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4

Meanwhile, Scarpetta had meals of her own to prepare at her mother's Miami home. The weather there was considerably different from Richmond's on this second day of the New Year. The sun was warm enough to sit outside, and after falling asleep several times in a lawn chair near the dead key lime tree in the backyard, Scarpetta was infected by the guilt she always felt when dealing with her mother: The grass was so thick it almost did not give beneath Scarpetta's weight when she walked across it, heading inside.

"Mother?" she called out.

There was no answer, and Sinbad, who was both sinful and bad, tangled himself in Scarpetta's feet. The cat was a cross-eyed hybrid Siamese and knew Scarpetta did not like him and never had. Thus, Sinbad was overly attentive.

"Please move."

Scarpetta nudged the cat out of the way. He was purring loudly.

"Mother?" she called out again. "Sinbad, now I mean it, goddamn it!"

The kitchen counter was spotless, the sink empty of dishes, because of Scarpetta's guilt. She opened the refrigerator as the toilet flushed down the hall.

"Mother? What do you want for dinner tonight? Sinbad, I'm warning you!"

"Don't yell at the cat!" yelled Mrs. Scarpetta, who was very old and languishing in bad health, as she had been for years.

"I'm going to the store, I guess," Scarpetta said to the empty hallway as water ran in the bathroom sink and a cabinet door slammed shut.

"Get toilet paper," Mrs. Scarpetta yelled again.

"What about Dorothy?"

"What about her?"

"Is she going to eat with us?" Scarpetta hoped the answer was no.

The loud talk went on as her mother carried the conversation into her bedroom and Sinbad butted Scarpetta's leg.

"I think she has a date," Mrs. Scarpetta replied, adding one more detail. "I told her to bring him by."

Sinbad bit Scarpetta's left ankle. She did not kick him hard, but made her point. Scarpetta drove her mother's Toyota to the local Winn-Dixie, and at times like these she knew how easily she could pick up smoking again. In fact, she experienced unbearable lust as she passed racks of Marlboros, Salems, Dunhills. She would cook a bad mood meal.

Scarpetta's Bad Mood Shopping

This always involves pasta, because a requirement on such occasions is to prepare a dish that consumes Scarpetta's energy, emotions, and attention. She moved with purpose through the dairy section and bought a carton of large eggs, opening the top to make certain none were broken. One was, and she excavated until she had better luck, carefully setting the eggs inside her cart. She searched for a wedge of Parmesan cheese.

She added a two-pound bag of all-purpose flour to her groceries, and next spent studious minutes in the produce section. Around her, people were speaking Spanish and Portuguese. Many were buying plantains, pineapples, papayas, limes, leeks, green chiles, and pimentos. Scarpetta was interested in garlic, broccoli, shallots, asparagus, carrots, basil, and zucchini. She could have added heavy cream to this dish, and meat, such as chicken or prosciutto, but a rich, high calorie supper would only have further darkened the gathering storm clouds inside her. Although she was not inclined to please her mother at this moment, she remembered the toilet paper. Last, she bought a six-pack of Buckler non-alcoholic beer, knowing full well that Scotch, Irish whiskey, or wine would make her depressed or curt.

Most of the drive home was spent on West Flagler Street behind a red Plymouth Horizon with a license plate dangling by a twisted coat hanger. A side window was broken out and covered with a square of cardboard; the car was obviously stolen, as were so many in Miami. Scarpetta would have gotten far away from it had traffic permitted. A Mercedes with purple-tinted glass almost rear-ended her at the next traffic light, and a Porsche gunned past a Jeep, both drivers making obscene gestures at each other and screaming in foreign languages. The sun was directly in Scarpetta's eyes.

Her mother's neighborhood was in the southwest part of the city, not far from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, where Scarpetta had gone to school and impressed the nuns. She reached the house without incident and climbed out of the car. Since her heartfelt concern for the environment had prohibited her from selecting plastic bags when asked by the cashier, the paper bags rattled as she carried her purchases through the front door. Immediately, she noted that the burglar alarm was not set.

"Mother!" she called out yet one more time this day. "You know to leave the alarm on STAY."

"You worry too much," came the reply from the bedroom. "I was taking a nap. I wish you wouldn't nag."

"Home invasions, burglaries, rapes. They don't just happen after dark."

Scarpetta made her way past the old Baldwin upright piano which her mother hadn't played since the last time it had been tuned, whenever that might have been. A lamp was on, but didn't do much good because her mother usually kept the draperies closed, and a clock ticktocked loudly from the wall. The pale blue carpet was worn and darkened with stains from the decades, and porcelain figurines of courting couples and elegant ladies from lost eras were strategically placed. Nothing had changed much, really, since Scarpetta had been a child.

Those years had been painful and scary, and the shadow of them always settled over her whenever she came home. Her father had lingered five years with leukemia before dying in the master bedroom down the hall, where her mother, this minute, was shoving coat hangers around in the closet. Scarpetta had learned to take flight into overachievement, for even making friends was hard when one was intelligent and sensitive and stunned by loss. Early on, she had cooked, cleaned, and managed the family budget while her sister wrote self-absorbed poems and stories and became increasingly addicted to boys.

Scarpetta set the bags on the counter by the sink and began removing her purchases. She washed vegetables and peeled and chopped, and an hour later Bach was playing on the classical station she always tuned in to whenever she was home, and a ball of three-egg pasta dough was peacefully resting beneath a bowl. A pot of water was ready on the stove, and a skillet glistening with olive oil awaited vegetables. She had begun to grate Parmesan cheese when her mother appeared and sat at the kitchen table before the window overlooking the backyard. Scarpetta had opened the curtains. It was getting dark out.

"What have you been doing?" Scarpetta asked, as she briskly worked the hard cheese over the grater.

"On the phone."

Mrs. Scarpetta rattled the newspaper, scanning the obituaries and feeling apprehensive when she noted that someone else her age had died.

"Gloria is ready to shoot Jose," Mrs. Scarpetta commented.

"Again?"

"I don't know why she puts up with him."

"Oldest story in the world," said Scarpetta, as she checked on the dough. "It's called dysfunction."

"You should know."

Mrs. Scarpetta turned to the editorial page, shaking the section as if it had misbehaved.

"I never understand these cartoons. Do you, Katie? The political ones. Who is this, anyway? Some communist, I guess, riding a missile like a cowboy."

Scarpetta was hurt by the reference to the romantic choices she had made in life, but she kept her feelings to herself. It was true she had not picked well when she had married Tony. She had been out to wound herself when she had fallen in love with Mark, and then fallen in love with him again many years later after she was divorced and he was a widower. Benton Wesley had broken her heart, and she had learned that nothing is ever right when a relationship begins as an affair. Although his wife eventually left him for reasons that had nothing to do with Scarpetta or him, the knowledge of what she and Benton had done had been a stain, a cracked window pane, something forever broken in the life they eventually built together. Now, he was gone, too.

Scarpetta's Bad Mood Pasta Primavera

She set a colander in the sink and dusted a cutting board with flour. She readied the pasta machine she had given her mother several Christmases ago. It was a simple Rollecta 64 made in Torino, Italy, and the best macchina per fare la pasta Scarpetta had ever used. She set the noodle width and turned a knob to narrow the opening between the smooth rollers, and soon she was working with sheets of pasta so light and thin they were translucent. She rolled them up and cut them by hand into tagliolini. This she did expertly and swiftly because she was very skilled with knives. Rarely did Scarpetta cut herself. She had good reason to be very careful in this day of mutant viruses and vicious infections.

"What time is Dorothy coming over?" Scarpetta forced herself to ask.

"She was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago," her mother answered, rattling the paper loudly.

Her breathing was labored from a life of smoking that had eventually hospitalized her with emphysema.

"Mother, would you like me to get your oxygen?" Scarpetta asked.

"No."

Sinbad languidly strolled into the kitchen. He stopped and gave the chef a crooked stare. His tail twitched. Scarpetta began heating the skillet. She opened the refrigerator and found a Buckler she poured into a glass.

"Well, dinner will be ready in ten minutes," she said. "Take it or leave it. If we waited for Dorothy every time she was supposed to show up, we'd turn into skeletons."

Her mother sighed. Sinbad squeezed himself between Scarpetta's feet as she turned on the burner to heat the water.

"How about boiled cat over pasta," Scarpetta said, booting Sinbad out of the way yet one more time in life.

"YUCK!" Mrs. Scarpetta protested with disgust. "How can you say such a thing?"

Scarpetta began crushing cloves of garlic and sauteing them with the vegetables.

She stripped fresh basil from its stems and sprinkled it in, adding salt and ground pepper.

"This is going to be light and healthy," Scarpetta said, knowing full well how her mother would react to this.

Momentarily, Scarpetta felt no guilt about not pleasing her mother, who did not believe in healthy food and was offended by it and took it personally. Scarpetta had learned long ago to take care of herself, to alleviate pain, and not be victimized. With her family, she would take but so much. She had been down here for almost a week. Frankly, she'd had enough, her disk was full, her nerves overloaded, she could take no more.

"What about meatballs?" her mother complained. "I can't believe you aren't serving sausage, prosciutto, or something."

"Not tonight," Scarpetta said.


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