Sandra hip checked the refrigerator door closed. Her armload of vegetables threatened to topple but she scurried toward the sparse bit of counter between the sink and cabinet.
“You got it?” asked Paul as he twisted the corkscrew into the neck of the night’s second bottle of merlot.
“Yes,” said Sandra, disgorging the harvest onto the faux stone.
“No, no,” said Viola, tapping with her knife on the wooden cutting board. “Over here.” She motioned at the sliver of space between her and the stove.
“It’s ok, I can chop over here,” Sandra said, snatching the second cutting board from its lean behind the faucet.
“But you don’t have room,” said Viola. She huffed and took the two strides to reach Sandra’s side and swiped the vegetables into her manicured hand. “I’ll do them.”
Sandra watched her sister’s stomp back across the kitchen, the bags crinkling. Viola set them down in a neat row and continued processing the salad components beneath her methodical blade. Sandra suppressed a heavy sigh. Paul popped the cork on the wine.
“You know if you finally redid your kitchen like we did last year, you wouldn’t have to squish like that.” Larry leaned back in his chair, stretching his feet beneath the square table. He popped another olive into his mouth from the tray of hors oeuvres.
“I like it,” said Sandra, gathering the dishes for dinner from the drying rack. “It’s cozy.”
“It’s tiny,” said Viola. “It works because there’s only the two of you but eventually…”
Sandra closed her eyes as she set one plate upon the next. The glug of wine being poured joined the simmer of pasta water and plop of the spattering tomato sauce. Suppressing a long exhale, Sandra carried the necessary cutlery and brought everything to the table.
“Here,” said Paul.
“Thanks.” Larry said, holding out his glass for a refill.
“Do you like it?” asked Sandra as she began making up each of the four place settings on the squat table draped in a sage cloth.
“It’s a little sharp for my taste. To vinegary,” said Larry. He smacked his lips together and then took another sip. “It’ll do I suppose.”
“I meant your kitchen.” Sandra thumped down a fork onto the nearest bamboo placemat.
“Oh, that, yes. My designs worked out well.”
“Your designs, maybe,” said Viola. She scraped the knife down the board to drop the tomato’s juices into the salad. “The contractors…” Shaking her head, she sliced into the cucumbers.
“They were fine,” said Larry.
Viola snorted. “They ruined the carpet, and the vents still don’t work right. You remember when Janey nearly burnt those cookies? The drapes smelt of smoke for a week.”
Larry waved off Viola’s concern and sifted through the pickles for another olive.
“When you guys renovate-” Viola began again.
“We’re not renovating,” said Sandra.
“Fine. If,” said Viola, “you renovate this place, don’t use them. I can give you the names of some other contractors to work with that won’t raise the cost ever hour. The ones we should have gone within the first place.”
“Have any new projects on the horizon?” asked Paul. He handed Sandra a brimming glass and she rewarded him with a peck on the cheek.
“With Janey’s practices,” Viola pivoted from the counter and waved the knife like a baton, “four times a week now if you can believe it. Well, it’s difficult to plan much of anything.”
“Those practices,” said Larry with a scoffing snort. “Now there’s a waste of money.”
“Janey has potential. It needs to be fostered.” Viola tossed down her knife and scooped up the salad tongs. She raked through the ingredients as if digging for gold.
“Is she having fun?” asked Sandra. She leaned against the stove at her sister’s side and avoided vegetable shrapnel.
“Can’t you see it when she’s playing?” asked Viola.
“She looks nervous to me,” said Sandra.
“Oh, you’re just remembering how you felt. You nearly threw up each time mom made you go on stage.” Viola gathered the salad and plopped the bowl into the center of the table. “Dressings?”
“On the door,” said Paul.
“But no, nothing planned with her madam’s schedule dominating all.” Larry gave the organic ranch dressing Viola set down a skeptical frown. Viola let out a huff and deposited herself in the opposite chair.
“Excuse me for putting someone else first.” Viola snatched at the topped-off wine glass.
Larry stared across the table. The pasta simmered over and the timer dinged.
“Who’s hungry?” asked Paul.
With pot holders over his hands, he hefted the boiling pasta and dumped the contents into the strainer waiting in the sink. A plume of starchy smoke drifted to the ceiling and clung like spider’s webs. Sandra placed a bowl by his side and then found a ladle for the sauce. As she stirred she heard Viola rising from the silent table.
“Basil?” she asked sticking her nose over Sandra’s shoulder.
“And oregano with a hint of mint.”
“Mint?” Viola shook her head. “Mom never used mint.”
“I know,” said Sandra banging the handle on the pot’s rim to clean off the ladle. “My version.”
“Hope it’s good…” said Larry.
Viola snapped her gaze around like a cat ready to pounce. “If it’s not, I’m sure you’ll know where to get something better.”
“Excuse me for knowing what I like.” Larry finished his wine.
“Um..pasta’s ready.” Paul set the strainer on the pot, leaving both steaming in the sink.
“Right,” said Sandra, glancing at the table already dominated by Viola’s salad. “Buffet style it is.”
Larry pushed back in his chair, the legs squeaking against the tiles and hefted his plate like a shield.
Paul dug out the pasta fork and handed the utensil over like a weapon.
“Go ahead,” said Viola as Paul picked up his dish and hovered at the table. “Boys first.”
Sandra gathered the other two plates and they proceeded in a dirge passed the pasta and sauce. They all gathered back around the table with a squeak from the chairs.
“Salad?” asked Viola.
Sandra dropped her fork halfway to her mouth in order to catch the tongs flung in her direction.
“Thanks.” She filled her smaller bowl and then offered the tongs to Larry.
“No,” he said around a mouthful.
“Could have guessed that.” Viola snorted and pierced a tomato.
“And your nagging,” said Larry, “right on cue.”
Larry and Viola stared at one another across the table. The two stubby candles flickered.
Sandra glanced over at Paul while Viola and Larry both returned their focused to their meal. Paul gave her a shrug and Sandra rolled her eyes and then twirled her fork in the spaghetti. The silence hung, broken only by slurps and crunches as well as glasses clinking against rings and teeth.
“Well,” said Sandra.
Viola patted at the sauce on her lips with her napkin. “I’ll check on the cake.”
“The oven will beep.” Sandra shook her head as Viola waved her concern away.
Violet peeked into the oven while Larry slurped up another mammoth wad and then scraped away the dregs on his plate. His phone buzzed and he dropped his fork and tipped down the last of his wine as he squirreled the device free from the pocket of his slacks.
“I asked him to turn it off,” Viola said to the half opened oven.
“Hello?” Larry pushed away from the table and stood. “Just a sec.” He gave a gesture Sandra assumed implied they should carry on without him, before he headed down the hall to the living room.
“Viola…” said Sandra, twirling her glass by the stem. “Is everything…”
Viola shut the oven with a clang and dusted off her hands on her skirt before peering at her nails with a scowl.
“Be right back,” she said, “something on my hands.” Viola disappeared and the door to the bathroom slammed closed.
“Wow…” said Sandra, sagging over her half eaten meal. “What are we going to do?
“More wine?” Paul waggled the wine in an offered pour. Sandra held her glass out until the bottle ran dry.