,

I’m so so sorry. I never meant to hurt or embarrass you. The book is one hundred percent fictional. I’m not Rebecca, I’m Hannah. You’re not Shelley, you’re Keeley. I have no idea why the reviewer wrote what she wrote.

You always did your best with me, I know that. We may not have agreed on everything over the last so many years (since I started being Hard-ass Hannah per you), but we always had each other. I miss you desperately. I miss your brilliant sense of fun and your genius for making things magical. I miss YOU, Mom! Please call me or pick up the phone when I call. Please let me come see you.

 

Love,

Hannah

 

Two days after Hannah FedExed the letter to her mother, Daniel returned. He’d had an overnight to Hong Kong, a brief break at his apartment in Manhattan, and then a turn in Berlin. Sleep deprived, he’d arrived on the train from New York so out of it that Hannah had simply left him to sleep on the hammock strung between two trees in the corner of her front yard while she went about her business and left messages on her mother’s voicemail that weren’t returned.

Hannah squatted in her garden late that afternoon, pulling weeds and occasionally looking over at Daniel, asleep with his mouth slightly open in the hammock. She felt a wash of tenderness looking at him like that, looking so vulnerable splayed out and asleep. Such a difference from the strong man that she had grown to know over the last year; a man who had the strength to leave what his family had handed him on a silver platter and seek out his true love: flight.

At twenty eight, after six years in the creative department of his uncle’s advertising firm, Daniel had done the unthinkable. He’d left advertising, the business his father, uncles, cousins and one brother lived and breathed, for flying. It all started with a gift of a flying lesson for his birthday from an old girlfriend. It had seemed like an odd gift at the time. Daniel had only briefly mentioned an interest in flying once, and then there was the gift certificate.

When he had told Hannah about his first flight, his face lit up. “There’s nothing I could say that explains it. It’s an incredible high. Still! I still get that buzz – even now!”

And she knew what he meant. She had it when she was “in the flow” and writing. That was when the words came fast and furious, when everything just flew out of her and on to the page. It was exciting, like being pulled by a powerful current, out of yourself, floating along with it.

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