"Oh, for heaven's sake Miranda, just put them on.” She was talking to herself again. “It's not like you never wore pants before."
Miranda slipped into her first pair of jeans. If not for the super sale, she wouldn’t have bought them. Their designer fabric yielded better support than peddle pushers for her varicose veins. The sturdy material would be added protection from jagged objects at the factory. But if Ben was alive, he might not approve of the snug fit.
"No more thinking, just keep moving," she reminded herself for the fifth time since getting out of bed. On the staircase the pliable jeans massaged her legs with each descending step until she reached the living room.
Once there, she fumbled through her purse.
Lisa lounged on the couch watching TV. “Mom, I never saw you wearing jeans before.” Gloria Vanderbilt's signature sprawled in white embroidering across the pocket of Miranda's pink jeans.
“I got black ones for work so stains won't show.” She ran her palms down the sides of her thighs. “And I might not have to wear support hose with these.”
“They're great. They make you look... different.” Lisa gave Miranda another once-over. “You know, you should date.”
Miranda chortled. “Who wants a woman with five kids?” Then she answered herself. “Someone who needs someone to take care of them.”
“Aren’t you lonely?”
Had Lisa overheard that phone conversation the other night? Miranda didn't regret having said, "No thank you, I’m too busy with the children" to the older man across the street, when he called. But Miranda decided Lisa's interest in the subject was leading towards permission to date herself.
“I have you kids and Grandma. That's all I need." She took a deep breath and another swipe on the new material. "And a better job.”
Grandma's voice wafted from the dining room. “Does that mean I can go to Bingo tonight? I thought you were going out.” Ah, Lisa had listened in on Miranda’s conversation, and told Grandma.
Miranda called back into the next room. “Just this morning.”
“Where you goin' all dressed up?” asked Lisa.
Grandma's voice shot back: “Your mother's gettin' her GED.”
Miranda threw up her hands. “I didn't want anyone to know. It's embarrassing.”
Lisa sat up. “You're gettin' your diploma? Wow. That's great Mom. I won't say nothin'.”
“It's ridiculous. I've been out of school for too long. And if the company needs me to work overtime on Saturdays, I'll miss some classes.” Miranda slid out the registration form from her purse.
“You'll do great, Mom.“ Lisa reached over and switched the channel.
Miranda silently read her name typed at the top of the paper: Miranda Lisa Holmes. She creased the document again and tucked it back inside. "Lisa, I better go so I'm not late. Please help out while I‘m gone.”
Zipping her coat, Miranda called again to Grandma. “The kids are getting dressed upstairs. I’m leaving.”
Miranda trudged downstairs wearing powder blue jeans and pulling on a jacket. She found Grandma at the dining room table sewing a dress. Miranda said, “I missed too many classes. I don't think I can pass.”
Grandma spoke above the whirr of her machine. “Either way, it'll be all right.”
Light shuffling of feet and the bathroom door‘s whistling hardware drifted down to the first floor. Raspy pitches of morning voices echoed in diminutive tones.
“Maybe this is a waste of time. I should call the factory back and tell them I can come in.” Miranda paced the worn strip of wall-to-wall carpeting through the living and dining rooms, each time halting in the kitchen in front of the phone.
The whirring stopped and Grandma called, “The kids'll be down soon.”
Miranda turned from the kitchen. Once the children came down, they’d complicate her leaving with their questions. The voices upstairs began arguing in staccato.
“Only a few hours. Then it’ll all be over,” Grandma urged.
Miranda tip-toed out the front door before the shuffling became thuds that landed, embodied, in the living room.
“Where's Mommy?” asked Ben, barreling into the dining room.
Grandma leaned forward and used the table to pry herself up from the chair. “She'll be back before lunchtime.”
“Is she workin'?”
Lisa sashayed up to Ben. Their youngest brother, Peter, straggled behind her. She said, “I heard Mom talkin' last night with Grandma about takin' her GED test today.”
“What kinda test?" Ben’s eyes froze open at Grandma. "Like Daddy's when he got sick?” Lisa's smug smile of secret confidence pulled back in horror.
“No," Grandma said. "She's takin' a written test like you take in school so's she can get her high school diploma. She didn't want you to know in case she doesn't pass.”
Lisa clapped. “We'll have to make a cake.”
Ben bobbed up and down. “Yeah? Is it Mommy‘s birthday, too?”
“Nah, it's like when I graduated from sixth grade. Only it means she's graduating from twelfth grade, takin' that test,” Lisa explained.
“Are we havin' another graduation party?” Donna asked. She and Ralph had also crowded into the dining room.
Grandma grinned as Lisa took charge. “Yeah, Mom deserves it. I'll make the cake. You help the boys decorate and make a sign.”
“Your mother's home. Lower that TV,” called Grandma, peeking through the sun porch curtains. “I can't tell if she's happy or what. Just keep quiet now.”
Lisa hid in the kitchen, Donna slid the sign under the couch. The three boys scooted back from the TV, off the strip of foot-worn carpeting, bowls of dry cereal in their laps.
The front door opened.
Grandma asked, “Do you have to go back?”
Miranda dropped her handbag as if she could no longer carry its weight. She slouched her way into the living room. “No. They'll send it to me.” She flopped her hand onto the banister of the stairs' railing and put one foot on the bottom step.
“The diploma?” Grandma asked.
Miranda bowed her head. “It's just a general education certificate.” Over her shoulder to Grandma, she added, “I only passed by a few points.”
Donna slid out the sign and squealed, waving the poster board. “Congratulations, Mommy.”
Lisa yelled from the kitchen, “Is she here?”
Lisa yelled from the kitchen, “Is she here?”
Grandma forced her body from the love seat and yelled, “Yeah, bring it into the dining room.” She guided Miranda away from the stairs. The boys abandoned the TV and their cereal bowls.
Droopy crepe paper dangled from the china cabinet and server in the dining room. It had also been fed through slats of the armed, wooden chair that Grandma directed Miranda into. Donna propped the motley lettered sign on a shelf near Miranda’s head.
The party lasted as long as the cake and the children's attention. Once the sugar hit their veins, they swarmed outside to play.
As Grandma cleared the table, she bent over and studied quiet, smiling Miranda. Embraced by over-stretched streamers, smudges of cake kisses decorated her cheeks. “Only by a few points," she repeated. "You didn't need to make such a fuss.”