Are You Adaptable (part two)
If it were possible for a knock to seem unfamiliar, this one did, coming louder. Beloye fluffed hair from the collar of her dress. (Still one earring.) She edged by the footrest of Dan’s recliner, and he tapped her hip with a toe in a sock. He had yet to slide into shoes. He wore his grey sweatshirt, cargo shorts. She’d have to try, though:
“Hon, put some jeans on.”
“See if it’s them!” Heidi called out. Glass and silverware clinked in the kitchenette. “Who put a dirty spoon in?”
“Hey, here we are!”
Pushing as the door swung back, Nola blocked Beloye’s view. Or wanted to. Her companion’s head stood well above her own, a pleasant face, but not Arnold’s. Nola had said this cheerful thing with widening eyes that telegraphed: “Be normal, please.”
Dan, who liked and approved of pizza, was galvanized to his feet by its smell. The man coming in on the heels of Arnold’s wife carried two. Dan transferred boxes to his mother’s arms, laying on a possessive clamp, eyes gauging the stranger, narrow in disapproval.
“I’ll get plates.”
“Why get plates? We don’t need plates.”
“Some people,” said Heidi, “might want plates.”
“This is Stenner,” Nola told Beloye. Stenner offered his hand. Yes, a nice looking man.
“I’m Beloye, that’s Dan. Arnold’s brother.”
Heidi clattered, pulling down from an overhead cabinet glasses she’d put away minutes ago. And if body language could express anything so direct, Beloye thought Heidi’s noise, and compression of shoulders and lips, expressed, “Beloye! Shut up!”
Stenner smiled patiently. He tugged back his hand.
Dan, arm draped over the refrigerator door: “Cripes sake, Mom, what do we need glasses?”
Am I a member of this family? Beloye asked herself. She caught Stenner’s eye, having meant only to duck her head out of sight, while rolling her own. The two of them waited on the periphery, Nola helping fuss.
“Beloye,” Stenner said. “You might like some of this.” He slid a paper bag onto the bartop.
She found herself at eye level with its upper third. Here was the name of an emporium unknown to her: Captina, sans-serif, taupe on olive. Stenner extracted a four-bottle carton, lower-case, one letter to a stripe of olive, the next to a stripe of taupe, labeling—
f a r m h o u s e a l e
And logoed with a cloud…or rather…she peered…fatuous smile, black dot of nose…
Using one hand, he picked up two wine glasses. With his other, he picked up one bottle of ale. “You may,” Stenner said, moving into the living room and placing glasses and ale on the coffee table, pulling a Swiss army knife from an inside pocket of his jacket, practicedly flipping out the opener, “notice nuances of Boysenberry.”
“I notice them,” she told him, sipping. She might herself have called it cabbagey. But she had no frame of reference for Boysenberry notes in a small taste of warm ale.
“Maybe,” Dan said, “you should take my chair, Mom. ’Cause there’s no room on the sofa. Unless someone moves.”
Beloye scooted tight against the armrest. Next to her Stenner shrugged, equably, and spread. Nola darted in, knelt to the table, laid plates. Breathing with exertion, Heidi at last edged around Dan. She dropped, gusting a sigh, next to Stenner.
“You’re Nola’s friend,” she told him.
“We decided…” Nola reached behind and caught a barstool by the lower rung.
“…why not come over here instead, if we’re just having pizza?”
We decided, Beloye thought. Heidi and Nola on the phone. Dan smug in his schlumpy gear; Heidi her pink sweat suit. Nola, wearing jeans, a poncho. Beloye, the fool in the room as usual, dressed to go out. At least Stenner was wearing a sports jacket.
Of course, to be fair, home life for Nola might be awkward just now.
“I guess,” she ventured, using this prompt to pry a little intelligence, “if we came over, it might be awkward.”
Dan had ported one of the boxes to his territory; he chewed brooding, hunched in the La-Z-Boy. “Awkward,” he repeated, mouth full, sarcasm spewed with a divot of pepperoni.
“Let me tell you my graveyard story,” Stenner said. “And you can tell me what you make of it.”
His mother, Stenner told them, was recovering from surgery. He was caring for her Pom, Trinket.
“You’re looking after your mother’s dog, that’s good.”
“Shut up, Mom.”
“I cut him off at three pm, for food, then take him for a dump just before bedtime. Not my Mom’s schedule. In my place, boot camp. Little bastard needs to learn discipline. So, about eleven last night, before I turned in, I put Trinket on the leash.”
Used to being carried, the dog lagged and flopped, but under cover of dark Stenner made progress, two blocks of tugging and toting. He decided to cut through Green Mount Cemetery. “Yeah, I confess, I don’t like pooper-scooping. I was up to no good.”
Are You Adaptable
Are You Stories
(copyright 2015, 2018 Stephanie Foster)