Twilight Recap: Bella has gotten through a second day of class without incident, but she is both relieved and disturbed by Edward Cullen's odd absence, which seems somehow tied to her arrival in Forks.
Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
Last night I’d discovered that Charlie couldn’t cook much besides fried eggs and bacon. So I requested that I be assigned kitchen detail for the duration of my stay. He was willing enough to hand over the keys to the banquet hall.
Charlie, it should be repeated, has lived in the house that he and Renee shared in their first years of marriage for the entirety of Bella's 17-year life. He has apparently lived alone -- if a live-in girlfriend has ever graced the inside of the house, she utterly failed to leave any kind of lasting mark on the decor, as the dark paneled walls and bright yellow kitchen cabinets are exactly the same as Renee left them. In the 16+ years that Charlie has lived alone and apart from his divorced wife and daughter, not only has he decided not to remodel or change the house in any significant way from the day they left, but he has also refused to learn how to cook for himself.
The more we learn about Charlie, the more he seems inestimably creepy in my eyes. I want to feel sorry for a man whose wife left him and whose daughter demands that he spend all his money and vacation time in California every year if he wants to see her, not because of any flaw in his own character but because both mother and daughter so thoroughly hate his home town, but... I can't. It's one thing for Charlie to still be in mourning over Renee and have him preserving their house as a sort of mausoleum to her memory, but it is quite another for him to stubbornly and persistently refuse to learn how to take care of himself in the belief that any day now his bride is going to come back and take up her rightful place in the kitchen.
The problem isn't just that Charlie doesn't know how to cook anything besides eggs and bacon. (A dish that, ironically, can be rather tough for novice cooks because the sweet spot between limp bacon and burnt bacon can be tricky to time, especially if the novice cook sees the stove burner as binary: either "off" or "full heat ahead!") The real problem, to me, is that he seems utterly incurious and unwilling to even try to learn how to look out for himself. Throughout the pages of Twilight, you won't catch Charlie in front a cooking show and you won't see him ask his daughter -- His daughter who can cook? Who is cooking for him? And who will presumably not be living with him for the rest of her life to do this cooking? -- to teach him how to expand his cooking repertoire to include maybe two meals instead of just the one. He isn't interested.
This is particularly odd behavior in light of the fact that Charlie's ideal weekend is one spent fishing with Billy. Perhaps he simply finds the act of fishing relaxing, but I had always thought that the point of fishing was to cook and eat fresh fish. Either Billy is doing all the cooking, or Charlie and Billy aren't catching many fish on their weekend fishing trips. [Please insert tasteful Brokeback Mountain joke here.] Or, and I fear this is most likely, the fishing haul is dragged back to the reservation for some unnamed woman to do the cooking and cleaning while the guys kick back with cool beverages and rehash the adventures of the day.
I also found out that he had no food in the house. So I had my shopping list and the cash from the jar in the cupboard labeled FOOD MONEY, and I was on my way to the Thriftway.
Not only is Charlie utterly uninterested in learning how to take care of himself, he's uninterested in making even a token effort to take care of his daughter. Apparently, when Bella announced she was coming up to Forks to live with him, he sped down to the local reservation in a heady whirlwind of excitement in order to pick out a car for her, but it didn't occur to him to maybe pick up some PopTarts or a few boxes of Hamburger Helper while he was out.
Furthermore, the idea of a "FOOD MONEY" jar full of cash in this situation utterly baffles me. The last time I remember having such an arrangement was in college when I was working as a waitress for tips. People who are paid almost entirely in cash tend to retain a "cash economy" at home because it's often tricky to get to the bank before or after work to deposit your wages, and it's easier to just pay for everything with cash out of pocket. Likewise, the sort of strict budgeting that a jar can provide is self-evident -- if there isn't enough money in the food jar for your planned shopping list, then your list needs editing. It's as simple as that.
But it's hard to imagine Charlie as living on a cash salary when surely he draws a paycheck as Chief of Police. And even with his expensive California getaways with Bella, it's hard to imagine him needing to stick that stringently to a food budget -- especially when he's apparently not splurging on free-range beef or organic milk. The only way this scene makes sense to me is if Charlie cashes his weekly paychecks at the bank, takes all or most of it home as cash, and sticks a wad of that money into the FOOD MONEY jar. I'm really not sure I understand the point of all this when it seems like a debit card would work just as well, especially considering that this is a one-person household.
Indeed, this arrangement works so well for the "daughter buying the groceries" setup, that I'm tempted to call authorial shenanigans, but I've vowed not to do that, so instead I'm going to hazard a guess that someone else has been using the money in the FOOD MONEY jar to shop for Charlie. A live-in girlfriend still seems unlikely under the circumstances, so now I'm wondering if Charlie had some sort of paid help that came by once a day to cook dinner for him (or once a week to stick dinners in his freezer?) and do the grocery shopping.
Clearly, with Bella coming to live with him, he recognized her as a source of cheap labor, and sacked whoever had been taking care of him up to that point. This also clears up the mystery of why Charlie was so anxious to lie to Bella about the value of her car: if she'd declined the gift and decided to shop around for her wheels, Charlie would have been forced to drive Bella to the grocery store and maybe even enter the store to help her shop, and this obviously would have been a disaster. The more I think about this, the more it makes sense.
The Thriftway was not far from the school, just a few streets south, off the highway. It was nice to be inside the supermarket; it felt normal. I did the shopping at home, and I fell into the pattern of the familiar task gladly. The store was big enough inside that I couldn’t hear the tapping of the rain on the roof to remind me where I was.
I've never heard of a Thriftway, but apparently they exist in the real Forks, Washington which is a therefore a nice little regional touch by S. Meyer, but from this week's weekly ad, it would appear that they only sell food and not a whole lot of non-perishable household goods, so I'm not sure I'd call it a "supermarket" so much as a "grocery store", but it's possible that popular connotation has rendered the two terms synonymous, and I'm not one to quibble over word choice. Instead, I'm terribly fascinated by the idea of Thriftway in a small town that houses a relatively moderate vampire community.
Presumably, the Cullens have to buy groceries at the local Thriftway like everyone else -- if S. Meyer is correct that a small community is a place where everyone knows your business, it seems impossible that no one would notice that the Cullens never frequent the local grocer. In a bigger town, of course, the family could easily get away with never buying groceries, because people would naturally assume that the reason they never bumped into the Cullens at Target was because they were instead shopping at the local Walmart, and vice versa -- it's not as if people are going to get together to compare notes and track their movements.
But with a small town store, with small town employees, aren't the Thriftway employees and owners going to notice when the rich new family with five hungry teenagers never once grace the inside of their store? And it's not as if the Cullen vampires are a self-sufficient community: even if they don't eat food, they're still going to need things from a local supermarket. They'll need cleaners for their clothes and bodies (particularly ones that can remove blood stains!), and they'll need oil and novelty fuzzy dice for their ridiculously expensive cars. (Question: Do vampires need toilet paper? Discuss.) So the question isn't whether the supermarket employees will notice the Cullens not shopping there, so much as whether the supermarket employees will notice the Cullens not shopping there for food.
It seems like the safest thing to do for the sake of the masquerade would be for Esme to buy food on her no doubt weekly shopping trips for heavy duty laundry detergent. Better to waste their unlimited supply of money on food they will never eat than to jeopardize their precarious situation with difficult questions. But then the question becomes: What do the Cullens do with all that food?
They can't just throw it all away, despite their wasteful behavior at school. A garbage bag would tear or raccoons would get into the trash bins, and eventually someone would notice the Cullens' grocery bags, unopened, food still glistening in its pristine packages, and this revelation would be so instantly suspicious that the game will be immediately up. On the other hand, I can't see the incredibly self-absorbed Cullens taking the time to drive the safe distance to a nearby town to anonymously donate food every week -- this sort of behavior would seem to require a level of compassion and selflessness that seems otherwise lacking in each member of the family.
It would seem to me, therefore, that an opportunity for characterization is here somewhere. The vampires are immortal and sleepless and have to get bored on occasion -- the constant disposal of food could tie nicely into a few hobbies. I'm picturing Jasper, patiently grinding up dried bread, nuts, and sugar-free cookies to put in his many bird feeders before standing motionlessly at the windows for hours, a bird spotting guide in one hand and his binoculars in the other. Or perhaps gentle Esme, disdaining the violent hunts that her children prefer, might be seen spreading peanut butter on trees and corn on the forest floor so that she can wait to ambush her food and kill it before it feels any pain or fear.
It's almost sad to me that these details have been so completely overlooked, simply because the epic romance between Edward and Bella holds far less interest to me than the question of what one does with an eternal life. Does one take the opportunity to grow, change, or at least pass the time pleasantly, or -- like Charlie -- does one just stagnate into a schedule of work, eat, work, eat, work, eat, with maybe a few scheduled recesses for sports and fishing.
When I got home, I unloaded all the groceries, stuffing them in wherever I could find an open space. I hoped Charlie wouldn’t mind. I wrapped potatoes in foil and stuck them in the oven to bake, covered a steak in marinade and balanced it on top of a carton of eggs in the fridge.
And here is where I don't care for Bella's character at all.
Bella gets a lot of well-deserved flak for being utterly catty and judgmental, but I'd like to see a little of that judgmental attitude turned away from Friendly Mike and Chess Club Eric and instead turned onto Father Charlie. If I went to go live with my father and learned that not only did he not plan to cook anything for me but eggs and bacon, but also that he had not gotten groceries in advance preparation of my visit, but rather expected me to volunteer to do the cooking and shopping, I wouldn't "hope he wouldn't mind" where I stuck the groceries I'd had to go buy on a school night. If anyone minded where I -- as new Master Cook and Household Shopper -- chose to store the groceries, I would tell them where they could stick their opinion, and also that I hoped they enjoyed eating their eggs and bacon while I cooked for my own damn self.
Then again, I'm not Bella's age anymore, so there's that.
I do think it's interesting that in a house that was previously described as having "no food" whatsoever, Bella finds it necessary to carefully balance her marinating steaks on a carton of eggs in the fridge. Either Charlie owns one of those little "college dorm" models of refrigerators, or that FOOD MONEY jar was really full and Bella went to town at the Thriftway tonight.