Piker Press Banner
February 19, 2024

Place Settings 34

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Thirty-four: The Safe Place

They met in the wide aisle in the back of the store, between the dairy coolers and the frozen foods aisles. "You have four things, not two," Ben said to Maria.

"I'm going to get a lot more, too, so you can shut your P.A. system any time," she replied loftily. "As your sister predicted, you got the rack of lamb. You are transparent as plastic wrap."

"Don't worry, I'm going to pay for it. I've just been craving lamb chops like a starving dog."

"Your sister also said you'd pay for it," Steve noted. "I think she has your number, and that's going to make you an easy mark at cards."

"I have depths of deviousness that you have not even begun to contemplate. What do you think of goat cheese and hot chili and garlic paste?"

"On some of Steve's French bread, with a tzatziki sauce -- okay, little brother, you're in the Kitchen Contender round. We'll need to add some green onions, Greek yogurt, cumin, the goat cheese, and the chili paste. Dang, I'm slobbering," Gloria sputtered.

"I got clams and crackers. What else do I need to make the chowder that Gloria used to make at home? Maybe some of Lolo's shrimp? And it had celery in it, didn't it? Back in the day, I didn't take notice of what the ingredients were, I just swallowed it down like a crocodile. Sorry I didn't appreciate your cooking more," Will said to her.

"You were a blob. Ben was a blob. I was a blob who cooked more. Chowder, we'll need celery, onion, potato, cream --"

"Got those on my list," Maria interjected. "What else do I need to make my cupcakes?

"Clam juice. Maybe some chicken broth. Garlic, got to have smushed garlic on some of Steve's French bread with olive oil to go with it."

"Told you I needed two loaves of French bread," Steve said to Maria.

"Small shrimp tacos is what I was thinking," Lolo said. "There will be plenty of shrimp left over for chowder. I think all I need to make them is some sour cream, lettuce, and jalapenos."

"Some avocado, maybe?" Will said. "What do you think? That's what Carmen does, umm ... Salvi's mother. Of course, she gets them by the bagful from some family on a farm that's close by. Up to you."

"Vinegar," Gloria stated. "We have to have apple cider vinegar." She turned to Maria. "Do we have apple cider vinegar?"

"We don't have deedles," Maria replied. "You got phone ready?" she said to Steve, "AC vinegar, corn oil, olive oil, ricotta. "

"Got it," he said. "I'm the efficient one, all I need is some mustard to top off my ham. Gloria, you got --"

"Tube croissants, ready to bake, and cheddar cheese. Might steal some of your ham, but I think they'll be good -- oh, wait, some of the ham and some of Ben's chili garlic paste, that's going to put my cheesy puffs over the top."

"Other thing we need to put on Steve's list is emergency candles. Lolo talking about power going out makes me think of that. Didn't matter when I was sick, lights go out, who cares, I just sleep." Maria frowned. "I don't know where I have candle holders, though."

"Bet they have a bag of tea lights," Ben said. "Mom used to have them on the fireplace mantelpiece, on small plates. Sometimes, when there was a power outage, she'd have three on a plate at a time. It was just enough to keep from tripping on stuff."

"Smart idea," Steve said, "this series of storms is headed for us here and for the Baker warehouse like we're the bull's eye on a target. I'll get those, enough for your house and for my apartment up there, too."

Returning from the store, Maria stood on the far side of the kitchen table, watching the rest of the crowd unpack and put away the groceries. "The perishables are going into the fridge, but I want your guidance on where you want the rest," Gloria called out.

"Yeah, I used to have my special spots for things. I show you, once everything is out of bags."

Gloria left the other four to stand beside Maria. "You're looking at this and thinking it's nothing like it was with your husband and kids, aren't you?"

Maria nodded, her eyes brimming with wetness. "Yes. This is a family, and friends. They love each other, anyone can see that. No one here is fighting, no one here is angry -- can't tell you how different that feels, a house without anger. This house was like a dark hole, even with the lights on, when my boys were here and Bedencourt was alive. Always anger, always pain. Sons leave, still dark. Bedencourt dies, still dark because I'm sick. You, Thunder-stealer, you help me find light and laughter again. What you young people say?" She put her arm around Gloria's shoulders and hugged. "You da bomb."

"We da bomb," Gloria corrected her. "You gave me the confidence and guidance to believe in myself, in my capability and in my -- place in the world, really. It is, however, time for us to wade in and put things away in an organized manner." She nudged Maria. "We got this. Come on."

While Will and Ben set out their sleeping bags in the unused bedroom upstairs, Steve nestled his in the suddenly livable upstairs sitting room, and Lolo returned to her room to continue unpacking, Maria and Gloria stocked the nearly empty shelves in the kitchen with staples.

"Wasn't like this in our old house," Gloria remarked. "It wasn't like we were unhappy, but Will and Ben and I were just -- kind of circling the runway, waiting for our individual planes to take off. It was home, but it wasn't our own home. It was Mom and Dad's home, and we knew we would have to leave it."

"Yes, I felt that with Pae's dairy. I had no real place there."

"Hell of a thing, growing up with knowing you've got a boot print waiting for your butt to get out and find your own spot in the world ... but the weird thing is, neither of my parents were training us to how to do that. It was all, like, take your time, do what you want, everything will be just fine." Gloria paused, with the container of corn starch in her hand. "Where do you want this?"

"First shelf to the right of the stove, like in Bakers' kitchen. That way I wake up brainless, I still know where to find it."

"We" know where to find it. That's my point. I'm paying you rent, so it's not my house, but it is where I live. Where we live."

"Sounds like we're sharing a house," Maria said. "It's sort of what I had in mind, but maybe I thought I was just giving you an out when you were desperate, didn't want to do what your Mom wanted you to do. But I like this. We make a kind of fort, for us women -- take in Lolo, save her when she was in danger."

"I'm so glad we could," Gloria told her. "We got pretty close-knit when she lived with us, and I've really missed her."

"I'm putting water on for pasta noodles, going to cook up some hamburger. Need you to tell me what seasonings -- I know oregano, salt, pepper -- see what all Elsie left me."

"Garlic powder and onion powder. That'll do. Nice, she left some sage, too."

"Here is muffin tin, put the paper cups in like for cupcakes. We mix the meat with some tomato sauce and the ricotta, roll it up in the lasagna noodle, put the roll in the paper cup, stuff mozzarella all around and over it, bake it."

Gloria seasoned the tomato sauce. "I thought you said you didn't know Italian cooking. That sounds like a really clever way to make a lasagna."

"Saw it on TV," Maria chuckled. "I don't think is really Italian, just something for fun."

"Smells good in here," Ben said. "Will's out on the porch, watching the rain. I think he's half forgotten how to live inside a house."

"Oh, Gloria, can you see if Will's jacket is dry? Should be, but after church, there was so much happening, I forgot to check the laundry."

"Got it. I'll take it to him."

"Hey, Ben, you stir for me."

Gloria took the laundry from the dryer, hung up the shirts, and carried Will's much cleaner jacket out to the porch. She didn't think he'd need it, or want it, but if he was tough enough to stand out there, she'd wear it herself. "Will? I have your jacket."

"Is that what color it really is? All this time I thought it was dirt-colored camouflage gear. Thanks, but I don't really need it."

"Okay," she said. "Do you want company out here, or were you getting away?"

"Just wanted to be outside. This is a really nice place. If it wasn't raining, I'd go check out those trees."

"Maybe the rain will be done by tomorrow. Umm, Will, I haven't seen you since before Thanksgiving, except for the afternoon on Christmas. Don't get me wrong here, I'm thrilled to spend time with you, but I guess I'm just surprised that you agreed to spend two nights here. Everything okay?"

He grimaced. "It'll be okay once we get out there and are busy in the orchards. Right now it's kind of a nothing-to-do time, and if I'm not out walking around, I'm stuck inside ... and ... well, Ariana is driving me nuts. I'm only eighteen, I've told her that in as polite a way as I can, but she ... "

"Oh, boy, that's trouble waiting to happen." Gloria put his jacket on.

"No kidding," Will said. "She wants me to teach her how to drive, she says all the time, but there is no way in hell I'm getting in a car alone with her. Her brother can teach her, or her father.

"If I tell Mr. Van Duyken she's after me, it could mean trouble for all of them. If I tell Carmen, she'll just fight even more with Ariana -- and believe me, all those two do is bitch at each other when they're in the same room. And what do I tell Salvi, that his sister is a pain in my ass? Make him think I think I'm too good for them?" He turned to his sister. "I'm so glad to be out of that house for a couple days -- you wouldn't believe how glad. All I can do is just stay as clear of her as I can, and hope she loses interest."

"She was grumping about having to help her mother when you all were here on Christmas. Sounds like she's looking for a way out."

"Yeah, I get that. But I'm not that way. I live in a barn, for God's sake. I'm a damn kid."

"A kid with a mother who's rolling in dough. Maybe she thinks if she snares you, she'll snare Mom's fortune, too. You are the older son, and if they're anything like Lolo's family, the sons are the inheritors, not the daughters."

He shuddered. "Makes me sick -- but you know, you might be right about that. She's lived in this area all her life, and just about everyone knows that Joe Brady is rich. Dang."

"Maybe she'll notice that you're not there on what's known as a romantic holiday, and get the picture that you're not interested."

"I hope so. Once I get that certificate, I can take on some accounting work, give me more of a chance to stay away. I love my room in the barn, but if she doesn't let me alone, I'm going to have no choice but to find another place to stay."

The door opened and Ben stuck his head out. "Hey, are you two brainless ticks ready to play cards yet?"

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-07-26
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
04:44:50 PM
I sense more bonding going on, that, or everyone is interested in putting on a few pounds. I liked the idea of Maria saying the house was becoming a fort, but if she'd thought further she'd have realized that the fort was not just for her and Gloria and Lolo, but for everyone. Everyone is bringing their search for family and place to this holiday gathering. I sense turbulence coming with Steve leaving, and also in the physical form of the approaching storm. Will's revelation of all not being peachy in his current living arrangement could provide future fireworks too. As usual, after reading this chapter, I'm hungry and must go find something to gnaw on.
Your Comments

The Piker Press moderates all comments.
Click here for the commenting policy.