Mom squints, narrowing in on a memory or an argument maybe.
Not so hungry after the stale corn bread, and interested in how the hay got in the back seat of the green car, I close the freezer door without even looking for the loaf of bread and take a seat at the table.
Mom says, “Must have been someone else in Pete’s backseat, because it wasn’t me.” If I had to bet, I’d say she’s lying now.
“It was you.” Dad grins from ear to ear. “In that little jacket with all those buttons.”
“It was a little green car and it didn’t have a back seat. It had a rumble seat.” Mom slumps, making it pretty clear that Dad’s on to something. “You can’t remember if you had breakfast.”
“Little mother-of-pearl buttons.”
Mom holds her hand to her mouth. “You remember those buttons?”
They’re both quiet for a minute. Buttons, that’s a new twist in the old story.
“I married the little Briere girl,” Dad says, like the wonder of it happened yesterday. “A spit of a thing. Prettiest girl in Fairview. She was something.”
“I’m still something.” Mom fingers the single snap on the neck of her sweatshirt.
“The prettiest?” I ask. “You remember them all, Dad?”
“As long as he remembers the prettiest,” Mom says with the satisfaction of a woman who knows what it means for her husband to think she’s the prettiest girl in town. “My brother thought you were too old for me.”
“We’re both too old now,” Dad says. “How did we get so old?”
“Lucky,” Mom says.
Dad is starting to lose his way. It always happens like this; first he gets this anxious look then he starts fidgeting and looking around like he’s lost or he’s lost something.
“You asked ‘How did we get so old?’” Mom says. “And I answered, “Lucky.’” This is one of their seasoned exchanges. It doesn’t seem to orient him. Mom pats his hand. “It’s okay. I said ‘My brother thought you were too old for me.’ And that made you a little nervous, I think.”
Dad nods his understanding. “‘The old bastard’,” he says, referring to the term his dead brother-in-law pinned on him over sixty years ago. Or possibly, because of the way his grin has returned, Dad is turning the phrase on the dead brother-in-law himself. “I was an old bastard. Ten years older than you. Should have waited.”
“We did,” Mom says.
“Lotta buttons after a long war.” Dad delivers this line with confidence, like he’s practiced it all his life.
“Your daughter is making our lunch.” Mom raises her eyebrows, this time to let him know he’s about to cross a line.
“She’s not moving too fast,” Dad says. I’m still seated at the table. “You think the stork brought you?” He asks me.
“Yes.” I put my hands over my ears. “Children in the room.”
Dad covers his ears too. “How old are you?”
“Fifty-five.” He frowns like I’m trying to pull one over on him.
Mom says, “She’s fifty-five and I’m thirty-five.”
He nods and smiles as if this statement makes perfect sense. He gives me the smirk and whispers to Mom, “She still thinks the stork brought her.”
Mom whispers back, and deaf as he is, Dad hears what I don’t. They both laugh.
“I’m too young for this,” I say.
“We picked you out of the cabbage patch,” Dad says.
Mom leans across the table to whisper something else in his ear. She grins.
Dad’s expression verges on anger. “Before we were married,” he says stubbornly.
Mom sighs. “Oh, don’t get mad. It wasn’t a cabbage patch. It was a corn field.” Up go her eyebrows. “You remember the corn field?” She sits tall and lifts her cold cup of coffee like she’s about to make a toast. There is no doubt in my mind that somewhere in their shared past there was in fact a field of corn. “And the wedding was the next day.”
First there’s a flash in Dad’s eyes, then his body straightens up, then his face gets taut and alert like he’s listening hard for some far off sound. “The corn field,” he repeats. “Old Man Regnier’s corn field.”
“The corn field and the front seat,” Mom says. “No hay. Itchy little bits of cornstalk.”
“You’re making fast and loose with your facts, Mom.” Maybe I am a prudish fifty-five-year old who wants to believe a stork delivered her, but I don’t believe my mother. A virgin on her wedding night, that’s been Mom’s story, and I think she should stick to it.
Clearly, at this moment, neither of them is interested in what I think. They grin at each other - both teary eyed. I look at them hard and I can almost see them at that corner table at the club. I can almost make out the time bubble of memory surrounding them now. I sit in a chair between them but outside the stretchy membrane that holds them and watch Dad take Mom’s hand.
Never mind that she is the genius of her own old age, Mom, it seems, has found a way to give her self to Dad, again.
I feel a shiver and see that I was wrong. I have not completely given up being disconcerted by their well established sport of taunt and flirt. I move away from the table to the stove. With luck, Dad will forget that he hates provolone on a grilled sandwich and Mom will be too busy creating the rest of their world to worry about cheese.
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