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Authors: Kristan Higgins

Catch of the Day (9 page)

BOOK: Catch of the Day
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My thoughts are cut off as a Hummer growls down the street, plowing through an enormous puddle. A sheet of muddy, icy water slaps down on me, drenching and punishing. “Hey!” I yelp. The vehicle slows at the library, pulling into a parking space near the front door.

“Asshole,” I mutter. Fully intending to march down the street and tell them they’re idiots, I find myself slowing down. A woman, dressed in a cheerful red raincoat and matching hat, gets out of the passenger’s side. She opens the back door and out pop three blond children wearing colorful raincoats and brightly colored boots. The mother extends both hands, and the smaller children each take one, the oldest kid running ahead to hold the door for his mother and sisters. Even from a half a block away, I can hear their laughter.

I guess I won’t tell them off. They’re not idiots, after all. As a matter of fact, they look like an ad for clean American living, aside from the earth-defiling vehicle they drive. They look like the kind of family I’d like to have someday. The woman seems like the kind of mother I’d want to be: laughing, well-dressed, unconsciously affectionate, automatically protective.

Then the driver’s door opens and out gets Skip Parkinson.

His presence is like a punch to the stomach, so silent and stunning that I actually bend over. I haven’t seen him since the day he dumped me, that awful day when he brought his fiancée back home.

Skip glances down the block, and though I knew him immediately, it’s clear he doesn’t have that same instinct for me, despite having just soaked me through to the skin. My teeth begin to chatter, but I don’t move, just watch as Skip casually jogs into the library, still full of easy, athletic grace.

Skip must be visiting his parents. No doubt the lovely, adorably dressed children got antsy being stuck inside, so Skip and Mrs. Skip took them to the library to get a book or a movie that would occupy them for the rest of the day. No doubt Skip and Mrs. Skip will return to the Parkinsons’ lovely home on Overlook Street and cuddle and read on the couch, the fire crackling, their legs entangled.

That could have been me in the bright red raincoat, being driven through the cold rainy afternoon by Skip, my husband. Those cheerful, hand-holding kids might have been mine.

Turning around, the cold rain slicing my face, I race home. It’s only three blocks, but I run as fast as I can, and by the time I get there, I’m gasping. I pound up the stairs, hoping that Mrs. K. doesn’t decide she wants a chat or a pedicure, and burst inside. The only sound is of my rasping breath and the rain drumming on the roof.

Colonel hauls himself out of his dog bed and woofs softly. I kneel down and hug him, burying my face in his beautiful fur. “Oh, buddy, I’m so glad to see you,” I say. “I love you, Colonel.”

When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad. I give my dog some chicken breast to reward him for his love, then go to the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. Bad idea. Bedraggled, wet hair sticks to my face, which is blotchy with cold. My mouth is grim.

I slam my way out of the bathroom and go to the cupboard above the fridge—the rarely-used liquor cupboard—and take out the unopened Irish whiskey given to me by a nice old man who died about five years ago. I used to bring him dinner on Wednesday nights. Mr. Williams. Nice guy. I slosh about six ounces into a glass and raise it. “Here’s to you, Mr. Williams,” I say, drinking. Yuck. I grimace hugely, shudder, then take another swallow.

Grabbing the phone, I call the bakery in Machias and order eighteen loaves of Italian bread, then call Will, who is at the hospital up there today, on his cell.

“Will, can you do me a favor?” I ask abruptly.

“Sure, Maggie, sure. You okay?” he asks.

I tell him about the bakery order, remind him to come to the spaghetti supper. He is happy to pick up the bread. Great guy, that Will. I drink to him, too. “And here’s to you, Colonel Love Pup,” I say, raising my glass to my dog. He wags his tail and rests his head on my foot.

I look at the clock. 3:09. Octavio closed today, and is probably already home with his wife and five kids. I hope he remembers to bring the two huge pots of homemade sauce and twelve dozen meatballs I left on the diner’s stove. That’s how I spent my morning, from 4:00 a.m. until seven. Cooking for a church event, even though I don’t go to church. That’s our Maggie, anything for Father Tim. Nothing else to do, right? It’s not like anyone’s home waiting for her.

By the time I leave my apartment, I’m feeling a bit more cheerful. I trip off the curb and step into a frigid puddle up to my ankle, but it’s okay. Weaving over to the church, I flip on the lights in the echoing basement and get out the big pasta pots. “You are the sunshine of my life,” I sing, glad that Stevie Wonder can’t hear me. “That’s why I’ll always stay around, oooh, oooh, yeah, yeah…”

Over the past year, I’ve become well-acquainted with this kitchen. I’ve cooked corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, mulled cider for the carol sing, boiled eggs for the Easter egg hunt. Here I make huge pans of lasagna for after-funeral gatherings, throw together blueberry cakes and cookies for bake sales. Coffee hour? No problem…I donate the scones, set up the beverages, fill the creamers. My home away from home, this kitchen. “You’re such a loser,” I tell myself. My voice echoes through the basement.

I fill the huge pots with hot water, throw in some salt and turn on the gas. Then, feeling a little bit dizzy, I decide to lie on the floor and wait for the water to boil. It’s nice on the floor. Cool and smooth. My back aches a little, and I stretch, then close my eyes. A brief nap, perhaps, before everyone comes.

“Hey, boss.” The voice floats to me over the counter. Octavio and his wife come in, each carrying a giant vat of sauce, followed by their many children.

“Oh, hi!” I say. “Hello! How are you? It’s nice to see you, Patty. Hello, Mookie. Hello, Lucia. Hi, other kids! Hi!”

“You okay, boss?” Octavio asks, giving me a questioning look.

“Yes. Yes, I am. I am A-okay. Thank you,” I answer. Perhaps I should get up? I do, groping for a handhold on the counter and hauling myself unsteadily to my feet. “And you? How are you lovely people?”

“We’re fine.” He and his wife exchange a look, then set the sauce down and go back to the van for the meatballs. The kids start running around, playing hide and seek. I turn the sauce on low and notice the bottles of wine under the counter. That’s right—this is a wine event. How nice! Not just another boring spaghetti supper—a nice wine dinner. That’s nice. It’s nice to have wine. “You kids are nice,” I announce to the Santos children as I uncap a bottle.

The oldest girl, Marie, who is seven, stops running. “Thanks, Maggie,” she says, smiling shyly. “You’re nice, too.”

“I know,” I say. I wrinkle my nose and smile at her. What a nice girl.

An hour later, the place is full and conversation bounces around the basement like a hundred ping-pong balls. I must not think about that, or it will make me woozy. And I’m already very busy trying to conceal the fact that I might be a little tipsy. Every movement must be carefully planned, every phrase prethought. My parents come over, looking the nice part of the nice parents they are.

“Hello, Maggie. This looks very pretty,” Mom says. She glances at the tables we set up, the little fake flower centerpieces. In order to avoid that prison-cafeteria feel that so many church events have, we’ve turned on only the recessed lighting, not the fluorescents.

“Thank you, Mom. You are so nice to say so,” I say. “Hi, Dad. It does look nice. Not like prison. Like a nice place. Like a church.”

Luckily, Mom is scanning the room for someone for me to marry. “Maggie, are you… Have you been drinking?” Dad asks quietly.

“A little,” I admit. It’s hard to keep both eyes focused right now…the left eye seems to be wandering. I squint it shut so it will stop bothering me.

“Have you had anything to eat today?” Dad asks.

“Hmm. Yes. I had a sour cream cranberry muffin this morning, and let me tell you, Daddy, it was freaking fantastic.”

“Okay, baby, let’s get you fed.” Dad, good old Dad, steers me to a table and pushes me into a seat.

“Can’t I sit with Octavio?” I ask. “I love that guy!”

“Stay here,” Dad says. “I’ll be right back.”

It’s nice, staying here. I’m glad I have to. But the room is spinning just a little, so I put my head on the table. It’s like being on a carnival ride…I can feel the movement, but with my eyes closed, I don’t have to see.

Someone sits next to me. “Hello,” I say without lifting my head. “Welcome to the dinner.”

“Are you drunk?” It’s my sister.

“Mmm-hmm. Daddy’s getting me some food.” I lift my head. Oops. I’m drooling. There’s a wet spot on the table. I grab the flowers and place them on the splotch, then turn to face Christy. “Hi.”

“Whoa,” she says. “What happened?”

It doesn’t seem prudent to mention the whiskey I drank earlier. “Oh, I don’t know…I think I had a glass of wine on an empty stomach. Thash all. Jushta li’l wine.” I smile to cover the fact that I’m slurring.

Dad returns with some salad, bread, a glass of water and a bowl of pasta that could feed a family of four. “Eat, sweetie,” he instructs. “And Christy, can you run interference with your mother? She’s over there talking to Carol.”

“Sure,” she answers. She stands up and pats me on the shoulder.

“I love you!” I call, waving to her. “You are so sweet, Christy.”

I eat the food—it’s delicious, I have to say—and begin to feel drowsy. Christy, Violet and Will come over with plates, and after a little while, Mom, too. Another family dinner. My eyelids droop, but Dad has me on the far end, away from Mom so she won’t know her spinster daughter is now also the town lush.
Maybe I can go lie down on the coat pile,
I think. It looks so cozy. People mill around, going up for seconds. “Great food, Maggie,” several people call, and I wave sloppily in response.

Then I see Father Tim. He’s chatting up Mr. and Mrs. Rubricht, laughing, clapping Mr. on the back. Mrs. Plutarski, his self-appointed bodyguard, preens in her proximity to the priest. Preening proximity to the priest. I chuckle. “Preening,” I say out loud. Dad turns to me, concerned, but I can’t take my eyes off Father Tim.

He’s so
Father Tim. We had so much fun the other night, didn’t we? That man is a great guy. He’s no asshole, not like Skip. Nope, Father Tim is my best friend. I love him.

When everyone is just about finished and eying the dessert table with unabashed greed, Father Tim takes the microphone and clicks it on. His beautiful Irish lilt fills my ears.

“It warms my heart to see so many people here tonight, in spite of the nasty weather,” he says, smiling at his flock. “And what a lovely dinner we’ve all been enjoying! Thank you, Maggie and Octavio, for putting together such a fine feast, as always.”

People clap and turn toward me. I stand up, stagger back a little, but decide that no one really noticed. “You’re welcome!” I call out.

“And thanks in advance to the hospitality committee, too, who’ll be doing all the hard work of cleaning up afterwards,” Father Tim continues. “I’m happy to say that we’ve raised more than—”

“Can I just say something?” I call out, waving to dear, kind Father Tim.

“Oh, stop her, Daddy,” Christy murmurs, her voice urgent.

No! They will not stop me! I scoot with surprising agility around our table, only bumping into six or ten chairs as I make my way to the front of the room, where Father Tim stands smiling with a little uncertainty.

“Can I have the mike?” I ask him. I am not so drunk that I miss Mrs. Plutarski’s mouth purse in jealousy. Yeah. That’s right. Because I’m Father Tim’s friend. She’s not the only one who adores him.

“Ah…sure, Maggie,” he says, handing it over to me.

I’ve never spoken into a microphone before. It’s kind of neat, holding it. I feel a little like Ellen DeGeneres, like I have my own show. I wriggle onto the edge of the stage where last year’s confirmation class butchered
and blow into the mike. The rushing sound reassures me that it’s on.

“Thank you so much, Father Tim,” I say, proud not to slur. “Oh, that’s funny! I sound like Christy!”

Everyone laughs. I’m a hit!

“So, I guess I just wanted to say how grateful we all are to be here, on this beautiful planet, in this great little town. It’s so nice, isn’t it?”

My mother is staring at me, her face a mixture of disapproval and horror. I think she might be mad at me. “Hi, Mom!” I say, waving. “Anyway, I also want to say thanks to Father Tim. We are so lucky to have him in our parish, aren’t we? I mean, remember Father What’s-His-Name, that weird little fat guy? The guy at Christy’s wedding? He was no fun, no fun. Uh-uh. Not funny, that guy. And now we have Father Tim! He’s so good, right? I mean, he’s like a holy man, don’t you think?”

“Thanks, Maggie. I’ll just be taking that microphone back, shall I?” Father Tim says, making a move toward me.

“No! No, no. No.” I scoot back farther, then stand, so that if Father Tim wants to get me, he has to come and get me. Ha! I point to him as he stands frozen, and waggle my index finger. “This is good. You should hear this, holy man. Because we all love you. Really. Don’t we?” I ask the assembled guests. They are certainly paying excellent attention. “Everyone here loves you, Father Tim. Me, too. I just… You’re such a…and we all just… I love you, Father Tim.”

BOOK: Catch of the Day
11.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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