8 comments

Contemporary Holiday Drama

For the ladies of the family, three major holidays ended each year. Thanksgiving and Christmas were two, and they were sublime, but the third was special. It was theirs. It arrived every season on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, and if you asked the children, they might just tell you that it was the best holiday of them all, if you don’t count presents. It was Pierogi Day.

Standing in her kitchen, bare feet on the cool parquet floor, Lily looked dubiously at the new ten-inch screen resting on a stack of her dad’s hardback books near the edge of the table. It was no widescreen TV. It wasn’t even a laptop. It was barely a tablet.

She wondered aloud, “How will Baba see us when we’re moving around?”

“It will follow us,” Chloe said, ruffling the girl’s straight blond hair. She inhaled deeply, relaxing herself, reminding herself that this was going to be fun. Along with the scents of soap and flour, she filled her nostrils with the aroma of brewed superfruit mango tea. She eyed her purple mug with cursive blue lettering that declared BEST. DAY. EVER.

Lily absently smoothed her hair, still staring at the new device. “What if you go to the stove, and I go to the fridge?”

Chloe laughed softly. “Good question. I guess we’ll have to find out.”

“Baba got hers, right?”

“She texted me last night that she had it out of the box and set up on the counter.”

Lily considered the counter in her mother’s kitchen. Her thoughts were evident before she gave them life. “We don’t have enough counter for that.”

It was true. Almost every inch of space was occupied by some appliance or container or holder for straws, plasticware, napkins, and even spaghetti noodles. This morning they had cleared a space next to the stovetop wide enough for a cutting board covered in wax paper and a rolling pin. The rest of the work would be done on the table, in front of their new window into Baba’s home.

“Is it turned on?” Lily asked.

“Not yet. Do you want to do it?”

As if Chloe had spoken a magical incantation, her younger daughter Miranda appeared, shrieking desperately. “I want to do it!”

Lily’s smile collapsed. Her head drooped. There were six years between her and her little sister, and she often lamented that all the “fun stuff” went Miranda’s way. Chloe did her best to share the bounty, but it was hard making sure that Miranda got the same opportunities Lily had at her age.

“How about Big Sister turns it on,” Chloe said, “and then Little Sister pushes the button when Baba calls?”

Miranda bounced on her toes.

Lily shrugged, unconvinced that she had gotten an even portion. She stepped forward and touched the two buttons on the left side of the device. Murmuring to herself, “That’s the volume,” she ran her fingers to the slider on top. Quietly narrating, she said, “All the way to the left,” and then clicked the slider twice to the setting for both camera and sound.

The screen lit up, and Lily stepped back to survey the colorful tiles now before her.

Almost instantly, a face appeared in a circle on the left side of the screen. Next to the picture on the right, words spelled out what was happening. Miranda recognized the picture; Lily read the words. Both screamed, “Baba is calling!”

“She’s early!” Chloe said with a rush of excitement. “Go ahead, Randy, push the button!”

Miranda tapped the screen and the kindly woman’s face expanded and moved. Dean Martin’s voice came through the speaker, dreaming about a white Christmas.

Chloe stared. For a moment, seeing her mother sitting at the end of the kitchen table, hearing that familiar song, Chloe was transported. She smelled her childhood home, the clean linoleum floor, steeping Earl Grey, something—always something—baking.

Baba stared at them, jubilant. She cheered. “There are my girls!”

“Baba!” Miranda clapped her tiny hands. Then, as always, “Is Pap there?”

Lily stepped back, looping her arm around her mother’s waist as Baba explained that Pap was out checking on the place where he would go hunting on Monday. Baba asked, “Where’s your daddy?”

“He’s working,” Miranda said gravely, as if Daniel were testing vaccines in the basement office.

“This would have been Miranda’s first pierogi weekend if we could have come up,” Chloe said.

“And now we’re all together still!” Baba said, smiling even wider.

“Baba!” Miranda cheered, and ran to hug Chloe’s leg.

“Look at that!” Baba said, eyes widening as the camera not only followed Miranda across the room but also zoomed in on the three of them now that they were the same distance from the screen.

“Wow!” Lily said, and Chloe smiled at the awe in her often-unimpressed daughter’s voice.

“Did you have any trouble getting everything set up?” Chloe asked.

“No, I did all that last night,” Baba said. “It imported my contacts, so all I had to do was tap your name and it put me right through to all of you!” As she spoke this last, her voice got faster and higher pitched, nearly matching Miranda’s squeal of excitement.

“Baba!” Miranda cried again, on cue.

They laughed. Baba asked, “Are you ready to help with pierogis?”

“Yes, Baba,” Miranda said.

“Do you know what to do?”

“No, Baba.”

“Well, let’s get started. I bet your mommy has a great big doughball on the counter, doesn’t she?”

Chloe removed a plastic bag, revealing the dough they would use for their portion of the season’s work. The brand name on the hamburger buns had been different from the ones Mom always bought, but it made her proud to have covered the dough in the same type of plastic. It was the little things, the details, that cemented the connection.

-----------------------------------------------------------

They worked through the morning, laughing and joking while they rolled, molded, filled, and pinched the dough. Baba’s Christmas music expanded from Dean Martin into all the classics in the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas and beyond, from Burl Ives to the Beach Boys to the Statler Brothers. Miranda’s interest ebbed and flowed. Sometimes she would scoop cheesy potatoes or sauerkraut—never prunes—and sometimes she would disappear for a half-hour to play with Big Sister’s Legos in the living room.

Chloe didn’t have a stainless-steel sheeter like Baba’s, so she had to make do with the wax-paper-covered cutting board and a rolling pin. Baba’s eyes lingered on the setup but she did not comment. A year ago, no one had imagined that they would be spending Pierogi Day apart for the first time. Just like no one had imagined that the latex gloves they always wore when making the pierogis would feel like a luxury no one could afford. Chloe’s eyes met her mother’s briefly to find similar thoughts haunting the quiet moment. They both looked back to the dough they were working.

As if conjured, this time by the unspoken thoughts that had crossed twin screens 89.3 miles apart, Miranda—she of the empathic heart—glided into the kitchen to say, “I miss you, Baba.”

“Oh, I miss you, too, Sweet Pea,” Baba said. “But I’m also so glad that I get to see you today. This is a special day for me.”

“Me, too, Baba,” Miranda said. “I love you, Baba.”

“I love you, too, Sweet Pea.”

Lily looked up from the oiled, rectangular mold with its six half-circle cut-outs filled with dough, each firmly depressed to create a hungry pocket. She offered a wan smile into the screen and reached for the bowl of cheesy potatoes.

Chloe closed her eyes for a moment, refusing to let the day go down a glum path. This was Pierogi Day. She left the rolling pin behind and approached the table, the screen panning and zooming because all three faces were now closer. She trimmed off a piece of excess dough from the edge of the mold and held it in her hand with a sly smile. She told the girls, “Don’t let Baba see,” and popped the dough in her mouth. Bland but yet somehow delicious—she and Lily had once tried to describe it to Daniel but been unable to—she could not conceal the smile it elicited.

Lily smiled and glanced at the screen, where Baba stood with a shocked expression on her face. “That could have made another pierogi!” she exclaimed.

“Here,” Chloe said, furtively slipping a second piece into Lily’s hand.

Smiling proudly, Lily popped it into her mouth. She sat still, a euphoric smile spreading over her face.

“Hey!” Miranda cried, pointing to the screen and laughing. Chloe looked over in time to see her mother’s hand moving away from her own mouth.

“Baba!” Lily cried, and they were all laughing again.

-----------------------------------------------------------

At exactly noon, work stopped and cold cuts emerged from refrigerators on both screens. Ham, turkey, thin-sliced roast beef. White American cheese, which Lily still calls “Baba Cheese” after all these years. Miracle Whip and pickles for the sandwiches. Potato chips on the side, also fruit drinks with cartoon character straws for the little ones.

Daniel appeared briefly in the miniature window in the upper corner of the girls’ screen. They spun about, Miranda almost screaming a greeting. He hurried over and engulfed the little one in his arms, braving affection at the risk of a fruit-punch stain. When Lily extended an arm for a hug over Miranda’s head, he gratefully accepted, bowing to embrace both daughters at once.

“Hello!” he said, waving to the camera.

“Hi, Daniel,” Baba replied, seeming to appreciate the display of love.

“Just grabbing a sandwich,” he said. “I think I’m going to eat…all the roast beef!”

“NO!” Miranda cried.

Daniel laughed and went about making a modest lunch. Before leaving, he gave kisses all around, then waved once more to Baba.

Chloe watched him go and smiled when she noticed Lily watching.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Miranda was too old for naps but too young to go all day. As a compromise, she did “quiet time” in her bedroom two hours a day when she wasn’t in daycare. Today, quiet time was taking place in the living room, with Shrek playing for the ten-thousandth time in this year alone. At least there were four of them.

Lily had answered the clarion call of the television, as well. Quarantine had spread her thin on some movies, like Scooby Doo Meets Batman and Cinderella, but Shrek managed to keep her interest, especially when there were dishes to be washed.

“One more tradition,” Baba said with a pleasant sigh, pulling the bottle of Baileys Irish Cream from the cabinet.

Chloe smiled and eased herself into the chair the girls had been dancing in and out of throughout the morning. She watched her mother pour a glass, remembering all the years she had watched in person. Distantly, Madonna put on her best Marilyn Monroe for “Santa Baby.”

Baba drank, smiled, placed the glass on the table in front of her.

Chloe popped a long, fettuccini-like strip of leftover dough in her mouth. Worms, they called them. Throughout the year, whenever they boiled today’s pierogis, they would also boil some worms and smile as they ate them.

“I’m glad we got to do this,” Chloe said.

“Me, too,” Baba said. “We’ll have to do it more often.”

Chloe smiled. “You put a screen in front of them, and they’ll be there.”

“Will Daniel be done working soon? It’s Thanksgiving weekend.”

“Soon. His boss is on vacation, and when his boss is away, everyone goes to him.”

“Your Uncle Todd is sick,” Baba said with no transition.

“Is it bad?”

Baba shrugged.

Chloe shook her head, a little rattled. “I’m glad this year missed you, Mom. Retiring in January was the best timing.”

She shrugged again. “Maybe.”

Chloe started to ask whether Baba was still visiting the hospital, despite her retirement. Sometimes people who devoted their lives to helping others couldn’t easily find their way to stopping when the next crisis arrived. But there was no need to cast a shadow over what had been a good day. The teapot on the counter was still full of superfruit mango; she hadn’t needed it after all. Her unused mug enthusiastically posited that this, in fact, may have been the BEST. DAY. EVER.

“Love you, Mom,” she said.

“I love you, too,” Baba replied, sounding a little surprised. Then she jerked her head around to look towards the front door. Wind chimes tinkled and the pneumatic wheeze of the screen door came through the speaker as if Chloe were sitting in her parent’s kitchen, ready to greet her father. The camera zoomed out and up to include the tall man in the heavy coat who had come through the door. He stood, scuffing heavy work boots on the entry rug.

“Pap?” Miranda called from the living room. He had not even spoken yet.

Then the girls were tumbling back into the kitchen, laughing and cheering and calling out his name. Baba caught Chloe’s eye as both cameras panned and refocused, a knowing smile on her face. Chloe smiled in return. Pierogi Day had found a way of happening after all. This year had taken much—and threatened to take more before it was over—but it seemed to be drawing toward a hopeful close. A new beginning lay just around the corner, one that promised cheesy potatoes and sauerkraut. But probably not many prunes.

November 25, 2020 03:49

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

8 comments

Wow, such an amazing story, you have a really good talent!!

Reply

Ray Dyer
04:43 Nov 28, 2020

Thank you so much, Haripriya!

Reply

My pleasure! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Tom .
06:02 Nov 25, 2020

What I think is so incredible this week is you have written two stories, that are the complete antonym of each other. One warm and sweet the other the polar opposite. No criticisms just seriously impressed. GOOD WORK.

Reply

Ray Dyer
14:55 Nov 25, 2020

Thank you so much, Tom - I very much appreciate it!

Reply

Tom .
15:10 Nov 25, 2020

I did manage to post a story this week as well. Working on something else, a very weird take came to the front of my mind and insisted on being told.

Reply

Ray Dyer
16:48 Nov 25, 2020

Oh, I SO understand how that happens!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Ray Dyer
03:49 Nov 25, 2020

Dedicated to the ladies of my family.

Reply

Show 0 replies