On the second worst day of Addie Peabody's life, her refrigerator and dishwasher both died, like long-term lovers who could not conceive of existing without each other. This would have been a trial for anyone, but as she was the owner of the Do-Or-Diner, it blossomed into a catas-trophe of enormous proportions. Addie stood with her hands pressed to the stainless steel door of the Sub-Zero walk-in, as if she might jump-start its heart by faith healing.
It was hard to decide what was more devastating: the health violations or the loss of potential income. Twenty pounds of dry ice, the most the medical supply store had to offer, wasn't doing the job. Within hours, Addie would have to throw away the gallon buckets of gravy, stew, and chicken soup made that morning. "I think," she said after a moment, "I'm going to build a snowman."
"Now?" asked Delilah, the cook, her crossed arms as thick as a blacksmith's. She frowned. "You know, Addie, I never believed it when folks around here called you crazy, but -- "
"I'll stick it in the fridge. Maybe it'll save the food until the repairman gets here."
"Snowmen melt," Delilah said, but Addie could tell that she was turning the idea over in her mind.
"Then we'll mop up and make more."
"And I suppose you're just gonna let the customers fend for themselves?"
"No," Addie said. "I'm going to get them to help. Will you get Chloe's boots?"
The diner was not crowded for 10 A.M. Of the six booths, two were occupied: one by a mother and her toddler, the other by a businessman brushing muffin crumbs off his laptop. A couple of elderly regulars, Stuart and Wallace, slouched at the counter drinking coffee while they argued over the local paper's headlines.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Addie proclaimed. "I'm pleased to announce the start of the Do-or-Diner's winter carnival. The first event is going to be a snow-sculpture contest, and if you'd all just come out back for a moment, we can get started -- "
"It's freezing out there!" cried Wallace.
"Well, of course it is. Otherwise we'd be having a summer carnival. Winner of the contest gets...a month of breakfast on the house."
Stuart and Wallace shrugged, a good sign. The toddler bounced on the banquette like popcorn in a skillet. Only the businessman seemed unconvinced. As the others shuffled through the door, Addie approached his table. "Look," the businessman said. "I don't want to build a snowman, all right? All I came here for was some breakfast."
"Well, we're not serving now. We're sculpting." She gave him her brightest smile.
The man seemed nonplussed. He tossed a handful of change on the table, gathered his coat and computer, and stood up to leave. "You're nuts."
Addie watched him leave. "Yes," she murmured. "That's what they say."
Outside, Stuart and Wallace were huffing through their scarves, crafting a respectable armadillo. Delilah had fashioned a snow chicken, a leg of lamb, pole beans. The toddler, stuffed into a snowsuit the color of a storm, lay on her back making angels.
Once Chloe had asked: Is Heaven above or below the place where snow comes from?
"You got the Devil's own luck," Delilah told Addie. "What if there was no snow?"
"Since when has there been no snow here in March? And besides, this isn't luck. Luck is finding out the repairman could come a day early."
As if Addie had conjured it, a man's voice called out. "Anybody home?"
"We're back here." Addie was faintly disappointed to see a young cop, instead of an appliance repairman, rounding the corner. "Hi, Orren. You here for a cup of coffee?"
"Uh, no, Addie. I'm here on official business."
Copyright © 2001 by Jodi Picoult. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Pocket Books.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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