I’m honored to be illustrating today’s short story with Emily Berg’s beautiful acrylic on canvas of Mt. Roberts. Emily used to live in Juneau and was one of my very favorite co-workers at Big Brothers Big Sisters. While this painting has already found a home, you can own a piece of Emily’s artwork by donating to the BergFaceFund. Emily was recently in a serious bicycle accident and is still healing and raising money to pay the significant medical expenses not covered by her insurance. You can contact Emily on Facebook and you can also see more of her artwork and read her blog on her webpage.
I rushed in the door and headed straight for the fridge. I was so hungry my hands were shaking. I hadn’t eaten anything since I’d snagged a handful of trail mix from the break room before starting my shift that morning. It had been a miserable shift, too. Three people called in sick with the flu and Marty, the boss, had thrown a hissy fit when he had to work the floor because we were so short staffed.
Whatever. I rolled my eyes at the memory of his histrionics. Marty was a moron and a lazy one to boot. He loved to sit in his office all day and watch customers and staff from his window. As far as I could tell, that’s all he usually did, so he probably was kind of pissed off to have to actually do something resembling work, for once.
My shelf in the fridge was bare. I’d left a container of my sister’s homemade chili thawing and I’d been looking forward to it all day. Sue makes terrific chili and we were having one of those cold, clear spells when the Taku winds blast across the ice field, over Mt. Roberts’ snowy peaks, and down onto Juneau and Douglas, rattling windows and blowing away small children and pets that have been allowed to wander around off leash. It was definitely chili weather, but where was my dang chili?
Have you ever had a great roommate? You know, the kind who always pays her rent on time, does her share of the cleaning, and never has boyfriends spend the night? Yeah, Gracie isn’t one of those roommates. I found her note taped to the front of the fridge when I finally gave up on my chili and closed the door.
I was starving and there wasn’t anything to eat in the house so I had some of your chili. Tell your sister I want her recipe!
Sure enough, the empty container was in the dishwasher. Unrinsed, of course. I rearranged and rinsed a few of the dishes, added the soap, and started the dishwasher. Shoot. I was really looking forward to that chili and I hadn’t been shopping yet this week. What would I eat for dinner?
A quick perusal of my cupboards revealed two cans of sloppy joe sauce, a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, a can of pickled beets, an unopened jar of mint jelly, and a single box of macaroni and cheese. I’d have mac and cheese for dinner. Sure, it wouldn’t be as good as if I actually had milk, but Gracie had half a stick of butter I could finish off. I smiled grimly, planning a little tit for tat.
Running water was my downfall. I was filling up the saucepan and having satisfying fantasies about Gracie longing for buttered popcorn before bed, when my bladder started to spasm. I tossed the macaroni noodles in the water, set the pan on the stove to boil, and headed out of the kitchen at a trot, shedding my winter coat as I went.
“Sahara, Death Valley, Mojave…” I chanted. I was having a lot of these episodes lately. I’d be going about my business as usual when the urgent need to pee would hit me, BOOM! There was no gradual build-up, and the urge was often so strong my bladder actually hurt. “…Kalahari, Gobi…” I panted as I arrived in the bathroom, trying to focus on dry places. I almost made it, but at the very last moment, as I fumbled with the button on my jeans, my bladder gave up the good fight and released a veritable Niagara Falls. Of course, none of it fell in the toilet. I might have shed a few tears while I mopped up floor, stripped out of my soiled clothes, shrugged into my bathrobe, and started the washing machine, but it wasn’t until I heard the sizzle of boiling water hitting a hot stove burner that I started to cuss.
I hit the kitchen at a dead run and whisked the foaming pan of noodles off the stove as the smoke detector went off. Of course, I couldn’t reach the smoke detector. Life as a short gal can be a real pain in the neck. I opened the kitchen window and fanned the screeching alarm with a towel. Then, when the noise finally stopped, I turned to my pan of noodles. The bottom layer of macaroni had scorched to the bottom of the pan and the rest of the noodles were cooked to mush. Nasty, but I’d still eat them.
Now, you’d think a pasta lover like me would have a colander, but unfortunately, I hadn’t gotten around to replacing the plastic one Gracie had melted to the stove top last month. Instead, I drained my noodles the old-fashioned way, holding the pan lid against the lip of the pan while I poured out the water. I blew the billowing steam away from my hand and tipped the pan further. Just outside the open kitchen window, a car alarm went off in the parking lot. I jumped, lost my grip on the lid, and cussed a blue streak as my macaroni noodles fell into the sink.
“Shit, shit, shit, friggen SHIT,” I fumed, and slammed the nearly empty pan down atop the puddle of squishy noodles. I left the mess in the sink and stormed into the living room, flung myself onto the couch, and stared out the window at Mt. Roberts. I could either crack open my can of pickled beets for dinner, or I’d need to get dressed and go to the store. I considered ordering a pizza for about half a minute. The last time I’d done that, they’d royally screwed up my order. “I’d like a supreme without mushrooms,” I’d told the guy who took my order. “I’m allergic to mushrooms so I just want to make sure that it isn’t a problem to order the pizza like this. If the mushrooms even touch the food I’m going to eat, I could swell up like a hot air balloon.” Of course the pizza had arrived with extra mushrooms.
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. Outside, the full moon was rising over the mountain and lit up the wind-blown spumes of salt spray dancing across the surface of Gastineau Channel. I’d heard that the wind chill was twenty below today, and I shivered just thinking about venturing back out into the cold night. Maybe groceries could wait until tomorrow, and I could subsist on a can of pickled beets, and an early bedtime. My eyes burned with a few more tears. I was tempted to give in to self-pity and just head straight to bed but the doorbell interrupted my morose contemplation. Ugh. I hauled myself up and to the door.
“Hey Kit, I brought salmon curry, and a tub of chocolate ice cream.”
“Oh my gosh, Vivian!” I threw my arms around my friend and she chuckled. “How did you know I need something to eat?” I shivered and stepped back. “Come inside where it’s warm.”
Vivian raised her eyebrow in that way she has and followed me indoors. I would’ve felt frumpy in my bathrobe, but Vivian’s jeans had holes in both knees, and when she took off her wool coat, I saw that the purple and red paisley shirt she was wearing had a big splotch of dried green paint right down the front. Vivian is beautiful, but she never fusses over her clothes and I love that about her.
I pulled out plates and silverware as Vivian unloaded food from her bag. “What happened there?” she asked, and nodded towards the noodle debacle in the sink.
“Nothing that chocolate ice cream can’t fix,” I replied with a wink. “How did you know that I was in desperate need of food?”
“Remember when you said you’d cut my hair if I cooked you dinner?”
“Oh no! Is that tonight? Viv, I’m so sorry I completely blitzed it out. Am I a rotten friend? Let me see what you’ve got,” I said, and gestured at her hair.
“Silly question, Kit, of course you’re not.” Vivian pulled her purple bandanna off and removed the rubber band that held her red hair back in a low ponytail. “We don’t have to do my hair tonight, though, if you’ve had a crappy day.”
“Just feed me curry and chocolate ice cream and I’ll do anything for you,” I replied, grinning. “My crappy day just took a turn for the better.”