My friend Joan, Amore’s breeder, drops by my house tonight on her way back from the hospital where she receives bi-monthly shots in her eye. Three days ago she held a New Year’s Day party following a bout of vomiting she claimed was food-poisoning, non-contagious. I knew better, still I went. Three days later, all four of us guests are sick as well.
I greet her wrapped in a fleece-lined blanket, swaddled in layers of flannel and long-johns, Ugg boots on my feet, my unwashed hair slicked back in a ponytail. I break my self-imposed quarantine to let her in. My mother is recovering from knee surgery; I do not want her to get sick. Still, I knew Joan would stop, contagious or not, the shot in her eye and the hour’s drive still ahead good motivation to take a break, although she would have stopped anyway.
Her fine white hair struts out in many directions, cerulean eyes, red-tinged from the after-effects of the eye exam and shots. “How are you?” I ask.
“Well, how are you,” she asks, almost shyly, like she knows maybe it might not be convenient to stop. But there is no question I will let her in, even if it wasn’t.
“Better,” I say. “Not vomiting. Still can’t eat much as I check off the list of bland, neutral items I have tried—toast, broth, Jell-O. Google lists “BRAT” food—bananas, rice, applesauce and toast—nothing too acidic, no tomatoes, Mom warns.
“Me, too,” Joan says.
“Wait, you’re still sick?” I ask as I lead her to the kitchen where we sit at the kitchen table. She was supposed to be all better the day of our party.
“So much for food poisoning,” I point out. “Oh no,” she assures me in a characteristic gush. “I figured it out. I had food poisoning and it was over when you came. Then I got sick like the rest of you.
I bite my tongue and still my rolling eyes. I do not call her on this. She is not joking. “Can you eat anything?” I ask.
Her eyes twinkle like a guilty child and I catch a glimpse down the long aisle of years to what she must have looked like as a girl, “Well,” she sheepishly admits, “I had a craving for stewed tomatoes and lemons.”
My stomach lurches at the thought. Nothing acidic. The irony highlighted by the fact that Joan was once a nurse and should know better. My mother braves us both to sit at the table and chat. She brings a belated Christmas gift for Joan and one for our friend Jane. And, Joan chooses between the one in the Santa and the one in the snowman bag. My 11-year-old nephew Avery moseys in to make himself some dinner—sausage and peanut butter on toast. It is a tranquil scene, subdued by illness and bemusement.
Joan examines her gift—cupcake mix in a mug—and my mother thanks her for the Monkey Bread mix that she had sent as her own gift. Avery’s fork clangs against his plate as he retrieves his sausage from the microwave. Suddenly, like Glinda wielding a wand, Joan whips out a small spray bottle.
“Anyone mind peppermint?” she says and before we can answer, she lets out a blanket of spray that literally fills the room and surrounds us in a bubble of breath-stealing, throat-closing, eye-stinging peppermint. Avery, sensitive to smells, bursts into rapid-fire speech, “What the heck is that stench? What did you do? Are you crazy? What is that smell?”
My three pugs come running and sniff the air, Joan, too, lifts her head to the cloud as if breathing in sunshine.
“Are you crazy lady? That burns,” Avery continues.
Normally, I would scold him for his rudeness. I would be nervous of Joan’s reaction. Today, I just laugh. Mom laughs. We laugh until my vomit-weary stomach muscles spasm, we laugh as peppermint fills our lungs. We swallow absurdity whole. Joan is the Fairy Godmother of both Chaos and Merriment. It’s why I knew she would stop. It’s why I let her in.