Polly sat on the very top of the mountain of boxes, looking down at the battlefield where her living room used to be. Now the carpet, the divan and Grandma Pendleton’s favorite Louis XIV chair were hidden beneath broken bottles, rotting fruit wedges, and cardboard cartons soaked with liquor. How is it that I am so alone, she thought, with such a mess on my hands?
The whole family had been excited when the first case arrived in the mail—unlabeled, unexpected. The heft and muted clank of glass were a mystery to be solved, and all the children gathered their bright eyes around the box. Johnny brought the scissors.
Amanda thought it was a king-sized ashtray. Polly thought she must have ordered something from a catalog and forgotten. Johnny wished for a lot of toy robots, and Boots crossed his fingers for a color TV.
Nobody cheered when they saw the two dozen one-pint bottles of vanilla extract. The children were disappointed—not sad—but when Polly saw their bemused smiles she hopped to her feet.
“Let’s bake some cookies,” she said.
When the second case came a week later, Polly made ice cream.
Polly baked cakes both white and yellow. Polly made fudge and frosting and everything in between. A month went by. Polly purged her pantry of the less desirable canned goods and put away her ninety-five bottles of gourmet vanilla. Johnny and Boots and Amanda were getting very fat.
At one a.m. Polly kicked aside the empty boxes and opened the pantry door. The flour and spices lay on the floor. On the shelves Polly counted one hundred eighty-six bottles of vanilla. She got a glass and a bottle of club soda.
Polly was unconscious at the kitchen table again when the children returned from school.
Startled, she spilled the glass which was still in her hand. “Well then,” she said, her chin still resting on the tabletop. “Welcome back to the fold.”
“Is there any snacks?”
“No, I haven’t been to the store.”
“Do you want to bake cookies?”
Polly lifted her head and looked her children up and down. “Do you fat little monsters really need more cookies?” She lurched to her feet, grabbed a bottle of vanilla and left the room.
Polly ran out of club soda but she didn’t buy any more.
Was it a year now? Was it more? The boxes kept coming week after week and finally she stopped opening them. Try as she might Polly couldn’t keep pace.
Three o’clock Wednesday and the doorbell rang. Polly rolled out of bed, still wearing her bathrobe from the day before. She knew who it was, ringing her doorbell at three o’clock every Wednesday.
Polly took the box and climbed up the mountain in the living room. She put the box at the top, tore open the central seam and pulled out a bottle. She sat down heavily, and with purpose.