ned and his mother eat lunch
Ned opened the door to the refrigerator and looked for cheese. His mother sat at the kitchen table behind him, eating dried apricots from a plastic bag. There was a loaf of rye on the counter, and the wooden cutting block, and the serrated knife that wobbled at the handle.
Where is she? his mother asked.
Ned pulled a jar of beets out of the fridge and put it on the counter. Then he pulled out pickles, raspberry jam, and pears.
I can’t find anything in here, Mom. As soon as he said this, he saw the cheddar. He stared at it for a minute.
I’m only asking. his mother said. Then she added, It’s four-thirty.
Ned replaced all the jars one by one. Lined them up in a row and watched the pears bobble, the pickles float in the liquid. Thought of biology class.
You shouldn’t eat all of those, he told her. When he sliced the cheese on the counter with the serrated knife, the cheese crumbled.
I know what I can eat.
Well, I’m getting you a new knife. This one has never been right.
It was a fresh loaf of rye and he remembered the girl who worked at the bakery, the way she wore her jeans down low and tied her apron so the strings pressed into the skin of her back.
Where do you think she is? The bag crinkled as his mother pulled out another apricot.
There was a plate by the sink that Dolly had used that morning before she went to the restaurant. There were two crusts on it, and one blackened raisin, toasted off. A knife with a smear of butter and a constellation of crumbs. Ned thought about washing the plate. Instead, he used it himself. He left the butter knife on the counter but nudged the raisin pellet to one side, made room for his sandwich.
He brought his plate down to the table and sat with his mother. She ate two more apricots. He watched her struggle with her chewing before he took a bite of bread. Then he swallowed, and asked her, Are they too hard?
She looked at him. You know what’s wrong with you.
Ned closed his eyes. When he opened them he avoided his mother’s face and looked out the window above the sink. A black squirrel ran up the trunk of the pear tree. The rope swing still hung from the fat branch.
We’re going to have to prune the old guy, he said.
You have no idea where she is.
After work, they have a drink.
I’ve made a ham. My three-bean salad.
She’ll be home for supper.
You said she didn’t drink.
Ned stood up and walked to the kitchen sink so he could look at the angle of the fat pear tree branch. It was leaning right over the garage.
We’re going to have to cut that off, Ned said. That branch is a roof repair waiting to happen.
Judith pulled another apricot out of the bag. You don’t know the first thing about that tree, she said.
What I said, Ned told her, was that she didn’t drink very much. He stood at the kitchen sink and looked at the tree and thought about cutting things down.