Adrianne pulled in front of the only grocery store and left Melvin in charge of Paula while she popped in. She was hungry, but her instructions were clear and she didn’t have the energy to deviate from them. Gom had requested a package of cream cheese, a kind of Indonesian cracker Adrianne was unfamiliar with, and a bunch of fresh dill, provisions for another pleasant gathering of Gom’s friends that evening, all freshly groomed and somewhat exotically attired. There would be sherry all around, a blazing fire, and a circle of warmth turned in against the darkened world. They would all be much older than Adrianne, but she enjoyed their company and the attention they gave Melvin and Paula.
On her way to the register, Adrianne spotted a tall, wrinkled man behind the meat counter and remembered her mother telling her about the party the town had thrown for him when he’d finally been able to return to work after a month-long drunk. She broke the ten Gom had pressed on her and put the change in an empty pocket of her jacket.
When she got back to the car, Paula was crying and Melvin looked sheepish. “That’s OK honey,” she cooed, wiping away Paula’s tears with her thumb and straightening her embroidered jacket, “We’re going back to Gom’s now.” She sat up and started the car. “What happened?” she asked Melvin.
“I don’t know,” said Melvin unconvincingly. “I was sitting here and she just started crying.”
“Hello!” shouted Adrianne as she walked in the front door.
“Hi!” replied Gom, who was clattering about in the kitchen, enveloped by steam.
“Gom!” barked Paula at Adrianne’s heels as Melvin skulked away.
Adrianne put the grocery bag on the kitchen counter and emptied the change from her pocket. Gom wore the conservative flower-print dress that Adrianne had given her years before. She had bought it at a store where everything cost $13.99 and had pointedly left the price tag on. At the time, Gom, still living in Cleveland, bought similar dresses from Talbots for a hundred dollars or more. It was not at all suited to her present life, nor to the party she was about to give, and seeing her wear it made Adrianne feel uneasy, both for the impulse that had motivated the gift, and that it meant enough to Gom that she remembered to wear it.