These Three Days Start Over Again

Darla sticks her head through the doorway.

Darla: He’s feeling a little better. He said, “Tell them to shut the hell up.”
Tata: Hooray! Let’s go upstairs!

I’m sitting on the floor of the upstairs bedroom my sisters sleep in. They’re allergic to cats and the rest of the house is full of them, so my sisters are pretty much S.O.L. as far as little things like breathing are concerned. Todd is so allergic to everything, he spends half his time running the wet/dry vac in the garage, which we just call “Todd’s office.” And it’s not like anybody worried until Todd vacuumed up a nest today and everyone spilled out of the garage, shouting, “What do we do with a vacuum cleaner full of wasps?”

Tata: Since you’re asking me, I say you lock the garage door and go back in December.

A few days ago, Daria and I sat with Daddy and a funny subject came up.

Daria: The freezer is full of ingredients and not food. We’re trying to cook for Darla and keep finding things we can’t identify.
Dad: Like what?
Tata: I found something I can’t identify, too!

Daria ran to the kitchen. I ran after. Daria returned with something I hadn’t seen. I came back with something else.

Daria: What’s this, Daddy?
Dad: Gingerbread. Throw that away.
Daria: What do we do with the yucca?
Dad: Whatever you want. Yucca is delicious.
Daria: Huh!
Tata: Daddy, what’s this?
Dad: Pork roast. Convection oven, 250 degrees to an internal temperature of …
Tata: Did…did you say “an internal temperature of 160”?
Dad: ONE HUNDRED FORTY and NO MORE.
Tata: I’ve got a Sharpie and I’m writing directions.

Soon, the kitchen table was filled with answers for Jeopardy category THINGS ONLY DAD COULD IDENTIFY, ALEX and by the time we’d reached the $1000 question, Dad was feeling puckish.

Tata: What’s this?
Dad: Vegetable soup.

I turned on my heel.

Dad: …I think…
Tata: I heard that!

I turned back to squint and he was laughing so I had to tell Daria, “Daddy’s done telling us the truth so watch it!” We ventured one further question:

Daria: What the hell is this thing?
Dad: It’s a chicken with feet and head on. My grandmother used to braise them and we’d suck the chicken feet like they were the most delicious thing ever. Then she gave me the head and I’d eat the wattle and break open the skull and eat the brain. It was fantastic.
Tata: How long should I thaw this thing? It looks like it sank the Titanic.
Dad: Three days in the fridge.
Daria: And then there’s a chicken with the freaking FEET AND HEAD ON!

Regardless, we labeled and thawed. Tonight, I roasted the chicken because Daddy had been very clear this chicken would taste differently than factory-farm chicken, and taste is utterly crucial. Daria happened to be handy when I was preparing the chicken, so she helped me with the seasoning I couldn’t touch because I was touching raw chicken. Gradually, the smell of roasting chicken permeated the house, making bearable what else Darla, Daria and I cleaned up and no one needs mention. Dad woke up from a deep sleep and said to Darla, “What smells really good?” At the same time, Todd and I consulted about doneness, tenting and carry over cooking in the next room, which when you think about it is a tremendous accomplishment of kitchen instruction on Dad’s part. We let the chicken rest to redistribute the fluids and when it came time to cut the chicken, everyone said, “NOT ME!”

Though we are the kids, I am the oldest woman in the house so I took the biggest, sharpest knife I could find and sliced up the chicken in a less than especially skillful way. Todd watched from across the kitchen, where presumably a knife slip might be more hilarious than immediately injurious – to him. I’d laid out leftover salads, grilled vegetables, melons, slaws and fruit compotes on the kitchen table, along with plates and cutlery. Darla appeared in the kitchen and said something that made my blood run cold.

Darla: Your dad would like to see the chicken before it’s cut.
Tata: Aggh! Tell him I’ve gone into the Witness Protection Program!

…but I sucked it up and went to see Dad alone to disappoint him.

Dad: The chicken smells good. Really good.
Tata: Thank you, Daddy. I just finished slicing it up for dinner.
Dad: Who’s eating out there?
Tata: My brother, sisters and Darla. That’s all. They’re loud, huh?
Dad: That’s it? Really?
Tata: I wanted Dara to have a little bit of normal, which is to say dinner where she sits down. It seemed important, considering how utterly crazy life has become. So right now she’s sitting with Daria, Todd and Darla. There’s salad.
Dad: Thank you.
Tata: Don’t worry, Daddy. You said this chicken would taste different.
Dad: How did you prepare it?
Tata: I rubbed it with olive oil, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and basted with butter. I omitted garlic and anything that might bother you, just in case you wanted to taste it.
Dad: Thank you, I can’t.
Tata: Okay, it’s not important. You said we should taste the actual chicken, so I didn’t want to extravagantly season.
Dad: Logical…
Tata: I roasted it at 325 to an internal temperature of 158, then tented it to rest.
Dad: How did you carve it?
Tata: I cut through the leg, thigh and wing joints, hacked through the neck and sliced the breast meat.
Dad: On or off the bone?
Tata: On. I know the trick but I didn’t want to try it in front of the critics a the kitchen table.
Dad: My grandmother braised these chickens. You can cook them in a crockpot. The collagen from the feet will thicken the stew for you. Are you going to try the feet?
Tata: I will. Next time I use this kind of chicken I’ll braise it.
Dad: In the kitchen above the rack, there’s a clay baking dish. Have you used one of those?
Tata: I haven’t.
Dad: I…I’m too weak to explain it.
Tata: Are you sure there’s nothing I can get you?
Dad: No, thank you, my kid.
Tata: Would you like to rest now, Daddy?
Dad: Yes.
Tata: Okay, Daddy.

I kissed his cheek, he kissed my hand and I closed the living room door behind me to cut the sound of my siblings’ mad chatter. Darla finished eating and crept into the sickroom. Half an hour later, a nurse from the hospice agency arrived at the house and started a saline drip, which cleared some of the medication fog. Daria, Todd, Dara and I sat in the kitchen, singing while Todd played the guitar Dad gave him. Later, things got a little raucous when the ice cream came out, and Darla made her hilarious cameo appearance. We grabbed a bottle of wine and ran upstairs, giggling.

Daria: Daddy told us to shut up!
Tata: Daddy sent us to our room!

And we were happy because Dad was cranky again.

Damned If I’ll Get Hung Up On the Time

Last night, we called Todd in Los Angeles because his sisters are three brunettes in a tight situation with unlimited in-network minutes. Todd told us difficult news: he was coming back to Virginia but not until Thursday. Completely bummed, we poured ourselves glasses of wine and embarked on a three-state eating spree. Next thing we knew, we’d slaughtered some defenseless freezer spring rolls and a pint of Vermonty Python. Oh, the carnage of the chocolate cows!

This morning, nobody slept. When Dara got up at 6:10 to get ready for school, I was already awake. Since I’m sleeping on the floor of Dad’s office with a red-furred cat named Atticus who rearranges my hair every night, my hair stands up in dramatic curls every morning and this morning was no exception. I came downstairs looking like Carmen Miranda with an extra fruit chapeau. Daria had already taken Dara to the bus stop half a mile away because neither of them had slept, and it turned out Darla hadn’t slept much either. Essentially, it sucked to be us when the phone rang at 8 and I sprinted to Darla with a hospice nurse on the cordless. A few minutes later, Daria, Darla and I clutched tea and coffee cups for dear life during this conversation.

Darla: Your father had pressure in his chest last night. I told the hospice people he could tell he wasn’t having a heart attack because he’s had one and recalls the sensation vividly.
Tata: Right, right, you told us. It felt like an obstruction in his throat, you said.
Darla: They didn’t believe me so they called back 10 hours later in a panic.
Tata: That’s service!
Darla: He had lesions on his lung so maybe the cancer’s pressing now on his bronchia.
Tata: Would he enjoy a tasty glass of refreshing whiskey with his morphine?
Darla: Maybe.
Daria: Oh, Todd told us last night he’s coming back on Thursday. He’s got a throat thing.
Darla: Good for him. We cannot have a throat thing.

We heard a noise at the side door and froze. Because I’m small but fierce in a Nobody’s getting past me to see Dad uninvited-sort of way, I turned the corner in confrontation mode and burst out laughing. I unleashed a laughable tae bo move and ducked back in the kitchen to get out of the way.

Daria: TODD!
Darla: We were just talking about you!
Daria: The words were still hanging in the air: “Todd’s coming back on Thursday.” What are you doing here?
Todd: I hung up the phone and half an hour later I was on a plane.
Tata: You’d better gargle with warm salt water, dude, nobody needs a throat thing.

And then, an extra set of hands to carry the weight lightened the load. It’s not all right, but it’s better. Well, alas for the poor chocolate cows.

Tore the Rug In That Downtown Dive

Yesterday, I awakened to find a grilled cheese sandwich next to my head and Dad’s wife Darla staring at me.

Darla: Y’awake?
Tata: I yam!
Darla: Ya weren’t!
Tata: I ya-wasn’t but now I have a cheese sandwich! Good morning!
Darla: Your sister made it. I applauded. Weren’t you up early this morning?
Tata: I was! Then I came up here to work and sat on the floor with the laptop. Then I reclined. Then I decided to work with my eyes closed. Then I had a delicious cheese sandwich.
Darla: Your plan comes to fruition.
Tata: And cheese.

The first time I awoke to a ringing phone. My reflexes, sharpened by days of leaping at anything with a ringer, drove me straight up and at the phone in Dad’s office before my eyes opened. At the other end was an old friend of Dad’s who’d just heard news of Dad’s imminent demise, and the nice man was very upset about it. He’d been traveling to a bonsai conference when Dad got sick. They share an interest in manicured miniature trees. Dad’s back porch has about a dozen of them. Anyway, even Dad’s good friends and acquaintances are still just getting the news, so the teary phone calls can be a bit much. Dad isn’t talking on the phone anymore. Darla looks stricken every time it happens. I take messages and let these people calm down, which is exactly what I did yesterday, at 9:01 A.M. So I got up twice yesterday. This morning, Dara went back to school.

If I haven’t made this clear to you recently, you should forgive me now and beat the Christmas rush: I am 44 years old. Daria is 16 months younger than me and Todd is two years younger than Daria. Dara is 15. She is Dad’s daughter from his marriage to Summer, who is two years older than I am. Dad is now married to Darla, who was born in England, to English people a year after Daria was born in New Brunswick, and who then moved to Canada. It’s a family tree resembling kudzu, but it works for us. For instance, at this very moment, Summer’s new husband’s stepfather is coming up the driveway to jump start Daddy’s van. So: good for us.

Tonight, Dad’s having trouble with pressure in his chest, which he differentiates from a heart attack through experience. Today’s big break came when the hospice nurse told Daddy to bust out his oldest scotch as a topical anesthetic for the throat pain and sleeplessness. If I remember right, Dad said, “That’s the closest I’ll get now to an 18-year-old.” My sisters and I are eating freezer spring rolls.

Ain’t No Secret About It

My sisters have gone to pick up Dad’s and Darla’s prescriptions. I’m making crepes for regular and seafood manicotti. It’s quiet in the house but outside: rifle fire. Apparently, it’s hunting season of some kind and I’m pissed. We’ve had a tough day, and the sound of hunters trying to kill defenseless creatures just doesn’t fucking cut it.

Last night, Daddy took half an Ambien for sleep but he didn’t sleep. Before he got sick, he’d had a disastrous Ambien episode, so this is kind of an all-bets-are-off situation. This morning, he was paranoid, confused and felt bad. He told Darla he didn’t think it would be long now. Then, Todd, his wife Bette and their children left for Los Angeles, where Todd will work a shift in the bar he manages, then turn around and come back Monday. Dara has to go back to school Monday. Last night, I had the kind of meltdown your family forgives under normal circumstances after years of “I’m sorry – Jeez!” but this morning, nobody said a word because the next thing that happened was Darla cried for her dying husband with every fiber of her being, which put my little tantrum into perspective. I decided to lay off the red wine for a while.

The fear like I’m standing on an electified surface has returned. Daria has it too. Despite all this, and perhaps because of it, we get this:

Darla stepped into the kitchen, snapped her fingers and shouted, “Clean sheets.” Daria and I threw whatever we were holding on the floor and ran in opposite directions. I sprinted to the dryer, then to the upstairs linen closet, where I’d put away the last set of sheets we’d stripped off Dad’s bed. I pulled out everything we’d taken off his bed, threw it at Daria and sprinted back down the stairs two and three at a time. Daddy was sitting up in bed with his feet on the floor, feeling very weak and uncomfortable from sweating. We stripped this bed and tucked in clean sheets around him, then he stood for a few seconds as we adjusted the mattress and made everything even and crisp. This operation took less than five minutes, total. Daddy lay back down. We covered him with soft blankets and watched to see how he felt. After a minute, he was comfortable again and smiling gently.

Darla: That was amazing!
Tata: We’ve been calling ourselves your pit crew.
Daria: Not for nothing but the hospice lady said, “I’ve never seen anything like that! I’ve never seen a bed changed that fast!”
Darla: At first, I worried about power tools flying and oil everywhere, but it’s great!
Tata: Do you think we’re ready for NASCAR?
Dad: You missed it! Your sisters rotated my tires.
Dara: That’s okay, I’ve seen it twice before.
Daria: Notice how she says she’s seen it, not that she’s done it?

Hours later, deer huddle in the woods out back. My sisters and I huddled around the kitchen table and ate a startlingly non-nutritious dinner of small foods one can only eat standing up. Darla and Dad awoke from much-needed naps to the puzzling sound of repeated thumping. Darla, who is Canadian and never even saw a gun until she came here, sticks her head out of the sickroom and asks, “What’s that thud-thud-thud-ing?”

Us: Gunfire.
Darla: What?
Us: Gunfire.
Darla: It’s gunfire, Dominic.
Daddy: Shit!

So when he ate a little soup, we were very happy.

Come Groovin’ Up Slowly

Todd looked into the sink, annoyed.

Todd: Can you find me a set of allen wrenches?
Tata: Maybe. I’ll take this side of the house. You take the porch and the basement.

A few days before, we didn’t hear Dad calling from the living room, which scared the crap out of everyone. The next morning, we presented him with a hotel desk bell with which he could summon us and maintain his dignity. Apparently, Todd’s annoyance and DIY plans psychically communicated to Dad’s sickbed because as I put my hands on the wrenches, Dad’s bell rang urgently. Todd sprinted to the living room. A minute later, Todd reappeared pushing Dad in a wheelchair to the affected sink. Todd had been ready to take the disposal apart for repairs. With a few impatient gestures, angry directions and a brief instructive lecture, Dad repaired the disposal. Todd stared, breathless. The whole episode did not exceed 8 or 9 minutes. Dad has what apprears to be an almost magical power to fix things, but of course, it’s not a magical power. It’s a half-dozen decades of working on machinery and equipment and cars and people used to do this themselves but don’t so much anymore, so when Dad growls, slaps something and turns it expertly, a thing runs again, whatever it is. The problem for the last week has been that Dad doesn’t realize how much he knows, and so when his four capable children had to occasionally step back for a second and figure out how something functioned, Dad became very, very impatient.

Dad: Can’t you get the goddamn slide projector working?
Todd: If I push this button, will the tray fit the slot?
Dad: PUSH THE GODDAMN BUTTON! I could drop dead before we see Helsinki!

That night, Daria tugged on the dishwasher door and out rolled a cloud of icky, fishy odor. Inside, she found cloudy standing water and bailed it out, while Dara and I gagged helplessly and heckled. When the last of the water had gone down the drain, Daria and Todd pondered a broken dishwasher, clogged pipes and suddenly, we all knew at the same time.

Us: Freaking disposal!
Tata: This might not’ve happened if I hadn’t poured out that crappy chowder and the bisque.
Them: IT’S YOUR FAULT!
Tata: Yep.

The next morning, we were all sitting around Dad.

Daria: We have a funny story to tell you.
Dad: [laughs nervously]
Daria: Your dishwasher’s not broken, and we’re very pleased to it’s not broken because we thought it might be.
Dad: Why did you think that?
Daria: Because of the stinky water in the bottom. These two threw me under the bus. Didn’t help at all.
Tata: Well, someone had to handle nausea and we couldn’t delegate.
Daria: I scooped out every drop of that disgusting mess, then we followed the pipes and – bingo!
Dad: It came from the disposal when we fixed it. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent under that sink with a flashlight when we first moved here.
Daria: Exactly! So this is all her fault!
Dad: [laughing in earnest]
Tata: I was cleaning out the fridge and dumping liquids into the sink without watching which sink.
Daria: But did she help clean up her mess? Nooooo.
Tata: I didn’t recognize my mess. You can’t exactly dust for liquids.
Dad: [howling] Did you hear what your sister just said? “You can’t exactly dust for liquids.”
Tata: I paraphrased that fair and square.
Dad: Run the disposal once a day, crazy people.
Us: Yes, Dad.

In A Coat He Borrowed From James Dean

Tata: As you know, my bathroom is full of products and I’ve been away from them a week and a half.
Dad: Good Lord! You’re parching!
Tata: Exactly, so Dara and I went to the giant drugstore in Staunton.
Dad: Did they have what you were looking for?
Tata: Sort of. I’ve lost a little weight since I got here through a program of stress starvation and inspired sloth, so the pants that fit me when she and I left the house stretched a little during the drive and by the time we got to the drugstore, they were humongous.
Dad: Oops.
Tata: When I got out of the car, I sad, “Dara, our situation is critical. These pants are far too large for my rump and I lack a belt. If they should fall off, it is your job to play Point & Laugh. Further, if you do not snap a picture, Daria and Todd will never forgive you.”
Dad: [laughing hysterically]
Tata: But that’s not the end of it because I’d decided to dress like a grownup, which is always a mistake, and worn heels even though your driveway is gravel. So I said, “Further, if my heel gets caught in the cuff of these oversized pants, it is incumbent upon you to laugh hysterically when my face hits the floor. Can you do it?”
Dad: [laughing more hysterically]
Tata: So she was ready.
Dara: I had my camera phone in my hand the whole time.
Tata: I found this excellent shade of Dirty Whore Red nail polish I’m not displeased with, and we picked up a whole bunch of other things women need away from home for more than a week.
Dad: Like what? I’ve known a few women in my time…
Tata: Like tomorrow, your beautiful daughters are gonna Nair their mustaches.

And I Notice It Turning

Daria is bailing an aromatic mess out of the dishwasher. I can’t help because I’ll puke. Todd is pouring red wine, as Dara and Todd’s wife Bette double team a toddler whose uncharacteristic whining is driving us all to distraction. Daddy’s sleeping. The baby’s sleeping. Darla is upstairs, sorting out a computer issue. The house is quiet. Tapestry plays softly on the kitchen stereo. About once a day, I try to get out and read the blogosphere, but it’s hard for me to follow a story for more than a paragraph or two. My family speaks frankly about lots of things.

Random Sibling: Whatcha doin’?
Tata: Flirting with a handsome man I’ve never met.
RS: Awesome. Has he noticed your magical powers?
Tata: I give it six weeks before he’s humming the theme from Mary Poppins in the shower.

What It Will Double As

When the hospice case manager arrives, Dad is sitting in a wheelchair. I am still shocked. Yesterday, I turned a corner at a dead run when Daddy called and found him sitting up on the edge of his bed with feet on the floor. I didn’t know he could sit up, let alone assume a position so close to standing, so when he said, “I’d like the wheelchair,” my mind went blank. Yesterday, he told me confidentially that anything he did with his arms and legs tired him. Today, he stood up, leaned at a carefully calculated angle and sat down in the wheelchair. Dad’s nothing if not precise. So when the hospice manager, who knows her stuff but not her local celebrities, arrived and Dad was sitting in a wheelchair at the kitchen table, I watched from a distance until he spoke to me, pointing.

Dad: Bring me that canteloupe.

Of all the characters in this drama, I have known him longest, now that Auntie InExcelsisDeo has gone back to New Jersey to see a physician. I can see he’s up to something, but because he’s utterly brilliant, I can’t see what. I bring him the canteloupe picked by my baby sister on our shopping trip together. I can’t pick a melon for Daddy. It’s not that Dara can do no wrong, but it’s not that I’m doing much right. For example: a few nights ago, Dad, his wife Darla and I were up late and inexplicably alone. For three unexpected hours, I sat at the foot of his bed, thinking and working out problems. I listened to what Dad had successfully eaten, perused the list of foods he’d tried and had some luck with, and out of nowhere said, “Daddy, do you want me to make you some yogurt?” He thought for a minute, knowing I meant from scratch and heavy cream, and nodded. That and cream soups were all he could eat – sometimes. It’s been puzzling. Dara and I went shopping for Bookbinder’s bisques in the local higher end food store and came up snake eyes until we hit the organics aisle, where we found chowders and cream soups of less than fantastic quality but better than we expected. It was really confusing to be despondent and overjoyed simultaneously, but what else was new?

So we went back to Dad’s and Darla’s, where I milk-boiled heavy cream, cooled it to 120 degrees and added plain yogurt. Then I set the culture up in a bowl in a dining room of uncertain temperature. Then I fretted for ten hours, when the culture had not become yogurt. Sure, it was tasty, but it was heavy cream. Mortified, I started over, and it didn’t work a second time. I had to have a talk with me.

Tata: So, uh, whatcha doin’?
Tata: I’ve got to make yogurt and Dad’s going to be really mad.
Tata: He’s always really mad. That’s his hobby.
Tata: You’re right. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
Tata: Because he’s going to be really mad, no matter how good the yogurt.

Dad’s upset and frustrated because food’s been the second half of his life and now cancer has left a sewage-y taste in his mouth. It’s like a joke played on him by bored gods and has nothing to do with me. Even so, as Dad loses weight like crazy, his children are left to play Next Meal Charades. After my brother Todd arrived, he spent one evening watching his female relatives eat bread and olive oil for dinner and took charge. Last night for dinner, we had Todd’s California version of chicken and polenta. Tonight, we had Todd’s version of pork chops and apple sauce – isn’t that swell? And Dad’s frustrated by the smells of food he’d like to taste and enjoy, but cancer is a bitch. Yesterday, Todd and I microwaved a couple of cream soups for Dad, and he at some bread. We counted ourselves lucky that he swallowed anything at all, but then, the hospice case manager arrived this morning. Fortunately, I’d already spent a few minutes with him and Darla alone. I came clean.

Tata: So, remember when you asked me to make yogurt? I set the whole thing up, as I do for myself every week, and it didn’t take, so I set it up again a second time and – nada. I decided to blame the whole thing on the yogurt until I remembered a funny thing.
Dad: [Waving a hand to hasten the story.]
Tata: About ten years ago, my friend’s mother had a heart attack and I made rice pudding. At the time, I could make rice pudding up and down the block, no sweat. Anyway, it turned out so dense and dry I could’ve flattened Cuban sandwiches under it.
Dad: [Smiling very broadly now.]
Tata: So I learned I can’t cook when I’m upset, no matter how often I redo a recipe. Last night, I wasn’t upset, and the yogurt turned out beautifully. It’s creamy and fantastic, and if you want some, it’s ready. I had to do it a third time because I couldn’t admit I was outwitted by yogurt.
Darla: “That Ta is a lovely woman but not as smart as yogurt.”
Dad: [Deep laughter.]

So when he asks me for the canteloupe, I gather it and a draining cutting board. He points toward a knife rack and a particular knife. I hand him the brown, wooden handle knife with an unusual blade. He notes that we’ve cleaned his kitchen and placed a restaurant towel under a large cutting board at his right hand. He is pleased but mildly surprised. He talks to me in little words, breaths and gestures as he holds a conversation with the hospice case manager, who may not have noticed my presence. Then an amazing thing happens: in a beautiful gesture with the knife, he slices the canteloupe at a truly strange angle and no juice runs out. I’m baffled but not surprised. I know that he can do anything. She does not. He admonishes me: “Don’t scrape out the seeds. Remove them gently.”

HCM: Why? What does that mean?
Tata: I don’t know but if we’re quiet, he’ll tell us.
HCM: Give him a piece from the center! That’s what I do with a watermelon!
Dad and I: It’s round.
HCM: That’s the sweetest part!
Tata: Um…

I slice Dad a piece, which he half-way takes apart with a paring knife in clean, precise motions. It’s not a mystery to me, but I know that not everyone will understand. I wait quietly in a corner of the room, then say, “I’m going to take a shower now, if that’s okay with you.”

Dad says without looking, “Don’t worry, everything’s under control here.”

You Look Good To Me

Suddenly, the kitchen fills with smoke. Everyone glances around wildly, shouting, “What the hell…?” My sisters, asthmatics both, run for the back door, on the heels of my cousin Monday, who saw smoke and knew the next thing that’d happen if she didn’t make a break for it would be waking up in the emergency room. Todd’s children don’t make a peep, as Todd and I suddenly realize Auntie InExcelsisDeo is staring at us dolefully from the corner by the microwave. She pulls a restaurant tea towel from the microwave, and shakes it. We observe four burned spots, one of which is just a little bit on fire. Still looking at us, Auntie slaps the flames and points at us. Todd and I burst out laughing.

Us: Did you wet that towel before you miked it?
Auntie: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

She twirls the towel, wraps it around her neck and sits down solidly.

When everyone stops puking off the back porch and Todd and I have long since turned a charming hypoxia blue, someone says, and no one knows who, “Someday, we’re going to tell stories that start, ‘Remember when Daddy was dying and…'”