Race You Home ~ Anne Panning


Today I bought a buttery bouclé sweater in a town I’ve no connection to at all.

I was home visiting my sister, Amy, in Minnesota.  I live in New York.  My sister had to work at the fireworks factory all day so I was on my own.

I graded papers in a coffee shop called Goodbye Blue Monday for hours. The red lamps made it hard to see.

I went to Target and felt lonely so I bought a Wet & Wild lipstick in a color called Truffle in Paradise. It fell through the holes of my cart twice—a kind old lady in a wheelchair pointed it out to me.

I wanted to buy more things but I wasn’t in my town. I only had a carry-on, so I picked up a gallon of 1% milk for my sister.

I like to be alone.  I’m good at it. While waiting for my sister to be done working at the fireworks factory, I peered into a shop window and saw bracelets made of bent blue metal tape measures.  The sign said, “Open Random Tues. & Wed.” It was a Tuesday. It was closed.  I felt sad about the bracelet I couldn’t get.  It would mean so much—my mom had been a quilter and seamstress, my dad a fix-it hammer-together guy.  Having that bracelet curved around my wrist might’ve really done something for me. They are both dead, my parents. That’s a fact.

I walked along the river for a while wearing my niece’s black Patagonia vest. She didn’t like it very much because it only said “Patagonia” in small black letters at the hip and she’d hoped for it to be the bigger, bolder rainbow label on the chest the way of other Patagonia wear. It was too small on me in the chest. I also took her little car, a red Ford Escort. I felt like a different person in that car. Like I could maybe start college again and have a boyfriend named Will and double major in History and Economics and maybe wear hiking boots with jeans and a Patagonia vest like my niece’s.  I’m pretty sure I would do good, honest things as the owner of that car.

After my sister was done working at the fireworks factory, I texted her. “Let’s go sit on your deck for happy hour before the sun goes down. Race you home!” She didn’t reply.  I bought a lot of groceries for her and her family. I decided I’d make them a nice meal. It was hard to find any tortellini in her area.  Cub Foods is strong on cheese curds and frozen pizzas.  One of the pizzas was Cheeseburger Ranch.  Many were covered in orange cheddar.

I bought a bag of really nice green beans. I like to steam them long and arrange them side by side like sardines on a rectangle plate with a smear of butter over them.

I waited for my sister at her house, but it was too cold to be on the deck anymore. I found out later my niece had a cross-country meet and my sister had to go pick her up. Her husband had a church council meeting, so no one was around.

I cooked the big meal anyway. I mean, I had to. It’s not often they have tortellini or pesto.  It was like I had an obligation and I was going to do it. Later, I probably ate the most.  My sister was on her cell phone pacing in the living room during the entire meal. That’s kind of standard. She always jokes that she has ADD and I think it’s not a joke that she does. My niece ate with me, though. She wore a bandana tied around her head like Rosie the Riveter. We talked about the importance of holding on to what you want. It was so important to me that she liked the pesto tortellini, and she did like it.

I sat in the basement later with red wine and organized my suitcase before I went to sleep. I did that every night. Then I turned on the noise machine and blew up my Aero bed so it wasn’t squishy like a water bed. My Aero bed faced a little wet bar they had in their basement. A sign said, “Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet!”  Another one read, “Why limit HAPPY to an hour?” There was a little party fridge full of Diet Dr. Pepper.

What I wouldn’t do to have a basement with a bar, or maybe just to have a basement I might actually want to be in.  Or to have a basement with my faraway sister in it who wasn’t pacing around upstairs a nervous wreck about some post-prom committee meeting she was organizing.

I laid my clothes out on the pool table for the next day.  The plans were still sketchy, but my sister had taken the day off from the fireworks factory so we could do something fun.

When I woke up the next day, the house was dead quiet, except for the little dog, Oliver, who wore a diaper—yes, he did.  He latched onto my leg like a magnet and yipped.

I thought Amy was sleeping in.  And I was happy for her. So much pacing would make you tired.

But then hours went by as I microwaved old Mr. Coffee and no Amy.

Finally, a text: “Be home in an hour or so.”

Later I found out she’d had to go in to work at the fireworks factory to make a shipment to Hong Kong. Only she knew how to do the Fed Ex overseas orders.

I would never have guessed Hong Kong got their fireworks from rural Minnesota, but there was a lot I didn’t know.

I popped in the “kids” shower in the basement and had to use my niece’s Clearasil face scrub to wash my whole body because there was no soap. All the shampoo bottles were black. They had a water softener and I felt like a slick slippery seal when I got out.

Amy and I squeezed in a mani-pedi.  Amy convinced me to do the gels because they lasted longer. I got a dusty rose.  She got hot pink for breast cancer awareness month. Her best friend had just been diagnosed.

It was a mad rush to get me to the airport with wet shiny nails and two frantic pit stops to JC Penney and Kohl’s for some hot pink breast cancer awareness t-shirts.  They were mostly sold out. My sister tore at her fingernails and zoomed us off into rush hour traffic.

Later, at the airport bar, I elected to get the 9-ounce chardonnay over the 6-ounce.  I actually got two, and tried to grade papers as my flight got closer, but the World Series was on and the camaraderie in the bar was hard to resist.

Back home in New York, my bed was not made of air. My fingernails felt wet and heavy like polished rocks. I could smell the must of our old basement through the heater vents.  I imagined Amy asleep in one of the new recliners in their den, her pale chin tucked into her chest as the television lit up her face.  I imagined me touching her face with my fingertip, softly, so as not to wake her, so as not to disturb her.