Part five by Bonnie Grove
They swarmed my doorstep, more of them than I’d planned. Margaret, my daughter, her husband, Klaus, a Santa Claus of a man, his parents, Herb and Greta, both sharp angles and corners. My two grandchildren, teenagers now, looking bored. And a surprise, Peta, a cousin on my Mother’s side, all nose, and pursed lips, and elbows in your side as she flew past, a hummingbird among a flock of geese.
“Long time,” Peta air-kissed both cheeks touching neither my face nor my heart. Where had they picked her up?
My daughter, Margaret, mouthed the word Sorry and scurried to the kitchen to help. Sandwiches, cakes, and tea. It had sounded so homey when I invited them, so normal. Now, with The Her hidden under my bed, I could barely manage a polite greeting.
Margaret frowned at my confusion but mobilized the troops and in minutes our outdoor party was ready. I lingered in the kitchen pretending to fuss over my lackluster variety of teas. Peta, too, remained in the house, darting eyes sizing up, summing up my solitary life. “Long time,” she said.
“Too long,” I chirped.
“You don’t mean that.” A deviled egg disappeared into her mouth.
“Save it.” A bony wrist waved away my manners. “I’ve heard all the niceties from Margaret already.” She leaned a hip against the counter. “Bet you were surprised, though.”
“What’s the story?”
“I thought I knew,” she shrugged, her shoulders tents of bone rising to her ears, falling again. “But now that I’m here, I’m not so sure.”
We were close in age. Raised by sisters, but we couldn’t be more different. As children, I adored Peta. But that was before. I fumbled with the tea, and spilled some on the floor.
Peta watched my hands, read my posture, the slight tremor that betrayed my nerves. “I’ll get the broom, shall I?”
“No,” a near shout. “I’ll see to it. Please, join the others in the backyard and I’ll be out in a jiffy.”
Peta stared, eyes locked on mine, searching. It had been years since we’d seen or spoken to each other. Decades. Not nearly long enough. “Something’s up, Cous.” She smiled. “I can feel it.” That grin pulled upwards. “Smell it, too.”
“Out,” I said, trying for some kind of firmness in my voice.
“Do you want Margaret? I’ll send her in.” The question felt like a test.
“No.” I said, too quickly, failing.
She moved toward the back door, paused, sniffed the air. “Just don’t forget what you are.”
I waited until the screen door slammed shut before letting myself rest heavy on the counter. What had she meant? But the spinning in my head, the jackhammer rhythm of my heart said some old part of me understood.
Bonnie Grove is a regular contributor to Novel Matters.
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