Barbara shut the trunk and bounced along with Sheila to the restaurant. Natalie had gone ahead, opting out of the shopping. When they saw her past the Be Seated sign, she had not only reserved a table and ordered drinks, she had started in.
I didn’t know whether you’d ever eaten in a sushi place, so I ordered the tempura for starters. Are you familiar with tempura?
I’ve heard the name. I always guessed it meant fried.
That’s mostly it. It’s a bit lighter than most fried coatings. I’m afraid I already did in the shrimp. We’ve still got broccoli, squash, sweet potato, and bell pepper.
Sounds healthy. Barbara took an appetizer plate and asked. Can I use my fingers to pick up the pieces? I’m not very good at chopsticks and those are big.
I have no objections. Sheila?
Nope. I believe that sushi is finger food. I’d consider this a warm-up.
Have to welcome you to California.
I’d say it wasn’t particularly Californian, but I’m pretty sure most of the rolls you can get here are things you wouldn’t get in Japan. At least I hope they don’t use that much cream cheese and sweet sauce.
If you want everything cooked, that’s easy to do. Sushi just means something with small portions of rice. You can get it with vegetables, cooked fish, cooked crab, avocado, and cooked mackerel or eel or shrimp.
Some of the more California-style rolls have tempura fried prawns or asparagus inside. The little orange sprinkles on the top are fish eggs, though, if you’d like to avoid that.
Barbara put her computer under her dish and pulled a variety of fried veggies onto them.
Sheila looked over the menu.
Are you going to surprise me or are you getting a bunch of maki?
I was thinking of splurging and getting the sashimi, as long as I’m exercising the card. Barbara, would the sight of someone eating raw fish put you off your feed?
As long as I don’t have to do more than watch, I’m fine.
Don’t you even think of paying for this. I bin tellin’ you . . . I’ve been telling you that I’ll take you to dinner as soon as you poke your head out of your hole.
Chica, were you warned that you were coming to live with a hermit?
No, I don’t think she was warned about much at all.
You’ve been thrown in the deep end, chica. She’s going to get frettier and frettier as she deals with things. She probably ought to talk to someone, but she’s not going to. Not unless you need counseling, then she’ll go with you. You need counseling for something?
I don’t think so.
Maybe career counseling. She’s asking to be home schooled.
There you go. Get her going to The Poodle. That’s right up her alley.
That may not be a bad idea. Denise has been helpful to other students I know. She can administer the Campbell Strong Interest Survey and explain the results. That can be a useful career assessment tool. But I don’t think we’ll need that immediately.
Are you sure you want to pay for this?
Sashimi it is, then. This isn’t going to be like Coco’s where you get raw beef on the sashimi plate?
Looks like the soup is coming. Do we get rice bowls this time of day?
I made sure.
Vernon said he’d have no problem hooking up to the main house’s network. Barbara is going to call him and let him gate the booster through the new units.
First we have to set up the cell phones. I’ll need to use the land line for that.
Ah. Land line is another one of those words, like snail mail. Sheila squinted up into the distance.
Natalie put her elbows on the table, pressing her chin into the back of her hands, the chopsticks hanging loosely, but expertly. Barbara asked. What sort of word is that, Aunt Sheila?
I don’t remember off hand. But I came across a list of them awhile ago. And I think it had a Greek-derived descriptor.
We may come across it in one of the books, then.
Oh, are you sorting the books?
Barbara did the look through the hair thing again. We’re starting in the middle.
Which part is the middle?
The desk. Sheila was firm.
The Poodle might disagree.
The Poodle has insufficient data to form an option.
Good soup. The rice is coming. Looks like more fried prawns, too.
Natalie may have blushed. She certainly didn’t look embarrassed.
When I celebrate the emergence, I celebrate.
Are you sure this is an emergence. I haven’t checked for my shadow, yet. It may be six more weeks of winter.
The sweet potato ones are really good, said Barbara
You don’t have to finish anything you don’t like. Not the first time. That’s one of her rules.
Did you two live together?
I had reason to visit. It sounded final.
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of stories, too. I don’t think Barbara knows that I used to be a foster parent. I was a temporary home. The kids knew that whether they were taken from their parents or not, they wouldn’t be staying with me for very long.
You got the hard cases.
Sometimes. Other times it was just the very temporary ones. Ernesto was hard to get to, but he wasn’t belligerent, the way some are. Barbara is thinking of homeschooling for a bit. (To Barbara) Ernesto considered himself to be victorious if he could sleep in until the afternoon. I had to push to get him to complete his packets, but he didn’t mind learning at all. He could concentrate for hours on something he was interested in.
Ernesto was my nephew.
Did I miss saying that? I’m sorry. That’s like not introducing someone. It’s rude. I’ll forget my own name next.
When you say was. . .
Ernesto killed himself one night. Natalie said. He left a very nice note. A pause. Sometimes I think that he kept himself from doing it for months by thinking about how upset Nana would be and re-writing the note and telling himself that it wouldn’t be good enough to help her through missing him. Then one night he looked down and read and re-read it and it was perfect. It wouldn’t take his place, but it would comfort her – let her fold it next to her heart and embrace the story of him watching her as an angel.
He did have a talent for writing. It was an easy thing to encourage. He kept journals and collections of stories. I never read anything that he hadn’t given me permission to read. Sometimes I think that maybe I should have. But then he would have hidden it or, worse, stopped writing.
Oh, I’m sure there was nothing you could have done to help. It was like you said that one time. It was “in the blood”. Like those Amish.
Yes. I sometimes think that the propensity is heredity. Ernesto did not seem to be burdened by bad memories or habits. He was a teenager which is, if you’ll excuse me, Barbara, it’s own sort of insanity.
There are geneticists studying the Amish, trying to find genetic markers for two things. At least this was claimed to be so in a half-remembered article I once read in a non-reviewed publication. Sometimes I think my head is filled with pop science references.
As I was saying. It seems that the Amish are a closed community with good family records. They also have two traits that seem to follow, as they say themselves, ‘in the blood’. One is a propensity for suicide. The other is a propensity to chatter. Any thought entering the person’s head comes right out with no noticeable filter or consideration. Both things are very un-Amish.
I remember reading it, probably decades ago. I wonder if anyone ever reached a conclusion.
Like Regan’s economist joke. For some reason, I always remember that. It was on TV when I was young.
Maybe you wanted to be an economist? Was it a very funny joke?
Maybe, maybe not. It’s short. “If you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion.”
That’s good. Said Barbara. You probably remembered it because it was true. It sounds like it would be true for a lot of groups, not just economists.
That could be it. It was about the time that I lost faith in grown-ups always knowing what to do and always trying to do the right thing.
Hush, said Barbara, covering her ears, I’m still too young.
They chuckled. Several plates and bowls came out on the ends of a waitress. Empty bowls were whisked away.
Natalie and Sheila slurped at tea, that was evidently finally cool enough to drink. After the first slurp, they drank with no sound.
Natalie could have been an economist, but Regan was right. It’s not an nuts and bolts kind of profession. Right now she’s working as a project manager and accountant. Accounting is much more definite.
More Jay. Did she tell you that joke? About the Myers Briggs thing?
She gave me a test about it once. I don’t remember a joke.
Tell it Aunt Sheila.
I’m not sure it’s appropriate for the table.
Ooooh, so she’s telling you jokes with bad words in it. She’s a saucy old baggage. Let’s see if I can remember the pairs. There’s introversion and extroversion, that’s easy to remember. Everyone uses those.
And they have evidence of being inborn and unchangeable with therapy. Not that you can’t be more social with therapy.
Barbara looked down at her plate and poked at few cut pieces of tempura with her fork. Introverted just means that you gain energy from being alone or with small, groups of well known people and lose energy dealing with strangers or larger groups.
Although some introverts can get energy from performing, if they learn to see ‘the audience’ as a well-known person.
Are you introverted?
No. Natalie and Sheila said it at the same time.
She’s an ESTJ.
Ooooh. Barbara did not notice the mimicking. You’re our exact opposite.
You’re both the same.
Sort of. You know about exes?
On the questionnaire, you can come down in the middle, without choosing well between two letters. I’m an INTX. Aunt Sheila says she’s an INXP.
Then you should finish things more often than she does.
And she should be more emotional.
That’s right, T is thinking and F is feeling. Those are easy to remember, too. The others are fuzzier. And the letters are odd.
Yeah. N for iNtuitive and S for Sensing. And the explanation for the use of the words is unsatisfying.
I’d prefer Theorizing and Existing. Although existing has negative connotations.
As if the person Existing isn’t thinking?
Yes. And Natalie is proof that they think just fine, thank you. They just keep their minds on where they are and what they’re doing.
You come up with useful information sometimes. You just get off topic a lot. You get bored when you know what’s going on. One of your other books said something about Deep Divers and Surface Something.
I think that was . . . what was her name. Short term memory is the first to go.
Would you like a vitamin C?
Is that good for memory. Barbara perked up with interest.
It can’t hurt. Natalie pulled open a well-crafted and well-tended leather bag. It was black and had four handles and many slots and compartments. She pulled out a plain, dark-brown, glass vial. She twisted off the top and laid two round tablets on the table near Sheila’s plate. Sheila picked them up left handed, bounced them into the palm of the hand and knocked them back, following them with tea.
You want one?
Barbara shrugged and got one set down near her plate. The bottle went away and the purse went onto the floor. Natalie ignored the pill, so Barbara left it laying there for now.
Where were we – oh, yes. So we have four pairs of letters. They put them in this order: I or E, N or S, F or T, and P or J. A person is Introverted or Extroverted, Intuitive or Sensing, Feeling or Thinking, and Perceptive or Judgmental. I’ll re-read the N vs S bits again. I’m sure I’m leaving things out.
Now J’s want to have things finished and over with, while P’s always want a little more information. J’s tend to be neater, but to jump to conclusions sometimes. P’s like to keep options open, sometimes longer than profitable.
For the purposes of the joke, I also have to point out that there are business seminars teaching people to use and understand the MB types. Type differences can cause conflicts on the job, if people don’t respect differences in type. Also, businesses with one of the types missing in their crew can have a blind spot or a performance weakness that they could fill in by hiring or transferring in the right sort of person. At least that’s the theory.
The joke is about an MB trainer who was having difficulty explaining the usefulness of the program to the class. The boss had walked in on the class about halfway through and couldn’t see the immediate usefulness of what he had walked into the middle of. He was obviously judgmental as well as being Judgmental.
Unfortunately, she was into the middle of the presentation, and had already explained the letters, and was now using them as shorthand. More unfortunately, she answered his questions, not by saying that it was natural that he’d have no foundation for judging if he missed the first half of the class, where all the support for the theory was.
No, being a feeling sort herself, she decided to make her answer personal and point out that he, personally, was a J, and that he had surrounded himself with others, who were also J’s. But the thing that got her kicked out of the building was when she smiled and said that a company could get in trouble when the man at the top had too much J-ness and not enough P-ness.
Natalie chuckled. I’ve known people like that. They’ll cut off their nose to be able to say it’s over and done with. She waggled her finger. I am not that J.
And you’re not an NJ. You don’t care if the thoughts and possibilities get left open as long as the physical things are lined up and accounted for.
Here’s the rest coming. I notice that you have new shoes.
Barbara looked down, embarrassed.
Yes. And we’re working to get my digestion back on track.
You don’t seem to be having any trouble now? I tell you, you need to cut your percentage of fat way down.
I know it’s not easy and not fun. And the doctors will tell you that it’s been so long since the surgery that your system has to have adjusted. But I’ve never talked to anyone who had their gall bladder removed that didn’t say that the doctors are full of shit. Pardon my language, chica.
It had gone away. This could be something else entirely.
Or it could be something that’s irritating on its own, and it’s making the old stuff flare up again.
Tell me that you’ve made the experiment and I’ll shut up.
I ought to make the experiment. I’ll use the computers to track what I’m eating.
I can make a spreadsheet. Or a database. Or both.
Thank you, Barbara. That will be helpful.
Sheila didn’t sound very thankful, but she didn’t sound angry, either. She sounded like she was gathering her resolve to face something unpleasant.
Barbara regretted jumping in the middle of something painful and waited for the conversation to continue circling around the subject with subtle I told you’s peppered through it. But Natalie and Sheila immediately dropped the subject.
Natalie looked a little pleased to have accomplished something, something that was now over. Sheila gradually relaxed.
We probably ought to drop by the drug store and get a glucometer, as long as we’re experimenting with my diet.
She likes to experiment. You help her with an experiment and it’ll help get her through a lot of bad food. She’s an undercover Mad Scientist.
I’m nothing of the sort.
Has she told you about the biogas BBQ?
No. Biogas sounds like . . .
It sounds like farts, but it doesn’t come out of bodies. Or rather, what comes out of bodies is biogas, but not retrievable biogas. Retrievable biogas comes from anaerobic digesters. I’ll tell you about it sometime when we’re not at the table.
So you don’t mind that I’ll enjoy doing the computer parts of the . . the experiment.
No. It will make it easier for me. Do you know how to cook?
Not really. Father cooks and he’s a real kitchen nazi.
Well, I’m obviously not that.
You say that. But I’ve seen women with kitchens worse than yours drive other people out with being picky. You can pick at anything. So there’s nothing obvious about it. You’re just generous, that’s all. You help people. She’ll show you how to bake cookies that she can’t eat. Anything you want to learn how to do, you ask her. She’ll manage to get it for you, if she can’t teach it herself. But you’re going to have to hide away any cookies you get. It’s hard for her not to eat what she can see.
Maybe I’ll bury them in the back. Or we can give them away. Barbara brightened. We can mail them to Connie. She’s going to college. You send cookies to people in college, right. They’re called Care Packages.
Now that takes me back. I don’t remember what the C, A, R, and E stood for.
Barbara looked confused, Natalie shrugged.
It was an organization that sent relief aid oversees. An acronym. Well, once the computers are up, we can look it up. . . . If I remember.
Natalie shook her head. Short term memory is the first to go. Better get some pens and pads and post-its at the pharmacy. Some vitamins wouldn’t hurt.
And V8. Oddly enough, when the gall bladder was at its worst, the only thing that I could eat that didn’t set it off were V8 and ramen noodles. I’d get the noodles, too, but I assume that they’ll have too many carbs. We can make a shopping list after we’ve done some online research.
Barbara wiggled. She almost looked like she was trying not to jump up and down. She was more animated and happier than Sheila had seen her since her arrival. Maybe the diet would be worth it even if nothing good came out of it physically. An INTP and she wanted to play with the internet. Should start planning now for ways to pry her face away from the screen.
Do you like turkey? The last set of folks left a half-thawed turkey at the house.
Barbara looked a question between the two older women. They both noticed that she didn’t ask every question she had. Natalie made a mental note to check it out and maybe talk to her about it later.
You know I like the dark meat and the broth. Barbara, do you like turkey.
Do we have all the stuff to do it. Father brines them and . . . well, he makes a big production.
Is it a Butterball?
No. It’s not organic, either, but it’s got that kind of packaging. It makes you think of organic.
I’ve never brined a turkey. Does it make the white meat edible?
Well, I kind of like white meat anyway, but it makes it moister. Everyone raves over it. Although, to tell the truth. . .
Barbara waited until the two older women had leaned in with looks of conspiracy. I think everyone knows that they’d better rave over it, what with all the fuss he makes over it.
You see why I like her? Sheila asked. Natalie nodded.
Don’t let her sleep all the time. Natalie pulled up her purse as the waitress brought over the bill on a plastic tray. She spoke while pulling out and dropping her card. She needs naps, and that’s fine. But she should be on a schedule. Not staying up ‘til two one night and then falling into bed at eight PM the next. You’re a teenager and may pull her into staying up all night. I’d advise against it. She needs to be able to make appointments and keep them without being tired. The waitress whisked the card away. She also needs to get a sleep study. To be safe.
I’m going to forget about that. I just know it. It’s too far down the list of things I’m worried about.
That’s ‘cause you haven’t heard yourself snore. It stops and starts and that could be that apnea stuff. It’s bad for the heart.
You may notice that Natalie is good at managing other people. I say that in a good way. At least, once you’ve been firm with her once or twice. She’s not unbearably pushy, no matter what some people say.
Some people need to learn to get to work on time.
And if you want to make a little extra money, she can sometimes use an extra cleaner. If you read through those short Clean Team books on the shelf, you’ll be ahead of the game.
It might even be a good idea, just to get the experience. She’ll train you to clean fast, assuming that you’re not an old woman with bad knees and iron poor tired blood.
Are you anemic again. An accusation.
Not since I went Crone. Natalie nodded. The waitress came back with the slips to sign. Natalie took her time making a well-practiced flourish of a signature. As I was saying, the more you practice cleaning properly, the quicker it goes. The skill lets you stop lingering over the cleaning.
Natalie put her card back away and settled her purse in her lap. She was ready to get up. A lot of people think that if they clean efficiently, they’ll just have to clean more. You know, work expands to fill the time available for it. And that’s a little true. If you can zip through a room in half an hour, maybe you’ll pull out the couch and vacuum behind it a little more often. Or you’ll take a little time to organize your kid’s toys, so that they won’t be in the way so much next time.
But it’s perfectly possible to give your own kitchen a quick once-over, and not feel any urge to throw in cleaning the oven or pulling out the fridge’s drip tray, because the kitchen looks pretty good and you can go play Donkey Kong with a free fifteen minutes and a good conscious.
Aunt Sheila struggled to push her chair back and stand up. Speaking of good consciouses, we’d better hit the drug store and head back home. Vernon still needs to talk us through.
It’s going to be fun, said Barbara.
Better you than me, chica.
They headed out. Barbara was hugging the laptop.