The four stately Corinthian columns holding up the porch roof, with the large flower boxes running between them, provided Lacy with the perfect hiding place to overhear her parents’ conversations. She’d tried many time to break herself of the habit, but it was too much fun, especially on a sunny spring day like this one.
She’d come downstairs to get a cup of coffee and a snack when she saw her mother in the kitchen, pouring whisky into tall glasses and adding lemonade. She entered boldly, as if the sight of the tray with the glasses held no interest.”Hi, Mama.”
“How’s your paper coming?” Her mother turned and watched her pour the coffee, add a sugar and a splash of cream, then open the refrigerator door.
“Slow. I was getting sleepy and hungry.” Lacy, home for spring break, was halfway through her second semester of graduate school, and her teachers had assigned a large pile of work, due the day she returned. She retrieved the peanut butter and bread and grabbed a banana and began making a sandwich.
“Well, you’d better keep at it.”
“Just gonna take this stuff upstairs and get back to work.” Well, that had been the plan. But she was tired of hunting for references on the internet. A little break and a little eavesdropping might give her some motivation.
She felt her mother’s eyes on her as she set the sandwich on a plate, then picked up the coffee and the plate and went up the stairs. She waited a few minutes for her mother to take the drinks out to the porch, then quietly padded back downstairs. If her mother was still in the kitchen, she could grab a napkin, or something innocuous, but she wasn’t. Lacy could just hear the murmuring of voices coming through the front door.
She went out the back door and snuck around the side of the house to the column at the back of the porch. She peaked through a crack between the column and flower box, verified that her parents were settling into their seats with their glasses, then sat out of sight with her back against the column.
She’d first hidden here when she was nine. They’d just moved into this stately old house. Her parents were enjoying the novelty of sitting in the shade of the old porch, sipping lemonade. She hadn’t meant to listen that day; she’d been exploring the yard when she heard their voices and crept closer and closer, until her ears were pressed against the crack. Her parents never knew she’d heard every word.
As she grew older, she discovered that her parents felt free to talk about anything, so long as they were on the porch. Eavesdropping, she learned that her brother, Robbie, two years her senior, had flunked calculus, and her oldest brother, Hamilton, had impregnated one of his classmates and she had an abortion.
She usually got away with her snooping, but her parents occasionally caught her. Her father always let her off with a warning, but her mother meted out harsh punishments. The first time, her mother grounded her for a week. The second time, Lacy lost her allowance for a year. After that, she stopped eavesdropping for six months, but she couldn’t stay away forever, especially not after Robbie dropped out of his freshman year of college. Those conversations were simply too juicy to miss. She learned to sit behind the column and hold still once she leaned against it. She didn’t need to get any closer, since her father’s deep voice and her mother’s high one both carried well.
Today, she leaned half against the house and half against the column and relaxed, taking in the scent of the geraniums in the flower box, until her mother said, “I don’t think we should be supporting her any more, Robert. I don’t care if she is in graduate school. She can get a job.”
What? Lacy suddenly wasn’t sleepy any more.
“Doing what? Waiting tables? I will not have my daughter serving fried eggs to some guy fresh off the farm. We’re better than that, Mildred.”
Go papa, Lacy silently rooted, anger at her mother bubbling up. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford to help her out until she graduated. Her mother was being a cheap skate.
Her mother snorted loudly. “I wasn’t so proud that I couldn’t serve eggs to farmers, or type forms for Mr. Hannon. It’ll build her character.”
What’s wrong with my character?
“I’m well aware of that, Mildred. But those jobs have terrible hours and pay almost nothing.”
Right. Though my teaching assistantship doesn’t pay well either. That’s why you send me money every month.
“She could work as a receptionist.”
No, I absolutely couldn’t. Do you have any idea how hard I work already?
“Mildred, use your head. How’s she supposed to do that, teach a class, and go to school?”
“I don’t see why she needs this degree, anyway. A woman—”
“She’s just a girl. And with today’s economy—”
“Don’t you interrupt me. She’s a woman. She’s twenty-four. I was married by the time I was her age, and had a son, if you’ll recall. I didn’t get to go to some fancy university and study International Finance.”
Oh, so that’s it. She resents my career. I get it.
Her father’s steps creaked on the old boards as he stood and paced. “Times have changed. You quit working when we got married, didn’t you? Lacy probably won’t have that luxury. Most couples need two incomes these days to get by.”
“If she ever marries,” her mother said, scornfully. “I don’t see her bringing any men around.”
Now that’s a low blow. Just because you married young doesn’t mean I have to.
“You’re drifting off topic, Mildred.” Her dad sounded annoyed. “Lacy needs a career, and she’s picked a good one.”
Yes, I have. I’ll make a great living at it, too.
“You’re spoiling her, Robert, and I won’t have it.”
The spiteful words and nasty tone stabbed at Lacy. Mama hates me. It isn’t fair.
The porch swing complained as her father sat heavily next to her mother. “She’s our only daughter, our youngest. And she’s done well, unlike Robbie.” Lacy’s brother had gotten a job at a local gas station after he dropped out of college.
“You would pull the Robbie card.” The swing squeaked as her parents shifted their weight.
“Well, then, let me pull another one. We put Hamilton through medical school.”
“He’s a man. He has a wife and child. It’s different.”
Who’d have thought my mother was stuck in the dark ages? Lacy was tempted to poke her head out from behind the column, but she didn’t dare risk being caught. She kept still.
Her father’s weight hit the porch again. He walked over to the edge, so near to Lacy that she could almost touch him, but he turned around and paced back to her mother. “I want to ensure Lacy gets her doctorate.”
“I won’t sign those papers, Robert.”
What papers? What’s she talking about? Again, Lacy was tempted to stand up and confront her parents, but she stayed put.
“Then I’ll find another way to borrow the money.”
Wait. They need to borrow money to help me? Why? Doesn’t Papa make enough, as a pediatrician?Lacy had lived for years with the impression that her family was rich. It was certainly more well-off than most of her friends. She missed her mother’s next statement, she was so busy thinking about her parents’ finances.
She was still worrying about this when her father said, “Don’t you tell me what we can afford, or what to do about my own daughter.”
The swing squeaked and then the front door slammed.
“You can come out now, Lacy,” her father said.
To be continued. Look for the second half of this story next week. Thanks to Marlene at Freeimages.com for the photo.