Our house on Emerald Isle, The Sea Section, is divided down the middle, and has an E beside one front door and a W beside the other. The east side is ruled by Hugh, and the bedroom we share is on the top floor. It opens onto a deck that overlooks the ocean and is next to Amy’s room, which is the same size as ours but is shaped differently. Unlike Lisa and Paul, who are on the west side of the house and could probably sleep on burlap without noticing it, Amy likes nice sheets.
She’d packed a new set in her suitcase, and on the night before Thanksgiving, as I helped her make her bed, she mentioned a friend who’d come to her apartment for dinner the previous evening in New York. “He drinks Coke, right, so I went to the store on the corner to buy some,” she said. “And you know how those new bottles have names on the labels—Blake or Kelly or whatever?”
“Well there were only two left on the shelf, one with Mom printed on it and the other with Tiffany.”
I reached for a pillowcase. “Do you think if I were dead there would have been three bottles on the shelf instead of two and the third would have had my name on it?”
Amy thought for a moment. “Yes.”
“So the only Cokes at that store in New York City are for people in our family who have died.”
She smoothed out the bedspread. “Yes.”
I couldn’t tell if she honestly believed this or not. It’s hard to say with Amy. On the one hand, she’s very pragmatic, and on the other, she’s open to just about anything. Astrology, for instance. I wouldn’t call her a nut exactly, but she has paid good money to have her chart done, and if you’re talking about someone, she’ll often ask when this person’s birthday is, and then say something like, “Ah, a Gemini. Okay. That makes sense now.”
She’s big on acupuncture as well, which I also tend to think is dubious, at least for things like allergies. That said, I admire people who are curious and open their minds to new possibilities, especially after a certain age. You have to draw the line somewhere, though, and with me it’s my anus. My brother, Paul, fell down the alternative-medicine hole a few years back and is now giving himself coffee enemas once a week and suggesting that the rest of us try them as well. “It cures all kinds of cancer,” he told me.
“Yes, but I don’t have cancer,” I reminded him. “And neither do you.”
“Not yet we don’t.” Then he started in on processed sugar and all the toxins in our water.
Up the ass is the only way Paul will take coffee anymore. No caffeine for him, at least by mouth, just herbal tea and the juice of things like brussels sprouts and stinging nettles. He wouldn’t be eating turkey this Thanksgiving because a month earlier, at the state fair, he had looked a chicken in the eye.
“I wish he’d look me in the eye,” his wife, Kathy, said. “Here some prize-winning hen changes his life forever while I can’t even get him to empty the fucking dishwasher.”
He’s also taken to Transcendental Meditation—TM—which I didn’t even know was a thing anymore. I thought it went the way of EST and sheepskin vests. When I asked him to show me what was so great about it, he explained that he couldn’t. Only a certified instructor could initiate me. It would cost six hundred dollars and be, he promised, the best thing I ever did for myself.
“It’s bad enough for Paul to believe all this crap, but now he’s brought Dad into it,” Lisa told me on Thanksgiving morning. She had a glazed doughnut in one hand and a coffee mug full of milk in the other. “Last month, he took him to his quack nutritionist, the one who convinced him that ice cream causes Alzheimer’s. The women ran a bunch of tests, the outcome being that Dad shouldn’t eat wheat, dairy, or any fruit whatsoever, especially green grapes. Can you believe it? And he’s almost ninety-three!” She took a bite of the doughnut. “You’d think that if all these things were really that bad for him he’d have had some sign of it earlier.”
Lisa’s not open to the things that Paul and Amy are, but she has her equivalents. If you told her, for instance, that she was holding her car keys the wrong way and that there were meetings for people like her, she’d likely attend them for at least three months. One of the groups she was going to lately was for mindful eating. “It’s not about dieting—we don’t believe in that,” she said. “You’re supposed to carry on as usual: three meals a day plus snacks and desserts or whatever. The difference is that now you think about it.” She then confessed that the doughnut she’d just finished had been her sixth of the day. “Who brought these?” she asked.
I looked at the box and whimpered a little. “Kathy, I think.”
“Goddamn her,” Lisa whispered.