Dottie Fussbottom flipped past the reds and navy blues and fingered through the tan section of trousers in her walk-in closet, pushing each pair of pants aside one by one. Too tight. Too long. Too … beige. Finally, she settled on cargo pants. “Little Miss Girl Scout,” she muttered. “I’ll show him.”
Thanksgiving morning had begun at 6:00 when the alarm had sounded.
A leisurely three-hour drive would put her in Catamahoochie in plenty of time to sit down with her family for their 2:00 Thanksgiving feast. She’d had plenty of time to bathe, eat breakfast (thank goodness she’d set out granola, bowl, spoon, coffee mug––coffee maker pre-programmed––the night before) dust the living room, and load the dishwasher, before picking an outfit for the day.
By midmorning she was dressed, her pockets stuffed with tissues, cough drops, and a spare house key. She retrieved her tote bag from the back of the closet. It was only an overnight stay; she tossed in a toothbrush and pajamas. Added wool socks in case the guest room up in Catamahoochie was cold. Cotton socks in case it wasn’t.
The doorbell rang.
She zipped the bag and slung it over her shoulder, before trotting downstairs to peek through the front window. Her across-the-street neighbor stood on the stoop, wearing a pink smock, Coiffures by Collette embroidered in white loopy script across the chest.
When Dottie cracked the door open, cold air sneaked in.
“Collette. Happy Thanksgiving. You working today?”
“God yes. Hair emergencies all day long.” She stuck her toe in the doorway. “Saw Harry leave yesterday without you. Not going to your daughter’s this year?”
Dottie gripped the doorknob. “No.”
Collette wrapped her hand around the edge of the door. “No?”
“No. Driving up to Catamahoochie to see my family. Last minute impulse.” She loosened her grip. The tote bag weighed on her shoulder. “Want a cup of coffee? I’ve got time.”
Collette followed Dottie into the kitchen. “Not sure I do. Root touch-up coming at 10:30.” She reached out for the steaming mug Dottie offered. “OK. Just one cup. Last-minute impulse? You?”
Dottie pressed her lips together in a grim unrelenting line, so her story would not leak out.
Little Miss Girl Scout, indeed.
After lunch on Wednesday, she spread a map on the kitchen table, partially covering her husband’s sandwich. “I’ve decided to be unpredictable.”
Harry leaned back in his chair, tilting it onto two legs. “Really?”
“Yes. Starting right now, as a matter of fact. I’m going to Catamahoochie for Thanksgiving. Leave first thing tomorrow morning and come back Friday.”
“When did this come about?”
“It didn’t come about. It’s a spontaneous plan.”
“I hate going to Merry’s. She runs out of food every year. Definitely your side of the family.”
“She’ll miss you.”
“Doubt it. She’ll be glad I’m loosening up.”
“OK…I see what’s going on. Sorry I called you Little Miss Girl Scout the other night.”
“You did? When?”
“But, really, honey, who pulls out super glue when a waitress breaks her glasses?”
“I think she appreciated––.”
“And an extra pair of readers ––”
“Well, she couldn’t wear hers while the glue was setting.”
“––that match the waitress's earrings.”
“Harry Happenstance, you’re denser than the day we got married. As long as I had three pairs, why wouldn’t I give her the ones that match?”
After tracing a red colored marker along her route, she refolded the map. “You go to Merry’s. I’m going to Catamahoochie.”
“Well, if that’s what you want … Guess I’ll go to our daughter’s this afternoon. Like we planned.” He shook the remnants of his sandwich at her, baloney flapping between the bread slices. “You can’t read a map while you’re driving. Why don’t you program the GPS in the car?”
“I already did.”
Setting her mug down, Collette helped herself from a cookie jar on the counter. “Family reunion you say? You know Fred Foodie—owns the restaurant? Always sits me at the best table. Came in for a haircut after he got back from a weekend at his wife’s folks. Said they played bridge till all hours. Drove him crazy. He’s at work by 4:30 in the morning. Goes to bed at eight.”
Dottie pursed her lips. “Scuze me, Collette. I forgot something.”
She ran up to the bedroom, grabbed earplugs from the nightstand and shoved them into a pocket in her cargos.
Collette was peering into the refrigerator. “Thought you might have cream.” Empty-handed she returned to her coffee mug.
Bottles of daily supplements were lined up on the counter. In front of them, empty pill organizers.
Collette tapped a container. “Freida Painto—you know, owns that art gallery? Had the spread in LifeStyle Magazine last month. Gave her a pedicure Saturday. Skipped her fiber once. Couldn’t go to the bathroom for a week.”
“You’re kidding.” The economy-sized bottles held the promise of immune boosting, bone dense-ing and cholesterol regulating, but the diminutive tote strained at the seams. “Would you mind helping me for a second?”
They dragged a seventeen-inch rolling case from behind the summer clothes in the upstairs guest bedroom closet, then returned to the kitchen and scooped in all the jars. Joint-lubricators landed on top.
Collette picked up the jar. “You know Star diPaparazzi? The Italian actress. I did her hair when they shot her movie here in town. Got my picture in the paper with her. Did I show you? Got a copy over in the salon. She told me her wrist hurts like hell right before it rains.”
Dottie gasped. “My knee does that.” she ran back upstairs to the bathroom and retrieved aspirin, an edema glove, and a knee brace. “There. Just the essentials.”
Her neighbor nodded. “Mica Jordan— you know her. Girls’ basketball coach. She gave me passes to the championship game. You run into her on Tuesdays. She’s the one leaving my place right when you’re leaving for your therapist appointment. Twisted her ankle just walking to her mailbox.”
Last time Dottie had visited Catamahoochie, the family had taken an after-dinner stroll. She filled an empty corner of the case with walking shoes.
Collette looked at her watch. “I’d better get ready for my 10:30. Dying to hear about your trip when you get back.”
It was 10:00. If Dottie left without delay, she’d get to Catamahoochie by 1:00. A stomach rumble sent her searching for a snack before hitting the road. Peanut butter and crackers were half-hidden behind a bag of prunes––they had become a necessary traveling companion, but their effects always woke her from a sound sleep in the middle of the night.
Sleep would elude her without her orthopedic pillow. But carrying it into a family get-together would make her an irresistible target, the legend growing with every repetition: Remember the year Cousin Dottie showed up for Thanksgiving with a mattress tied to the roof of her car?
She had to hide the pillow. The twenty-five-inch Pullman she lugged from the basement solved the problem, with space left over. After another round trip between the upstairs bedroom and the living room, she filled that space with a cocktail dress and heels. Maybe we’ll go out for a nightcap.
Her stomach rumbled again, reminding her of the crackers and peanut butter. The clock on the stove read 10:57. Just a quick snack and she could still pull in to the family driveway by 2:00. Crackers in one hand, keys in the other, she sank into a rocking chair, bags at her feet. A quick snack, fill up the tank so she wouldn’t have to stop for gas along the way, run into the store so she wouldn’t arrive empty-handed. Maybe she should make a list. Yes, a list, then grab that map and load up the car. In just … one … minute.
She woke to Harry gently shaking her shoulder. It was dark outside.
“What’s going on? Thought you said your family eats at 2:00.”
“What … yeah … 2:00 … I’m …”
“Right … still here. I’m … I … changed my plans.”
Dottie jutted her chin out. “Told you I was unpredictable.”
“Yeah. I'm going to Catamahoochie next week.”
“What happened to spontaneous?”
She leaped to her feet and put her hands on her hips. “Harry Happenstance, you’re denser than the day we got married. Obviously––I’ll be spontaneous next week.”
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