Serena took the tin foil off the top of a dish sitting on the counter and slid it into the oven.
“Hummus is good on most things,” I said. “Including spoons and fingers.” There was a bowl of apples on the table. “Certainly including apples.” I picked one up, groped in my pocket for my jackknife, and cut it up. I put the four quarters on a plate from the dish drainer, found the trash and dumped the core. I picked up the spoon, dolloped hummus on the apple pieces, and pushed the plate into the center of the table. “Hummus is one of my comfort foods,” I said. I picked up the quarter nearest me and bit into it. Gus hastily grabbed another one and jammed the whole thing in his mouth. I could see his face relax as he discovered it was pretty good. “I once ate hummus on a brownie for a dare,” I said. “This was not wholly successful but it wasn’t terrible either.”
Serena picked up a quarter and bit into it thoughtfully. “Hmm,” she said. She looked at the remaining quarter on the plate. “Nice texture.”
“Mom,” said Gus. He looked at me. “Texture is one of her art words.”
“I never waste food,” said Serena. “But. Yeah. I like the rough pale grain of the hummus against the white of the inside of the apple. And I like the smooth-smooth and the rough-smooth in your mouth, like smooth is the blind touch equivalent of color. . . .”
“Uh oh,” said Gus. “Multi-media.”
Serena smiled and shook her head. And ate the rest of her piece of apple. And picked my sticky jackknife up off the table, cut the last quarter into thirds, and passed them around.
“Multi-media?” I said tentatively.
Gus said, “She does everything. She draws and paints and does stuff with clay and wire and fabric and wood and stone. If she’d let me make her a web site she’d sell more of it.”
Serena said, “It’s not that simple.”
“What’s not simple?” said Gus. “You make something. We take a photo of it. You tell me a price. I put the photo and the price on your web site and then someone buys it.”
“My agent,” said Serena, “back in the callow and credulous days when I had an agent, used to say that you needed to build a recognisable brand. I’m very bad at this. I’ve always been very bad at this. I’m always going off in some new, wrong, uncommercial direction with some new, wrong, uncommercial material. Which is why my agent fired me.”
“He fired you because he is an asshole,” said Gus.
“Language,” said Serena, but without heat.
Gus turned to me. “My uncle Broderick says that my mom’s agent stopped representing her because she refused to sleep with him and that he’s the kind of arrogant prick that can’t stand to be turned down.”
Serena’s head snapped up. “What?” she said. “Brod said that? He knows so much about the east coast art scene from the sheriff’s office of a town that makes New Iceland look metropolitan? When did he tell you this massive load of bu—hogwash?”
“Last time I was there. He said I was old enough to know the truth and he was tired of you pretending it was because you weren’t good enough.”
“What makes Brod think he knows Caravaggio from Elvis on velvet? His idea of great art begins with The Oatmeal and ends with xkcd. Oh gods,” said Serena. She turned to me. “I’m so sorry. You must be longing for a nice quiet hamburger at McDonald’s.”
“Are you kidding? This is the best time I’ve had in months. Who is Broderick?”
“One of my brothers,” said Serena grimly. “One of the adopted ones. Different gene pool.”
“He thinks it’s bad for me to grow up thinking that my mom sacrificed her career to bury herself in the country and raise me.”
“I hope this doesn’t mean he thinks I should have slept with Russ, who is an asshole, and who, I admit, did seem to find more placements for his bedmates than for those of us whom he only knew by portfolio. Did you ever think I buried myself in the country to raise you?”
“No,” said Gus. “I thought you buried us in the country because you didn’t have any money.”
“Good boy,” said Serena.
“But you’d have more money now if you let me build you a web site.”
“No,” said Serena.
“Why do you have to have a brand if you’re selling one-offs on your very own web site?” I said.
“Hey, Mom, listen to her,” said Gus. “If she lets me start a web site, I’ll give you a free mow.”
“Better wait and check how big the lawn is first,” I said.
“It would be totally worth it,” Gus said. “Want to see some of my mom’s stuff?”
“I’m dying to see some of your mom’s stuff,” I said. “But I thought asking might be counterproductive. I need a ride back to the motel. If I have to walk when your mom throws me out I’ll get lost and then the giant wilderness crickets will eat me.”
Serena snorted. “Come on.” She stood up, went back into the hallway, and opened a door.
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