CHAPTER 2: DIANA
Ice cream—the dinner of the gods. The best thing I had to look forward to that day was ice cream for dinner. I had moved back in—much to my shame—with my mother.
Sitting at the kitchen island with a bowl, a spoon, and a quart of vanilla-caramel-chip ice cream, I scooped a spoonful from the container, bypassed the bowl, and ate it directly.
Apparently, someone’s house was on fire. The sirens had woken me from my nap, but I couldn’t be bothered to go confirm it.
Mom had run off earlier and was probably exercising her morbid curiosity, gossiping with the neighbors.
Mini-Mimi yipped. She was my teensy Yorkshire terrier. She yipped again.
I looked down to where the dog waited on the floor. “You know the rules. Mom first.” I pulled another scoop and proceeded to savor it, making eye contact the whole time.
Mimi whined and squirmed.
“I know,” I said. “I probably should’ve gotten double chocolate fudge. It might’ve made me feel better.” I licked off the spoon. “Next time,” I promised myself.
Mimi let out a cry that resembled a baby’s.
I peered down at her. “Really? That’s how it is? Oh, all right.” I put a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream in the bowl, dug out the sneaky chocolate chip and ate it, then moved the bowl to the floor. “Don’t snarf it. That’s all you’re getting.”
Mimi had already consumed the ice cream before I’d even finished speaking. The Yorkie-brand vacuum did her best to lick the bowl clean.
I leaned on the counter and saw myself reflected in the microwave door. For the first time in my life, I looked my age—thirty-two. Old.
To avoid myself, I turned my attention to the kitchen at large. I’d grown up there. I had memories of baking cookies with Mom, of learning the family chili recipe from Dad, and of cooking a disastrous boeuf Bourguignon for my first boyfriend when I was sixteen. This was after he took my virginity, and he never showed up for that dinner. I’ve hated French food ever since.
At thirty-two, I saw the kitchen as shabby. I noted the spaghetti sauce spatter on the wall behind the stove, the worn traffic patterns in the linoleum, and the way the counter-top laminate had chipped and come unglued. It looked like I felt—dulled and abused.
A glance to one side revealed the boxes containing my belongings—everything that mattered and too much that didn’t. Like an iceberg, the true extent of my baggage hid under the surface, sitting squarely on my heart.
Three days earlier, a much-appreciated friend had helped to move me in. For the first time in over thirteen years, I returned home—not just to visit, but to stay indefinitely. I had failed at the esteemed institution of marriage.
A fat drop of melted ice cream fell off the spoon. I looked down and noticed the papers lying there, a drip of Heaven on them. I wiped the ice cream up with my finger and said, “Waste not, want not,” then stuck it in my mouth.
I stared for a moment at the papers without seeing them. They slowly came into focus, and the top sheet had the word “OVERDUE” printed in red. I picked it up and looked it over. With growing alarm, I stuck the spoon back into the ice cream and examined the entire pile of delinquent bills.
The front door opened and closed. Mom had returned. She appeared in the doorway and stared at the quart of ice cream. “Di,” she said. “Your dog pooped in the foyer again. And you’re eating ice cream? Did you eat dinner?”
“What is all this?” I asked, holding up the bills.
Mom blinked, confused. Then she crossed to the island with purpose. “Give me those,” she ordered. “They’re nothing to worry about.” She snatched them from me.
“Mom, what’s going on? Are you in trouble?”
“The only person in trouble here is you, kiddo. You show up on my doorstep in the middle of the night with your suitcases. Your boxes are cluttering up my dining room. Your dog is pooping in my house. And now you’re going through my personal papers? We obviously need to establish some boundaries.” Mom clutched the bills to her chest.
“Since when did you and Dad use credit cards?”
“Not me. Your dad. Look, I’ve got it under control. The estate is going to… His life insurance… It’s complicated. Just don’t worry, okay? I’m handling it.” Mom opened a drawer in the little desk on the far side of the kitchen and stuffed the papers inside.
I said, “You know, I can help you if you need it.”
“With what? You don’t have a pot to piss in.” Mom went to the sink and turned on the water. She didn’t, however, do anything with it. Instead, she fisted her hands against the edge of the counter. That meant she was fighting to be patient. I recognized the posture well.
“Seriously, Mom,” I said. “I can help.”
With her back to me, her voice sounded low and tight, “How about you start by getting a job?”
My hackles prickled. “I’m trying!” My inner teenager raised her ugly head, and Petulance was her name. “It’s not my fault no one will hire me!”
A thick silence hung between us, and I imagined my mom grinding her teeth. Eventually, she said more lightly, “Answer my question. Why are you eating ice cream before dinner—and worse, why’s your dog eating ice cream?”
“Because I’m depressed.” I gazed down at the container. “Want some?”
“No. I’ll be having a healthy meal, thank you very much. Would you like an omelet?”
“Is there bacon and cheddar?”
“Then yes, I’d love an omelet.” I dipped into the ice cream one last time and licked the spoon. “How’d the fire turn out?”
“The Ortiz house burned down.”
“Aw. I loved that house. Why didn’t you take Mimi with you to pee.”
“I didn’t have time.”
“Mm. Anybody hurt?”
“No, thank goodness. It seems no one was home.”
I slid off my stool and bent to pick up Mimi’s ice cream bowl.
Mimi’s tail wagged.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered and took the bowl to the dishwasher. By the time I returned to my seat, a black cat had leapt up and was licking the ice cream straight out of the container.
“Um, Mom?” I grabbed the tub away from the cat, earning an angry hiss. I recoiled but saved the ice cream.
“What?” Mom had her head in the refrigerator.
“Whose cat is this?”