-by Sophie Belle, good Dog and house stenographer.
One day, Katie came back. I was instantly alert, because I was afraid she was bringing back her crazy cat. It was too much for her, I knew, it was too much even for an army of my ancestors! I retreated to my old familiar spot under the kitchen table.
But, thankfully, thankfully, Katie had only come to talk to Mom. She had decided to do it while cooking Mom dinner, which I know is something she learned from Dad.
She sat Mom in the kitchen so they could talk while Katie worked, her first step was to tie her long fur back out of her eyes. Not to be left out, especially with food about, Pete and Daphne, Team Dachshund, noisily trotted in, Pete going for Mom’s lap. He knew from up there he could see more of what Katie was doing…, and be seen first when it came time to give out the treats.
Daphne was a little more sneaky. She usually waited behind the person’s legs so that when they backed up, they fell over, spilling something on the floor for her.
“Ok, Mom,” Katie started, “We’re going to have a nice, ‘feel-good’ stew over couscous. It’s healthy, too.”
Mom harrumphed as she got comfortable. “What is it?” she asked a little suspiciously.
“It’s a version of a West African dish. I couldn’t get a lot of the ‘exotic’ things, but with spices, it’ll seem like the real thing. I like to call this version ‘Hyena Stew,’ because even though it’s meatless, it’s good enough for the Dogs!” Katie sang to Pete. I hoped she meant that she was making it for us, too! All out tails were a-wag in excitement! (…though none of us knew what “meatless” meant.)
“And we’re going to talk about Dad,” Katie said. And then I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.
The kitchen clanged as Katie got out the big soup pot and put it on the stove top. The counter clacked as she cut up sweet potatoes, onions, ‘n’ garlic to brown inside. She fixed Mom with a look and asked, “What’s the matter?” pointing with the knife.
“Careful!” Mom shouted, always a Mom first. “What do you mean?”
Katie pfft‘d. “Well, what’s the deal with you and Dad? Why aren’t you with him? He’s been calling me, you know. It’s not a secret. Truthfully, all this happened way too fast for my taste, but I don’t think that should’ve stopped you.”
“You kids can talk so fast,” Mom mused, looking away. She was quiet for a moment, cooking the only sound. “I don’t think he even considered anyone else in his decision.”
Katie nodded, checking on the stuff inside. She opened a can of black-eyed peas, drained and stirred it into the sweet potatoes. She added some salt, covered it, and let it cook. She sat across from Mom, “He might have. You know Dad – when he really wants something, he’s got endless enthusiasm but almost no patience.”
Mom smiled, I’m sure remembering their early days. Katie continued, “He did leave suddenly, and I know you two have been dealing with some other things…”
“He’s never here,” Mom snapped. Katie’s knees touched Mom’s to settle her. “He works all the time. I know he loves to cook and he’s happy to be a chef, but I never see him. Justin never sees him! I didn’t marry a ghost, or…or something!
“It was the same way when we had you,” Mom paused to swallow, “…and I don’t want that for Justin.” She finished quietly.
Katie smiled and put her hand on Mom’s shoulder. “I know, but Justin’s tough! He’s got more imagination than I ever did, he’s getting along just fine.” I took this as a compliment, too, since I taught Justin all he knew.
“But, if you’re really worried about that, then the only choice you have for him is to go to Ohio,” Katie added with a squeeze. “It’s hard to hear, I know. But kids grow best with their parents. Both of them.”
Mom considered this. “Do you remember when you were young and told your father and I that you wanted to be a performance artist? Singing ‘n’ dancing, speech ‘n’ drama, art ‘n’ film…,” Mom sighed remembering all the costumes she’d sewn together, all the lines she’d help rehearse, all the routines she’d watched and celebrated. “And that meant you had to go to that special high school, the one for artists? He didn’t believe in you then, you remember?”she asked. “You guys fought and fought.”
Katie stood up and hugged Mom’s shoulders as she went back to the stove, Daphne on her heels. She lifted the lid and stirred the food as she thought. “That’s not entirely true. Dad did challenge me about my decision. He wanted me to stand up to him and prove that I really wanted it. That I knew what I was doing.
“And I did. I showed him the school, I talked about the classes, what I wanted, what I hoped. It was scary, to face him like that, but he was the scariest, so after that, facing everyone else was easy. He was always on my side, but in making me prove it to him, he told me I also proved it to myself. When he told me all of that, I felt so much better!” Katie paused to wash some roma tomatoes before she could go on.
“That gave me a lot of strength, he gave me a lot of strength. I needed that, then and now. I’m still going strong now because of it. I’ve traveled all over; I teach dance in Atlanta… I was in ‘the Nutcracker Suite’ last year at the Fox!” Katie stood tall, proud of herself, a very goofy grin on her face.
“I know, we all came to see to you. Even Justin paid attention…, a little.” Mom scratched Pete’s head and I swear I heard him purr. I hoped being around the cat for so long wasn’t making me crazy!
“I never knew that about you and your father,” Mom whispered.
Katie cut up the tomatoes, removed the seeds and added them to the stuff in the pot. She put a whole bunch of spices in there, too, the smelliest was cinnamon. That one always burns my nose if I get too close. She added some vinegar and closed the lid again after a noisy stir. She was quiet, waiting for Mom.
“I just think, if I go back to Ohio, it’ll say to everybody that I couldn’t make it here. I couldn’t make things work with your father and had to move back. And look, that’s just what happened!” Mom sounded angry, not sad.
“That’s stupid, Mom!” Katie said excitedly from behind the counter, the knife still in her hand. She talked before Mom could scold her, “Who cares what everyone up there will think? You and Dad should be together. If he’s successful enough, he can hire someone to do his job. That’s part of the reason he was so excited, you know. It’s just pizza, he wouldn’t have to ‘chef‘ all day.”
Katie banged another, smaller pot out of the cabinet and filled it with water. She added some crushed garlic and green leafies and put it to boil. She seeded some spicy peppers (I know they were spicy because their scent was spicy!) and added them to the sweet potatoes and beans.
At this, Daphne had enough, but not before she called, “Petey-poo, would yew like a ‘spicy peppy’ to eat before din-din?” Pete only shivered in answer, knowing that any hot pepper would mean certain death, (probably because he’d already been tricked several times before). Daphne grinned smugly and ambled back to Mom to see if there was room for one more on her lap.
“This is the part I love!” Katie called as she smashed the beans, potatoes, ‘n’ such all down with a large wooded spoon. It took a few minutes and it made a lot of noise and, spicy peppers aside, it made the kitchen smelled great!
When the water boiled in the other pot, she added the couscous and turned off the heat. She came back over to Mom and looked at her sweetly.
“Yes, it does smell good,” Mom admitted. Team Dachshund snapped to attention, expecting Katie to give them a treat for Mom’s good behavior. She somehow tossed all three of us a cube of sweet potato with each of her arms.
“What else? And you know what I mean.”
“Well, now that your father’s back in Springtonne, I wonder if he’s going to go back to his old habits. You know, his addictions and all that… stuff,” Mom said with real worry. She idly scratched Pete and Daphne’s ears which made me jealous, but Katie bent down to pet me, so it was ok.
“That is a good concern. Did you talk to him about that? From what I remember hearing, you were the one that helped him turn that around in the first place. Maybe that’s why he was counting on you to go with him. Or, maybe he’s beyond all that and all he sees is his chance. Maybe you made him strong enough to try for it,” she encouraged.
“Hmm,” Mom hummed. As much as I liked what Katie was saying, I enjoyed the sweet potato more. I lifted my head with my ears perked, my tongue flopping around for any stray crumbs. I hoped that if I looked cute enough, I could get more.
“I’ve talked to Grandma, too.” Katie stood and went back to the stove.
Mom and Daphne huffed at the same time, creating a warm gust, though Daphne’s breath was far stinkier and her teeth were orange from the sweet potato. Pete helped her clean them with his tongue. She snorted and sneezed in a very ladylike way.
Katie continued, “She said you could stay with her. You wouldn’t have to be with Dad, at least not right away if you guys still need some time apart. But you’d be close enough that you could work things out, that you could see things were going to be ok.
“You’ll be surprised how much easier things will be if you work together.”
“I hate how smart you’ve become,” Mom said after a bit. Katie smiled, knowing Mom meant the opposite.
“Look, dinner’s ready. Think about it. Grandma will probably call tonight,” Katie began. She looked to the kitchen phone because Grandma was also known for calling during Dinnertime. It remained silent. “Talk to her about things, too.”
Katie spooned the couscous out and topped it with the stew. She put a spoon on top and carried the steaming bowls to the table, only spilling a little bit. “Ta-da!” she flourished.
As the food arrived, the talking stopped and I went to inspect the spill. Pete was close enough to Mom’s bowl that he had forgotten there was food farther away. Mom pushed his snout back and Daphne tried to squirm around him.
Mom took her first bite and chewed it slowly. “Oh, Katie! That’s too spicy!”