Friday
Mar092012

Flatscreen

By Adam Wilson


 

Harper Perennial
February 2012
978-0062090331


 

Jennifer's Facebook was without posture. Like she'd answered the questions rapidly, no consideration of real-world consequence. She liked eighties movies, still mourned Bradley Nowell. Occupation: EMT. Relationship Status: Single.

Mom reappeared, racket in hand.

"I'm going to the club if you want me to drop you at Whole Foods. Benjy said he'd pick you up in an hour."

I was twenty, didn't have a license. Benjy had been old for his grade. When he turned sixteen Dad had bought him a Range Rover to make up for marital misconduct. Car was yellow, colossal, called the Short Bus by the clever kids. For a while Benjy was popular, until Sam Arnold got his mom's old minivan, let people have sex in it for ten bucks.

When I turned sixteen Dad had run out of guilt or money, because I got nosebleed Celtics tickets, no car. Not that I minded. Happy to be chauffeured. Downside was when Benjy went to college, I was left with the infantilizing prospect of being driven around by Mom. Fortunately, she was up to the task. Maybe it was her way of staying connected; inches from each other with arms crossing as we reached for the heater knobs or the radio; chance for a unifying song, something Jewy, familiar, Billy Joel, Neil Diamond; shared memory of an idiotic relative dancing drunkenly at a cousin's bar mitzvah.

Her car was a white Camry. She'd bought a Mercedes SUV after the divorce, but sold it later to pay medical bills when her brother got prostate cancer. Now Ned was dead and I bet she wished she'd kept the car, as the money she'd spent on health care didn't help in the end, and the medical costs had sealed her fate as a social pariah among the wallet-conscious women of Quinosset.

Turned on the radio; Mom turned it off.

"Gives me a headache."

Her skirt hiked up. Blue veins, thick as guitar strings. Closed my eyes. Mom called Grandma in Florida, wished her a happy holiday. I was put on the line.

"Hi, Grandma."

"You never call," she said. "Your brother calls."

Mom forked over her Amex, dropped me on the corner. She didn't want to deal with the parking lot even though it was half-empty. Most people were home preparing to break their fasts. Lox and bagels laid across tables, champagne uncorked, cashmere adorned. But Dad's family was going to Pam's sister's place. Benjy and I weren't invited. Fine with me. I liked grocery shopping. I was an excellent chef, a lover of the culinary arts. Had spent hundreds of hours in the thrall of the Food Network watching Giada's pot of puttanesca bubble seductively with anchovy guts; Rachael Ray babble on in kiddie-speak, slobbering over her own mute creations, erotically licking egg-E.-colied chocolate from a wooden spoon; iron chefs, dressed as kings in their bleached cotton kitchen wears; modern cowboys—tanned, mustache-trimmed, cured of Marlboros—stirring five-alarm 80-percent-lean all-meat chili beneath Texas skies.

My palate was unparalleled. Could catch a hint of freshly cut Brie from three houses away, smell the pizza boy before he'd turned onto our street. Knew the tannins in my tea by name, gagged at an extra teaspoon of cinnamon, understood the subtle benefits of star anise.

Started in the veggie aisle, testing the ripeness of avocados, comparing California-grown peppers to Mexican ones, debating pros and cons of fresh lettuce vs. prewashed. Whole Foods was also stomping ground for the idle wives, empty nesters—mothers of my former classmates. As I held a bunch of fresh basil to my nose, thinking, Naples, gardens, stone courtyards, one of these women tapped my shoulder.

"Eli Schwartz. Look at you."

Burgundy velour tracksuit, baby-blue trim. Quinosset colors. Top zipped down to reveal a peeling swath of cleavage. Big fake smile, the kind Mom couldn't manage.

"Well, don't you look just like your handsome father?"

"Hi, Mrs. Sacks," I said. "How are you?"

Knew how she was. Last summer she'd been caught hum-jobbing Eddie Barash, local kosher caterer. Everyone felt bad for her husband Mark until their daughter Sherri explained that her mom's transgression was a perfectly understandable reaction. Apparently Mark had an "addiction to prostitutes" and "needed help." He'd spent the summer at sex addicts camp in Palm Springs, having sex with other sex addicts. Sherri had shipped off to a camp friend's place in Westchester, leaving Mrs. Sacks alone to ponder her fractured fam, play hide the Hungarian pastrami with Eddie.

"I'm fine. Just picking up some extras for the breakfast. We just got back from the island. Sher is in town, does she know you're home?"

"No. I haven't spoken to Sherri in a while."

Not a lie. Hadn't spoken to her since eighth grade when she'd told Emily Dollinger I had only one ball. (I have two.) Childhood friends, nothing more, though I clung to the fringes of her social circle. Once she threw a party and I stole her dad's baseball card collection because he didn't appreciate it. Cards weren't even in plastic cases.

"Sher is at GW. She loves it. Loves it."

"Loves it?"

"L-O-V-E-S. Loves it."

"You sure she doesn't just like it?"

"Hahaha. Oh, Eli, you're a joker too, just like your dad."

"My dad?"

"So where are you at school?"

"I'm taking time off. Figuring things out."

Mrs. Sacks eyed my groceries. "You're the cook, or your mother? "

"I like to cook."

"Maybe you'll come make me dinner one day."

"Sure," I said, unsure if she was joking, just conversing, or serious.

"And how's your father? Seriously. You look just like him. Blow him a kiss for me, okay?"