Unpacking

Thursday, May 12, 2016, 8:04 PM.

The week’s recipe was vegan “chik’n” stew with dumplings. One of the great things about the Northwest is that winter recipes are good until June, at least.

Claudette prodded the mixture in the heavy ceramic pot that looked almost like a Le Creuset. Real chicken stew started with the bird but she would be adding chunks of marinated seitan near the end, after the herbs, potatoes and vegetables had simmered into fragrant homogeneity. She’d become a vegan after moving to Portland and grown to like its non-assertiveness.

Dinner was the fulcrum of her week. The first was an apartment warming party with Leah, Scarab, Arlen, and Tod scattered between boxes, eating gluten-free delivery pizza on paper plates. “Come back next week,” she’d said, and they had.

They were dotted across the near eastside. Claudette had lived with Leah and Scarab in Alberta, Tod in the Pearl (briefly), and Arlen in Sellwood (above a yoga studio). She was never eager to move but it was inevitable. Her friends met people, changed jobs, dropped leases.

She wasn’t sure she could afford to live alone. Not when she moved, not now — nine months later. Freelance grant writing was as good in Portland as anywhere, but it was still freelance. When she signed the lease, she dug out her grandma’s patterns and began to crochet. Her specialty was waffle-weave pot-holders in a choice of colors that sold for $12 each, plus shipping.

There was a faint yoo-hooing from the street. She padded down two flights of wooden stairs and through Toby & Marissa’s living room to open the door.

“Try the one in the corner,” she told Scarab who was looking for salad bowl Claudette thought she had somewhere.

“Are you ever going to unpack these boxes?”

She missed the edge in her friend’s teasing tone. “Eventually, sure.”

“What are these?” Scarab held out a fistful of cream fabric, scallops spilling down her arm.

“My grandmother’s napkins.”

Arlen scooted over to lift them from Scarab’s grasp, study the fabric with his eyes and fingertips. “This linen is extraordinary. And that has to be hand embroidery. God, how old was your grandma?”

“Seventy-six, when she died.” Claudette unconsciously massaged her lower abdomen. The IBS was getting worse. She’d eaten only plain rice and grilled tempeh today but might as well have swallowed a beach ball.

“I’m sorry,” Arlen said. “I meant — these are stunning. Old-school quality.”

“You’d have liked her. She loved cloth, fabric, thread. Taught me to crochet.”

“Are you going to use these? They’re too beautiful to leave in a box.”

“Chill Lenny,” Tod interjected. “Claud doesn’t want us messing them up.”

“It’s not that,” she said. “One day, when I’m settled…”

Thursday, July 21, 2016, 8:47 PM

Claudette stopped at the top of the first flight. “Go on, the door’s open.”

Tod, Arlen, Leah and Scarab looked at her, then at each other, then climbed, slowly, waiting for her to follow. Bent forward, hands on knees like a winded sprinter, she waited. A solid wodge of pain in her lower gut forced the other tissue — muscle, tendon, adipose — to rearrange its location and behavior.

“Why did you wait so long?” the gynecologist had asked.

Because the last doctor said I had IBS and prescribed me Xanax, she could have said, or Because I have a $4,500 deductible. But she just shook her head.

“The prognosis is generally positive, if we catch it early…”

“But we didn’t, right?”

“I’m afraid not.” The gynecologist had the longest, glossiest hair she’d seen outside of a Pantene commercial. “This is an urgent referral so you should see an oncologist in the next few days. He’ll be able to tell you more.”

On the bus home, Claudette listened hard to the conversation taking place in several seats forward: He said I came at him with a knife when there I was all cut up. They finally gave me a restraining order but fuck if they didn’t give him one too. Do not approach within 500 feet. All I’ve been trying to do is get a fuckin’way. The stress is killing me. Trying to get my kids to school, wondering if he’d be there. Finally, I told my ma, ‘I have to go for a while,’ left the kids with her and caught the Greyhound. I heard a lot about Portland, what a laid-back city it is. And legal pot! So here I am. I’m gonna have a party. My motel has a pool and everything. You’re all invited.

The woman speaking was near Claudette’s age. Her face was seamed, one forearm bandaged from wrist to elbow. She wore a satin bomber jacket and held an over-stuffed jute bag. Voice rising, she repeated: You’re all invited.

Maybe I should go, thought Claudette. But she stayed on the bus when the woman clambered down.

Tonight was supposed to be eggplant Parmesan but she ordered pizza then went to work. Though shaky with exhaustion when she finished, she was proud: it looked perfect.

By taking a three-count inhale and three-count exhale on each step, Claudette made it back to her door.

“What did you do?” Arlen whispered, as if in sanctuary.

Her friends stood silent in the small but spotless room adorned with twinkling strings of lights, fragrant with flowers and cut evergreen branches in vases, pitchers, and bowls. On the table, swathed in mulberry cloth and illuminated by candles, place settings of tarnished antique silver glowed against chamois-soft linen napkins.

“It was time to get rid of the boxes,” Claudette said, half smiling. “I’ve decided to stay.”

Writer. Teacher. https://cwarnckewriter.com #writer #teacher #feminist #immigrant