She had only had her driver’s license two weeks when she totaled the family car. Darcy’s father had to rouse a neighbor in order to borrow a vehicle to come retrieve her from the scene of the accident. Her best friend, Lydia, had been taken away by ambulance.
“I love you, Papa!” Darcy cried, before anything else could be said. Preemptive strike. She was still drunk, so that her voice seemed to be produced by a slightly other person than herself, as if she were both ventriloquist and dummy. Crashing into the stone entryway of the cemetery had added adrenaline to the mix, puppet and puppeteer equally manic. Twenty-five years later she recalled her intense urge to run, run, run through the gravestones, to discharge that amazing crazy energy before it did some additional harm.
“I love you, too,” her father had told her. He didn’t mind her blood on his shirt. A blanket was provided by the cops to protect the neighbor’s car interior, and Darcy was driven home, the long way, by her father at four in the morning—down Lakeshore, skirting the far edge of Cabrini-Green, and roaming the inner tunnels of the empty Loop, steam rising from the street grates, shaggy figures leaning on their shopping carts moving like benign monsters. Drunk still, Darcy viewed this the way she had illustrations in picture books, her father reading aloud, she safely on his lap.
But that night, twenty-five years ago, he ended up telling her a story about himself. A confession, really, intended to defuse the horror of what she’d just done, of the mistake she’d made, of the terrible consequences she expected. “First,” he said, “nobody is dead.” Drunkenness and trespassing were her public crimes; for them she would be penalized in a completely quantifiable way. That punishment would have an endpoint. “But your mother is going to be very—”
“Mad?” Darcy said, choking up again. “Mad” was a mild description of what her mother would be. She was going to be apoplectic with rage, anxiety, disappointment, frustration—what a waste such an accident represented! Not to mention the ancillary trouble—the station wagon was the only family vehicle. People had to go to work, to school, to the store. And who would be left to solve this series of extremely tedious and costly problems? Who would be charged with filling out insurance claims, shopping for another secondhand car, enduring the judgment of neighbors and coworkers and extended family? Her mother prided herself in being a superior parent, the kind of parent other parents called in order to ask advice, display their own ignorance and need; Darcy was the second youngest of six children, five of whom were exemplary citizens. Now look who’d gone and tarnished her mother’s stellar reputation.
Vindication that, too, would come with the rest. Her mother had always insinuated that this was exactly where Darcy was headed. “I wish I was dead!” she declared to her father.
“Darcy, you don’t!” he said.
“Yes, I do!”
“No!” He stopped the car, pulling abruptly to a curb. “People make mistakes,” her father pleaded. He amended his platitude: “People do things that other people might call mistakes.” And then he told Darcy about his friend Lois. Darcy leaned against the cool glass of the passenger window, miserable, wrapped in a blanket that smelled of tire rubber, aware of Chicago’s shadowy homeless population—also in blankets—as they sought shelter in an icy Saturday’s most severe hour while her worried father confessed his own shame, that thing that other people might call infidelity.
There had been two Lois’s at the nursing home where Darcy’s father spent the last years of his life. This had been convenient; his Lewy body delusions featured several characters that most of the family did not recognize. The Sergeant, for instance, who was always ordering Darcy’s father to do outlandish things like take off his clothes in the lounge or crawl into closets or shout obscenities; the Little Girl, who simply rocked in a rocking chair beside his bed, comforting him; and Lois, who made him laugh.
Darcy never told her siblings or her mother that she thought all of these invisible visitors were more real than they knew. She was ninety percent sure that The Sergeant was her mother, that bossy imperious person, that leader of a small army. Lois, of course, was her father’s long-ago mistress. And even though it felt uncomfortably like bragging, Darcy believed that she herself was the Little Girl, an idle innocent rocking happily nearby, keeping him company, making no demands.
Community service had been part of Darcy’s punishment after her car accident. Her father had arranged for her to serve it in a soup kitchen downtown. Overseeing the Friday night meal was his friend Lois Mercer. She was a tiny woman with the flashy smile and careful coiffure and costume of the saucy female lead in a movie musical, ready at a moment’s notice to leap on the kitchen counter in her heels and unleash a song. The disheveled men who came there did not frighten her. When one of them placed his hand on Darcy’s ass, Lois quickly seized the guy’s other hand and put it on her own, asking him to compare. Joking, she turned him into a jokester. Darcy hardly had time to be scandalized before she was amused. It was just her ass. It was just a hand. And so what if he chose to give her a bruising pinch before he removed it?
In the kitchen, Lois shared her flask of Amaretto. Darcy had never tasted liquor like it. Everything about Lois seemed perfumed, decorative, feminine. Over her pretty dress she wore a floral apron, different from others because of its sleeves, which had elasticized wristbands. She’d pulled up the sleeves and offered her scarred inner arms for Darcy’s inspection. “Bakery burns,” she explained the faint purple cross-hatchings. She’d grown up cooking; her family owned a restaurant still, on Chicago’s South Side. But her husband was a surgeon; he didn’t think his wife should work. Instead, she named it philanthropy and performed it here, for vagrants.
Darcy’s mother wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of making sourdough bread for anyone, let alone men who spent their days on the street begging from strangers, drinking from bags, talking to statues. She would have declared store-bought, day-old dinner rolls more than sufficient. Darcy’s mother wouldn’t have weekly transported in her car trunk fancy knives or marble rolling pins or unsalted butter or pearl onions or any other exotic object from her home to a homeless shelter. Darcy’s mother was practical, sensible, down to earth; in fact, her shoes were called Earth Shoes. She did not pluck her eyebrows; she did not watch her weight. In conversation she cut people off because she knew exactly what they were going to say next and she wished to save time.
Lois Mercer taught Darcy to knead, to fillet, to debone, to zest. To crush garlic cloves with the flat of a chef’s knife. To hold matchsticks between her teeth when mincing onions. To love capers and asparagus and lox and acorn squash. To tug the leaf from an ugly artichoke and then gently savor its tiny butter-soaked morsel of flavor with her teeth. To relish the action of the meat mallet, the dough hook, the melon baller.
“Do not serve them if they are inebriated,” ordered the black pastor who ran the kitchen. He was very stern.
“Of course!” Lois would agree, then serve everybody, regardless.
“Which of the ladies do you like best?” one of Darcy’s siblings would shout at their ailing father in the nursing home.
“Lois,” he would say, his expression briefly undone, sincere. And they would laugh indulgently, because there were two Lois’s, because they thought he was guessing or improvising. Darcy was married now, so it made her heart hurt a little, to know that he preferred his old friend to his wife. It hurt especially because Darcy preferred her, too. Lois had been her friend, her only friend it seemed, in that terrible time after the car accident, since Lydia Lydegan’s family prohibited Lydia from seeing Darcy—bad influence, drunk minor—anymore. Lydia had been thrown teeth-first into the dash and had her beaky nose fixed as a result. Then she was transferred to the private school her parents had been threatening her with for years, and Darcy never saw her again.
Her own face had also been banged up, but nobody offered her cosmetic surgery. She’d gotten Lois instead, given to her by her father when he wished to lessen her despair. It was a secret gift, although he’d never told her not to tell. How had he been sure she wouldn’t?
For a future reporter, her investigative skills were very poor.
But she did know that her father loved Lois. She knew he’d provided his indiscretion to Darcy in order to mitigate the lonesome horror of her own. She’d continued not to tell anybody, although, over time, she wished she could, but none of her known associates—mother, siblings, friends, husband—seemed the proper audience. Who, then?
At the nursing home, when her father requested a drink, only Darcy understood it wasn’t water but alcohol he wanted, not simply thirst he wished to quench but something else.
Only coincidentally did she hear about Lois’s death. It was her day to visit her mother at the old family home, and Darcy had rolled her eyes when she saw the blinking light on the answering machine. Her mother refused to figure out technology, even of the simplest sort. Technology was for spendthrifts.
“Um,” said the man on the machine. “I’m the son of Lois Mercer? And I’m calling to notify the friends in her address book of her passing. This message is for a James somebody. Or a somebody James. And I apologize if I’ve reached the wrong person.” He hesitated for a moment, then left a phone number. The area code was for Florida.
“Who were you talking to?” her mother demanded, stumping into the pantry with her four-pronged cane.
“The library,” Darcy said. “Your books are overdue.”
“They are not,” her mother said confidently. “Their computers are always getting it wrong.”
From her own home, Darcy phoned Florida. A woman answered, Lois Mercer’s daughter. “Mom died a few days ago. My brother and I have been calling people. She had Alzheimer’s, so it’s been hard to figure out who’s who. Who mattered, I mean. To her.”
“She knew my father,” Darcy said. “When she lived in Chicago, a long time ago. James,” she added. Only his first name, in Lois’s address book, his beloved first name.
“I grew up in Chicago. My dad still lives in the area, out in Naperville. But when I moved to Florida, I brought Mom with me. She was already having trouble taking care of herself.”
“When was that?”
“Nineteen ninety-six, I think. No, ninety-seven. Tell me who your father is?”
“Actually,” Darcy said, unwilling still to unleash her father’s secret, “your mom was important to me, too. I mean, you said that about who mattered to her, and I don’t know whether I mattered, but she definitely mattered to me. When I was a teenager, after a car wreck.”
The daughter had no answer to this. Eventually she said, “The service is next month, when everybody can get away. In New Smyrna. We’re going to scatter her ashes at this place on the beach.”
Since Darcy had been laid off at the newspaper, her husband expected her to be both demoralized and casting about for the next thing she would do. A trip to Orlando for a cooking class didn’t seem outrageous, to him; the expense could be justified, if she thought it might lead to her new career. The sunshine would do her good, March being the hardest of all the hard months to endure in Chicago. “My mom won’t even know I’m gone,” she told her husband a few weeks later as she packed. Her siblings would visit, fill prescriptions, shop, take her to appointments, wait and wait and wait in those waiting rooms. They’d always been far better at fulfilling duties. Darcy was best at being fallback, the one to call as a last resort.
Even her little brother, family baby, obvious accident, still known as Teddy, had been known to pat her on the head like a pet.
Her husband hugged her good-bye, smiling tolerantly. At the paper, Darcy had been a features reporter for the Lifestyle section, early deemed expendable, while her husband was in News and therefore still necessary, employed. This fact had put a certain eye-averting, throat-clearing strain on their marriage, the embarrassment of acknowledging they’d been in a competition, and that she’d lost, and that he was married to a loser. All very awkward.
The airplane was full of people riding for either their first or last times. Disney World! Or the old folks’ home. Next to her sat a woman with a pretzel of oxygen tubing at her nose, small tank on her lap. “Hey, Dad! We’re going! Hey, Dad! We’re going!” crowed the child behind Darcy, son to a handsome man who wore headphones and was riffling through a golf magazine, indifferent.
“I’ll give you this lizard if you quit kicking my seat,” she turned around to tell the little boy later. She held up a rubbery toy that had been in her purse since she’d packed up her cubicle clutter at the paper.
“OK,” he agreed. His father observed the transaction apathetically, thumb rising to his tongue for his next round of page-turning. A tinny noise emerged from his headphones.
“What’s your name?” she asked, when the boy’s kicking resumed.
“Gavin,” he said promptly, a little defiantly, as if people were always challenging him. He had torn all four rubber limbs and tail off the lizard and was now twisting at its head. Of course he had to kick her seat.
“Gavin,” she repeated, nodding. As usual, she would fail to achieve rapport. Children, like dogs, could sense fear. With each of Darcy’s little nieces and nephews she had tried, thinking somewhere, somehow, there’d be a kindred spirit. But nope. She just kept being Aunt Darcy, the black sheep bad example dragged up to illustrate wicked adolescence. Even this little strapped, bored stranger could find nothing better to do with Darcy than kick her in the kidneys.
Without taking off his headphones, Gavin’s father suddenly reached over and delivered a loud whack to the boy’s legs. “Cut it out!” he bellowed. Angry tears sprang to the child’s eyes and the lizard’s head popped off.
She would never have recognized Lois’s son if he hadn’t been holding up a piece of cardboard with her name on it. Darcy always wanted to ask people how old they were—in the newspaper, it was the first piece of information you got; when you were a child, everyone asked it all the time. And then suddenly, at some point, it wasn’t polite. You had to go at it sneakily: “What bad band did you once love?” “What president did you first vote for?”
“When did you leave Chicago?” she asked Jules Mercer. He probably hated his name. He’d probably been tortured for it all of his life. He told her he’d left as soon as he could, went to college in Miami, lived now in Orlando, and planned never to spend more than ten minutes ever again anywhere with a wind chill factor.
“It was zero degrees when I left today,” she said.
“Exactly.” He led without letting her walk beside him, his posture unpleasantly strict.
Outside the air was precisely the same as inside, perfect. This made Darcy remember something. She text-messaged her husband: Please don’t forget to feed the sponge. On the kitchen counter between the flour canister and the paper towel dispenser lived the sourdough starter in its giant jar. It predated every other thing in the house, older by far than Darcy’s relationship with her husband. It had been a gift from Lois Mercer when Darcy left Chicago to go to college in Urbana. There, it had sat on top of her roommate’s little refrigerator, jar of sludge and stench, heaving up, sliding down. Darcy had frightened an RA on the hall by threatening suicide, and so was given access to the dorm kitchen, where she now and then made bread. For this talent she earned a reputation unlike anyone else at the dorm. Respect? Puzzlement? Hard to say, but she had enjoyed appearing with a crusty domed loaf and a stick of butter to supplement the late-night television sessions. Even if some of the girls went immediately after to purge, it still seemed nicely homey to cook for them.
“Here we are,” said Jules Mercer in short-term parking. His car was an old station wagon.
“I totaled a car almost exactly like this,” Darcy told him. “That’s how I met your mother, doing community service at the soup kitchen.”
“What?” He’d never heard of his mother’s evenings with the panhandlers. Darcy spent the hour-long ride to New Smyrna describing Lois to her son. He was one of those drivers who didn’t look away from the highway, but she could still sense incredulity in his wrinkled brow and slightly parted lips. Huh? Clearly this wasn’t the woman he remembered.
“I think of her often,” Darcy said, “especially when I’m cooking. I’ll be shaking fennel seed in the spaghetti sauce, or pouring Amaretto over some brie, and there’s Lois, and it makes me smile.”
“I always just wished she’d serve us something normal,” he said.
“It was so embarrassing to open our sack lunches at school. All I wanted was Wonder Bread or a freaking Twinkie. I mean, really, what’s so hard to understand about that?” He shook his head, still bewildered by his mother’s obtuseness. “Although, she did have Alzheimer’s, and I’ve noticed that Alzheimer’s afflicts people who are naturally scatterbrained. She was extremely illogical.” Saying this, his voice broke, a sob there behind the steering wheel, as if he’d surprised himself with his harsh words. Darcy was about to start liking him when he said, “Seasonal allergies,” and pulled a wrinkled hankie from the car console, mashing it against his face and making an awful noise. Allergies might have explained his bright red nose. Or maybe he was under the influence of grief; Darcy remembered how it sabotaged at such inconvenient times. Tears, weeks after her father’s funeral, pouring down her face—not at a therapist’s office or in conversation with a sympathetic beloved, but at the grocery store, there in the aisle with the baking goods, specifically before the molasses.
“The bunny or the granny?” she could hear her father ask, smiling. He had enjoyed his whimsy. She had been his best audience. Lollygaggers, the family described them both, sometimes sort of fondly.
Darcy said to Jules Mercer, “I didn’t really think of your mom as scatterbrained. But I was a teenager when I knew her. I was probably the scatterbrained one.” True, Lois had not finished sentences so much as strung together associative ideas, plucked them from her mind and trilled them out. Her son seemed gloomy, too daintily made, and resentful as a result. The fey little heterosexual man. Poor Jules. Darcy hoped the sister was grateful for her mother’s gifts.
Alas, no. They were fraternal twins, and Jillian Mercer was the same as her brother, their mother’s quick happiness nowhere in evidence. Lois’s children seemed so perfunctory: one boy, one girl, unadorned as drones, heads capped with hair the exact color and function of rodent fur. They weren’t light and spry. Their smallness seemed more like incompleteness. They did not smile, they did not flirt, they appeared to have been middle-aged and moderate all their lives. They must have been (had they been?) disappointments to their mother. Darcy’s heart lurched: family! How it never let loose of you.
Or maybe that impression, like others, came from their grief. They were not themselves just now. Dour, Darcy thought, and then could not unthink it. Moreover, there were only the two of them to bear the burden of their loss. How much luckier her family had been, six children to share their father’s death, each confident of the others’ load. They’d taken turns being overwhelmed, falling to pieces in shifts, the same way they’d divided time spent at his deathbed, spelling one another.
Her father’s last words had been not to her, but about her: “Where’s the little girl?” he asked her oldest brother. A day later he was gone.
Jillian said, “It took us forever to figure out she had Alzheimer’s, she was always such a ditz anyway.”
“Extremely illogical,” repeated her brother. He had brought Darcy to Jillian’s home, a condominium a few blocks from the beach, and now sat at a glass kitchen table drinking iced tea.
“She always just talked word salad anyway, such a chatterbox, so for a while nothing seemed weird.”
“My dad had dementia, too,” Darcy offered. “He kept insisting there was a sergeant in the nursing home basement, staging a coup.” Lois, he said, when asked who he liked best. “But I don’t think he was particularly scatterbrained before.” Fanciful, silly, kind, forgiving, and sentimental. But not ditzy. Weak, perhaps. Too weak to leave his wife. Or perhaps too selfish: he wanted it all. Wife and family—hearth and home—plus the mistress, clandestine, giddy.
“Then she started mixing up ingredients when she cooked,” said Jules. The two twins looked at each other: “The shampoo banana custard,” they said together, shaking their heads morosely.
“She taught me to cook,” Darcy told them. “She was great.”
“We had to ban her from the kitchen,” said one of them.
“She would have killed us all,” said the other. Darcy could not recall later which, as if they’d spoken those words in tandem, too.
“Great instructor,” Darcy said later to her husband from her hotel room. It was far more pleasurable to invent a cooking class adventure and the environs of a rackety industrial kitchen than to give him the dreary news of Lois Mercer’s mopey offspring. Twins: maybe they were two hopeless halves of some potential one person. “Chef’s teeny tiny, sort of like Rita Moreno, and totally enthusiastic, like Carmen Miranda, all bubbly and feisty. It’s going to be great.”
“Good,” he said. Like her blood relatives, he liked to encourage Darcy. Her family had been pleased when he showed up to take responsibility for her. Her mother had once predicted that Darcy wouldn’t live to see twenty, she was so reckless and dumb.
“She wears spike heels—to cook! And you know what? She has an apron just like mine.” Her apron with the long sleeves and elasticized wristbands, hanging at home in the corner. She’d found it at a thrift store many years ago, one almost exactly like the one Lois had worn, periwinkle flowers, ties long enough to wrap around the front, a useful pocket over which you knotted those strings. So unsexy as to be sexy, her husband had told her. Her siblings teased her when she forgot to take it off at the table. “You’ll be buried wearing that thing,” her oldest sister once commented. Now Darcy wondered if Lois still had her apron. If her children had dressed her in it before they fed her to the flames.
No. They would have put her in something black and decorous, something sober and presentable, even though she wasn’t going to be presented. She’d lived with her daughter, occupying the guest room, expelled from the kitchen, tolerated but not beloved.
“If there’s one thing worse than Alzheimer’s, it’s alcoholic Alzheimer’s,” Jules had said.
“Amen,” said his sister.
“My dad liked a little nip now and then,” Darcy told them. “Sometimes I sneaked him a snort.” Hip flask at the senior citizens’ center, his breath sweet with brandy.
“She couldn’t remember where she hid the bottles.”
“She couldn’t remember which bottles were booze.”
“We don’t drink,” the twins said together. Of course not. “Did you ever have your mom or dad live with you?” Jillian had then demanded of Darcy. And Jules said, “Did you ever take care of a crazy person who went around drinking Drano?” Well, no.
“Your mother called,” reported Darcy’s husband. He played the recorded message over the phone. “This is your mother,” said her mother, as if otherwise Darcy wouldn’t know.
Of course the twins loved their mother. They just didn’t love her properly, for the right things. They loved her generically, helplessly. She hadn’t rescued them.
“She rescued me,” Darcy practiced saying to them, hoping she might convince. “Your mother played a vital part in my troubled adolescence. She actually saved me, once upon a time.” Would they appreciate hearing that from a stranger at their mother’s memorial? Probably not. It might seem sly, upstaging, proprietary. Yet maybe they would want to know the small but essential kindness the woman had performed, that inadvertent help. Darcy couldn’t say that Lois had also, more profoundly, rescued her father. There was no one left to ask how long the affair had lasted, whether Lois’s divorce had created a problem.
Lois had eventually left her surgeon husband. One spring Friday she’d come to the soup kitchen and flashed her bare left hand for all the bums to admire; she encouraged their leering observations and chivalric offers. Darcy didn’t know if Lois had expected her father to do the same and leave his wife, but even then, sixteen years old, Darcy could have guaranteed her that he wouldn’t. She’d known that without having to have it spelled out.
Say they’d run off together. Say they’d come here to sunny Florida. Here they’d have been, two addled old folks, one with invisible friends, one ingesting poison.
Darcy sighed, turning over in her hotel room bed. Together, would he have needed invisible friends? Together, would she have felt like drinking poison? There simply wasn’t any way of knowing. And nobody to ask.
There weren’t many people at the service on the beach. The ex-husband came. That’s who the twins had accommodated by delaying the event for a month, their doctor father who still saw patients, who was vital in the world. He in no way reminded Darcy of her own father, but why would he? Hadn’t the whole appeal of Lois been the difference between her and Darcy’s mother? This man was clear-eyed and dapper, trim and much younger seeming than his years. He gave a tight-lipped confident smile to everyone standing in the breeze, squinting at the gorgeous day. He was a cardiologist, still working in Chicago; his children approved of his second wife, who stood at a respectful distance, wearing a modest dress, smiling gently. They’d told Darcy that their mother had been a fool to divorce him. They’d never understood what had gotten into her, to do such a foolish thing. They would never understand her, period. The heart doctor put an arm around each of them and squeezed their shoulders so that they leaned in toward him. Like Darcy, they felt kinship with their dad.
Poor Lois, she thought, turning to the teapotlike urn that held her ashes. Lois, whom everyone seemed to believe was very impractical, an exasperating dingbat, a menace to herself. At best, decorative. A luxury, nonessential. Except, maybe she was essential. Maybe that’s what Darcy wished to be able to tell somebody, somebody who would agree rather than argue. Who would applaud rather than be appalled. When the refrigerator at the homeless shelter had gone rogue and frozen a dozen whole chickens solid, Lois had smiled naughtily. Before the hungry vagrant men arrived, before the thawing and cooking began, she and Darcy had taken the frozen birds out into the dining hall. It was a long room with a polished linoleum floor, empty now of the folding chairs. Lois had a terrific throwing arm for somebody as slight as she was. Away the rock-hard chickens slid, across that long slippery space. Sent often enough over the floor, some of the packaging came undone, some of the legs splayed open, the bodies spun, thin blood and innards spilled out. It was like bowling, it was like bocce ball, the game pieces sort of like infants, the same flesh-toned wrongly proportioned parts. To prove that she believed a little time on the floor wouldn’t hurt a chicken, Lois later ate a bowl of the coq au vin she and Darcy made. In Darcy’s recollection, it was delicious.
This was the story she tried to tell when it was her turn to take a handful of ash and bone, to toss it toward the waves. Only one person—an older, friendly looking woman wearing six different shades of turquoise clothing and scarves—bothered to make eye contact while Darcy was speaking. The ashes all blew back into Darcy’s face, onto her black sweater. Leaving the beach, she noticed that everyone had worn sensible shoes, even Darcy herself. The woman in billowing turquoise, who’d listened and smiled during Darcy’s anecdote, was headed in the opposite direction. She wore no shoes at all. Small waves washed over her feet.
“The Blue Lady,” said Jillian. “She’s always out here rambling around, giving shells to strangers.”
“Did you notice her skin?” said Jules. “That is some terminal sun damage!”
The twins had probably not planned to invite everybody back to the condominium after the service, but the whole group came anyway. A dozen people. The cardiologist was more astute than his children, more curious about others. “And you are . . . ?” he asked.
Darcy felt herself blush. Had he known? Was he aware of why he’d been left, long ago? “Darcy Mortland,” she said, adopting her husband’s last name for the occasion. “I was a wayward girl that Lois helped out back in the old days. She saved my life.”
“She was a giver,” he conceded. “Big heart.” But the way he said it sounded as if there were a second unspoken part: Big heart, small brain. Or something similar.
“She helped when nobody else really could,” Darcy said. “Everyone was really upset with me. I needed a friend.” That time had been the first, but not the last, that she’d felt like killing herself.
The doctor smiled sagely. “It takes a village, they say.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, because it was easy. But she thought maybe it took less than that. One person, perhaps. Yet it had to be the right person. And that actually might be not less but more than a village. Harder to find on a map, for instance.
He leaned closer to her, squinting, lifting his aquiline nose. “Lois wore that same perfume,” he noted.
“Yes, that’s right,” Darcy nodded. She’d been wearing it for years. Her family recognized it, too, as hers; every year, it made a very easy and reliable Christmas gift. Perhaps its scent had been a trigger for her father, when he’d lived at the nursing home without his familiar surroundings, without his coherent memories. He might have enjoyed Darcy’s visits because she smelled like Lois, his old flame.
She had to spend a few more days in Florida, attending her make-believe cooking class. Around the kitchen supply store she wandered, looking for a gadget she didn’t already own. She loved these items—the dangerous razor-sharp zester, the oversized electric juicer, the comical onion goggles, the squeaky pastry bag, the flexible measuring bowls, the clever degreaser, the perforated baking sheet, the tiny lemon shower caps. She could be pleased for hours, touching these silly perfect inventions, admiring their discrete, specific purposes.