Dressing on the side

Evan’s eyes couldn’t get any wider. Joe tried to look cool and worldly, but he was equally awestruck at the mostly naked girls on the French Riviera.

Les francais,” Jeannie said, “ils sontcomment dit-on-–” She struggled to overcome her hopeless American accent. “That’s funny, I can’t remember how to say ‘au naturelle’ in French.”

Audrey lifted her head out of her hands. “It’s already French,” she said.

“Of course, there you go. I must be thinking en francais,” Jeannie said. “That’s what happens when you immerse yourself in another culture, isn’t it, Matt?”

Matt was lodged in the slideshow. “Isn’t what?”

“Oh, I agree,” Audrey said. “I catch myself speaking Oregonian all the time. Anybody want a beer?”

“Got it covered,” Carl said. He came into the family room with a selection of craft brews, then saw the photos. “Whoa-la-la.”

• • • • •

Pam Wells/The Pullets

The boys added leaves to the table. One would’ve been enough, but “I’d rather spread out,” Audrey said. “We’re not eating family-style.”

“So how exactly is she our aunt?” Evan asked. The question always came up when they got a postcard from Jeannie and her current husband from somewhere in the world.

“My mother remarried and had Jeannie when I was eight. They moved a lot… so we didn’t know about each other until your grandmother died. She’s my half-sister.” This was how Audrey explained it.

“Dude, mom’s mother ran off with some other dude when mom was little, and she had another kid.” This was how Joe explained it. “To us she’s an aunt. To mom she’s a half-baked sister totally removed.”

Their shared genes were invisible. Audrey was on the petite side, fair and not the least interested in fashion whims. Jeannie was an angular five-nine, olive-skinned and what Audrey described as a “fashion electromagnet. Flip a switch and her clothes fall off.”

Audrey appreciated the irony if not the humor of the Mother’s Day visit, the result of some mistaken booking.

“Saw that Vancouver on the Olympics and just had to see it for ourselves,” Matt had said. “Would you buh-leeve there’s two Vancouvers? All looks the same from the air.” Evan couldn’t wait to tell Danni about that.

Audrey had fished salmon steaks out of the freezer, made a dill sauce and saffron rice. She finished building a green salad and began to whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

“Now, you’re not going to toss that, are you?” Jeannie asked. She swished her wine and stuck her nose in the glass.

Audrey pushed up her sleeves. “Heavens, no. Dressing’s always optional around here.”

“Not in this weather, I’m sure. It’s dreadfully gray. Does it rain all the time?”

“Oh, sure, but we prefer a liquid diet. What are you drinking?”

“Your husband poured the house red.”

“Well, that’s lucky. He usually pours the house brown. Why don’t park yourself at the table, Jeannie, and I’ll round up the menfolk.”

Audrey seized the excuse to go outside. She did in fact find Carl and Matt in the garage and sent them in. She then collected a large number of dandelion greens lest Jeannie complain, without the benefit of dressing, that the salad didn’t have enough bite.

©2010 Pam Wells


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