The woman was playing solitaire on a TV tray in front of her easy chair. She was superstitious and believed that if she won the game he would call. She blamed the silence of the phone on the cards. He hadn’t called in over a week and she was obsessing over him, trying to figure out what went wrong.
Her children were sitting in the living room with her watching the Donny and Marie Show featuring the brother and sister Osmond team. In addition to singing, dancing and performing comedy sketches the teenagers were as attractive as Barbie and Ken dolls but life-like and down to earth. Everything about them was perfect in the woman’s eyes.
She had been divorced for over five years now. Loneliness and depression were eating her up and caring for two children alone was a burden. In the 1950s and ‘60s divorce carried a stigma unlike current times when long lasting marriages were the exception and divorce more the rule. Not only was she bogged down by daily life and getting by on the money she earned as a saleslady in a department store, she was an outcast; a divorcee.
Finally she had met a man and thought that her life might possibly change for the better. He was attractive, which was very important to her, and had a steady job. He was obviously interested – enough to call her and take her out for a few early dinners during the weeks before. She never saw the signs or suspected that there was a pattern to the phone calls and dates. A more sophisticated woman might have guessed that he was married. Maybe she suspected it but didn’t want to acknowledge the possibility.
She turned up the final card and once again had lost her solitaire game. The phone rang. She jumped up to answer thinking that maybe there was nothing to this silly superstition. The voice she heard was a child calling to invite her daughter to a birthday party on Saturday. What a letdown! Out of frustration, she told the girl that her daughter couldn’t come to the party. She imagined the other mothers talking about her as the single mom who couldn’t find a man. Why impose more shame upon herself?
She looked at her tiny young daughter who was born with a chronic disease. Although the child never complained, the mother was a witness to the constant pain as it was displayed in her facial expressions. The child sat on the floor in front of the TV set. Even though she suffered the little girl didn’t deserve to go and have fun at a birthday party. If mom was miserable, why should her daughter be allowed a pleasure that was being denied to her?
The mother lit another cigarette. She glanced at her son who was eating cookies. He was already obese and shunned by the children at school. His daily tales of ridicule added to the weight of her misery.
Before giving up, the cards were laid out one more time. She vowed that this would be the last time tonight for her evening ritual. She concentrated and moved the cards carefully tempted to cheat. Once again the final winning card was buried under another and she gave up. She stood up and went into the bathroom. It was obvious when she looked in the mirror that she was a beautiful woman with her green eyes and flowing red haired.
There could only be one reason he hadn’t called. She had been right all along and the man would never call again. During their last dinner together, the all-important third date, she had told him that she had two children. No man in his right mind would get weighed down by a woman that represented a future involving an obese boy and an ailing daughter. Of course! Who could blame him? It wasn’t her fault or his; the children were responsible for her loneliness.
Stubbing out her cigarette, and taking another from the packet she stared at her defective offspring. Without them her life would be happy and fulfilling, she thought. Then she glanced up at the television screen. It didn’t seem fair.
“How come their mother got those gorgeous, talented children and I am stuck with you two?” Her children didn’t turn to look at her. They sat silently letting the words burn into their brains like tattoos. They were just words; one sentence. It never occurred to the woman that children never forget what their mother tells them. Just words had branded each of these little lives with guilt that would last a lifetime.