“That’s a spill on a client, not enough appetizers, and a crash,” she said, her voice level. “I’m not happy. Could you go and convey that, please?”
“Right,” I said. “I’m on it.”
When I came through the kitchen door, the first thing I did was step on something that mushed, in a wet sort of way, under my foot. Then I noticed that the floor was littered with small round objects, some at a standstill, some rolling slowly to the four corners of the room. A little girl in pigtails, who looked to be about two or three, was standing by the sink, fingers in her mouth and wide eyed as several of the marblelike objects moved past her.
“Well.” I looked over to see the pregnant woman standing by the stove, an empty cookie sheet in her hands. She sighed. “I guess that’s it for the meatballs.”
I picked up my foot to examine it, stepping aside just in time to keep from getting hit by the door as it swung open. Bert, now leafless and looking somewhat composed, breezed in carrying a tray filled with wadded-up napkins and empty glasses. “Delia,” he said to the woman, “we need more crab cakes.”
“And I need a sedative,” she replied in a tired voice, stretching her back, “but you can’t have everything. Take the cheese puffs and tell them we’re traying the crab cakes up right now.”
“Are we?” Bert asked, passing the toddler, who smiled widely, reaching out for him with her spitty fingers. He sidestepped her, heading for the counter, and, unhappy, she plopped down into a sitting position and promptly started wailing.
“Not exactly at this moment, no,” Delia said, crossing the room. “I’m speaking futuristically.”
“Is that a word?” Bert asked her.
“Just take the cheese puffs,” she said as she picked up the little girl. “Oh, Lucy, please God okay, just hold back the hysterics for another hour, I’m begging you.” She looked down at her shoe. “Oh no, I just stepped in a meatball. Where’s Monica?”
“Here,” a girl’s voice said from the other side of the side door.
Delia made an exasperated face. “Put out that cigarette and get in here, now. Find a broom and get up these meatballs . . . and we need to get some more of these cheese puffs in, and Bert needs . . . what else did you need?”
“Crab cakes,” Bert said. “Futuristically speaking. And Wes needs ice.”
“In the oven, ready any second,” she said, shooting him a look as she walked over to the broom closet, toddler on her hip, and rummaged around for a second before pulling out a dustpan. “The crab cakes, not the ice. Lucy, please, don’t slobber on Mommy. . . . And the ice is . . . oh, shit, I don’t know where the ice is. Where did we put the bags we bought?”
“Cooler,” a tall girl said as she came inside, letting the door slam behind her. She had long honey-blonde hair and was slouching as she ambled over to the oven. She pulled it open, a couple of inches at a time, then glanced inside before shutting it again and making her way over to the island, still moving at a snail’s pace. “Done,” she announced.
“Then please take them out and put them on a tray, Monica,” Delia snapped, shifting the toddler to her other hip. She started scooping up the meatballs into the dustpan as Monica made her way back to the oven, pausing entirely too long to pick up a pot holder on her way.
“I’ll just wait for the crab cakes,” Bert said. “It’s only—”
Delia stood up and glared at him. It was quiet for a second, but something told me this was not my opening. I stayed put, scraping meatball off my shoe.
“Right,” he said quickly. “Cheese puffs. Here I go. We need more servers, by the way. People are grabbing at me like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Monica, get back out there,” Delia said as the tall girl ambled back over, a tray of sizzling crab cakes in her hand. Putting down the dustpan, Delia moved to the island, grabbing a spatula, and began, with one hand, to load crab cakes onto the plate at lightning speed. “Now.”
“I know what I said,” Delia shot back, slapping a stack of napkins onto the edge of the tray, “but this is an emergency situation, and I have to put you back in, even if it is against my better judgment. Just walk slowly and look where you’re going, and be careful with liquids, please God I’m begging you, okay?”
This last part, I was already beginning to recognize, was a mantra of sorts for her, as if by stringing all these words together, one of them might stick.
“Okay,” Monica said, tucking her hair behind her ear. She picked up the tray, adjusted it on her hand, and headed off around the corner, taking her time. Delia watched her go, shaking her head, then turned her attention back to the meatballs, scooping the few remaining into the dustpan and chucking them into the garbage can. Her daughter was still sniffling, and she was talking to her, softly, as she walked to a metal cart by the side door, pulling out a tray covered with Saran Wrap. As she crossed the room she balanced it precariously on her free hand, her walk becoming a slight waddle. I had never seen anyone so in need of help in my life.
“What else, what else,” she said as she reached the island, sliding the tray there. “What else did we need?” She pressed a hand to her forehead, closing her eyes.
“Ice,” I said, and she turned around and looked at me.
“Ice,” she repeated. Then she smiled. “Thanks. Who are you?”
“Macy. This is my mom’s house.”
Her expression changed, but only slightly. I had a feeling she knew what was coming.
I took a breath. “She wanted me to come and check that everything’s all right. And to convey that she’s—”
“Incredibly pissed,” she finished for me, nodding.
“Well, not pissed.”
Just then, there was a splashing crash from the next room, followed by another short silence. Delia glanced over at the door, just as the toddler started wailing again.
“Now?” she said to me.
“Well . . . yes,” I said. Actually, I was betting this was an understatement. “Now, she’s probably pissed.”
“Oh, dear.” She put a hand on her face, shaking her head. “This is a disaster.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt nervous enough just watching all this: I couldn’t imagine being responsible for it.
“Well,” she said, after a second, “in a way, it’s good. We know where we stand. Now things can only get better. Right?”