It’s Thanksgiving, and the twins are visiting me in Albuquerque.
“Sleep okay?” At college in Los Angeles, earnest Jack “meal preps,” and lifts weights every day after his shift at the Aero Theatre. He calls me weekly to ask how I am doing. He asks about my life, and tells me about his challenges meeting new people, since the whole first year of college he cocooned with a girl he met during orientation.
“The fleas kept me up,” he says. His ankles are ringed with fresh red dots. “What are we eating?”
When Jack and his twin sister Twyla visit, I fix trays of enchiladas, stewpots of chili Colorado. Last night I fixed Twyla her first mojito, and taught Jack how to make albondigas soup. When they were growing up, I worked two jobs to cover rent and the basics. We rarely all sat down to a real meal. In any case, I loathe cooking.
“I’m not used to the dog smell,” Twyla says, emerging from the bathroom with a green beauty mask on her face. Our aged mutt has begun puddling the bathroom floor. The old Twyla would have said, “It stinks.” The words “Fuck You” are still pencil-scrawled faintly behind her old headboard.
In Vermont, Twyla makes use of the local food bank. She and her boyfriend have also signed up for food stamps. The rest they swipe from the edges of their housemates’ groceries. I hid my shock when I saw the state of Twyla’s housemates’ clothing. Their families are well-off, enough that neither student nor parent is borrowing. New England, with all those expensive schools, is crawling with fake poor people.
I lightly accost my daughter as she passes. I cannot get over the fact that I no longer recognize my children’s smells. Like me, Twyla is ignored by fleas. I ask if Vermont is buggy in summer, and she says yes. I expect her to extricate herself, but instead, she rubs my back.
“Is there a place with no fleas?” Jack asks, pulling himself up in the door frame. “The North Pole?”
I tell them that people who move to Villas Las Estrellas, an Antarctica settlement on a military base, need to get their appendix removed first. I expect Jack and Twyla to exchange an amused glance, but they actually seem to be listening.
“A lot of people think that, but in fact it is only doctors,” Jack says. Reflexively, I search his voice for condescension or pity, but hear none. “Since there’s only one on duty at any one time, they need to minimize the chance they need to leave,” he adds.
“Huh,” I say.
“My roommate is going to Galapagos for Spring Break,” ventures Twyla. “She invited me—I don’t need to pay.”
And there it is. I remember with a pang my own mother’s relief I turned down the private college that offered me a scholarship. Better to attend the state school close to home, she’d said. One thing she knew, you don’t realize you’re poor until you go away to school.
The fact is, the twins’ arrival has been a surprise. Since they no longer have keys, Jack had climbed into my bedroom window and caught me in a compromising situation with my workmate, Stann, and his trumpet. In the weird way that these things work, this has put us on better footing now than we have been in years.
It was the twins’ senior year in high school when I I began taking sleeping tablets. My terrible, truth-telling kids jumped on every white lie I told, the men I dated, my “fake voice” when I called clients or interviewed subjects. That terrible year of school suspensions for weapons, drug possession, and truancy. When both kids stopped answering midnight texts—or worse, texted back that they were on their way home, then never showed up—I added gin. Then Xanax.
In other words, I took my place among the sad, fat ladies in coffee shops, ordering a second glass of Chablis as dessert. Scouring social media for clues to my children’s lives. Each clue was a figurative wall photo connected by yarn lines and pushpins, as in a TV procedural.
I never wanted to hold them back. I had simply believed my churning worry would keep them safe. And I was just so tired. All those appendixes floating in jars on their bedside tables like grotesque lava lamps.
I pull out the griddle, the flour, a bag of organic frozen fruit. Jack and Twyla appear beside me. Twyla pats my bottom and chuckles. We start to measure and pour.
Patricia Q. Bidar is a native Californian with roots in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. Her stories have appeared in Sou’wester, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Citron Review, and Okay Donkey, among other places. Apart from fiction, Patricia writes for progressive nonprofit organizations. Her Twitter handle is @patriciabidar.