The house held its breath, suspended, nothing amiss except a multicoloured clutter of mail in the hallway, strewn across the hardwood floor like errant petals. Impatiently, Catherine scooped them up and set them on the table.
“I told you she wasn’t here.”
Ron shrugged and sat in the recliner. “She’s a grown woman, Catherine.”
“She’s my mother. She hasn’t answered my calls for three days. I’m calling Julie.”
Catherine’s plaintive tones blended with the sounds of rushing water, clattering tea cups, and clinking spoons. Ron wondered how the sisters could hear each other over the din. Catherine returned.
“Greg and Julie are coming over.”
“Don’t you care? Mother might be hurt. Or worse. Oh, Ron.” Catherine collapsed onto the sofa.
“Catherine, you’re overwrought. I’m sure she’s fine. Are you certain she didn’t tell you she was going away, and you’ve forgotten? You do forget things.”
“Ron, you’re insufferable.” The tea kettle summoned Catherine with its shrill whistle, and she flounced away, indignation threatening to topple her barely composed anxiety.
Ron reached into the side pocket of the recliner for the television remote control and, skimming through the program guide, found a football channel. Something to focus on while the girls fritter away the tattered remains of their sanity. He settled back, easing himself into the comfortable chair.
It was only moments before the door was flung open and Julie and Greg rushed in.
“Mom come home?”
“No. Catherine’s making tea. Or Voyageurs versus the Kodiaks. Take your pick.”
Julie raced to the kitchen, and Greg found a place near the television.
“What do you think, Ron?”
“I think she’s with her church friends on a retreat, most likely.”
Both men became absorbed in the football game until Catherine and Julie called them into the kitchen.
“Ron? Greg? Look at this.”
Both women were gazing into the open refrigerator, as if it were full of fine and amazing wonders.
“What?” Both men said in unison.
“Don’t you see? Catherine reached in and pulled out several cartons. “Cottage cheese. Yogurt. Coffee cream.” Catherine’s blue eyes sparked with satisfaction. “Mother’s lactose intolerant.”
“Maybe it’s for guests or a church dinner.”
“But what about this?” Julie thudded a large jar of peanut butter on the counter. “Mom dislikes peanut butter.”
“I think you two are overreacting. Come on, Greg. The game?”
“Ron, listen. We think Mother has wandered off. That she has dementia. This food proves it. She could be hurt somewhere. We need to call hospitals, the police.”
It was strange, Ron and Greg considered.
A rattling at the front door, the sound of a key, searching. And then a small silver haired woman. She started when she saw the foursome staring at her.
“What’s happening here? Is this a welcoming committee?”
“Where have you been, Mother?” inquired Catherine.
“I don’t recall that I need to tell you my whereabouts. Oh, have you made tea? How thoughtful! I could use a cup. How about you pour while I get something from the car.”
Julie and Catherine shook their heads. But their smugness turned to speechless shock when their mother returned.
“I’m so glad you’re here, after all. I’d like you to meet someone. This is Graham, my new husband.”
The frail, balding man stretched out his veined hand. “Pleased to meet you. Helen’s told me so much I feel I know you already.”
Ron and Greg shook Graham’s hand heartily and grinned. Julie busied herself with tea things while Catherine began to tremble.
“Graham, darling, go watch the football game with the boys.”
When the men had gone, Catherine sputtered, “How could you?”
“Why shouldn’t I? Graham and I may have just weeks or months left. Why shouldn’t we enjoy what time we have?”
“We don’t even know him,” Julie chimed in.
“I’ve known Graham for years from the Seniors Hall.”
“We could have done a wedding for you. Flowers. Cake.”
“I’ll be gone before flowers have a chance to wilt. Who needs cake? We had the “pomp and circumstance” years ago. We don’t have time now. We want to be together for as long as we have. If you don’t mind, Graham and I would like to be together now, if you know what I mean.”
“Mother!” Catherine reddened.
“Go home, Catherine. You’re not getting younger, either. You too, Julie.”
The tea forgotten, the day faded on a life, on lives, seized and redeemed.
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