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"I'm telling you, Patricia Anne. Fred kissing the ground like he did was a little too much. Embarrassing."
"Slipped, my foot. The man was on his hands and knees patting the concrete, saying, Thank God.' It's a wonder everybody didn't fall over him."
I glanced around at my sister, Mary Alice, who was standing at my utility room door watching me put clothes in the washing machine. She had on a gray pants suit with a cream-colored turtleneck sweater and had already informed me that she was on her way to a luncheon.
I was one of the ones who had nearly fallen over my husband Fred at the airport, but I still felt the need to defend him.
"He hates to fly."
"Well, I figured that out for myself about an hour out of Birmingham. Every time I spoke to him he growled. Did you hear those noises? Pure growls. And he didn't even chew the peanuts. He trashed them." Mary Alice chomped her teeth together. "Like that. Thank God I wasn't sitting next to him on the Concorde. You've earned your place in heaven living with that man for forty years." She paused. "Why are you spraying Windex around that shirt-sleeve cuff?"
"Because I haven't had a chance to go to the store. This works as good as Spray 'n Wash." I put the shirt into the machine, closed the lid, and turned on the warm cycle.
"How come you're not jet-lagged like I am?" I asked. "I feel like there's a weight on top of my head."
Mary Alice moved from the doorway and I followed her into the kitchen and collapsed onto a chair.
"I have more reserves than you do. More stored-up energy. You want some coffee?"
I nodded that I did. She got two mugs, poured the coffee, and pushed the sugar toward me.
"You see," she explained seriously, "it's simple. I'm slightly larger than you, and that little extra fat gives me more energy. If you would eat normally, you wouldn't be so tired."
Little extra fat. Slightly larger. Ha. The woman is sixfeet tall and weighs two hundred fifty pounds. Admits to that. No telling what she really weighs. Especially after hitting every good restaurant in Warsaw, Poland, where we had been for the last two weeks spending Christmas with my newly married daughter Haley. And, believe me, there are some good restaurants there.
"You probably lost weight in Warsaw," she continued.
"I may have. All that walking."
"And not eating."
I poured milk into my coffee and watched it swirl around. No way I was going to get into this argument. Mary Alice has never believed that it's genetics that made me a foot shorter than she is and a size six petite. She swears it's lack of nutrition.
"I had an E-mail from Haley this morning," I said. "She's missing us."
"Well, of course she is. Nobody speaks English in Warsaw. Nobody. And there's not even so much as a Wal-Mart. just all those museums, old as the hills, and you have to ride those rickety streetcars to get anywhere, for heaven's sake."
"I thought it was a beautiful city."
"Well, you see, that's the difference in you and me, Mouse. I like things to move a little faster."
"You mean like interstates?"
"And better TV. Their Wheel of Fortune was pitiful."
I sighed and let Mary Alice ramble on. Haley was very happy, and she and her new husband, Dr. Philip Nachman, considered it the opportunity of a lifetime to be spending the first few months of their married life in richly cultured Warsaw.
"I'll say this, though." Mary Alice took a sip of her coffee. "Nephew seems to be making Haley happy."
The "nephew" bit is going to take a little clarification. Mary Alice's second husband was also Philip Nachman. Haley's new husband is his nephew, named for his uncle. So Haley and Philip are Mary Alice's niece and nephew (Philip by marriage). The "nephew" is to keep from confusing him with the original Philip Nachman, dead and buried at Elmwood Cemetery beside Sister's other husbands long ago, but still alive (so she says) in her heart. Certainly in her bank account. Each of her three husbands left her richer than the preceding one.
She leaned forward. "Don't you think so?"
"What? That Haley's happy? Sure."
"It's the Nachman genes." She stirred her coffee. "I almost asked Haley, but I decided not to."
"Asked her what?"
"Well, my Philip, when we were making love, just before he'd," Sister paused. "Well, he had this unusual thing he'd do."
"He'd stop for a second and say, 'Lord, the saints are marching in."' She smiled.
I thought about this disclosure for a moment. "Somehow I don't think that's genetic, Sister."
"Probably not. He did go to Tulane. But every time I hear that song I get misty-eyed. I wanted to have a New Orleans band play it at his funeral, strutting down the path at Elmwood with their umbrellas, but I wasn't sure it was kosher."
"I wouldn't think so."
Mary Alice looked into her coffee cup thoughtfully. "He was a lovely man, Mouse. Very much in touch with his inner child. No big alpha male hang-up like Fred has."
"Alpha males don't kiss the ground when they get home."