She’s sitting in the small upstairs room at the front of the house, the room with the three paned windows overlooking the big pine tree and the city street, the room that she painted blue-green.
Silky fuchsia and orange curtains are twisted up over the long wooden curtain rod. Above the windows is a ledge that she’s propped photos and talismans on:
Her laughing, with her arms around her friend John.
Her, or her body anyway, from the waist down, arm curved around her little black-haired girl, age five.
Her in an evening gown with her arms around her two evening-gowned sisters.
Her parents, walking down the aisle on that bright October day. Her father, smiling, still with the beard that he shaved only this past October, when the Yankees won.
Her, age five, her arm around her old childhood friend David, the two of them peering at planks laid across a creek. This is a photo that she cut out and glued to a curved wedge of wood and gave to her parents for Christmas one year, but somehow she has ended up with it again.
Black wooden letters spelling L A U G H.
A small antique book of love sonnets, given to her by someone she loves.
A row of tiny plastic tuxedoed penguins.
She wishes that someone would come walking up the stairs and into the small blue-green room bearing a tray. On the tray would be a packet of those very thin gingersnaps – she believes they’re called “ginger thins” – and a mug of Earl Grey tea.
The someone would set down the tray and sit on the small orange couch with the crocheted granny afghan thrown over it, the afghan she found at a garage sale for $2 and bought immediately because it looked exactly like the kind her own grandmother would have made. The ginger thins-bearing someone wouldn’t mind if she ate the entire packet herself.
Is she feeling sorry for herself? She is. She decides to list some of the things she is grateful for. Shall she do it by letter of the alphabet, as Mary Karr was told to do and scoffed at, calling it a puerile idea, but did anyway? She shall.
A: She is grateful that her parents named her Alison, as she’s always loved her name, which, in her experience, is not that common.
B: She is grateful for BD, whose way of seeing and way of being turns the small and ordinary into the beloved.
C: She is grateful for Cindy Sykes, marvelous companion of her childhood, lost and now found.
D: She is grateful that she remembers a woman who loved flowers, bending over a big bunch of them, calling to her son: Davily, Davily.
She pauses for a moment, wondering if every single letter of her list of gratefulness will be the beginning of someone’s name. It certainly could be, she thinks, because she is blessed with people she loves.
E: Eritrea and Ethiopia. She is grateful that these countries interest her, and that she knows something of their history, because it has led to many an interesting conversation with the Eritrean and Ethiopian cabdrivers of Minneapolis.
F: She is grateful for fudge. Peanut butter fudge, especially that bought at the store at the very peak of Hogback Mountain on Route 9 in Vermont.
G: Gabrielle. She is always, especially, grateful for Gabrielle.
H: Halvah, specifically chocolate-covered Joyvah Halvah. Now she is remembering the many years when she always had this halvah in the refrigerator. Two small logs of it came in a package, and she kept it hidden, so that she and she alone could saw off chunks whenever she felt the need. Not that anyone else would’ve wanted it anyway. Why did she stop buying it? She wants some now. Does the grocery store still carry it, she wonders.
I: Isla, her beloved island in Mexico where she went so many times, where she would walk the shoreline for hours on end until the year of the hurricane, when the beach was cut by three-quarters.
J: Julie. She remembers the day many years ago when she met Julie, who was wearing a long sundress, whose husband calls her Beanie, and who had a coughing fit that first night at dinner.
K: She is grateful for Krispies, as in Rice Krispies, as it is one of the primary ingredients in her secret homemade unrefined sugar good for you but oh so delicious power bar recipe that both her daughters love.
L: Lecithin. Should she be grateful for lecithin? What is lecithin, exactly? She decides to be grateful for it no matter what it is, because it’s the first thing that popped into her head, and she is a believer in instinct.
M: She’s grateful for McGhee Hill Road, the road that she and Oatie were just talking about the other day. “Let’s you and me go take a road trip back to McGhee Hill! Yeah, and we’ll go to the farmhouse, and we’ll stop at the stone wall!” Yes, please let’s do that, she thinks. And she wants to stop at the graveyard, too, because her grandmother would like that, her grandmother who always went and took care of her grandfather’s grave. Who is taking care of the graves now?
N: Neighbors. She’s grateful for her neighbors. They watch out for each other. They take turns taking care of each other’s dogs. They bring each other food. They let each other know when there’s trouble on the block.
O: Olives. She loves them, lucques especially. And she loves a good dirty martini, which would not be dirty without the olive juice.
P: Pickles. Half-sour Batampte pickles from Fishman’s, the kosher grocery store on Route 7. Actually, she loves pickles of any kind, even watermelon rind pickles. Capers, do they count as pickles? She thinks so, and how wonderful is a caper, with its ability to put a little salty zing in virtually anything? Especially the salt-cured kind.
Q: Queen, which is what her French middle name translates as, another name she’s always loved. She lucked out with the names, there’s no doubt about it.
R: Right as rain. A good expression, don’t you think? She appreciates that someone long ago saw rain as lovely and necessary, enough to precede it with “right as.”
S: Silly putty. Remember silly putty? Who could not be grateful for it? Long ago, when she was lucky enough to have purchased a little egg of it, she used to press it against the Sunday comics and then peel it off slowly and stretch it out to elongate the cartoon faces. Snap – that’s what silly putty does, eventually – snaps, with a very satisfying, crisp sound.
T: Toddlers, as in her nephew, the one who spent the weekend with her this past weekend, who kept pulling up his shirt to show her his long abdominal scar, and saying, with a wicked grin, “They cut me open! And then they cut me up again!”
U: She is grateful for underwear. It comes in handy.
V: She is grateful for Victorious, the boy on the schoolbus who makes her daughter laugh every morning, which makes her laugh too.
W: Why, which is one of her favorite words and favorite questions. It’s a slowing-down word, a slowing-down question, and she needs – always – to slow down.
X: She is grateful to live near a street named Xerxes, which is not the same as living near a street named Oak or Chestnut.
Y: You. Whoever you are, reading this right now, whether she knows you or not, she is grateful to you.
Z: She is grateful to Nel, who sends her a goodnight text every night, which she’s recently started signing off with this: Zzzoxoxoxo.
She looks at the list and thinks, Thank you. She breathes in – thank you – and breathes out – goodbye.