When Ricky heard his mother’s key hit the lock to the front door he froze – just for a second. Everything that followed happened in a blur of panic; he dashed into the corner of the room and hid behind the club chair. He was crouched on the floor, his back pressed up against the inner wall that separated him from the entryway where his mother would soon be entering.
He tried to remain motionless, but couldn’t. His body shook and his heart raced. There was a pounding so loud in his chest that he missed the loose chatter of voices occurring just inside the doorway. He closed his eyes wishing it was a bad dream, knowing of course that it wasn’t.
Upon entering through the front door into the foyer, there were two rooms on either side. One served as a den — where Ricky waited in hiding –, the other the living room. Both had large double-door archway entrances. Straight ahead from the foyer — beyond the entrances of those two rooms — was a hallway that narrowed. To the right was a staircase leading to the upper floors; to the left, it continued between the staircase and the wall until it reached the kitchen ten feet beyond the left. It then continued and turned right, wrapping around the back of the stairway — passed the cellar entrance — leading into the dining room. Coming full circle, the dining room then opened back into the living room. It was the maze that Ricky now had to navigate unseen, like prey fleeing unsuspecting hunters.
Still hidden in the den Ricky finally brought his mind into focus and heard the voices. He instantly realized that it was Wednesday — his mother’s weekly Ladies’ Lunch. He fumed: “How could I be so stupid to forget that?” He knew now he was in a jam; how could he get out of the room and up the stairs without being seen by his mother, and/or potentially worse, any of her friends?
“Think Ricky, think!” echoed throughout the empty corridors of his head. No sound returned, as though all of his reasoning had gone on holiday, vacating the premises and leaving him all alone. Eventually, he pulled himself together. As he refocused he realized that what he would do largely depended on whether they – the ladies – would do. Did they intend to settle in the living room for tea and gossip, or the dining room for lunch?
He listened for a clue. He heard no indications, so he stayed vigilant, his ears on high alert.
If they had lunch first, he might have a chance to sneak past the living room door and up the stairway unnoticed while they were otherwise engaged in the dining room. But, if they decided to sit and gab and sip tea in the living room – and who knows how long that would last – he’d be a rat in a cage; able to hide, but unable to escape.
His mind raced. Should he make a high-risk dash for it, wait them out, or enlist the help – and certain wrath – of his mother? It was hard to know. She was an equal part nurturer – protective and helping — as she was a disciplinarian; if her temper got the best of her, which being embarrassed in front of her friends would surely ignite, she had been known to give him a good wallop from time to time.
He recalled a year ago when he’d decided to attend a friend’s birthday party after school before going home to notify his mother first. When he finally returned home, well after sundown, his mom was waiting on the front lawn. He never had the opportunity to finish the opening sentence he’d been practicing all the way there. As he approached and began to speak CRACK! — Right across the face. She had never done that before, but he now knew she was capable of it and didn’t relish repeating that experience.
It was the fall of 1969. The skies were clear and the November air outside crisp; it breached the window seal and caressed Ricky’s bare legs. Whether it was the chilled air or fear he didn’t know. But either way, he suddenly felt a strong urge pressing against his bladder. He had to do something quick — before he peed right there on the floor.
When the women settled into the living room his heart sank. He knew his fate was sealed. All that was left was to play out the only option he had available to him. His mother would no doubt be getting refreshments from the kitchen. With that thought his plan was set. He assessed that he could step out into the center of the room, still hidden from the ladies in the living room, but in plain sight for his mom to see him — as she entered the foyer en route to the kitchen.
He positioned himself like a leopard readying to pounce, waiting for the right moment to step out from behind the club chair. He couldn’t begin to imagine — or worry about — what the repercussions might be. Besides, he knew for sure that it was the lesser of two bad situations.
If her friends saw him … his mind couldn’t consider that option. His mother was fiercely protective of her reputation, and that of her family. The humiliation of what he’d done would stain them for a long time. Or at least that would be her assessment. Reconfirming in his mind that this was the best course of action, he waited.
Just as his mother entered the foyer — and he was ready to show himself — Joan called to her from the other room. “Do you need any help, Stephanie?” As she turned over her right shoulder to respond she never saw him standing in the center of the den to her left. So he returned to his hiding spot behind the club chair.
Shortly thereafter, upon her return with a tray of cold drinks from the kitchen in hand, he once again nervously displayed himself in the middle of the room. She caught the image of him from the corner of her right eye, stumbling briefly.
Ricky thought for sure that she was going to drop the tray [with pitcher and glasses] from the shock, but she quickly regained her composure and resumed her stride into the living room.
“Stephanie, dear, are you alright? Do you need help?”
She entered and placed the tray on the coffee table. Dorothy, Joan, and Betty sat on the sofa against the wall, while JoAnne sat in one of the two club chairs adjacent to the sofa on the other side of the coffee table. The living room was a typical middle-class house in a middle-class neighborhood. The color theme was a soft green with highlights of muted blues and neutral colors.
Stephanie seemed confused and disoriented. Her hands were fidgeting with her dress. Her mind was spinning, but instinctively her first thought was how do I get him out of there before anyone sees him?
“Oh, no, stay where you are, I’m fine. I was just momentarily distracted by … the cutest little animals playing outside through the den window. Chipmunks I think, or, well, something like that. They’ve probably moved outside this window now. Do you see them?” The four women all turned to look eagerly. At the same time, Stephanie back-stepped to ease herself into the foyer and, with a hand behind her back she frantically motioned for her son to run.
“Do you see them? They’re so cute!”
“I don’t see anything Stephanie, are you sure of what you saw?” Dorothy inquired. “Sure … well … no, not really; I don’t know what I saw” she said as she glared at her son.“ But I saw something that was both cute and odd.”
Ricky caught the sarcasm but didn’t hesitate. He shot out of the room and bounded up the staircase like a jackrabbit.
Stephanie re-entered the living room. “Well. They seem to be out of sight now. No matter. Let’s have our tea, shall we?“ and began pouring. She initiated small talk to divert everyone’s attention, but mid-sentence of “Did you hear that poor Michelle…” Dorothy cut in: “Who was that?”
Stephanie was a deer in headlights: “What? Who was who?”
“I could swear I saw a little girl just run up the stairs; she was too short to be your daughter Robin. So who was it?” Stephanie shuddered as her brain tried to come up with some quick explanation. “Oh, the girl … yes, that’s … mmy … Maria, my niece.”
“Your sister’s youngest, From Chicago?”
“Yes,” Stephanie said, getting into the stride of her lie. “She is here visiting for the holiday. She … was supposed to be with my daughter today, but … the airline lost her luggage, and … Robin’s clothes were a tad too large. She didn’t feel comfortable wearing them outside, so she stayed home.”
“Oh, the poor little darling” Dorothy sighed. Stephanie breathed in relief as Joan was meanwhile all but busting to tell of the recent gossip about Marge’s marriage scandal. To Stephanie, the crisis was seemingly averted, until Dorothy pressed on: “Well don’t leave her upstairs on her own.”
With a stumble, Stephanie could only retort a weak “Pardon?”
“Invite her down, she can visit with us, right ladies?“ The others were so focused on the scent of the marital scandal — like hyenas of a freshly wounded animal –, that they were somewhat unaware of the parallel conversation taking place: Stephanie continued “What? Oh, no, she is fine. She had said that she wanted to go upstairs to read.”
“Nonsense, Stephanie, have the little darling come down so we can at least meet her!”
The others now redirected and more focused on the verbal joust taking shape before them fueled the conversation — and Stephanie’s worst nightmare: “Yes, Stephanie, please ask her to come down, we’d all like to meet her.”
Stephanie felt sick as she wandered up the stairs in a fog. What to do? She couldn’t quite process what was happening. She found Ricky in his room playing with his action figures as though nothing had happened.
“What did you do with your sister’s clothes?” With reddened cheeks, Rickey exclaimed “I put them back. I’m sorry, I was just fooling around.”
“Yes, well that’s all great, but Dorothy saw you. Now they all want to meet my niece!”