tomatoes and tempers by phoenix.writing

28 Mar

“You did what?” Paula demanded, laying down the knife she was using to chop tomatoes before she cut a finger off.

She turned to look at her oldest child incredulously.  “You did what?” she repeated.

Angelica had her arms crossed over her chest and was looking at Paula defiantly.

“I quit Freeman and Wade.”

“It was an excellent opportunity,” Paula pointed out, at a loss.  “You virtually had a guaranteed job out of law school.”

“But I’m not going to law school.”

It was a good thing Paula wasn’t holding the knife any longer.  “You what?”

Angelica swallowed.  “I’m not going to law school in September.  I’m going back for a degree in fine arts.”

Paula’s mind was scrambling frantically.  “I’ll call Phillip in the morning.  Tell him you made a mistake and want—”

“But I don’t want!” Angelica burst in angrily, hands on her hips as she faced off from her mother.  “I don’t want to work there.  I don’t think I ever have, not really, and this summer has made me sure.  It’s not what I want to do with my life.”

“You’re doing basic stuff now, the boring bits,” Paula told her, “the things partners don’t have to do.  It takes a while to get there, but it’s worth it.”

“It’s only worth it if you want it,” Angelica answered, still sounding impassioned.  “I want to paint.”

“You can’t make a career out of painting,” Paula pointed out, “not unless you paint houses.”

“Some people can,” Angelica fired back.  “And that’s not the point.  The point is that I love to paint.”

She still had that glint in her eyes that said she wasn’t about to be swayed, so Paula switched tactics.

“I hope you’ve worked out how to pay for this degree.”

For the first time, Angelica looked a little uncertain.  “You and dad said you’d help.”

“We said we’d help you through law school.”

Angelica fired up again in an instant.  “You’ll help for law but not for art?  They’re both more schooling.  How is that fair?”

Paula glared right back at her daughter.  “What’s not fair is the time and money we put into something that will never come to fruition because you can’t make up your mind.”

Red spots of colour stained Angelica’s cheeks.  “So I was worth it when I was going to become a lawyer, but now I’m not?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“That’s sure as hell what it sounded like.”

“Watch your tongue, young lady.”

Angelica scoffed and turned away.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“The only way I’m going to watch my mouth is away from you,” Angelica snarled.  “Sometimes I really—”

She rocketed up the stairs without finishing the sentence, though Paula knew how it ended.  The reverberation of her slamming the bedroom door could be easily heard from the kitchen.

Paula gripped the counter and reminded herself why storming upstairs to give her daughter a piece of her mind was not a wise decision.  Angelica had effectively sent herself to her room, and Paula needed to make dinner.

She took several long, calming breaths, and then picked up the knife and resumed chopping tomatoes.

She would figure out how to make Angelica see reason later.


She slipped into bed next to John feeling thoroughly exhausted and rather unsettled.

There was silence for a moment, and then, “You and Angelica had a fight.”

“She talked to you, then?”

Paula fought to keep the edge of resentment out of her voice.  It had always been easier for Angelica and John to talk, and she couldn’t blame John for having an easy-going personality.

“The neighbours three doors down heard the two of you,” John pointed out.

Paula laughed, feeling some of the tension inside of her ease.  John was as skilled at handling her as he was at handling Angelica.

“I just don’t know what to do,” Paula confessed.  “I don’t want her to waste her life.”

“It sounds as though this is what she really wants.”

“What if she wakes up in a year and decides she doesn’t like this either?” Paula countered.

John was silent for a moment.  “What’s really upsetting you?  That Angelica’s trying to do this or that once upon a time, you didn’t take the chance yourself?”

Paula stiffened and then very deliberately rolled onto her side facing away from John.

“I’ve got a big day ahead of me.  I need to sleep.”

“Paula—” John started, and she could hear the regret and the edge of chiding.

“Goodnight,” she repeated a little more forcefully than necessary.

He sighed.  “Goodnight.”  More quietly: “Just think about it, would you?”

It was silent after that, but Paula found that she could not sleep.  She tossed and turned, and finally when it was close enough to morning that she did not feel completely ridiculous, she rose, performed her morning ablutions, and got out of the house.

There were days where they all seemed to be better off without her.

Carl was used to seeing her at strange hours when she was working on a big account, so he waved her in with a smile, and she headed upstairs.

Everything was quiet, and while she had plenty to do, she wasn’t actually working on one of the huge accounts that actually necessitated her coming in this early, and that left her with lots of time to think.

Her anger had faded enough that she recognized that her knee-jerk reaction to John’s question indicated that it had clearly struck a nerve.

She looked around the office.  She was … content here.  She’d worked hard for this position.  She was good at what she did, and coupled with John’s work as an architect, it kept a very nice roof over their heads—and it had helped put Angelica all the way through the degree that she now wanted to do over.

The waste still made Paula angry, but as she thought back over the last four years, she finally admitted that she’d been seeing what she wanted to see.  Angelica would talk about any of her courses if she were asked about them, but the ones that she voluntarily talked about were almost always her art electives.  The professors whose careers she actually followed, the ones she got to know after class, the subjects that brought that enthusiasm into her voice…. It had always been art.

And Paula was turning into her parents.

She hadn’t confessed to anyone but John that dream that she had had twenty-five years ago now.  He parents had been so dismissive, and she had let them stomp the dream underfoot.

Her father had been progressive in his own way, she supposed, believing that she should go to school and could become an accountant, but it had been what he thought was best for her.

She was happy with her life, but how different could it have been if she’d done what she had wanted?

Who was she to stop her daughter from living her dream?


No one was in when Paula got home; having come in so early without good reason, she had been able to leave a little early, which gave her the chance to run a few errands and still make it home in good time.

She had to root around in the attic for twenty minutes to find what she was looking for, but she’d known that she hadn’t thrown it out.

She put everything in Angelica’s room and then headed into the kitchen.  She’d been angry enough yesterday that she’d chopped a lot of tomatoes, far more than she’d needed for the bruschetta that she’d made for dinner; she’d finally just dumped them all in a bowl and shoved it into the fridge, but they needed to be used or they would spoil.

It would be tomato sauce and lasagne tonight.

She knew when Angelica got home solely from the way the door was closed.  She headed straight for the stairs, and Paula did not stop her.

As the sauce simmered, Paula made herself continue chopping the vegetables that would be going into the lasagne.

It was a very long fifteen minutes before Angelica appeared at the kitchen entrance.

“Can I help?”

Paula handed her a knife and the cauliflower.

They worked in silence for several minutes before Angelica said, “Lasagne’s my favourite.  Thanks.”

She wasn’t thanking Paula for dinner.  The art supply store owner had assured her that it was the best set of watercolours that they carried, but Paula didn’t think that was what she was being thanked for, either.

She hadn’t ever shown John the poem, just told him about the child’s dream.  But she had been about Angelica’s age when she had written it.

Paula’s dream had not flourished, but that was all the more reason to ensure that Angelica’s had a chance.

Tentatively, she smiled at her daughter, and Angelica smiled back.


Link: Angelica made her first appearance in The Dangers of a Red Shirt.


4 Responses to “tomatoes and tempers by phoenix.writing”

  1. ingridfnl March 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    I really loved this. Some things just struck me as so true in tone, response and emotion.

  2. jmforceton March 29, 2010 at 2:38 am #

    Strong piece Pheonix. The more expensive college educations become the more conflicts like this are going to be lived out.

  3. jadamthwaite March 30, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    I really like the round-ness of this story, the way Paula realises the similarities between herself and her daughter. The dialogue flowed so smoothly that I felt like I was with them the whole time. I’m so glad Paula decided to support Angelica.


  1. falling-out by phoenix.writing « the character project - April 18, 2010

    […] Link to Angelica: Tomatoes and Tempers. […]

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