We had made our way all the way to the produce department before my mind circled back to something in that conversation. From things I’d learned from Janine and Courtney and Claire herself since arriving in Tennessee, I was putting together the timeline of my older sister’s lives. Claire’s whole “there wasn’t family to take us in” line didn’t quite match up since by the time Claire left Digger, Lilibeth was married to her first husband.
I wondered if she’d refused or if she’d never been asked. Or if, like me, she’d basically stopped speaking to anyone in the family.
You might not remember that back in the day you had to pay cash at the grocery store. You couldn’t use credit cards. The cart was so full I kind of wondered if we were going to have to make a run to an ATM to get more cash. But it turned out I had almost enough to cover it. Courtney pulled out a ten from her wallet–a ten I’d given her earlier in the week–and that was enough.
That was a lot of grocery bags. We’d bought a lot of things that weren’t on Claire’s list. Anything that seemed interesting or like someone might eat it, we had bought. This created a kind of engineering problem when we got home of where to put everything. Claire declared she needed a lie-down and Courtney said she’d watch Landon while I dealt with it.
So imagine me, the erstwhile rock star, who has lived most of my life on ramen noodles and pizza, trying to figure out what to do with 14 bags of groceries in my sister’s fairly small kitchen.
First, I sorted everything. I put all the things that needed to be frozen on the kitchen table, all the things to be refrigerated onto the counter, and everything else on the dining room table.
I figured the freezer was the most urgent, so I started by rearranging things inside it first. The fridge had side-by-side doors so the whole left side was the freezer with multiple shelves. It quickly became apparent that the biggest problem was that there wasn’t any shelf, no matter how empty, that would fit the turkey we had bought. In fact, I began to wonder if it would fit in the oven. I put it in a roasting pan to check. Okay, it fit in the oven. But there was still no way to fit it in the freezer.
I decided to come back to that. Refrigerated things next. I ended up taking all the vegetables out of the vegetable drawers and throwing some away, and scrubbing out the drawers. In one of them some things had decayed into a kind of sludge at the bottom and in the other they had desiccated like mummies and had to be chipped out. Eventually they were clean enough to put the new food into and then there was a lot more room, too. I still had to be a little creative and put the squash curled around the celery, but there you go.
I decided not to brave the cheese drawer.
The dry goods were tricky because I couldn’t figure out what Janine’s organization scheme was. Some things were in two cabinets in the kitchen above the counter, some were in a kind of pantry cabinet built into the wall by the dining room and some were in another pantry closet in the hall. It was such a weird closet, too. It had a door like a regular closet but when you opened it, the space was full of shelves only about the depth of a cereal box.
In the end I rearranged things so that everything in cardboard boxes–breakfast cereal, macaroni, salt, stuffing mix, cake mix–were in one pantry, everything in cans–soda, chicken broth, tomato paste, tuna fish, pineapple rings–were in the other, and everything else in bags or other weird types of containers went into the two cabinets above the counter.
Except for the turkey. Dammit.
I called information and asked for the weather number. Yes, folks, back in 1991 we used our phones to check the weather! It meant calling a special number and listening to a recording. The voice told me it was almost 60 degrees but that tonight’s low would be 32, tomorrow’s high 40, tomorrow night’s low 30. I figured that would be all right. It was going to need to thaw anyway. I moved it, still in the roasting pan, to a shady spot on the back deck.
Landon and Courtney magically appeared the moment I was done. “Is it time to bake cookies yet?” Court asked.
“Better ask her highness,” I said. “I wouldn’t want to deprive her of doing it.”
They went to see if Claire was done with her nap, and I decided it should be my turn to make myself scarce. I went down into the rec room and paged Ziggy. Then I called Bart.
“Hey, Merry Almost Christmas,” he said.
“Yeah, Merry Christmas Eve Eve,” I said back. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing much. How are things down there?”
“All right. The drama has been at a tolerable level. For me, anyway. I’m mostly successfully staying out of the line of fire.”
“Your mom doing okay? Well, not okay-okay, I mean. You know what I mean.”
“It’s hard to tell. The chemo makes her tired but also insomniac. Sometimes she can’t eat. But she’s like a cat. She hides it well. She’s gotten kind of blunt which is actually great, in a way? I dunno. It’s hard to explain.”
“You don’t have to explain it if you don’t want to.”
“It’s more like I can’t help myself. I can’t stop from trying to figure her out, even though I have a feeling if I ever do, she’ll change just to keep ahead of me.” I kind of wanted to ask him about how Courtney seemed like an almost different person, but I didn’t really know how to describe it in a way that made sense. So I said something else instead. “Ziggy went back to New York for some fundraiser variety show.”
“Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. I saw his name.”
“Saw it where?”
“On TV. Scrolling past in the star-studded list of guests. You know, Barbara Streisand, Bryan Adams, Amy Grant, et cetera, et cetera. They’re promo-ing it constantly.”
“Wait, this is going to be televised nationally?”
“Yeah. You want me to tape it for you?”
“When will it be on?”
“Sure, tape it. I have no idea if we’ll have time to watch it here.”
“Because you’re so busy?”
“Yeah, man. Got a couple dozen Christmas cookies to bake. Might take all night.”
“What makes them Christmas cookies?”
“I dunno. Maybe just that they’re baked for Christmas?”
“You haven’t done this before?”
“No, but my mother seems to have her heart set on doing it, so we’re doing it.”
“Well, I’m sure they’ll come out delicious.” Bart was always an optimist about food. “Hm. Maybe I should bake something.”
“Just be sure to label if there are any ‘special’ ingredients,” I said with a laugh.
“I’m never going to live down everyone tripping out on those hash brownies, am I.”
“Nope.” I had fond, if very vague, memories of that July 4th. “I don’t think we’ll be having that kind of experience here.” No, the only kind of trip anyone was likely to have around here was an ego trip. I’d take hallucinations over delusions any day.