Sunday, December 12, 2010

AJ Silent Voice Week 30: Time

AJ Silent Voice

Picture 1

Picture 2

AJ Silent Voice’s Choice: Picture 1


I walked right in the front door because I never had to knock.

There was conversation in the kitchen, so I rounded the corner and stepped into the living room. She caught my eye from the stove, tears threatening when she saw me, but she was quickly back in the conversation with her daughter. I sat my things down, greeted the cat and walked around the bar till we were side by side. It was torture to let her finish her conversation, but as the last word still lingered on her lips, I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her onto her tiptoes.

She sniffled into my shoulder and buried her head in the crook of my neck, and I held her hard enough to break her. She finally let me go, pushing me away from her so she could get a good look. As if she was satisfied with what she saw, she casually reached out and took my hand. “I’ve missed you.”

I smiled, but my chest heaved, and my own tears sat heavily behind my eyelids. I blinked them back and walked past her to wash my hands in the sink. After my hands were dry, I leaned on the counter, steadying myself, and turned right around into a pan of lasagna.

“Whoa! Careful!” she said, bobbing and weaving around me to set the pan on the cook top. Her daughters laughed at me and I stuck my tongue out at them...which, they returned with zeal. And I laughed when she reprimanded them for their inappropriate gesture. I laughed right up until she turned on me.

“And you! You know better! You’re here less than an hour and they’re already getting in trouble!”

Dinner was fantastic, and conversation was lively. Her husband finally came home after a long day at work, and she popped his plate in the microwave while he changed clothes. When he returned, he kissed her on the cheek and sat down, pulling her into his lap. We talked like that while he ate. I caught him up on my husband’s job, he caught me up on his, and we dished and bitched about mutual acquaintances until his last bite was gone.

When she cleaned up, and he retired to the bedroom to read, we sat outside on the patio (the patio with the recently built awning that I didn’t even know about) and stared into nothing. While she was looking that way, I looked at her. I studied her, drank her in, and felt like I could finally breathe.

I noticed she’d highlighted her hair, but I didn’t say anything. Those kinds of observations tended to lead to the comment that said event was old news...that it’d happened so long ago. I knew I’d been away too long, so I just admired the soft red and caramel streaks from afar.

Age was lost on her. Her skin, smooth and tan, made me ache to touch her face, to let my fingertips graze across her lips, or feel her turn her face into my palm. Instead, I settled for her tiny fingers on the foot I’d propped on her chair. She’d scratch a little, then wiggle her finger over the top. No matter how small her touch, I still cherished it.

She’d thrown on a black hooded sweater just to keep the chills away, and I laughed at her when she pulled up the hood and tucked her ponytail in. She looked so small and fragile with her ears tucked in and the top sticking up from the height of her ponytail. I imagined her, tiny and pigtailed, bundled up in a jacket, beanie and gloves, waiting for the school bus. She was just as beautiful then as she was now.

Seeing me chuckle, she slapped my leg playfully and tied the drawstring on her hoodie, making her look even more like the little girl in my mind’s eye, and I couldn’t help the belly laugh that followed. She was, of course, laughing with me, but then she stopped and sighed.

She never frowned. Her lips always held a smile just in case she needed it, and she was a master at hiding anything under that smile. I’d heard enough stories about her life, seen her in action a few times, to decipher that smile from a real one. And tonight, she was wearing the real deal.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

This time I smiled, genuinely as well, and shook my head. “Nothing, for once.”

I was graced with her genuine feelings as they brushed across her face. The last one was a sort-of frown, so I quirked my eyebrow at her. She fake-scowled but replied, “Don’t stay gone so long.”

We held each other’s eyes for what seemed like hours. I poured every ounce of feeling I had into the next four words. “I won’t. I swear.”

Conversation flowed, albeit sparingly, as we caught each other up. Most of the sentences started with, “Do you remember?” or “Oh! I didn’t know that!” Finally, though, it seemed like we made it to present day.

After the last ember of my cigarette burned out, we turned indoors, greeted with a glass of wine from her husband. Clinking glasses, we each sipped and giggled, walking slowly towards couch. I sat down on the love seat, her husband on the couch, and she hesitated. I helped her when I stretched my legs all the way across, giving her no other choice but to sit by him. That’s where she was suppose to be.

She never took her eyes off me, enraptured as I told stories from my job. Her husband and I now shared a similar profession, so office talk was the new thing. She laughed at the appropriate times, gave the obligatory one word answers, and even punched him in the shoulder for a crass comment.

I watched. I laughed, too. But I wished it was me.