Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen - Installment Seventeen - Installment Eighteen
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Tory arrived at the community center on Wednesday to find a blur of activity; some of it work, some of it purely social. Neil and Emma were there – they’d been able to ‘sneak away,’ as Neil put it, earlier than expected. Emma buried herself in family, hissing to Jane that one of her high-school boyfriends was there, and recently divorced, and ready to make a pest of himself. Neil flirted outrageously with every woman over high school age until Mr. Abood, who had a beautiful daughter back for the weekend from her sophomore year of college, sent him off to buy a few more rolls of tape. Jane, collared by a local councilman, earnestly gave advice on how best to evaluate the town’s investment advisors. Rob Tucker came over to haul Tory away from the boxing area to the several tables where volunteers were building sandwiches. “I’m sure we’re not doing it very efficiently,” he reported. “You come organize things, will you?” Tory rolled up her sleeves and got the job done, with tact and flair. That she was entirely ignorant of her flair was part of her tact, her parents agreed.
By mid-afternoon the work was completed, the Abood’s van so thoroughly filled that Mrs. Abood was in her seat holding one large bag of sandwiches on her lap, with another at her feet. Gradually people drifted away, and family groups re-formed. The Bird contingent headed out to its various vehicles, and convened again at the farmhouse. Emma built up the fire in the living room, Neil insisted on making toast over the fire, and their father presented, with a flourish, a handsome plate of brownies he’d bought in Cambridge. “Harvard Squares, they call them,” he announced. “Right there in Harvard Square. And there are chocolate-dipped fruits for you health-food types.”
Neil and Emma had to hear the menu and job assignments then, and Neil grimaced at the head count. “One more,” he said. “Sorry. But while I was getting that tape for Mr. Abood, I ran into Mrs. Tambor, and she was talking to some newcomer, Florrie someone. So she introduced us, and the Florrie mentioned she was having Thanksgiving alone – she’s divorced, I guess, and no kids – and I think she was hinting for an invitation. But Mrs. Tambor wasn’t getting it, so I offered her a place at our table. She was really grateful – kept stroking my arm.”
“Fleurie Gold, I bet,” Tory clarified. “Blonde? Short but high-heeled? Runs an antique shop?”
“Sounds like,” said Neil, not knowing his sister’s generous heart shrank a bit at the confirmation. But it was impossible to begrudge hospitality to anyone when she herself was so happy. Her loneliness of a few weeks earlier seemed distant indeed, and she thought that by Monday, she might be yearning for solitude.
The next day, Thanksgiving, Jane took the dogs for a big morning walk, leaving Tory to sleep in a bit, dozing to the distant sounds of her parents preparing the stuffing and wrestling the turkey into its roasting pan. Even better, she got to smell the aromas of sage and sautéeing onions. Emma padded into her room from across the hall, where she was sharing with Jane, and asked for help studying for her advanced anatomy test. The two of them wound up under the covers, giggling in flannel over the musculoskeletal lever system.
By mid-morning they were all enjoying a sumptuous feast of scrambled eggs, bagels and melon, with mimosas. “As if this motley group needed additional holiday cheer,” their father mock-grumbled. The plates cleared and kitchen cleaned, they set to work messing everything up again.
At 2:00pm, the clarion clanging of the front-door knocker, strongly plied, broke through the family babble. Mr. Bird opened the door to Max and Jaap, welcoming them with his friendly warmth. Tory, whisking her cheese sauce, heard their progress through the living room, to meet Aunt Lindy and Emma, writing place-cards, into the dining room, where her mother was setting the table, and thence to the kitchen. Where, she thought a bit savagely, Jane and Neil were peeling potatoes, and she was encrusted with roux and flushed with steam from the various pots bubbling on the stove.
She contented herself with a smile for the guests, refusing to let go of her whisk, while Neil took a large wooden bowl from Jaap. “Look at this,” he exclaimed, bringing it over to Tory. “If every salad were like this, I’d eat a lot more of it.” Jaap beamed, and Tory concurred with Neil. The dish was loaded with deep greens of spinach, spiky herbs, peas and beans, the tender greens of cucumber and sprouts, rich purple cabbage, bright red pepper strips and lively orange carrot shreds. The whole thing was decorated with cubes of hard-cooked eggs and peanuts. “That is gorgeous,” she complimented Jaap. “Thank you so much.”
Neil declared that he would put it in the pantry to keep cool, on a high shelf, “so these useless mutts don’t get at it.” Jaap then presented, with a flourish, a glass bottle of peanut-based dressing. “There is maple syrup in it, from New Hampshire, for just a little sweetness.” Jane, brandishing a chef’s knife, oohed appreciatively; Tory murmured, “Yum,” and moved to the table to punch down her rolls. Max stood by a wall, quietly watching the constantly shifting scene. In the midst of the friendly holiday chaos, why was she so aware of him?
The onions safely be-cheesed, Tory kneaded her scissor-roll dough, conscious of Max watching. She was relieved when her mother came in and collared him: “Max, perfect. I need someone tall to get the water glasses. Are you at all familiar with the Batavi people?” They left the kitchen, her mother quizzing Max on ancient tribes of northern Europe.
Rolls and onions in the oven, pies standing by, Tory reached a resting point. She wandered into the living room, where her mother was still grilling Max, now apparently about the history of anesthetics. Her movement caught her mother’s eye, however, and recalled her to her surroundings. “I must baste,” Mrs. Bird announced. “Tory, come and talk to Max.”
A bit shy, Tory took the few steps to the couch, but Max had already risen at her mother’s departure. “Your mother has a deep knowledge of medical history,” he remarked. “Medical anthropologist,” Tory explained apologetically. “That cabinet,” she gestured toward an imposing piece of furniture at the front of the room, “used to display several primitive surgical implements. Dad put his foot down at about the eighth one, and said he got enough of that sort of thing at the office. He’s a doctor – family medicine, with a subspecialty in tropical disease, in case I haven’t mentioned that. Even though they were all archaic, he said it was enough that he knew what they were meant to do. They had a very silly mock-argument about it, and now they’re in a cabinet at her office at the university.”
Max chuckled, and directed Tory’s attention to a cluster of photos on a shelf. “I’ve been wondering about the lady in the turban,” he said. “I can’t decide whether she looks wistful or determined.”
“Oh, you’ve spotted our romantic debate. That’s mother’s Aunt Lauren, on her wedding day,” Tory told him. “Family legend has it she was desperately in love with her sister Joan’s fiancé, and Joan ran off to New York with a Broadway producer, and Lauren and Great Uncle Ilya – that’s the fiancé – got married instead. He was a foreigner, and had the first modern optician’s shop in Grafton County, and I can remember him saying how he loved how warm it is in New Hampshire. Compared to St. Petersburg, you see.
“Anyway, Great Aunt Lauren married him instead of Great Aunt Joan, and they were either happy or stoic, depending on who’s telling the story. And that all happened in the mid-50s, but that’s no excuse for wearing a turban to get married. Jane thinks it’s chic, but Emma and I hate it. Neil doesn’t like hats unless they’re knit and cover your ears; Mother loves it and threatens to get one, and Dad just shakes his head. And maybe the whole story’s made up; Great Aunt Joan died before I was born, in Connecticut, and she was certainly never a star on Broadway. She was a smoker, though – lung cancer. You know how it was back then; according to Aunt Lauren everyone had to pretend she had bronchitis, but of course she knew bronchitis didn’t hurt that much. But they all kept pretending Great Aunt Joan would get better, and Mum’s Great Uncle Arnold used to say it was the worst thing he ever did. Anyway, that’s the closest I know to a family scandal.”
“The scandal is that turban,” Emma said, strolling over to join them. She repeated her comment, louder to make sure Jane heard. “I refuse to rise to that bait,” Jane called from the kitchen. “She’ll get me for it later,” Emma commented philosophically. “She’s a grudge-bearer. Mother looks silly in this dashiki thing, doesn’t she?” She had picked up another of the family photos.
“I think she looks happy,” Tory said. Max’s eyes gleamed briefly, before his eyelids dropped. Emma looked at him, then at her sister. She ambled back toward the kitchen while Tory introduced other relatives and friends to Max via the photos. “Europeans don’t usually display family photos, do they?” she asked. “I remember English people being surprised by our pictures when we lived in Northumberland one year.”
“Perhaps they – we – are simply more formal about family portraits, as we are about many other things,” Max noted. “I’ve often visited English friends who prominently display paintings of family members, in an entrance hall or over the drawing room fireplace. People with large enough homes once kept portrait galleries stocked with ancestors, dressed and posed to impress visitors and future generations, and inspiring arguments about the suitability of lace jabots and leghorn hats. I like your friendly celebration of family here. And I like this one – you, correct?” He pulled forward a small print of Tory, aged about seventeen, smiling at her father’s camera while the wind blew leaves and her hair around.
She mumbled confirmation, “Yup, me.”
“You’re lovely,” Max said. Well, she was in the picture, Tory supposed – certainly happy – and she didn’t feel up to exploring his use of the present tense. He broke the silence by cheerfully noting, “I see you polished the door knocker.”
“Umm... yes. Yes, I did,” was as much of a reply as Tory could managed. By good luck, Bob and Ilona were beating a tattoo on that door knocker, and the hubbub that accompanied their arrival allowed her to slip back to the oven.