Upstairs, Oliver shows everyone where they can sleep. But as they’re discovering each room has been swept, clean linens cover the small beds, as the picture of a life so quaint (unfathomably so compared to the city), Rodney can’t stop thinking about the pantry below.
There was something about the way Oliver said it, just a little brandy in the pantry, that sounded to Rodney like a challenge. Like when your friend growing up mentions the top drawer of his desk. Like how you gotta check that drawer sooner than later.
Rodney’s thirsty, sure. If he’s honest with himself, he’ll admit it’s one of the many ways he handles things. He can’t count the number of nights he and Morris have sailed model boats through bottles of booze. He might be able to count the ones they haven’t. And today, tonight, this is one of those times. Oliver seems okay. Right? Or not. Rodney isn’t sure. But a little sip of something might help him make that distinction, might clear things up a bit. They haven’t made the run to the general store yet. Rodney kinda needs to. How can Morris be talking about how nice the woodwork is in the farmhouse ceiling when all Rodney wants to do is drop their blankets and make a run to the store? Sometimes he and Morris go as far as hiding bottles outside friends’ flats just in case the party runs out. Preemptive stuff, there. And with Big City thespians, sometimes the party does run out. Rodney imagines a bottle of brandy. Does he even know what one looks like? Sounds like something from an old movie. From before his parents’ time. Something you’d keep in a walk-in pantry, deep in the shelf shadows, just out of sight of–
Rodney stops walking with the others up the hall to the second bedroom. He realizes he isn’t thinking of the brandy after all. He smiles, as if it’s a relief, but it’s not.
He isn’t thinking of booze. Brandy wasn’t the challenge.
The pantry was.
“I figured Baum and Karen would like this room,” Oliver says. He fans a hand to the row of science fiction books on the nightstand.
“Cool,” Karen says. “Le Guin.”
“In here,” Oliver says, opening a closet door, “is actually a staircase to the attic.”
The friends gather around it. Rodney thinks of a slatted door.
“A walk in attic,” Baum says. “That’s rare. Lucky man.”
“Yes,” Oliver says. “Lucky.” He closes the door. “Back out this room and down in the third bedroom is where I figured Tracy and Ever could sleep.”
“I’m gonna use the bathroom,” Rodney suddenly says.
Oliver smiles. He’s positively hosting.
“Through the kitchen downstairs,” he says.
Morris winks at Rodney and Rodney knows a piss joke is coming next. But Rodney turns from him before he can make it. He takes the hall back to the stairs. Down again. Through the living room, back to the kitchen.
Outside, the sun has lowered. Rodney catches a quick glimpse of the fields through the French doors to the deck.
A man stands under the lines of willow trees, facing the farmhouse.
Rodney double takes. Nope. No man. And the fields look dead.
He makes for the bathroom. Ought to at least pretend this is why he came down here. Then he says screw it. He goes to the pantry instead.
His hand on the knob, he hears his friends upstairs. Laughing. Morris probably made a piss joke after all. They’re moving. Either being shown more of the house or coming back downstairs and maybe Rodney should just use the bathroom after all.
He opens the pantry door.
The shelves are situated far enough back that the kitchen light only reaches their lowest point, and Rodney’s shadow extends the length of the space, an elongated version of himself, observing whatever is stored within. He reaches into the darkness above, feeling for a string. Can’t find one. He sees a glass jar. Maybe many of them. But this one is just enough in the light. It’s labeled. Messy handwriting but Rodney can read it.
Footsteps on the stairs and he shuts the pantry door. He turns and sees the white flowers on the kitchen table, has enough time to think, Never would’ve imagined Oliver Carpenter picking flowers, before Morris peaks into the kitchen and says, “You’re not drinking all that brandy are you?”
Rodney rolls his eyes.
“Good,” Morris says. “Last thing we need is a backwoods cop pulling us over on our run.”
They’re all downstairs. Shuffling into the kitchen now.
“This isn’t quite backwoods,” Oliver says, looking either directly or indirectly at the pantry door. “It’s more like… the country.”
“I’ll drive,” Tracy says. Some urgency in her voice.
“Done,” Morris says. “Make a list?”
“You know what to get,” Karen says. Because Morris does. They all do.
“Don’t be too long,” Oliver says. “Remember, I made dinner.”
Then everyone laughs. Because they absolutely have to. Because even an hour ago it would’ve been outrageous to consider Oliver Carpenter making dinner for eight.
Baum puts his arm around Oliver’s shoulders.
“I like country Olly.”
Then they laugh again. And there’s the feel that this is all impromptu. That this group of thespians are acting in front of a crowded black box theater, as if the show, their show, any show, has just begun.