Alex paced about the kitchen, humming a tuneless tune and absentmindedly tossing a rather large PEI potato from hand to hand. The boys had been gone for well over an hour, would likely return shortly, but in spite of the time elapsed she hadn't yet had the slightest idea how to break news of her discovery to the two of them.
She brushed her thumbs along the potato's rough, pitted surface, feeling the contours of each eye, unconsciously memorizing each bump and flaw. The rest--smaller and therefore more suitable as bite-sized portions--were bobbing up and down in a pot that sat boiling on the range. Heaving the MegaTater into the air with her left hand and catching it with her right, she heard the water pop and fizzle as the occasional drop slipped between rim and lid and evaporated in the open flame below. Alex had gotten tired, too tired, of the noise the steam made and the potato's unevenly-distributed mass some time ago, but by this point she was too mentally blocked to care.
There was another fizzle, though this time louder, more sudden, and coming a half-second after she had tossed the potato in the air. Jarred, her hands tightened a little, and the root rebounded off the ball of her thumb and hit the floor with a muffled thud. "Dammit, girl," she cursed, and bent down to retrieve the misshapen lump.
Since discovering Richard's cocaine in the shed, Alex was torn between treating the situation with passivity or aggression--though, at approximately 1:12PM she had considered a mixture of both, quickly shrugging the notion aside for something less bitchy. If she went aggressive she would likely come off like a shrill harpy, but if she went passive with her confrontation there was a chance it might seem like there was no problem at all. She cursed again, silently this time, with the knowledge that she hadn't had enough experience getting mad at David to know how to do it effectively.
The source of her frustration--more of a catalyst, now that she thought of it--sat on the counter next to a plate of thawing chicken breast and no, she wasn't going allow some absurd mixup to occur that would pump her dinner party full of alkaloid stimulant. Her brief temptation to use passive-aggressive tactics had involved simply leaving the drug out there for David or Richard to find, as though an illegal narcotic was a conversation piece. But what with the rush before dinner she would be surprised if anyone would notice it. That and the bitch factor.
She twitched again, this time in response to the moderately quiet but still shrill ring of the kitchen phone. She blinked, chuckled at herself, and lifted the receiver from its carriage. Hearing the "Hello" on the other end, she quickly discerned it was her youngest sister, Alice.
"Oh, hey! How's the drive?. . . Ha, right. You think the 417 is shit now pray to God you won't be stuck in rush hour traffic. . . Yes, I know I don't drive. . . Just because I don't own a car doesn't mean I can't observe a particularly dense traffic pattern."
Particularly dense traffic pattern? Alex thought, bemused. Jesus. She hadn't been married to David for even two years and already she was taking on his at-times Byzantine mode of speech. She kept quiet as her sister went on, ranting though not yet blathering about Toronto traffic. She pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger and sighed.
"Right yes. I agree, Yonge traffic can rot in the depths of Hell." She was now rolling the potato along the surface of the counter, noting with a small measure of dismay that she'd have not one but two chatterboxes at her table this evening. She pondered the idea of Alice and Richard as a pair and almost immediately shuddered at the thought. Their hypothetical children would be physically incapable of shutting up.
"Yes, everything's still on as planned. . ." She spun the potato around, bored of the conversation less than two minutes in. "Actually, we have an extra guest. . . Richard. . . Wedding party Richard, the skinny guy with the rampant chest hair. . . Yeah, he did the speech. . . Yeah, that was kind of uncalled for. . . No, he will not be drinking this time." Alex made a mental note to hide every last bottle of alcohol, recreational or medicinal, in the house. The man had a nose for booze like pigs did for truffles.
This back and forth continued for another five minutes, during which Alex scrawled a vast array of doodles, most of them tesseracts, on a scrap piece of ruled paper. She found with each passing minute the net quantity of contempt in her body felt like it was doubling--contempt for her sister's gift for gab, contempt for her husband's secrecy and an unfortunate "bros before hos" philosophy that persisted despite his efforts to purge himself of such fruitless solidarity, and contempt for Richard for just being Richard. Part of her hated herself for the thought, but another, more vocal aspect of her being cried out for an evening free of stress and error, one free of extraneous variables and x factors that might make the proceedings spiral out of control. She knew it was tense, even a little paranoid to think this way but God forbid she could have a nice dinner party that didn't end in disaster.
Alex didn't realize how far she had drifted off when she noticed Alice's voice had taken on an upwards tone--a staple of anyone trying to bring a phone conversation to a close. She muttered a hurried, half-uttered "Later, bye" when the opportunity presented itself and allowed herself a beleaguered growl ("Grah!") when she forcefully returned the receiver to cradle. Assuring herself the boiling potatoes wouldn't trigger a range fire anytime soon she grabbed her jacket and fled to the front porch, a cigarette clenched between her teeth and already flicking the wheel on her cheap BIC lighter.
She flopped onto the couch, its weathered frame sighing and creaking with the sudden addition of her weight. "Garfubble," she grumbled and, admittedly a little cruelly, hoped David was at least partially as stressed out as she was.
* * *
Meanwhile, in Richard's Shitmobile:
The heavy guitar chords of early 80s British prog rock reverberated throughout the Geo's battered chassis. David and Richard bobbed their heads, synchronized with the beat.
"I NEVER MEANT TO BE SO BAD TO YOOUUU!" they sang in unison, trading glances as the car rounded the corner onto David's street. "ONE THING I SAID THAT I WOULD NEVER DOOOO!"
And so it went, both of their faces broken by wide, toothy grins as they belted John Wetton's vocals. Following their heart-to-heart in the pub the return trip had taken on a lighter tone. David, now feeling stress flow out of him iota by iota, thought it didn't help to let loose a little, even in the confines of Richard's car.
As the car pulled past the tall mulberry tree in his neighbour's yard, Richard caught sight of Alex lying on the porch couch, taking an unusually long drag from a cigarette. It seemed that in the interim whatever tension had leaked out of him had transferred to his wife, possibly via ESP, seeing her run the thumb on her free hand in big circles behind her knee as she often did when anxious about something.
He was still musing the source of her burden when he felt the car's momentum shift and saw that Richard had pulled into park--again illegally--in front of his house. The other man was still singing the song's verse has he slid out of the driver's seat, a bag of groceries slung over his shoulder. "Do you remember when we we used to dance!" he intoned, a little quieter this time.
He watched his friend make his way up the driveway, the fool grooving and shaking to the rock music still playing in the radio of his mind. Smirking at the sight, he unbuckled his seatbelt and bent forward, grabbing both a bag of vegetables and their illicit cargo. But as he prepared to tuck the baggie of cocaine into his coat pocket, an edge of the shrouding cloth fell away and David saw that its contents weren't powdery and white but in fact the speckled lawn fertilizer left over from summer. He froze, eyeing the strange but now totally legal package in his hand with a mixture of confusion and rapidly blooming disquiet.
Slowly, his gaze drifted upward from the fertilizer baggie, past the grey, peeling dashboard, through the streaks on the windshield, and at his wife, still lying on the porch couch, herself half-smiling as Richard moseyed past her.
Richard bopped over the front threshold, and Alex's line of sight drifted and met his. And in a second she saw her amused glance turn to something far more knowing.
"HEEEEAAAAAAT OF THE MOMENT!" John Wetton continued to sing.