The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series) (37 page)

BOOK: The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series)
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“Lindsay, my God, take a breath!”

“He wants me to have some medical tests done to see if I have an ulcer.”

“I bet I know why you didn’t tell anyone you felt ill,” Allegra said. “You were afraid of taking the attention off me, weren’t you? Oh, Linds. This year has been no fun, but I’m getting better. And guess what? Your grandpa has a volleyball net. When it gets warm we’ll set it up and play.”

“I suck at sports.”

Allegra brushed the wavy hair from her granddaughter’s face. “So we’ll play without the net.”

“Can Khan sleep with me?”

“Sure. I’ll go find him.”

When she did, he was sleeping in front of the fireplace, having dragged a corner of the afghan from the couch to make his nest. Of course he growled when Allegra touched him. “Now you listen here, Mr. Smart,” she told him. “Tonight you have a very important job to do. You, little man, have to make Lindsay feel safe and loved. Are you up to it?”

He yipped. Allegra took him to Lindsay’s room, and found her already in dreamland. She tucked Khan in beside her and told him to stay.

As Allegra lay down next to Al, who was already in bed, reading a medical journal, she turned on her side and touched his whiskery face. “Time to spill the family secrets,” she said. “I want to hear every detail.”

He set the magazine down. “She called me to come get her from school. I asked what was bothering her, you know, why me and not Mariah, and she told me she thinks she’s got an ulcer. Apparently she’s been having stomachaches for months.”

“And then what?”

“We walked on the beach, got a veggie burger of which she only ate a few bites. We spent some time in the bookstore, and I bought her a book on clouds. Then we came home.”

“That’s not telling me anything,” Allegra complained. “Where are the details? What did she say?”

Al set the journal aside. “You see this right here is why there’re so many divorces in America. The genders aren’t taught how to communicate properly. If you’d told me that information, I would be satisfied enough to go to sleep. But you want a woman’s point of view coming from the man who loves you. Ordinarily, this is a task any man would fail, but being a clever lad, I memorized a few details I think will satisfy you.”

“Why do I feel like I’m in bed with a self-help book?”

“Don’t laugh,” Al said. “Might do us all good to carry a manual. Okay, here are the details. Lindsay keeps her distance from tide pools because she doesn’t want to disturb any creatures. She shakes the sand from her shoes without being asked. She can’t pass a window box without smelling each flower, and if you ask her their names, she’ll tell you the Latin as well as the common names. At dinner she said thank you to the server, folded her napkin, started to stack our empty plates and would have cleared the table if I hadn’t stopped her. She pushed her chair back in toward the table before we left. And we sat in the car for a long time while she talked about her gut. Was that satisfying?”

Allegra lay against his chest. “That’s pretty good for a first-timer.”

“Good? It’s fucking great. And one more thing. She told me she thought Mariah’s beau should go see an American dentist before he goes back to Scotland.”

They laughed. Al returned to his journal and Allegra to her book of poems. She read a little every day, and tonight it was Mary Oliver, who understood nature the same way Allegra did. But as graceful as the poems were, and as much as Allegra wanted to stay with them and linger, something kept nagging at her. She got out of bed and sat cross-legged on the carpet and began to do her yoga stretches.

Doc looked down. “If you’re that limber all the time I guess I’m a lucky man as soon as the chemo clears your system.”

“What a dirty mind you have.”

He laughed. “Am I supposed to not say how good you look? How much I want you?”

After only a few poses, Allegra grew tired. She got back in bed and lay there, thinking. “Al?”

“The answer is yes,” he said over his journal.

“But you don’t even know what I was going to ask.”

“The answer is still yes.”

“What I was going to say is maybe I should sign my half of The Owl and Moon over to Mariah. Let her run it as is, change it to something fancy, or hire someone else to run it if that’s what she wants.”

He set the journal down. “See? The answer was yes.”

“You really think so?”

“I do.”

“This in no way assures you that you’re getting a good old-fashioned housewife for your bride, you know. I like to garden, yes, but I also like circulating petitions and I’m willing to get arrested for the right cause.”

He gave her a quick kiss. “I only wanted you for sex, anyway. But I warn you, Allegra, you will have to dress up once in a while, and accompany me to those mandatory doctor events. I can’t wait to have you there on my arm, my shining bride. I am sick with how much I love you.”

“Me, too, you,” she said, and shut off the light.

16
Mariah

A
WATERY WINTER SUN
was just rising as Mariah punched down her nine-grain bread dough and left it to rest for five minutes before shaping. She unlocked the café’s front door and stood in the center of the mariner’s compass, her feet on true north as she peeled bits of dough off her fingers. Above her, the café sign creaked on its chain. As if he’d lost a fight to a larger bird, the owl’s beak was snapped off at the very tip.

“You better get that fixed, toots,” Mr. Cashin had told her yesterday. “Your mother never let things like that slide. She ran a class establishment.”

“It’s on the list,” she’d assured him, keeping her voice even. Customers had been telling her that for a week, and did she care? No.

Her grandmother was asleep upstairs. Her mother was shacked up with Dr. Goodnough—at some point Mariah was going to have to figure out what to call her father—and her daughter had spent the night in the enemy camp. Since Thanksgiving Fergus had been busy at work, a little remote and twice had broken dates at the last minute, claiming budget meetings. When Dr. Goodnough called and asked if Lindsay could sleep over, Mariah said yes for purely selfish reasons. Once the café closed and the mop was squeezed clean, she got in her car and drove straight to the marina. Though Fergus had a pile of papers on his bed he was working on, she refused to take no for an answer. Half in their clothes, they made a kind of breathless love, Fergus because he needed to get the papers done before morning, and Mariah because in less than two weeks, he was leaving for Scotland.

“I’ve heaps of work to do,” he’d say when she called for a little phone fooling around.

“It’s not a simple matter of lifting a rope and motoring out,” he’d responded when she asked him to take the boat out in the harbor.

The street sweeper drove by, and a few early commuters followed in its dust. She spotted a deer across the street, nibbling branches in the cemetery. A few shops down, a silver Honda pulled to the curb. The couple inside was kissing. The whole world felt like that Yeats poem her mother loved—things falling away, the center unable to hold. Mariah hadn’t slept well. Sickened by the multitude of cookies and soup bowls and holiday orders she had to prepare, she’d eaten nothing. She pictured Fergus asleep on his back in the berth-style bed. He basically laid down and did not move until morning. Theodora stood by patiently, waiting for him to wake up. Mariah thrashed and got up for a glass of water three times before giving up and driving home. A man on temporary visa, a dog too big for her own good, and a boat called the
Ellen Cole II
named after a brave and selfless mother. There didn’t seem to be much room left for a waitress.

When Fergus first told her he was going to Scotland for Christmas, Mariah figured that meant a week, maybe ten days. But the community college had a winter recess that lasted a whole month, which meant five weeks, plus an extra one he added on to his vacation. I’ll miss you, she said, but what she meant was here I give you my heart and there you go. She’d been at this bend in this road before. She remembered the pain of being left behind when a man she loved didn’t return. Get hold of yourself, she said. You’re a capable woman who’s proven she can get along just fine without a man. You gave up love to focus on Lindsay. Lindsay had turned out great, but without Fergus, her own life seemed as dry as a gravel gully filled with not very interesting rocks.

The Honda’s door opened, and Simon stepped out. As the car drove by Mariah looked in the window and saw the blond cop, Terry, who came by the café every afternoon for take-out coffee and a cinnamon roll.

“Good morning, Simon,” she said as he approached the café. “Better not let Gammy catch you snogging in public.”

“Snogging?” He stopped on the sidewalk. “I’ve seen you mashing lips with kilt boy in several public places, not the least of which is Gardener’s Alley. At least I make out with a modicum of discretion.”

“Guilty as charged. Are you happy?”

He looked at her blankly. “Are you daft? How can anyone be happy in these perilous times? If it isn’t war, then it’s a certain virus we cannot seem to eradicate, and may I remind you that your mother has leukemia? Honey, the most I hope for is getting through the day, hour by hour.”

“Drama queen,” she said.

“Harlot,” he shot back.

“Harlot? Mr. One-Night Stand is calling me a harlot for sleeping with the second man in my life ever?”

“He’s only the second? I pity you, Mariah. Truly I do.”

“Why do we do this, Simon?”

“Do what?”

“Snipe at each other. Squabble. I like you. I’m happy for you, for however long things last.” She waited for him to reassure her about her relationship, to wish her well, but he did nothing of the kind. “I’m a total idiot, aren’t I?” she said. “Kilt boy will return to the land of plaid, marry a bonnie lass, and leave me here with dirty dishes and nickel tips.”

He put his hands on her shoulders. “Now who’s being the drama queen? It’s too early in the morning to be this serious. Let’s go cook. With Allegra gone, I’ve got a few new recipes I want to try.”

“Fine with me,” Mariah said.

With Simon chopping jicama in the background, and the radio on NPR, Mariah shaped her bread loaves and set them aside to rise. She rolled up cinnamon rolls; cut out, baked, and iced gingerbread men; and then made five dozen blue-frosted dreidels for a Hanukkah order. When she was just about to take the bread out of the oven, she realized she’d forgotten to make the Springerle.

Quickly, she broke four eggs into two cups of sugar and whisked the mixture until it was creamy. Her arms had grown strong over the last four months and she could lift a fifty-pound bag of flour without a whimper. She greased a cookie sheet, scattered crushed anise seed on top, and the faint licorice-lavender smell filled the kitchen, competing with Simon’s tortilla soup. Then she measured, added ingredients and stirred until the dough came together, rolled it out and used the wooden owl-and-moon mold to make each cookie.

There were two things to remember about Springerle, and they were the same thing, essentially. Sift. Sift the sugar before measuring, and sift the flour with the baking powder. If you didn’t sift, what you got was a heavy cookie. You had to use a firm but light touch when pressing and cutting. Gammy had taught her to make the cookies when she was half Lindsay’s age. Mariah had stood on a soda bottle crate, listening. She believed all grandmothers were bingo addicts, and that all mothers got arrested for peaceful protests. Life was one “Schoolhouse Rock” moment after another.

Around three, Mariah began expecting Lindsay. She closed the café, but left the door unlocked, sent Gammy upstairs to put her feet up, and mopped the floor. Simon finished the dishes and changed his shirt, and then presented himself for inspection. “How do I look?”

His black hair was slicked back and his white Polo shirt accented his tanning bar glow and his gym-toned arms. “You look handsome. The cop?”

“His name is Terry, and he prefers to be referred to as a peace officer.”

“Okay,” Mariah said, “but I have to say, Simon, a peace officer doesn’t seem like your type.”

“Are you kidding?” he said. “You should see his pension.”

Mariah grinned. “Do I have to?”

“It’s this place, you know,” he said, his voice as dry as a martini. “It’s turning you into your mother.”

“The hell it is,” Mariah said. “This is only temporary until she comes back and I find a teaching job.”

“Mariah, please. Have you been beating down doors to look for a teaching job?”

Flustered, she dropped the mop onto the floor. “I’ve downloaded adjunct pool application forms. I just haven’t sent them out yet.”

“Sweetie,” Simon said, “wake up and smell the latte. As we speak, Allegra’s probably eating peeled grapes and looking out onto a private beach. Bess is a mean old stick who needs to retire and go on Catholic Church tours of Ireland. We’re it, babycakes. You and me. Chief cook and bottle washer. Think about what this place could become, would you? Unless you’ve already decided to sell.”

“Sell the café?”

“An option worth exploring. Tirrah,” he said, poking fun at Fergus, and went out the front door to meet his peace officer.

Mariah wrote out a produce order list. She restocked the to-go packages. They were almost out of string for tying packages. When it was three forty-five and Lindsay still hadn’t shown up, Mariah phoned the school.

“Country Day Academy for Girls,” the secretary said.

“Hello, this is Mariah Moon, Lindsay’s mother. I wondered if my daughter might be staying late to work on her science project,” she said.

“Actually,” the secretary said, “our records show she was absent today.”

“Absent?” It was Country Day’s policy for the parent to call and let them know when a student was ill. “That must be a mistake. I never called to approve the absence.”

She heard shuffling papers. “Her grandfather called.”

Her grandfather! Oh, that galled her. “Thank you,” she said crisply and hung up the phone. Heads were going to roll. She paced the kitchen, trying to decide what to do. Call the good doctor at his office? Have him paged? She knew his home phone number was in Gammy’s address book. She’d looked it up when Allegra was sick with pneumonia. But what did she say if her mother answered? And why hadn’t Allegra called to apologize for the Thanksgiving debacle?

Suddenly all she wanted to do was run to Fergus. She wanted to leave the till money on the counter, rip off her apron, race out the door and drive a hundred miles an hour to Pier Two, past the Harbormaster’s hut, skidding on coastal pine needles and oil slicks, jump the locked gate, or swim her way through the gunky water to the
Ellen Cole II.
He wouldn’t be home this early. She could pick Theo up from Noah’s Bark and take her for a walk. She could have dinner waiting when Fergus came home. Potatoes in jackets. Beans on toast. A tin of treacle and a jar of clotted cream. All his peculiar Scottish favorites were basically heat and eat. She’d tidy up the boat, sit on the gunwale and watch the sun set, and in doing so, turn into every other woman on the planet, which compared to a bingo queen and a middle-aged hippie, sounded normal. But the mother portion of her heart won out, and she sat down at the counter to make the call.

The moment Mariah heard the female voice on the other end say hello, she blurted out, “The only reason I’m calling is to ask where Lindsay is and what makes you think you have the right to keep her home from school without asking me.”

“Who this?” the voice said. “Who calling Dr. G and yelling like madman?”

“Who’s this?” Mariah said, realizing she’d just gone off like an idiot to a complete stranger.

“This Cricket Kyon Jin, Jin with J, Dr. G housekeeper. Who you?”

Another person to apologize to. Well, get in line. “This is Mariah Moon, Lindsay’s mother. I believe my mother, Allegra, is staying there?”

“Mrs. Allegra here. Why you not take more better care of mother? Too skinny, mother. Daughter should tend sick mother always.”

“Could I just speak to her?”

“Sick mother asleep. Call back later.” She hung up.

Mariah stared at the phone, stunned at the woman’s rudeness. She pressed redial.

“Hello?”

“This is Allegra’s daughter again,” Mariah said. “May I please speak to my daughter, Lindsay?”

“Lindsay not here,” Cricket said.

“Do you know where she is?”

“At hospital with Dr. G.”

“Thank you so much,” Mariah said, and as childish as she knew it was, she hung up first.

The Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula backed up to the Seventeen Mile Drive, and had a newly built and sorely needed parking garage. Mariah remembered coming here to see her mother. Every time she visited, Dr. Goodnough had either been there in person, had called on Allegra’s phone, or was in the hallway talking to her mother’s nurses.

At the elevator, she scanned the directory for Hematology/Oncology. She hated confrontation, but forged ahead, pissed off that this man was making decisions about her daughter. She rehearsed a number of scenarios, yet abandoned them all the moment she caught sight of Lindsay, who was standing on a chair cleaning a fish tank with two magnets covered in scrubbing material, one inside the tank, one outside. Dr. Goodnough stood behind Lindsay, his hands hovering near her shoulders in case she lost her balance.

BOOK: The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series)
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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