Notes: This was written for Remix Redux, and is a remix of Deelaundry's wonderful story "Hi, Mom" which you can find on her livejournal (look for 'deelaundry'). You don't have to read the original, but you should. Because it's fun. And many thanks to Daisylily, for the beta.
Hi, Ma (Sunrise, Sunset Remix)
'Ma'? This must be my daughter, Evelyn, but she hasn't called for so long I'm not sure I remember her voice.
…sorry, Ma. You know, if I learned how to use that tone of voice maybe I could get Jimmy to call me more often.
Is Jimmy not calling home enough? Do you need me to give him a talking to?
Wh--no, Ma, Jimmy's… Jimmy's fine. He's a good boy.
Don't lie to me, Evelyn.
Lying? How can you possibly think--
Not about Jimmy, of course he's an angel. Why, most of my friends here are dying to get cancer, pardon the pun, just so he can work his magic fingers on them like he did his grandfather who's still with us, tfu tfu tfu knock on wood. But something's on your mind. I can tell.
…fine, fine. It is Jimmy. He's met someone.
Have you met her? Do we disapprove? Is she worse than that cheating manipulative bitch of a shiksa he brought home last time?
Ma! Don't talk that way about Julie!
Don't be so sensitive, dear, it's what we all thought. He's a good boy, Jimmy, but he could use a little guidance in the love department. So how is the new girl?
I-- I don't know. We haven't met. I'm happy for him, but I'm more worried, you know? That-- it doesn't-- make me a bad mother… Right?
Of course not, Evinka. You worry. It's what you're there for. That's what's good about being a grandmother-- you can leave the worrying to the parents and concentrate on either pampering or hassling, whatever's on your mind that day. With any luck, you'll have that too with Jimmy, soon enough.
Hmm. Yes. Let's not talk about this now, okay, Ma?
Sure, sweetie. We should have much to discuss, you call so little as it is.
I said I was sorry about that…
I know, I'm just toying with you. Don't worry about it-- when I was younger, I never called my mother either. Of course, back then we didn't have any phones.
Sprinkle paprika and sugar in the water before you drop the fish balls in, and easy on the sugar.
Paprika! That was it. And hi, Nana.
How did you know it was me?
You've been calling me the day before Rosh Hashana for years now, always asking for the gefilte fish recipe.
I'm that predictable?
Who was that who just said "yes" in the background?
That was just House. Do you remember him?
He's the one who keeps calling.
He calls you?
Of course not, he calls you. I remember last year at your grandfather's birthday, the one time I got to see you all year, he kept calling, and calling--
There was a medical emergency at the hospital…
--and calling, and calling, and calling--
I get it, Nana.
--and calling. He called a lot, is all I'm saying.
He was saving a life.
And he couldn't have picked a better time to do it. Your grandfather turns eighty-five twice. He's special that way.
I'm sorry, Nana. I apologized to Grandpa too.
Meh, he can barely hear a thing anyway. So who are you cooking for?
Honey, you never cook gefilte for yourself. Nobody cooks gefilte for themselves. I know you, you always have a wife or a pretty girlfriend to share the new year with. Your mother already told me you were seeing someone.
Did you expect her to keep it a secret? Come on, now, tell me who she is.
She. Ah. I'm assuming Mom didn't give out too much information, then.
She seemed uncomfortable with the subject, I won't lie. But I know you won't keep any secrets from your grandmother.
Actually… I think I prefer to keep a lid on this one for now.
What? Why on earth… Jimmy, this isn't like you.
I know, it's just-- I don't know, Mom's taking it kind of hard, and I think maybe I should let the news trickle out at a slower pace this time, for her. I don't want to push it.
You're worrying me, Jimmy.
Don't worry, Nana, I'm happy now. Really happy.
Then why won't you--?
Just, for Mom's sake, okay? Besides, while I don't have any reservations about this relationship, I do have reservations about telling an eighty-years-young woman about it over the phone. I promise I'll tell you, though.
You damn well better.
Good. I'll see you at your cousin Tina's wedding?
Yes, you will.
Bring her as your date, then. Talk to your mother, she'll come around.
You do realize I have the final say about the girl, though, don't you?
Nobody has the final say but me, Nana.
Ah, that's the Jimmy I like to hear. Good boy. Although your life will be a whole lot easier if I do approve.
That much I grant you.
You're a good boy, Jimmy.
Um. Thanks. So… am I really that predictable?
I have caller ID, sweetheart. Have a happy new year, and remember I love you.
Love you too.
Evelyn, that dress looks absolutely gorgeous on you.
Don't you mean I look gorgeous in the dress?
You always look gorgeous to me, darling, but let's face it, at your age, droopy isn't a bad word to describe--
All right, Mother, I get it. Anyway, I wouldn't want to draw any attention away from Tina. It's her wedding, after all.
That's very polite of you. So, where's Jimmy's girl? I want to meet her.
I can't say I do.
Evelyn! What has gotten into you?
You don't understand Ma, it's-- I can't deal with it. I can't. And you shouldn't either. I don't understand how James can do this to me, how… You know what, I don't know if I can go inside at all.
I don't understand you, Evelyn. What is she, a neo-Nazi?
What? Of course not! Well, I hope not. I don't know anything anymore.
Look, there he is right there. He's waving at us. Wave back. Wave back at your son, Evelyn. And who is that man beside him?
Oh, god, I can't look-- Oh, thank god, it's Greg! It's just Greg.
Greg House, his friend, you remember the one? You met him at Jimmy's a few years ago, and last year he kept calling Jimmy at Dad's birthday party. He brought Greg. Isn't it wonderful? My dear, sweet boy. He brought Greg.
I am going to smack that boy.
Of course you aren't. He brought Greg!
He was supposed to bring a date. I was supposed to embarrass him and interrogate her. This wedding isn't half as much fun, now.
What an absolutely beautiful, happy wedding this is going to be. Everyone will be impressed by my handsome doctor son and his bright doctor friend, instead of my son and his…
His what? His one-legged, hunchbacked, devoutly Catholic girlfriend?
I can't, Ma. I'm sorry. I can't talk about it.
Well, I can. I'm going to go talk to Jimmy.
May I have this dance, my dear madam?
Eh. Might as well.
Not quite the enthusiastic response I was hoping for, Nana, but it will do. You sound-- how should I call it? Reluctant?
You wouldn't have had to dance with me if you'd brought a--how should I call it? A date?
Ah. That. Actually I…
Actually, I would have danced with you anyway, because you are by far the most beautiful woman in this room.
So that's how you got them to marry you. Well, you can't charm me into changing the subject.
You say 'damn' all the time! In more than one language, I might point out.
You're still a baby. When you're my age, you can curse all you want.
Not a baby anymore, Nana. I have an M.D. and divorce papers and everything.
…No. No, I suppose you're not.
Okay, now we're getting maudlin. Your granddaughter's getting married today, you should be smiling.
Jimmy, your talent for changing the subject is commendable, but I'm more stubborn than you are. What happened? Why isn't she here?
Are you… sure you're ready for this, Nana? Because Mom will barely speak with me as it is, and--
I'm going to break the news, so if you feel light-headed or anything, let me know--
James Evan Wilson, you tell me what is going on this instant.
Okay, okay. Okay. My date is here.
But… you brought your friend Greg here.
Did you bring anyone else?
Oh. Oh… Oh.
Are you all r--
Be quiet for a moment, James.
You've stopped moving.
Shock will do that to people sometimes. Just be quiet for a moment.
…Okay, then. Shall we dance?
Okay? That's it?
Well, obviously I'm going to have to interrogate him later and hopefully embarrass you in the process, but yes, that is it.
And you aren't going to stop talking to me? Shun me from the clan? Anything?
No asking me to try again with another girl?
Clearly girls weren't what your weewee was looking for.
Oh my god, Nana, you have just scarred me for life.
Stop talking nonsense, then, and concentrate on waltzing.
What about… wow, okay. What am I going to do about Mom?
Oh, your mother. Oh, dear. Give her time, sweetheart. This isn't easy for her.
I don't know what to do. She's known I've been with a guy for months now, and she won't even let me tell her his name. You seem to be handling it fine.
I'll be dead in a few years anyhow, I don't have the time to really care what you do. Or who.
Hush, now. This is a wedding! Let's celebrate. Hava nagila and all that jazz. Or folk dancing, as it were.
I love you, Nana. Thank you.
You are just full of schmaltz, aren't you? I love you too.
Hi, Ma. I just called to make sure you got home safely.
Yes, I took a taxi from the airport and met your father at Sunny Springs.
It was a lovely wedding, wasn't it?
Yes, it was. Tina didn't look as sloppy as she usually does, and the groom was very handsome.
And James brought Greg. Just Greg! It was perfect.
About that. Evelyn, I had a little talk with Jimmy.
He told me who he was seeing.
What exactly did he tell you?
He told me he was seeing a man.
Oh. Yes. Yes, a man, who is a psychologist, Jimmy's been having some problems since the divorce--
Please, darling. I may be senile but I'm not stupid. Jimmy is dating a man.
Are you… are you okay?
Yes, I am.
I know what you're thin-- wait, what?
I am, I'm perfectly fine.
That is not what I thought you were thinking.
I am perfectly fine, honey, and so should you be.
No. No, I won't accept it.
Evelyn. You have to think about what makes your son happy--
I can't believe you're telling me this. You, of all people. I can't listen to this. Goodbye, Mother.
They're buying a house together.
Who, Jimmy and his partner? Really?
They're buying a house. A goddamn house. How did this happen, Ma?
This sounds like good news. Buying a house before getting married, it happens, these days.
Before--before getting married! Yeah, Ma, that's what I find disturbing about this. That my son is living in sin before marriage. Living in sin, that's ironic.
You need to calm down.
How could I have let this happen? How can you take it like this?
Times have changed.
After everything that happened, how can you--
No. No, Evelyn, you can't think like that. Times have changed.
I have to go.
You just called me!
I'm sorry, I just needed to vent, and I can't yell at Jimmy, and Joe… he doesn't know yet.
Your husband doesn't know?
I have to go, Ma, I'm sorry. Goodbye.
Why won't Greg talk some sense into him?
Evelyn? Is that you?
I've entirely given up on you, you know. I don't know what's been going through your head this past year.
Why, yes, I'm fine, thank you. Arthritis acting up, but the pills help. And how are you?
But Greg! He seems like such a sensible person. He's rational, he's smart, he wants what's best for Jimmy.
Is this another one of your calls where you refuse to talk to me about the benefits of Jimmy's love life, like the fact that it, oh, makes him happy, and then you hang up on me? Because I can save you the trouble and hang up right now.
Don't be silly, Ma. We're strategizing here.
You and me. And Greg. I'll call him, and together we'll convince Jimmy that this has all been a huge misunderstanding. A midlife crisis. Everyone goes through those. Remember when you had that crush on Richard Nixon? People do crazy things when they're approaching forty!
I'm confused. Why would Greg cooperate with this?
Because he's Jimmy's best friend, of course! What, do you think he wants Jimmy to go and live his life with some strange man?
No. No, he probably doesn't want that. And I take it you still haven't had a serious conversation with your son about the subject. About who exactly he is with.
Don't be ridiculous. There's nothing to be serious about.
If I may point out, and contrary to what this conversation has indicated I am still your mother and so still have the right to point things out-- they're planning on a baby.
Oh, pshaw. That's four months from now, plenty of time for him to reconsider. There's still a mother in the picture, somewhere.
Tell me you did not just say that.
And if worse comes to worst, he can be a single father! Women love single fathers, he'll be a hit!
Evelyn Wilson, you take that back right now.
I can't believe you just said that.
I'm… I'm just…
What was that? I can't hear you, speak up.
I am so, so scared, Ma.
Oh, Evelyn. Evinka.
He's my boy, Ma, and I am terrified. I've already lost one child, and I can't, I can't bear to lose… to see him get hurt.
Shhh… Evelyn, shhh… it's not like that anymore. The world has changed.
That's a load of crap, Mother. Nothing's different now, nothing. Deep inside, the hearts of men are as dark as they ever were.
Now you're getting melodramatic.
Why won't he just listen to me? I only want to protect him.
He's a grown man. He can protect himself. There's a point, you know, where you just have to let go.
No. If he won't listen to me, he'll listen to Greg. I know he will. Jimmy shines when Greg is around. He shines just like he used to around… he'll listen to Greg, I know it.
But Greg won't.
He won't do what you're asking him to do. You know it as well as I do. If Greg had any objections to Jimmy's current partner, do you really think he wouldn't have driven him off by now?
…Maybe. I suppose. Jimmy might have mentioned that Greg… approved of this.
I'm absolutely certain he does. And speaking of Greg, honey, there's something you should probably know.
Is it about Jimmy's relationship?
Then I don't want to talk about it anymore. I'm too tired.
This is becoming ridiculous.
I'm just tired now, Ma, please? Lecture me some other time? 'kay bye.
Evelyn? Evelyn? I swear, it's like having a teenager again.
House Hyphen Girl Scout residence, how can I not be of service?
Hello, Greginke. It's the girl scout's grandmother.
Judy. Hi. Sorry about that.
Don't lie to me, that's just rude.
Sorry. Wilson and I have been having a slight disagreement regarding hyphens.
For heaven's sake, be a man and let his name come first.
Ha. Funnily enough, that's just what he said. It didn't work then either.
Well, it was worth a try.
Everything all right in Florida?
Nobody's died at all in the past week! Not in the Community anyway.
That's the kind of morbid cheer I like to hear. I'll go get Wilson for you--
Actually, don't. I want to speak with you.
Why 'uh oh'?
Should I be saying 'uh oh'?
I don't know, should you? Is there something you're not telling me, Gregory?
There are many things I don't tell you, most of them involving your grandson and my bed, and I thought we both preferred it that way.
Let's start over.
Oh, thank god.
Gregory, I need to talk to you about Jimmy.
One of my favorite subjects. Go ahead.
You two are going to raise a baby together. This is a serious commitment. I want to make sure you know what you're doing. That Jimmy's the one.
We've known each other for over ten years and we've been together for almost two. I've learned to tolerate him.
I'm being serious, Gregory. This is a baby we're talking about. You do not get up and leave a baby when you're tired or you're scared. You do not get up and leave my Jimmy. You do not say, "Look, it's been grand, but I'm a nomad, baby, and the road is calling."
How-- have you been talking to Amy Schwartz?
The Schwartzes are dear friends of mine, and that was quite a trick you pulled on her.
It was 1978!
You're lucky that girl recovered from her heartbreak and married a nice little oil tycoon, otherwise I wouldn't be going so easy on you. Now, your arrest for public drunkenness on April 19th 1983 in Nashville, Tennessee. What was that about?
What the-- are you in the Jewish mafia? How are you getting this stuff?
You do realize that once you have this baby you will have no permission to get drunk ever again.
You do realize that I spend ninety-eight percent of my life stoned on narcotics?
Don't joke with me, Greg. I've been very accepting of everything so far, but I don't want Jimmy getting hurt, and I want to make sure he's doing the right thing, and this is where I get to judge. Now, I have your criminal record laid out in front of me and I think I deserve some explanations.
Explanations about my behavior? What about Wilson? You don't think he's as screwed up as I am?
Don't you talk about my angel that way--
I can make you a list of all his transgressions and believe me, infidelity alone will fill a chapter.
You have some chutzpah, you little putz--
Oh, bring it on! You don't scare me with your Yiddish.
Moyshe pupik shaygetz!
Oh, shtup es in toches!
Ha! Wilson already does!
Oh, you did not.
I… um. Fuck. Uh, Judy? Please tell me you're laughing.
I… I… I need a glass of water. Whew. Oy, my god. Well played, young man. Where did you learn that?
I never reveal my secrets.
Probably from that Polish housekeeper you had a crush on when you were twelve, then.
Holy sh-- have you been talking to my mother?
I never reveal my secrets. But my Jimmy, I have to protect him.
If need be.
Judy, I… look, you think I don't know I don't deserve him? No matter how messed up he is, I don't deserve half the things he's done for me. And sometimes I even worry about greener pastures, because the pastures out there-- they are, very objectively, greener.
So why do you stay?
Because I fucking love him! Because the past two years have been like a breath of fresh air, and this ultrasound blob is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life and it hasn't even happened yet. Because Wilson, he's… he's it.
Wait, that's it? I'm cleared?
As far as I'm concerned.
Oh. Okay, then. I have to ask: is the Yiddish verbal bitch-slapping match some sort of initiation ceremony for all the Wilson wives?
Secrets of the trade, dear. One day, when you're the grandmother of your own grown-up ultrasound blob, you'll understand.
A week after the baby was born she still didn't have a name. "It's a disgrace," I told Joe on the ride to Jimmy's, after he picked me up from the airport. "Nine months she's been in planning, they couldn't have bothered to pick something out?"
Joe's mouth turned up in a faint smile. "Some people only give names at the bris, which would only have been tomorrow if she were a boy."
"She isn't a boy!" Joe didn't seem perturbed, but then, he hardly ever was. "Before you know it she'll be starting kindergarten and everyone will still be calling her 'the baby.' It'll give her a complex."
"Don't pressure them, Judy," he said easily.
"Pressure? Who's pressuring? Did I ever put pressure on you and Evelyn?"
Joe spared me an amused glance before returning his eyes to the road. "I was so terrified of you on the days after each birth that I named my sons after three Christian apostles. What does that tell you?"
I let out a small puff of air. My son-in-law was exaggerating, of course, which I made a point of pointing out, but Joe was already tuning me out in that way he had, listening to some modern music on the radio, something from the seventies.
Jimmy greeted me when we arrived. "It's great to have you here, Nana," he said, easily lifting my suitcase with one hand and giving me half a hug with the other.
"Wait, let me look at you," I said, taking a firm hold of his chin, and he smiled, obviously trying not to wince. The very tips of his sideburns were sprinkled with light gray, and there were tiny wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. But his skin was smooth and fresh, just like when he was a boy, and he looked relaxed. Comfortable. "You look good," I said, pinching his cheek.
A wolf-whistle sounded behind Jimmy, and he stepped aside with an exasperated sigh. Greg House was smirking at me. "Now that," he said, strolling towards me, "is one hot piece of cane."
I tapped my gold-tipped cane on the ground once, and let Greg kiss me on the cheek. "Stop, you're making me blush."
"Oh, you're not the only geriatric gal to swoon over me," he said, stepping back to lean against the porch rail. "Epic poems have been written."
"Have they?" I asked, as Joe helped me up the two steps to the front porch. "As much as I'd love for you to flirt with me some more, Greg, you're not the most interesting person in the house at this moment. Now, where is she?"
"Mom's in the living room," Jimmy said, and bless him, I hoped he didn't think I was actually looking for Evelyn.
"She's with the baby," Greg added, rolling his eyes at Jimmy. Ah, the feigned impatience of young love.
When I entered the small living room I paid no attention to interior design; there would be time to offer my critique later. For now, I only had eyes for my daughter, cradling my great-granddaughter in her arms and whispering the same lullaby that my grandmother had sung to me when I was a just a baby, passed on by generations of parents through the frozen winters of Eastern Europe and to this warm, loving home in Princeton, New Jersey. Sleep, sleep, my little baby, my genius girl, I heard her sing. Grow up to be a good woman, a smart woman, have children of your own, overcome your fears and learn to have peace.
Evelyn looked at me with red-rimmed eyes and smiled, and then her gaze moved beyond me to James and Greg, bickering about something by the kitchen door. I didn't know what had gone on when she'd arrived; clearly there must have been a confrontation of some sort, but judging by looks of it issues appeared to have been settled. With the baby in her arms, Evelyn finally looked peaceful.
The boys were arguing over whether adding vegetable flavor to their daughter's formula would help cultivate a healthy diet from early on in life, and as Evelyn caught my eyes, her expression a mix of pride and wonder, I knew what she was thinking.
There would be fights, there would be laughter, there would be babies crying in the middle of the night. It was all starting over again.
A few hours after dinner everyone had retired to their beds, and I walked out to the porch to get some fresh air. I sat down on a cushioned rocking chair that must have been a brand new purchase by the fresh fathers, and closed my eyes, feeling the warm summer breeze on my skin. Drier than Florida, but somehow, tonight, more serene. I wished Stan were here with me.
"That's my chair," came a deep voice behind me. He sounded surprised.
"Eighteen hours," I said, automatically slipping into the familiar tirade. "Eighteen long hours of labor until I gave birth to the woman who gave birth to the man you're living with. Eighteen hours, Gregory. Get your own chair."
I heard a chuckle, and a few moments later something dragging across the wooden floor.
Greg slowly settled into his chair and took out a rattling bottle of white pills. He closed his eyes, swallowing one.
"Mine are prettier," I noted. "Got more colors."
He smiled faintly, but didn't say a word. Very uncharacteristic for him. He opened his eyes, gazed up at the sky and exhaled.
"Why the heavy sigh?" I asked.
"It's been a… strange couple of days."
"In what way?"
"Lots of people in the house. One, in particular, more than I'm used to. Not getting much sleep."
I studied his face more closely. "But that's not what's troubling you. I saw you today, at dinner."
He raised an eyebrow. "Seriously, you were watching me? Jealous that I can still eat steak?"
I smiled inwardly. I liked his sense of humor. "Things seemed strained between you and Evelyn."
This time, he turned his head to look at me and I nodded silently, an unverbal understanding between us that what gets said in the porch, stays in the porch. It's no wonder that Jimmy fell for those intense blue eyes. Better than Nixon's. "Evelyn," he said, pronouncing the name as if it were a new word he was trying out, "did not even know I was with Wilson until yesterday afternoon. Apparently."
"The thing is," he said neutrally, "that I knew I wasn't going to be able to count on my parents for anything. But Wilson's a pretty good person, and I thought his mother might be useful to have around because he turned out pretty much okay. And now I discover that… for Christ's sake, she didn't even know my name."
I sighed. That was my girl. I hated that something that had been causing her pain caused pain for other people, and I felt a by now familiar sense of guilt and regret settle over me. "I'm sorry, Greg."
"There's nothing you have to apologize for."
"No, there is," I admitted. "Evelyn's behavior is partially my fault."
He rolled his eyes. "She's your daughter. You can say that on some level everything she does is influenced by you. But I've seen the way you've acted since the moment Wilson told you. Saying her bigotry is your fault is a ridiculous and slightly arrogant claim."
"Have you met Jimmy's uncle, Harold?"
Greg frowned, looking puzzled at the non-sequitur. "I might have. I don't really pay attention to anything other than symptoms when I'm being introduced."
I smiled, but quickly felt it fade. I could almost feel my cheeks sagging heavily, feel my whole body sagging under the weight of what I had done. I let it out in a burst of air. "Harry was Evelyn's younger brother. When he turned eighteen he told us he was homosexual."
Greg's eyes widened slightly. "This would have been in nineteen seventy…"
"1971," I supplied, "just a few years after Jimmy was born." For a moment I was silent, just listening to the soft, creaking noises my chair made as it rocked. "I didn't accept it, of course. There was no question about it. My son was going to live a normal life, a safe life, the one we'd intended for him all along."
"What about Evelyn?"
"Evelyn wanted what was best for her brother, and as far as we were concerned, that meant marrying a good woman, having good children, working at a good job."
"Living a good little heterosexual fantasy," Greg said, a hint of bitterness touching his voice. His cane was in his lap, and I could see he was gripping it tightly.
"Of course, Harry was eighteen," I continued. "When you're eighteen you know everything, even more than you did when you were fifteen. And however much I begged and pleaded, Harry didn't want to listen to me."
"It took some fucking guts for him to come out at all," Greg muttered.
"I know it did. But Greg, it wasn't just for my sake that it didn't want it to be true. The world was a dangerous place then. It still is, for people who are different. You're a father now, you'll understand it soon. Above everything else, I wanted to protect my child."
Greg didn't reply.
"One day, Stan, my husband, called us to the hospital. Some boys from Harry's college had beaten him within an inch of his life. He was…" Images floated up like scenes from an old horror movie. "Greg, I don't ever wish you the experience of watching someone you love in so much pain. Of wondering whether they're going to live or die. For me, it was a breaking point." I took a deep breath. "I gave Harry an ultimatum. Either he'd agree that it was all just a temporary phase, or he wouldn't be a part of our family."
Greg was staring furiously at his cane, his knuckles white by now, and I couldn't tell what he was thinking. "What happened?" he finally asked.
"For three months, I didn't speak with Harry. I didn't invite him to holidays or Friday dinners. I wouldn't accept his calls. I cut off whatever money we'd been giving him. And I made sure no one else in the family contacted him too. Then one day he knocked on the door and introduced us to his girlfriend, and that was the end of that."
Greg leaned back in his chair. "That's it," he said tightly. "Cured for life."
"You met him at the wedding, actually. He's Tina's father."
Greg stood up, leaning heavily on the cane, and walked a few steps down the porch. Distancing himself from me. "You know, this kind of sucks, because I kind of liked you."
"Don't be ridiculous," I said, "you still like me."
He leaned back against the rail, fingers tapping against the wood. "Oh, yeah?"
"Don't make me get up and smack you, Gregory."
He snorted softly, but didn't turn his body towards me yet. "Listen to me," I said quietly, and to my own ears my voice sounded old. "I wasn't always a very good mother. In this case, I know I wasn't. I thought I was doing what was best for my child, and in the long run I can't regret it: I love Tina and I love her sisters, and I can't imagine a world where they don't exist. But at the same time, I know that my son spent a great deal of his life… discontent. And I don't take it lightly. And Evelyn… Evelyn loved her brother, Greg, and I wasn't there when Jimmy told her he was homosexual too, but I can promise you she wasn't thinking about him as an embarrassment to the family name. She was seeing Harry lying in that hospital bed with his eyes swollen shut and his liver bleeding into his body, and then she saw her son in that position as well, and she thought she knew the way to prevent that because when I handled it with Harry, the problem was fixed. But these are different times, now."
This time I got up and took a few steps until I was standing right in front of Greg, and I took his chin in my hand, forcing him to look at me. I'm eighty-two-years old; I'm allowed to do things like that. "I have since learned better," I said, stressing each word. "And Evelyn has learned better. She loves Jimmy and this child and you more than anything, and it might have taken her time to accept it but she is here now, just like me. And if she ever walks down the street and hears a slur about you boys, I guarantee she will rain down on someone with her purse and her Yiddish and the fury of a woman scorned, and she will take them down. Just like I would."
And finally he smiled with genuine amusement. "You wish."
He sidestepped me and pulled himself into the rocking chair I had vacated. No respect, that boy. Or maybe he was giving me a hint.
"I'm going to bed," I stated, not about to start wrestling him for my chair. Let him have some time alone.
"You'll be okay in the house?" he asked. "You remember where your room is?"
"Please, do not use me to practice your mothering. You have a baby for that."
"All right, Judy," he said with half a chuckle.
I stopped when I got to the front door. "Greg," I said. "You and Evelyn. You're going to be all right?"
Greg gave me a long, assessing look, almost as if he could read my mind. Trust her, I hoped I was conveying. She's a good girl too. "Well, you took all the fun out of resenting her by pulling out the trauma," he said at last, with rather more nonchalance than was required. "Once you analyze people through the lens of trauma, you can't take it back. Everything can be rationalized."
Good. With Jimmy and Greg and Evelyn and Joe, it would be fine. Everything would.
I smirked. "I'd ask you about your own traumas, but I'm afraid I'm going to be dead soon, and simply can't spare the time."
He pointed his cane at me. "You know, some day you will be dead, and then you'll regret you said that."
"Don't worry about me, dear." I took a step inside the house, leaning slightly on the door frame. "I'll try to get some sleep now, before your unnamed daughter wakes up."
"Her mother will quiet her down in no time," Greg assured me. "Wilson loves getting up in the middle of the night. Probably why he's so grumpy in the morning."
"You should try morning sex," I suggested.
Greg choked something unintelligible, and I grinned. "What? It's not like either of you have childbirth to recover from, and god knows it's always helped me relax."
"Jesus, Judy!" I heard him splutter as I closed the door behind me.
Well, honestly. I hadn't taken him for a prude.
And in bed, I thought about Stan.
They're good boys, I told him in my head. You'd be proud of Jimmy, for being true to himself after three wives, for finding love. You'd even like Greg - he seems smart enough to have a chance at beating you in backgammon. And you'd adore the baby. At least when she's old enough to laugh when you make stupid faces at her. Babies are one of the few population groups that aren't afraid of your nose hairs.
I remembered one of the last conversations I had with Stan when he was still clear-headed. He'd been sitting on our sofa, watching TV, while I was in the kitchen making tea. "I got a call from Jimmy today," I'd said. "He's buying a house."
"Little Jimmy?" he'd replied, "good, good. Good for him. Who's the girl?" It had already gotten hard for him to remember little bits of information, and sometimes the big ones. "It's not a girl, dear," I told him, "his name is Greg."
And for a moment he frowned, and then he shrugged. My dear Stan, he shrugged, and said with a quirk of his eyebrow, "well, everyone's a little bit faygaleh these days," and returned to the TV.
Times have changed, Stan.
A hungry baby's cry pierced the silence of the night.
These are good times.
ETA: A short translation of House and Judy's fight: "Non-Jewish jerk!" "Horrible person!" "Crazy schmuck!" "Old witch!" "Oh, shove it up your ass!" "Ha! Wilson already does!"
faygaleh - homosexual.