| The last of the wash is put away. The poor machine moaned, groaned and cursed its owner as he loaded more dirty towels, sheets and clothes into it, but it made its appointed rounds, as did the dryer. He doesn't dare go near the refrigerator again, which is filled with food and beverage left over from Saturday's gathering to say good bye to Morgan.
Who will ever eat the cheese cubes still on their original tray, covered by a hard molded piece of plastic? Despite the aluminum foil wrapped about it, won't the celery go limp? Does anyone have recipes that use dip? And what is that he found at the back of the bottom shelf? It is a bowl of strawberries that never made it to the table.
He pulled out cans of Diet Coke and a bottle of Sprite no one drank. He shook juice cartons, hoping to find little left, so that he could polish them off and put them into his recycling bin. He opened plastic containers and asked himself, 'will I ever eat these?' He foisted off on his sister leftover cake and an unopened cake, which he is unsure if it is chocolate or applesauce. She departed with it in her trunk.
Then he opened the freezer and saw the great collection of baked ziti, all in freezer bags, eleven of them in all. The K-rations of the recently widowed, made by a kind soul who has come into his life and fears that if he is left to himself, he will starve. The roasting pan that held them took up much of the table on Saturday. Ziti was everywhere the guests dropped it: on the floor, the tablecloth, and the kitchen counter.
The first guest to arrive was Janet, his sister, driving from Indiana and arriving late Friday afternoon in her ancient Escort, held together with duct tape in places and running on fumes and a zillion quarts of oil. Because of tinnitis, she cannot hear what he says, but she wants to come to say goodbye to the brave woman, as she called his wife.
Saturday morning she cleaned his house while he chopped veggies for the table. She did not have to do the cellar. The magnificent Margaret, who says she rarely cleans her house, spent Friday afternoon doing his basement. He moved the John Deere out of the garage and put Morgan's oil paintings around. He also hung drawings in the art room, which doubles as the guestroom.
Late in the morning it begins to rain and soon the deluge is upon them. Family had said they might be there by half past one, but since they are driving almost two hundred miles, it is obvious the weather will hold them up. Heavy rain on the New York Thruway can do that. At one o’clock, a call from Morgan's cousin informs him that they are turning back because of bad road conditions.
Shortly before two, Jackie, the ziti lady arrives. She is welcomed into the house, bearing her gift of pasta. In three weeks she has become a close friend and support to him. They do the same work and met that way. Within fifteen minutes of her arrival, Carol, his assistant comes. She has driven three hundred miles from far south on the New Jersey shore with her husband, Bill.
Next comes Betty and Howard, Morgan's mother and stepfather, and then his sister-in-law Barbara and Amy, her adult daughter. Barbara has been in this spot before; her husband, his brother, died suddenly in 1992.
Cars must be moved to fit everyone onto the lawn that serves as a parking spot. The rain has let up. He conducts a tour of the house, but is interrupted by a phone call from Morgan's brother, Peter, who has made a wrong turn and is trying to find his way.
Peter finds the house; the table in the dining area is loaded up with food, including the ziti and people begin lubricating the air, getting to know each other. The good Margaret arrives from her house a mile away, along with a friend of hers. Talk at the food buffet turns to her daughter's graduation from high school. She works the room like a good storyteller.
He is trapped in a corner behind the table, listening to the tale of young Jennifer and her prom dress, but he can hear the men inside who have found a golf tournament on TV. Peter and Rhonda, his companion, have gone off to the garage to select paintings. Others are in Morgan's bedroom, looking at brand new clothes never to be worn.
He makes it from the table to the art room and then is called by Peter to the garage, which is also a refuge for those who smoke. Peter asks if he may take certain paintings. He helps Peter upstairs with them.
Time hastens on. Morgan's family leaves for the motel where they are staying. Margaret had left with her friend already. Bill and Carol have just departed to try to find a room farther south. A few minutes later the family is back to try to find her Mother's glasses. Miraculously they turn up on the floor, found by his sister.
The animals have been patient. The dog has spent much of the afternoon lying on the floor in front of the table, either waiting for drops or sleeping. The cat has hidden, but now comes back for feeding time. He takes the dog out for a ride and when he arrives home, little elves named Janet and Jackie have cleared the table. All that is left to do is bag the ziti and freeze it.
They settle down on the couch. Janet heads for his bedroom that he gave her for the weekend. He and Jackie watch Casablanca for the zillionth time. Both are tired. She drove up through the storms from southern Connecticut and now puts her head on his lap and watches the film. She cries in the right spots and loves it like new. He sings La Marseillaise to himself with Victor Laszlo. She retires to the guestroom; he falls asleep on the same couch used to watch the movie. The Lisbon plane has left. They had no Vichy water to throw in the waste can.
Valatie June 25, 2001