In the Belloon kitchen, Carole poured chicken stock into her stuffing mix and stirred. She added sautéed mushrooms and onions and oysters, bought fresh the day before when she braved the crowds at Costco and Haggen over in Burlington. A friend of the theater stopped her in the bustling aisle, actually grasped her elbow with bird-like fingers, which made Carole pull away, barely concealing her revulsion. She laughed the moment off with a fake, harried obliviousness.
“We haven’t seen you around, Carole. I’m missing you at Zumba!” the friend said.
“I’ve been distracted. Sorry, Nedra.” Carole had never asked where the name Nedra came from, but its unusualness poked in her mind whenever Nedra entered her sphere.
“Martin keeping you busy with the play decisions? I hear you have a doozy lined up for next year.”
“Yes . . . a doozy.” She wondered who spilled The Queen’s Idle Fancy’s secrets.
“There’s a special old-world quality. It’s a farce. An original. You should audition.”
“I’m serious, and there are several non-speaking roles. The stage needs to resemble a bustling village. Stop by the theater and grab a copy to read for yourself. Auditions aren’t until January.”
“I’ll think about it. I could play a stationary object. The Queen’s poison tester!”
“Imagine that.” And Carole did the next second, imagining Nedra taking out a special spoon and diving into the wild boar stew a second before Queen Stormag, bird-like, swallowing, and then froth spurting forth from between her thin lips, pink, bloodied, eyes rolling upward, and Nedra collapsing onto the stage floor. “Take her away!” . . . the Queen throwing the bowl of stew against the castle stones, gristle and poison flying.
Nedra, who actually did resemble birds—not only one kind, but several, down to her skinny stork-like legs—all with different origins, had never irritated Carole this much before. Just being stuck in polite chitchat was making Carole cringe. Ducky lips. She hated staring at them. The peacock-like helmet of her buoyant dyed-russet plumage made Nedra stand out in any crowd.
“If you don’t mind, Martin is expecting me, and he doesn’t like it when I’m late.”
“Martini-hour commandant? I get it. Roscoe is the same whenever football’s on the tube. I’ll let you get back to your Thanksgiving shopping. Hope you already bought a turkey. They’re almost out of fresh ones, and it’s too late to defrost.”
Bird, birds of a feather . . . plucked . . . that’s how I feel. Flying away . . . up up and away.
“Have a nice holiday, Nedra. And, thank you. I’m not myself. Forgive me.” Carole pushed her cart away, quickly lost in the crowd.