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.
Fiona double checks her pannier to make sure she hasn’t forgotten anything. She smiles to herself: the first bike commute of the season after a winter of dreary buses. Getting back on her bike after a four-month hiatus still brings back her childhood feeling of freedom, of flying and fleeing her home, rattling down Renfrew streets and across the track, peddling away, away from familial constraints, faster and faster, away from chores and homework; alone and free in the world. She can’t wait. She picks up her pannier and turns to say goodbye to her family.
— Don’t forget to pack your homework, she cautions Gavin.
He looks up from his last bite of scrambled eggs*, mouth full.
— Yeah, he mumbles.
— Bye beautiful, says Luc, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
— Hello, she says brightly.
— Mom? What’s up? I’m just leaving for work.
— I’m just back from the hospital; I’ve been there all night.
Fiona drops her pannier.
— What! Are you okay, Mom? What’s going on?
— I’m fine, it’s your brother. I’m telling you if it’s not one thing it’s another with him. He scared the bejesus out of me.
— Is he okay?
— He’s fine. The whole thing was idiotic.
— What happened?
— If he’d just give himself a good shake and get on with his life instead of moping around in the basement.
— Mom, what’s going on?
— I found him. I wouldn’t have but I needed that blue dress — you know the one, the wrap-around — to wear to my bridge club and I knew it was in the laundry basket he’d taken downstairs, so I called down to him but there was no answer. I even phoned his cell and let it ring and ring. I knew he was there, so I went downstairs — no small feat with my wonky hip. I poked my head into the den and there he was asleep at his desk. Except I couldn’t wake him up. Then I saw the bottle of pills. Did you know he was taking advantax?
— Probably for anxiety. Or sleep. I think it’s a benzo.
— If he was having a problem, Fee, why wouldn’t he just come and talk to me? Why the big secret?
It’s always about her, thinks Fee.
— Mom, what’s happened to Neil? Is he okay?
— He’s fine. They emptied his stomach and put him on an IV. They’re keeping him in for a couple of days. I had to ride in the ambulance with him. The taxi fare to get back home was twenty-three dollars. It’s highway robbery.
Trust her to worry about money at a time like this, thinks Fiona.
— Why are they keeping him in? Is there a problem?
— Nothing physical. They just want to watch him for forty-eight hours. Oh, and he’ll finally get to see a shrink. He finally told me he’d been waiting for months. Helluva way to move up an appointment. What he needs is a girlfriend.
— What if you hadn’t found him…oh gawd. How much did he take, Mom?
— Enough. I don’t know. But the doctor said it was good I caught him when I did. And it was all a fluke.
— You’ve given him life twice, Fiona mumbles.
— Nothing, Mom. I’m coming out. I’ll get there as soon as I can.
— Oh, so this is what has to happen to get you out here!
— That’s so unfair, Mom. We were all out there just last July. Anyway, this isn’t a visit. I need to see Neil. I have to know he’s okay.
— Everything’s fine. It’s not necessary, but suit yourself.
— I’ll call back with the details, Mom. I love you.
She hangs up the phone and leans on the counter.
— Gavin, time to get your stuff ready, says Luc.
— What did granma say? asks Gavin.
— We’ll talk later, says Luc. You’ll be late if you don’t leave.
He watches to make sure Gavin’s gone.
— What’s up? asks Luc.
As Fiona tells him, she begins to cry. Luc puts his arms around her.
— He’s going to be okay, Fee. It’s good you’re going. Do you want me to come with you? asks Luc.
Fiona shakes her head, blows her nose.
— No, it’s okay Luc. I just need to see for myself that he’s okay. Well, obviously he’s not. I should have insisted that he see that behavioural therapist. He’s such a cheap-ass. I should have followed up to make sure he was getting out more. Damn. I can’t believe it’s come to this.
— You can’t blame yourself, Fee. You live so far away. You talk to him every week. I don’t suppose it could have been accidental?
— He may try to say it was, but I doubt it.
— What can I do here so you can go? Shall I book your ticket for you?
— Yes, yes, please. Thank you. I’m going to drive to work and take care of the urgent stuff, then I’ll come back home and pack.
— Better to pack first, my love. In case I get an early ticket.
— Yes, yes, of course. Oh, Luc, why would he do this? Why? He’s such a wonderful man: kind, generous, funny, smart. I don’t get it.
— He’s ill, Fee. He has, what was it, some kind of mild bipolar. Well, maybe not so mild. He needs you. All he’s got is your mom.
— That’s a big part of the problem. Fiona grimaces.
*Creamy scrambled eggs for the purist
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons cream
- Bring water to boil in the bottom of a double boiler, then turn down to simmer.
- Melt butter in the top of the double boiler.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and cream.
- Pour into top of double boiler and stir gently but constantly with a wooden spoon (a good task for an older child) until thick and creamy.
Serve with hot buttered multi-grain toast, marmalade or home-made jam and a few slices of tomato (if in season) or orange.