No More Cookies

“It’s Zimbabwe now, Mom,” she says. It’s amazing anyone ever checks out. What is celiac disease?”
No more cookies, it turns out. I whip egg whites till they form soft peaks. She tells me that’s not what the building is called. “She’s a healthy young woman,” he says. California isn’t the Middle East. No cornbread at Thanksgiving, no stuffing. Bill is keen to hike. Not anywhere, nowhere in the world, is a woman as free as Chelsea Clinton. We ask firmly that no one from the family speak to the press about the vermin. Post-feminism, there’s less of a need. What was it like for Huma? Nobody is kidnapping Chelsea either, because she never leaves her room. If Huma had accompanied me to Africa last year, I wouldn’t be up until three in the morning looking up dengue virus in the Physicians’ Desk Reference. I’ve stopped watching the news. Sometimes I enclose a folded article about how college depression can be beaten. Her roommate has a boyfriend, a bong, a Secret Service nickname. She hangs up on me, then calls me back a minute later to say she’s sorry. “Huma grew up in Saudi Arabia,” he says. He’s having Teddy Roosevelt fantasies, roping off national parks in his mind. 15,   Revolution
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THIS WEEK Chelsea thinks she has colitis. “Chelsea doesn’t have the stomach for politics,” I say, “so she’s trying to be a doctor. Outside there are newspapers, cigar puns on the covers. I’m glad I have no friends. I don’t want to make tartufo for the Gores. Her boyfriend has them.”
“You wanted a roommate.”
“I’m not good at making friends.”
“You get that from me. There’s her father’s head sculpted in papier-mâché. It started as a joke, but Walter says I’m a natural. I wouldn’t have to interrupt a noon meeting to remind Chelsea to go to lab. Do I have insurance?”
“Everyone should have insurance in this country.”
“Yes, agreed. People with colitis shouldn’t eat too much sugar.”
“Give them to Megan,” I say. I obtain his parents’ address and Huma drafts a thank you note on East Wing stationery. He wants it to be just the three of us, with helicopters overhead. She   takes one to be polite, leaves most of it on her White House embossed napkin. “What to Megan?”
“The biscotti I sent yesterday.”
Chelsea starts crying. The kitchen brings us snacks — clusters of grapes, low-cholesterol cheese on a round plate. I’ve been to India and Bangladesh, Singapore, Rhodesia. I offer her blondies. She spends the entire time, as far as I can tell, watching Buffy. But her stomach isn’t letting her do that either. We make many meringues now. He orders a book on Northern California’s secret trails. Experts recommend exploring the surrounding area, taking day hikes. She checks herself into the campus health center for 36 hours. I demur. If Chelsea had her own boyfriend, we would ask the same. I bake lemon squares. Outside it’s 72 degrees, and there’s a World Bank protest at the campus center. SEPTEMBER 19, 2017

This short story   appears in the LARB Print Quarterly Journal: No. She comes to work fed, so I never see her snacking. I’ve been to the Middle East. He still thinks there’s privacy on this earth for us, even now. A second later, there’s a passport photo of the girl with bangs, then the woman who snitched on her. We decide to quarantine Megan’s boyfriend until the situation is resolved. “She thinks leaving the house is fun.”
“It wasn’t like that for her. “And the doctor at the health center said I should get tested for celiac disease. Then I listen. Kids who will be lawyers in five years bang drums and kick a sack made of sand. Do the bites itch?”
I ask Huma to look up exterminators in Palo Alto. No baklava when we’re greeted in Greece. They have to do the tests off campus. I’ll say she can talk to Huma. I think I’m going to switch my major.”
“To what?”
“Television Studies.”
“You’re going to major in television?”
“It’s actually fascinating. “It hasn’t been Rhodesia since 1980.” She’s taking a class on post-colonial history, another on post-feminist thought. “First Family heals in sequoias. She’s pre-med. Look what’s happening to Dad.”
I look up. I bake cookies for my staff. She went to British schools.”
“Another group of people who really know how to have a good time.”
Bill heads back into his wing, but he’s still on all the TVs in mine. I bake brownies. It’s my fault.”
“Her stomach is not your fault. She calls me every day from California to tell me her symptoms. Nobody is kidnapping the roommate. “I think Megan gave us bed bugs. Huma lost her father and moved across the world. Between meetings, phone calls, negotiations, I bake. She cannot miss her labs, even if she’s having diarrhea. There’s got to be a bathroom in the science building, I tell her. Also, please stop sending baked goods. I can mail her some breathing CDs.”
“I don’t know if I believe in breathing.”
I believe in God. “She should be enjoying herself.”
“Like other young women?”
“In her own way.”
“Huma doesn’t have fun,” I say. I’ll arrange a phone session for Chelsea with her father’s pastor. The exterminator finds mouse droppings, but no bugs. Chelsea decides she has leptospirosis. I ask her. But do I?”
“Of course you do. I overnight them to Chelsea so she has a reason to go to her postal box. Huma says they are delicious. She can still eat the turkey, the one that didn’t get pardoned. Everything’s round in this house, or oval. I believe in universal health care, in microcredit, in cunnilingus, and in dry cleaning. She weeps about loose stools when her roommate is out of the room. All of her electives are posts. I wire her money for hiking boots. He says I can stay on as his pastry chef after Bill’s term is over, which may be sooner than we think. Huma doesn’t use the bathroom. I pretend Huma is my daughter. Last week it was Lou Gehrig’s disease. Walter is teaching me about rice flour, almond paste. “But I like the idea of being free. “Dad and I will go with you the next time we come out there.”
“The photographers will love that,” she says. She comes back with a list of seven, ranked. There he is, a poof of white over a rosacea face, like a founding father who got a haircut. It doesn’t matter what a first lady believes.