Remember that week we ate only hot dogs and mac and cheese? Shirley says.
Mom has walked into the room to see if anyone needs another helping of anything and swats at my sister like a fly. She is smiling the way she does when my aunt informs her that she’s using the dinner fork with her salad, laughing politely at a joke no one made.
Let’s talk about things we’re grateful for instead, my mother says. She leaves again, presumably for more sweet tea or another plate of food materialized from what was a pile of ingredients just this morning when I joined her in the kitchen for some coffee.
He’s forty-two, huh, she said after she poured me a cup and laid out all four flavors of creamer she bought for the holiday. I pretended to read the labels on Spicy Gingerbread hoping she wouldn’t notice that I was drinking my coffee black. I know you’ve always been mature for your age, but sweetie.
She said the last word as though it was a reason all its own for me to immediately stop dating Russell, the man lying in my childhood room upstairs. He’d woken before I had and encouraged me to go down and talk to my mother who had made no effort hiding her discomfort with me dating a man whose age is a fresh memory to her.
What can I say, mom? He’s a wonderful man, and for the first time, it’s actually working. I’m sorry it makes you uncomfortable, but you’re going to have to trust me.
She’d been taught – though never told – to understand a certain thing about unmarried men of a certain age. She had two failed marriages and a rocky relationship with the rest of her family that had taught her to assume those things about people, but I can’t help but think she wished he was at least a widower.
She leaned on the counter toward me, covering both of my forearms with her own. Okay, she said, making me want to cry for no reason at all. I trust you.
And before I could reply, soften my tone the way I’d always been meaning to, she gathered up the four bottles of coffee creamer and moved toward the fridge.
You drink your coffee black now, huh, she said.