I secured the paper funnel in the opening of a clear plastic vial.
Screen scooped ash from a ceramic container using a metal ladle, which he poured into the funnel.
Emma cooked olla podrida.
We all intently did our respective jobs. I heard ash slide into the vial, and chorizo splattered in a cast iron fry skillet.
“Can you please leave some of the soup without meat?” I asked Emma.
“It would not be olla podrida.”
“Portuguese?” Screen asked.
“Castilian,” Emma said.
“You eat too much meat,” I said to Emma.
“You don’t eat enough. Are you now going anorexic on us?”
“Emma, where has this lack of patience come from? You serve soup for the homeless, but I never hear you criticize them. You run the I Care Club at school and you always say warm things about the downtrodden people you help. I don’t feel well. Gosh, that meat is making me sick.”
“Don’t ruin it for us Fabian. If you are so sick, go to bed, get help. You refuse all counsel from people who love you, yet you drag yourself around with your look of doom and tears and expect us to do what, change our ways? I like meat. So does Screen.”
“Emma, please, I’m trying to focus,” Screen said, topping off vial number twenty-one.
“I am not going to go soft on you. You are not that much different than me. I am sad about Uncle Grant too. Yes, you found him, and that was terrible. But I sense you are using that for a reason.”
“That is so unjust Emma. And weird. Why would I use Uncle Grant’s death for?”
“Oh, I do not know. Maybe not doing the heavy lifting associated with living.”
“What do you mean? I’ve done my share of heavy lifting.”
Emma coarsely chopped onions like she was punishing them for having done her wrong.
She scraped the onions off from the cutting board into the browning chorizo, stirred the mix, lowered the temperature of the stove top, and turned to me.
“I am not going to think for you. You are even becoming slightly stupid. You used to be the smart sister. What is happening to you?”
Once I could argue Emma down. Not these days. I changed the subject.
“You going to be able to fill all seventy-seven vials?” I asked Screen.
“I may not,” Screen said.
Is Screen miming Emma, avoiding contractions?
Seventy-seven members of Club Dead had agreed to participate in Screen’s memorial for his mom. Frank had assumed responsibility for securing vehicles for the flotilla.
“And why not invite Frank over? Does he eat meat? Emma asked.
“Yes, Frank eats meat. And I don’t know why I don’t invite him over. Well, maybe I do.”
“He makes it too easy for me.”
“What? He is nice to you?”
“But he doesn’t ever contradict me.”
“Maybe he thinks you are too fragile to handle any criticism. Have you thought of that?”
I hadn’t. Had I becoming pathetic?
I had an idea. I leave the kitchen and returned within minutes.
“What’s that?” Screen asked.
“My Uncle Grant. His ashes.”
Emma stopped stirring.
“Fabian, dad should have a say about this.”
“He should, and I will ask him. Screen, would you mind if you shared your mom’s memorial?”
“I would need to think about it.”
“Uncle Grant was a serious activist in his day. Arrested dozens of times.”
“Vietnam, civil rights, nuclear weapons, secret wars in Nicaragua. You name it, for the past 40 years he was out in the streets.”
“My mom knew the Berrigans. Gave one of them shelter out on Block Island. Barred the door when the FBI wanted in.” Screen did not stop filling vials.
“Fabian, leave Screen his memorial. This is important.”
“No, Emma, I may warm up to this idea. And I want seventy-seven vials. Seven is a vey powerful number.”
“You into numbers?”
“In the Bible.”
“You a Christian?”
“No. But mom was. Catholic. That explains the Berrigans. She did not ignore numbers. Do you know the first sentence of the Old Testament has seven words?”
“There are 31,102 verses in the King James Bible. Three plus one plus one plus two equals seven. There are not 777,777 words in the Bible, but it’s not far off. 774,746. There are three sevens, and the rest adds up to fourteen. Seven hundred seventy-four minus seven hundred forty-six equals twenty-eight, which is seven times four.”
“This guy’s a marvel Emma. How did you find him?”
“There’s more. Noah – you know – of the ark.”
“I’ve heard of him.”
“He brought clean animals into the ark in sets of seven pairs for each type of animal. Joshua led the Israelites, with the Ark, seven times around Jericho. I could go on.”
“Not now. If you are interested, another time. I want to finish this.”
“For an atheist, you know a lot.”
“I wanted to know what my mom knew. She was a force. And I’m not an atheist. I believe plenty.”
Emma picked up the urn.
“Screen, I have to speak with my dad about Uncle Grant’s ashes,” Emma said.
Screen looked at Emma over the top of his glasses.
“Fabian is not thinking clearly these days. It is an interesting idea, but dad has to go for it.”
Emma would make a good mom some day.
She set the urn down the counter and pushed it into line with the canisters of flour, rice and ground coffee.
“By the way Fabian, your play won,” Emma said.
“What do you mean it won? And it’s not my play.”
“Paul Kildore was notified that Charter School Zombies won the screenplay writing contest.”
“Who notified him?”
“I do not know.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you and your merry pranksters are now expected to put on a production.”
“You mean on stage?”
“As far as I know.”
“Not in the lunch room. Probably in the auditorium before the entire school. I suspect some Blissfield dignitaries will attend.”
“But how? You told me everyone hated the play.”
“I know. Something does not make sense. But that is not my business.”
“That’s too strange. In fact, there are more strange things happening. Did you see the letters to the editor in the Blissfield Crier?”
“I was outed.”
“My suicide attempt.”
“You are kidding.”
Emma dipped her finger into the Olla Podrida and raised it to her mouth.
“How did it go for you at school? I mean, after it got around.”
“No difference. That’s old news for the kids. But mom is the one who should be concerned.”
“Because the point of the letter was to suggest that since mom was lousy at taking care of me, then she must not be allowed open her school.”
“They mentioned her name? Who wrote the letter?”
“A concerned citizen.”
“The letter was written anonymously?”
“That is irresponsible! I worked at that newspaper. How could Mr. Kesey permit that? He is a good editor.”
Screen filled vial number thirty-four. The Olla Podrida didn’t smell as meaty. Vegetables perfumed the kitchen.
“I have not seen mom in two days. How did she respond?”
“I haven’t seen her either. She’s working overtime getting the school ready.”
“Saw him last night. I don’t think he read it.”
“That is really crumby.”
“Rough language sis. I agree.”
“You are right. Something strange is happening.”
“That is it,” Screen announced. “Thirty-eight vials. We need thirty-nine more. How big was your Uncle Grant?”
“I don’t know. He was kind of chunky at the end. Maybe 180 pounds.”
“Good. My mom was petit. Barely one-twenty. We should have enough ashes for thirty-nine vials. Using your Uncle Grant.”
With an unused paintbrush, Screen swept up ash from the kitchen counter, onto a piece of paper, which he tipped over into the last vial. Emma served us each a bowl of steaming Olla Podrida, including a meatless serving with extra carrots, my favorite.