The Cleaning Lady has a new business, selling jewelry. It’s hard to picture her wearing any of the items in the glossy catalog, but the things are actually quite nice. I buy some earrings on one occasion, and a necklace on another. She asks if I will throw a party – to get some jewelry for free – and though I am not a big fan of those parties where you go to someone’s house knowing you are obligated to make a purchase, after a bit of putting her off, I finally decide Why Not? It’s pretty and Christmas is coming.
The evening arrives and I have four guests: Two ladies I have known since I moved to Seattle a decade ago – the first people I met, in fact. The others are a neighbor who I help with genealogy, and a mom at The Child’s school. The second two are late, but the first two arrive together, exactly on time.
The Cleaning Lady – who looks nothing like she usually does, dressed for a party – greets them at the door and introduces herself. I help them off with their coats, standing in the newly-painted foyer. I pour them some wine, and we sit in the freshly-repainted and redecorated living room, next to a large jewelry display, chatting about cars – specifically, their cars – and pets – even though one of them doesn’t like cats, she thinks The Siamese is a rather handsome one.
The black and white cat takes a hint and wanders off, as does The Cleaning Lady, who sits quietly as I try to think of a way to bring her and her jewelry back into the conversation. No opportunities present themselves, but as I sit and listen, I reflect on all the other times I’ve seen these women in the past year, and done the exact same thing: Sat and listened and waited for someone to ask, perhaps, whether I’d been dating anyone. They never did, and I turned it into a game, asking them if their college-age daughters had boyfriends, or if other mutual friends were still seeing people, and wondering if getting them onto a topic would lead them to make an inquiry I could answer.
But they just answered the questions, and asked none in return, all year.
I start texting the other two ladies, who arrive within minutes of each other. Even though they are an hour late, they immediately get into the spirit of the evening, taking their glasses of wine over to the jewelry display, and trying things on. One of them went onto the jewelry company’s website and watched their scarf-tying video, and starts to demonstrate for us all. One of them buys a necklace for her daughter, but the scarf-tying lady says, I can’t buy a thing, and then confides she’s in the middle of a divorce and very worried about money.
The ladies make their jewelry purchases and finish their wine, and head out, and when they are gone, The Cleaning Lady says, those first two ladies are not nice people. They are not good.
I try to defend them: We used to be very close. When The Child was little, we did a lot of things together and they helped me a lot.
We both look at The Child, now trying on bracelets and nearly my height. She was little a long time ago.
A weight comes off me as the holidays simplify themselves. I decide not to host my annual cookie exchange, which has long since outlived its fun spirit owing to the sense of obligation I feel to do it each year – the event each year I know I will see old friends. I start to back away from hosting Thanksgiving, another annual event that I host out of guilt, also attended every year by one woman, who I also met around the same time. I am startled to discover that this friend, this year, has made other plans involving plane tickets, but not taken the time to mention it to me – her host for a decade – until I send an email, inquiring about making plans.
I receive another invitation for Thanksgiving, and accept it appreciatively, and then an invitation for museum event two days later, and accept that too. I invite people over for a relaxed evening of latkes and applesauce after the museum, and make the applesauce ahead of time.
- 4 large apples
- ¼-1/2 cup light brown sugar (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons white wine
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- Peel, quarter, and then core the apples. Cut into 1-2 inch pieces that are roughly the same size, so they cook evenly.
- Place the sliced apples in a large heavy bottomed pot with a lid, and then add the sugar, wine, and cinnamon. Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 20 minutes to allow the apples to release their liquid.
- Remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium, and then continue to cook for about 10 minutes to burn off extra liquid. The apples are done when they are tender and there is almost no liquid remaining in the pot. Stir frequently and be careful not to burn them. Taste the apples and add more sugar if they’re not sweet enough.
- When the apples are done, turn off the heat. Use a potato masher to roughly mash up the apples.
- Allow the apple sauce to cool, and then transfer it to an airtight container. It should keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.