He made small appearances throughout the day, like a dazed rodent, each time quietly filling a glass of water. Eventually, he accepted a proffered piece of gingerbread.
He must have emerged during the night, for by morning there had been further nibblings on the gingerbread. By day two, the gingerbread had been savaged. Quietly and neatly, with a knife. But there was little left.
By the third day out of seclusion, he started to make conversation again. He was wearing the same costume he'd had on since his return: flannel pyjamas and a sweatshirt. Whatever torments he'd endured in the attic to flush the booze from his system had seemed to do him a world of good. His eyes were brighter and he wasn't muttering and mumbling to himself.
He looked rather longingly at the cookpots and stovetop and said, "Thinking of going shopping anytime soon? Because I'd sure like to cook a meal for those boys. I sure would."
"You'd have to get dressed," I noted, and he practically leapt up from his chair, almost shedding his garments as he did so.
"I'll get changed and get some pants on and we can go buy some MEAT," he said. "We could get pork, and chicken, and pork, and meat, and maybe some beef and some things like that. OH, and some fresh vegetables, maybe like asparagus? And maybe some HERBS? I'll be ready in five minutes."
|But gingerbread is tasty!|
Manny moved rapidly through the aisles, a new spring to his step. He prodded at avocados and rejected grapefruit that I would have happily tossed in my cart. He never even glanced at the junk food aisles. While in the produce section, he seemed more contented than he had ever been. He picked up herbs and sniffed at them. He fondled the rutabagas. More fresh items went into the cart: flip, flip, flip.
He really got going in the meat section. Some meat wasn't worthy of his attention. He really examined it, with the true cook's appreciation for a fine cut. He also squinted at the prices.
"You know what I wanna do?" he said. "I think I ought to start a catering business. I could do well at that. I really could, Miss Jennifer! I could sell good food to a lot of people around here who just want to eat! And I could cater their parties and such. And then, oh, I want to start a cooking show with Eldest son! He wants to learn to cook. I can teach him. I'll set up a video camera right here and then, we'll cook, we'll cook! And we can show how it's done, right here!"
So the days went on and the wok sizzled and the boys ate and ate and the Manny beamed. And then one day he went for a walk. And when he came back he accidentally left on the kitchen table a liquor store receipt for an expensive bottle of bourbon.
But I didn't leave the kitchen, not until he went upstairs. Then I snatched the receipt out and took a photo of it. Then I took the garbage bag out of the can and left it by the back door.
He appeared in the doorway moments later, and his gaze went straight to the garbage bag leaning there against the cabinets.
"I'll take that out for you!" he said. "I'll sure take that out for you right now get it out of your way get it out of the kitchen yeah yeah I'd be happy to."
"You do that," I said. And he shot toward it like a man possessed.
I thought I smelled the stink of bourbon. And I knew that our world was unsteadily tipping, veering toward its next conclusion.