Cassie and Riley are wrestling over who will lick the cat first. The kids enter and try to get both dog’s attentions. Then comes my mother. She slides straight into the kitchen to profile the food. She picks up Chimay and champagne simultaneously.
“Can I drink these?” she says. If not for the directness I would have thought she was talking to her main John, the phone is still to her ear. All week she begged me to come over and spend time with the kids. And here we are.
“Put them down,” I say, trying not to raise my voice. “Can’t you calm down for a second? I’m about to cook dinner.” She is relatively calm. Relatively. She hadn’t demanded that I buy her cigarettes seven or eight times on the drive to my apartment. But I hadn’t demanded that she stop smoking crack so we were even.
She sucks her teeth and puts the alcohol back in the fridge. Riley now has the cat in her mouth, pinned down on the ottoman by my computer. My mother continues to search through the fridge as I’m boiling water and seasoning salmon. She pulls out a plastic Ziploc bag that contains half an avocado, apple and orange slices. She stares at the avocado. Pokes it.
“Joey, what’s this?” she says.
“It’s an avocado…” Probing my fruit isn’t the worst thing she’s done, so I try to consider that. I really try.
Earlier, when she got in my car from Earl’s house, the air died. Jojo was asleep in the back seat, and without him, Leah was quietly listening to the Lightspeed podcast with me. Until my mother got in. From the moment she opened the passenger side door I could no longer enjoy the short story and I switched to music instead, slightly raising the volume whenever she tried to talk up her John. She asked me to “do her a favor” and “meet him.” She asked me to be nice to him. But the best I could imagine was dismissing a weak handshake, instead of palming this guy’s head like a basketball and mashing it up against the brick surface of my grandfather’s house. The ladder made me feel a little better. Breathing came easier at the thought.
“You can have one if you’d like, they’re in the bottom drawer, you don’t have to fondle that one.”
“No, I just want to taste it.” The avocado, or societal participation? I thought.
“Well then taste it and close the refrigerator door.” But she doesn’t taste it. Never will.
Jojo and Leah are playing tug of war with Cassie and her dog rope. They’re yelling “You can’t beat both of us Cassie!” But Cassie is indeed beating both of them, even on the hardwood floor. Riley is nibbling on the cat. My mother is on her phone, cooing and begging for money from the John.
“Daddy, what are you making for dinner?” says Jojo. Which translates to: “can I have peanut butter and jelly?”
“It’s salmon and shrimp with pasta,” I say. He can’t hide his disappointment, but knows he’s supposed to.
“Is there any asparagus with that?” he says. Naturally, Leah jumps in and mimics him word for word. My mother takes the phone away from her ear for a second.
“What you know about asparagus?” says my mother.
“More than you know about avocados,” replies Jojo, under his breath.
My mother doesn’t hear it. She’s freaking out because her phone is about to die and she can’t find the charger.