Chapter Nineteen

Standing on her parents’ front step, Illy paused before she knocked. She could feel it happening already—that inevitable morphing into daughter-mode that occurred every time she stepped into her childhood home. Even before she stepped in, apparently. No matter how old or successful or confident she became over the years, it was only a matter of minutes before she was curled up on the couch under her favourite afghan, waiting for her mother to bring her a plate of chocolate chip cookies. She even drank milk when she was there, which she’d stopped doing years ago in adult-mode.

Although she always tried to resist the transformation, Illy decided that there was also something right about it. Something about life cycles and the long line of women stretching back behind her all the way to the caves, all of whom had been daughters themselves. Maybe it was okay to allow her mother to be her mother, just like her grandmother had been before that. Feeling empowered by the legacy of strong women-daughters in her past, Illy knocked. The handle was clicking before she’d even finished knocking and then there stood her mother, beaming like Julia Child had just appeared on her doorstep. Her smile quickly melted to a concerned grimace.

“Oh Ilia darling, why do you always wear that same old brown scarf in your hair?”

Illy’s Legacy Empowerment slithered to the ground leaving the all too familiar Teenage Defensiveness in its place. “Hi Mom. Happy to see you, too.” She walked past her mother, dropping her coat on a bench in the entry way, and flopped on the couch. Her father was sitting in his leather recliner, peering over a newspaper at the TV.

“Hi dear. Nice of you to stop in.” Illy knew he meant it, even though his eyes never left the screen. Years ago her father’s love for television and her mother’s aversion to noise had led to a weird compromise involving the TV volume continually set to mute. With the exception of half an hour of evening news, Illy’s father had watched years and years of sports, sitcoms and full length movies on mute. It was quite impressive, actually, how much of the plot he was able to discern without the aid of dialogue. But it required a fierce concentration and so Illy forgave his lack of eye contact.

“Sorry Ilia, I didn’t know you were coming or I would have made chocolate chip cookies. All I have now are these jam jams. Remember how you used to scrape the jam out of the middle with your teeth and put them back in the container?” Her mother had already poured the milk and was arranging the cookies on a little china plate. Illy reached for the grey afghan and resigned herself to her destiny. She knew she’d have to endure a long evening of question-coated criticisms, but it did feel good to be taken care of for a while. She settled in for the litany of cousin updates, most of whom were ten years older than her and she’d never met.

“So how’s the book?” Illy’s mother had set the china plate down beside Illy and was now perched on the edge of her chair like she was calling a meeting of the Ladies’ Orchid Society to order.

“Sorry?” Illy had been staring at her cookie, trying to decide if it really might taste better if she ate the jam filling first. She definitely hadn’t expected the Life Inquiry to begin this early in the evening. What about Caroline’s cookbooks? “Which book?”

“Your book. You said you had a publisher who agreed to work on your manuscript, right? So how’s the writing? Have you nearly finished your first draft?” She nodded at Illy, hands folded, as though giving her permission to go ahead and share all her accomplishments without fear of appearing boastful. Under all that straight-backed perching, Illy knew her mother genuinely cared about what was going on in Illy’s life. If only she’d slouch a little and sweep the floors less. It would be so much easier to tell her the truth.

“Well…” Illy stared at her milk. Her father lowered his newspaper and studied her over his dollar store reading glasses. “Well, it’s coming. Definitely coming. It’s still in the early stages, but I’ve been gathering lots of ideas…” Illy tried to think of a recent idea she’d gathered. She’d mostly been waiting for Jay to do something passionate and romantic, and had forgotten to pay attention to much else. She scraped a cookie across her teeth. She could feel her mother cringe across the room.

“And the publisher? Did he like it?”

Had she really told her mother that she already had a publisher? She had to stop doing things like that. Her mother had the kind of Rolodex mind that never forgot a word. She decided to pull out of the lie slowly, over the next few months or so. “Well, the editor that I met—it’s a woman—she turned out to be somewhat difficult to work with so I’m still deciding if that’s the route I want to take.”

“Sweetheart,” Illy’s mother leaned in to share a profound secret. “I don’t claim to know much about publishing, but when Auntie Joy was over the other day, she said that Caroline’s publisher is an absolute tyrant to work with, but Caroline just sticks with it because she knows that finding a publisher who will accept your writing is nearly impossible.” Illy noticed that her mother spoke like she was reading off a teleprompter. Illy wondered if she’d been practicing this speech before Illy arrived. “So maybe you need to be a little less sensitive and figure out a way to work with this woman. You do want to be published, don’t you?” Her mother uncrossed her legs and leaned back a little as a signal that her speech was over.

Illy sighed. She had to admit her mother’s advice was valid. The problem was that the willing publisher didn’t actually exist at this point. For someone who always considered herself a pretty honest person, she’d been finding herself caught in a lot of lies lately. That couldn’t be good karma. “You’re right Mother. I”ll try to work on it. And good for Caroline—what’s the angle of her new cookbook?” Back in safer territory, Illy reached for another cookie as her mother happily relayed the details of Fanny’s Fabulous Fondues. Her father’s gaze shifted back to an old MASH rerun. Illy could hear him chuckling at Radar’s silent escapades while her mother talked. Illy let herself snuggle into the security of their familiar roles, making a silent vow to do something productive in the morning.

Continue Reading: Chapter Twenty