| Friday, December 01, 2006
| Assigned Topic: "She died drinking lemonde."
|Tommy Jenkins told the entire fifth grade that my grandma was a witch. The other kids said they didn't believe him or anything, but they sure did stay away from our house on Halloween. Momma knew Grandma best of anybody, and the only time she ever looked scared of her was when we were in a restaurant.
And tonight was no different.
Romani's was the new Italian place down the street from the video arcade. They'd only been open a week and Mom kept saying they were still training their staff and asking Grandma not to get so upset. It didn't help.
"Waiter!" Grandma yelled at our waiter, who was halfway across the candlelit room. Even though we'd only sat down five minutes age, the host already knew the sound of her voice and he sent our waiter running across the crowded Italian restaurant.
"I'm sorry, I was with another customer. How can I help you, ma'am?" I blinked in the light. The waiter was Mr. Cleveland, my science teacher.
"I told you to cool off the glass first!" Grandma snapped. She yelled so loudly that the people at other tables turned to look at her. I felt my face get hot and red. Why did she always have to do this in restaurants? Mr. Cleveland looked at me for a long moment like he felt a little bit bad for me.
Grandma was particular about the way she liked her lemonade. She wanted the waiter to fill her glass with ice water, let it set a moment, then dump the water out and put the lemonade and the ice in. I never could feel any difference, but she could always tell when the waiter hadn't done it. My grandma hated a warm glass.
And she already hated Mr. Cleveland. That he was black probably didn't help much neither.
"Hi Lily," Mr. Cleveland said.
"Hey Mr. Cleveland."
Mom and Grandma looked back and forth between us.
"He's my science teacher," I said.
Grandma glared at Mr. Cleveland. "Then why are you waiting tables at night? Do you have a gambling problem or something?" She asked.
"No, Ma'am," Mr. Cleveland said. "I'm saving up to buy a ring for my girlfriend."
"I'm glad you're getting married. So many of your people don't bother. But you're going to have to wait a long time to get that ring. Your tips can't be very good if you can't follow simple instructions." Grandma said.
Grandma's eyes narrowed beneath her purple hat as the Mr. Cleveland scampered back to the kitchen with the glass.
"Dr. Fredrick says lemonade's going to be the death of you," Momma said coolly, studying the menu. Momma looked nice tonight. Her dress was brand new.
"Dr. Fredrick doesn't know anything, the Lord will take care of me" Grandma said.
God probably was a little it on Grandma's side, because Grandma usually got her way about everything. This restaurant usually didn't even serve lemonade. But when the host had taken our drink order, she'd told him that the restaurant had lemons, sugar and water and that the customer was always right.
Grandma always said she hated laziness. But as far as I could tell she hated waiters.
"I want the linguini puttanesca," my grandmother told Mr. Cleveland, shaking a long red fingernail at him. Grandma's fingernails were always long and red and her lips were always the same color red.
"We don't have that on the menu," the Mr. Cleveland said.
"The chef made it for me last time I was here," Grandma said, her voice starting to get loud again. Momma looked at me for a long second. She looked very tired. Truth is, this restaurant was brand new. Grandma had never been there. So either she was confused, or this was how she planned to get her way. Either way, there was no sense telling her.
Mr. Cleveland let his breath out slowly. "I'm sure he will make it for you again."
"With eggplant? He made it with eggplant last time."
"Yes, Madam, with eggplant."
"And make sure he puts capers in it," Grandma snapped. "He didn't put capers in the last time."
"Our chef would never forget the capers in puttanesca sauce," Mr. Cleveland said, sounding the slightest bit insulted.
"Well, YOU forgot to cool my glass," Grandma said in a voice that sounded like she was winning a game. Of course, it was the host who had taken our drink order and forgotten to cool the glass, but the waiters probably all looked alike to Grandma. I slid down in my chair. I couldn't believe Grandma was being so mean to Mr. Cleveland. If Momma had ordered already, she probably would have gotten up to go use the bathroom about then. But she hadn't, so she stayed in her seat and ordered. She got chicken carbonara. I got spaghetti and meatballs. Then Grandma asked for another glass of lemonade.
"Of course," Mr. Cleveland said.
"Cool the glass," my mother said softly, looking up at Mr. Cleveland. "Please?"
"Of course, Madam," Mr. Cleveland smiled softly at my mother, who smiled back. I think Mr. Cleveland liked her new dress, too. Lots of men smiled at my mother, but since my dad left and grandma moved in, Momma was always too busy to do much about it.
Before he ran off, Dad always used to tell me that women always grow up to be like their mothers. I hoped that was true, because I wanted to be as pretty as Momma. I was growing and growing, but I still didn't look as nice as Momma did, especially that night. She was wearing makeup and her hair was all done up. She usually didn't bother with any of that.
"So how are you doing in school, Lily? That man teaching you all right?" Grandma asked, pointing a red thumbnail at Mr. Cleveland's back as he walked off. She fumbled with her big gold purse and pulled out a long cigarette. My mother opened her mouth like she was going to tell Grandma that we were in the "No Smoking" section, but when grandma glared at her, she closed her mouth again.
"Mr. Cleveland's class is okay. I got a B+ on my social studies test," I proudly reported.
"Why wasn't it an A?" Grandma asked.
"I forgot the capital of Nevada."
"It's Carson City," my mother said,
"I know that NOW," I said. My mother smiled.
Grandma let out a long snort. "Well, now's too late."
"It's still a B+, Mom." Momma said. I didn't smile because I didn't want grandma to see, but it felt good when Momma stuck up for me.
"She should be getting A's," Grandma said. "She got Leonard's brains, she's smart like him." Even though she was an evangelical now, Grandma always made the sign of the cross when she talked about grandpa. Mommy dipped her head for a moment.
Mr. Cleveland came back with breadsticks and more lemonade, smiling at my mom again. Mommy smiled back and grandma gave another loud snort.
She grabbed the glass of lemonade with her red nails, and started drinking it down.
"Mom, please be careful," my mother said. "Lemonade is just full of potassium, and you're not supposed to have potassium with your kidney problems."
Grandma snorted again "Oh, go on, Daphne. A little lemonade never hurt anybody."
"You've had three glasses." I said.
"And we haven't even had dinner yet!" Momma said.
"Hush now," Grandma said, taking another drink. "I like lemonade. Makes me feel like I'm back home."
Momma stiffened. Getting Grandma talking about how great Georgia used to be was always a mistake. Grandma had loved Grandpa Leonard, but he'd made her leave Georgia to come here to Pennsylvania. Grandma loved to talk about Georgia and how much she wanted to go back.
"When I was back home," Grandma said. "Men behaved like men and did what was right. There wasn't any of this homosexual stuff going on…"
"Momma, please don't talk so loud," My momma said.
"And colored people knew their place!" Grandma finished triumphantly, if a little loudly. A black family two tables away stood up to leave, none of them looking at Grandma.
Mr. Cleveland must not have heard her either, because he came back over with a tray of thick, chewy Bruschetta.
"We didn’t order that and we're not paying for it!" Grandma said.
"Compliments of the house," Mr. Cleveland said, setting it gently down on the table.
"Let's say grace, then." Grandma said. Recently, she'd started saying grace all the time. She said it was because she was saved. Momma hadn't paid any attention until Grandma had started talking about changing her will to give our house to the church if Momma didn't fly right. Then Momma started to go to bed early with a glass of whiskey.
Grandma's prayer was long and boring and talked about God giving Momma the right kind of husband, and something about Momma not fornicating. I'd asked Grandma before what "fornicating" was, but she wouldn't tell me.
After Grandma said Amen, she snatched up a piece of bread and started eating it, finally quiet. Momma winked at me. Mr. Cleveland walked away, smiling. Grandma took another drink of lemonade.
My mother leaned back for a moment, her expression calm. She looked happy. At least Grandma wasn't talking about Georgia any more. When Dad left, Momma was really sad to have to move back in with Grandma. Momma worked hard to take care of Grandma now, but all Grandma did was complain and write big checks to her church.
I was glad to see Momma smile. She'd looked so sad and tired recently. Part of it was that she was sneaking out at night. She'd go to bed early with her glass of whiskey, but sometimes I'd hear her leave later after Grandma took her pills and went to sleep. I wondered where Momma was going, but never asked her. But tonight she was calm and relaxed as she watched Grandma eat her appetizer and slurp down lemonade.
A few minutes later, Mr. Cleveland came up with our order, and a new glass of lemonade for Grandma. As he sets the dish down on the table, Grandma barked,
"I need some cheese!"
"Of course, Madam," Mr. Cleveland said. I started eating my spaghetti. It was really good. Mr. Cleveland came back and put some cheese on Grandma's pasta.
"More!" She said. Mr. Cleveland put more on. Then he slipped off into the busy restaurant.
"Thank you," my mother called out after him, making Grandma snort again.
Grandma took a big bite, then cried out for Mr. Cleveland again with her mouth still full.
"Yes, Madam?" Mr. Cleveland said, reappearing almost immediately.
"This is too salty!" she said, pointing at her plate like it was a dead rat.
"I'm sorry, Madam," Mr. Cleveland said. He picked up the plate and went back to the kitchen.
Mr. Cleveland came back out with her plate. "Our apologies, Madam. I had the chef thin the sauce for you."
Grandma took a big bite. "It's still too salty! Take it back!"
Mr. Cleveland took the plate back to the kitchen again. I offered Grandma some spaghetti, but she told me to shut up. She was sweaty and looked very unhappy.
My mother patted Grandma's hand "It's just food, Mom. Don't get so upset."
"We pay good money for this food, and I want to be treated right!" Grandma snapped back. Her face was red and she was getting angrier and angrier.
After a minute, Mr. Cleveland came back out. "We've resauced the dish and carefully rinsed the anchovies," he said.
Grandma dumped cheese on it and took another bite. I could tell from her lips that her food still wasn't very good. Now her cheeks were bright red.
"What's wrong with you, you dumb…"
"Perhaps you'd like to order something else," Mr. Cleveland said, still calm.
"I want linguini puttanesca and I want you to make it right!" Grandma stood up and was openly yelling in Mr. Cleveland's face. Everybody in the restaurant was looking at them. "Why can't you cook a decent meal? Why is it so salty?"
Momma stood up and spoke, her voice even but just as loud. "It's salty because you wanted a dish made with anchovies, you wanted capers in it and you keep asking for parmesan cheese, which is also salty! And because you've drunk so much damn lemonade the sugar has your tastebuds extra sensitive to anything that isn't sweet."
Grandma stared down my mother, picked up her glass of lemonade and took a long, slow swig.
And then she grabbed her chest and keeled over dead.
Momma rode in the ambulance to the hospital and Mr. Cleveland drove me. We talked about dinosaurs on the way, because I didn't know what to say about Grandma. Momma filled out lots of paperwork and talked to doctors and called a funeral home. Momma had a loud voice, but I was down the hall and could only hear a few sentences at the time "So awful..." "Wouldn't do what the doctor said…" "Kept eating bananas and drinking orange juice and lemonade…" The doctors said something about renal failure and heart dysrhythmias.
The mortuary would pick up Grandma from the hospital later, but Momma didn't need to stay for that. Momma cried a lot in front of the doctors, but as we walked out of the hospital, she suggested we all go for ice cream.
By then it was really late, but the diner across town with the waitresses in poodle skirts was open. Momma let me get a banana split of my very own and she and Mr. Cleveland got a milkshake with two straws.
After our desserts came, Mr. Cleveland a paper bag out of his pocket. "Connie," he said to my mother. "I still have this?"
Momma took the bag from him and went to the bathroom. I watched her go, then turned back to look at Mr. Cleveland.
"I'm tired," I said. "And I haven't done my homework yet."
Mr. Cleveland patted me on the hand. "Don't worry about it, Lily. What with your Grandma dying, I don't think you'll have to go to school tomorrow."
I nodded and took a bite of banana split. When Momma got back to the table, Mr. Cleveland had another surprise. He pulled out a little velvet box. Momma opened it and giggled.
"I finally got my girlfriend that diamond ring," Mr. Cleveland said.
"Oh Lily, you're going to have a Daddy!" Momma cooed. She leaned over and kissed Mr. Cleveland.
I got up to go to the bathroom, while Mr. Cleveland and Momma made kissy faces at each other and called each other stupid names.
The bathroom was big, with pink walls and black and white checked tile. I looked under the stall doors to make sure I was alone, then went over to the trashcan and dug through until I found the paper bag. I pulled the bottle of potassium pills out of it and stuck it in my backpack.
After all, before he ran off Daddy always said that women grew up to be their mothers. Momma was already starting to get gray hairs.
I might need those pills some day.
Labels: crime fiction noir
|posted by Chalicechick @ 4:48 AM
I also think I know where you got some research for the puttanesca.
I also loved the "gross" bit. I was well placed and wonderful :D
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