The Bog: part five (short story)
It was how little they really knew each other. They’d had these holidays…Laurel visiting, happy her Dad seemed settled in with Debbie, but bored in their house, miserably eager to leave them.
The house was near an overpass; it caught a constant rise and fall of grinding motor and rushing air, sucking along the concrete barrier. Its acre was framed by a river shallower than Rust Creek, and a drainage ditch beside a gravel road: house, carport, and metal shed hemmed in by woods.
Her Dad had liked his salt lick, the baby fawns that came right up into the yard.
Not having a car, Laurel waited at her apartment for him to pick her up. Then she waited for Christmas to end, sometimes walking around the yard, sometimes watching TV. Playing stuffed animals with Rachel. Giving them voices and hopping them around. Not helping Debbie…Debbie set things out from the refrigerator; she didn’t cook.
At twenty-five or so, Laurel had said: “I have stuff to do, Dad. It’s okay, isn’t it?”
She hadn’t spent Christmas with them after that. She’d sent cards, and for a while asked Debbie, “What do you guys need?”
“Oh, now, hon, I got more knick-knacks than I know what to do with.”
Rachel, having after a minute caught the allusion, said: “Oh, yeah, dipping ’em. That was Dad’s thing.” She added, “You know, you should come over for Christmas. Or Thanksgiving, if you want. Maybe that’s easier.”
“What if I asked you to come over?”
The LED lantern, turned down dim inside the tent, put out one sharp blue oval, not enough light to read faces by. The calculation that brought the silence was, of course: what sort of place does she live in, these days? Is it clean? Is she serious?
“We could potluck.”
She wasn’t serious, or hadn’t been. But why not insist on this right, too? Rachel—from watching talk shows, Laurel thought—had around the time January resolutions would be featured, decided they were sisters and ought to be better friends. See more of each other. She’d emailed this.
Laurel emailed back that she was out of work, was drawing her retirement, and volunteering to keep busy. She was volunteering, to be seen by neighbors going in and out of her house, verifiably known to talk to people. She was building an armored defense of normality. You needed to, when you were over sixty, and alone.
“I don’t want you buying a turkey…or…getting started thinking your dishes aren’t good enough, or you need to get the carpets cleaned, or anything…”
“Too bad. I was gonna buy one of those mail-order hams.”
Rachel missed a beat. But then she laughed.
“No, you should come,” Laurel said.
“Well, okay. You mean Thanksgiving.”
“Bring Alex, if she’s home.”
“She won’t be. Jeff’s Mom could be.”
Jeff had a brother and sister. His mother had four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren. The little ones lived about a hundred miles distant…but all this was “close” to Rachel’s mother-in-law, who flew up from Scottsdale. Laurel knew this from Rachel’s stories; outside Jeff, she had never met any of the family.
“She stays with us, and then she goes out visiting. I’d have to ask her.”
To read Rachel’s voice, she was ticked at having to ask her…because the invitation itself was upending, or because, as Laurel’s sister recounted it, Jeff’s mother arrived, set up camp in the guest room, made declarations: “I’m bringing my own bed” (she did, it inflated); “I need the car Saturday”.
“Email me when she gets there. It’s my job to invite her.”
“Well, that’s true.”
“I don’t care if she says no.”
“You and me.”
Laurel was about to say, “We should try to get some sleep.” She was now hosting a dinner. She ought to run a plan through her mind.
A noise that had been coming on them in stealth grew insistent enough to have a definite character.
The character was of plodding feet.
“Oh, it’s not a bear!” Rachel said.
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)