Kitchen III

My first summer back
from NYU, my sister was interning
at the College.
My brother was sleeping mostly
at the Reservoir.

Somehow, I thought a year
away would bring me back
to Jenna. But weeks of late hours
after work and early afternoons
waiting around corners, or in closets,
or whole mornings climbing
the basement stairs
seemed to count for nothing.
I had to give up.

So I spent most nights drinking
with my mother.

One night I came in with a bottle
of Woodford Reserve. She smiled
and poured me a glass of gin.

I would never have written
us this way, you know.

What do you mean?

Oh, you and me,

Yeah, I would’ve predicted
bourbon, myself.

She smiled in a way
that made me uncomfortable.

I didn’t want this life
for you. Your father always working
at Rusty’s, and me always one essay
behind. I never got the childhood
with you I wanted.

There was a long pause.

Go on.

Suddenly she looked flustered, like she was just realizing
what she’d just said.

What do you want to know?

A few minutes passed.
I looked at the back yard.
My head bobbed slightly
with alcohol,
and I felt an opportunity

How did you guys make money
before you worked at the College?
Did Dad have a job?

Of course he had a job.

No…! What did he do?

He worked for an ad agency
in Boston.

You’re kidding.

Of course I’m not kidding.
When we moved from New York
your grandfather asked around
his old infantry unit
and found him a tidy something.

I had no idea!

That’s so strange.
I thought you knew.

At this point the gin started
making the world a bit soft.

No, I was… I thought he’d always
been a freelancer. I didn’t know
he could work for someone.

Oh, I didn’t say that.

Maybe her world seemed
a little pliable, too.

Tell me again how you found
our house, in Wellesley?

God. Let’s see.
She studied a corner
of the ceiling.

We were living in this delicious
little apartment in Harvard Square.
Your father worked at Gorlin, Seydel
and Smith, and I was temping at the College.

You rode the train out?

She nodded.

It was wonderful. We were just around
the corner from the Harvard stop, and the Brattle….
Open lectures at the colleges….
We’d have friends for dinner
three nights a week. I think your father loved it,
too, but Lord, did he want space to work.
She sighed, then paused.

Then a position opened
in the English department.
It wasn’t what I wanted
to teach, but it was better than retyping
someone else’s words all day.

It was unorthodox for a woman to teach
college-level composition, even at a women’s college,
but… Bruce was unorthodox.
We spent my entire interview talking about…
about unions. I think that’s what convinced him.
He said there could be a journalism department
soon, and I could help start it.

But how’d you end up here?

I’m getting to that.
She sipped her drink.
Your grandparents.

Which ones?

All of them. Mom laughed.
First your father’s parents came
for a weekend. That apartment was perfect
for two, but dinner for four
was cramped. Anders and Jessica didn’t care
for that, and offered to help us buy
a house.

A few weeks later, my parents came in.
My father loved our little place
but my mom wouldn’t have it.
When your father mentioned his parents
wanted to help us buy in the suburbs,
she bolted up in her seat and declared
they would help.

Three months later, I was locking the door
and giving back the keys.

How was it?

Mom raised her glass and didn’t drink.

At first…
it was great. I think we were the town
radicals. We threw parties—you remember
some of those—I started researching
for my book, and I was invited
to join the Journalism steering committee…
then I had to take more classes.
And before long…

She patted her belly.
Then Mom looked me uncomfortably
in the eye.

None of it winds
the way you expect. The whitewater comes
and you can’t feel the bottom.
You think you and this lovely
man are going to be some kind of force in the world,
some kind of Mississippi,

and one day you wake up a brook
without a name, just begging
to be a Charles.

Added: April 5, 2013 | Last changed: August 14, 2015