“The baseboards can always be painted over.”
The sentence played over and over again in Margaret’s head. The real estate agent had muttered it innocently under her breath, but it stuck... [+]
The stoplight on the corner had been broken for weeks. Westway Avenue was yellow and green at the same time, while Cherry Lane was forever red. Mabel knew this. Mom and Dad called it “the Intersection of Humanity and Insanity.” Some people yielded, treating the intersection as a four-way stop. Others blew right through. Mabel, on the other hand, halted entirely. And never started again. In fact, she threw the car in park and turned around in her seat to look at all of us. I watched her seatbelt dig into her collarbone.
“This never happens,” she said.
“That’s because you live in New York City,” said Patrick. “Local government barely functions here in the sticks.”
“Patrick, you work for the local government,” I said. “You’re a local cop.” Patrick twisted around in the front seat and yanked both strings of my sweatshirt so my face was swallowed by cheap cotton. I was sitting in the middle. I always sat in the middle. A chunk of Amy’s impossibly large hair was in my mouth. We hadn’t made it off our street and Camille had already farted twice.
“I mean this never happens,” said Mabel, gesturing wildly to the five of us piled into Pop’s 2002 Lincoln Town Car. Everyone stopped talking. Amy had put on the High School Musical 2 soundtrack when no one was paying attention. Now, Zac Efron whined quietly as we all looked around, struck by the sacred rarity of this group of five adult siblings alone together.
“It’s your fault for getting married,” said Patrick. Mabel, whose husband who was on a train from Manhattan, pointed a gloved finger at Camille.
“She’s the one who had a baby,” said Mabel. Without missing a beat, Camille, whose husband and son were asleep at home in front of our parents’ Christmas tree, turned to me.
“Meg’s thinking about adopting a cat.”
“That doesn’t seem relevant,” I said.
“Gross. Cats shit inside,” said Patrick.
“Your mom shits inside,” said Amy without looking up from the New York Times Thursday crossword.
“Dude,” said Patrick. “My mom is your mom.” Amy had to remove her mitten to flip him off. It landed on my head.
“I would also argue that everyone in this car shits inside,” said Camille.
“Speak for yourself,” said Mabel.
Then, suddenly, miraculously, and quietly, the traffic light turned green.
We stared at its enchanting glow, brighter than every Christmas display in the neighborhood. It was startling, really, the way it stared at the five of us with such unblinking resentment. Patrick reached his hand out to Mabel from the passenger seat. I expected him to pull her ponytail or perhaps drop a spider down the back of her shirt, but no. He put his hand on her shoulder.
“Thanks for this,” he said. She smiled.
The car rolled on.