The Bog (part four)
“I don’t know what to think about you.”
“Then don’t. Don’t worry.”
She appreciated what Rachel was doing—what she thought she was doing—too much to start something sisterly, competitive and carping…
They were only half-related.
Laurel, eighteen (Nixon president, a laundry room’s black and white TV the only one available to watch), had let Rachel, five, camp out in her apartment. Laurel had been the adult, unassailable.
Now Rachel was the adult, her bossiness unrelenting after Debbie had died. She’d told Laurel what to bring to the supper, what to wear to the service, what her stepmother had wanted her to have.
Laurel pictured her Dad, squirming in his recliner, digging out his penknife to slit the wax paper on a package of graham crackers. On the coffee table (rings scored deep in blond varnish) sat a tub of peanut butter, vanilla sandwich cookies for dipping. Debbie’s marshmallow fudge. Bottles of root beer…root beer, not everyday RC, for Christmas. Popcorn.
“Hey,” she said.
She kept her hiking boots on…it seemed like sense if it was going to thunder, and they might have to head back to the car. In the space of half the tent’s floor, the endeavor of freeing herself got out of hand fast, stealthy moves Laurel tried, backing onto her knees.
“Jesus, I’m not asleep. We’ve only been in here five minutes.”
For two or three minutes more Laurel was able to sit alone, outside on the cooler, thinking of poor Debbie, her Dad—and how the bog resembled a glowing bowl, so much light of civilization to be seen everywhere along the horizon. The rain had stopped.
Rachel’s head came out.
“Is that lightning? I think it’s flashing over there.”
“Do you wanna go? I mean…we would just have to stick to the path. I didn’t really notice how far we came in.”
“No.” Rachel said. “Hey, what?”
“Huh? Oh! Vanilla cookies and peanut butter.”
It was how little they really knew each other. They’d had these holidays…Laurel visiting, happy her Dad seemed settled in with Debbie, but bored in their house, miserably eager to leave them.
The place had been near an overpass; it caught a constant rise and fall of grinding motor noise and air sucking along the concrete barrier. Its acre was framed by a river shallower than Rust Creek, and a drainage ditch beside a gravel road. House, carport, and metal shed hemmed in by woods.
Her Dad with his salt lick, the baby fawns that came right onto the patio.
Not having a car, Laurel had waited at her apartment for him to pick her up. Then waited for Christmas to end, sometimes walking around the property, sometimes watching TV. Playing stuffed animals with Rachel. Giving them voices, hopping them around. Not helping Debbie…
Debbie had set things out from the refrigerator; she didn’t cook.
At twenty-five, Laurel had told her father: “I have stuff to do, Dad. Is it okay if I skip it?”
She hadn’t spent Christmas with them after that. She sent cards, and for a while still asked Debbie, “What do you guys need?”
“Oh, hon, I got more doodads than I know what to do with.”
Rachel, catching the allusion, said: “Oh, yeah, dipping em. That was Dad’s thing.” She added, “You know, you should come over for Christmas. Or Thanksgiving, if you want. Maybe that’s easier.”
“What if I asked you to come over?”
The LED lantern, dimmed inside the tent, put out its blue oval, not light enough to read faces by. The calculation behind this silence was…of course…
What sort of place does she live in, these days? Is it clean? Is she serious?
“We could potluck.”
Laurel wasn’t serious, or hadn’t been. But why not insist on this right, too? Rachel—from watching talk shows, she thought—around the time January resolutions would be featured, decided they were sisters and ought to be better friends. See more of each other. She’d emailed this.
Laurel emailed back that she was out of work, was drawing her retirement, and volunteering to keep busy. She was volunteering to be seen by neighbors going in and out of her house, verifiably known to have friends. She was building an armored defense of normality. You needed that, when you were over sixty, and alone.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)