“I love it. I could just eat it by the spoonful.” Which is exactly what she is doing. She heaps a glossy mound of mayonnaise onto a silver soup spoon while Jean makes the deviled eggs for Easter. The kitchen smells of sulfur. It is Good Friday. She is Jean’s sister, Evelyn. Jean has three sisters and two brothers.
“What did you ask Helen to bring for Easter dinner?” Evelyn asks.
“A vegetable side dish.” Jean does not look up from the bowl into which she measures ingredients.
Evelyn licks the last of the mayonnaise from the spoon. “You know what she’s going to do, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Jean says to her, ready to pounce if Evelyn tries to stick that spoon she just had in her mouth back into the mayonnaise jar. Jean whisks the egg yolks and the mayonnaise together, encouraging them to fluffy silkiness.
“She’s going to bring two vegetable side dishes and something to snack on before dinner. And pie. She always forces that terrible pie on everyone from that bakery she thinks is so great. What was it she brought at Thanksgiving?”
“Squash.” Jean keeps mixing and adds a few spoonfuls of mustard.
“Squash pie.” Evelyn frowns, her eye teeth show. “Whoever thought that would taste good except Helen.”
Jean’s hands keep working and she simply shrugs. That pie is terrible but she would not say so explicitly to Evelyn. Something stops her. An agreement in which she cannot take part, corroborate. A tightening in her chest.
Jean is the serious one. The serious sister. That is what is said. But that is not how she feels. She doesn’t feel serious, although this is the word others choose to describe her. Of all the words, she doesn’t feel it is accurate. But who is she to say?
She doesn’t feel serious. How she feels is as though she is above her surroundings wherever it is she may be. As though her presence in her own life is not required. Why does everyone seem more authentic? Their lives more solid? She suspects these are not original thoughts, which is neither a comfort nor a validation. She is not in color, not filled out, or something like that, as others are. She wonders why she thinks of everyone else as more legitimate.
It’s not as though she doesn’t have plenty to do, though.
The trick to good deviled eggs is to first boil the eggs right so there is no green ring around the yolk and how you do that is to bring the eggs to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and let them sit for twenty minutes. Then plunge them in ice water. Roll them gently on the counter to loosen the shells.
Then you must whip the yolks.
Evelyn moves to dip her spoon back into the mayonnaise jar, just as Jean knew she would. Jean does not take her eyes from the bowl of yolks when she says, “Evelyn, don’t you dare dip that dirty spoon into my mayonnaise.”
“Okay, fine.” Evelyn walks over to the sink where she turns on the water and rinses the spoon.
“Use soap,” Jean says without bothering to turn, because she knows Evelyn isn’t. She doesn’t have to look.
She hears Evelyn sigh and Jean listens for proper washing sounds. Jean is surprised it hasn’t occurred to Evelyn to get a new spoon out of the drawer rather than wash the used one. Evelyn’s laziness knows few limits.
Jean fills the concavity of every impossibly smooth and shiny half egg with a dollop of spiced yolk. She uses a pastry bag fit with a cake decorating tip. She makes beautiful globes of fluted yellow and dusts each with paprika, red-orange brilliance. Eggs for rebirth. Red spice the redemptive blood. It feels holy to her. Her petite homage. She covers the eggs with some waxed paper and places them carefully in the refrigerator. She cleans up the dirty dishes.
Evelyn watches her work while she licks another spoonful of mayonnaise. Jean screws the big round blue cover securely over the mayonnaise jar and places it in the refrigerator.
“I need to get ready for church,” she tells Evelyn as she removes her apron and folds it.
Evelyn makes a sound at Jean which means she thinks it is stupid to go to church today.
“It’s not even a Day of Obligation,” Evelyn says.
“I have never understood why the day our Lord died should not be a Holy Day of Obligation,” she says. “Of all days, you would think this would be one.”
“But it’s not. And it’s such a depressing service.”
“Well, Evelyn, of course it’s depressing. It’s the day Jesus was crucified. Would you prefer a disco ball and DJ?”
Jean is not trying to be funny but Evelyn laughs. She misses the point as usual. “Now that I might go see. Disco at Sacred Heart! Father Graves boogying on the alter!” Evelyn shakes her hips lasciviously and laughs from her belly. Jean rolls her eyes and goes to the bathroom to fix her hair and freshen her lipstick. There’s a good chance Evelyn will still be laughing when she leaves the house. Maybe even when she returns.
But when she gets home from church, Evelyn is gone. She looks in the sink and, yes, there is Evelyn’s dirty spoon.
Jean lives within sound and scent of the dark heaving Atlantic. The smell of the ocean wafts into the house at unexpected moments. Even though she has been here always, it still possesses the power to surprise her. The house in which she lives was built at the edge of a salt marsh. The house is almost one hundred years old; the salt marsh primeval. She lives there with her mother and father who have begun their descent into old age. Jean’s brothers and sisters all moved away and Jean is the one left. She wakes up in the morning, sets the kettle to boil for tea, scoops the coffee grounds, taking a moment to put her nose close to inhale the scent, and presses the button on the machine. She stands in the hushed kitchen, her gaze on the place where the tall grasses sway to meet the purpling sky rising sun.
And she waits.
Waits for her parents to awaken, for the coffee pot to fill, for the work day to begin, then end, to come home and fix the supper, clean the dishes, shut the light, Johnny Carson’s monologue, sleep.
Please come back next Thursday for part 2!