Cauldron in the Back Cabinet
By Jeremy McFarren
Livi was bored.
Bored in the way that twelve-year-old girls get bored. Deeply and profoundly.
If you have ever been or known any twelve-year-old girls, you know how deeply and profoundly they can get bored; how the boredom sets in, even as they go wandering from room to room trying and quickly tiring of the various and sundry devices that clutter the a family’s house. As each room gets checked off the something-might-fun-to-do-in-here list, the boredom works its way deeper. As Livi’s boredom grew, it worked its way into her gut and in this way became more profound until, it seemed to Livi, that it was part of her, somewhere next to her pancreas.
Livi was bored in the way twelve-year-olds think think they get bored. She thought that she would never find anything to do and that if she did it would be too late and she would die alone, surrounded by cats, rocking in a squeaking chair, having never moved from her parent’s house. In her imaginings she had wispy gray hair pulled back in a loose bun with glasses perched at the tip of her nose. She walked with a stoop, but remarkably, had no lines on her wizened face.
Livi was bored in the way that twelve-year-old girls get when October arrives and the skies darken to a leaden gray, sending drops of rain just intermittent enough to void any outside play. She blew a stray, frizzy ringlet from her face, huffing in the way twelve-year-old girls huff when they want whoever is in earshot to hear their huffing displeasure. But the profoundness of her boredom was only made worse because there was no one to hear her huffing displeasure. Deeper and deeper, she thought, a swirling vortex of painful boredom and no one to share it with.
Livi stoop shouldered and shuffled her way down the hallway from the study, slapping her feet dramatically, shoving her tortoise-shell framed glasses back up her nose, and, not really paying attention, making her way down the wooden stairs into the living room. Her socks made small controlled slip-slides on the room’s wooden floors. A moan/sigh/groan escaped slowly from her as she trundled her way to the couch and fell, with great flourish, onto the couch. It was a move she knew would draw the ire of her father. She also knew that she’d learned the particular maneuver from her mother.
As her bottom hit the couch, with great ceremony, Livi’s legs swung up, probably higher than need be, and came down with gusto. If she had been into thinking at the moment, she probably would have thought: “This sucks!” but she wasn’t and so didn’t think much at all. Instead, she managed to somehow flip through 99 channels of cable TV four times before coming to the conclusion that nothing at all was on, not even on the Cartoon Network. She decided it was the remote control’s fault, so she “tutted” and threw it onto the chair adjacent the couch, then “hmmphed”, squirmed her way deeper into the cushions of the couch and threw a leg carelessly up over the back of the couch. She watched her toes wiggle inside her socks. They were striped, were like gloves for her feet, with the toes all separated into tingers.
Livi absently twisted a lock of hair around her forefinger, stuck her pink tongue slightly out through her barely parted lips and jutted her bottom jaw foreword, assuming her normal pose of concentration. But the boredom was beginning to mix with irritation, with a generous dose of frustration thrown in for flavor.
She worked her jaw back and forth and the lock of hair around her finger until she finally let out a defeated, “Aaaahhrahh! I am so bored!” Flopping herself around on the couch a little more for punctuation and not really but kind of punching a pillow, Livi finally settled into what was most definitely a twelve-year-old pout and stared out the window.
Livi’s father’s voice sounded annoyingly in her head reminding her, lecturing her more like, that, “Only boring people get bored.”
“I know, I know,” she said out loud to the air.
Livi had been staring at the gray skies outside of the window for a good many minutes before she focused beyond the wooden blinds onto the sky beyond. From her point of view she saw mostly sky and whatever golden, brown or red leaves that might casually blow by in the wind. It was the kind of day her father would probably say that he loved: a mid-October-kinda-rainy-mood day. Perfect for days of novels and hot chocolate and Sarah MacLachlan, or for comic books or The Cure, for making cookies or stew and Prairie Home Companion or Lord of the Rings or Nina Simone.
Livi could see her dad setting a mood around the day and trying to get her to do the same and, of course, it annoyed her. Just the moodiness of the day annoyed her. “This must be like PMS,” she could hear herself think, and that annoyed her. She was bored, as bored as a bored twelve year old can get and that annoyed her.
Really, Livi didn’t get bored much. She was a girl who was interested. Interested in just about everything. She inherited both her mother and father’s natural curiosity. If she wasn’t reading something -- she read whatever she could get her hands on -- she was drawing or painting or messing with Mom’s clay maquettes. Livi also kept a pretty hefty journal and would quickly tell anyone that this was no mere diary of ordinary days and loves lost and won, but a true journal. Serious sixth grade stuff in there.
She had been gifted with her mother’s grasp of music and dance. And, luckily, got her Mom’s beautiful voice. Though her father set everything to some type of mood with music and generally embarrassed her in front of her friends talking about it, she loved it, too. Her parents always joked that she got all their good parts rolled into one pretty cute package. And even though Livi always rolled her eyes and turned a shade a vermillion most fair-haired, Highlander girls do, she secretly loved hearing them say this.
If all these interests didn’t do the trick in getting her from one moment to the next, she resorted to what most twelve year old girls did: The Phone.
All this aside, Livi was bored.
Staring out of the window, Livi eventually started noticing the leaves as they danced a smoothly syncopated path across the window. She did begin to think it was kind of cool they way they made their way by, tempting her to look at them, little flickerings of color against a monotonous grey field.
She sat up and leaned forward, looking out past the blinds of the front window, past the porch with the dried up flower pots of summer patiently waiting to be emptied and stored for winter, past the creaking porch swing and out into the front yard. The road beyond was empty. In the country, the roads are empty most of the time. The big oak in the yard came into view, its leaves a chorus of browns and reds.
Livi watched the leaves. The oak’s smaller branches danced a little if they caught the rhythm of the wind just right. The big elm in the side yard, still holding onto some of it’s leaves had given the rest over to fall and the insistent breeze managed to tear a few away and send them off into Livi’s view.
And her boredom seemed to ease a little. Maybe she really wasn’t feeling any pain in her pancreas from it after all.
Livi cast her eyes around the yard, lazily scanning the tire swing swinging in the wind slightly, looking out over and past the road to fields of fall corn dried and brown and waiting for the combine that would be coming, literally, any day now. She looked as far left as she could, past the drive and the side yard until more corn came into view, beyond the old oak, the elm. She couldn’t see the cherry tree long devoid of fruit or the apple that she knew was steadily dropping its fruit all over the yard. The day actually was kind of a cool, moody October type day. But she’d never admit that to Dad.
Swinging her legs back to the floor, Livi stood and made her way out of the living room, weaving a clumsy twelve year old way around the coffee table, bumping it only slightly, past the recliner, knocking it just enough to barely rustle the old Boston Terrier, snorting soundly comfortable in sleep, and into the dining room. The house was cloudy-afternoon-with-no-lights-on darkened. Her mother’s harp stood silently, queenly, in one corner, the piano stately against the back wall. The dinning table, as always was a meeting place of the week’s various pages of leftover homework, unopened bills, magazines her father was forever buying and half-reading, CD liner notes, pens and other sundry items of life lived busily.
She reached the kitchen, scarcely colliding with the doorway jambs and only jostling one chair, flipped the switched and stood for a moment at the threshold to the kitchen. She fought hard not to smile, because that would mean the boredom had finally run out and she hadn’t made it until everyone came home and so would not be able to greet them with the thunderclouds of her twelve year old boredom in the full force it deserved.
But she couldn’t help herself. The kitchen was one of her favorite places and it almost always melted bad moods like butter in the skillet. The kitchen had been a selling point, she remembered her parents saying, when they bought the house. It was big and updated and in an old farmhouse with two artsy fartsy types who did not wield the roles of home handyman well, this was good. Her dad loved to cook and the family would gather there around the small bistro table and talk, laugh and snitch bites of whatever dad was cooking. The light was warm and though the kitchen was bright and painted all modern and shiny, it was comfortable and welcoming and Livi knew the smile on her face meant she was no longer in a bad mood and would soon be far from bored. Farther from bored, though, than she would ever be able to guess.
Livi walked over to the sink, grabbed a towel and tossed it over her shoulder in a rough imitation of her father in “chef” mode and wandered over to the cabinets. She flung them open then leaned back, hanging from the handles, staring only a little blankly at the contents, wondering what to make.
Everyone was at Nigel’s soccer game and would probably be home in a couple of hours and she wanted to have something for them when they got home. Mom’s cookies are the best, she thought, thinking of them sitting on the dining table, on the wax paper, which sat on the layer of newspaper. Getting them fresh out of the oven, just cool enough, but still warm was something to which Livi always looked forward. Dad’s soups were great, the way the house just warmed up and the aroma found every corner. But this wasn’t really what she wanted to make. She didn’t want to make any meal type of food; she wanted something warm and doughy. She didn’t want to make any of the prepackaged muffins; she wanted something special.
When she closed the cabinets, Livi noticed she felt a little chill, so she turned and crossed the room to the pantry, glancing out of the back door at the drive, the yard, the big red barn beyond and the corn even beyonder. She bent to look into the pantry, deciding what she needed was something to warm her bones, as Mom would say. She noticed the shelf with the cookbooks and reached for them.
Browsing through the requisite kids cookbooks, Disney, Rachel Ray and Better Homes the more often used ones. She skipped over the giant, ancient copy of Betty’s book and walked her fingers quickly over the spines of the Mediterranean, French, Asian, Mexican and Vegetarian ones until she stopped at a small one. A bread machine cookbook. She pulled it out.
Livi looked at it thoughtfully for a minute, then leafed through the book, remembering the last time her father got the machine out and made bread for everybody. That was what she wanted: the warm smell of yeast and dough, the hum of the machine on the counter, the crunch of the crust. She wanted to see the looks of pleasure on her family’s faces as they enjoyed her homemade bread, covering it with warm butter and honey or jam or, best: Nutella.
This was it, this was her mission, should she accept it for today. And by Mary, she thought, I do.
Before she set about gathering all the ingredients, Livi wanted to make sure she could find the bread machine, because it would be a serious bummer to have to clean all that stuff up, after getting it out, if it took her three hours to find the machine, or to have the fam all walking in just as she’s getting it started and everybody be all like: “Wow, would’ve been cool when we got home to have the bread ready.” So she tried to remember where she remembered her father putting it away. It wasn’t in the pantry so she closed the door and headed back towards the counter, trying to divine through her twelve year old ESP where the machine had been stored.
Not under the sink. The pan cupboard: no. Not above the fridge. Tupperware and plastics? Nope. Wait. Maybe back behind all the extra coffee mugs?
The farmhouse, the kitchen had been redone, but there were still slightly odd spaces in the kitchen. In the corner to the left of the sink, for example, was an L shape formed by the counter with one under-counter cabinet. One set of doors opened into it and the space on the right extended all the way back to the outer wall. It was awkward trying to reach back into that space frequently so the seldom-used appliances and platters and other culinary items were kept in its recesses. This, Livi, thought is the cavern where the mother lode is surely to be found. The bread machine had to be there.
Opening the doors, Livi removed the various items blocking her treasure cave’s entrance and set travel coffee mugs, lidded casserole dishes, home popsicle makers, bowls, and Kitchen Aid accessories on the floor. After this first challenge was completed she reached the bigger items and removed them one at a time. Again, items that were cool and loved, but, alas, seldom used: yogurt maker, dehydrator, an extra waffle iron, blender.
As she set the last item on the floor, Livi leaned in, reaching her left arm back into the depths of the cabinet. Because she was on the shorter side, it was hard to look into the cabinet and reach at the same time so she began just feeling around. Her reaching hand found nothing but air at first, then another casserole dish, an apron, and an old mixer.
She waved her hand a little and pushed her shoulder into the side of the cabinet trying to reach farther back into the space. As she did, Livi noticed the air into which she was reaching was kind of chilly. The kitchen was warm and she knew that the inside of the cabinet butted up against an outside wall, but it wasn’t really that cold yet. Not enough to make the inside of the cabinet this cool.
Livi’s hand waved about blindly in the air hoping to catch the smooth lid of the bread machine, because if it wasn’t in there she had no idea where it might be and her plans for familial delightment would be dashed. She reached a little bit farther, stretching. The air quite suddenly was not chilly but cold and it seemed to press about her hand. If air could be heavy, it was. She stretched farther. Until her hand actually got something.
It wasn’t smooth, though. Not a machine of even metal and plastic. This was rough. Not bark rough, but…like her father’s iron skillet rough. Yeah, it felt like metal, she thought. But her Dad didn’t keep his skillet back there behind all this stuff. He used it too much.
Well, Livi was a curious girl, so that which killed the cat was very piqued. Trying to feel around the object and discern some kind of shape, Livi kept reaching farther into the cabinet. She felt around the outside of the object. It was a gentle roughness and seemed to be round and was chill to the touch. She tried squeezing her shoulder further into the open space of the cabinet and felt as if she were reaching almost to the wall. Livi knew her hand should be almost as far as it could go into the cabinet, feeling like it was in a much bigger space.
Then, after a final, almost lunging, reach into the cabinet her hand managed a firm grasp of the object: a rim of some kind. She beamed and let out an “Ah-ha!” and settled herself down to yank this thing out into the daylight. She squared her feet under her and braced herself with her right hand on the other side of the L shaped cabinets and pulled.
Not a budge. Not an inch. Not a smidge. Not the slightest movement in the leastest.
Harder. A grunt. A tug. She thought about saying a curse word, but it was immediately followed by the thought: “What if someone walks in just when I say it?” and said “Come on!” instead.
Livi bounced back and forth on her toes, settling her center of gravity a little lower, took a deep breath and leaned back. Knitting her brows, a warm feeling flowed through Livi. She thought it felt like warm water running down her arms, into the cabinet. She felt more focused.
She pulled and strained. Livi would swear she pulled forever, until it felt like whatever had been holding whatever she was pulling just let go.
The kitchen watched Livi fall backward. She lost her grip on the object and landed on her bottom, her momentum rolling her backwards until she lay on her back, legs popping out from under her from the centrifugal force. This time a curse word may have escaped her lips, but she’d never let on and no one’s probably ever find out, even if it was her tailbone she landed on!
She looked up in time to see a black object roll to the edge of the shelf and drop from the cabinet. It landed on the pine boards of the kitchen floor with a dull wooden thud. The object rolled itself around on the floor until it faced Livi, the sound of iron balls rolling on wooden planks. Any sound seemed absorbed by the air instantly when it was made and was gone.
As Livi, stared she realized she was looking at a pot. A thick metal pot that was a foot and a half in diameter and a foot or so deep. It looked black, shineless black, and old. It seemed completely out of place and Livi wondered what exactly it was and why it was in her kitchen cabinet of unused items?