Read Hot Flash Holidays Online
Authors: Nancy Thayer
Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Fiction
“But Alice is only sixty-three,” Shirley said softly.
“I understand,” Ruth told her. “Yet anyone at any age can be bothered by something like, oh, constipation. That can affect your mood all day.”
“Talk about having your head up your ass,” Marilyn said with a grin.
“Indeed,” Ruth agreed.
Shirley made little swirls in the water with her fingers. “I hate starting the new year off this way.”
“It will work out,” Polly assured her Pollyannaishly.
Ruth held up her hands. “My fingers and toes are turning into little white raisins. I think I’d better get out.”
“Let’s all get out,” Shirley suggested. She was about to add that they could come up to her condo for hot chocolate, but she remembered that Justin was there, working on his book, and he wouldn’t want to be disturbed. “We could all drive down to Leonardo’s to have some dessert!”
“Not me,” Polly said. “I’m so stuffed from holiday food, I don’t even want chocolate.”
Marilyn had her mother by the arm as they carefully made their way up the steps and out of the tub. “I think we’d better go home and have a little rest,” she told Shirley, with a slight nod toward her mother, who was unsteady on her legs, leaning heavily on Marilyn.
The locker room was oddly quiet as the four women showered and dressed. Shirley said good night to Polly, Marilyn, and Ruth, then went through the building, checking to be sure all the doors were locked and turning out the lights.
The last thing she did was to unplug the twinkling Christmas tree in the lounge. Then that room was dark as well. Outside the snow fell swiftly, quickly obscuring the footprints and tire tracks of her departed guests. Justin was upstairs, but Shirley felt all alone.
THE SECOND RULE OF THE HOT FLASH CLUB WAS “IF you’re depressed, get up, get dressed, and get out of the house.”
But what if you can’t?
On New Year’s Day, while her Hot Flash friends communed in a hot tub, Faye lay on her living room sofa with her ankle resting on a pillow and her head wobbling in the neck brace like a soft-boiled egg in a cup. She was surrounded by new mysteries, boxes of chocolates, plates of delicious food brought to her by neighbors, the latest magazines, and a pile of DVDs.
She was very crabby.
She felt guilty for not enjoying this enforced laziness. She thought back to the years when the tasks of life had overwhelmed her, when on any given day she’d struggled to drive her little girl to school and ballet practice, organize an elegant dinner party for one of Jack’s new clients, pick up the dry cleaning, help out at the church fair, and even try to grab some time in her studio for painting. Back then, she would have wept with joy at the thought of having a week to do nothing but lie around like this, eating and grazing through movies and books like a big, fat cow in a lush, green pasture.
She sort of wished she’d told the Hot Flash Club to meet here at her house today. She’d thought about it. Shirley, Polly, Alice, and Marilyn had all phoned to say they’d drive her out, but Faye had refused, insisting she didn’t feel well enough to leave the sofa.
But that was only partly true. While half of her wanted to be around her friends, the other half hunkered down in a gloomy wallow of misery, and Faye just couldn’t be bothered to struggle up out of it.
The truth was, she felt worthless. She felt like a kicked dog who’d crawled under the house to nurse her wounds.
This Christmas had been so terrible! Faye grabbed a handful of tissues as the tears started again.
First of all, there was her foolish fall, incapacitating her and making everything difficult for everyone else. Not to mention making her feel old and helpless! And falling down her own stairs—why, it made her seem absolutely
If she’d had to fall, why couldn’t she have fallen out on the ice, a
place to fall. She kept flashing back to the moment her foot slipped. It had been so frightening! That sense of total vulnerability, lack of control, danger—and then the painful landing and her body’s refusal to move without pain.
Then, to have her own beloved granddaughter shrink in terror from her! That had bruised Faye’s heart, even though she understood the cause was her neck brace and crutches. Eventually, Megan got used to them and allowed Faye to hold her, but Faye knew the rich connection of their relationship had been weakened. And during the four nights of their visit, Megan hadn’t once slept in or been even slightly captivated by the magical bedroom. Kind, sensitive
had made an enormous fuss over the darlingness of the room, the fairies, the colors, the attention to detail. Laura had insisted, the last afternoon of their stay, that Faye, Laura, and Megan all spend time in the room, playing Chutes and Ladders, and she’d taken lots of photos of Megan there. Faye knew she could expect a framed picture from Laura in the mail. Laura was thoughtful that way. But Megan would not carry the fantasy room in her dreams. Megan was enchanted with space cowgirls and superheroines. Faye felt oddly embarrassed, like a gawky suitor who’d brushed his pony and polished his wagon, only to find his loved one going off with a guy in a Corvette.
Christmas dinner at Carolyn’s hadn’t improved her self-esteem. Faye knew Carolyn adored Polly and wanted to pair up Polly with her father, but this hadn’t seemed a real problem until the moment Faye found herself stranded on the sofa, unable to do more than observe.
Carolyn had sent Hugh to bring Faye her dinner, then organized Aubrey, Polly, and baby Elizabeth into a winsome trio. Faye pretended to listen as kindhearted Hugh chatted, but really she was watching Polly, who looked so happy, holding the baby. Polly’s own daughter-in-law was such a strange little snake, wriggling between Polly and her son, keeping Polly from seeing her grandchild, that woozy from painkillers, Faye decided it seemed natural—it seemed
—for Polly to hook up with Aubrey. They could all be one big, happy family. They
As she rode home from Carolyn’s house on Christmas night, Faye’s spirits had been lower than the road the tires rolled over, and just as flat and cold. She’d done her best to hide her depression from Aubrey, blaming her neck and ankle for her lack of witty repartee.
And then, Christmas night hit.
Shortly after Aubrey brought Faye home, establishing her comfortably on her own sofa before kissing her chastely and leaving, Lars, Laura, and Megan returned from Christmas dinner with Lars’s parents. Laura put Megan to bed in the middle of the big bed in the guest room where she and Lars would join her later. Then she came downstairs for a nightcap with her mother and husband.
Lars poured a brandy for himself, a Godiva liqueur for Faye, and only a glass of water for Laura. This, coupled with Laura’s weight gain, made Faye’s senses flick on to Red Alert. She wasn’t completely surprised when Lars said, “We have some news, Faye.” Looking fondly at Laura, he announced, “We’re going to have another baby. A little boy. In May.”
“Oh, Laura!” Faye longed to give her daughter a big hug, but could only smile and raise her glass, struggling to move like a boar stuck in a snowdrift, every movement sending shocks of pain down her neck, into her back and shoulders. “How wonderful, darling!”
“I know, Mom.” Laura had been glowing. “I’m so happy. I feel good this time, too. We haven’t told Megan yet. I wanted to wait until I was five months along, just to be sure.”
“Now let’s see.” Faye thought aloud, envisioning her daughter’s house. “Will you put the baby in with Megan? You have a guest room, and there’s that nice little storage room off the kitchen. Will you get a nanny?”
“We’re considering that,” Laura began, and suddenly she looked uncomfortable. “At first we won’t need to—”
Lars cut in. “—because my parents told us today that they’re moving to San Francisco! They want to be there to watch their grandchildren grow up, and they’ll be able to baby-sit for us or help Laura with the baby, whatever!”
“Oh,” Faye said weakly, digging her fingers into her palms, forcing herself not to burst into tears. “How wonderful for you.”
Over the next two days, Faye had struggled to prevent Laura from guessing how jealous she felt, how left out. She’d laughed, joked, smiled, and chattered, and whenever Laura asked, “Are you all right, Mom? You look sad,” Faye answered, “It’s just the pain medication, darling. It makes me feel a bit drowsy.”
But when the cab took them off to the airport, Faye sat on the sofa and sobbed.
Since Christmas, Faye had been sunk in emotional quicksand. Marilyn, Alice, Polly, and Shirley had called, offering to stop by with gossip and goodies, but she’d put them off, saying the doctor insisted she needed lots of sleep for healing. Aubrey phoned often, wanting to come by, but she gave him the same excuse.
The truth was, she’d spent the week after Christmas consoling herself and fending off complete despair by eating everything in the house. Boxes of chocolates. Tins of Scottish shortbread. Macaroni and cheese, potatoes and gravy, lasagna. Comfort food. She knew she was gaining weight, but she didn’t have the energy to care.
Last night, when Aubrey insisted on coming for New Year’s Eve, Faye had cautiously removed her various wrappings and braces and taken a long, hot shower. It hadn’t hurt to stand on her ankle—well, maybe a twinge now and then. And her neck felt fine. For a moment, elation began to percolate in her system.
Then she stepped out of the shower and saw her body. A week of overeating, and she looked like Alfred Hitch-cock. Worse, when she sorted through her clothes, she couldn’t find anything that fit comfortably! She’d been wearing her caftans and loose robes for a week, and hadn’t realized how her waist had thickened. Not long ago, she’d cheerfully named her stomach rolls Honey, Bunny, and It’s Not Funny. Now the three rolls protruded in one giant blob like a beach ball. The zippers on her largest trousers and skirts wouldn’t go all the way up. The buttons wouldn’t meet the buttonholes. Her arms bulged inside the sleeves of her sweaters like puppies in a bag. Worst of all, she could see the fat accumulating on her face. Her eyes looked smaller. She was developing jowls.
She wanted to crawl under a rock. It would take a really big rock to hide her. Mount Rushmore.
She had put a caftan back on for Aubrey’s visit, and wrapped her ankle to provide an excuse for not leaving the sofa. Aubrey had arrived with expensive Champagne and lobster dinners cooked at one of his favorite restaurants. They’d watched a Thin Man movie with Myrna Loy and William Powell, and at midnight, as they’d watched the ball descend in Times Square, Aubrey gallantly got down on his knees by the sofa so he could embrace Faye and kiss her soundly. She didn’t wear her neck brace all evening, and when Aubrey kissed her, she felt, instead of a warm surge of sexual desire, an irritating twang of pain. Aubrey had offered to spend the night, to be there to cook her breakfast in the morning, but Faye sent him away, protesting that all she could really do these days was sleep.
Carolyn was having a New Year’s Day buffet today. Aubrey was going, and he’d asked Faye to go with him, but she’d declined.
The bitter truth was that her ankle and neck were both almost completely healed, but her body and soul were shattered.
So here she was, on the first day of the year, back in her braces, useless, unloved, and fat.
Defiantly, she hobbled into the kitchen, microwaved the remains of a pumpkin pie, and covered it with Reddi wip. Then she went back to the sofa and stuffed the food into her mouth, fast, as if she were building a wall to hold back the tears.
ON A GLOOMY FEBRUARY MORNING, POLLY OPENED the door to her sewing room and looked in.
During the past year, Polly had let her alteration and dressmaking business slide into the background of her life. She’d been so busy helping her mother-in-law, Claudia, who was dying of cancer, that she hadn’t had the time or energy to do more than finish the commissions she already had. So she’d told most of her customers she wasn’t taking on any new projects for a while, and naturally, they found someone else to shorten their cuffs or fit a dress for a party.
But now Polly decided it was time to try to make a little money. Her husband had left her enough in his will so that she’d never be out on the streets, but any little luxuries in life she had to finance on her own. And that was fine. She enjoyed her work.
With a can of Pledge in one hand and a soft cloth in the other, Polly went around the room, dusting off her cutting table and sewing machine and the cupboard where she kept her fabric, threads, and other sewing supplies. Should she put an ad in the local give-away paper? Or even in the
? Or perhaps simply phone all her customers, or send them a charming little note? That might be better.
In the far corner of the room, several cardboard boxes were stacked. Polly stopped to consider them. She hadn’t really forgotten about them; she just hadn’t had time to deal with them.
In November, her mother-in-law’s lawyer had phoned to say they had finally finished assessing Claudia’s belongings and were ready to make distributions. Claudia had willed several boxes of clothing to Polly; when could they bring them over?
Anytime, Polly had told them, shaking her head. How like Claudia, who had been a wealthy but puritanical old bat, to will her clothing to Polly, who was much too short and plump ever to fit into her lean, lanky mother-in-law’s clothing! Not that Polly would ever wear them anyway—Claudia had liked plaid wool skirts and trousers, brisk little white blouses, and severe, shapeless black dresses. Her fashion style made L.L. Bean look like Versace.
Still, Polly thought, Claudia had always invested in good quality. And if Polly wasn’t going to use the clothing, she should donate it to Goodwill or someplace else where it would be appreciated.
Taking up her scissors, she cut open the top box, which had been fiercely taped and marked with her name. Folding back the four leaves, Polly looked inside, expecting to see tartan trousers and ancient wool cardigans.
What she saw was so unexpected, it took her eyes a moment to adjust.
Lace. It looked like old lace. Polly dipped her hands in and lifted out an ivory lace evening wrap. Beneath it lay several pairs of lace gloves. Beneath those was a satin packet containing dozens of handkerchiefs trimmed with all kinds of lace. Then, lace nightgowns. Lace slips. Bits of lace, and more bits.
Polly lifted an ivory lawn nightgown out and held it up to the light. It was delicate and beautiful, but ripped in several places. She took out a pale white blouse with lace cuffs and collar. The lace was lovely, but the body of the blouse was stained with dark spots.
She delved deeper into the box, coming up with a pile of lace jabots and dickeys—detachable blouse fronts popular in the early part of the twentieth century but hardly of use now. Lace fichus, scarves, veils, and tippets. How curious!
The second box was piled with lace antimacassars and doilies, lace-trimmed napkins and tablecloths. Beneath were lace pillowcases and lace-trimmed sheets—but not entire sets of sheets, and often not even the entire sheets. In most cases, the lace had been cut away, leaving only a bit of ivory linen or blue cotton attached.
The third box held more lace, and also what looked like hundreds of embroidered handkerchiefs, hand towels, pillowcases, and gloves. Again, every item was either ripped or stained beyond repair.
None of the items was particularly old. Claudia had been in her eighties when she died; perhaps the oldest item was the remnants of a christening gown that might have been hers. None of the lace was of museum quality, yet all of it was lovely. So many different patterns and kinds . . .
Trust Claudia, Polly thought with a laugh, to leave her all this stuff that was not valuable, but was too good to toss out. Probably Claudia’s estimate of Polly herself.
She ran her hands over various bits of lace. Could she piece together a pretty blouse for herself? Probably not.
The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts.
“Hi, Polly!” Carolyn’s voice was chipper but clipped. “What are you up to on this beautiful day?”
“I’m organizing my workroom,” Polly told her. “I’ve decided to start up my little sewing business again.”
“Oh, Polly, if you need money—”
Hurriedly, Polly interrupted Carolyn’s offer. “Carolyn, I love my work as much as you love yours. And you are at work now, aren’t you?”
“Yes, right. I wanted to call before I forgot. I’ve decided to give an intimate little dinner party at my house on February fourteenth. Can you come?”
Polly hesitated. “February fourteenth? Valentine’s Day?” Carrying the portable phone with her, she walked back to her kitchen and the calendar hanging on the wall, even though she knew damned well she had nothing penciled in for that night.
As if Carolyn read her mind, she continued, “You don’t have anything planned with Hugh, do you?”
Polly, who was a terrible liar, stuttered. “We–well, not formerly.”
“I mean, not
I mean, Hugh and I usually spend time together on the weekends, and the fourteenth is a Saturday this year. But I could bring Hugh—”
“Oh, Polly, I was hoping you could come alone. Hank’s
sister, the one you haven’t met yet, will be in town that weekend with her husband, and I wanted you two to get to know each other. I want to have just a little
Polly closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. What Carolyn meant was that she wanted her father to come, but without Faye, and she wanted Polly to come, but without Hugh.
“After all,” Carolyn continued, “you’re part of the family now. You’re Elizabeth’s godmother.”
Carolyn was such a forceful personality, Polly thought. All right, perhaps she was a little spoiled, too, but didn’t she deserve to be? She’d lost her mother when she was only seven. And perhaps she was a little bossy, but like many younger women, she had had to learn to be assertive. She ran a large business, after all. Polly didn’t want to hurt Carolyn’s feelings. She cared so much for her, and was so grateful to feel valuable in, and connected to, someone else’s life. Certainly her own son and daughter-in-law were not inviting her for Valentine’s Day dinner.
Valentine’s Day! A day to spend with your lover, not your family.
“Let me talk with Hugh,” Polly said decisively. “I’m not sure what our plans are. Can I call you back?”
“Sure. If I don’t catch the phone, leave a message on the machine.”
They spoke a few more minutes. At ten months, Elizabeth was starting to crawl, which meant she also investigated minute bits of mud, fluff, or food accidentally dropped to the floor, bits so small Carolyn and Hank and the nanny couldn’t see them from their vantage point. Since Elizabeth considered tasting part of her investigative skills, Carolyn spent much of her time on the floor with her, being sure she didn’t pick up the wrong thing.
“Last night,” Carolyn said, “Elizabeth found one of those cloth-covered rubber bands Ingrid holds her hair back with. She started gnawing on it before I could stop her, and when I took it away from her—she could choke on it so easily!—she threw such a tantrum, you wouldn’t believe it!”
Actually, Polly thought, I
believe it. Carolyn’s daughter was as strong-willed as her mother. But she kept quiet.
Carolyn said, “Oh, the other line’s ringing. I’ve gotta go, Polly. Call me!”
“I will,” Polly promised.
Polly spent the rest of the day working. She checked out prices of newspaper ads and reviewed her list of customers. Getting out her colored pencils, she played around, composing a clever little communiqué announcing her return to business. It was fun, drawing in bobbins, skirts, a measuring tape, a pincushion, and finally a wedding gown. She wrote the body of the missive on her computer, changing fonts and sizes until she found exactly what worked, then with scissors and tape, cut and pasted her drawings in the margins of the letter. She copied it on her machine and found that it came off quite nicely. She ran off fifty copies, then sat down to the less creative business of addressing the envelopes.
When she decided to stop for the day, she was surprised to find it was after five thirty. The sun was staying out longer. Spring wasn’t far away. No wonder she felt cheerful!
She stretched to release the tension in her neck and shoulders, then flicked off the computer and the lights in her workroom and went through the house, turning on lights for the approaching dusk.
Her old hound, Roy Orbison, lay on the sofa, snoring like a powerboat. Usually by five thirty Roy was agitating for his dinner, but tonight he was still sound asleep. Polly gazed down fondly at the dog.
“You’re getting on in years, old boy,” she said softly. “And so am I.”
In the kitchen, she prepared an enormous salad with tons of vegetables and heated up a big mug of chicken broth. As always, she was trying to diet, and tonight she didn’t feel especially hungry. Alerted by her noise, Roy woke and joined her in the kitchen, eating his dog food as if he’d just returned from a sixty-mile run. Lucky Roy, who didn’t even know the concept of dieting!
After dinner, Polly started a fire in the fireplace and curled up on the sofa with a cup of herbal tea and a fat new mystery. In January, she’d had the smoke-scorched living room repainted in pale yellow while she sewed new drapes and throw-pillow coverings from a gorgeous blue silk printed with birds, boughs, and blossoms. All signs of the Christmas Eve fire had disappeared and the room, even at night, looked fresh and cheerful.
Sometime tonight, she knew, Hugh would phone. On most weeknights he didn’t visit Polly, but collapsed in his own apartment, tired from his day at the hospital. He always phoned her, though, and they talked, sometimes for hours, as current dramas reminded them of past events. One of the nicer things about being older, Polly thought, was that they had so much to tell each other, so many memories to recount.
It was almost ten o’clock when Hugh phoned.
“Sorry to call so late,” he said. “I fell asleep when I got home. Just woke up a while ago, had a shower and a late meal.”
“Busy day at the hospital?” Polly asked as she settled back to listen. Hugh seldom discussed his patients, having more than enough to complain about or entertain Polly with by talking about his staff, the secretaries, his fellow physicians, the hospital administration.
Polly told Hugh what she’d done during the day. Then she took a deep breath, screwed up her courage, and said, as sexily as she could without humiliating herself, “So, Hugh, do we have any plans for Valentine’s Day? I noticed on my calendar that it falls on Saturday this year.” Hugh was clever and creative about their dates; perhaps he’d take her to some ski resort where they could spend the entire time in the room, drinking hot buttered rum and making love. It had been a marvelous surprise to Polly, what a good lover Hugh was.
“Oh, hell, Polly,” Hugh answered. “My daughter’s having a Valentine’s Day dinner party, just for the family.”
Disappointment surged through Polly. What
it about this generation of children that they thought Valentine’s Day was a family occasion? Polly didn’t have to ask whether or not Hugh’s ex-wife Carol would be there. Of course she would. It irked her that Carol would be with Hugh on Valentine’s Day.
“You still there?” Hugh asked.
“Yes,” Polly said, weakly.
“I’m sorry, Poll. I hate to think of you alone on—”
“Oh, I won’t be alone,” Polly hastened to assure him. She didn’t want him ever to pity her. “Carolyn has asked me to dinner at her place that night, but frankly, I’d rather spend it with you.”
“Let’s have our Valentine’s Day dinner Friday night, what do you say?”
“I think we’ve scheduled our Hot Flash Club meeting for that night, and I’d hate to miss it. We haven’t been meeting regularly.”
“Sunday night then?”
This was good of him, Polly knew, because Mondays Hugh worked, and Mondays were hard. “Why don’t we meet here after our Saturday-night dinner parties?” she suggested. “I’ll have lots of Champagne and chocolate, and all kinds of treats, so we can celebrate Valentine’s Day Sunday morning. In bed.”
Hugh laughed, and Polly’s heart went all gooey. Hugh had a wonderful, deep, hearty laugh. She could just see him, his belly trembling, his perfect white teeth gleaming in his handsome face.
“That’s a great idea, Polly. Let’s make that a date.”
After they said good-bye, Polly considered phoning Carolyn to tell her she could come to the dinner, but it was too late, especially since they had a baby in the house. She’d phone first thing in the morning. As Polly got ready for bed, she considered calling Faye tomorrow, to discuss this whole weird triangle they were caught up in, Polly–Carolyn–Faye. Or was it more a pentagon, because Aubrey and Elizabeth were both involved, too? Polly admired Faye so much, but she wasn’t sure she could bring up the subject. It was awkward. It was terribly like high school. Oh, well, Polly thought, sliding into bed, at least that made her feel young.