Copyright is held by the author.
STANDING IN the middle of the room, I stare at the geometric design on the Formica table. The swirling circles of brown and mustard yellow are a forgiving mistress in concealing a lifetime of old coffee rings, cigarette burns and the etched initials of an old love. The surface is littered with prescription bottles, newspapers and a milk glass cereal bowl. The remains of what looks like a bloated mass of Shreddies lie hardening, covering up most of the green ivy pattern that dances its way along the rim. The only clue that she has been here recently, is the bright pink lipstick smear on the chipped mug that sits half full of beige oily liquid.
Belly tightening, I turn and walk to the sink. A gentle breeze lifts the flimsy curtains and as they blow inward, my fingers capture a piece of the fabric. The years of sunlight have taken its toll but the faded images of vintage toasters and coffee percolators still bleed through the cotton. A dark and ugly memory streaks through the quiet as I recall the day my mother hung them up for the first time.
“Add a bit of colour to the room, don’t you think Katie Cat?” she stated as she climbed down from the rickety step stool one of my brothers made in shop class. My response is a pile of lost words, but I am left with the sick feeling of intentional cruelty. A senseless slaughter of a happy moment, my victim, a woman who carried the joy and weight of our entire family on her slight shoulders. What a selfish, morose little shit I was. Would it have killed me to be nice? They would after all, be the frame around her world for the next 40 years. I let the material slip free, half expecting it to disappear with the outgoing wind.
It’s too quiet. Where the hell is she?
I never did like hearing the sound of my own heartbeat. It’s a fragile echo, its din constant, like the cheap starburst clock hanging over the stove. Its insidious ticking continues to reverberate off the walls even though the absurd hands, made to look like a knife and fork appear to be forever stuck on 6:15.
Crossing the room to the built-in alcove, I turn on the radio. The familiar click of the worn knob lights up the greasy face and surprisingly, the silence is filled with the crooning of Johnny Mathis. I notice the ancient elf figurine sitting there on the shelf. A Creepy little bastard, with a snide little painted mouth and squinty eyes, he played havoc with me as a kid. I have to admit he looks far less intimidating covered in a layer of dust. Picking it up, I see the generic stamp on his bottom and the place where his legs have been glued back together after one of his falls. Does he know his fate? I place him back carefully. He may be worthless, but he has earned the right to reign over this corner of the kitchen while he can.
The sound of gravel on the driveway draws my attention and my anxiety level is dialled back when I see who is getting out of the car.
Moments later I hear the screen door slam and her voice call out. “Katharine?”
“I’m in the kitchen Mom,” I holler as I grab a Kleenex to wipe away the tears that seem to have fallen.
She enters and I see that she is wearing her old plaid raincoat. My dad bought it for her at Simpson Sears back in the 60s. One of the pockets is ripped and the other is bulging with what I know is a wad of tissues. Her pyjama pants are tucked into the black wellies that are currently leaving fossil-like footprints on the linoleum floor. Her hair is sticking up in rooster fashion and I notice that her arms are filled with a flat of fresh strawberries. “Look what I picked this morning” she states, smiling so wide her eyes all but disappear.
I return the smile, taking the fruit from her to place on the counter. I can feel where her gaze slips to and prepare myself. “Not hungry?” she says as she looks down at the unfinished breakfast. I don’t have the heart to tell her that it’s not mine. I can’t — not when she is still smelling like sunshine and earth and when her cheeks and nose are pink from the cool air and her bent fingers are still stained red for Christ’s sake! Later perhaps, but not now.
I bring the dirty dishes to the sink and wash away the unwanted mess.
“I guess we are making jam today?”