May 21: Ann Arbor Book Festival & Fundraiser Event!
They brought crumb cakes and apple pie with ice cream that dripped down the edges of the baking dish. Cousin Colette arrived with a bulky strand of rosary beads in one hand and a homemade pizza in another. "Anchovies and olives," said Colette, "but first, we really should pray."
Patricia did not want to pray. She was not from a praying family, though it annoyed her to see her lapsed Catholic Mother performing the sign of the cross in long, exaggerated motions, and then wringing her hands in despair. "Where is my lace handkerchief? Patsy, hand me my lace handkerchief," she kept saying. Patricia tossed it at her, silently vowing to gag her with it.
There was no reason to worry. Henry wasn't dead, or anything. Far from death, right? He was a chubby, healthy-looking, inquisitive pre-adolescent. Henry wouldn't be caught dead climbing onto a moving freight train, or much less jumping off of one! He was a smart boy, and an excellent speller. "He's going to win the district spelling bee," thought Patricia fiercely, "he is."
"Patsy, sit down and have a piece of Annie's strudel. It's fresh."
Of course it was fresh. Everything was fresh: the cakes, the muffins, and the "guilt-free" oyster bisque. Patricia could not figure out what ingredient could condemn oyster bisque, anyway. She remembered the Lewis Carroll poem, "The Walrus and The Carpenter". She used to read it to Henry over and over, and when they would get to the part about the oysters, Henry would laugh.
"This is a sad part, Henry" Patricia would remind him.
"Not so sad. They weren't gonna live long, anyway," Henry always said.
Who could argue with that? Oysters weren't supposed to live long, but little boys, they were supposed to live forever. Even if just to keep the Mothers sane. The Mothers needed to be sane, and the little boys. Henry had to be alive. "Please," thought Patricia, "please, please, please".
"Pat, you're going to have to discuss arrangements."
Patricia's inner dam burst, and it exploded all over her dad, Steve. Steve was a good man; he hadn't scolded Henry when he caught him stealing dollar bills from his wallet. He always made time to talk with Henry, even though Henry rarely had much to say. Steve was a good man, and he didn't deserve to get blasted. "But that dam, that goddamn dam." thought Patricia bitterly.
She wasn't going to make arrangements. Not for flowers or a funeral service, or a memorial if God forbid they were unable to locate the body. Patricia was only going to make arrangements for a town car to take her and Henry to the district spelling bee, and then after to Norton's Steakhouse, where she would toast Henry's victory. Four margaritas for Patricia, and Shirley Temples for Henry, because he was a child. She wasn't going to make arrangements, and she started to tell her Father, but found herself slapping his face, instead.
"Patricia, stop, stop!"
Cakes were rolling around on the floor, and Patricia kept stepping on them with the heel of her thick, black shoes. They were perfect shoes for a funeral. So angry, so goddamned angry.
"I will sell my soul to anything, to an inanimate object if I have to, anything at all. I will sell myself to a lamp or a dashboard hula girl or a Midwestern Senator or God, if he isn't on hiatus, like all of the good television programs," Patricia thought, but what she said was a choked, "Henry, Henry, Henry," her mouth buried against her Father's chest, screaming into him like a human pillow.
Patricia sat on the floor, kicking off her wretched funeral shoes and examining her fat, white blisters. She was vaguely aware that she was sitting on something wet. Upon moving, she realized it was Colette's pizza.
"We really should pray," said Colette.
Patricia nodded and wiped away her tears. She clasped her hands together and prayed to God on hiatus. She prayed that wherever Henry was, God was being kind to him. Patricia concentrated on her prayer the way she had never concentrated on anything prior, not cooking, knitting, or being a good daughter, lover, or friend. She was so engrossed in prayer that she didn't notice the police officer escorting Henry, white-faced and disheveled, through the open doorway.
"Like Lazarus risen from the dead," breathed Cousin Colette, as everyone strained his or her necks to see.
That day Patricia sold her soul to an electric pizza maker.