Saturday, November 21, 2015

June, Three

When she arrived home on this afternoon, all was quiet at the Peterson’s. The dog saw her coming up the sidewalk, and she barely got the door open before he was on her. “Hello, Sampson! Hello, my sweet boy!” Sampson was all of twelve pounds, a silky black pekingese that June had rescued from the shelter five years before. He had been the runt of the litter, clumsy and sweet with a prominent underbite and chronic gas. He was, next to Owen, June’s best friend.
“Can you believe it, Sampson? Can you believe they didn’t have any Miracle Whip?” She was resigned to it now, but had every confidence the situation would be rectified before she had to make her first turkey and dressing sandwich the day after Thanksgiving. She knew the folks in town thought she was terribly ill tempered, but if she didn’t keep them in line, who would? The Mrs. Right Reverend Spurgeon Swicegood, in between quaffing her booze and throwing it back up?
She wanted more than anything to sit in her chair with Sampson on her lap and watch that lovely young woman from near the coast on PBS. The young woman was always visiting farmers and buying fresh food like June had eaten when she was young - turnips and runups and sweet potatoes, pigs just butchered and rabbit just caught - and taking it into her kitchen and making things June could only imagine in her wildest dreams. “Lordy,” she’d say to Sampson as they watched, “Who would have even thought of that?” But Thanksgiving was thirty-nine hours away, and June had to get into her own kitchen today.

She peeled onions and washed the celery, rough thumbs rubbing grit from the stalks. She sliced thin skin ribbons from the carrots, then chopped everything fine and cooked it soft in a mound of butter in her cast iron skillet. June broke apart pans of cornbread and diced cubes of crusty bread and put it all in the giant crockery bowl that had been her grandmother’s. She added bits of good sausage and an apple to the vegetables, and when the smell was just right - sweet and spicy and warm - she added them all to the crock. Fresh chicken stock and liberal amounts of salt and pepper, and then the sage. She rolled the leaves tightly and sliced carefully, and was taken back to her grandmother’s kitchen by the scent. Sage was fall and leaves and fireside and family and Thanksgiving, all rolled into one. She added a handful to the bowl and, after a brief consideration, another one for good measure.  She covered the bowl and put it in the icebox, where it would wait patiently to become dressing.

She had just turned her attention to pies when she heard the knock at the door. It was a grim faced Blue, gripping a measuring cup like it was going to run away from her. “Well,” said June, “Are you delivering a terrible message, or does your Mama just need some sugar?”

“Sugar,” Blue replied.

“Come on in, then. ” June turned sideways and let Blue slip past her. Blue had never been inside the house but it was, mostly, as she imagined it would be. Very neat, very outdated, and very, very full. From the oversized furniture to the countless knick knacks to the family pictures on the walls, there was hardly an inch of the house that had not been decorated. It smelled like cinnamon and apples and something deep and woodsy that Blue couldn’t name. The whole house was like a big, warm blanket that Blue wanted to wrap up in, forever. If only June wasn’t there.

June watched the girl stand in the middle of the living room, staring openly at everything around her. She was suddenly aware of the threadbare carpet and the shabby furniture, of all bits and pieces of her parents she’d kept after they’d died. She felt old and frumpy in the presence of this young person, with her blue hair and black lips and skin you could bounce a quarter off of.

“Sugar,” June echoed, and shooed Blue into the kitchen. “I know I have sugar.” Blue stopped short in the doorway, and pointed to a row of jars on the kitchen table. “Is that...cranberry sauce?” She was nearly breathless, and sounded so comical that June almost laughed, until she realized the girl was completely serious.

“Yes, I make a pile of it every Thanksgiving and Christmas as gifts for my family,” she said.
“Can I...can I just taste it?” Blue said, and June was so taken by the innocence of the request that she moved immediately for a spoon. When Blue put the spoon to her mouth, she made a face like someone remembering a memory they didn’t know they had. “It tastes like Christmas!” she said, and June did laugh this time.

“Honey, have you never had cranberry sauce?” she asked, incredulous.

“My mother doesn’t like it, so she’s never let me try. She thinks it’s gross.” Blue raised and eyebrow and when June laughed again, she decided to push it a little farther. “Can you believe that shit?” With that, June doubled over with a giant guffaw that shook her whole body and turned her face red. Blue started laughing, too, and when they finally stopped, June wiped her eyes with her apron and turned serious.

“Young lady,” she asked, “Has your mama taught you how to cook?”

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