Read The Shortest Distance Between Two Women Online
Authors: Kris Radish
“I think it eventually ends,” Emma says finally, trying to convince herself and then quickly asks, “When does your break actually begin?”
“Answer the question, smartass.”
“Are you swearing?”
Stephanie finally laughs and far away, maybe six or ten years from now, Emma can hear the distinct tone of Marty’s glorious laugh resonating in the teenage cackle of her beloved niece. She hears this hint of glory and Emma knows something brave and wise that she cannot name or hold but she knows something she
did not know before this phone call. And that simple feeling, of something coming, something remarkable that will happen, causes her to make an improbable, unlikely, and maybe terribly dangerous decision.
As she says it, Emma has no idea where what she is about to say is coming from, what it might mean, or what could possibly happen to the course of her Gilford-motivated life. She only remembers being sixteen and waiting for the last three inches of her breasts to get going and grow. She only remembers how lonely she often felt living in her own house even though she was usually surrounded by way too many sisters.
And that’s why she promises her niece that she can come stay with her for a week and that she will try and work it out with her mother. And Stephie squeals with laughter and the phone goes dead and Emma does not have time to realize what she has just done because she unexpectedly falls back asleep. But just four hours later her cell phone, propped next to her ear, rings again and she awakens to find there is a crisis brewing.
There’s a major deadline and the temporary workers she helped hire have been stranded because of bad weather on the other side of the world and Emma finds herself racing through her house before five a.m., struggling to get dressed and trying with great difficulty to remember exactly what she promised her niece.
A week? A week, knowing that Joy already hates her because she gets along with her only daughter better than she does? A week of all the stuff that probably drives Joy mad—the music, friends, swearing, loudness and also a week of all the good stuff—conversations and lights on in the house when she gets home and hugs in the kitchen and a seven-day slice of motherhood instead of the usual bits and pieces?
The Joy mess hangs in front of Emma like an unmovable
curtain as she races into her office, imagining with dread the conversation she must now have with her oldest sister in order to keep her promise to Stephie. At least it will keep her distracted from the weight of the reunion, her abrupt departure from the brunch, and the phone call from Samuel, which already seems as if it happened a year ago.
Emma’s massive headache probably started as she answered Stephie’s midnight phone call. But by three p.m., when she still has not solved her work crisis, it has turned into a full-blown, want-to-lie-down-with-a-towel-on-my-face, throbbing pain that runs from the center of her forehead to the back of her neck.
There is barely time during the next three hours for her to swallow some Tylenol, eat an apple on the run, and call every recruiter in a ten-state area as she struggles to meet her hiring deadline.
Emma is almost panting with pain and exhaustion at six-fifteen p.m., more than twelve hours into a workday that she knows will not end for several more hours, when her assistant smiles knowingly, tells her that she left two messages on her desk that “seem kind of urgent,” smiles knowingly again, and then leaves for the day.
It’s another three hours before Emma can finally get back into her office, close to exhausted, crisis averted and headache flourishing. Only then does she remember to read the messages on her desk. One is from Joy. It simply reads, CALL ME ASAP!!! The other is so long Emma has to sit down to read it.
Joy’s message is a no-brainer. Their discussion will be either a loud tirade about the spring break offer or a long tirade about the spring break offer and Emma’s over-involvement in Stephie’s life.
The second note is a cryptic message from Marty. It looks like some kind of emergency “have to get this before the discount store
closes at midnight” reunion shopping list that Emma thinks she must have known about but somehow cannot remember. The list is long and detailed and without thinking about how many days it has been since she last actually talked to Marty and quietly stormed out of the brunch, Emma picks up the phone. She first tries calling her mother at home. When there is no answer she tries the lovely cell phone that Erika finally convinced their mother she needed to carry with her. That phone is turned off.
Without hesitating, Emma looks at her watch and decides that if she drives over the speed limit, takes the side street around the center of town, and then sprints she’ll be able to make it to the store fourteen minutes before it closes.
This is exactly what she does next, with her pounding headache to keep her company and not even considering that she could just go home, make herself a very, very late dinner and go to bed after a long hot bath.
The thought finally occurs to her twelve minutes into the shopping spree when the lights in the aisles start to go out, an obnoxious man announces everyone has five minutes to get to the checkout counter or they will be spending the night locked in the store, and she looks down at her half-filled cart and realizes there is no way she will get everything on Marty’s list.
Emma is suddenly frozen in place.
What in the hell am I doing here?
Emma stands paralyzed while one by one all the lights go off. She can hear people milling around the front of the store while store clerks urge them to hurry, as if an extra fifty seconds will make someone late to the Dairy Queen, for pity’s sake.
Emma looks down into her cart. She looks at the plastic beer cups, the paper plates, twelve rolls of masking tape, a mountain of paper towels and the pile of plastic tablecloths that she has managed to squeeze into her cart just as the store manager gets on the
intercom and says, “I know there are still four people in here and you need to leave—
And that’s when Emma snaps.
Her exhausted mind and body have hit the wall that has been building brick by brick for longer than one day. Debra, Joy, her mother, the shopping, her work schedule, a tangle of unplanted flowers and shrubs, the brunch, the reunion and all its accessories and tasks and plans and lists and deadlines and, of course, smiling Samuel. All of those things at once, suddenly and without any warning, turned her headache and her life into an explosion.
There will be five people who will always remember the woman who walked out of aisle three of Dunnigan’s Discount Den one warm spring night, stalked up to the baffled store manager, threw six rolls of paper towels, one after the other, into his face and said, “I’m leaving. Are you happy
and swept out of the store without buying one single item.
MARTY HAS SHOWN MAGNIFICENT STRENGTH for almost two weeks and when she can no longer stand it, she purposefully parks her car down the street from Emma’s, hauls out a can of Diet Pepsi, watches for her daughter to roll in from work, waits for her to drop her briefcase and turn on the dining room light, then catches her off guard with a knock on the front door as she pushes her foot against its metal edge and calls, “Emma Lauryn Gilford! Are you running with scissors in there?”
This is not what Emma Lauryn Gilford expected at her front
door. An Avon lady perhaps, the paperboy or a late package. But not her mother who is admittedly prone to stopping by, like the rest of the Gilford clan, unannounced, but who, Emma assumed, would keep avoiding her youngest daughter as long as her youngest daughter kept avoiding her.
“Mother, have you been working out?” Emma manages to say with a straight face. “Not everyone can hold a door open like that.”
Marty does not skip a beat. She steps into Emma’s green-tiled foyer, pushes the door closed, sets down her Pepsi can on the lovely antique plant stand, drops her purse on the floor and moves towards one of the comfy cloth-covered dining room chairs.
“Come on in, Mother.”
“Don’t be a smartass,” Marty says through her teeth.
Emma so desperately wants to take off her shoes and walk through her usually quiet gardens with her bare feet so she can feel the grass, the location of all of the new weeds, the soft mist from the early evening air that is already resting like a silent invader on her stone walkways.
There is no getting around this
, Emma reminds herself as she plants her behind obediently on a chair across the table from her mother and offers her a glass of white wine.
“No thank you. I can’t stay long. I have plans. I’ve been worried about you.”
Here it comes
Emma has decided to erase the discount store incident from her mind. She has planned on going to yet another discount store to get everything on the list because she was certain Marty would want to see a receipt.
“Is it about the reunion?” Emma feels the edge of the headache she still vividly remembers from three days ago push lightly against her temples.
“I’m worried about that, I always am, but I’m also worried about you, Emma. It’s not like you to not call for so long or to leave an event abruptly.”
“Do I ever
get the reunion work done?” Emma asks, hoping to avoid the questions she imagines her mother must
be wanting to ask. To her delight she succeeds. Her mother asks if she’s gotten together yet with Joy and Debra to pick a theme for this year’s annual event.
Just now, Emma would love to be running with the scissors. Just now she would love to tell her mother that she’s heartily sick of her sisters and that she screwed up the discount order. But she sits like a stone because she’s missed something here.
Was I supposed to meet with them and pick a theme?
Emma immediately guesses Debra was supposed to tell her about the reunion theme. Instead she probably ran to their mother to tell her about the fight they’d had. That surely must be part of this home visit by the matriarch, because the fight was a rare blowout—rare, meaning Emma did the blowing this time.
She’d been having an informal meeting with her boss, Janet, when her phone rang. Emma had picked it up without thinking that someone like Debra would be on the other end.
Noisy, bitchy, bigmouthed and occasionally cruel Debra, calling to make certain Emma knew she remembered that Emma had abruptly left brunch even if she had been drinking all those mimosas.
The sound of Debra’s voice made Emma jump to her feet, which made Janet jump off the desk and mouth,
Who is it?
, Emma mouthed back.
“Shit,” Janet said, loud enough for Debra to hear.
Emma motioned Janet frantically out the door and then held up her hand to tell her to come back in five minutes.
Five minutes of hell
, Janet wanted to say, because she’d heard about some of Debra’s antics from Emma before.
“I was just checking because of how you stormed out of the brunch the other day,” Debra began.
“It was not a
. I merely left.”
“But you never leave.”
“Why did you leave?”
“We were supposed to be planning the reunion and instead you wanted to talk about Mother’s sex life,” she reminded Debra.