East of Eden Excerpt
Someone had stuffed her mouth with cotton balls and stitched her eyes shut overnight. Her tongue, thick and parched, moved like a dehydrated slug. With much effort, Eden swallowed. Her throat felt gritty and swollen, saliva forming in low quantities. She thought she was dying, but the drumming pulse in her head proved she was very much alive.
Eden rolled onto the floor and crawled to her housecoat. She went to her pity-party solo last night and presently decided that the party was now over. She wouldn’t give Cade the satisfaction of watching her become unglued over this.
The walls of the hallway wobbled as she made her way to the bathroom. She fumbled with the jar of Tylenol, retrieving two pills that she downed with a full glass of water.
She used the facilities, and washed her hands and face. Now she had to face the whole day ahead of her, probably with a booming headache. Just her and her crazy mother.
Which reminded her. Where was her mom?
Eden put on her robe, which hang on the back of the bathroom door and searched the upper level before heading downstairs. She found Lorraine in the kitchen just as she was stuffing all the tea-towels into the oven and was about to turn it on.
“Mom!” Ouch. Loud volume, especially from her own mouth, hurt. “You can’t do that,” she said in a near whisper. “You want to start the house on fire?”
Eden shoved her out of the way and removed the tea-towels from danger. She’d have to disconnect the oven now. Looked like it would be turkey dinner à la microwave this year.
Eden settled Lorraine at the table but not until after she absconded with the jug of juice and drank the whole thing. What Eden really needed was a shower. Then a coffee.
“Mom, your show’s on.” TV as a babysitter would have to do for the next twenty minutes.
After her shower; Eden found that her stomach had calmed down enough to request her morning coffee. Lorraine was in the kitchen again, feeding the cats. There were three tins already emptied on the counter. No wonder those cats were fat.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Eden said after her first long sip of Sophie, “for how I behaved last night.” She didn’t expect an answer and never got one. Talking out loud, even if no one responded; helped to keep her sane.
“I mean, it was awful what happened to Jimmy and all, but…. Anyway, it’s a new day, right? We’re not going to spend the whole of the holidays feeling sorry for ourselves. No. we’re not. I know! Why don’t we put up the Christmas tree? You could hang up the rest of those ugly decorations you have collected over the last few decades.”
Fatso, who happened to be the skinniest kitty of the bunch, rubbed against her leg. She bent over and gave him a rub behind the ears.
“Hey, you spoiled cat. Does that feel good?” She condescended to the pet-the-cat voice. “You guys aren’t supposed to be in the house.” She opened the back door. “Out with you.”
Maybe Marti would like to help with the tree? Nah. Why would a newly engaged, unencumbered girl want to hang out with the likes of Eden and her senile mother?
Eden dug out the box that contained the artificial tree from the storage area under the steps. It was hard to keep her spirits up. She and Cade had always cut down a fresh tree. When Eden lifted the lid, she was greeted with a blast of unfriendly odours.
“Whew! Why have the fresh smell of pine when you can enjoy the cozy smells of dust and mothballs.”
She cranked up the radio station now obliging its listeners with the top twenty Christmas hits. Sinatra crooned, “White Christmas,” while all the lower mainland listeners wistfully thought of snow. The local forecast was for more rain. No word of the fluffy stuff.
Eden screwed the three post pieces together, tightened the tree stand and set it in front of the window.
“Okay, Mom, here comes the hard part.” She tried to explain the colour-coded system. The branches with the red paint on the tips went in around the bottom first, then the blue tip and finally the green tips.
“See, here’s a red one.” Eden inserted the wiry branch into a hole on the bottom level of the green pole, then handed one to Lorraine. She placed it randomly into a middle hole.
“No, Mom. It’s supposed to go like this.” Eden demonstrated what she meant by removing the offending branch and placing it into an appropriate hole. She gingerly peeked through the worn cardboard box, looking for another fake branch with red markings. When she turned back towards the tree, she saw that Lorraine had returned the branch in question back into a hole in the middle section.
“I see,” Eden said. “Okay, fine. Who needs instructions?” She let the paper fall to the ground and watched Lorraine as she cheerily popped in branch pieces where she pleased. Eden cranked up the radio and then followed Lorraine’s lead. In the end it was lopsided and far from perfect, but at least it was balanced enough to stay standing.
“Now comes the fun part.” Eden pulled a chair in from the kitchen, placed the first bulb from the string of lights onto the top branch of the tree and began winding it around and around until the cord of lights ended somewhere not quite at the bottom of the tree but close enough to an outlet that it could be plugged in. Then precariously, she attached a wornout angel, who was also balding, on the top branch. She chuckled. A glowing, bald-headed angel.
“Good. We’re almost done. Now for the decorations.”
Eden hummed along with the radio, choosing decorations with pretended importance, feeling strangely contented. Lorraine seemed to focus on one spot on the tree, all of her decorations hanging in a clump. Eden scattered hers about to fill in the tree. When they were finished, Eden pulled the curtains to darken the room.
“Are you ready?” She plugged in the tree lights.
Lorraine clapped her hands together with pure childlike delight. Eden couldn’t keep herself from smiling. She re-arranged the couch so they could sit down and look at their masterpiece. Lorraine sat close beside Eden, who put her arm around her mother.
“It’s a beauty, eh, Mom?” she said. The truth was, it was horrible, but in a lovely sort of way.
“I think we should celebrate.” Eden reached over to the end table and picked up an unopened box of chocolates. She ripped off the cellophane, opened the lid and offered her mother the first piece. Lorraine took her time choosing, then Eden quickly picked one and plopped it whole into her mouth.
The radio station they had been listening to switched its selection from Christmas favourites to golden oldies. Eden was admiring the tree and sucking chocolate when she heard it, the song, the one her mother had been singing at Aunt Lillian’s apartment. Eden snapped up her head to watch her mother’s face, wondering how it would affect her. She was smiling. She started to sing softly.
“East of the sun, west of the moon...”
It was the first time Eden had heard the song, it not being one of Frank’s more popular hits, but the chorus was easy enough, so she sang along.
They would have amused the angelic realm, the both of them singing out of tune, in a darkened room with only the light of a very homely Christmas tree to illuminate their chocolate-smudged faces.