“There’s always so much going on,” she of the noon pajamas proclaims, and while it’s true we’ve flown in and surprised her, I’m looking at the situation—bookcase with vintage Hobbit and complete Robert Frost, grandkids’ annual pictures lined up on top as if for tickets to the red hot show that’s always going on ‘round here—and I guess I’m not sure what “so much” means.
One new episode’s coming up: the discovery by The In-law-terloper of the steak sauce dated 1981 in Sharpie. (In case you’re reading this in the distant future, in some context that blocks you from knowing the origins of this textual artifact, it is 2013 AD, or CE for secular folks. Common Era (what is your era called?) so the sauce is old. (Now, steak sauce: that’s tangy, and we put it on cooked slices of cow or deer or cooked eggs from chickens or ducks or soy products or tofu, if we’re vegetarian. If we’re vegan, we might avoid steak sauce because it has a meat word in its name (also, some people will give steak sauce a chance on almost anything, like on ice cream or in coffee or on a banana. It can be good.))).
In this story, the older woman in pajamas writes in marker the current date on new products she acquires, so that when the younger woman in jogging pants who married her last child—the child she miscarried to get and took an extra job to pay for, who had some bad qualities but turned out fairly normal she thinks—finds steak sauce so old that it has, well, died—the sauce has separated into two different substances like a body and a soul, neither of which will actually pour from the shapely container—this In-law-terloper cackles and jumps up and down, shaking the open refrigerator door and seeming about to crumple from laughter to the tile where she’ll continue writhing and screeching like a broken machine for God knows how long, thinks Pajama Queen.
She shakes her head. Neither she nor her husband of fifty-six years wants or needs steak sauce. She keeps it because her boy likes it, or, well, liked it when he was a little younger. It’s really not that long ago that he used it, if you can think with any perspective. She looks for confirmation to the man she did marry all those years ago, but he has fallen asleep watching weather on television, which is a thing he does normally, not a psychosomatic reaction to the events unfolding, so are all the pointed looks of concern collected during this lovely surprise visit really necessary?
She will grumble almost inaudibly exactly once. She will do the news puzzles and choose to ignore these other things. Between bouts of laughter, the In-law-terloper manages “we really have to throw that away,” and Pajama Queen grumbles once again.
“That will be another thing,” she says, and begins to nod as if counting all the things happening as they happen, and now she continues nodding beyond the visit, the flight home, the quiet days, birds at the feeder, and the echo of this ending.
William Stobb is the author of five poetry collections, including the National Poetry Series selection, Nervous Systems (2007) and Absentia (2011), both from Penguin Books. He works on the editorial staff of Conduit and on the English faculty at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.