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Let Them Eat Cat Food

by Marina J. Neary

part 5, conclusion

5. Salvation in an Envelope

Rinnie went through a pile of torn-up envelopes and picked out one. It was a solicitation package from some Catholic charity. You know how it works. You donate once, and they put you in a database, and you keep receiving requests for money from all over the world. One time I donated twenty dollars to St. Jude’s hospital, and ever since then we’ve been getting bombarded with pictures of third world orphans in need of kidneys and bone marrow.

“Check it out,” Rinnie said, unfolding the letter and showing me a picture of a crying black baby on a pile of rubble. “For thirty bucks a month you can become a Mom, and you don’t have to go through pregnancy.”

I couldn’t believe it was my daughter speaking. She was the one who always campaigned against those fake charities.

“Put it back in the garbage where it belongs,” I mumbled. “You said it was a scam.”

“And pumping a fifty-year old woman with hormones is not a scam? Look, Kitty, I’m sorry I turned out to be such substandard product.”

“Rinnie, I never said you were substandard.”

“You don’t have to say it. I know what I see in the mirror every day. I’m a walking birth defect, spina bifida in human form. Nobody knows whose fault it is that I turned out this way. It’s irrelevant at this point. I’m sorry I made you feel like you had to repeat this whole mothering experiment.”

“My poor Rinnie! I honestly thought I could get it right the second time.”

“Well, this is your chance to do the right thing. Those kids don’t have parents to nag them. They don’t even have baby food.”

“No baby food? Bah! Let them eat cat food.”

I couldn’t believe what I’d just said. A tiny demon of irony must have jerked me by the tongue. I am convinced that there is a little demon living in my mouth. Most of the time he sits quietly in his ambush, and then, when I expect it the least, he tickles and yanks at my tongue, and I produce the most random quotes.

Let them eat cat food! Marie-Antoinette would have been proud.

I had no energy to cook that night, so we had to be content with cold smoked salmon on a bed of mixed greens, with capers and crumbs of goat cheese.

After dinner Rinnie remembered that she had an infant and excused herself into the guest bedroom to nurse him. I immediately suspected that she was up to no good, because she never excuses herself to perform her maternal duty. Usually she just lifts her top and spills the content of her bra for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Modesty is another virtue that Rinnie never bothered to cultivate.

I let five minutes go by, so it wouldn’t be too obvious that I was spying on her. Then I tiptoed upstairs and peeked inside the bedroom. With her wardrobe perfectly intact, Rinnie was carrying the sleeping baby over her shoulder and talking on the phone.

“Hi, I am calling on behalf of my mother, Antonia Schwartz. She would very much like to sponsor one of the children in your program. Yes, Paco Rodriguez... Yes, the one with clubfoot. Yes, we’re aware that he needs surgery... Uh-huh... Of course we’re willing to pay for it. Of course we are willing to host him at her house. We have a guest bedroom just for that, with Disney characters all over the walls. Are you kidding me? My mom does stuff like that all the time. And I mean all the time.

“In fact, she’s making chicken soup for a kid with leukemia as we speak, so she asked me to call you instead. Yeah, she has a heart of gold and just loves to help people. And, while Paco is recovering, she’ll throw in a few music lessons. He can test the pedals on her new grand piano with his foot. How soon? As soon as he’s ready. Yeah, I have her credit card number. You take Visa? Great! Uh-huh... Hum... God bless you too.”

I had to tuck my hands into my armpits, because for a second I thought I was going to strangle my daughter. It was the most outrageous, rebellious, insulting, condescending, treacherous prank she had ever pulled on me. How did she get my credit card number? Maybe she found my statements in the recycling bin, along with other paper junk.

Suddenly, I realized that I could not strangle Rinnie, even if she deserved it. Losing two children in one day would be too much for me to handle. An angel of peace curled around my shoulders, like a giant Siberian cat, purring hymns into my ear, rubbing against my neck.

I took a deep breath and went inside the guest bedroom. Rinnie had just hung up the phone. Without saying a word to her, I began removing the Ansel Adams prints from the walls.

“Kitty, what are you doing?” Rinnie asked, her bloodshot raccoon eyes wide with alarm. “You just remodeled the place three months ago.”

“We have to make room for Disney characters,” I replied. “You think little Paco would like Cinderella?”

I can’t say I’m a sucker for spiritual self-help lit, but I think it says somewhere in the Bible: “In times of scarcity, remember the times of plenty. And in the times of plenty, remember the times of scarcity.” I don’t remember the exact words, but somehow they stuck with me. I began wondering that, perhaps, the prophets were on to something.

Somewhere in my quest to keep up with my clients, I forgot my own humble Eurotrash roots. Even if I had five premenopausal babies, in the eyes of those women I would still be hired help, just a charming knick-knack imported from Russia, something between a Fabergé egg and a cleaning lady.

So, I decided: no more Clomid injections for me, just Botox. No more in-vitro procedures, just an occasional liposuction. Sometimes, after another chemical peel, I sit on the porch of my modest but oh, so pretty-pretty house, feast on cold salmon and capers and let the sunlight waft around my pretty-pretty face.

Copyright © 2011 by Marina J. Neary

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