In her heyday hosting a get-together wouldn’t have fazed Loretta, but trotting from store to store under a harsh sun, panting, unsure what was already in her bag and what was still to be purchased, she realized that the hey! had left her day years ago. No longer could she whip everything into shape—not her kids, who were grown and running loose in a cracked-up world; not her home, once pristine and party-ready; not even herself, although her hair was newly permed into ridges already softening with sweat, releasing a floral perfume with chemical top notes. It went without saying that Harold was in worse shape, sprawled on the Chesterfield watching televised sports like he’d taken a vow to see his teams through thick and thin, season after season, till death do them part. In the last few months his state of hygiene had sunk to a level beyond spousal rescue. And the people gathering tomorrow weren’t any folks you could make pleasant conversation with, but her own family returning to the homestead. Every lapse would mean something to them. If she burned the beans or offered a drink in a cloudy glass, glances would be exchanged. Harold’s stink would certainly be noticed. And the yard gone to ruin, a waist-high unmowable meadow. She’d swung the rusty scythe a few times around the back door, creating a rough patch for chairs, but left the rest wild. She planned to say it was better for the environment that way. Your father and I are against lawns. We’re into preserving habitat for wildlife now. The kids probably wouldn’t buy it. They were primed for decline.
“Don’t go to any trouble, Mom” her eldest daughter had said on the telephone. “We’re bringing all the food.”
Well, Loretta wasn’t falling for that nonsense. When family came, you fed them. No matter how fractious they were. And so there would be salads and fruit, lots of roughage, because the grandkids had refused to eat her roast last year. Nothing with a face, they’d explained, smirking. She was serving shrimp this time. She’d never seen a face on a shrimp. And the green salad would be sprinkled with bacon bits, fake meat anyone could eat. Plus cherry tomatoes, peppers, onions—no, someone had an allergy. Was it a son-in-law? Anyway, she’d leave onions out—cottage cheese sprinkled with dill, plenty of crackers, and a rainbow Jell-O mold to add cheer to the table. For dessert, peach cobbler with Cool Whip. They wouldn’t dare find fault with that.
She was nearly ready. She just had to nip into Eaton’s for a few items. Scurrying toward the entrance, she patted herself down looking for the list but couldn’t find it. No matter. In the cool brightness of the store, she could remember perfectly. T-shirts and underwear for Harold in practical navy or black to hide stains, and track pants, extra-large. For herself, a new bra. In a jiffy she’d find the one she liked among the rows of sturdy boxes standing at attention in the lingerie department—cross-your-heart support to brace a woman for the challenges ahead.
What a relief that some things didn’t change.
Laura Rock’s fiction has appeared in Canadian, U.S., U.K. and Irish publications, including The Antigonish Review, Pear Drop and Southword and is forthcoming in The New Quarterly. Anthologies include the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize (Munster Literature Centre, 2013) and How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting (TouchWood Editions, 2013). She lives in Lakefield, Ontario.
Follow her on Twitter @laurairock