I stare at the assortment of plates and platters, bowls and ramekins, cups and saucers stacked neatly on three shelves in Grandma’s silent kitchen.
“Which ones did your grandmother mean?” the woman from the lawyer’s office asks. Her voice is deep. Scratchy. Burnt. “You’re supposed to get two bowls. Are they in this cabinet?”
“I don’t know,” I answer.
“She wanted you to have your macaroni and cheese bowls. Which ones are your macaroni and cheese bowls?”
“I don’t remember,” I say. My voice is flat. Distant. Sad.
“It’s right here on the list your grandmother left. These are the things we’re supposed to distribute before the estate sale. Look at the list.”
I follow the path of the woman’s cubic zirconia-bejeweled finger down the column of names on a piece of yellow paper. The paper has been torn from a legal pad, the kind bought at an office supply store. There’s a crease in the middle of the page, running horizontally along one of the pale-blue lines dividing the paper into evenly-spaced rows. I imagine Grandma writing the list, the tip of her pen placed momentarily between her pale lips while she considers her bequests. Satisfied at last with her choices, she tears the paper from its pad, folds it along the blue line in the center, and stands. She crosses to her bed and opens her Bible, the King James version, the one with our family tree spreading across two pages, each line on the tree filled-in with a name, a date of birth, and a date of death, or left blank, anticipating death. Grandma places the paper in the middle of the Bible, between Psalm 119 and 120.
“Here’s your name.” The lady smooths the paper so that it lays flat on Grandma’s white Formica countertop. “See? Your grandmother wanted you to have two bowls.”
I stare at my name. It’s below the crease, encased in a row between the names of my older brother and my younger sister.
My gaze moves above the crease, to my brother’s name. Ross. I follow the line from his name, to the dash, to the words after the dash. My brother gets Granddad’s coin collection. Three blue books filled with shiny silver coins that Grandma placed on the top shelf of their bedroom closet 10 years ago when Granddad died. Three books with coins inside, each coin nestled into a shallow, round hole. Three books that open at the center and accordion out, first one side expanding and then the other, to showcase a gallery of walking Venuses and flying Eagles. Three books that smell of cedar absorbed from Grandma’s closet shelf. Granddad’s valued and valuable coins. Ross gets those.
The woman taps my name. Her fingertip produces a dull duh, duh on the countertop. I look at the paper and read, Andrea, follow the trajectory of the dash, and see her two macaroni bowls.
“I don’t remember,” I say again.
My eyes drift below my name to my sister’s name. Lindsay. She gets Grandma’s opal ring. Grandma was born October 9, 1927. My sister on October 18, 1979. They share an October birthdate. They share an October opal birthstone. Lindsay gets Grandma’s valued and valuable opal ring.
“So which ones?” the woman persists.
I stare into the cabinet. It’s been 40 years since I ate Grandma’s macaroni and cheese. How am I supposed to remember what bowls I ate from when I was 8 years old?
“Just take two bowls. Any two bowls. I don’t care.” Her words are clipped, rapid staccato, impatient. She lights a cigarette. Inhales. Exhales.
Cancer-carrying smoke fills my nostrils, and my eyes water.
She lifts the paper off the countertop and brings it close to her eyes. Her cigarette, pinched between her index and middle finger, dances dangerously close to the yellow paper. Ashes, clinging like magnetic shavings to the cigarette’s tip, threaten to incinerate Grandma’s last wishes. She says, “Here’s what I don’t get: Why did you need two bowls for macaroni and cheese?”
“One bowl’s for the cheese.” The whispered words escape my lips and surprise my brain. I tilt my head like a shih tzu puppy and marvel at the memory. “One bowl’s for the cheese and one’s for the macaroni,” I say, a little louder. “Grandma always grated the cheese on the fine side of the grater just for me.”
The woman makes a sound that moves across the back of her throat and exits her lips on residual smoke.
“Have you ever had cheese grated on the fine side of the grater?” I ask her. I don’t wait for a response. “Cheese grated on the fine side of the grater floats on top of the macaroni, like a canary feather on water. You have to sprinkle the cheese on the macaroni right before you take a bite.”
She gives me a look that says “you’re crazy.”
I grin. A grin that says “you don’t understand and I’m okay with that.”
I turn to look at Grandma’s kitchen table and see myself sitting in one of her metal chairs, the green plastic seat bottom sticking to my 8-year-old thighs. I’m wearing my pink gingham shorts, the ones Grandma made for me, the ones with a white poodle applique sewn onto the front of the patch pocket. The poodle’s fur is soft, formed with loops of yarn. The pocket is edged in eyelet and inside there’s a rock that I found in Grandma’s backyard, under her hibiscus plant. The rock is smooth and nearly purple.
Two bowls set side by side on the table. One is piled high with grated cheddar cheese. The other holds macaroni. I bend forward. Steam from the macaroni moistens my cheeks. A pat of butter, skating on top of the noodles, melts and vanishes. I reach for a pinch of cheese, grasp it gently between my fingers, fly the small bundle to the macaroni, and sprinkle it over the pasta. I pick up my fork and take the first bite. Golden warmth glides down my throat. I reach for another sprinkle of cheese from the yellow bowl.
“They’re yellow,” I say to the woman. “My macaroni and cheese bowls are yellow.”
I turn back to the cabinet. I don’t see any yellow bowls.
I look again at Grandma’s kitchen table, take a second bite, and hear the fork ting against the glass.
“And they’re glass. Yellow glass bowls.”
I gently lift another dollop of cheese, transport it to the macaroni, and take another bite. And another, until the macaroni bowl is empty. A pool of melted butter coats the bottom of the bowl. Sunflower yellow butter against white glass.
“The inside of the bowl is white.”
“I thought you said it was yellow?” she corrects.
“It’s yellow on the outside and white on the inside. It’s a yellow-and-white glass bowl. Bowls. Two yellow-and-white glass bowls.”
I grasp the bowl in both hands, bring it to my lips, tilt my held back, and slurp. The butter washes over my tongue. Liquid silk. When I set the bowl down, my fingers feel the ripple, ripple, ripple edge wrapping around the bottom of the bowl.
“They’re footed bowls, yellow-and-white glass footed bowls, and the footed part is rippled, like the edge of pie crust.” I look on the second shelf, move aside a stack of soup bowls, but there are no yellow bowls. I need to climb to see if they’re on the third shelf. I say to the woman, “Bring me that stepstool, please. The one by the stove.”
She hesitates and then moves to get the stool, returns, pushes against my hip with her elbow, and places the stepstool directly below the cabinet.
I climb one step. Look more closely at the second shelf. Sort through years of cups. Decades of saucers.
Climb another step to reach the third shelf. Move a green salt shaker. Shift aside a chipped gravy boat decorated with blue ships sailing on a white sea, pick up a vegetable bowl, lift it off the shelf, and peek inside.
And there they are. My macaroni and cheese bowls. Tucked away inside a floral bowl. Tucked away inside my memory.
I set the vegetable bowl on the counter and lift the smaller bowls out of their cocoon. I hold them, one in each hand, like priceless commodities, like precious jewels. I press one bowl to my cheek. The glass feels cool against my face. This is the bowl that held cheese. I bring the other to my nose and breathe in. Does it still smell of macaroni? It doesn’t. But I decide that it does.
I climb down from the stool, cradling Grandma’s macaroni and cheese bowls. My macaroni and cheese bowls.
The woman asks, “Do you want any of the rest of her dishes? Two bowls don’t seem like much to inherit from your grandmother. Your sister got a nice ring and your brother got some very valuable coins. Take something else if you want.”
“No, thank you,” I say.
These macaroni and cheese bowls are all that I want.
These two valued and valuable macaroni and cheese bowls are just for me.