“I never said you were.” The lips moved but the eyes searched the room, the table, and the ceiling tiles, for a focal point that wasn’t anywhere near the younger woman’s face. She laid the napkin, crisp and white, across her lap and smoothed it down, just so, spending more time than was necessary to achieve the exact flatness and evenness required.
“I just believe that attending mass is vital in the development of a decent human being’s moral character,” the older woman said. She looked up and now stared the younger woman in the face. “My granddaughter is a Catholic, even if you claim that you are not. God see’s her as an innocent soul.”
“Don’t worry Mom.” The young man to her right patted her hand and glanced at his wife across the table. A sly wink shared seemed to diffuse the ticking time bomb, momentarily.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “She’ll make her First Communion just like all the other kids.”
“Well, not if her mother has a say in it!” The older woman snapped.
“I think my daughter should do whatever she wants. If she wants to be a Catholic, fair enough. She can be a Catholic. Or a Hindu, or a Muslim, or even Episcopal for that matter. It just needs to be a thoughtful choice, not a mindless act.”
“Thank goodness we are in a restaurant,” the older woman hissed, “because you’d hear a lot more from me, you soulless cow, if we were not in public. Episcopal! Over my dead body!”
She pulled at the waiter’s beige jacket as he passed.
“Another double brandy! Please.”
“OK. Over your dead body. Whatever it takes, Barbara. Whatever it takes,” the young woman responded, and shook her head as she watched the ice cubes in her diet Sprite quiver in the fizzy bubbles.
“Don’t you dare shake your head at me. Don’t you dismiss me!” The voice, tinged with shards of glass, shrilled across the table.
“Lorna! I said don’t you dare dismiss me! Tom, tell her to be sensible!”
“Mom, if I could control what Lorna, or anyone else for that matter, says, does or thinks, I’d rule the world,” he chuckled, and smiled broadly at his six year old daughter who was buried deep into her iPad game.
“Let’s get this straight here, Tom. I’m not your ‘Mom.’ To you I am Barbara. Don’t call me mom again.”
“Isn’t she just charming?” Lorna said, and lifted her glass as the double brandy arrived at the table. “Cheers, Mom!”
“Your father is rolling in his grave!” Barbara gulped half of her brandy. “We didn’t raise you this way! What happened to you?”
“Nothing,” Lorna said, shrugging her shoulders. “I just believe that organized religion is a farce. It’s just a fairy tale story, to instill fear, and sell salvation to sheep!”
Barbara threw her hands in the air.
“I give up! What are you saying?” She turned to face her son-in-law, “What on earth is she saying Tom?”
Tom waved his white napkin in the air. “I surrender,” he quipped. “I give up. Does anyone else hear a ticking noise?” He looked directly at Barbara and savored every word that came from his lips.
“She’s an atheist,” he said, and waited for the bomb to explode.
Barbara’s hand patted her heart fervently. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
“Oh my God! Oh dear God, help me.” She finished her brandy and blessed herself swiftly. “In the name of the father,” on the forehead, “and of the son,” on the breast, “and of the holy,” on the right shoulder, “spirit,” on the left shoulder, “Amen,” hands together, eyes closed, and head bowed reverently.
“You did it wrong,” Lorna said.
“I said the devout Catholic blessed herself the wrong way.”
“No I did not!”
The iPad required plates to be moved, noise to be made. The clinking of china and cutlery drew their attention to Maddie.
“Yes you did Grandma!” she said. “It’s supposed to be like this. In the name of the father, to the forehead, and the son, to your chest, and the holy, to the left shoulder, spirit, to your right shoulder, Amen.” Her hands joined neatly and piously, fingers pointing to her chin.
“I think the Protestants bless themselves like you just did. Momma, is Grandma a Protestant?”
“Close your mouth mother. Your denture glue might give way, and think how embarrassed you’ll be then!” Lorna said, and stroked her little geniuses’ blonde curls. “No honey, Grandma is a devout Catholic,” she answered.
“Maddie,” Barbara eyed her granddaughter lovingly. “Honey, I need your attention for a couple of seconds. Look at me.”
“Hang on Grandma,” Maddie said, touching the screen with lighting strike impulses. Her finger tips danced. “Just need to round these pigs up and torture them in the pig pen.”
“What on earth are you playing?” Barbara asked.
“Honey,” Barbara began, “Do you want to make your First Holy Communion?”
“Oh yeah, yeah,” Maddie said, looking up momentarily, her eyes bloodshot and glowing yellow, lit from below, as pigs wandered mindlessly into the pit she’d constructed from bare bricks.
“Why honey? Tell me why,” Barbara pressed on.
The waiter passed dangerously close for another jacket tug.
“Another double brandy,” Barbara said. “Now Maddie, tell me why?”
“Why?” Maddie repeated, and motioned for the waiter to just hold on a second. “Because of the cash, Grandma!” She looked up at the waiter, chin, cheekbones and eyes lit from below, still yellow. “A diet soda please, I’ve got a white dress I need to squeeze into.”