Last week That Tracy threw a big party and our invitation came in the mail.
Her name is actually just Tracy, and she is my 4th grade class’s Parent Representative of the Month. When I asked my mom why she has never been my 4th grade class’s Parent Representative of the Month, she did that thing where she goes deaf for three minutes and pretends to not understand me.
“My God, Adinah, what’s happening to me?” she croaked. “Is it a fever? Depression? Could I be anemic? Potentially cursed? Hurry—go and bring me a bright light to look at. It might be the hiccups!”
Privately, I bet she didn’t get chosen because That Tracy smells like honeycomb and wears her hair in a long, pretty braid, while my mother processes fish for a living and has a bald spot on her head in the shape of a dreidel.
Dear ZIMMERMANS, read the letter. The thick stationary was blueberry-scented:
To celebrate a successful first term serving as Parent Representative of the Month, I, Tracy Kreul (Milo Kreul’s mother), am throwing a potluck for the 4th grade class alongside my husband, Diedrich Kreul, on October the 22nd of this year. Parents, you are WELCOME here! Kindly DO attend!
We ask that you please DO NOT bring anything with WHEAT byproducts or gelatin of any kind, due to essence of HORSE HOOVES that Milo can actually detect on his taste receptors. If you do not wish for any of your child’s fellow classmates to EXPIRE, kindly also refrain from bringing snacks that include:
- tree nuts
- egg YOLKS (whites o-k)
- small seeds
- cow dairy
- goat dairy
NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!! We cannot wait to host you.
P.S. An “adult beverage” WILL be served — and it rhymes with O’KREULS 😉
So we packed up the van with three jars of my mother’s gefilte (the matzo-free-gluten-free-egg-yolk-free type), and drove to That Tracy’s potluck, which is a word I thought was like sharing but my mom said is like Bolshevism.
“What do you say, Adinah?” she asked me on the drive. “We drop in for a second, have ourselves a little nosh, and then make like Elijah and ghost.”
“But don’t you want to stay a while, and see the Kreul’s trout-stream?” I asked.
“Their petting zoo?”
“How about their in-home theater? Their botanical garden? What if it takes time before the food’s ready? Don’t you want to taste it all? Milo is always talking about this meal his chef makes their family. He calls it bouillabaisse.”
“Gesundheit,” Mom barked.
I don’t know why she gets so defensive sometimes. She’s just defensive. So we finished the drive down the Kreul’s winding driveway, and through their iron-wrought gate toward their manor in silence. Even though my mom’s huffing grew fainter as we approached the front door, I knew that she was feeling flustered—her bald spot was bright red.
I’d wanted to see the Kreuls’ manor for a while, but the potluck was held in one of their four “Depositories,” which I guess is what rich people call their garages. A tall man in trousers named Norman met us at the front door and directed us there.
Out of all the garages I’ve been inside, the Kreuls’ Depository is probably my favorite—it was bigger than my room, with a high, vaulted ceiling and large windows framed by plushy, thick drapes. When we arrived, everyone was slurping from identical bottles of O’Doul’s and admiring the several paintings of what looked like Cheetos on the walls, but actually were family portraits. Over in the corner, the Kreul’s parrot was perched in an ivory cage and wearing a bowtie.
“Some place, huh?” my friend Pat and her dad walked over. He was holding a large glass bowl that contained what he called a seven-layer dip. “I spent four hours constructing this—see these beans? I foraged them myself.”
“Wow,” complimented Mom.
“This is the kinda place you go all out for, you know?”
“I heard the Johnsons brought a vegan-cheese plate,” Pat’s dad lowered his voice, “From the grocery store. And it stinks like rotten tuna, can you believe that?”
Which made me feel kind of bad because that smell was coming from maybe our gefilte fish but definitely Mom. She spends most of her days at the factory, though, so she can’t really help it. Forget having the time to mash and layer foraged beans in a big, fancy bowl just-so; she barely found time to scrape the fishbones out from under her fingernails before the potluck.
“Grab her,” cawed the parrot. “Grab her!”
“Hush, Rasputin!” That Tracy called. “We’ve been trying to teach him the word cracker; he’s almost got it.”
Over in the corner, a man dressed all in white played a large, shiny piano. We had been at the Kreuls’ for nearly ten minutes before the chimes of the music faded; The Depository grew silent. Milo’s father, Mr. Deidrich Kreul, marched in.
The first thing I noticed about Mr. Kreul were his eyes. They were blue, swollen and enormous. His eyelids puffed up above them like big, fat sacks of flour, and he never blinked. His hair was golden, swept over and thinning, and he was dressed sharply in a dark blue suit.
“People,” he boomed, clapping his hands together. “People, people. I’d like to welcome you all to our home. You are now at the best potluck,” he paused, dramatically. “Of all time. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it.
“I hope you’ve all heeded my wife’s warnings. There are a lot of kids with allergies here. Not me, I don’t have any. I have built myself a great digestive tract—and nobody has a digestive tract stronger than me, believe me—and I can eat anything. Meat. Bones. You name it! But Tracy went vegan during her pregnancy, and now Milo has paid for that. He’s got allergies; he’s got intolerances. Total disaster! If you go vegan when you’re pregnant, then your kid won’t be able to eat egg yolks. Mark my words.”
“Oh, you,” That Tracy interrupted. Just like her husband, she had dressed elegantly for the garage; her arms were covered in sparkling, golden bangles that tinkled as she moved. A few of the parents giggled in a way that sounded like gulping. “Boys will be boys—”
“Wrong,” said Mr. Kreul.
“—What a thing,” she finished, laughing. Mr. Kreul cleared his throat.
“Okay, enough. That was just Depository Room talk. Let’s dig in.”
Nobody except Mr. Kreul moved though. He marched over to the buffet table all alone and picked up a spoon.
“This split-pea soup?” he tasted the first dish. “Well, it’s okay, but Tracy and me, we have a chef, and she makes the greatest deconstructed pea foam. Tremendous deconstructed pea foam. We have the best deconstructed pea foam. Delicious.”
The thing is, I’ve seen foam before and it came out of a snail in the sun on my driveway. Maybe Milo’s dad has a better palate that I do, but if somebody had tried to feed me that foam, I’d have puked right there on our Geo Prism.
Mr. Kreul continued down the table to Pat’s bowl. That Tracy disappeared into the manor.
“If I had made this dip, believe me, it’d have a lot more than seven layers. And they’d be huge layers. The best.”
Next the fruit and cashew-cheese platter:
“Raisins are sad. They started off as real winners—as grapes—but raisins? They have no stamina; they let themselves get dehydrated. Low energy. I would never let that happen to me. I’d drink water first. I’d reverse the process. I would Make Raisins Grape Again!”
It was weird. Whenever I complained to my mom about her food, she laughed in my face and told me to go and bang my head against a wall (which doesn’t help, it just hurts a lot); but as Mr. Kreul approached us, I got a sort of weird feeling inside because I knew that if he didn’t like it, Mom wouldn’t yell at him. The only thing worse than when she yells is when she cries.
Just then That Tracy and her billion bangles and rings reappeared. She cling-clanged over to us, carrying a wicker basket full of apples.
“Here are our orchard’s Pink Lady apples,” Mr. Kreul announced. “I love ladies. Especially pink ones. Not nasty ladies. Not Granny Smiths, no way. They wouldn’t be my first choice.” He turned back to our jars.
“Fish?” he said. He leaned down, sniffing into one of our jars. A shekel dropped. “They’re losers.”
Next to me, my mother’s red bald spot turned scarlet. Mr. Kreul continued.
“I don’t eat them. They got caught. I like foods that weren’t caught. Okay?”
But I didn’t say “okay” because that would have been a lie, and lying is what adults do when they want to give children nightmares. Once my mom didn’t want to pay for our electric bill, so she said that the Grinch would come steal me from bed if we strung up Chanukah lights; she told that that just like moths he was attracted to flames.
“You didn’t even try it,” I said.
The Depository’s acoustics were great; the sounds of several parents gasping reverberated across the room.
“I don’t need to try it.”
“Oh, come on. Just do it.”
I got the feeling Mr. Kreul wasn’t used to being told what to do, and especially not in front of so many people. But after a pause he puffed out his lips and picked up one of our fish jars.
“What’s your name?” he asked me.
“Crooked Adinah!” he said. “Women—they’re always trying to feed me. Listen, folks: You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful foods—I just start eating them. It’s like a magnet. Just eat. I don’t even wait. When I’m hungry, my chef just steps back from food prep. She lets me do it. What a nice woman. She’ll show me the pink ladies—I grab them by the stem.
“But I’ll try this food for you, Adinah. Listen. I’m never wrong. This fish is a disgrace.”
He spooned off a generous portion of the gefilte fish and plopped it into his mouth. Then he spooned another bite off. Then another. He swallowed and finished the fish.
My mother cackled.
“Well would you believe it? He loves it. So there you go.”
“I do not.”
“You ate the whole thing, after all that kvetching.”
Mr. Kreul flung out his hands.
“That’s it!” he cried. “The dishonest and so corrupt Adinah and her mother are liars, and they have poisoned the spirit of the potluck. But unfortunately for them, I think you all are seeing through it. You see through it.” He popped another gefilte fish in his mouth.
“Adinah? Big liar. Very, very big liar. Good fish? Wrong. Me enjoying the fish? Never happened. This entire thing is rigged. Rigged. That’s it—crooked women!”
I guess all it took was my mom seeing him eating her fish to snap back to normal, because she walked up really close to Mr. Kreul and put her face right next to his face and then said in this loud voice that rattled the windows: “Mazol Tov on your four garages, you great, big Schmuck!”
Then I yanked our two unopened jars off the buffet and we ran out of The Depository. When we got to our Geo Prism, Norman threw us our keys, and we drove down the driveway and out through the gate before anybody could catch us.
As we drove home Mom started laughing, which was the first time I had seen her smile all afternoon. All of a sudden it didn’t matter that she was never going to be my 4th grade class’s Parent Representative of the Month. She was much more fun that That Tracy anyway, and pink lady apples taste like snot.
When I told her that she went deaf again and pretended to not understand me, but I saw her bald spot go red again, so I guess in the end she had fun.
Lia Ryerson is a Brooklyn-based writer and friendly human girl. She is currently an MFA candidate at The New School.
featured image via Cooking at Debra’s