Kristy and Karen’s Awkward Brunch
Kristy calls Karen when the Uber is 5 minutes away from her basement apartment in Gowanus. Karen sounds rushed and stressed.
“I’m just looking for my keys. Wait, here they are. Okay, see you soon. Fuck, these aren’t them.” When the car pulls up to her place, Karen is waiting outside, frowning over her glasses while texting on her phone in violent finger jabs. Getting into the seat beside Kristy, she says “I texted him we’d be there in 30 minutes”.
The traffic is unexpectedly light for a Saturday, and before they know it, they are going over the bridge and bracing themselves for another uncomfortable brunch.
“Why does he insist on having it at his apartment? Why can’t we just go to a restaurant, get in, get out?”
“Because we still haven’t seen the new place, Karen. Anyway all the brunch places will be madhouses.”
“I don’t know. It feels like a power play”. Without explaining why it feels like a power play, Karen looks away and zones out to the rolling view of Tribeca as it passes through her window, tapping her phone screen with her chipped manicure.
Kristy was the salve on the burn when Karen’s dad remarried. She had always wanted an older sister, and Kristy fulfilled her sisterly duties with compelling ease, but like many little sisters (or in this case, step-sister) Karen relied on Kristy a little too much as they grew up, sobbing phone calls from bars at 2 AM when her boyfriend hit on other women, texting in the middle of the workday with several pictures when she thinks she might be allergic to gluten, does this look like a food allergen rash?
They pull up in front of a large condominium that takes up an entire block, then circle around trying to find the right entrance. In the lobby, a petite doorman with a pompadour haircut asks them who they’re here to see, picking up the phone receiver.
“Kristy and Karen for Watson Brewer, 4E” Karen says a little too loudly. “His daughters” The doorman nods, and escorts them to the elevator with such formality, Kristy thinks that if she reached out and took his arm like a noble lady, he would just go along with it. Kristy gave up correcting Karen long ago, somehow referring to herself as Watson’s stepdaughter seemed more of an affront to her family bond with Karen than it was to Karen’s dad.
Watson divorced Kristy’s mother Elizabeth in 2010 when, mid-life crisis in full swing, he fell “very much in love” with his Pilates instructor Pamela. In a matter of months, he went from tame, sweater wearing Watson to waxed, Shakira listening-to Watson, wearing shirts from Joe Fresh and going on the Paleo diet for months at a time. He sold the mansion in Stoneybrook, married Pamela, and bought an apartment on the Upper East Side, but they moved again to Tribeca a few months ago to be closer to Pamela’s Pilates studio and because they weren’t “vibing” with the UES community.
Kristy reaches out and gives Karen’s hand a quick squeeze before ringing the bell to the apartment. Watson opens the door with a very, very white smile, his thinning gray hair grown out past his ears and moistly combed back. It looks like he may have gotten his eyebrows tinted recently. Clad in a lavender V-neck T-shirt and cargo shorts with white crocs, he is holding an enormous iced coffee, and Kristy can immediately sense that iced coffee is this cool new thing he just found out about and is really into.
“My glowing, glowing daughters!” Watson stands with his arms outstretched until Karen and Kristy give either side of him a polite little embrace. Kristy can feel the cold perspiration of his iced coffee swipe the back of her neck. The condo smells like eggs and bacon, and Maroon 5 is echoing out from the kitchen. “Is that them?” Pamela’s voice calls out and Julius, their excessively poofy Pomeranian, trots out to greet them. Watson scoops him up and says “It’s about time, lets show you around!”
They get the tour. This is the living room, they just got a new TV screen, do they have Roku? Roku just has everything. Yes Dad, everyone has Roku. These are the bathrooms, this one has a little steam room for Pamela, her upper back muscles have been getting sore from instructing classes 5 days a week. Wow, Dad, so sorry for Pamela.
“We ordered in from Cork & Gravity, that new restaurant over on Duane St.?” Guiding them into the kitchen, Pamela is standing over the marble counter top of the kitchen island, digging food out from the aluminum takeout containers with a fork onto porcelain serving plates.
“You don’t have to do that” Karen says to Pamela, borderline accusingly. “We can just take it from the containers, it’s a waste of plates.”
“I really don’t mind, for the occasion,” Pamela looks at Kristy with a face that says “Here we go,” and spears waffles from a takeout container onto a plate. Pamela has muscular arms, and she keeps them perpetually slathered with a combination of coconut and eucalyptus oils.
“What are we drinking, now? I have this iced coffee, its outstanding.” Karen asks if they have any Bloody Mary mix while Watson keeps rambling about the iced coffee. “It’s cold pressed!” and “so much more energizing than hot” Watson loves using words like that, ones that convoke youthfulness: energizing, rejuvenating, invigorating.
Kristy indulges Watson and accepts some of his iced coffee while Karen busies herself with a Bloody Mary. “Everything looks delicious Watson, thanks so much for this spread!” Kristy loads her plate up with waffles, syrup, eggs, bacon, and a pastel green cinnamon roll. “They’re green tea infused!” Pamela beams. Kristy is grateful that there is so much food to occupy everyone’s attention. When Karen is in a visibly stormy mood, like now, the group effort to keep the conversation light and cordial goes into full effect. Kristy knows Watson is grateful that she comes to visit. The truth is, Karen won’t see him if Kristy doesn’t come along, to remind him, as Karen once screeched at a nightmare Christmas party, “You ruined my first family, then you ruined my second one!” Pamela lays an oily hand on Kristy’s shoulder. “I love the flannel!” she says. “Very Williamsburg chic!” She opens her mouth to tell Pamela that she doesn’t live in Williamsburg anymore, but stops herself. Another time, maybe.
With everyone served and seated around the dining room table, Kristy digs into her waffles, frantic to find something to say about them.
“Just delicious!” she basically yells, before her brain has processed whether or not they are actually delicious.
“Yeah, you know we went there right when they opened awhile back for dinner and they do a great duck enchilada with hoisin sauce” Watson is jumping aboard. Pamela enthusiastically munches her Cobb salad, eating whole slices of avocado at a time.
“Beautiful!” her eyes roll back in her head “Yus, yus, yus!”
Karen stares at her and takes a long, deep sip of her Bloody Mary, like it’s Pamela’s own blood she’s drinking.
“How’s the agency this time of year, Kristy?” It’s early May, her busy season, when the kids are getting out of school and business goes through the roof.
“Good! Hectic, but good.” Kristy takes the floor for to talk about her 11 hour work days, the interviews, the home visits, until there is literally nothing else to say about it. After a moment of soft chewing, Kristy adds,
“This maple syrup is phenomenal. There’s a savory component to it, I think.”
Pamela turns to Karen, blinking like a submissive dog.
“And how is the tutoring going? You must have a busy schedule as well!” Karen, who has had a long string of dead end jobs since graduating from Vanderbilt, is now a full time SAT tutor. The application deadline for the exam is looming and Karen’s schedule is jam packed.
Instead of saying as much, Karen nods. “I guess.”
“I think its Rosemary, in the maple syrup. How about that?” But no one else is eating waffles. Karen is picking at some fruit and slurping the dregs of her Bloody Mary, Pamela is staring at her Cobb Salad with the focus of an Olympic gymnast, and Watson is working through a pile of eggs with bacon.
“Are you on the Paleo diet again?” Kristy asks.
“Yeah, I feel like a million bucks!” Karen rolls her eyes. “I’m getting so much more out of my workouts without all that starchy stuff weighing me down.”
Pamela muffles a giggle, and Watson smirks back at her.
“What? What’s funny?” Karen has finally produced a question of her own to ask.
“Pamela doesn’t love the whole Paleo business, though”
“Why not?” Karen shakes the ice in her glass. “I’d think Pamela would love that kind of new age stuff”
“Don’t, Watson!” Pamela hides her face in her hands, overacting her embarrassment.
“Pamela has to live with the…gaseous emissions…that the…”
“Dad! Goddamnit it!” Watson holds his chest, laughing, but Karen is not into this joke.
“I’m serious! Are you fucking gone? I don’t want to hear about your farts, that’s disgusting! I’m eating!” She’s not really, but Watson’s face absorbs Karen’s demands.
“Watch the language” he says gently, and brings his iced coffee to his mouth like a pacifier.
Kristy digs into her green tea cinnamon roll, and Pamela, deservedly weary from this meal, brings the attention back to Kristy.
“How is Jennifer? I know she was trying to get that excavation grant, did that pan out?”
God bless Pamela. God bless Pamela for remembering specific, mundane details about Jennifer. God bless Pamela for turning the other cheek to Karen’s constant, slow burning tantrums. God bless Pamela for genuinely loving Watson, so much that she has foregone having children she really wanted, and got a dog instead. But also, fuck Pamela for bringing up the only subject worse than Watson’s meat farts, the fact that Jennifer broke up with her a month ago.
“Actually, I moved out. Jennifer and I are done.” For once, the silence that follows is sincere, and not awkward in the least. There is no hurried chewing, no scraping of silverware on plates.
“You didn’t tell me this,” Karen says, staring.
“You never asked”
Kristy gets it all out, mostly in one breath. There had been a distance growing between them for awhile, they were both overextended at work, arguing about where to live when the lease was up, then eventually if they should live together when the lease was up. Kristy leaves out the part where she suspected that Jennifer was growing intimately close with one of her grad students. Maybe some other time.
Somehow, things aren’t as awkward anymore. When you really drop a bomb of sadness on a tense meal, things have no other option than to lighten up. Watson tells Karen he found something she’ll get a kick out of and they all drift away from the table. Kristy helps Pamela fill the dishwasher with plates while Watson leads Karen into the study.
“You can’t always take care of her, you know” Pamela whispers to Kristy.
“She needs boundaries. If we never let her know when she’s out of line, she’s going to keep exploiting our empathy.”
“And I’m sorry about Jennifer. I really am.” Pamela reaches across the dishwasher to give Kristy a eucalyptus scented hug.
Suddenly, Karen is at the kitchen doorway with a huge brass instrument fastened to her body.
“Look! It’s my tuba! Dad found my tuba!”
Kristy and Pamela chirp their approval while Karen starts blowing clumsily into the mouthpiece, making horrible metallic burping sounds through the bell. Watson appears behind her, beaming with pride that he has managed to temper Karen’s attitude with this fatherly gesture.
Emboldened by the positive turn in family energy, Pamela shouts at Watson over the tuba, “This sounds like you, right before bed!”