Hilary Redmond had just finished up some late-night work and was restlessly contemplating the row of wine bottles in the rack, thinking a little glass of Merlot might help her relax. She’d been having trouble sleeping lately. Focusing on the labels, she was startled by the ringing phone. She hesitated. Something about the phone ringing at this time of night always signaled disaster, or at least unpleasantness. She pursed her lips as if to ward off the onslaught of whatever it would turn out to be and then picked up the phone after the third ring.
“Hello?” She could hear someone breathing on the other end of the line. Whoever it was seemed to be having difficulty speaking up…it must be one of those crank callers, she decided, placing the phone back in the cradle.
Almost instantly, it rang again.
This time, someone spoke up. “Hey, Mother!” Amber’s voice croaked out her greeting with that brave little cheeriness that meant only one thing. She needed something.
“Well, this is a surprise,” Hilary murmured, buying time. “Are you alright? Are you still living in the same place?”
Amber almost hung up right then and there, hearing that tone, that slightly distasteful edge to her mother’s voice that suggested that Amber’s living arrangements were almost too embarrassing to discuss. But she pushed ahead, knowing that her mother was her last hope. “Yeah, I’m still living up in Auberry, in my same old place. Not much going on here, I’m afraid. But…I’m kind of stuck. I lost my job today, and while I know I can find another one real easy…it’s going to take some time. I was hoping to get a loan.” Her voice went up a couple of octaves as she spoke but she persisted, knowing there was really no other way.
Silence. Hilary must have heard her, so not answering could only mean that she was really angry, or at least upset. Amber could almost see the tightness in her mother’s face, that jaw-clenching thing she did when she was frustrated. She was probably remembering that her loser daughter hadn’t paid her back for the last loan. Then, out of the blue, her voice came back. “How much do you need?”
That’s it? That’s all she wrote? It couldn’t be that easy, could it? Plunging ahead, Amber named a figure that she thought would get her cable back on, pay the rent and utilities, and buy her some food for a month or so, because that’s how long it would be before she would even see a paycheck, even if she got a job tomorrow. “About fifteen hundred should do it,” she squeaked out.
“All right. I’ll put a check in the mail tomorrow. Are you okay, though? I mean, you’re not sick, are you?”
It was kind of sweet, Amber thought, Mother actually sounding like she cared. She must, though, or she wouldn’t keep bailing me out. “I’m fine, Mother,” she said. “I really appreciate the loan.”
Her mother then slipped into that awkward silence that always followed one of the little exchanges they’d been having now for years, as if she wanted to pretend that everything was somehow normal between them, that her daughter didn’t only call her when she needed money. “Well, Mother, gotta go! Thanks a lot!” And Amber slid the phone back on the hook.
Hilary hung up and then sat staring at the telephone for a few minutes as if she could somehow magically transform her daughter over the wires. But nothing was ever going to change with Amber. She sighed, and then looked restlessly around her kitchen, trying to find something to distract her from the dark thoughts that now threatened to cast a pall over the rest of the night. She didn’t have to look far.
From where she sat in the little breakfast nook she could see the sweep of golden hued tile, with that colorful backsplash reminiscent of the French countryside; overhead, the copper pots hung from that charming rack she had found in an old antique shop in downtown Sacramento. As she padded into the kitchen again in search of the corkscrew for the wine bottle, the wooden plank floors under her bare feet suggested the Old World ambience she’d been trying to achieve when she had designed this room.
If everything in her life, especially her daughter, could be as easily dealt with as her décor, she would be a lucky woman indeed. Her own life had been golden, with the major exception of how her daughter had morphed into someone unrecognizable. When had that happened, exactly? Had it been in those adolescent years after her father had disappeared? Was that the reason Amber had changed from the sweet, almost compliant little child into that dark and moody teenager? At the time, Hilary had tried to ignore the behavior, thinking that eventually her familiar daughter would reappear. But that hadn’t happened yet.