Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chapter 1

I wished the day wouldn't begin and sleep would swallow me whole. But I needed to get up, if only to do nothing. The humidity had made the bedclothes limp and lifeless and made it more difficult to get out of bed. I fought and wrestled weakly to untangle my legs and huffed. I turned my head toward the wall-sized sliding glass door. The gray curtain was pulled over it but the bright morning light leaked out and pooled underneath in a puddle of light. I made a small sound of impatience, realizing how late it was.
I didn't like wandering around the house my mother-in-law had bought for me and Christian. I felt like I did nothing to earn it except exist. I should have felt grateful but I felt more guilty. As soon I had gotten settled in, that letter came. I couldn't bring myself to open it so I handed to Christian. I remembered his long, skinny fingers shredding open the envelope and then his face going ashen white. The week before he had to ship out, I would sit at the dinner table. I was still living with my mother-in-law Elsa in her spacious yet comfortable house. I was too worried to eat so at dinner I would sit and crack my knuckles. Christian would just look at me out of the corner of his eye and wince in disgust.
Maybe I was just being selfish but it didn't seem right to me, the way this war was going. Just when I was about to begin life with my new husband, just as I was about to be happy...he had to leave. I knew I shouldn't feel this way. Everybody had someone overseas. A brother, a son, a boyfriend, a husband, a father. What made me so special anyway?
I groaned inwardly at this mental exchange. Almost three months of this nonsense. A chill raised the tiny hairs on my arms and I rubbed them absently. I rolled sideways out of bed and did my minor morning routine. As I stepped into the clinical brightness of the bathroom, I shielded my eyes as the screaming white light bounced from tile to mirror to porcelain. Shower, brush teeth, talc, choose an outfit. The repetition was getting to me. I undid the pins in my hair and brushed the curls back into a low ponytail. After picking some sensible shoes, I half-hopped out of the bedroom, almost hitting my arm on the doorframe. I'm not a clumsy person; why do I ALWAYS hit some part of my body on that damned thing?
Even if I spent most of my days and evenings voluntarily holed up in this house, I looked forward to having morning coffee with my neighbor from down the street, Ms. Kester-Stevens. To be honest, she was one of only two or three neighbors I knew by name, not counting a handeful of coltish kids I knew by sight. I liked the fact she didn't pry into my personal business, not that I was terribly vocal about it. She seemed to understand I missed Christian and frankly, that was enough for me. Other older women would have judged me because I didn't have many articles of furniture or that I knew how to cook a few simple meals for myself but Ms. Kester-Stevens was happy to help me with anything I had trouble with.
A short knock came at the front door as I rounded the corner from the kitchen. For some reason, she knew when to come only a moment after I had woken and made myself decent. If I believed in that, I would say she was telepathic. Its always the ones you least suspect.
I pulled open the door and was almost bowled over by Ms. Kester-Stevens enormous sunhat. The wide brim brushed against the doorframe and as it threatened to not clear the entrance, she chuckled and tucked it under her arm. From there I could see that clustered on top were large silk flowers, probably gardenias or white peonies.
"Good morning, Miss Patricia," she said, the wrinkles along her mouth pulling up as she smiled.
"Morning," I answered, moving aside so that she could toddle past to the kitchen. It surprised me that she was always here so early, fresh as a rose. On the other hand, I slept in late.
"How have you been of late, sweets?"
"Oh..fine." This was my automatic answer. She knew everything wasn't 'fine' but there wasn't any need to elaborate.
"Well, come sit." I realized I was lingering by the door and shut it, crossing the small living area to the kitchen. She had her back to me, filling the coffee percolator with water from the sink.
With a swish of my skirts, I sat at the kitchen table in one of the wooden chairs farthest away. I crossed one leg over the other and bounced my foot anxiously. I was feeling wound-up. But I hadn't any coffee yet. Odd.
I jumped slightly when the Ms. Kester-Stevens' chair leg scraped against the tile floor. She cocked her head to the side in mild concern but said nothing. I folded my hands in my lap and started cracking my knuckles.
"Honey, don't," she chided softly. "You'll give yourself arthritis."
My mother used to say things like that. Hmph.
I turned my head away to look in the direction of the wall clock but I could still feel her rheumy eyes on me.
"...Is something the matter?"
My voice can out in a worried shrill "No, everything is fine. Everything is...fine," I repeated. I swallowed, wishing the coffee would brew already. I needed something to occupy my hands. I was trying not to crack them anymore but they were trembling.
"I miss Christian!," I exclaimed. Ms. Kester-Stevens drew her head back in surprise, as well she should. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, my throat constricted and I let out a sob. Before I had time to try and breath again, she left her chair and patted me on the back to soothe me. Tears wouldn't come but I kept letting out choking sobs against her scratchy lace shawl.
"Shhh, shhh, I know, honey, I know..." I screwed my eyes tight. No, she didn't know. Nobody knew. I tried to lift my head out of her bosom but a swath of my hair was caught in an intricate brooch. When I tried to manuever my head away without ripping my hair out at the root, she rather forcefully held it back down.
"No, Miss Patricia, if you're hurting, you've got to let it out." The movement had tugged at my fine hair, I let out a sharp cry of pain that might have been confused in her mind with another sobbing fit. Thankfully, she noticed the hair tangled in her brooch and gently lifted it out before I risked tugging it out. Suddenly I felt a wave of embarrassment for letting my emotions get the best of me.
I lifted my head up and there followed a really awkward silence. I was saved by the absence of sputtering from the percolator and Ms. Kester-Stevens quickly left the table to go pour our cups. When she sat back down, she let out a sigh and said "You know what? You need something to take your mind off Christian."
"Yeah, like what?" I tucked a frizzy strand of hair behind my ear. Ms. Kester-Stevens seemed taken aback that I would agree and immediately set to thinking through it herself. She almost snapped her fingers but I knew she was no longer capable so she made a similar motion.
"You could start a garden!"
The only way I could explain my expression was befuddlement but she patted the top of my tented hands.
"I'm serious, it'll do you good. Give you something to occupy your mind, fresh air, sunshine, AND," she wagged her finger, her eyes sparkling with passion, "you'll be helping with the war effort."
I bit my lower lip. That did SEEM like a good idea, and I DID want to help...
"..don't you want to help Christian, dear?" Oh great, I worried, she had to shovel over the guilt.
"Yeah, I do..." I began weakly. "But...I don't...I mean, I don't have any...seeds or anything." I didn't know if she should be aware I was both a failure in a kitchen and in a backyard garden.
She smiled, her cheeks creasing. "Don't worry, I have plenty left over from the season, not to mention you can go purchase some from the market."
I let a big breath as my chest filled good air. My mother always said "In with the good, out with the bad." Or was it the other way around?
"Okay," I declared. My face was sizzling with pride coming from somewhere. Patriotism, perhaps. "I'll do it...for Christian." I downed my coffee in one gulp with vigor.

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