“We’ll sit down and talk about this. We’ll make a plan for how
to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves and each other while
He’s been saying this for two weeks now, been referring to this
mythical conversation we’re allegedly going to have, in which everything
will be ironed out and processed and prayed over and resolved,
and yet we somehow never actually have it.
We pull out of the lot. The air blowing into the car finally begins
to cool. “I just have to get through church tomorrow,” he says,
“then on Monday we’ll figure it all out.” He glances at me. “Okay?”
The only response I can give is “Okay.” I know that church
comes first, and I didn’t expect us to actually get five minutes to
talk, and I guess I should be grateful we got groceries and went to
the hardware store.
When we’re almost home, I say, “I ran into Vanessa in the store.
I think I’m going to spend the night over there.” Because suddenly
the prospect of conversation with other people doesn’t seem as
hard as going into that house, our house, staying there with no AC
while Dad holes up in his office getting ready for tomorrow.
He gives my knee a light and happy smack. “Good, Sam. Good.
I’m glad. You need to have some fun.”
At Vanessa’s house, the air-conditioning works and the mail isn’t
piled up and we sit around the table, all of us together, looking out
onto a backyard where every thing is under control.
“After dinner, you two can go out and pick some tomatoes,”
Mrs. Hathaway says as we all pass her our shallow bowls, which
she fills with mounds of Chinese chicken salad. “Sam, you can take
some home. We’ve got a bumper crop out there.”
“Does this have onions?” Robby, Vanessa’s seven-year-old
brother, scrutinizes his dish. He always inspects his food with a
funny kind of thoroughness — C.S.I. Dinner Plate.
“No, honey,” his mom says. “Just scallions.”
“I love scallions,” I say, trying to help, making my eyes big and
excited. “They’re my favorite. Plus they make you super strong.”
He’s skeptical. “What are scallions?”
“Green onions,” Vanessa says. Mrs. Hathaway gives her a look.
After we’re all served, Mr. Hathaway extends his hands — one
to Robby, on his left, and one to me, on his right. I take it, and
Vanessa takes mine, and Mrs. Hathaway takes hers, and then completes
the circle by holding Robby’s. The prayer over the food is on
the long side, as Mr. Hathaway covers not only the food but also
each one of us as well as world events. His hand is rougher and
bigger than my dad’s, calloused from playing the guitar, which he
does almost every Sunday.
“Amen,” he finally says, giving my hand a squeeze.
This is what a family is supposed to feel like.
“How’s your mother doing?” Mrs. Hathaway asks, as if it isn’t
the hardest question in the world to ask and answer.
“Fine.” I eat a bite of salad. It’s good. Mrs. Hathaway got this
recipe from my mom.
“I know it’s hard right now, but it’s good that she’s getting
“Mom . . . ,” Vanessa says, and glances at me apologetically.
Robby asks, “Why does Sam’s mom need help?”
I start to say that she had a little run-in with a fence post, which
is true, but Mrs. Hathaway answers first: “She’s sick, Robby. It’s a
disease. It’s —”
“Well, not quite.” She looks thoughtful. This is a Teachable Moment.
“But you could say —”
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