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Seventeen

“You still cook?” she asked me.

“I cook fantastically well,” I said.

You probably think this is bizarre. That’s your problem. I do cook. Why? I cook because I eat. I eat therefore I am. I eat everyday. I’ve waited tables. I’ve seen ’em do it. All you do is visualize what you like to eat, and cook it.

“This place is stocked,” she said.

She opened the fridge, the freezers, the cabinets.

“The grocery store’s telephone number is right here.” She showed me the little chalkboard that hung on the wall. “I have an account there. They deliver.”

“I can cook for us,” The Wimp said.

She was sitting on the couch, kind of the attached living room. She was awfully quiet over there – doing homework, drawing, doodling on a pad – something with a pen and paper.

Gracie paused. Looked at me. Looked at my stomach.

“She’s virtually a trained chef,” she said. “But she has homework, scouts, music. I don’t want her spending the next month in this kitchen fixing you meals. You know, she’s busier than you are. Don’t let her do it.”

She pointed at me – a warning.

“Don’t worry,” said The Wimp, still looking at the pen. “I won’t.”

“The restaurant,” Gracie said, “will bring you dinner any time you need it. But you can’t call them after five-thirty. It gets too busy. If something’s going on and you know you’re going to need dinner, call them at three or four. Tell them what you want, and they’ll bring it over.”

Ah, this sounded like a month of culinary pleasure.

“Thanks,” I said. “We should do fine in that department. Don’t worry at all.”

Gracie rolled her eyes.

“I won’t,” she said. “Laundry. Housekeeping. I have a housekeeper. She usually comes twice a week, but she’ll be coming in on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from nine to twelve. She’ll stay longer if she needs to. That should be enough.”

“What does she look like?”

“Stout and muscular. She has five children. She’s a hard worker. A fast worker. She’s not good looking,” she said.

She took a slow breath, looked at me, glanced at the interior of her house.

“You’re a slob,” Gracie said. “Don’t take advantage of Norma. She’s been working for me for four years. If you wreck the place and expect her to clean up your mess, she’ll quit. She’ll do some dishes, but not a whole kitchen full. I can tell you right now she doesn’t want to pick up your clothes off the floor.” She pointed at me again. “Don’t abuse that woman. She’s dear to me.”

“Gotcha.”

Then Artie was there. He had his leg on, with pants over it, no cane. He walked normal. Came in, gave me a how-do-ya-do. Gave The Wimp a hug. He and Gracie did a little private whispering. Two traveling love birds. Then Gracie and The Wimp had a hugging festival. Tears and sobs, tissues, kisses. Damn, it sunk me into the pits, got to where I couldn’t talk.

Nobody could, and then they were off.

The Wimp went upstairs to her room, came down about two hours later.

“I’m going to Margie’s house,” she said.

“What’s the phone number there?” I asked.

Not bad, huh? Wouldn’t you say that that was the proper question. Wasn’t it the “daddy” thing to do?

She shook her head, looked at me like I was pretty stupid.

“It’s across the street,” she said.

And she was gone.

What the hell? Sunday afternoon. A traumatic time. She needed a friend, time to sort it all out. So what if she didn’t come home until ten o’clock, walked right by me and up the stairs, into her room, not to be heard from again that night?

In the morning, she was gone before I awoke. Hey, this parenting business was a breeze. More like house-sitting. I figured I had not had a single beer the night before, might have a few at lunch. Or make an appointment with my doctor. Keep things on track.

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