It was late evening as I sat at the dining table. The setting sun sent haphazard rays of yellow into the treetops outside the kitchen window. I watched as the wind whipped a hollow moan, shaking the old walls of the house and blowing the last lingering snowflakes into a frenzy. The house was as silent as a tomb. I shivered at the thought and glanced about the empty kitchen. Shadow, laying obediently at my feet, yawned loudly. I absent-mindedly scratched her ears and wondered where everyone was. Libby had Saturday evenings off to visit her own family. Consequently Grandmothers bible group also met every third Saturday. I was wondering if I should make myself a quick sandwich and dine alone when I heard the familiar scrape of Aunt Helen’s cane.
“Looks like it’s just me and you for tonight, child,” she smiled and began to forage through the well-stocked pantry before pulling a large can of tomato soup from its perch near the top. “Anyway, this will give us some time to chat, catch up a little. How about some tomato soup and grilled cheese? Quick and easy!”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful,” I said as I scrambled to the counter with Shadow at my heels, no doubt hoping for some fallen crumbs. “Why don’t you let me help you? I’ve spent so much of the day just lying around reading and watching the snow.”
That statement wasn’t entirely true. Of course, the snow had fallen on and off all day and I had cuddled near the fireplace in the sitting room, looking out the window and daydreaming. And twice during the day, I’d peeked in to record Grandpa Wayne’s vitals and make sure he was comfortable. I’d also spent nearly an hour soaking the dirt-clad piece of fabric found by Shadow. I was almost positive it was a scarf and it looked to be green, although I wouldn’t be sure until it dried. Afraid of being late for dinner, I’d left it hanging on the towel rack in my bathroom upstairs. I was sure it would be dry enough by the time I returned to make further stipulations.
“How about you work on the grilled cheese,” Aunt Helen said over her shoulder. The clatter of cookers bringing me back to the present as she rummaged through a small shelf beneath the sink.
I quickly took the small iron skillet offered me and pulled a tub of butter from the fridge. These were the same cookers from my childhood, the same ones I’d learned to cook pancakes in. I could so vividly remember the chirpy laughter of Vanessa as we, two silly school girls sharing secrets about our crushes, worked giddily at making our own breakfast. How old Grandmother’s cookware seemed to be. I turned it over and over in my hands thoughtfully, no shiny, contorted reflection to be found at the bottom.
“You know, your mother loved grilled cheese,” again Aunt Helen’s thin voice pierced the aura of my thoughts.
“Really?” I said, tears smarting my eyes at the thought of my parents. Oh, how I wished I could unwind the past. If only it were my own mother here, cooking with me. Maybe I would have found a more steady place in life with the support of loving parents. Rather, I’d been reared by the hateful glares of overbearing nuns at the boarding school where I’d grown into a young woman. There had been no sense of love or belonging at that school of obedience where I’d been terrified into submission by the ghosts of dim-lit hallways and the promise of meager meals.
College life had brought to me a sense of freedom and self-efficacy. For once in my life, I’d a choice where I’d dine at lunch, for whom I’d spend my free time with. Yet, for the most part, free time had evaded me. Aside from my 4.0 GPA with the nursing department, my job at the café had taken up most of my free time. Oh, I’d had dates. Many of them, in fact, with suitors who wished to woe me into mundane lives in rambling farmhouses where I’d assist them with troughs and children. No, I had wanted only the serenity of my own career. A place in life to call my own.
Yet, how ironic it was that life had led me right back to the very thing I’d found repulsive since the death of my parents: a cold family and the unwelcome atmosphere of the drafty, old farmhouse that looked to be darned near dilapidated. And now with no sign of Vanessa, the only one who’d bothered to correspond with me over the years, I felt more an outsider than ever before. The career I had so vigilantly worked towards was evading me with every passing day and I could not seem to shake the apprehensive feel of danger at the homestead that should have served a haven from the outside world.
I felt more alone than ever as I fried the sandwiches and joined Aunt Helen at the dinner table. The tomato soup was in desperate need of salt and sour cream, but I did not complain. Nor did I make an effort to find the condiments in the crowded cupboards. I feigned interest in conversation about the weather. Though I did make a few attempts to ask my aunt about my mother. She would only pause, spoon halted midway to her mouth, and gaze at me pointedly while reminding me that my mother was such a beauty, always popular with the boys.
“Oh, but I always did look up to her,” she reassured me. Yet I sensed jealousy, if not downright undertones of hostility, in her voice.
And, at last, when I spoke of Vanessa and how dire the atmosphere here without her, I was shut down yet again.
“That ungrateful child,” she spat out. “Running off, knowing full well I can’t chase her. I’m crippled, for God’s sakes. Running off with some man. Running from that Greg, I tell you.” She leveled her glare at me then. “I’ve seen you with him a few times, don’t think it’s gone unnoticed. I hope you won’t get involved with him. I’ll be damned if I’ll let him ruin another honest girl!”
And with that, she dismissed herself. I watched as she dug her cane into the stiff linoleum, scraping the floor with a dangerous strength. Her nostrils flared and she batted her eyelashes feverishly, refusing to look back at me as she left the room. She lumbered from the kitchen, slamming the swinging door so hard behind her I was surprised she didn’t knock herself down.
I thought about her reaction to my question about Vanessa as I cleared the table and washed our few dishes. How angry she had become! I couldn’t understand what had set her off so terribly. Only, I noted, with something like fear wedging itself between the cave of my ribs, that she seemed like someone struck with madness. I’d seen crazy people with uncontrollable tempers and urges when I’d interned at the city hospital. They did not act unlike Aunt Helen.
“And if she is crazy, I’d better be more careful with my tongue,” I said to myself.
<<<House of Hollow Wind Part 11
<<<House of Hollow Wind Part 11