Cathy’s House

By Elise Glassman

“Good grief, it’s starting already.” I look up from reading the McDonald’s manager log. The store phone is ringing and it’s not even 7 a.m. yet. 

“We’re gonna get our asses kicked today,” Androw says. He and I both worked last year, when we learned that Good Friday is a bank holiday in nearby British Columbia. We got clobbered. Drive thru was backed up around the store and out to the street for ten hours straight. We even ran out of burger wrappers. This year, though, we’re staffed up and stocked up and Androw and I are working 7 to 4 to cover both breakfast and lunch rushes. 

The phone continues to ring. “Somebody gonna get that?” Cathy yells from the kitchen. She’s the crew opener and is trying to get biscuits in the oven before we open. 

I close the log, and go pick up the phone “Prince Street McDonald’s, how can I help you?”

“Hey,” a guy says. “Uh, is Cathy there?” 

“What’s this about?” I say. Crew aren’t supposed to get calls, unless it’s an emergency.

“Just let me talk to Cathy Loggins,” he says.

Then it dawns on me. Cathy. The log entry. I’ve been waiting for this call for a week. This is my chance to play detective, to punish a bad man. Cupping my hand over the receiver, I say quietly, “You know what, she’s not here. Can I take a message?” 

The guy says, “It’s Friday, ain’t it? I thought for sure she was working.”

“Sorry. She’s not here.” The lie comes surprisingly easily. I tear register paper off the printer. “If you want to give me your number, I’ll make sure she gets it.”

From the office, Androw yells, “Yo, Elise! We got a bus pulling in. I need you up front.”

“You still there?” I say into the phone.

“Have her call Dale at this number.” The guy rattles off a 303-area code and number. 

I write it down and tuck the slip of paper in my pocket. “Got it. Sorry, I’ve got to go.”

“Have her call me,” he repeats, and I hang up.

Hurrying up front, I take over for Androw at the hash brown station. The next hour goes by in a blur: the lobby packed, every register six or eight customers deep, drive-thru completely backed up. We tear through two cases of frozen hash browns and dozens of trays of eggs. Coffee is drained from the pot the moment it’s done brewing. 

Finally, at 8 a.m., the bus pulls away. A half dozen fresh crew members clock on, and Androw sends Cathy on a ten-minute break. I seize my chance. “Could I take a quick ten, too?”

He frowns, glancing at the drive thru monitor. We’re staffed up, but it’s still busy. And managers are supposed to take their breaks last, if at all. 

“I’ll be quick,” I add. “It’s about her—situation.” 

“Oh, the asshole boyfriend?”  

Two weeks ago, Cathy and her boyfriend Dale were arguing. He hit her and also hit her 18-month-old baby. Cathy and the child fled to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where Child Protective Services took custody of the kid. By the time the police got to the house, Dale was gone. Androw wrote the managers’ log entry that reads, Dial 911 if Dale enters the store. He didn’t say what to do if Dale called. I feel like I’m on my own.

“Make it quick,” Androw says, so I grab an orange juice and head to the crew room. 

I poke my head in. “Cathy?”

She looks up from a copy of People magazine. 

“Sorry to bug you, but I think Dale called the store earlier.”

Reflexively, she touches her eye. The skin is still yellowed, like old paper, from where he hit her. “Shit. You didn’t tell him I was here, did you?”

“No, of course not. But I got his number,” I say. “He was dumb enough to give it to me.” 

“Oh, my God.” She takes the slip of paper, lets it drop onto the table, staring at it. 

I don’t know what else to say. I thought she’d be happy, but she looks mad. “I’m sorry,” I say, backing out of the crew room. I feel like an intruder. 

As I walk back to the manager’s office, Cathy calls, “Hey.” I turn, and she’s holding out the slip of paper. “Can you call?”

“You want me to call the cops?” 

“If I have his number, I’m afraid I’ll call him. I know I shouldn’t, but I might.”

I hesitate. Why would she want to call Dale, the person who hurt her and her kid? 

“I know it seems weird,” she says, trailing off.  

Now I feel sorry for her. How would it feel to be so conflicted about something so clear? I reach for the paper. “It’s fine. I’ll take care of it.”

She bristles, but lets me take it. “You ever have someone hit you?” 

“No,” I say. “Well, I mean, my parents—they spanked me—     “

She scoffs. “You think spanking isn’t hitting? Ask CPS.” 

“I mean, it is different,” I say.

She looks at me, skeptical, like she’s heard this before.

“It’s complicated,” I say. My Baptist parents are better at explaining this, that sometimes you  have to do things that are painful, in order to please the Lord. Spank a child, require a rape victim to carry a baby to term, exact the death penalty on criminals.  

I hear a break timer go off. Cathy puts her crew hat back on. “It’s not that different,” she says. 

Following her back to the floor, I put on a headset and run orders for drive thru. 

“Everything go okay?” Androw says.

I shrug. “That phone call this morning was Dale. I got his phone number, but Cathy wants me to call the cops.”

He gives me a long look.

“What?” I say.

“She doesn’t want to call the cops because she’s hit her kid, too. This isn’t the first time CPS took him away from her.”

And I thought I was swooping in to protect her. Save her. 

“Give me the number. I’ll call,” Androw says, so I hand him the slip, glad to be done with it. 

A week later, Cathy takes me aside to tell me that the police traced the number, and Dale, to Denver. “They won’t give me my kid back yet, but at least that asshole is in jail.”

“Wow,” I say. “I’m glad.” 

Do I feel glad? Not really. It does seem complicated.  The ache in my stomach feels familiar. Dread. Recognition. If you asked I’d deny it, but I live in a house a lot like Cathy’s, where someone hurts me, and I stick around for more. How would it feel if someone punished the person who’s been hurting me my whole life? The person I defend and defer to and make excuses for? It would be a long time until I learned how to save myself.

Elise Glassman lives, reads, and writes in Seattle. Her stories and essays have been published in a variety of journals including the Colorado Review, Opossum and Spank the Carp. More at busysmartypants.blogspot.com.

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