This is chapter 15 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK
Sean's Aunt Tina began gathering the dishes from their supper.
“I’m afraid I don’t have anything for dessert. I’ve lost my touch for baking. Why don’t we go into town and get some ice cream?” she said.
“The Whippy Dip!” said Sean, “Is it still there?
“There still is a bit of the boy left in you, Sean,” said Tina.
“It’s my secret vice, too,” Mary said, “I lived on ice cream when I was a teenager. Let me help you with the dishes, Tina. Sean, would you please unload the car?”
“You two can have the back bedroom upstairs,” said Tina as she ran water for the dishes, “That’s the only one with a bed that has a decent mattress. There is clean linen in the dresser.”
“Mother’s room,” said Sean.
“And your grandmother’s before that,” Tina continued, “A fitting room for a mother-to-be. You aren’t troubled by ghosts, are you, Mary?”
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” Mary said with a laugh, “I’m sure it will be fine. Nothing could be as bad as the first place I lived in when I left home.”
After Sean went out, Tina and Mary began to wash the dishes.
“Mary, tell me, is Sean treating you right? I know that he was a bit wild when he was younger. He never could settle down,” Tina said, she was serious now.
“He’s a good man,” Mary replied, “I don’t think that he’s capable of lying to me. We’ve been through a lot together. He seems to be a man of his word. Of course, I’ve been wrong about men before.”
“Of course, haven’t we all. And what about work? Will Sean be able to support you and the baby?”
“We’ll be fine Tina. I have just sold my business, and Sean and I both did very well on the deal. Some of the assets are tied up for a while, but we did get a buyout package that should keep us afloat for several years. It does complicate the marriage situation, but it’s nothing that can’t be dealt with. That’s why we have lawyers”
“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, Mary,” said Tina, “But Sean can be a little slow when it comes to making important decisions. I think he’d be content to glide through life without making any—if he didn’t have to. He was always different that way, even as a child. He was such a sweet boy, he had a softness, that’s what his mother called it—a softness.”
“He still is a sweet boy, although I think that business with Billy in Iceland has hardened him a lot. I have to give him credit in that he seems to have gotten over it,” Mary said, “That was a very bad scene which still hasn’t been fully resolved. Assuming the pregnancy goes well, it’s the only major problem that I can see in our immediate future.”
“I see,” said Tina, “Do your parents know?”
“I was adopted,” said Mary, “I haven’t spoken to my stepfather for many years,” Mary said, “My stepmother lives in New Mexico. We aren’t close.”
“That’s not good. Sometimes families are like that. Lord knows my ‘family’ has experienced its share of trouble. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over my mother leaving me,” Tina took off her glasses and dabbed her eyes with a corner of the dishcloth, “This is no time for such talk. I’m sure that you and Sean will find your way.”
“Did you ever have any boyfriends?” asked Mary.
“Oh, no, heavens no. I was too shy to speak with a man, much less get involved with one. The reticence of Norwegian Bachelor Farmers didn’t help any. When I was in my twenties I was busy raising Marilyn, Sean’s mother. I never got ‘that spark’, as Emily described it.”
Mary thought she heard a hint of regret, or was it something else?
“Sean called her ‘The Artist’,” Mary said, “He said there might be some paintings of hers here.”
“She did do painting in New York. I think she did modeling, too, and dancing. When she first went out east, in the roaring twenties. Personally, I think she had a Sugar Daddy, there is no way she could have made so much money on her own, but that’s just my opinion,” Tina paused to reload the sink, “She did save the farm, though. Henry and Alice would never speak ill of her. There is a painting of hers in your bedroom. If there are any more they would be in her studio. You and Sean can check it out tomorrow. You might have to break down the door, though, the lock is frozen. No one has been in it for years.”
Sean came back in the kitchen holding a paper bag. “I’ve got the trash from the car, where should I put it?”
“Give me that, it’s all burnable isn’t it?” said Tina.
“You still burn the trash?” said Sean, “I used to love watch Henry load up the burning barrel. By the way, it’s starting to cloud up in the west, it looks as if we might have a storm later tonight. If we want to get our ice cream we’d better get going.”
“We’re done here,” said Tina, wiping her hands, “We should beat the rain if we leave now.”
Mary was quiet in the car on the way into Decorah. Tina and Sean talked about some of the families who had lived in the area for years. When they got to the Whippy Dip, Tina asked Sean to get her a small cherry dip cone, saying that she’d rather stay in the car.
“This place is the real deal, isn’t it? Mid-50s Modern. Do you think they've ever remodeled it?” Mary said, looking at the building’s exterior.
“They might have redone some of it, but it looks the same to me,” Sean spoke to the server: “A small cherry dip and a small chocolate please, Mary?”
“I’ll have a large vanilla,” said Mary, “I can’t help it, Sean, I think I could eat two.”
“You can get what you want,” said Sean, smiling.
“I always do,” said Mary.
As the server returned with their cones a flash of lightning illuminated the clouds in the northwest.
“Com’on you two! I don’t want to get wet!” said Tina, shouting from the car.