Sara sat outside with a just-prepared lunch of grilled cheese, and soon an hour had passed without any reason for her to return to the kitchen. That’s when she felt her phone vibrate against her thigh. She couldn’t ignore the call, because that would imply she was busy or away from the phone, and neither was true.
“Sara! So good to hear your voice.” It was Cindy’s sister, Mindy Gardner. They’d met during Sara’s freshman year of college when Cindy invited her to Thanksgiving with the Priors in Spokane. The then thirteen-year-old Mindy spent the holiday running around shouting the words “Mah-Na Mah-Na” at the top of her lungs. Cindy brought Mindy as her guest to Sara’s wedding in 2005, which probably explained why Mindy returned the favor when she married five years later. They’d exchanged only a few dozen words during that period, but Mindy spoke now as if there was a depth of intimacy between them.
“I’m a bad sister,” she whispered as though expecting Sara to dispense Hail Marys. Mindy had put the call on speaker, and a car horn would blare whenever her drive home from work steered toward the potentially fatal. She was a dentist, like her father, and a good portion of her client base were the children of his patients who’d moved to Portland as adults. “I’ve been planning this big birthday bash for Cindy-bon next Saturday and I’m way behind.”
The next Saturday was August 23, so the timing confused Sara. “Cindy was born on September 1,” she said.
“Yeah, but that’s actually Labor Day weekend. Rick and I are going down to Sunriver with another couple.” Mindy started to hum “Take a Chance on Me.” The impromptu hold music stopped once a thought occurred to her. “It’ll be a surprise party! Won’t that be fun?”
“Does Cindy like surprise parties?”
“Totally! Who doesn’t?”
Sara did not, but Mindy’s question was rhetorical, as evidenced by her moving on to the particulars of the party.
“Hey, so Cindy-bon tells me you’re like a chef at some Capitol Hill gastropub.”
The statement met the requirements of a simile but was otherwise inaccurate, so Sara repeated what she knew Cindy had actually told her sister.
“I work as a cook at a diner in the Central District.”
Mindy continued as though Sara had only confirmed what she’d said. “That’s awesome! Yeah, so you know, we renovated our kitchen last year, but I’m still kinda helpless in it, and my shorter, older sister deserves better than my cereal a la Mindy!”
Sara had lived apart from Matt for a couple months now, and during that time, she’d realized that the frustrating way he had of asking favors was not unique to him.
“Would you like my help with anything?” she asked.
Mindy shouted, “Woo-hoo. You’re a total rock star. When Cindy-bon and I throw parties together, she normally handles all the nuts and bolts: you know, food, prep, clean-up. I’ve got the invitation all saved and everything on Paperless Post, so I just need some help with what’s left.”
“Actually, have you ever used Paperless Post? I’m looking at it now on my iPad…” There was another loud honk. “…and the background design saved great, but the time is AM and not PM. I suppose people would know the difference, but you hate to chance it. Oh, and my address is wrong.”
“If you’d send me the link, I could take a look.” Sara was rushing her responses in order to bring the call to a conclusion, which was one reason why she avoided talking on the phone. It was easier for her to reflect on someone’s words and then prepare the right response over an email or text.
“Oh, you’re a lifesaver!” Mindy’s tires screeched as she suddenly slammed on her brakes. “I’d have my office manager fix it, but she starts getting all Occupy Portland if I even ask her to make me an AeroPress.”
— from “The Wrong Questions”