Philly Stakes
Philly Stakes

I blamed the whole mess on Charles Dickens. Without his literary contribution to the holiday spirit, the embarrassing, wretchedly wrong night wouldn't have loomed, I wouldn't have been rushed and angry, my students' papers would have been marked and my pantyhose would still be intact.

So I blamed Dickens. Or at least Tiny Tim.

All I'd meant to do was teach the tenth grade a lesson. If not in English, then in humanity.

It began innocently during that arid stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Let the song insist it's a long, long time from May to September, but trust me, pre-vacation December, all by itself, is longer as measured by a schoolroom clock. Particularly at Philly Prep, where the IWUP—"Isn't-Working-Up-to-Potential"—kid comes to roost. Unfortunately, ability to pay the tuition is our most stringent entry requirement.

Even before Thanksgiving leftovers are eaten, students go on mental strike. "A paper?" they moan. "A test? Reading? A report? Thinking?" They roll their eyes, they clutch their hearts. "How can you do that?" they ask. "It's nearly Christmas!"

You become hard in this line of work. Or at least crafty. You offer the children A Christmas Carol. It is short and seasonally appropriate.

I honestly thought it would pass the time, be fun and, although I kept this aspect to myself, meet several academic goals.

"How about rewriting it, making it a radio play?" I'd chirped. "You'd perform it over the intercom and…" My voice and enthusiasm skidded off their frozen expressions.

The young scholars had never heard of Scrooge. Or plays. Or radio. Or reading. In fact, I wasn't sure they'd ever noticed me before. Passive resisters slumped onto the center of their backs. More assertive souls doubled over, stuck fingers down their throats and gagged. The only language in which they were eloquent was Body.

So I grabbed for straws, or at least for the one student who wasn't retching. Laura Clausen was a moody, silent girl who revealed her intelligence and self only in her writing. On paper, she was gifted, bold, direct and startling. In the flesh, she attempted invisibility, a pale chameleon, blending into the wood of her chair or the dusty green of the chalkboard. I liked her—the real, buried her—and imagined that in her silent fashion, she returned the affection.

But not at the moment. Not visibly.

I pushed on. "We could write a—" Laura's eyes were opaque and unreadable.

"A Christmas Carol! Tiny Tim! Could you puke?" Marigold Rainbow Margolis was the end result of a decision to make love, not war. Frankly, a small, limited conflict might have been the better choice. Certainly it would have been more aesthetically pleasing. The flower children's child had a half-shaved head full of graffiti. The hirsute half bristled with fronds of emerald hair. She looked like a Boston fern, complete with root ball.

I spoke forcibly, assertively. "Let's take Dickens' basic idea and—"

A falsetto. "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" trilled from somewhere.

"Not that Tiny Tim!" Marigold scornfully lowered zebra-striped eyelids. "Tim the gimp. The crip."

"—make it contemporary." I refused to surrender. I was John Wayne, rushing through the line of fire carrying Tiny Tim to safety I pumped energy and enthusiasm into my sales pitch. "Instead of Bob Cratchit and Scrooge, we could—"

The enemy had me surrounded.

"Her Tiny Tim can't tiptoe nowhere! He'd hip-hop through the tulips!"

Marigold stood. Twenty desks creaked as their tenants revved up for Tiny Tim—both singer and gimp—impersonations. This horrifying prospect necessitated The Return of the Nightmare Teacher. I had been sitting on the edge of my desk, but now I stood, crossed my arms over my chest and stared lethally. I aged decades. Orthopedic shoes fused to my feet. My hair turned gray and pulled back into a bun. "Calm down," I said in a voice that did not admit we were of the same species.

They calmed. They generally do. Which is a relief, since I can't maintain the pursed and squinty pose very long without giggling.

I shifted gears. "Forget Tiny Tim. Think about Dickens' compassion and humanity. Think about today, about the less fortunate, the homeless."

Their spinal cords completely disintegrated. Jellyfish, barely present. They rolled their eyes. "The homeless suck." The boy who muttered this had a deep tan from Thanksgiving in Jamaica.

"Boring," my world-weary sophomores murmured.

Clemmy Tomkins looked up from his drawing. At most, I receive one-third of his attention. The rest goes to sketches of bosoms and ballistic missiles. Two months ago, I found one of Clemmy's works tacked to my bulletin board. It was a remarkably comprehensive full-color portrait of a tall woman with long red-brown hair, a recognizable nose and eyes much greener than mine actually are. The blackboard behind her said, "Foxy English Teacher." The body, centerfold material and exquisitely detailed, was extremely flattering and the most imaginative work Clemmy had ever done in my classroom. Still, I had problems dealing with the fact that, aside from a volume of Shakespeare in the woman's hand and stiletto high heels on her feet, she was stark naked. We have since negotiated a truce. He keeps his artwork and speculations private, and I allow him to use English class as studio time. And sometimes, he actually pays attention. Talk of the homeless had stopped his drawing hand. "There's this guy on Chestnut Street—you know him?" His right hand resumed its artwork. "Gives me the creeps. Talks to himself. Shouts. Sleeps in a box."

"Ever find one of them picking through your trash? Gross!" Suze flashed Clemmy a smile full of braces and smugness. They bonded, two rebels joined against the untanned, unpicturesque poor.

"Don't you feel anything for them?" I asked.

Indeed they did. They felt annoyance. Impatience. Disgust. Why don't those people do something for themselves? they asked.

I was suddenly furious. As a teacher in a private school, I was always the poorest person in my classroom, and I was sick and tired of the contempt in which those who had to balance checkbooks or shop sales were held. I didn't ask what they thought the homeless should do for themselves. I was afraid I'd hear that they should join a gym, get their hair done or find a nice condominium.

I glared at these people I sometimes referred to as "my kids." I'd teach them. Maybe they wouldn't find the Ghosts of Christmas Present boring if they had to meet them, do something for them. "Fine," I snapped. "No more Christmas Carol. You already know all about being Scrooge. Let's see if you can learn something new."

Before the dismissal bell stopped reverberating, I was in the principal's office, petitioning. In a school with no tenure, one wants the administration on one's side. I was eager to help, not join, the homeless.

I presented my Dickens-inspired idea. My tenth graders would cook and serve a holiday meal at a soup kitchen. Maurice Havermeyer's eyebrows rose in horror. I loftied up my pitch, improvising multisyllabic academese, heavy on "the inherent necessity for community" and "endemic socioeconomic isolation," and by the time I invented "participatoroy empathic responses," I had him so thoroughly confused that he stopped spluttering.

"Yesss," he said in his lockjawed fashion. I was sure if his accent, that upper-crust Main Line malocclusion, was any more authentic than the imitation Phi Beta Kappa key he rubbed when he was nervous or the cyptic rosette he wore in his lapel. It didn't matter. The "yes" was very real. He sounded as surprised by it as I was. He experimented with it again, pulling at the word until it was long enough to wrap around his stomach. "Yessssss."

I was not only surprised, I was worried. This was too straightforward and too enthusiastic. Completely out of Havermeyer's character. His little eyes glinted, increased their kilowatts. "The holiday season," he said. It was hypnotic fun watching him talk, lips and chin rigid, like a ventriloquist in search of a dummy. "Giving of oneself. Participatory empathy. The very impage. Yesssss."

I could almost watch pictures form in his brain. A human-interest story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A spot on the Six O'Clock News. A feature in the Sunday magazine. Reprints on heavy stock, glossy fodder for prospects. Increased applications, higher endowments. Bliss.

He was mentally drooling.

He walked to the long window overlooking the park and stood with his back to me. Then he turned with the expression God probably had when delivering the Ten Commandments. "Amanda, I admire your thinking. You have come up with the perfect vehicle to increase parent participation."

"Parents? It's students I—"

"And the one who immediately comes to mind, who would be a fine starting point, is Alexander Clausen. It is my impression that he needs no more than a judicious push to more fully identify with our aims and goals."

Pregnant pause. In the last few years, quiet Laura's father, Alexander, car tycoon, real-estate developer, political animal and who knew what else had risen like our city's own star over Bethlehem. He was famous both for his personal success and for his acts of charity. He guaranteed that fame via a public-relations firm and an omnipresent photographer, both of whom documented his every generosity. No trees, not even saplings, fell in a Clausen forest without being heard. In fact, they were recorded in video and released to the press. Somehow, his rosy cheeks and largesse had even convinced media folk to adopt the nickname he used in his ads. Everybody called Alexander "Sandy" Clausen, Santa Claus. Now there was talk about running Santa Claus for mayor.

"Don't you teach the Clausen girl?" Dr. H. murmured.

"Yes…"

"Her father mentioned you. Said the girl is fond of you." Havermeyer rhapsodized. "Clausen has a real flair for this kind of thing. I'm sure he'll have lots of ideas about it. And once he's more directly involved in the, ah, image and welfare of our school, well…He can be a very giving man."

I understood. I was the good elf who'd get Havermeyer onto Santa's gift list. "But the idea was for the students to give of themselves," I said. "People to people. A quiet holiday gesture, a learning experience, a—"

"We are never too old to learn, are we? Adults also benefit from giving." He paused. "And, I dare say, in this case, so might Philadelphia Prep."

Why be subtle? Or bother with poor people and students at all? Instead, why not sit outside Clausen's house crying "Alms, alms"?

And why didn't I express more objections instead of worrying about how I'd pay my rent if I thwarted Maurice Havermeyer?

On the way to my car, I passed Laura Clausen holding hands with a twelfth grader, Peter Shaw. They were quite a contrast. He was dressed to menace in all-black clothing, a wild mane of dyed black hair, and a scowl as dark as the rest. She was mouselike and much younger looking than her fourteen years, bundled in a baby time warp—Peter Pan collar and fifties skirt. I inspected them with too much interest and for too long, and Laura noticed. I tried to hide my embarrassment by mentioning that I'd be seeing her father soon.

"Why?" Her pale little-girl face pinched up even more. "Did I do something wrong?"

She was so withdrawn, so young and naive looking and so bright and articulate when she wrote, that I'd forgotten she was another of Philly Prep's special cases. Her records spoke of slow social development, academic underachievement, periodic eating disorders, attempted runaway. Off the record, she was rumored to be either guilty of arson or the victim of a flammable accident that had seriously scorched her home. Whatever it was had also scarred her left arm.

"No, no," I said. "Your dad might work with me on a project."

I was wrong. Shortly after I made that remark, I came to realize that nobody works with Sandy Clausen. In fact, the very word "with" was not in his vocabulary. Neither was "listen." I rebelled, reacted, bargained and protested, but even so, my innocent plan mutated like something in a science-fiction movie.

"It's a fairly simple project, Mr. Clausen," I said. We met in the teachers' lounge in the late afternoon. Sandy Clausen made it clear that he'd come back early from a business trip to keep this date. Dr. Havermeyer responded with reverence, almost scraping his forehead on the floorboards before backing out of the lounge, leaving matters in what he called, "your more than capable hands." I didn't think he meant my hands, somehow.

"Now, now. We're going to be working together, shoulder to shoulder, so there's no room for formality." Clausen's voice and face were so jovial I smiled back automatically. "I certainly want to feel free to call you Amanda, if I might, and I want you to call me Sandy."

He seemed an agreeable enough man. "Sandy. There are a few charity kitchens that are relatively close to school, and I thought we could pick one, then choose a night to cook and serve a Christmas dinner we'd planned. That's it, the whole thing. Nothing very fancy, of course, but substantial. The students could collect food donations and then—"

"Very interesting," he said. "Brilliantly simple and to the point." He reached over and shook my hand. "I'm impressed."

I thought, foolish me, that shaking hands meant it was a deal. And it was, only not my deal. Or, as Sandy Clausen might have put it, it was my deal—with a few adjustments. Because subsequently, without consulting me, he dropped the idea of having the students cook dinner. "Up for lots of possible legal problems," he said. "They aren't professionals, they could undercook or add something bad, or—"

"They'd be supervised, they'd be using recipes. Most of them known the basics of cooking, anyway, and those centers use volunteer cooks all the time, so—"

"They could burn or cut themselves, and they're our children." His voice was tender. Made you imagine tiny babes, wee urchins straining on tiptoe, not girls with half-shaved heads and black lipstick.

"But if we don't cook," I said, feeling suddenly weary and apprehensive, "then how do we feed people?"

He gave his Santa smile, all but patted the top of my head, told me not to worry and hired a caterer.

"A catered dinner in a shelter?" I asked. "Palate Pleasers? They did my cousin Grace's wedding! Their current specialty is nouvelle Indochine cuisine and, forgive me, I cannot imagine them in a soup kitchen!"

"Well, Amanda, I absolutely agree with you. In fact, I'm glad you brought it up, because I've had my people check out those three centers you mentioned, and in all honesty, it turns out they aren't in the best neighborhoods."

"Of course not! They're shelters for homeless people—"

"And I'm sure when you think it through, it will become apparent that we'd be subjecting our parents to a great deal of anguish about the security and well-being, both mental and physical, of their children. After all, most of our children are not what's called 'street smart,' not used to what they'd see and be around in those—"

"But that's the whole point of—"

"And why have we worked so hard to achieve so much if we're going to expose our children to the very dangers we've been fortunate enough—and hardworking enough—to escape?"

"But it's because these children have no idea of how privileged they are, of what real life is for most people that I wanted to—"

"And what, frankly, is festive about a shelter? 'Tis the season to be jolly,' Amanda, and those places are downright depressing."

It was like conversing with a steamroller.

"So," he said, "I've volunteered my own home, and Maurice Havermeyer agrees that that is a better idea. I promise you, I'll make it festive, a real celebration." He beamed another all-is well-with-the-world at me, but I refused to acknowledge or return it, my own feeble form of passive resistance.

We continued along those lines. I couldn't back out and I couldn't move forward with what I wanted, so I wound up with an inflated, embarrassing carnival featuring hand-picked poor folk. Need I say that it wasn't my hand that picked them, either? One more good intention paving the road to hell.

By now, enough time had passed since Marigold Margolis and Charles Dickens had started the thing two and a half weeks ago, for me to have moved squarely into Scrooge's camp, to have become Santa Claus's only nonfan.

Now, with the Sandy and Mandy show minutes away, the only Christmas spirit that interested me was waiting to be guzzled later, after the mortifying business was over.

With twenty minutes before lift-off, I ignored my snaggled stocking and screwed in earrings while I read compositions. I was beyond tired and the night was young. Right after school, I'd zoomed to the other end of the city to do my last "Rediscovering the Classics" class with a group of forty-five retirees. I'd become "the Thursday lady" at Silverwood Retirement Community, subbing as a favor for a pregnant friend. Now that her baby was born, she would be returning to the once-weekly stint with the new year, and I was going to miss my retirees. What a change from my daily dose of adolescents. The old men and women, some reading in braille, some entering class on walkers, all so frail yet so resilient, were eager to think and discuss and appreciate or criticize. And what fun to teach without grades or assigned papers or tests—but with stimulation and an exchange of ideas. I'd learned a lot from them.

We'd all promised, teary eyed, to keep in touch, but I wondered if we really would. Two of the women had baked an assortment of Christmas cookies for me. I eyed the tin but kept it closed to prove I was a self-disciplined and honorable woman.

More proof—I continued to read essays. I wanted to start the new year fresh, wanted everything marked and returned before vacation, which gave me fourteen hours before class began tomorrow. Minus a sizeable chunk for the wretched party. Minus a few much more pleasant hours if/when C.K. Mackenzie appeared later tonight. That depended on whether somebody decided to murder somebody else between now and the end of Mackenzie's shift. Talk about being out of control concerning the logistics of love, or like, or whatever one should call our condition. I had not yet become either adjusted or resigned to life as a cop's exceedingly good friend. Actually, I would never have met Mackenzie had it not been for a murder, but I wasn't always sure if that had been my good or bad luck.

I decided to believe that the criminal element would ease up and give me a break tonight, so I took papers to mark and the unopened cookie tin downstairs and ate crackers dipped into peanut butter. I literally had no appetite for the catered extravaganza that lay ahead. Peanut butter was fine, except for the unfortunate smears it left on compositions.

Luckily, the day's mail was so unimpressive, it couldn't seduce me away from my work. No interesting Christmas cards—no personal notes, not even a mimeographed annual letter full of exclamation points, babies, vacations, acquisitions and promotions. Only two bills, one ad and, in an unmarked envelope with a Florida postmark, my mother's missive. She had taken to mailing me articles about safe sex. I was sure that to her all sex was suspect, but she was trying to be contemporary, as uncomfortable as it made her. Hence envelopes with no return address and articles with nothing but "F.Y.I." written on them, as if we were spies.

I left it all in a wicker basket, unopened, and continued marking papers. In lieu of A Christmas Carol, the tenth grade had read poetry. Although poetry is the written equivalent of zits to most sophomores, the substitute unit wasn't intended as punishment. The students' responses, however, their unit papers, did seem punitive.
I thumbed through the stack for Laura Clausen's, knowing she would at least try to think about the subject. She didn't disappoint me. She'd chosen Auden's poem about Icarus falling from the sky. Her analysis of its structure was precise and intelligent.

The phone rang, but I ignored it. I had a brand-new state-of-the-art answering machine to shield me from the outside world. After two rings, my recorded voice would take over.

Laura's paper turned usettling. "Daedalus was a murderer," she wrote. "He made promises and wings, and they both failed. Instead of protecting his child, he sent him too close to the fire, to his death. Parents and children aren't equals or ready to do the same things, and Icarus shouldn't have been pulled into his father's fantasy which, in effect, murdered him."

The phone rang a third and then a fourth time.

"Nobody cared," Laura wrote. "Icarus splashed into eternity and the plowmen kept working. As Auden says, '…suffering…takes place while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…' Nothing has changed since then. Nobody cares about anything except his own life and concerns. Icarus, unnoticed, still dies every day."

I felt chilled. I read it through again, hoping the secret message that seemed embedded in it would come clear.

The telephone began again when I was halfway through. I cursed all machinery everywhere and my inability to comprehend it.

"I expected you to be out," my mother said. I wondered if I could convince her that I was. I am fond of her, but it is fair to say that she was not far from my mind when I bought the answering machine.

My mother is a woman with overwhelming energy. My father has retired. She has not. She is president, founder and namer of the Hava Little Hu-Manatee League, bent on saving the gentle sea cows. She is active in Meals on Wheels, a cofounder of the Elysium Condo Square Dance and Discount Shoppers Association, a reader to the blind, a fairly bad but enthusiastic golfer and the second-highest winner in the Greater Boca Raton Perpetual Gin Game.

Any lesser woman would be too tired to closely monitor my social life as well, but she fits it into her schedule with amazing regularity.

The clock and Laura's composition pressed on me.

"Good news about your sweater," my mother said. I cringed. A year and a half ago, after lusting for a hand-knit number I could not afford in this lifetime, I bought expensive yarn with which to make my own. And then remembered that I had no knitting skill. On a visit north, my mother commandeered the yarn. But she rivals Penelope for the slowness with which she completes knitting projects. She declared my sketch "too plain" and added sequins and vintage bugle beads. After delicate diplomatic maneuvering, the glitz went back to her sewing kit and the yarn was pulled apart and remade into something she called "plain," i.e., the sort of lumpy cardigan comic-book schoolteachers wear. Again it was unraveled and again she requested my measurements and again decided they were wrong. That attempt yielded the perfect puffed-sleeve pullover for Bwana, the orangutan. I'm not sure what virgin wool is, but I'm positive that what we have is the woolly equivalent of an old, tired hooker. Still, Mama knits on.

"It'll be finished by the time you're here," she said brightly.

I didn't ask what "it" was in this incarnation. I was winging my way south for part of my vacation, because, as my mother constantly pointed out, I had no reasons—such as husband or children—not to.

My mother informed me that I had fallen further behind in the marriage sweepstakes. Not only had one of her casual acquaintances' daughters—a plain girl, she said, nothing special—acquired a two and a half carat, gem-quality, emerald-cut engagement ring three days ago, but worse, the same evening, a neighbor's obnoxious, undeserving daughter snared an investment banker with only one ex, no children and an already paid lump settlement. A free and clean, barely used male.

I tried to make it clear that I couldn't talk, that I had to leave. I immediately regretted my words, the verbal equivalent of the doctor's rubber hammer tapping her knee. "A date?" All reflexes in order.

"The school party. I told you."

My mother doesn't remember parties that don't have the prefix "wedding" or "engagement." She considers my job busywork, a waste of prime husband-hunting time. She even resents it when I call my students "my kids."

"Working nights," she grumbled. "Throwing away your life. Did you see the Today show this morning?"

"Mom, I leave for work at—"

"A report said it's never too soon to prepare for menopause."

"I'm thirty! Barely."

"Still seeing Chuck?"

"Who?"

"The detective."

"Oh. That Chuck." I had made up the name to give her a point of reference. I didn't know how to answer. Yes to the detective, no to Chuck? I couldn't say that while I knew C.K. Mackenzie in the biblical sense, I didn't know his first name. My mother would be appalled by both facts.

I said I was still seeing the detective. I didn't add that I wasn't seeing him enough, or clearly.

"A USA Today poll says marriage is back in style."

Maybe Mackenzie was afraid of trendiness.

I pushed us back to neutral ground. "You know, I'm running late. I just got home from that class at Silverwood. I told you I was teaching there temporarily, right?" I did another round of peanut-butter dipping while she complimented my kindness to the elderly. I eyed the cookie tin, but again resisted temptation. And remembered that there was something I should tell her—except I couldn't remember what.

A little more peanut butter restored a portion of my brain cells. "A woman in my class said she knows you, Mom." Except, I'd forgotten who it was. Jenny, the one who looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy in drag? Harriet of the gruff voice and heart of mush? They'd both come up to talk to me afterward.

"Who? Who?" My mother sounded like an owl.

It was a short person, I thought. I was looking down while she said it. Wheelchair. Minna! "You know somebody named Minna White?"

In much less time than it would take a computer to do a similar search, my mother sorted her past. "Minna! Minna. Of course! Minerva White, from when we lived on Brooke Street. You must remember her!"

I was seven, if that, when we moved from there, and all I remembered offhand was a place I used to hide under the back porch, a girl with bright red pigtails who could spit farther than anybody, and how awful it was to have to lie still on a cot during kindergarten rest time.

"She had a fluffy white cat," my mother said, pulling the complete file out of her memory, "and a boy they called Junior. Nervous kid with a strawberry mark on his chin? Good friends with that freckled boy, Barry, the one whose father was a baker, that big fat man with a lisp who—"

Philadelphia has millions of residents, but to my mother, it is a tiny village and one of her self-proclaimed roles, even after relocating to the Sunbelt, is as its official historian.

"There was some trouble, too, with Minna's husband. At least I think so. Maybe it was Junior? No, he'd have been too young. This was before she moved away. When you were in elementary school."

Historian, yes. Accurate, no. She realized how wobbly her facts were and changed ground. "I heard from Mrs. Bloom that poor Minna isn't doing well. Is it true that she's blind from her diabetes and crippled with arthritis?"

"Afraid so," I said.

My mother tsked. "And is it ture what she said, that Junior turned out pretty much a no good? Mrs. Bloom said he never comes to see Minna, but he still takes money."

"I don't know about that kind of thing. We talked about The Scarlet Letter and Vanity Fair. She didn't even connect me with you until this afternoon."

"You know what I remember about her? She loved cannoli. Loved them."

"Which reminds me. I'm supposed to have dinner with sixty-five hungry people in ten minutes, and they are thirty minutes away."

"I never," she said, "never will understand how you get involved in such—"

I had been asking myself the same question nonstop for weeks. I had a chance to ponder it anew while my mother debated which of my father's genetic flaws accounted for my weaknesses. I also screwed the top back on the peanut butter, put away the crackers, and dusted off the counter.

"You're running yourself ragged," she said. "Teaching all day and after school, then giving an enormous party."

"It's not my party. I'm not doing much at all." Nobody was except the caterer that Santa Claus had provided, the public relations firm he kept on retainer, and the merchants who had donated gifts. "A parent's taken charge." It was obvious that my mother hadn't been reading her Philadelphia Inquirer throughly. Clausen had managed to get himself and his party onto the front page today, and there had been two other significant features about it this week as well.

The one thing I was supposed to do for the party was show up, and I was definitely late. And I still had unmarked compositions. Damn, if Mackenzie arrived tonight, I'd have to spend some of our time hunting run-on sentences and indefinite pronouns. "I have to leave," I said.

"You know, dear, the next time you see Minna, do something for me—take her cannoli for old time's sake."

"I don't know if I'll ever see her again. The class ended tonight."

"But now that you know she's an old friend, Amanda! The poor woman. It must be especially hard on her around the holidays."

I vowed to enlist Mackenzie's aid in mastering the answering machine this very night.

"She isn't lucky, like me. Her child doesn't visit her. Think about it."

From now on, when I expected a call from Florida, I'd have a therapist on standby. "I will," I said. "But right now I'm really in a rush."

"Why? Do you expect to meet the wino of your dreams tonight? Listen, Mandy. I'm sure you're tired after a long day. Why risk pneumonia? Stay home. Take a bubble bath. Pack for Florida. Forget this party."

Why, just that once, didn't I listen to my mother?

 

© Gillian Roberts.