By: Ian C Smith
He reminds her to put tea in the pot, can tell she thought she already had, drinks it black. Her fridge a health hazard, no milk, tea’s bitterness is preferable to the chaos of a meal, what everybody else would be having at this time.
He remembers his deaf sister, her years now etched like a cobweb’s tracks on stone, a scarecrow the weight of a ten year-old, when he was fourteen, bereft of responsible adults, and she aged twenty, pregnant with her first. He thought she was getting fat before the facts of life occurred, his naivety burning. To cheer, rouse her from the boredom she mentions each time they meet, he suggests she name countries visited while he counts them, remembering travel keenness, her love for Nepal.
Struggling for names, this woman who, as a girl, taught him to read, who can no longer spell, is now a nomad, a fancy that would have tickled her back when, tells him she climbed a ladder to walk across her towering roof, her cat stuck, proud of her balance. From a loveseat beneath an ancient 130-foot elm the roof’s steep slopes, angles, loom, glint treacherously in winter’s wan light. Aghast, he tries reasoning, but she waves others’ concerns for safety off, briefly flaring as though younger.
She earlier confused her sons’ names, spoke of another whose death five years ago wasted her, as if he were still alive. He imagines her crumpled, stilled, utterly, at the foot of her ladder. She tells him she woke recently at 6 a.m. in this loveseat, birds chorusing, says it was lovely, constantly forgets the subject, begins again, bravura non sequiturs, everything falling away. Feeling his own years, he estimates her memory matched his at his age. When he is leaving, because she lip-reads, she notices his missing tooth, asks what happened. I swallow them, he says honestly. They are crumbling. She laughs, says, So long as you can still chew. Oh, we didn’t eat!