Excerpt of Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
(Page 6 of 8)
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He stops in the middle of filling up a plastic bag with broccoli
and gives me a questioning look.
“Who’s going to cook this stuff?” I ask.
“I thought . . .” Now he stares into the cart.
“It’s not like I know what to do with it. She never let me in the
kitchen when she cooked,” I say. Cooking was the one thing she
and I didn’t do together. Everything else — shopping, cleaning,
watching TV or movies, looking at magazines, gardening, polishing
our toenails, doing our hair, trying on clothes, going for walks
or runs — was the two of us. But when she was in the kitchen,
even I was banished. It was the one place in her life where she was
totally in charge.
“Haven’t you noticed,” I continue, “that your meals have come
out of a can or the microwave since, like, Christmas?”
I take the bunch of broccoli out of his hand and put it back,
along with the mushrooms, the little red potatoes, the baby squash.
I keep the bagged salad and apples. Then I wheel the cart to the
meat case and put back the package of ground beef and the whole
chicken in favor of some pre-seasoned, pre-cooked chicken breasts.
“I could cook,” Dad says weakly, but he knows I’m right. We’re
not the kind of family anymore that sits around the table to a balanced
and nutritious meal to talk about our days. We’re the kind
that lives on stuff only requiring a person to work the microwave
or add boiling water.
After filling our cart with stuff that meets these criteria, I pull
Dad along to the checkout line. He’s still in a daze, like he’s only
just now living in reality. I think of a line he uses in sermons sometimes:
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Funny how talking about
things safely from behind a podium in church is different from
really getting them in real life.
The cashier, a squat fifty-something woman who’s worked here
as long as I can remember, smiles big at us. Well, at Dad. “Hey,
Pastor Charlie. Haven’t seen you here in ages!”
And instantly he turns on his Pastor Charlie charm, going from
sad and dazed to warm and present, like our grocery cart tragedy
never happened. “Come to church and you can see me every
week,” he says with a grin. “You haven’t been since your niece’s
baptism, am I right?”
I turn away, look at the candy shelf, and add some four-for-adollar
chocolate bars to the conveyer belt. Meanwhile, the cashier
and my dad are laughing it up. “Maybe I was hiding in the balcony.”
“And maybe you weren’t .”
She loves it. Because all women love my dad. He’s handsome
enough even with the little soda-belly he’s grown in the last couple
of years, has all his hair, is youngish, charming, kind, a good listener,
reliable, attentive, there when you need him. Those last four
only apply if you aren’t in his immediate family. Most of all he’s the
kind of man who would never cheat, and — as my mom pointed
out to me once after a few drinks — that’s exactly the kind of man
women want to cheat with. “Ironic, isn’t it?” my mom said, kind of
laughing and kind of not. And I wanted to tell her how that isn’t
the sort of thing I want to know about or think about my own father,
and please could we change the subject, but I don’t think she
really realized it was me sitting there with her. I mean she knew it
was me, but when she’s drinking she kind of forgets I’m her daughter
and she’s my mom. So the definition of appropriate topics of
conversation tends to . . . expand.
Dad pays for the groceries with a check, which will fl oat a couple
of days while he figures out how to get money into our account.
Back in the car, he’s still in his confident pastoral mode. “I’m
sorry,” he says, buckling his seat belt. “The food thing —”
“It’s okay,” I say, cutting him off. I turn up the air-conditioning
full blast and lift myself off the seat a little to keep from burning
my thighs on the vinyl.
Excerpted from Once Was Lost
by Sara Zarr. Copyright © 2009 by Sara Zarr.
Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.