Get That GED

by Rita Plush

“You did it! You did it! You went ahead and did it,” Dale sang out in the drive, and danced a little jig. Took her forty years plus to say no to Mama. but it was done! No more! No more! No more of her finagling to get Dale to do it for her. Never a proper thank you—never any thank you.
Dale felt better from their throw-down, as if she’d been ailing and took some potent drug that cured her life-long Mama virus. Yet when she turned off the highway and drove through the rutted streets to her apartment, she was beginning to feel an after-party let-down. The bright chatter, the clink of glasses, and then it was over. All that was left was the mess to clean up, the thought bringing her home to a hodge-podge of clothing thrown here and about, dresser drawers flung open, and her jewelry strewn across her makeup table. 

No, she hadn’t been robbed. Her place always looked like that.
Windshield-wiper style, she swooped her arm across her bed, cleared it of the unfolded laundry. She toed off her shoes, undressed, got under her blanket, shut down her Betty Boop lamp, wrapped herself around her cuddle pillow, and couldn’t sleep for the life of her.  

She kept thinking about her sister Loraine, who had turned herself around from Mama’s little serving girl into the host of The Blab, a new TV show, in what, six months?! Dale couldn’t pull that off in six years. Could never even be a guest on her show. Had to have a special talent for that. Something that set you apart from other folks. Dale had no special talent. And it wasn’t as if she could phone up Loraine and ask for some sisterly advice, they hadn’t been sisterly in the longest time. Mama had helped out there; carrying tales from Dale to Loraine and back again. Making each one look bad in the other’s eyes. Stirring up trouble between the two of them. That was Mama’s special talent. 

The most Dale could hope for right now was a better job. Something that would get her out of that hole she kept digging for herself and shine a brighter light on her day-to-day. Home health aide, MacDonald’s server and the like, was that all there was in the cards for her? There was that offer over in Liston, the one Mama said would be too much for her. Turned out, it wasn’t Mama’s usual gloomy take. Once they learned Dale didn’t have a high school diploma, there went the “health insurance, dental included and room for advancement.” Done and gone. Don’t dwell on it. Time for something new. Some of those changes she sang about to Mama. “A change in the weather and a change in the sea…”

Out of bed she made her way through her floordrobe of discarded clothing, flipped on her computer, typed in “jobs in my area.”

Pharmacy technician, Service manager, Relationship banker, Sales assistant. Yadda yadda. Nothing for her. Discouraged, about to click off, “Hold on! What’s this ad on the side here?” 

DON’T BE HELD BACK BY LACK OF EDUCATION. GET YOUR GED! printed plain as day. She brought her cursor to the little hand, clicked: Math, Language Arts—What’s that?—Social Studies, Science. Could she do it? Now? At her age? A nagging cluster of doubt crept up on her. She was never any good in school; couldn’t focus, fix her mind on her studies. 

“…not keeping up …a special slower class,” her teacher told Mama. 

“With all them dumbbells? No daughter of mine!” 

Just with the boys was Dale a success. They were easy to concentrate on and she was easy with them. Till finally at 17 (with Mama’s encouragement), she quit school to help out with seven-year-old Loraine, so Mama could have time to breathe and gallivant.
Could she finally get a high school diploma? A GED instead of an LTM (listen to Mama)?

“You forget your Mama, Dale? Ain’t heard boo from you in weeks.”  

Who could forget Mama? But Dale hadn’t told anyone. She’d be too embarrassed if she failed. Dale was used to failing. 

“I didn’t forget.” 

It wasn’t easy keeping things from Mama; she had a way of wangling things out of Dale.
Don’t tell her! She’ll shoot it down or say, what do you need that fool diploma for? Don’t! 

“Whatcha so busy with anyway, can’t make time for your Mama? Got yourself mixed up with some no account again?”

“No, no account, Mama,” Dale said. And until she accounted for herself her cuddle pillow would have to do. “I’ve just been busy.” 

She put the phone down, flicked a speck of dust from her desk, straightened her books and practice lessons, already as neat and pristine as a nun’s. The rest of her room was going to hell in a handbasket, what with all the time she spent on her school work. 

“Got the washing here piled up. Got Hooverin’ and dustin’ to do. Dale, you listenin’ to me?”

“Yes, Mama, I hear you.” Dale lined up her sharpened pencils next to her notebook.  

“Ain’t had a decent meal in weeks. Thinking my sugar is high again. When you comin’ over, help out your Mama all alone?”

“Why don’t you call that lady over on Meadow Lane? The one who comes to folks can’t do for themselves.” 

“Pay someone to care for me, like I don’t have no family?” Don’t? No? Double negative, Mama. Tsk-tsk. Incorrect grammar. But that’s you. Doubly negative is your middle name. “A stranger come in here to… to… I don’t know what all. They all steal, you know. Rob me blind quicker than I can turn around. You listening to me, Dale?” 

“Every word, Mama.” Dale set up her practice test for later.

“May as well have no children the way my own two don’t give me the time a’day,” Mama groused.  

“They might, if you weren’t such a selfish old toad,” Dale blurted out, before she realized what she had said.

“What was that?!” 

“I said, ‘You bear a heavy load,’ Mama.”

“Humph! At least you know that much.” 

Dale set to her work. She read. She read again. She made notes. Somehow the studying didn’t feel like schoolwork; it felt like… well, like learning. First time around maybe she should have been 47 in high school instead of 17. This time the material wasn’t going in one ear and out the other. This time it was sticking.

Every week she tested herself on what she had to know, and every week she knew more. She was remembering. It felt good knowing things, knowing she could know, that she was capable of more than ringing up sales at the dollar store and handing out Big Macs and fries at the drive-through.
She wanted to call Loraine at the studio. They would put her though, wouldn’t they? I’m changing too! I’m getting my GED! But how could she call out of the blue? Dale still hadn’t told Mama; there was something special about not telling anyone. As if she was wearing a disguise and only she knew who she really was. It made her feel mysterious.    

When the completion certificate arrived in the mail, she stared at it as if it contained the secrets of the universe. She was not a dummy! She had her GED! 

Normally, her idea of a celebration would be to head for the Razzle Dazzle, down a mojito or two, or three—those cute umbrellas—maybe meet a fella, take him home. But she was lit without the drinks, content without a man. 

Dale was eager to get right into the job search, but not the way she looked. Her roots cried out for color, her hair for a decent cut—she’d been botching it up herself for lack of time, and interest. And nothing fit! Kit Kats and Kettle Chips had taken a back seat to geometry and grammar. She had found something sweeter on the pages of her books, and had slimmed down a bit. 

She phoned the beauty shop and they toned down her color and took out the tease. At Fashion Focus she dumped the cling-to-me pants and see-my-boobs racks—her pole dancer look now a thing of the past—and chose a tailored pants suit with a button up blouse, top three buttoned down; she wasn’t in the convent yet.  

The Liston opening was taken, but they were impressed with her “fortitude to better herself.” When she mentioned she was accustomed to dealing with demanding people—Thank you, Mama!—they put her in customer service. 

And right after the interview, Dale put herself behind the wheel and hopped on the highway; there was just so much putting off she could do with Mama. It was time to tell her. She’d keep the visit short and… er, there was nothing ever sweet about seeing Mama.  


“Wouldja look what the wind blew in! About time you come see your Mama. Why you dressed so hoity toity? And whatcha go and do with your hair? You don’t look like no daughter a’mine.”

If only. “Hello, Mama.” 

“Fetch us some tea, will you. Get to feeling a little peaked round this time a’day. Wouldn’t mind a biscuit with some jam on it. If it’s not too much trouble.” 

In too much of a good mood for Mama to crush it, “No trouble, Mama,” Dale sang out and headed for the kitchen and a sink piled high with a week’s worth of dishware. She washed what she needed for tea and left the rest—Pay someone to help out, like I told you…“What was that?” from the living room—can she hear me think now?—brought in the tray. 

“Well don’t you look like the cat that swallowed the canary. What you been keeping from your Mama?”
This is what you came for. Get it over with.

“I got my GED, Mama.”

“You call this jam?!” Mama tossed out her hand with the biscuit in it. “Not enough here to fill a pinky nail.”

“You’re not supposed to have sugar with diabetes, Mama. It’s bad for you.” 

“So, you’re a doctor now with your fancy getup?”

At another time, Dale would have countered her with, “You want me to walk around in a housedress all day with my stockings rolled down around my ankles. Like you?” And she almost did. But she didn’t want that kind of talk with Mama anymore, that mean talk that drained her and made her dislike both Mama and herself. She let it go and tried again.

“I said, I got my GED!”

“Got your what?” 

“My GED. My high school equivalency diploma. It says I completed all the courses I needed to graduate from high school.”

“At your age!? Humph! What do you need a fool thing like that for? Ask me, it’s a waste of time.”

“But I didn’t ask you, Mama.” Dale felt something change in her, a shift, a turn away and turn back again as if she was shedding something, an old dress that didn’t suit her anymore. A quick-change artist, off with the old, on with the new. “And it wasn’t a waste of time. It got me a good job. Better than any I ever had. And more important, Mama, my GED makes me feel good about myself. Something you never did.” 

And with that, Dale bid goodbye to Mama, her slung open mouth, and her pinky nail of raspberry jam.  

Rita Plush is the author of the novels Lily Steps Out and Feminine Products, and the short story collection Alterations. She is the book reviewer for Fire Island News and teaches memoir at Queensborough Community College and the Fire Island School, Continuing Ed. Her stories and essays have been published in The Alaska Quarterly Review, MacGuffin, The Iconoclast, Art Times, The Sun, The Jewish Writing Project, The Jewish Literary Journal, Kveller, Jewish Week, Down in the Dirt, Potato Soup Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Backchannels, LochRaven, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Broadkill Review, Avalon Literary Review and Persimmon Tree.