Chapter Fifty

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The smell of coffee woke me. I opened my eyes to see my mother sitting on the coffee table with a steaming mug in her hand. The aroma had been wafted along by her blowing the fumes into my face.

   
She smiled. "I thought that might do it. Feel hungry?"

   
I sat up. "What time is it?"

   
"After nine," my mother said.

"Damn, I'm late for work." I would have vaulted off the couch except for her hand on my arm.

   
She shook her head. "I already called."

   
"Who?"

   
"Your boss."

   
My eyes bulged. "You talked to Barney?"

   
She smiled again. The same smile she'd used when I barfed up my first beer on the kitchen table at sixteen. She shook her head. "I talked to his assistant, Harriet."

   
I put one hand on either side of my head because my mind was suddenly spinning. "You told Harriet about the fire?"

   
My mother nodded. "She seemed very sympathetic. She said she'd tell Barney and that you shouldn't come in until you were ready."

"Peachy," I said.

"Here's your coffee, Honey."

My mother handed me the mug. I could still see the swirling threads of cream on the surface. Despite reams of articles to the contrary, knowing that your mother still used full-fat cream in her coffee was maybe comforting. The chocolate brown liquid tasted like heaven with caffeine. She'd even added the extra sugar I liked. I drank half the cup before it occurred to me that I wasn't the only one who had to go to work.

"Do you have the day off?" I asked.

She shook her head again. "I'm coming in late." That explained the powder blue pencil skirt with a white tie blouse. The short jacket that went with it was probably already folded neatly in her car.

"Coming in late because of me."

She changed the subject. "Are you hungry?"

I had to think about that. "What's to eat?"

What wasn't to eat? We moved into the bright yellow kitchen and sat at the table, near the stove. My mother had mixed up a batch of her special Swedish pancakes, courtesy of the Swede's secret family recipe. We slathered them with real butter and lingonberry jam and washed them down with extra sweet coffee and thick-cut maple-smoked bacon.

I felt guilty. Not only did I crave my mother's personal attention like the warmth of the sun, but I wallowed in my helplessness in letting her do everything. After the initial shock of my mother having called work for me, I had no trouble with her cooking for me and washing the only clothes I owned in the whole world. Instead of being shamed by her attention, I was content to drown in it. The womb had opened again, and I happily crawled inside.

As she wrapped my tuna salad sandwich with cling-wrap and put it in the refrigerator for when I became hungry, I remembered that my mother didn't have the telephone number for my brokerage firm. I'd neglected to share it.

"How did you know the number to call?" I asked.

"I'm sorry?" she said. She pretended that she hadn't been paying attention.

"Mother," I said, "how did you know the number of my office?"

"Would you like some soup with your sandwich?"

She was leaving in a few minutes to go to work, and she was hoping to sidestep the questions until she was out the door.

"Soup sounds good. Now how about some answers?"

She didn't glance up from the homemade soup she was pouring into a microwave bowl. "Odin told me," she said.

"Since when do you call a policeman Odin?" I said. The nickname had been coined by Yours Sincerely, and the use thereof was strictly limited. I'd told her in the first place only for reasons of nomenclature. It's damned difficult to be clever without an audience. Mom was my clapping masses.

"He's cute," she said.

  "And arrogant and domineering," I said. "And those are his good points."

"His mother's awfully nice," she said, neatly packing my lunch in the refrigerator.

"I could date her," I said, "only I think she's a little old for me."

"You don't? You aren't . . . ?" My mother took a good look at my face and shook her head. "A joke," she said. "I can never tell."

I gave her a big warm hug. "I'll be fine, Mom. I'm a grown-up, remember?"

Time for her to leave. She leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek. "Not to your mother," she said.

She got her coat from the closet, grabbed her purse, and headed for the door to the garage.

"By the way, Paulette," she said, "Odin called."

"He did?"

  "It was this morning. He said he needs to see you at the Public Safety Building. Two o'clock."

With a little wave, she was out the door and into her car.

She can never tell when I'm joking, my ass. Sweet as she was, my mother was the queen of child management—even when that child was 28 and out on her own.

Oh, it was always for my own good, but I could get pretty tired of being managed. Maybe the womb wasn't the luxury condo that I liked to think it was.

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