Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
The phone call
The phone’s ring is shrill in the quiet of Saturday morning. Fiona turns from trimming the ribs* and quickly rinses her hands.
— Hello, she says.
— Hi. My name’s Leanne McMurchy. I just thought you should know that I’ve had two obscene phone calls from this number.
— Excuse me? Are you sure?
— I did star sixty-nine. The calls were for my daughter, Jessica. They came last night at nine and nine thirty. On the answering machine.
— Is your daughter okay?
— She was pretty upset, but the calls were just so stupid. It was a young guy, but she didn’t recognize the voice. She erased the messages. But the first time he says something like: “That was great sex last night, I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. ” I mean she’s fourteen years old.
— What school does she go to?
— That’s where my son goes too. I’m so, so sorry. I’m going to go talk to him. What’s your phone number? Oh, my name’s Fiona.
She hangs up and finishes making the marinade, giving herself some time to think. If we’d bought him a cell like he wanted, we never would have known about this, she thinks. As she’s covering the dish with plastic wrap, Gavin comes into the kitchen, still in his pyjamas at ten in the morning.
— Do we have bacon? he asks.
— Your dad will be home with the groceries any minute. Do you want some OJ while you’re waiting?
— Sure, he says. Please.
She set his glass of juice in front of him and sits down.
— Gavin, I just had a phone call from Leanne McMurchy. Do you go to school with her daughter, Jessica?
— Why? What did she say? he asks.
— Does she go to Fisher? Do you know her?
— Sure. I guess so. There are three Jessicas in my class.
— Well, Jessica’s mom says they had two obscene phone calls left on their answering machine and the calls came from here, from our number.
— How does she know that? asks Gavin.
— Star sixty-nine.
— It was Troy’s idea, says Gavin hurriedly. I didn’t want to, but he did it. He has a crush on her.
— What, and so you just let him do it using our phone?
— He just sort of did it. He didn’t ask or anything.
— Well, I’ll have to call his mother then and let her know.
— Whatever, he says.
— But don’t think you’re off the hook either, Gavin. You’re responsible for your guest’s behaviour when they’re in this house. You never should have allowed that. Twice, too! How do you think Jessica felt?
— I dunno.
Typical, she thinks, first sign of trouble, he clams up. She looks up Troy’s number on the list by the phone and dials it.
— Hello, is this Troy’s mother? This is Fiona, I’m Gavin’s mom.
A woman’s voice, indistinct, seems to concur.
— I’ve had a phone call from Leanne McMurchy, her daughter, Jessica, goes to school with our sons. Jessica had two obscene phone messages last night from our home number. Gavin says Troy made the calls.
— Troy would never do anything like that, says the woman. He’s been brought up better.
Fiona’s mom radar instantly switches to high alert; the woman’s implication being that Gavin would, because he has not been brought up properly. She realizes there is nothing else to say.
— Well, I have no reason not to believe Gavin. I just thought that you should know. Goodbye.
She hangs up without waiting for a response. Her heart is pounding. Maybe she wasn’t so much accusing Gavin as defending her own son. Wouldn’t we do anything to defend them?
She tells Gavin what Troy’s mom said.
— Are you sure you weren’t more involved in this? she asks, making a futile attempt at eye contact.
— Troy’s obsessed with the phone, says Gavin. He makes calls all the time.
— Gavin, you didn’t answer my question: Did you make one of the calls.
— Okay, okay, yes, I made one, but it was Troy’s idea and he made the first one.
— What did you say?
— I don’t remember.
— You must remember something, Gavin.
— Something about wanting a date with her, wanting to sleep with her.
— It was just a joke. I didn’t mean anything.
— It’s upsetting to her, Fiona says. And it’s illegal. It’s harassment.
— Mom, can’t we talk about this later? I haven’t even had my breakfast.
— Gavin, you aren’t taking this seriously. This is serious.
Luc walks into the kitchen, bearing canvas bags of groceries.
— What’s up? he says, taking in their faces.
Fiona tells him what’s happened.
— I’m so disappointed in you, he says to Gavin.
For the first time, Gavin looks ashamed. Damn he’s good, Fiona thinks of her husband.
— You know it’s wrong to make calls like that, continues Luc. Don’t you?
— Yes, mumbles Gavin.
— We’re going to suspend your phone privileges for a month.
— A month!
— Yes. But first you have to phone Jessica and apologize. And apologize to her mother, too.
— But what will I say?
— That you’re sorry for upsetting them and you realize what you did was wrong.
— But what about Troy? He gets off with nothing?
— I’ll talk to his mom or his dad, says Luc, but really it’s up to them. Our concern is you.
— And, Gavin, says Fiona, I don’t want Troy in the house unless your Dad or I are here. And no phone calls.
— Is that clear? asks Luc.
— Yeah, says Gavin. I get it.
*Simmered sweet ribs
2 plus pounds of pork ribs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tin of tomato soup
1 tablespoon French’s mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup vinegar
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
- Cut meat into individual ribs. Trim off as much fat as possible. Brown in oil. Drain off excess fat.
- Add onion, garlic, celery and green pepper. Brown.
- In a bowl, combine soup, a tin of water, mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce.
- Simmer for at least 2 hours, until the meat falls off the bone.
- Serve with mashed potatoes (delicious with this sauce) and a green vegetable (green beans are wonderful).
Thank you to Jean Sibbald for this recipe.