Dirty Red (Love Me With Lies)
Author:Fisher, Tarryn

She is pretending to be enamored with the baby, but I know better than that. Public doting is what she does to spunk up her image, and when her audience is gone — so is the love. I remember being a child, having her stroke my hair, kiss my face, comment on how pretty I was — all in front of her friends. After they left, I would be sent back to my room to study or practice the violin — basically get out of my mother’s hair, until the next of her ‘good mommy’ performances.

 

“Really, Mother?” I say through my teeth. “How will you hear her after you’ve taken your sleeping pills?”

 

Her face becomes splotchy. Caleb elbows me in the ribs. We’re not supposed to talk about her addiction to sleep aids.

 

“I won’t take them tonight,” she says decidedly. “I’ll do the feedings so you can rest.”

 

Caleb gives her a quick side hug before we all go downstairs.

 

 

 

I watch suspiciously from my barstool in the kitchen as she carries Estella around and sings show tunes to her. We small talk, or they do. I pick at my split ends.

 

“We’re going to have a wonderful time while Daddy is gone,” she coos to the baby. “You, Mommy and I.”

 

Caleb shoots me a warning look before going upstairs to get the last of his things for the trip. I am itching to make a snarky comment, but I remember my promise to him and hold my tongue. Besides, if she wants to play ‘Grandmother’ and take care of all of Estella’s needs while Caleb is gone, so be it. It would save me the trouble.

 

“Her hair is red,” my mother says as soon as he’s out of earshot.

 

“Yes, I noticed.”

 

She clucks her tongue. “I always imagined that my grandchildren would be dark like Charles.”

 

“She’s not,” I snap, “because she’s mine.”

 

She shoots me a look out of the corner of her eye. “Don’t be so touchy, Johanna. It doesn’t become you.”

 

Always critical. I can’t wait until she’s gone.

 

But, then it hits me. When she’s gone, Caleb isn’t going to be staying home with the baby. I am. This business trip is the first of many during which I am going to have to pull all-nighters and change … human excrement … and — oh God — give baths. I almost fall off my barstool. A nanny, I have to break Caleb on this and make him see how much I need the help.

 

“Mother,” I say sweetly — almost too sweetly because she looks at me with her eyebrows raised. “Caleb doesn’t want me to get a nanny,” I complain. I am hoping to get her on my side enough to talk to him about it.

 

Her eyes dart to the stairs where Caleb disappeared only moments before. She licks her lips, and I lean in to better hear what nugget of wisdom she is going to impart. My mother is a very resourceful woman. It comes from being married to a controlling manipulator. She had to learn how to get her way, without getting her way.

 

When Court was eighteen, she wanted to go to Europe with her friends. My father had refused. Well, in actuality, he’d never verbally refused. He slashed his hand through the air as soon as the words were out of her mouth. The SLASH. It was a common occurrence in our Greek home. Didn’t like dinner? SLASH. Had a bad day at work and don’t want anyone to talk to you? SLASH. Leah crashes her fifty thousand dollar car for the fifth time? SLASH. At the end of all the slashing, Court had gone to Europe.

 

Remember when you were a poor boy? How much you wanted to travel? My mother.

 

She’s still a child. My father.

 

It’s good that she goes while we can still control her. We pay for the trip, the hotels, and the safest travel … much better than her going when she’s in her twenties, sleeping her way through France. My mother.

 

My father hated the French.

 

He’d looked thoughtful. Mother’s logic was appealing. He booked everything a week later. Court was under careful, controlled watch, but by God she got to go to Europe. I went to community college. She gave me a small painting that she bought from a street vendor. It was a red umbrella suspended in the rain like an invisible hand was holding it. I’d pulled aside the paper and had immediately known what she was trying to say. I’d started to cry and Court had laughed and kissed me on the cheek.

 

“Don’t cry, Lee. That’s the point of this painting, yeah?”

 

Two months in Europe and she was saying yeah at the end of all of her sentences.

 

Court is … was … so cute. I want to bring her up, ask Mother about her last boyfriend, but the subject is still touchy.

 

“What your husband doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” My mother’s voice snaps me back to the task at hand.

 

That’s it? I stare at her blankly. How am I supposed to translate that nonsense into full time baby help?

 

She sighs.

 

“Leah, darling … Caleb is away on business trips much of the time, is he not?”