The next night Thea called at 8:00 pm -- not in triumph. I was trying to follow the plot of the movie In Bruges (the two incompetent hitmen in the picture here hole up in the medieval town, and receive baffling instructions from their crazy employer. Charming but not for the squeamish. The ending is like Titus Andronicus, only bloody) so Imo took the call. She's a pretty good cook, Imo. Her end of the conversation was quick questions.
What's wrong with the turkey? she asked.
Well, what temperature did you set the oven at? she asked.
How long has it been? she asked.
Then a pause.
Oh, she said, and handed me the phone, her eyebrows disappearing into her hairline.
Thea, it turned out, had read the first line of the cooking instructions (preheat oven to 500 degrees farenheit) and skipped to the ending where the bird comes out brown and perfect. The middle bit (reduce heat to 350, cover the centre, baste frequently) was glossed over. She came back from a party two hours later to find that the bird was black on top and raw underneath. And she was hungry.
I did what I could to limit the disaster, and find some spin to put on the project. (Cats enjoy charred turkey flesh, don't they, and the sweet potato stuffing would probably not be affected by the extreme cooking methods. And there was some peanut butter left in the jar, wasn't there?)
Seems like I'm making fun of my daughter -- because I am. But I have to say in her defence that she did survive, and the turkey was ultimately cooked. And she attempted her first bird at a much younger age than I did. When I was at university I came home for turkey, or did without.
Which brings me to Sam, who seems to be starving to death. Almost impossible, you'd think, since Kingston has 24-hour grocery stores and Sam has access to money. But his voice on the phone is weak. I haven't eaten in a day and a half, he says. (It may be a trick of the line but I hear a hint of French accent, as if he has turned into Jean Valjean, forced to steal a loaf of bread.)
I fight my anxiety. For heaven's sake! I say. Funny, though. As he describes his very busy schedule I can see how hard it is for him to get to the store. Never the right combination of available cash, transport, time, and will. I try to work out what he wants from me.
Do you want me to drive up and shop for you? I ask. It'd only take me three or four hours, after all.
No no, he says, with a gentle tubercular cough.
Then why are you telling me all this?
But the answer is simple: like the famous Fat Boy in Pickwick (only Sam would be the Thin Boy) he wants to make my flesh creep. A very natural instinct. My own instinctive guilt and worry are likewise normal. And so the comedy of the generations plays itself out, as it has for thousands of years. My cave self might have taken the opportunity to clunk my cave son over the head for being an idiot, but I am too civilized for that. Alas.