Read The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series) Online
Authors: Jo-Ann Mapson
Gammy slammed dishes down. “I won’t listen to one more minute of this, Mariah. I have about broken my back holding this ragtag family together all these years. I give you advice you won’t listen to. I pray for your soul. The least you can do is be civil on holidays. If you can’t manage that, then, then—go to your room!”
Then Dr. G got mad. He did it in such a quiet way that Lindsay could tell he was really good at winning arguments. “Please don’t malign the business your mother and grandmother built from scratch. Lifework is precious no matter what field. They did it for you. If it weren’t for them, you could be scrambling to pay for child care, or on welfare.”
Everyone got quiet. Allegra sniffled into a tissue. Gammy had her pursed lips on. Lindsay watched her mother for any small clue that she realized she was out of line, that this awful night was ending, but it was as if nobody knew what to say. Then Allegra cleared her throat. “I’ve spent the last thirty-four years letting all of you with the exception of Lindsay pass judgment on me, and frankly, I’m tired of it. Mariah, clearly you have no use for the love and support your father’s offering, and I’m going to be his wife. I’ll go pack a few things and get out of your way so you don’t have to feel all this hate and resentment. Mother, Lindsay, I’m sorry I ruined your Thanksgiving.”
“Alice, don’t go,” Gammy begged. “Once Mariah sobers up we’ll work this out.”
But Allegra didn’t sit back down. She steadied herself by holding the back of the couch, and Dr. G stood up and took her arm. When she wobbled a second time, he picked her up in his arms, just like in a black-and-white movie, Lindsay thought. Lindsay hurried to get Khan and his leash, and put him into her grandmother’s arms. “I love you, Nana,” she said, using the only word Allegra would allow because “grandmother” made her sound too old.
Allegra touched her cheek. “I love you, too. Call me anytime.”
Dr. G opened the door, and they went downstairs. Lindsay heard the unmistakable sound of Dr. G’s Porsche revving up. Gammy said, “She didn’t pack her clothes. What about her medicine? And what will happen to the café?”
Mariah went to the window and yanked it open. “Happy fucking engagement!” she yelled, and then she went into her room and shut the door.
Gammy was already on her knees, praying her most powerful prayer, the “Hail, Holy Queen.” Lindsay listened until Gammy got to the part about the “mourning and weeping valley, the vale of tears.” She climbed the ladder to her loft, and lay down in her bed, trying to imagine how their lives would ever be the same after this. Allegra leaving hurt almost as much as having to pretend Sally wasn’t her friend, but that was temporary. This felt permanent.
“I saw some butterflies out back in the alley,” Lindsay told Simon the morning after the worst Thanksgiving Day in the history of man.
“Well, whoop-de-freaking-do,” Simon answered. “Ask them to come in and wash dishes, why don’t you?”
Lindsay recognized that was a rhetorical question, so she went out front to bus more tables. The counter was crowded with people eager to get in their holiday orders. Her mother was serving tables, Gammy was at the register, and every ten seconds Simon smacked his order-up bell. The booths were full as well as the tables, even the rickety one that had a matchbook under one leg to steady it. People waiting to eat stood in a line that went out the door. Lindsay wanted to say, don’t you notice the monarchs gathering on those trees, their wings trembling like autumn leaves come to life? Are your stomachs all you care about? A break in the rain, one bite of Thanksgiving turkey, and the alarm sounded. Shop! Find the perfect present. Maybe Christmas was fun for families who liked one another.
Simon’s bell slammed in her ear, so she picked up the plates just so he’d relax. Other girls Lindsay’s age were at the malls, getting a chocolate at Godiva and trying on perfumes. They’d tell their parents they were Christmas shopping, but really all they did was run around and have fun. Maybe they were just waking up from sleepovers, and the mother of whoever’s house the sleepover was at was bringing them orange juice and blueberry pancakes. Once Lindsay had made the mistake of asking if they could have pancakes for Sunday breakfast, and Gammy said, “The cobbler’s children always go barefoot,” which really meant nuke a frozen waffle instead.
Lindsay needed to earn Christmas money, since all of her earnings had gone into Charlie and company. She would bus tables, wash dishes, walk Theodora if that’s what it took. The new dishwasher was back-ordered, due to arrive in January. Lindsay, who made it a regular practice to check out the bills, wondered where they’d found the three thousand, one hundred, and thirty-nine dollars plus shipping to pay for it. Maybe Dr. G had lent the money to Allegra, or bought it for her as a Christmas present. Present buying was easy. All it took was one trip to Bookworks on Lighthouse. Gammy liked true crime. For her mother, Lindsay usually bought travel books on the British Isles, but this year that wasn’t such a great idea, considering Fergie the Freak was going home to Scotland for good in the spring, so maybe she’d get her a gift certificate. Khan was happy with a squeaky toy. For Simon, a bag of special potting soil. She’d buy Sally a calendar of famous writers’ quotes, make Dr. G a card on her computer, but what rhymed with grandfather besides bother? Allegra’s present was the surprise. She had a feeling she would be taking it to Dr. G’s house.
Lindsay served, took bills to the register, and then carried another tray of dishes to the kitchen, where Simon was busy washing pots. “When will these miserable people have enough to eat?” he whined.
“When they’re full, I guess.”
He raised his head and asked the ceiling, “Can this day get any worse?”
“Don’t talk to me about bad days,” Lindsay said. “You should have been here last night. My mom got drunk and made an ass of herself.”
“Do tell,” he said. “Was it a big cat fight? Any other secrets besides the prodigal father? That’s a story you could sell to Lifetime.”
“Simon, it wasn’t funny. My mom got drunk, Dr. G got mad, Allegra moved out and took Khan with her, and Gammy’s still praying about it.”
“All this and Christmas coming?” he said. “Deck the halls.”
“I hate Christmas,” Lindsay said. “I’d rather live in a gulag.”
“A gulag,” Simon said. “Now there’s looking on the bright side. So where’d Allegra spend the night? Is the wedding off?”
Lindsay just wasn’t up to explaining. “Where do you want these dirty dishes?” she asked.
“Just stack the bastards over here with the other unfortunates. I mean it about you coming back when it slows down to help me or, screw the environment, we’re going to have to start using paper plates!”
But it didn’t slow down. The butterflies that had begun showing up early that month, just a few here and there, today were everywhere, which meant if the bed-and-breakfasts weren’t full yesterday, they would be by tonight. The galleries switched out their art so butterfly sculptures and paintings faced the street traffic.
The butterfly people reminded Lindsay of pictures she’d seen of Venice Beach. The self-proclaimed butterfly princess folded back her net wings to sit in a booth. A natty old man who dressed in a yellow suit, sneakers, and derby, came into the café, pointed at what he wanted, and paid without ever speaking. Lindsay wondered if she might run into him in the library, which was where she spent a lot of her time these days. She’d seen FTF there one time. She had three books on cultivating marijuana ready to check out, and she was sure he’d seen the titles. If Santa existed, Lindsay’s Christmas wish was to please keep Scotland Weird from mentioning the book titles to her mom.
Days later, Allegra still hadn’t come home. Since Khan was with her, there was no dog to walk. Lindsay’s mother was downstairs standing in front of the café television but not watching it. Fergie the Freak had not called. Gammy was either at bingo or bridge or church. Lindsay had finished her regular homework for class on Monday, so she stayed up in her attic room with her journal. Writing in longhand sucked, but she wanted an A, so she took her time and tried to give all the letters the equal amount of space so Mrs. Shiasaka wouldn’t think she was just trying to fill up pages.
Dear Professor Carl Sagan,
is something twenty percent of all people have, but not everyone who has it gets an ulcer. Gammy says Dr. G could have been arrested for “taking advantage” of Allegra all those years ago. My mother says she is “perfectly fine,” which means she is sad about FTF not calling, but she can’t admit it, so she has to stay mad at Allegra. Allegra is either out shopping for Christmas presents with Dr. G or maybe ordering things from a catalog and charging them to his credit cards with his permission, of course. It’s lonely without Khan here. I wouldn’t even mind if he pooped on the rug. I’d clean it up and not say anything. I’d even walk him two times a day. All it takes is one time around the block and he’s happy.
Here is my research so far of reasons a person my age could have recurrent stomachaches:
Anxiety in living situations—true
Fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue—I don’t have enough symptoms
Lactose intolerance—not true—I like milk
Constipation—gross—I don’t have it
infection—unproven, but possible
Stress—see anxiety above
Overuse of painkillers—does Tylenol count?
Overuse of antacids—true
Cancer—doubtful, given someone my age, but now that Allegra is sick a potential family link exists
A person can lie to herself a whole lot easier than tell an outright lie. Gammy puts lies in categories because she is Catholic. Little white ones don’t need confessing, but big hairy ones, like my science project, can send you to hell. Professor Sagan, you smoked marijuana even before you had cancer. You wrote a book about it under a fake name. Why? Would the other scientists have made fun of you? Isn’t a scientist supposed to spend all his life building rockets or finding stars or theorizing what life was like before the universe began? More than anything, including having Sally be able to publicly like me again, I wish Allegra would smoke some marijuana. I miss her and Khan. My mom got so many orders wrong today that Simon had to wait tables while she pulled herself together, which took fourteen minutes, and you would be surprised how many customers can get mad in that amount of time and think nothing of yelling at a kid my age.
Tonight nobody said anything about dinner, so I ate six olives, two almonds, and the raspberries that were meant for the scones. They looked sweet but tasted sour. Also, I drank a whole glass of the café’s milk, which I know I shouldn’t because it costs so much, but my stomach hurt and I thought it would help. It didn’t.
Suppose my living situation is causing me both anxiety and stress. What can I do? Allegra has cancer, which I can’t change. She is engaged to her old friend who is also my grandfather, which makes me excited, which is not the same thing as anxious. Thirty-three years ago she had sex with him, which resulted in my mom, and without her, I wouldn’t be here, so how can Gammy talk about people having sex outside of marriage being a sin? I do take a lot of antacids, way more than I should, but if I don’t, my stomach hurts. At least I stopped throwing up that black stuff.
Professor Sagan, are you glad to be out of this world? I bet you are. AIDS, overpopulation, homelessness, heart disease, cancer, Ebola virus, killer bees, mad cow disease, the Norwalk virus, anthrax—the list never ends. I bet you are glad you don’t have to think about that stuff anymore. I would be glad not to think of it. Are you stardust? Allegra says that’s what our spirits become. Gammy says heaven is whatever you want it to be, but God is there and he’ll want to chat with you about things you did while you were alive, which sounds to me an awful lot like the principal’s office. Buddhists believe your soul passes from one place to another, mostly to a person, according to your “karma,” which is like points on a scale. If you did enough bad things, you could come back as a fire ant. If you did good, you could be a redwood tree in a National Park protected from logging. Personally, I think the best thing to come back as would be a drop of water. People always need water. Just imagine how much a cactus would love you.
Why do you talk to me, and how do you decide when to do it? You are a dead scientist who believed in searching for extraterrestrials, smoking marijuana, and protesting for causes, just like my grandmother. Maybe that is why I love you. You’d fit right in here at The Owl & Moon. I’d call you “Dr. Sagan,” but that makes me think of Dr. Goodnough, who is my new grandfather I can’t be happy about because he is what’s making my mom cry right this second while she’s pretending to watch TV, which is not helping my stomachache, which is not from eating too many holiday leftovers, but is from not getting invited to Sally’s birthday party yesterday. Professor Sagan, this whole thing started out as pretend, but she doesn’t e-mail me anymore. No phone calls, either. I don’t have a lot of experience with friendship. How someone can go from being friends one minute to not the next, because that is exactly what happened in my case. What if Sally realizes she wants to stay friends with Taylor for real?
This is the stupidest letter/journal ever. I’m going to get my first B, I just know it.
I have to go to bed now, so goodnight, Professor Sagan. I hope your heaven is just what you wanted.