“Half an hour at three-hundred and fifty degrees!”
Liza hadn’t even reached her front door, and she could already hear Estelle bellowing from inside the house. Part of her wanted to run back to Cara’s. The bag of various things her neighbor had given her for Estelle’s convalescence was growing heavier. She hoisted it higher on her hip, plastered on a smile, and walked in.
Estelle, in full makeup including penciled brows and faux beauty mark, shifted her weight in the lounge chair, wincing. “Liza. Sit. Adam’s fixing dinner.” She yelled toward the kitchen, “Leave the cover on!”
Adam spun around the corner clutching a wooden spoon in his fist. “Ma. I deal with the stock market all day. I think I can figure out how to heat up lasagna.”
“You gotta leave the cover on! Or else it’s gonna get all dried out on top; you’ll break your teeth. You know how much your father, may he rest in peace, paid for Charlie’s caps?”
“Ma, we won’t—”
“You tell him, Liza, maybe he’ll listen to you. Tell him to keep the cover on.” Her bloodshot gaze widened at her daughter-in-law. “What are you doing there still with that bag? You shouldn’t be carrying heavy things in your condition.”
Liza blinked, remembering she was supposed to be pregnant. Crap.
“Sit,” Estelle said. “Charlie, don’t just stand there, take your sister-in-law’s bag.”
“Of course.” He rushed up to take it from her arms and gave Liza a private, exasperated look, the “my mother is driving me crazy” look. She’d seen it on both of Estelle’s sons, except that on Charlie, it seemed more amusement and less anger.
“It goes in the bathroom,” Liza said, and then, forcing another smile, turned back to Estelle. “My neighbor, Cara, is a nurse. She loaned us a footbath from the physical therapy department of the hospital. Wasn’t that nice? It’s got heat, massage—”
“Good, and you’ll need it,” Estelle said. “When I carried these two, my feet hurt like you wouldn’t believe.”
Liza said, “I meant…she meant it for you.”
“What?” Estelle’s faux brows arched upward. “She didn’t need to fuss for me.”
“Really, it was no trouble. She already had it in the house from when her father was sick.”
Estelle still looked skeptical.
“I’m sure she cleaned it,” Liza said with a sigh.
“They’re great, Mom,” Charlie said. “You’ll love it. Come on, Liza, I’ll help you set it up. So you can get off those poor, aching feet.”
He followed her down the hall and said under his breath, “Tell me the rest of Cara’s hooch is in here.”
“Sorry. Just the footbath.”
In the bathroom, Charlie frowned at the various plastic parts he extracted from the bag. As he handed her the basin, he said, “How much water do you think a person can drown in?”
She blanched, remembering Estelle’s request in the hospital.
“I meant for me,” he said.
“If I don’t beat you to it.”
“Oh, no you don’t, Little Mama. You’re suffering for two now.”
From the kitchen came the groan of the oven door opening and closing.
“Did you leave the cover on?” Estelle said.
Adam yelled back, “Ma. For chrissake. I left the cover on.”
“Liza!” Estelle began to cough. “Liza!”
“I’ll be right there, Estelle,” she called out.
Charlie and Liza exchanged glances. Then out of the corner of her eye she saw a sanitary napkin wrapper that hadn’t made it to the trashcan. She snatched it up, balled it in her hand, and was about to stuff it underneath the rest of the garbage. Then she stopped. “What am I doing?” she said. “This pregnancy thing. It’s ridiculous. If I’m pregnant, you’re straight.”
Charlie appeared to think about that. “You know, I’m not sure which she wants to believe more.”
“There’s been too much pretending around here.” She let out her breath. “Did she see her room, at least?”
“She doesn’t like it. She says it’s too fussy, you shouldn’t have spent the money, and the window won’t stay open.”
Liza crunched the wrappings in her fist. “See, that’s what gets me. Stuff like that, she’s honest about. She’ll tell me she hates my new haircut, she’ll tell me if I’m gaining weight, but a tumor in her breast the size of a fucking orange—”
“Liza!” Estelle barked, making Liza flinch.
“Ma,” she heard Adam say, the patience in his voice barely contained. “She’ll be back in a minute.”
“You have that cover on? Liza! Check if he’s got the cover on.”
Liza closed her eyes and massaged her temples. Charlie patted her shoulder. “Come,” he said. “Let’s rescue my poor brother.”
“Ma,” Adam said. “Enough about the cover. You don’t like what I’m doing, there’s the phone. Call in Chinese.”
Liza walked into the kitchen. Charlie went for the refrigerator and a cold beer. She went for her husband. She touched Adam’s cheek. Relief seemed to wash over his face.
“Might as well,” Estelle said. “It’s the only food that tastes like anything.”
“That’s because you smoke,” Liza said. “You’ll see, now that you’ve stopped, soon you’ll be able to taste things again.”
“Who says I stopped?”
“Ma,” Adam said. “You’ve had your last cigarette.”
“You can’t tell me what to do. I’ve been smoking since I’m thirteen years old. And it’s not like anything’s gonna help now.”
“Liza? Is that cover on?”
She gathered Adam in a hug and felt him relax—slightly—against her. Without turning away, she batted out a hand, groping for the oven door. Charlie stepped in and quickly opened and closed it again to provide the required sound effect.
“It’s on, Estelle,” Liza said. “No need to worry.”
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