“Can I pour you a glass of something?” Naomi’s mom was in the kitchen, visible from the front door Naomi had just entered. Her mom was holding a bottle of red wine in the air, cleverly hiding the label from Naomi’s view, offering a drink. It was probably cheap but it was free. The universe remained in balance.
“Sure,” Naomi said. “But don’t be chintzy with the pour.” She smiled, both of them aware that her mom was notorious for offering a full glass. It was part of her hospitality gene. Or it could be an alcoholic gene. Either way, at this moment, it worked in Naomi’s favor.
“Do your students know how much you drink?” Naomi asked.
“It’s their fault that I drink at all, whether they’re aware of it or not.” She handed Naomi a glass, careful not to slosh any over the edge. “They’ll understand one day. And on that day in the distant—or near—future when they read about their former teacher in the obits, discovering she came to her demise via acute alcohol poisoning, they will say to themselves ‘I may have had something to do with that.’”
Naomi set her glass down on the bar and slid on to one of the stools, stationing herself in a favorable spot to enjoy her wine and freely converse with her mom as she prepared dinner. They were quiet for a few minutes, reverently allowing the Pinot a few moments to itself as it led the charge to relaxation and release. Finally, Naomi asked her mom how her day had played out.
“Typical Monday. I handed back their writing projects today.” She was mixing flour and eggs in a glass bowl, preparing a cake for dessert. “The slackers received them without comment. The overachievers sweated and chewed their fingernails until they could lay eyes on their magnificent, weighted grades. It’s why I always give them their papers last.” She set aside the bowl, pushed a strand of wayward hair off her eyes with the back of her hand, leaving a white swatch of flour on her forehead. Unaware, or unfazed, she offered her wine glass in a mock toast, proud of her devious mind.
“Why do you take so much joy in torturing the brainiacs?” Naomi knew the answer but felt humanely obligated to ask if for no other reason than to offer a slight defense of the students.
“I tell you, daughter of mine, the smart kids are consistently the most obnoxious, competitive twits on the planet and I feel it is my civic duty to tweak them when the opportunity is afforded me.” She began mixing the cake ingredients again, folding in more flour and causing minor dust dervishes above the mouth of the bowl. “Everyone else in academia tends to kiss their little, pimply, puckered asses and I don’t think a few whacks with an emotional ruler will kill them.” She took a sip of wine, the pause providing just the right touch of dramatic effect. “In fact, it will probably do them some good in the long run.”
“And you’re okay playing god?” Naomi didn’t find this side of her mom to be her best.
Her mom laughed. “I don’t see myself as god, so much. More like an intervening angel, sent here to give them one small taste of the real world in the midst of their glory. It’s a minor role I play, but it’s quite fulfilling.”
Naomi stared at her mother, not sure whether to admire her or despise her. The fine line between boldness and idiocy was never more blurred. As she struggled with her maternal evaluation a knot began forming in her stomach, not severe, but not so subtle that it could be ignored. She brought the wine glass to her lips hoping a coating of alcohol would appease the lump, but it was still on the march, moving slowly, crawling northward into her chest and finally into her throat, constricting and making it hard to breathe or swallow. Naomi had one clear thought. “I’m just like her.” And her lurching, gasping physical reaction was an answer without words. Or oxygen.
This is one chapter in a series of nine, an experiment in weaving people’s stories into each other, showing cause and affect in how we treat each other regardless of how well we know each other. A casual comment to a stranger may trigger big things but we will probably never know…