I took a true story of my own, moved it forward 12 years, gave it to a hard case called Teresa. Obviously, as usual, very rough; some of it's pretty much just placeholders, because I'm feeling descriptively lazy and can fill it in later. About 825 words.
“Oh!” Teresa said. “I know just the kind of thing you mean. Would you like to hear my story?”
“Sure,” said everyone.
“Well, when I was 12, my grandma was dying of kidney disease.”
“Aww,” went the general chorus.
“Yes, it was hard to deal with, but that was 25 years ago. My mom and aunts took turns spending evenings with her in the hospital, because she’d gotten bed sores from a lack of care.”
More shocked murmurings.
“It’s hard to believe, in this day and age, but it happened. So they each stayed, actually around the clock, but my mom was there in the evening, because it was the best time for me, and her. And sometimes she’d leave me some dinner, or instructions for how to make myself something. I did know how to cook pretty well, because I’d learned in Girl Scouts. We had to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner to earn our badges.
“But that year was actually when I started learning in earnest, and maybe it was because of this spring, in 1989, when Grandma was sick. In the evening sometimes it was just me and the dog, and it felt a little spooky, so I’d always turn on the TV to watch old movies. I wasn’t really into all the regular shows, because as you will no doubt recall, most of them were pretty stupid.”
Jessie said, “I liked The Cosby Show!” There was agreement about that, and a couple of the others named shows they liked.
Teresa said, “Yes, okay, it wasn’t all terrible. But I was really into the old stuff just then. We didn’t even have cable yet. Oh, shut up. We didn’t have very much money, you know. Don’t be rude. But we had this crazy TV channel that showed old TV shows and movies.”
Jack said, “I remember that, and I remember it before anyone had cable, too. They had theme weeks, with a certain actor or topic, for the evening movie.”
“Yes, exactly, you old man.” Teresa grinned. “I don’t remember what the theme was that week, but somehow, I remember it was a Thursday? And they were showing a movie set in Italy, so I decided to have spaghetti.”
A chorus of “Awww,” from the crowd again. Teresa rolled her eyes. “I was twelve, you guys.”
“So, Mom didn’t go in for Ragu, but it wasn’t really like she just cooked from scratch all the time, either. She had these little packets of something called ‘spaghetti sauce mix,’ and I found one, along with the spaghetti, and followed the directions. You had to add the powder to a can of tomato paste and water and a little oil, and stir and heat it. And it was very hard to figure out how much spaghetti to make, so I did this thing, where you hold it in your hand and sort of estimate the diameter…
“And I was worried about getting it done exactly at the same time, and also in time for the movie. But I did, plus, I had canned peaches.” Teresa stopped and smiled, remembering.
She looked over at Jack before continuing. “The movie was called ‘Houseboat’ and it starred Cary Grant and Sophia Loren.
“Yes, you big dummy, I knew you’d like that. And so I ate my spaghetti and watched that movie, and there’s this scene…”
She could see Jack inhale and hold his breath, smiling widely at the same time, but went on. “There’s this romantic scene where Sophia Loren and Cary Grant are dancing together, and the song that is playing says ‘You’re here, the moment’s near, you’re almost in my arms.’ It seemed insanely romantic to me, sitting in the dark eating my peaches, which I’d saved for last because they were sweet and that meant dessert, and it was the kind of thing where you hold your breath waiting, hoping something doesn’t spoil it. And then something did spoil it, but of course it all worked out in the end.”
She could feel everyone at the table exhale at the same time, and felt a little nervous about continuing.
“So now and then, I’m either eating spaghetti and thinking of that song, or the movie is on TV, and I think about Grandma, who took me to the city to buy me fancy jeans, and taught me how to do Fill-It-Ins in the puzzle books, and made me potatoes and eggs. And it’s dark suddenly, and I’m on our old loveseat watching TV with the dog, waiting for news.
“So is that the kind of story you mean, Jack?”
Jack tilted his head and looked at Teresa, reflecting. No one ever sees this side of her, and he can tell it’s hard for her to reveal. “Yes, Teresa, that’s just what I mean.”
“Well, good. But don’t include me in it, okay?”