Joanna sat in the tiny room at the top of the stairs. It had been the TV room and office, but now it was her bedroom. It was bigger than the room she grew up in, that other tiny room at the top of another set of stairs, but much smaller than her cottage in the Berkeley hills, the place she’d called home for the previous four years. She kept the door closed and pretended she had privacy. The closed door made the room feel even smaller.
She knew as soon as she arrived that she’d made a big mistake. What was she thinking leaving Berkeley and moving back with her parents at her age? But her back was against the wall. She was too sick to work full-time – or even half-time. Her unemployment benefits covered rent and basic expenses, and she filled in with odd jobs around town. But she was evicted from her cottage when the owner sold the house. With no income or stable job she couldn’t compete for the rare apartment that came up for rent in Berkeley. So when her mother reluctantly invited her to move in for a while Joanna didn’t think she could refuse.
A month into the new living arrangement and things were not going well. Between PMS and peri-menopause Joanna and her mother were at each other’s throats almost all the time. Her mother was impatient. Joanna was resentful. They fought about everything and nothing. They fought about fighting. They’d go around and around, chain-smoking, drinking, arguing. They both had sharp tongues – Scorpio tongues. One of them would end up saying something that crossed the line and that’s when the screaming really started. It was like she was teenager all over again.
Joanna could hear her mother’s voice. It traveled easily upstairs from the the kitchen, through the open window, edging up the thorny rose vine that covered the patio wall. Her mother was on the phone, complaining, as usual, to her friend Lucy. Joanna heard words like “suffocating” and “parasite” and phrases like “I can’t do this” and “she’s driving me crazy.”
Joanna turned up the music to try to drown her out. But a part of her wanted to listen. She wanted to hear every venemous, self-absorbed comment that came out of her mother’s. She thought it might come in handy someday.