The "Do You Have Lots of Faults Too?" Issue
Do You Have Lots of Faults, Too?
by Karen Wunsch
When her daughter Daisy (who called herself Dee) invited her to dinner, Francesca suspected that she either wanted something or something was wrong. Dressing to take the commuter train to Manhattan, she put on a somewhat clingy sweater: almost sixty, she still found it hard to resist clothes that called attention to her large, full breasts. She sprayed on perfume and remembered how, when she'd been a cabaret singer, little Daisy would love to watch her dressing up for a show. "You look like a princess, Mommy!" Francesca would spray perfume into the air and Daisy would run to her through the mist.
Daisy opened the door. "Would you babysit so we can do some shopping?" In her mid-thirties, her dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, she looked pale and tenser than usual, but Francesca thought this was understandable since she'd recently had her first child, Abraham, and was already back at her law firm. "He's sleeping. There's a bottle on the kitchen counter and formula. Don't wake him."
Steve — Daisy's husband — came out with their jackets. He didn't say much, but he never did. He had sandy-colored hair, which the frames of his glasses seemed to match. Once Francesca saw him on the street wearing a winter hat and for a minute hadn't recognized him.
After they left, Francesca sat on the sofa and flipped through a few of the magazines on the coffee table. She was wondering why Daisy was giving Abraham formula (she'd been determined to nurse him for a year and used a breast pump at work) when he woke up crying. Chubby, with sparse wispy hair, he seemed happy to see her.
She changed his diaper, then walked around his room with him, naming the various things in it. She was always a little taken aback when she saw her wedding picture on his dresser, because Ira had left her shortly after Danny (six years younger than Daisy) was born. But there they were. With her dark curls, big dark eyes and low-cut white dress, she looked nervous, hopeful and, ironically—since she'd been born Catholic and converted to marry Ira — Jewish.
Daisy and Steve came back with many grocery bags. Francesca had lived in Greenwich Village when she was young and would walk whenever she could; she was always surprised by how Daisy and Steve would drive all over the city in their minivan.
After everyone played with and fussed over Abraham, Daisy put him to bed, Steve put away groceries, and Francesca set the table. He did something with finance that he used to do in an office but now did at home. She didn't find him easy to talk to. On the other hand, she was sure that Daisy had given him an earful about all the things that were wrong with her: now that her singing career was over, she wasn't aggressive enough about finding secretarial work; she still tended to fall for unavailable men; she was a procrastinator; and way too emotional. Recently Francesca had run into a secretary who used to work in Daisy's office and when the older woman said, "Dee used to say that the two of us have a lot in common," Francesca blurted out, "Oh? Do you have lots of faults, too?"
Over wine, rotisserie chicken and various vegetables and salads, they talked about Abraham's many charms. Conversation was certainly easier since the baby, but Francesca sensed something was wrong.
"By the way, are you working now?" Daisy asked her.
"Not at the moment." She'd never been particularly skillful at office work and it was getting harder for her to learn all the new technology. She had to be careful with money, but she had a small income from her divorce settlement, and since Ira's death several years before, she got his social security.
"Then maybe you can do something for us." Daisy hesitated. "Jeanne — the nanny? — is going back to Haiti, it doesn't matter why. And Steve doesn't have time to take over until we find someone..."
"I'd love to babysit!" Relieved, she began to enjoy the good wine.
"There's something else." Daisy looked at Steve. "I have breast cancer."
Francesca leapt up to hug her, but Daisy shook her head. "Stop crying!" Francesca looked at Steve but couldn't tell what he was feeling.
"They caught it early so I just have to have six weeks of radiation. I plan to keep working, at least part-time."
Francesca heard herself chattering about all the women she knew who'd had breast cancer and, except for two (whom she didn't mention), were fine.
"There's something else," said Daisy.
"No more!" Francesca thought.
"When did you last have a mammogram?"
"When did you last have one?"
"Probably a year ago." She was pretty sure she was right.
"You have to have one now and tell them about me. It runs in families."
Francesca couldn't understand why they were talking about her.
"Promise me you'll do it. Soon. Steve will babysit while you go. Agreed?"
"Wait! They're not going to take it out? Your...lump?"
"I had a lumpectomy. It was really tiny. 'Like a lentil.'"
"You had a lumpectomy? When?"
"Two weeks ago."
Later, wide-awake in bed, when Francesca wasn't wishing that she could have breast cancer, instead; and when she wasn't repeating "small, like a lentil" as if it were a mantra; she was trying not to feel hurt — and angry — that Daisy had waited so long to tell her.
She wasn't used to going into the city so early and enjoyed getting coffee and the paper at the little station shop that was usually closed by the time she got there. On the platform she'd see several dads of children her children had gone to school with. One wasn't wearing a wedding ring and seemed so happy to see her that she got her hopes up, but after the first morning he'd just nod and go back to his paper. She enjoyed being on the train, drinking coffee and reading the paper. Eager to see Abraham, she'd be excited and happy until she'd remember Daisy's cancer.
She always rang before using her key. Steve would open the door, then go back to his study. Abraham would be napping. When he woke up, she'd try to take him out.
Daisy had made a long list of places for them to go, but they all tended to be crowded. If it wasn't too cold, Francesca would push his stroller all around the Upper West Side. She'd think about how different the city was from when she'd lived there. There hadn't been as many children then, and certainly not as many twins. Of course it was more dangerous too, but she'd been happy there. Although her singing career (she'd specialized in standards by Rogers and Hart, Cole Porter, etc.) was sporadic, she'd had a few gigs at small clubs and once got an excellent review in a free newspaper. After she married Ira and had Daisy and they bought a house in the suburbs, Francesca occasionally sang at country clubs or hotels, often subbing at the last minute, but over the years she'd had fewer and fewer gigs. Still, although she missed singing and didn't really like office work and after her divorce had had to move to a suburban apartment (which according to Daisy was "the worst of both worlds"), she enjoyed her life. She felt lucky to be near the city, especially now when she could help. And even walking around with Abraham in the damp windy February cold, little things like the way the squirrels in the park looked more alert and bushy-tailed in winter, and the way the tree branches outside a fancy restaurant were strung with little white lights, gave her pleasure.
Sometimes she'd take Abraham into one of the large chain clothing stores that seemed to be taking over the neighborhood. Wherever they went, the aisles would be clogged with children in and out of strollers. Usually they'd end up in a coffee shop. There were several private schools in the neighborhood, and a lot of the customers were moms who'd push tables together to make a large noisy one. Many young people sat hunched over their Macs. If Francesca happened to be sitting near them she'd keep expecting them to smile at Abraham's sweet coos, but they'd rarely glance at him. When one of them would get a phone call Francesca could always tell by their tone when it was mom.
They'd get back at lunchtime. Steve would be in his study with the door closed. Occasionally when Francesca was in the kitchen he'd come in to make himself tea. He wore sneakers and moved so quietly, he'd startle her.
"It's not your fault, " she finally said. "I startle really easily." She waited for a response. "I used to have a boyfriend who'd say he should wear a bell!"
She had a feeling that if Daisy had been there, she wouldn't have said it.
Although it was a fairly large apartment, the kitchen was small, and when Steve was there she'd feel awkward as they'd move to make room for each other. He'd refuse her offers to make him lunch. She never saw him eating.
One day Abraham was napping and she was just making herself a sandwich when Steve came in, made himself a sandwich and sat down with her.
Francesca couldn't remember ever eating alone with him.
She hesitated. "I worry about her, working so hard, plus going through radiation. "
"She seems to be doing OK."
She couldn't tell if he was annoyed she'd brought it up. "This must be hard on you, too"
Feeling as if she were chattering, she told him about all the nannies she saw talking on the phone or clothes shopping for themselves. "I keep thinking about all those parents who assume their kids are getting all of this undivided attention..."
He didn't say anything. She was about to change the subject when he said, "Here's what we'll do." Long pause. "You'll take their picture with your phone and we'll start a website. We'll call it, 'Is this your nanny?'"
"Maybe Danny could help..." Realizing Steve was kidding, she laughed. Then she kept thinking about it, and every time, she'd laugh.
He seemed pleased.
She reminisced about little Daisy (big Daisy tended to be touchy when Francesca brought up the past, sometimes pleased but often annoyed.) "She used to sit at the kitchen table for hours, drawing." She didn't mention how Daisy would rip up pictures that she felt weren't perfect. "I want to show you something." She ran to get a picture she carried in her wallet of five-year-old Daisy sitting at the art table in kindergarten, a big green bow in her hair. Steve smiled and gave it back. Francesca remembered she'd already shown him. He'd offered to do something to preserve her old pictures, but he'd obviously forgotten.
Hesitantly, he said, "You and Ira were married...how long?"
"Ten years." She was surprised he didn't know.
The phone rang and after a few monosyllabic responses, Steve told whomever it was to call Dee at her office.
Francesca wondered if it had been a prospective nanny. She'd be sad when her "job" ended... she told herself that although at first it would be devastating like the end of a love affair, after a while she'd feel better.
Daisy was usually home by six. Despite her obvious exhaustion, she'd be eager to hear all about Abraham's day. She'd seem sweet and enthusiastic like when she was a little girl. After Francesca reported that he finally turned over, they tried to get him to do it again, but he just lay there.
Daisy would always ask if she wanted to stay for dinner. It was clear, though, that she was just being polite, and Francesca would say that she'd better be going.
"Give my love to Danny," Daisy would say. "He'll have to come over soon and see Abraham."
Francesca was hoping that Abraham would help Daisy and Danny to become closer.
One March day after Daisy came home, Francesca was waiting for the elevator and staring into space — she was tired! — when Daisy opened the door, startling her.
"I almost forgot!" she said.
Francesca was sure they'd found a nanny.
"Did you make that mammogram appointment?"
She'd meant to do it. "I will. I promise."
Daisy tightened her mouth.
"I hate to say it, but I'm annoyed that you haven't done it yet."
Francesca knew that Daisy said it out of love, but she resented being talked to as if she were a child. "I'll take care of it tomorrow." Although she examined her breasts fairly regularly and wasn't particularly worried, she knew that if she didn't call right away, Daisy wouldn't let her babysit.
Danny was grumpy weekends, as if he'd gotten used to having the apartment to himself all week and found her presence an intrusion. She missed her good-natured little boy, never as successful a student as Daisy, but he'd had friends and hobbies and seemed happy enough. After college he talked about going to film school. Then he fell in love with Portia, an actress, and she moved into his tiny apartment and they made a short movie together. It seemed like it all happened suddenly — he hadn't had many girlfriends and had changed majors so often, Francesca hadn't realized he was serious about making movies. But after less than a year Portia left him, and nothing ever came of their movie. And then before Francesca knew it, he moved back home.
One Saturday morning after she'd been babysitting for a few weeks, Francesca and Danny were in the narrow foyer, now cluttered with his bike, skateboard and roller blades, when she noticed him grimacing. "What's wrong?" Her heart was pounding.
"My back's a little stiff. I'm fine."
It seemed that almost every weekend he'd help some friend (or acquaintance) move. When she'd warn him to be careful lifting things, he'd say he knew what he was doing.
"I'm fine mom." He wore faded jeans and a grey tee shirt; he rarely wore anything else. His bangs were almost in his eyes. When she'd offered to trim them, he'd said he was going to the city for a job interview — she'd tried not to show her excitement. But the interview was postponed and then cancelled.
He seemed to want to talk. She felt awkward standing in the hallway and offered to make coffee, but he didn't want anything.
"Daisy's more than half-way through radiation."
He looked as if discussing his sister's breast with his mother made him uncomfortable.
Francesca asked about one of his friends she'd been fond of since they were little boys.
"Actually, I haven't seen him in a while."
Sometimes she wanted to beg him, "Just give me a little good news, just a tiny bit of hope." She said, "I'm going out for groceries." Since he'd moved back, she was often eager to get out of the apartment. "What can I get you?"
He never asked for much.
"I could stop at the cleaners and get the zipper on your jacket fixed..."
"I'll take care of it."
He'd been saying that for weeks.
She knew better than to ask if he had any plans for the weekend.
As she dressed she looked in the mirror at her breasts, pushed up by her lacy bra. She felt sad, for Daisy, who'd never be able to look at her own breasts in the same way again; and now Danny had back pain: it seemed horribly unfair that she should be fine while her children were suffering.
A week later, when Daisy called to say she wanted to take her out for lunch on Saturday —"We'll go someplace trendy and fun!" — Francesca knew that they'd found a nanny.
They met in front of a well-reviewed new restaurant. Daisy primly held out her cheek to be kissed, as she'd done since she was a little girl. "You smell good," she murmured. Her hair was pulled back and she wore one of the dressy pants suits she wore to work. Francesca thought she looked tired.
They had to wait for a table.
"Do you remember when you were a little girl..." She checked to see if Daisy had tightened her mouth in disapproval of her bringing up the past. "I told you that when a perfume lingers, it's called 'persistence.' You loved that. You'd walk around the house murmuring 'persistence!' 'persistence!'" She wanted to add that persistence was what she grew up to have, but Daisy always seemed impatient or uncomfortable when she praised her.
As soon as they were seated, Daisy said that they'd found a nanny.
Francesca's enthusiastic smile felt stiff.
"She can't start until next week, but I wanted to thank you now." Daisy gestured towards the understatedly elegant restaurant, with its large, hovering wait-staff.
"I can't say I won't miss the baby." Francesca was horrified to feel tears spring to her eyes, but if Daisy noticed, she was ignoring it. " On the other hand, it's time for me to start looking for a job again." She wasn't sure whatDaisy would think of her plan to learn Spanish to increase her job skills.
Daisy, who'd eaten there with a client, made suggestions about what to order.
Francesca chose one of the cheaper dishes.
Daisy gave her a disapproving look.
Francesca mentioned Danny's sore back. "You know how he's always helping people move..."
"Do you call every day to see if there were any cancellations? For the mammogram?" Daisy had been complaining since Francesca had made the appointment.
Firmly, "No. They said that since I have no symptoms, it's not an emergency. And I have to wait until it's a year, or my insurance won't pay." She hoped that Daisy wouldn't bring up the time she'd been between jobs and for a few weeks hadn't had health insurance. She looked down at the silk blouse she'd splurged on for the lunch, off-white, with a pattern of irises strewn all over. She almost hadn't worn it because it was still so cold, but at the last minute she'd put it on because it reminded her that spring was coming.
"I'm just remembering that time you had no health insurance..."
"It was less than a month."
Daisy pressed her lips together.
Francesca looked around the restaurant. There were white orchids on the flocked wallpaper and beautiful real white orchids on several small brass tables throughout the cozy room. She wanted to ask, "Why are you being this way?"
Daisy loosened her hair, then pulled it back into a ponytail.
The food was so delicious, they both cheered up.
Daisy talked about one of her cases. Francesca sometimes heard about various young people who hated being lawyers, but Daisy was really interested in the law. Francesca was sure she was a wonderful lawyer. "Everything is so delicious!" she said. At first the small portions had irritated her, but now she liked the way she didn't feel stuffed. She chose a flourless chocolate cake for dessert because she knew that Daisy, who watched her weight and never ordered dessert but liked to taste other people's, would like it.
Daisy was crying.
"What is it?" Francesca's eyes filled with tears.
"Did you see that woman who just walked by?"
As Francesca turned around, Daisy said, "Don't turn around."
A dark-haired woman in a dark coat was walking toward the door.
"I see her sometimes in the radiology waiting room." She wiped away her tears. "I keep trying not to think about it when I'm not there, but then something happens and I feel...overcome."
Francesca took Daisy's hand.
"Stop crying!" Daisy looked around for their waiter, gently pulled her hand away as she gestured for the check. "I almost forgot, there's something else."
"I'm thinking that maybe Steve and I can get away for a night next weekend, go to an inn in Connecticut or something. Can you stay over Saturday?"
Francesca was excited.
Taking out her credit card, Daisy smiled as if she were the Mom, delighted to be giving her child a special treat.
When Francesca asked Danny to babysit with her —"It'll be fun for us to take care of the baby without his parents there" — she was surprised when he said he'd think about it. But when she was getting ready he came out of his room and said he had too much work. "I'm going to get over there, though. Soon. I mean it!"
She tried not to show her disappointment.
She caught an early train. It was warm for the middle of March. Looking at the many young people who were dressed as if it were spring, she remembered how on the first warm day she used to bring her winter coat to the cleaners and then be surprised when it got cold again. And then the next year, she'd do the same thing. Ira would be annoyed, which would annoy her because she was the one who'd be cold. The coming of spring still made her happy. When Daisy or Danny occasionally said something sympathetic about one of her boring temp jobs or the end of another affair, " Actually," Francesca would think, "the main thing that makes me unhappy — is you!"
When she got to the apartment, Steve said he'd put Abraham down for his nap. Daisy went over a long list of instructions. "You'll call if there's a problem."
"Let's go!" Steve took the suitcase and opened the front door.
Daisy just stood there looking uncertain.
"Go! Steve's waiting! Don't dilly dally!"
"I like it when you say that. It reminds me of Grandma."
Who knew? Francesca thought. "Have fun! Everything will be fine."
When Abraham woke up he gave Francesca a big smile. As soon as she brought him into the living room, though, he started looking around for his parents, then burst into tears. For half an hour he was inconsolable. Francesca worried that Daisy would call and hear him and come home. When there was a loud ringing, she was so flustered that at first she thought it was the doorbell. Finally she realized it was the intercom.
"A young man named Danny is here to see you," the doorman said.
"That's wonderful! I mean, send him up!"
As soon as Abraham saw Danny — he was wearing a bright yellow tee shirt! — he was intrigued. Before long he was smiling and flirting.
Danny got down on the floor with him.
Francesca loved watching them. She imagining how pleased Daisy would be when she told her how well "the boys" got along. By the time she remembered to consult Daisy's list, she saw that she was behind schedule.
"Is that one of her lists?"
Showing it to him, Francesca felt a little disloyal.
"It'll be our little secret," Danny said.
For the rest of the afternoon he played with Abraham, and Francesca sat on the sofa, flipping through magazines but really watching her boys. Occasionally she'd look out the grimy window, enjoying the "view" of rooftops and a water tower.
"Mom! You'd better do something about this kid's diaper!"
Abraham had a sore-looking diaper rash. She decided to give him a bath.
"Thanks but no thanks," Danny said when she asked if he wanted to help.
After a few minutes, though, he joined them.
She held Abraham in the tub while Danny washed him. As she had with her own children, she enjoyed imagining the warm water cleaning and soothing his sore bottom. He liked Danny rubbing his soapy scalp, but when Francesca tried to rinse his hair, he got hysterical. Feeling she was getting a headache, she realized she wanted Abraham to be his usual charming self so Danny would want to come back.
Suddenly Danny took the plastic bucket and dumped water on his own head.
Abraham laughed. He wasn't happy about it, but he let her finish rinsing his hair.
Danny's shirt was pretty wet. "Maybe you could borrow one of Steve's?" She knew he wouldn't.
And he didn't want to learn how to put on a diaper.
When she brought Abraham out, powdered and moisturized and wearing his red caboose pajamas, Danny had connected his iPod to the living room speakers and was blasting dissonant-sounding music. Abraham held out his arms, Danny took him from her, and they danced around the room. "Be careful of your back!" said Francesca, but the music drowned her out. She wished that Stave and Daisy were there to see them.
Danny gave Abraham his bottle. "When you were his age," Francesca told him, I'd get you to open your mouth by pretending you were a choo-choo train and the spoon was going to stoke your engine." She smiled at the memory. "Do you remember how we used to go to the station and watch the trains?"
Abraham, clearly tired, began rubbing his eyes.
When her phone rang, Francesca knew it was Daisy. "Everything's fine." Abraham started crying, and not wanting Daisy to know he was still up, she said she had to go.
He wanted grandma to put him to bed. They sat in the rocker and she sang lullabies she'd sung to Daisy and Danny. Before long he put his head on her shoulder and went to sleep. She'd forgotten how sweet that was.
"I'm gonna go!" said Danny when she came out.
"I thought we could order pizza, there's a really good place..."
He hesitated. "Why not?"
She felt as if it was her birthday and he'd decided to do whatever she asked.
She found half a bottle of wine and some olives in the fridge, and as they waited for the pizza they had cocktails.
"This is great wine!" he said.
Then the pizza came and he loved that. Perhaps it was the wine — they each had another glass — but they spoke more easily than they did at home.
"So is Daisy going to be OK now?"
"They're sure they got it all."
"And she's not going to lose her hair?"
"That's chemo." She thought about how innocent he still was.
His hair was so long, he had to keep brushing it out of his eyes.
Almost shyly, he told her that he'd decided to apply to film school.
She warned herself not to seem too enthusiastic. "You know, I've been thinking about trying to learn Spanish. It can't hurt in terms of getting a job..."
"Go for it, Mom!"
As they cleared the table she saw that they'd just about finished the wine. "Maybe I'll run out and get another bottle."
"That's ridiculous. We can certainly drink their wine."
"I know, but I'd like to do it. And I could use some fresh air." She had a slight headache. "It's just a few blocks away, I'll be right back, I promise."
"You're always so worried about pleasing her. You're always letting her boss you around."
"You know what? She has a loving heart."
"I'll be back before you know it."
"What if he wakes up?"
"You can give him his pacifier. I'll do the dishes when I get back." It would be good for him to be in charge.
"You'd better not dilly dally. I mean it!"
The cold air felt good. She walked quickly, but the store was farther away than she'd remembered.
Although it turned out to be small and dingy, the store wasn't crowded and had a better selection than she'd thought. She chose a Merlot and on an impulse picked up a bottle of champagne for Daisy's last day of radiation.
Standing on line — there was just one couple ahead of her — she couldn't understand why the man who was paying was taking so long. She stared at his back, willing him to move, but nothing seemed to be happening. For some reason there were two clerks waiting on him...she couldn't really see. Suddenly he ran out of the store, and then there was a lot of commotion. One of the clerks, a young woman, was crying; the other was yelling in Spanish into his phone.
"What's going on?" Francesca asked the couple ahead of her.
"That was a robbery. You didn't see the gun?"
Shocked and upset, she just wanted to go back to the apartment and putting the bottles on the nearest shelf, she left. She thought she heard someone calling to her, but she started running, and no one came after her.
Even through the closed door she could hear Abraham screaming, and then his screams grew louder as Daisy, holding him, opened the door. He was red with fury, his small body rigid.
"I think he has gas. Do you remember how many ounces he drank?" She didn't look at Francesca.
"Whatever was on the list." Her heart was pounding as if she were lying.
"Are you sure?" Daisy still hadn't looked at her.
"I'm sure." Suddenly she was frightened. "Why are you back?"
Trying to put the pacifier in Abraham's mouth as he kept twisting away, Daisy didn't answer.
"Dee got cold feet about not being here in the morning," Steve said. He was standing by a chair in the living room, as if he didn't live there. "We had a walk and a nice meal, though."
"The food was good?" Francesca said automatically. She wanted to suggest that Daisy try putting Abraham on his stomach across her knees, but she felt she had no right to suggest anything.
Daisy took him into his room and closed the door. It was much quieter.
Without taking off her coat, Francesca finished clearing. She wished she could go back — not even two hours! — to when she and Danny were eating pizza and she could decide not to go out. Loading the dishwasher, "I'm so sorry," she said, although there was no one else in the room. She'd managed to upset everyone in her life whom she loved.
Danny came in. "Why are you wearing your coat?"
She hadn't even realized she was wearing it.
"Where were you? What took you so long?"
"There was a robbery," she whispered. "In the liquor store."
"There was a robbery. I was staring at the guy's back the whole time, but I had no idea what was happening."
"He had a gun?"
"I didn't see it, but yes!"
"You could have been killed!" He was pale. "You could have been killed!"
"But I'm fine!" She touched his arm.
Steve came in holding a white pastry box tied with string. "We stopped at this great bakery. We brought you some cookies." He seemed gentle, as if, she thought, there was nothing he could do to protect her from whatever Daisy had in store for her.
"Should I make coffee?" He turned to Danny. "Or tea?"
If only she hadn't gone out, she would have been delighted that Danny was staying...she just hoped he didn't have some fantasy of protecting her against Daisy. Silently she beseeched him: The worst thing would be if I somehow made trouble between you and Daisy. "Maybe we should just go," she murmured to Steve.
She wondered if he wanted to put off being alone with Daisy and her fury. The kitchen felt crowded. Even though she hadn't finished loading the dishwasher, she followed Danny into the living room.
They sat next to each other on the sofa.
"It must have been awful for you, having Abraham screaming like that. And it must have been frightening for him, seeing you."
"I often have that effect on people!"
"You do not! Don't even think something like that!"
She smiled weakly. He'd been so depressed, she'd forgotten that he could be funny. "See how funny you can be?" she wanted to tell him.
He picked up a magazine, but she just sat there as if she were in a doctor's waiting room. Abraham had quieted down. "Did he wake up right after I left?" she whispered to Danny.
"Did you know they were coming home? Did they call?"
"No. They rang the doorbell at the same time they were opening the door."
She imagined their homecoming: Abraham's screams; Danny and his loud music; the uncleared table and empty wine bottle—Daisy must have been incredulous. "Where's Mom?"
Daisy joined them at the dining room table. "He's asleep. It must have been gas." Francesca realized how pretty she looked, in a slightly clingy black dress, her hair loose and falling softly around her face. She couldn't remember the last time just the four of them had sat around a table — on birthdays and holidays, Steve's family was there, too.
Steve smiled as he gave her coffee. She had a vision of herself, old, feeble, demented: Daisy and Danny would do their best, but Steve would be the most helpful.
When Daisy ate one cookie and then another, Francesca knew how upset she must still be. She'd been putting off bringing up the robbery, but she worried that Danny would say something. "I thought I'd just run out for a few minutes..." she said. "I wanted to get you a bottle of wine, we'd finished yours."
"Excuse me," said Daisy. "You felt you had to replenish our wine?"
"I don't know what I was thinking, the baby was sound asleep, I was coming right back, I had a headache." She realized her headache was gone. "I wanted some fresh air."
"You felt you had to pay us back because you and my brother drank our wine?"
"Daisy!" Steve gave her a look.
Lips tightening, "Call me Dee, please!" Turning to Francesca, "Where did you go?"
"The liquor store on 95th, or maybe it's 94th, I don't know what it's called."
"It's on 94th," said Steve. "We've been there," he said to Daisy.
"Then while I was waiting to pay, there was an armed robbery."
"What?" said Daisy.
"Some man held up the liquor store."
"My God!" Daisy burst into tears.
"You're all right, though." Steve reached for Daisy's hand.
Danny looked glum.
"I didn't even get the wine!"
"Mom, no one cares about the wine!" Danny looked towards the ceiling as if she were being especially infuriating.
"This is my fault," Francesca told Daisy. "Danny kept telling me not to go, but I didn't listen. I should have listened to him."
"Drop it!" Danny told her. "Sometimes you don't know when to stop!"
Francesca couldn't believe that he was criticizing her, now, and in front of Steve and Daisy. Suddenly she was furious. "Do you know what?" she'd say to Daisy, "I don't need your cookies or fancy lunches. Why don't you just try treating me with the common courtesy you'd show a friend." Her heart was pounding. "And as for you!" she'd tell Danny, "do you have any idea what a drag it is, coming home every day to your gloomy presence?"
"It's over," said Daisy. "Nothing happened. It was a fluke. The important thing is that you didn't get hurt."
Francesca felt her headache come back. "You know what?" she said. She looked at Daisy and Danny. "I've had it! With both of you."
"Mom!" they both said.
She couldn't believe she'd said it! She was about to say that she was upset and didn't mean it, when she noticed that Daisy and Danny were looking at each other with sudden interest, as if they were realizing they were in this thing, this dealing with her, together. Slowly, she smiled.