New Leaf

There is pleasure in working together in this way, chopping and laughing. This easy camaraderie isn’t always achievable, but she and Nora are practiced at this dance. They move gracefully around each other preparing and clearing, until a delicious and beautiful meal is assembled. Tonight it is a gratin of vegetables, a big salad in a cobalt glazed bowl, and two golden brown chickens, their tops criss-crossed with rosemary sprigs.

“Let’s sit a moment,” Nora says. She pours more wine into the slender goblets. Elaine thinks she will buy some of these for her new home in Missouri. How elegant they are, how comforting in her hand.

“It’s over with her, right?”

Elaine looks from the wineglass in her hand to her friend’s intelligent face, her thin nose and clear grey eyes. She’s flushed from the oven’s heat. Elaine had been thinking of the camping trips they’d all taken together, the clear cold water at Thousand Islands, the stews made over the campfire. They drank wine then out of thermos cups, and that was fine, too.

“I just need to know so I can be civil to him at dinner.”

Elaine nods. “He says it’s all over.”

“Ok,” Nora says. “That’s all I needed to know.”


The dining room is lit with candles. The faces of her friends and family are in shadow, and until her eyes adjust, Elaine has the not unpleasant sensation of displacement, though not for long.

“Everyone is talking Missouri these days,” Ed says to her.

It’s true suddenly, thanks to McGovern’s choice of Eagleton for his running mate. Missouri, a place she’d never given much thought to before, is in the news, an epicenter or hub.

“You know us,” Elaine says, “Trendsetters.” She smiles at Jim over her wine glass.

“Elaine’s going to be working for the campaign,” Jim says. And he’s off, talking about how fine it is to have a peace candidate, quoting McGovern about “old men dreaming up wars for young men.” The candles’ flames flicker as the talk gets louder.

Phoebe dislikes the way her parents get when they discuss politics. They seem to forget her, and at the same time, be angry at her. Her father’s voice grows loud and demanding, arguing with Lyndon B. Johnson, who isn’t even here. He might slap the table with his open palm, shaking plates and wine glasses, tell her and Nat to listen up even though they already are. (How could they not?) So she is relieved when Dee beckons her to follow.

“Come on,” Dee says, “time for kick the can.” She explains the rules as they walk. At eight o’clock it’s still light, out and the sidewalks radiate heat. They stop at a pale blue house, then a green one, gathering the neighborhood kids. “This is Phoebe,” Dee says at each house, “she’s from Toronto.” Phoebe wants to explain she’s on her way to Missouri, but there isn’t time. The kids shout back into their houses, slam the doors shut behind them, and follow Dee and Phoebe to the next house. Maybe her new neighborhood will be like this, Phoebe thinks, full of kids and games.