Authors: Jo-Ann Mapson
Allegra wiped tables, cooed over customers’ photos of new grandbabies, took phone orders, ran into the kitchen when she could to defrost cookie dough and get it into the oven.
“Last night I dreamt I found car keys under a giant redwood tree,” Simon said as Allegra folded dried cherries into another batch of fudge. “What do you think that means, Allegra?”
Before she could answer, Gammy said, “That you have a hole in your pocket, you fool,” as she harvested clean cups from the ailing dishwasher.
“Bess,” he said, “you are the meanest old lady in this town.”
Gammy didn’t so much as twitch. “Maybe so, but I’m still the one who makes out your paycheck.”
“Mama!” Allegra said.
“Mama what?” Gammy answered, walking away. “I’m only stating a fact.”
“Simon, “ Allegra apologized. “She can’t help being cranky. Her legs hurt.”
“I’m Teflon,” he said. “Your mother’s insults slide off me like a fried egg.”
Allegra doubted that. She turned fudge onto the marble counter to cool. Through the order cubby, she saw Mariah dart from table to table, unsmiling, but committed. Her daughter was like that from day one, putting the square peg in the square hole. Not what Allegra expected when she’d given birth to her at age sixteen. Why couldn’t Mariah see that this job loss was a mere blip in her timeline? The reason this job had ended meant the universe had other plans for her daughter, and any minute now the universe would make those plans known. She sent up a good thought that something nice would happen to Mariah today. In the meantime, she and Gammy had some cash in the bank. Not a lot, but they could spare a bit.
“Half a pound of fudge to go,” Mariah said at the counter, slipping in behind the Scotsman.
“Coming up,” Allegra said, grabbing a pound of fudge on her way to Mariah, but suddenly she was so dizzy she had to grab hold of the counter. She felt Simon’s hands on her shoulders.
“Mom, are you all right?” Mariah asked, throwing down her order pad and rushing to her side. Khan yipped from his basket.
“I’m fine, everyone,” Allegra said. “Somebody comfort Khan, please?”
The Scotsman stood up. “Sit here,” he said, and she did.
“You should be in bed,” Simon told her. “You can’t just go back into warp speed after something like that. You probably have a virus. Go upstairs and let Bess finish your shift.”
“No fever,” Gammy said, kissing Allegra’s cheek. “You’d be fine if you ate a steak now and then. Vegetarian diet, my aunt Louise’s garters. Look at the food pyramid if you don’t believe me. A body can’t get by without protein.”
“I turned too fast,” Allegra told them, standing up and returning to her proper place behind the counter, the exact spot where she’d fainted the day before. Maybe that patch of floor was the Bermuda triangle of the café. “I see the vampire doctor at four and he’s going to prescribe iron medicine.”
Simon returned to his kitchen to ladle up orders. Through the order window he called, “Get him to give you a vitamin B shot, too.”
Allegra nodded, picked up the fudge, and brought it to Mariah. “Here you go,” she said, handing her a plate with a half-pound chunk.
“They wanted it to go?”
“Of course they did,” Allegra said, flustered and forgetting for a moment where they kept the waxed paper. “I’ll get it.”
A moment later, the telephone rang. Gammy was in the john. Mariah was arranging a tray of soups, and Allegra was making change with one hand and wrapping fudge with the other. So when the Scotsman got up and answered the phone, it seemed perfectly acceptable. “Owl & Moon Café eating establishment. Fergus Applecross, speaking. How may I help?”
Allegra finished wrapping the fudge and handed it over. She grinned at Mariah. “Not only drop-dead handsome, but a Boy Scout, too. I bet he’s a good dancer. I might just have to ask him out.”
Mariah took the fudge and the bill. “Please don’t.”
Mariah looked away. “He’s too young for you. It’s…it’s embarrassing.”
in him? Well, how about that! Mariah has a crush. Any minute now I expect to see pigs hang gliding.”
“Mom,” Mariah said, “I am not interested in anyone. Just let him be a damn customer, will you?”
Fergus smiled, plunked down the money for his bill, and buttoned up his jacket. “Feels positively Baltic out there today. Thank you again for a wonderful repast. Tirrah until tomorrow, then.”
Allegra smiled. Mariah frowned. Gammy waved happily, unaware of the catfight that simmered just beneath the surface. Handsome, the accent, the politeness factor, he would be good for Mariah, Allegra mused. God knows she could stand getting laid more than once every thirteen years.
“What does a man have to do to get a cup of coffee around here?” Kyle Cashin hollered out, and as if they had choreographed the response, all three Moon women turned and said, “Hold your horses, Kyle.”
Allegra loved everything about her work. From the lawyers stopping in for lunch to the little kids she gave free sugar cookies, this was her world, and she adored every little nook and cranny of it.
At three o’clock, Allegra took her purse from under the counter and studied the directions on the back of her order pad. The café was officially closed, though a few people were still eating. Mariah could cash out the register. “I’m off to see the doctor,” she said blithely, as if she were running to the market for carrots or brown rice.
“What doctor?” Gammy asked.
“The vampire doctor,” Simon said. “Try to keep up.”
“What in heaven’s name is a vampire doctor?”
Allegra put a hand on each of their shoulders. “A doctor who takes your blood and tells you you’re perfectly fine. Do not load the dishwasher until I get back, Mama. A dirty dish will be just as dirty an hour from now. You go sit down and put your feet up.”
“I’m coming with you,” Mariah said.
“That’s not necessary.”
“Mom, you fainted yesterday. No way are you driving yourself.”
“Who’s going to help me clean up this place?” Gammy said. “You know I can’t do it on my own.”
“I told you, just leave it and I’ll do it when I get back.”
“I’ll stay late and help you,” Simon said, taking the broom from her.
Gammy eyed him suspiciously. “Atoning for sins?”
“My conscience is squeaky clean. The fact that you will owe me is pleasure enough.”
“You see? That’s what your problem is, Simon. You can’t do a good thing without thinking of yourself. In second Corinthians, chapter eight, verse nine…”
There was no point stepping between them when Gammy hauled out her Bible ammo. Mariah and Allegra left them arguing and got into the Subaru. The doctor’s address was south of CHOMP, not a fun ride when the only way to get there was through clogged-up traffic. It was even less fun during the first big rain of the year, when everyone apparently needed to learn how to drive all over again. Allegra loved stormy weather. The rain washed a summer’s worth of dust off the cypress trees, revealing a green so deep it made even the most ordinary of birds perching there seem tropical. “I wonder if we’ll get an El Niño winter,” she said.
“We might,” Mariah answered, pulling into the doctor’s parking lot. “Nervous?”
“Don’t be silly. I’m a big strapping woman who cooks breakfast for a hundred six days a week. I hope the waiting room has lots of trashy magazines.”
Allegra let Mariah hold her hand while the lab technician took her blood, but she wouldn’t let Mariah come into the exam room. “Go read
” she said. “Find out who’s sleeping with who and memorize all the juicy details.”
“Mom, are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Allegra said. “I won’t be able to relax if you’re there.”
The nurse showed her to a pale, blue room with a reclining chair, an exam table, and the kind of doctor’s stool that made Allegra think of honky-tonk piano players. On one wall a magazine holder was filled with brochures on cancer, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and pain management. Allegra had to look away. After she changed into the paper gown she peeked under the Band-Aid at the hole the technician had made in the fold of her elbow. Already a bruise was forming. Didn’t anyone care about doing a good job anymore?
The nurse knocked, and then came in, opening a notebook computer. She began typing. “What medications are you on?” she asked.
Without looking up, she said, “By medications, I include nonprescription medicines, too. Do you take herbal supplements, vitamins, hormone therapy?”
“I take a daily vitamin C and, of course, E. I pop primrose oil now and then, and black cohosh when I get hot flashes.”
The nurse continued typing. “You’ll need to bring those in so we can get the exact ingredients and strengths. Do you drink alcohol?”
She was going to
be coming back
? “Of course I drink alcohol.”
“Beer, wine, hard liquor?”
“All three, but never at the same time.” She waited for a laugh, but this one was all business.
“How many drinks per week?”
“I have no idea. Ever since I turned twenty-one, I stopped counting.”
“Would you say seven glasses of wine a week?”
Allegra bit her thumbnail. “Seven or eight sounds about right.”
“And the hard liquor? More or less?”
This was awful. It made her sound like a lush. “On the weekends, I probably have four or five mixed drinks, but hey, I need a stress reliever after serving food all week to—”
“Do you smoke cigarettes?”
Now she was just being rude. “Of course not. Cigarettes are disgusting.”
“Any recreational drug use, street drugs, or marijuana?”
Allegra took in a deep breath. “That’s getting awfully damn personal.”
The nurse didn’t change expression as she looked up from the computer screen. “Ms. Moon, it’s vital that we know these things as they factor into your treatment. You signed the HIPPA form. I assure you, doctor-patient confidentiality is confidential. Nothing you tell Dr. Goodnough or me will leave this room. So, are you now or have you at any time in the past been a heavy marijuana user?”
She squeezed her hands until she could feel the nails dent her palms. “I grew up in the sixties! If you didn’t smoke pot people thought you were a narc. I was stoned for years. How is that going to hurt my so-called treatment options, assuming that I need any?”
“You’d be surprised. It can make a big difference in drug regimens. Some experimental drug studies won’t accept marijuana users. The same goes for certain organ transplants.”
“That’s ridiculous! What about the people who use it medically? Proposition two-fifteen made it legal for medical cases, didn’t it?”
For the first time Allegra saw a trace of kindness in the nurse’s face. “Ma’am, I never said it was fair.”
“Fine. I used to smoke regularly, but I haven’t for the longest time.”
“Approximately how long is that, do you think?”
Allegra looked at the pamphlet wall again. She didn’t buy for a second that the happy-go-lucky seniors pictured on the anemia pamphlet were one bit sick, or that the woman holding the tennis racket needed pain management. Mariah was thirty-three now. Twenty years ago, Mariah had been thirteen. “Twenty years.”
The nurse closed her computer and stood up. “The doctor will be in to see you shortly. Would you like me to bring you some magazines?”
Allegra pointed to the pamphlets. “Yes. I sure as hell don’t want to read those.”
But the light reading she expected turned out to be some archaic woman’s magazine with hamburger recipes—
—and diets guaranteed to make you lose twenty pounds by Christmas. The other was a
U.S. News & World Report.
Allegra flipped through its pages until she felt miserable at the state of the world, then laid it facedown on her lap and shut her eyes, practicing her yoga breathing. In one nostril, out the other. Mindful breathing lowered blood pressure, boosted the immune system, and released endorphins. It also made Allegra recall in painful clarity an incident that happened when Mariah was in junior high school.
Her eighth-grade class was raising money for a trip to the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco with a bake sale. Now
I can do, Allegra remembered thinking. She was a lousy field trip chaperone, because on the bus she’d taught the kids to sing “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Strike two was her failure as art project mom, when she tried to explain how making a sand mandala led to spiritual enlightenment. The teacher had shooed the kids outside. We have to remember separation of church and state, the teacher whispered in her ear, and Allegra had left, taking her colored sand and hurt feelings with her. But baking would be her coup, her chance to not only fit in with the uptight parents and snooty teachers, but also to sell the most, take in the most money, and for once make Mariah proud of her.
“Please don’t make anything fancy,” Mariah had pleaded. “Just cookies or brownies or banana bread.”
“No problem, babe,” Allegra said. In a double boiler she melted expensive bars of cocoa she’d splurged on, added raw sugar, the sweetest butter, and natural vanilla, ingredients that really made a difference. She’d filled two of the restaurant baking trays and kept an eye on them the whole time they cooked, so they would come out perfectly, with a nice crusty edge and a flaky top. As she was letting the trays cool before she cut them into squares, two old friends popped in. Reilly Wildflower and his old lady, Hannah. They made their living selling import jewelry, incense, and hemp products at the Farmer’s Market.