A late November gust whips my cheeks, picks at my skirt, sticky arthritis fingers stretch into my pockets. I poke into that hole I haven’t had time to mend, then tangle in loose threads, another poke from that tatty appointment card worn from calls of harassment—book, cancel, reschedule. No show. It’s Tuesday, here again on the gray stone steps, my only weekly visit, which is not an appointment, but a commitment, a family tie. I don’t know why I save the card, really. I went once to Doctor McDermott’s office on the other side of town. It bogged me down. The two buses, the staring, my few words repeated back to me, the note taking reflected against her funky frames. I don’t like when people wear dramatic glasses over serious faces. Unpredictable.
I arrive at Anna’s in uniform of sorts to ensure she doesn’t remember me. A skirt and blouse are not familiar attire, not something she saw me in before she forgot. The wind waters my eyes, I keep them wide open. I never think about the thoughts when I am alone with her. I bend an edge of the card, get the judgements out of the way, and open the door.
From the foyer, I stare at Anna for a moment while she doesn’t move. Hooks on both sides, mostly wool coats, wedge me in, itch at my nose, they smell like a surround of wet dogs. They don’t look like hers. Are they from past visitors whom I’ve never seen, who left in haste, leaving something behind? There’s a red wool thumb with a snowflake sticking out of a pocket. I tug on it. It’s a child size mitten. I pull it halfway out, then stuff it back in.
No noises except for the drippy tap in the kitchen. I mentioned it twice to Del, two weeks apart. Del goes for produce or a medication run during my time slot. We rarely cross paths. We share an aversion. I hired Delray five years ago and can’t be bothered to replace her. She keeps to herself, takes enough care of Anna so I don’t have to do anything except visit.
Today, as usual, Anna writes in her book. Tiny words, stuffed too close on each line for me to read. I want to know what she writes, but she closes the leather journal and the thud echoes into the silence by the time I am halfway into the living room. She is wearing a yellow suit. I think it’s a pantsuit. I can’t imagine her getting into it or choosing it.
I linger while I boil water in the copper kettle, stare out at a squirrel running the fence. The kitchen smells like boiled eggs and onions. I twist the tap, almost break it, break the noise. Four digestive cookies, the ones with the chocolate, a childlike display on the familiar blue china plate from our old house.
Anna takes the tea and doesn’t drink it. Her hands are like mine, but Del takes care of them. She does a good job at that. They are a much better version of the ones I have, not as many bends and bulbs. How did she manage that? I don’t have time to take care of my own. I want to touch Anna’s with their rounded nails, cuticles pushed down, and the smell of that lotion, minty and lemony at the same time.
Sometimes I catch Anna looking at me as if she is remembering something. She doesn’t remember me, but what if she remembers it? I dread I will be her one day, stoic, judgmental, making slurpy sounds and burps without a bother to hide anything from anyone.
After an hour, exactly, I get ready. I pack up my things. Every week I bring a bundle of distractions and lay them out on her writing desk. Always things I know she won’t recognize, distractions that won’t trigger anything. As I pack, I hear a hum, it’s me, humming a song that’s too familiar. I freeze, hum into another, a piano sonata she won’t know. When I am home, dinnertime, it’s often in the background as I cook my potato, open my can of sardines, slab a wad of butter that sizzles in the cast iron and crinkles the edges of sliced zucchini.
Here again, Tuesday, like the others, except it’s Christmas Eve. I make shortbread, place them in a festive tin, two layers, waxed paper in between, the edges stick out. I wrap the blue-gray knitted scarf I made, even though she only sits indoors and she will never wear it. I want her to cover the scars that creep up on the neck that is identical to mine, except for the burns. She rocks back and forth when I tell her it took me six weeks of two hours a night, the angora wool unraveling along with me, unable to cast on for the first week. For some reason this easy act I learned as a Brownie eluded me for seven precious evenings where I prefer to be alone, unencumbered.
The haggard expectations of a family Christmas don’t sting as much. For ten years I thought we could have done it without her, just Anna and me in the old house. I feel the fire Del lit for her and left her beside. It dances memories on my face. The campfires, the sticks poking the small of my back, the laughter until just sirens and a blaze clip my gaze. It returns to a repeat in my forebrain. Why does Del leave her by an open flame? I won’t let her go, as she takes good enough care. But there could be an accident. I know how to make one.
I notice a picture on the mantle. It is new. It is old from our house, but it is a recent addition to Anna’s mantle. It is the three of us. Mother in the middle with that smile, pasty white and creases around the red straight line. Anna has a smile. I see I tried to make one, but it isn’t there, it is a waiting look. We are identical, but we are different. She saw good, light, forgave. Would she forgive, if she remembered, now?
Is she still the same underneath her scars and silence? We were almost eighteen. I couldn’t wait the three more days. I knew we would be able to be left alone. A plan like that took years, but just shy of eighteen, I knew we could stay in the house after the fire cooled.
I look at the mantle, at our lives, staring back into Anna’s house. She knows. There’s a basket filled with firewood. Easy access for her confused manicured hands for another log.
Del will be home in an hour. I know her routine. Me, I am not as reliable.
Kathleen enjoyed a varied work history, including gymnastics coach, server at an all-night bagel shop, park supervisor, telephone operator, manager with Canada Revenue Agency, and a correctional officer at a maximum-security prison. Kathleen loves many genres of books, including historical fiction, mystery, and psychological thrillers. Any protagonist with a quirk and quandary will do, along with an abundance of conflict. A voracious reader from a young age, along with a yearning to write her own stories as her older siblings were always yakking around the dinner table, around the lake at the cottage, or long trips, six stuffed into that small car. Her first loves were Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, and the Narnia series. Her favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird. Christmas on Union Street is the first in the Union Street Mystery series. Book two, Valentine’s Day on Union Street releasing summer 2021, and Claire’s Cell, a fiction prison novel, inspired by her time working inside the notorious Prison for Women in Kingston coming soon. Follow Kathleen on Twitter @CranidgeK and visit her website at kathleencranidge.com.