I can’t help myself. Every time Dolores starts talking my mind drifts off. Dolores is my mother. It makes her feel younger to be called Dolores. She likes to think of us as girlfriends. The thought of having grandchildren and them referring to her as granny practically sends her into a seizure. Dolores picked me up at this afternoon in the pickup. Dolores sucked on the last Export A in the pack, reaching over to the glove compartment of the Ford pickup for another pack. Ripping off the cellophane from the pack with her teeth, she jiggled a cigarette out and offered it into her mouth, discarding the pack onto the panel, taking her butt, lighting her new cigarette, discarding the butt out the truck window, and all the time keeping an eye on me. She thinks I’m judging her.
“You shouldn’t litter,” I said, arms crossed, staring out over the Detroit River. Two thoughts crossed my mind. Soon she will be dead with cancer and why had she brought me down to the river? Wasn’t this make-out alley where all the townies came with their cars and their sweethearts? The ground was sticky with condoms. They’d be all over the pick-up’s wheels. How was she going to explain that to dad?
“Talking now are we?” Dolores smiled, the cigarette smoke slipping through her clenched teeth in any always present but never expressed rage.
I turned my head and looked out the window at the lonely barge drifting upstream, listening to the radio.
Mother reached over and turned off the radio.
“I can’t talk with that thing blaring in my ear.”
Dolores talked as if all the elements of the world were in a conspiracy to dislodge her from her thoughts. I loved the song that had been playing on the radio, but shrugged my shoulders indifferently. It was never wise to let Dolores know what you were thinking. Besides she knew I loved the song. I loved everything she hated.
“First one in this family to go to college,” Dolores said shaking her head. “I’d be nervous.”
I shrugged again. Sometimes I shrugged when I didn’t even mean to shrug. It had become a reflex action. Like Pavlov’s dogs. Pavlov shouldn’t have treated his dogs like that. Animals should not be subjects in experiments.
“I know that you wanted to go to Guelph.”
“I want to be a veterinarian. I love animals.”
“We’ve discussed this before darling. Being a vet is not a job for women.”
“Don’t patronize me Dolores.”
“Can’t you call me mother?”
“Dolores,” I cried angrily, “the world is changing. A woman can be anything she wants to be. And it’s my life. I love animals but you can’t see that.”
“And it’s our money,” Dolores said as she sucked angrily on her cigarette, clouds of rage pouring out of her nose. I could see her knuckles turning white as she squeezed the steering wheel. My mind began to drift off, thinking about something someone had said earlier that day.
“You really are a bitch,” Dolores cursed then chuckled as if she were a participant in some interior conversation. “My mother warned me that I would have a daughter like you.”
“I am not you, Dolores. I am my own person. And I like listening to my music loud.”
With this I reached over and turned the radio on. A Buck Owens tune was playing. I hate country music. Dolores laughed. I turned the radio off again.
There was a long pregnant silence. Every conversation I had with Dolores was filled with these pauses, like the links in a rosary.
“I’m sorry, darling. I shouldn’t have called you a bitch. Old age is making me cranky. It’s not easy raising a daughter these days what with drugs and AIDS.”
Dolores sighed. I could feel my head turning down the volume. Dolores’s lips were still moving but for a while I could hear nothing. I thought about Michael and his lovely long red hair and how it fell over his shoulders and how easy it was for him to laugh. And how incredibly stupid he was and how charming.
“I don’t want you dropping your pants for the first boy who lights up your eyes.”
I looked at Dolores with shock. My mouth dropped.
Dolores lit up another cigarette off her cigarette butt then discarded the butt out the window.
“You’re hot blooded. Just like me. I know what’s going on in that head of yours. I’ve had those same thoughts. Try and use some judgment.”
“Like you did with daddy!”
Dolores glared at me for a moment then softened, her shoulders relaxing as she slipped deep into the car seat and let her head fall back bearing the soft flesh of her neck. Her hair was turning gray. I hadn’t noticed that before.
“Your father had his good points before he lost his hair and started drinking. Its a shame children can never see their parents in their prime. Your father was quite something.”
“And you were a desperate thirty,” I added. “And he was only twenty.”
There was a long pause.
“Why didn’t daddy come? I wanted to speak to daddy.”
Dolores’ head fell to one side as she smiled.
“And I won’t do?”
“I wanted daddy.”
“He’s planting. You can’t just drop everything on the farm because your daughter has a whim. We have to squeeze every dime out of a dollar.”
“Didn’t I work last summer?”
“What you saved isn’t enough.”
“Nothing I do is enough.”
Dolores sucked on her cigarette and blew the smoke indifferently out the window.
“Quit feeling sorry for yourself,” she said then apologized. “I’m sorry. But you have a way of hitting all my buttons. Tell me about school.”
I shrugged. “It’s okay.”
School had started off well enough. For two weeks, I was a diligent student. I went to all my classes each day, did my assignments, studied in the library and grew increasingly bored. My roommate, a girl called Angela, and I became fast friends. She was from the Saulte. Went to a Catholic boarding school there. Had these incredible stories there about life with the penguins, which is what she called the nuns. Claims they were all lesbians. Angela was a virgin, hadn’t even had a date with a boy and was determined to rid herself of the curse. She had to make up for lost time. The first night in residence she went out by herself and came back to residence just before curfew, drunk. Angela sprawled on the bed and boasted that she’d just been laid at the Bridge House, the local university pub. By the waiter, she laughed. I hope I’m not pregnant; she said and paused for a moment in thought. Then she complained about the room spinning around, fled out of the room for the can and barfed in the toilet.
“Do you like your basement apartment better than the residence?”
“More privacy,” I said.
“Wasn’t my idea,” Dolores said. “I wanted you to stay in residence. I would have preferred some supervision but your father lets you have everything.”
“I couldn’t have stayed there with Brewster. No pets allowed.”
“Your father wouldn’t have given you the dog if you had stayed in residence.”
“Tell me about your roommate.”
“She’s on a scholarship.”
“Oh my,” Dolores smiled. I knew that would impress her.
“Anthropology,” I said, knowing that Dolores had no idea what I was talking about. Angela hadn’t opened a book since she had arrived at school. She said that there would be time for schoolwork in the spring.
“I hope you’re keeping up with your studies. Maybe this Angela will be a good influence.”
Angela went drinking every night. But she had changed pubs for the time being and was frequenting the Dominion House. She said she wasn’t putting out for any more waiters. Angela kept asking me to go drinking with her. She’d met some cool second year law students. “You should see their eyes, the way they look at you, thinking that they’re going to get into your pants. Practically begging for it. Eyes round, tongues hanging out just like puppy dogs,” Angela laughed. Angela laughed a lot. And asked questions. Mostly about sex. I told her stuff, mostly stuff I’d heard from friends though I made everything sound like it was a personal experience.
“Have you met any boys?”
“They’re all over the place, Dolores.”
“You know what I mean, darling.”
“Not really,” I smiled.
I had struck up a conversation with a guy in Anthropology class. Cute guy but kind of geeky. He’s going to Mexico next summer to work on a project with one of the professors. I met another guy with long red hair, named Michael. He hangs around the coffee shop a lot. Says he’s addicted to caffeine. Always asks me, as if I were a pusher, if I know where he could get some good weed.
“I wish that I’d had your opportunities, darling,” Dolores said between breaths.” I wasn’t much for school. Too boy crazy, I guess. Lazy too. When you’re young, you think that you won’t ever have to work. I couldn’t see the sense in school then, not while you could get some minimum wage job, and go out partying every night. What a fool I was. I’m so glad that you didn’t make that mistake.”
I went to the pub one night with Angela, back to the Bridge House. Angela got me some proof. I was Peggy Fleming. Who the hell was Peggy Fleming? Angela said it was her older sister’s maid of honor; it turned out we both had proof for Peggy Fleming. We entered the pub from two different entrances, sat at different tables, each ordered a draft, and then joined forces after a comfortable period of time has passed. Neither one of us was asked for identification. I checked out Frank the waiter. He was so greasy looking, right out the 50’s but he had nice eyes. I could see how Angela went for him. All night he couldn’t keep his eyes off Angela. Maybe he thought he was going to get lucky again. We both got drunk, talked, laughed our asses off. Some engineers sat down with us. They bought beers for the rest of the evening. After we excused ourselves to use the ladies room, we slipped out the side entrance and staggered back to residence. We got caught. Angela told Mrs. Kraft, the head of Electa Hall to kiss her ass. We got kicked out of residence. The next day we rented a flat off campus in the home of a French professor, Monsieur Leland. He was a tall thin man with a goatee and a long poker face. Madame Leland, a stout woman with a warm gregarious nature, took us under her wing. I asked if we could have a pet. Although Monsieur Leland disapproved, his wife was enthusiastic. I called home and asked daddy if I could have Brewster.
“How do you like your landlord?” Dolores asked. “I understand he’s a professor of something.”
“French,” I added.
Angela complained that our landlord had been making passes at her. “He’s disgusting,” Angela cried, screwing up her face. “He smells so bad. Like stale cigar smoke. And he drools. Runs down that shaggy beard of his. Yuck. And have you looked at his teeth? All stained”. I can’t stand people with cruddy looking teeth. “If he touches me again,” Angela said, “ I swear I’ll take that damn thing out of his pants and bite it off.”
“What’s so funny?” Dolores asked.
“Trust me, Dolores, you wouldn’t find it funny.”
Dolores flicked her cigarette out the window.
“I’m going to quit. I know you don’t approve of my smoking. What a pair your father and me have become. Me smoking like a factory and him drinking like a fish.”
One night Angela went to the pub by herself. I was tired of getting drunk and I wanted to start making some of my classes. About midnight they came barging through the door, Angela and some guy named Ted. Ted could hardly stand up. Angela gave me a look and I knew I had to get out. I got dressed in the washroom and took Brewster for a walk. We walked all around the campus and ended up in the coffee shop where I met Michael who bored me to death with some political talk. When I returned home I found Angela passed out on the bed, her underwear scattered across the floor. Ted had departed. My music tapes were scattered all over the floor. I was pissed off. I slept through my classes the next morning. When Angela finally crawled out of bed she complained that Ted had been too drunk to get it up. She had to kick him out. He started to cry on her.
“So what do you do for fun?” Dolores asked.
“What does that mean?”
I gave up on school. Night after night it was the same routine. We would show up at the Bridge House stoned, nursing beers, waiting for some guy or guys to come over to the table. Sometimes Angela and I would sit at our table in marathon interview sessions deciding whom we would sleep with. Most evenings we sat, smoked, drank, laughed, listened, and went home alone. Soon Angela and I were going through guys like tissue paper. It was getting boring and my health was failing. I started to pick up one infection after another. And the guys never hung around after. Brewster was the only male who remained loyal.
“Your father can’t wait for the summer when you’re home with us again. The house is so quiet without you and your friends.”
When I’m not stoned or drunk I feel incredibly lonely. This awful forlornness would sweep over me like a dark cloud and I’d feel like going down to the river and jumping in. But Brewster was always there, his boundless energy and those always forgiving eyes. Even when I had forgotten to feed him or take him for a walk, he was glad to see me. Without him, I would have been lost.
“Why do you hate me so?” Dolores asked. “I know that mothers and daughters are always at odds. Your grandmother and I never got along. You would not have survived that woman.”
“I like grandma.”
“She’s changed. When I was a kid, she was a witch.”
“I don’t hate you.”
“I hated my mother. She always seemed to be in the way of me and having fun.”
I met a boy named Errol. Errol was a handsome lad with dark brooding eyes and a gay dashing manner. He drove an MG, wore a bandetta around his head and spoke with a slight French accent though he was not French. “I’m adopted,” he explained. “My natural parents are Metis.” Errol Wood was the first boy I stayed with for any time. He practically moved in with us. I loved his body and the way he made me feel. Errol introduced Angela and I to acid and amphetamines. Angela had an appetite for everything. Brewster loved Errol. The two were like soul mates.
“I’m glad you have a friend like Angela,” Dolores said lighting up another cigarette. “I never had many woman friends. They were afraid of me, afraid that I would steal their boyfriends.”
Dolores looked at me and nodded.
“Once,” she said. “And everyone heard about it. What did you want to tell your father?”
One evening I met Michael at the coffee shop and we talked endlessly for hours. Errol was taking a night course so I had nothing else to do. I felt so free. I didn’t have to worry about anything with boys now that I had Errol. I could be myself. Michael walked me home. When we got to my flat he asked if he could come in. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said. Michael smiled and grabbed me roughly by the shoulder.
“Can’t you tell me?” Dolores asked.
I shook my head.
“Is it about a boy?” Dolores asked.
Michael tried to kiss me. I turned my head away. “Errol’s going to fuck with your head,” Michael said. “What do you know about Errol?” I responded.
“It’s Brewster,” I said.
“What about Brewster?” Dolores asked, turning to me.
I wiped a tear off my cheek. This was no time to let my guard down.
“How did it happen?”
After Michael left I turned to enter the flat. The door was open. I slipped inside. Brewster was immediately at my feet. I bent down and hugged him. I heard music coming from our bedroom. Angela must be getting stoned again, I thought. I’ll sneak up to the door and pretend that I’m the police. I thought that would be good for a laugh. I opened the door and turned on the light and was about to cry out, this is the police. Errol lay on the bed staring up at me with Angela’s head in his lap giving him a blowjob. I started to scream. Angela climbed to her feet and tried to explain. I swung at her. Errol grabbed me from behind and dragged me off. “Get out of here! Get out of here!” I screamed.
“I have to talk to daddy,” I said.
Dolores grabbed my hands and forced me to look at her. My shoulders began to tremble.
“Tell me what happened!”
Once Angela and Errol had fled, I lay down on the bed and cried. I took the remainder of the wine that was in the bottle by the bed and drank it. Brewster kept rubbing his head against my leg. He was hungry. I went into the bathroom and got the aspirin and emptied them on the bed. With each swallow of wine I took several aspirin. I wanted to die. When I awoke the next morning there were no more aspirins on the bed. Brewster had swallowed them.
Dolores threw her cigarette out the window, grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me.
“Your father loved that dog. This is going to kill him. What happened?”
Tears began to run down my cheek.
“I don’t know. When I woke up this morning, Brewster was laying on the floor, dead. I loved him too!”
Dolores bit her lip.
“You are so irresponsible! Are you happy now that you will have broken your father’s heart?”
I looked into Dolores’ eyes and knew. In that moment, she wished it had been me on that floor dead, and not Brewster. Dolores turned her head away, but it was too late.