Kathleen, on the phone, sounding as excited as her kids. “We’re all going to Jaime’s to snowshoe. We’ll pick you up on our way.”
“Cool! Do you have room for Chloe in her crate?”
“Take your phone,” said Andrew from New York, where he was inspecting the offerings at a police car auction.
“I’ll take it, Andrew, but it won’t work. Don’t worry—Liam’s a Boy Scout. Katrina’s studying karate. The bears are hibernating.”
“—Call me when you get back in, OK?”
“Snow day! Snow day!” the four kids chanted from the car.
“Where’s Andrew!” Liam kneeled on his seat, watching Annie nestle Chloe’s crate among the gear in the back of the van.
“He’s in New York, buying us a car.” Annie picked up the whining Chloe, dusted the snow off her head and pushed her into the crate. “Maybe we can rent him some snowshoes on Sunday, do this again.”
Chloe shook herself, annoyed, then accepted half a dog biscuit.
“Can’t he wear Ed’s?”
“Liam!” Kathleen called from up front. “If Annie tells you Andrew has to rent snowshoes, that is all the information you need.”
“Gave them away at the equipment swap last year.” Annie winked at Liam. “Now belt yourself back in, and let’s boogie!”
The snow had fallen hard overnight, keeping the school busses stationary, but now it was squalls and flurries. Kathleen eased the van back onto Annie’s road, which awaited a second pass from the plow, and drove slowly toward Jaime and George’s.
“Roads are quiet," she said. "Everyone else has the sense to stay home.” Then, “Anyone want to lead us in a song?”
“Purple People Eater!” called Liam.
Conor groaned, but he was the one who knew all the words.
George had broken trail for the first half mile, through their property toward the parkland they abutted. Now he was drying off by the wood stove, willing to keep order among Chloe and the two cats.
Outdoors Conor lead the way at first and then traded off with the three women. Two would head their line while one brought up the rear, “to make sure the bears don’t eat you,” Liam told Maeve, who was six, and the littlest.
“The bears are hibernating!” snapped Maeve, striding carefully forward in her equipment-swap gear: mini snowshoes and the fuchsia snowsuit she loved.
Outward bound, the path was uphill through the woods, the scene of a dream, everything blurred and soft, fir tree branches weighted with fresh snow, the path narrow between them. Their goal was a cleared rise with winter views of two mountain ranges and George and Jaime’s home tucked into the valley below.
What luck she had been off today, thought Annie. Yes, she should be writing, and she had been writing her novel, when Kathleen called, but she had so little time to spend with friends . . . and immediately, the devil-thought followed . . . you could leave the job . . . write every day, go outdoors every day, not just look at the sun through the window . . .
She pushed the thought aside. Think about this, now. She breathed through her nose, filling her lungs with air untouched by anything except trees and snow. You could breathe. You could write and go outdoors and breathe.
Heading the line, Annie reached the clearing first, followed by Kathleen.
“We’ve got ten seconds of silence,” said Kathleen.
Ten seconds later, they still heard nothing more than snow falling.
“This is why we live here, isn’t it,” said Annie.
“I was just thinking that,” said Kathleen, her smile visible within the hood of her cranberry jacket. “It’s why we put up with this Republican backwater. Speaking of which, how are you?”
“—You mean the car? I’m OK . . . I wish they hadn’t done it.”
“They, not he.”
“He’s not alone in it. But I’m not either. And we’re stubborn, Andrew and I.”
“Something to think about.”
Annie nodded. “Not so stubborn that we wouldn’t, each of us, make a deal with the devil.”
“Well!” said Kathleen. “This is a day without filters, isn’t it.”
They laughed, and then from down the hill they heard Jaime: “Mush! Mush, you huskies!” and saw fuchsia and blue, red and black through the trees.
“We did it!” crowed Liam. “We got to the top of the mountain!”
“We could go farther,” said Conor, “to the real top. He looked at his watch. "We have time.”
“The girls’ hair is frozen,” said Liam.
“Well, let’s wipe them off,” said Kathleen. She took a small towel from her daypack. “Maeve, your nose is an ice cube.”
“I did it, Mom!”
“You did! Congratulations!” Kathleen kissed Maeve’s forehead. “I’m leaving your hair icicles outside so they don’t melt on your neck.”
She did the same to Katrina—kiss and wipe—and then handed the towel to Liam.
“Did they spit in it?”
“No! Dry your face.”
“We have time to go farther,” said Conor.
“I suggest,” said Jaime, “that we all go back down to the house, and then anyone who wants to stay out longer can help me make trails to the compost, around the barn, down to the creek.”
“Vote!” said Conor. “Who wants to go farther?”
He got one loyalty vote from Liam.
“Settled,” said Kathleen. “Let us stand silently, looking around us, for five seconds, and then Conor, please lead the way down.”
At the house, Kathleen and Annie helped the girls off with their snowshoes.
“Are we having a meeting of the kitchen cabinet?” asked Conor, who, in this campaign, was secretary to the cabinet.
“When you and Jaime get back in,” said Kathleen.
“Five minutes,” said Jaime. “I really want the trail to the compost. C’mon, guys, can you run in your snowshoes?”
Indoors, George was on the phone. “Can you put a tarp over it? Just some good-faith indication that you’re trying to cover the back.”
He gave the phone to Annie. “Andrew bought a pickup.”
“A pickup?” Annie said into the phone.
“I always wanted to be married to a pretty girl driving a pickup truck. Now George says I’m not supposed to take it on the parkway.”
“Not without a cap on the back. Can you get a tarp, like he says?
“I’ll see. It’s sleeting down here.”
“Shit. How are the tires?”
“Fine. Thing’s a year old, five thousand miles.”
“What color is it!” called Katrina from the mud room.
“Tell her it’s white. You guys have fun?”
“Super. We want you to come out on Sunday.”
“If I get there by Sunday.”
“You will. Can you pick me up? You could get off the parkway early, at County 10. It crosses Pumpkin Hollow Road.”
“Pea soup!” called Jaime. “With a ham bone!”
The Kitchen Cabinet convened at the dining room table—the three women and Conor. At the counter, George cut up fruit for a salad. The other children were allowed to sit on the perimeter as nonspeaking observers. This meant that Liam and Katrina read their books and Maeve fell sound asleep in Kathleen’s arms. Chloe sat in Annie’s lap, her chin on the table, her eyes a half-mast.
“Doug knows this,” said Kathleen, “so I’m updating you: with the seat open, there will probably be a primary.”
“Sucks,” said Jaime.
Katrina and Liam looked up from their books.
“You don’t have to write that down Conor,” said Jaime.
“The useless and idle fragmentation of the left, Conor,” said Annie. “That’s what Jaime means. You can write that down.”
“Wait—" Conor wrote the phrase, next to Primary.
“Democracy, Conor,” said Kathleen. “People step up. The voters decide who among them would be the best to run for the seat.”
“After the candidates spend all their money,” said Jaime. “Anyway, then one of them runs against . . .”
“They’re looking at another Neanderthal,” said Annie. She named a man they had all heard of.
“He could slide right in,” said Kathleen.
“Without the expense of a primary,” said Annie.
“If he doesn’t beat his wife,” said Jaime.
Three sets of sapphire eyes followed the conversation, from face to face.
“Anyway,” said Kathleen, “the chairs of the county Democratic committees in the district will interview potential candidates soon and will endorse one of us.
“If they don’t endorse me . . . I don’t know. At this point the state committee is behind me, but if someone else comes up . . . I don’t know.”
“Do the primary, Mom,” said Conor, with Liam nodding hugely behind him.
“Thank you, dear.”
“We’ve got the bus,” said Conor. “No one else has the bus.” Liam cheered silently.
“He’s right,” said Annie. “We can get you on the primary ballot, whether or not those old white guys endorse you.”
“What do I write,” sighed Conor.
“’Probable G-O-P candidate,’” said Annie, and gave him the name. “Do you need me to spell it?”
“No, I’ve seen it in the newspaper. Thank you,” he added, feeling Kathleen’s eyes on him as he wrote.
“Consensus of the meeting,” said Jaime. “If there’s a primary, Mom runs in it.”
“This would be faster, Mom, if I had a laptop,” said Conor, writing.
Kathleen rolled her eyes. “If I win the primary, Mr. Secretary, the campaign may buy a laptop.”
Conor reached back and slapped hands with Liam.
“What’s our action plan,” said Jaime.
“Doug rehearses me for the interview,” said Kathleen.
“The kids clean the bus,” said Conor, writing.
“We all survey for support,” said Annie. “Like, if Kathleen runs in a primary, will Democrats in the district support her? Donate, yes, but go door to door, get out the vote?”
“They supported her before,” said Conor.
“And I lost,” said Kathleen. “They may see me as a loser.”
“You’re not a loser!” Conor’s face was stricken.
“Thank you, honey.”
“He’s right, said Jaime, "you lost by a hair. The Dems are crazy to run anyone but you.”
“And they are crazy,” said Annie.
Copyright (c) Debby Mayer
Chapter 59 / Filters
Doug arrived, having closed his woodworking shop early. Maeve woke up whiny but agreed to a bowl of soup with the other kids. Doug and George joined the kids, so the core Kitchen Cabinet gave up the table and stopped at the teapot on their way to the living room.
“We should always meet here,” said Kathleen. “You’ve made this kitchen so beautiful. I love this window for herbs.”
“I like this little drawer at the sink that tips out, and you put the sponge and the gloves in it,” said Annie.
“You can have that Annie,” said Jaime. “It’s not a big deal.” She paused. “Are you and Andrew moving? Are you getting married? What are you doing?”
“Could we back up?” said Kathleen as they settled at the wood stove. “Did you meet with Father Paul?”
“Yes. He gave us his Marriage Expectation Inventory. Six pages! He won’t marry you unless you meet with him, and he won’t advise you unless you fill out this form.”
“He has a lot of rules,” said Jaime.
“Sounds brilliant,” said Kathleen. “I bet you can’t discuss it with us.”
“No. We’re not supposed to discuss it with each other. You fill it out by yourself and then we meet with Paul again and talk about it. It’s not rules, the form, it’s expectations. What you expect from marriage.”
“Wished somebody had asked me that,” said Jaime. “Just tell us what the hardest question is.”
“. . . Only because I’ve been thinking about it. Actually, there’s a tie: ‘My number one goal in life is’ and ‘what is the best strength I bring to the marriage.’”
“Wow,” said Jaime.
“Should be required reading in high school,” said Kathleen.
“Does it ask about your car?” asked Jaime.
“Jaime,” said Kathleen, “she’s not supposed to discuss it.”
“We talked about the car. Whether I feel safe. That’s all I’ll say.”
“Can I just say one thing more?” said Jaime.
Kathleen and Annie waited. Wiry and intense from her dark hair to her slipper socks, Jaime was going to say it anyway, and really, she meant well.
“I just read this, the other day: ‘A third of all spouses of patients with bipolar illness develop serious depression and anxiety themselves.’”
Annie blinked. “Then two-thirds of them don’t.”
Jamie paused, then nodded. “OK. Marry the guy.”
“We should be happy about this,” said Kathleen. “Are you happy, Annie?”
“—I’m happy,” said Annie. “Except . . . and this is serious . . . except for dinner. Three-hundred and sixty-five nights a year.”
“Why is dinner your responsibility?” said Jaime.
“Because if it were Andrew’s, we’d starve. Or eat barbecue seven nights a week.”
“Right, said Kathleen. “He’s not a fussy eater. Neither is Doug. I put a little fresh salsa on everything, and he thinks I’ve worked magic.”
“If you want, I’ll give you lessons,” said Jaime. “Both of you.”
“Salsa,” said Kathleen. “Learn to make fresh salsa.”
* * *
“Anyone who’s going out to see the truck, please put on a hat!” called Kathleen.
Annie had been outdoors, taking Chloe for a walk-about, when the big white pickup truck pulled in.
Andrew tumbled out of the cab and embraced her. Once they were walking around the truck Kathleen let loose the boys, followed by George and Doug, all of them wearing their knit hats. Doug brushed off the tarp with a push broom. The boys climbed into the cab.
“You got this for two grand?” said Doug.
“Standard shift. That’s a deal-breaker in New York.”
“Good job with the tarp,” said George.
“I still got stopped.”
“Young cop. I told him I had just bought it at a police auction. He was fascinated. We stood in the snow while he took notes. Then he let me off with a warning.”
“Imagine how cute Chloe will look riding in the back,” said Annie. Chloe stood on her hind legs, grinning, her front paws on the wall. At the cab’s back window, Liam looked horrified. He hopped out.
“Annie you’re not supposed to do that,” he said.
“I’m sorry, Liam, don’t worry.” Annie picked up Chloe again and held her. “This is a girl who rides only in the cab.”
On the other side of the truck, George tapped the fake underbody with his knuckles. “You know it’s got this,” he said quietly to Andrew.
Andrew nodded. “It’s that obvious?”
“To the pros.”
“Guess I’ll have to keep it empty then.”
George smiled back at Andrew. “Guess you will.”
* * * *
“Did you wash your face before dinner?” Liam stared at Andrew across the table.
At the table’s end, Kathleen put her head in her hands.
“I did,” said Andrew. Ah did. “Hands and face. Don’t you wash up before supper?”
“Hands. Not face.”
“In hotter climates, it might be customary to wash your face before eating,” said Doug. He put a bowl of soup before Andrew and sat next to Kathleen.
Andrew nodded, buttering his bread. “In hotter climates. When you’ve been working outdoors. When you’ve been on the road for four hours.” He took a bite of bread, watching beyond the table, as Maeve held Annie in a tete-a-tete by the wood stove.
“But we do not customarily ask people about their personal habits at the table,” said Doug.
“Or anywhere else,” said Kathleen.
“Now, Mom, Dad. If you don’t ask, you won’t know, right Liam?”
* * *
Andrew was directed to sit by the wood stove with his coffee while the others prepared the various households to leave. Maeve found him there and climbed up on the couch to sit next to him.
“How are you Andrew,” she said.
"I’m good, Maeve,” said Andrew, smiling at the mother’s inflection in the child’s voice. “Sure glad to be here. How are you?”
“I’m good,” Maeve said with a nod. Then, done with the niceties, she shared her news: “Annie said I could pass out flowers at your wedding.”
Andrew stared at Maeve, marveling that Annie would send word through an angel, a small being with white-gold hair aloft around her face in the heat of the wood stove, this particular little being who had already struck him as otherworldly, coming from another world as she did, she and her sister Katrina, with their white-blond hair, alabaster skin and sapphire blue eyes.
The angel was waiting for a response.
“Maeve, honey,” he said, “that’s the best news I’ve had in—ten years.”
“Since Liam was born,” she said.
“Since Liam was born, since Conor was born, since your momma was born.”
Maeve giggled. “Silly.”
“May sound silly, but it’s true. Now, did you and Annie talk about what kind of flowers you’ll give out?”
“It depends on the season,” Maeve said carefully. “But no roses.”
“No, we don’t like roses. Too thorny.”
* * * *
“It was a day without filters,” Annie explained in the dark. “Maeve said, 'if you and Andrew get married, can I be the flower girl.'” They lay on their sides in Annie’s bed, their legs tangled. Her lips brushed his ear as she spoke.
“I felt I should be honest, so I said if we got married, it would be a small wedding, without flower girls. But she and Katrina could pass out flowers at the party afterward. Actually, I like the idea.”
“The flowers, the party, the small wedding?”
“All of it.”
“Yes, you.” She held him tighter. “Except . . . I worry about how to take care of you. The wedding is easy. Then we have forty years of growing old together.”
“We take care of each other,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing this. That, and forty years of having a good time growing old together.”
“You’re not dreaming?”
“No,” he said, “no. I’m awake.”
Copyright (c) Debby Mayer