The sheets were white cotton. Practical. Opal was a practical woman. And even if she were not—if she instead favored prints or silk or two thousand count Egyptian, circumstances would not have permitted her such luxury. Nevertheless, the sheets were clean and pressed and carried on them the crisp scent of spring. She thought of bluebirds and daffodils pushing their shoots up from the warming ground. She thought of the first mowing of the season. She thought of her seedlings, unwatered upon the windowsill.
“Spring is a wonderful time to die.”
She smiled at her daughter. “I don’t mind surrendering my spot here, Theo. Won’t miss my sore hip neither.”
“You’re tired is all.”
“Feels strange to be lying in after sunup with somebody else doing my work. There will always be somebody else to take over.” She grasped Theo’s hand and sighed. “I remember the day you was born.” She smiled. When I birthed you, Lord, was I terrified. How could I take care of this tiny being?”
“You did a good job, Mamma.”
“I made mistakes. We all do.” Memory came in flashes now; breezing by so quickly, it was an effort to latch on to one and hold it so she could study on it a moment. She remembered the nurse laying that baby down upon her breast all sweet-smelling and wrapped up in a neat bundle. She ran her fingers down perfect feet; over a fuzzy head; across tiny hands. “I was so surprised to see my mother’s hands at the end of my wrists that day.”
“She’s not talking sense.” Her grandbaby spoke in a hushed tone.
“Then I realized that they were my own hands; given to me by my own mother. The hands of a mother, given by a mother. Capable and sure and loving. Every day, I thanked the Lord for them hands.”
“Hands to iron. And to weed and cook and clean, all for the sake of her.” Her daughter nodded up the hill. “And for what? You ruined your hands on that woman.”
“Hands is meant to be used up, just like life itself.”
The front door opened and slammed. Opal heard footsteps marching into the bedroom. “Get up,” Meryle demanded. Her hair was fresh-cut and styled. Her nails were polished. Her face was unlined. The woman, Opal mused, was better preserved than last year’s green beans, sealed up tight in Mason jars.
“Can’t.” For once she didn’t append the obligatory ma’am. Dying did have a benefit or two, no matter how temporary. She looked at her own hands. The skin was paper-thin. It hung off her bones.
“Got me a new boss.”
Meryle frowned. ““You can’t quit on me. Not now. Easter’s just around…”
“Can’t you see that she’s dying?”
Meryle shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself.
Opal laughed. “You fear death. And I think I know why.”
“Everyone fears it.”
“Death forces you to stop pretending. You can preserve yourself only so long.”
“I need your recipes. I’m entitled to them.”
“Them’s secret recipes.” Opal closed her eyes.
And while her Theo wailed and her grandbaby fussed; while Meryle wondered aloud who she would find at this late juncture to cook her Easter dinner for forty, Opal smiled to herself at her sweet revenge: When she died, the recipes would die with her.
In the end, she was the only one with a smile on her face.
For this week's Indie Ink Writing Challenge, RWL challenged me with "She was the only one smiling." I challenged Lance with "The house was dark. The room was empty. And yet..."
Labels: Fiction Indie Ink