“That’s such a beautiful chair, Juliette.” Andee sets a cup and saucer on the table at my elbow and pours tea from a porcelain pot. “Shall I add a few logs to the fire? I know that chill gets to your bones.”
I nod. Andee is paid to visit; paid to be polite; paid to be interested in my uninteresting life. Orange Cat leaps onto my lap. I rub my hand across his arched back. He begins kneading on my leg, his claws stabbing and releasing; stabling and releasing; the relentless stabbing and releasing, desire unfulfilled. Outside the storm rages: cold rain streaks down the windows like tears.
“Listen to that wind,” Andee says now, tossing a log on the fire and then jumping back before adding another. “I hope the power doesn’t go out again.” She peers outside the window into the darkness that surrounds the old farmhouse that has contained the pieces of my life for seventy-five years when I bundled up what little life I had and married John. She pours herself a cup of tea and flops on the couch. I admire her lack of decorum. “End of the day, Juliette.”
“End of the line for me, I’m afraid.”
She stares, her green eyes sharpening. “Don’t say that, Juliette.”
“John’s been dead for fifteen years now.”
“You have your kids.”
“They’re busy.” I understand their excuses. I accept their explanations as easily as I accepted them from myself once upon a time when age seemed a distant thing. Orange Cat sits and lifts a paw and begins grooming himself, taking care to brush behind his right ear. “Do you know that I was going to be an opera singer, Andee?”
She blinks. Waits for me to continue.
I rub the cat beneath his chin, where he likes it. He rolls over on my lap and stretches out a paw. I hum a little, trying to bring back the self I was supposed to become, but the music is gravelly and out of tune. I lost the music when I lost myself. “It’s easier, being a cat.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have warmth. I have this chair. I have a cat nestled upon my lap.”
Andee nods and curls her legs up beneath her, settling in for the evening. I look outside at the rain. “But I have spent my entire life searching for something outside that window, just out of grasp. Perhaps it is better not to dream. Perhaps it is best to be like Orange Cat here.”
“No.” Andee frowns and I can tell that she, too, has aspirations beyond this summer job between college terms.
“Perhaps it is best, not knowing what is out there; not knowing that there are possibilities beyond food and drink and water and a warm lap.” I smile. “Imagine a life not knowing about wars or religion.”
Andee winces. “Not having to hear about your best friend’s adventures at Harvard.”
“Not wanting anything but an occasional scratching beneath the chin.”
“Not keeping up with Twitter and Facebook and charging my cell phone and…student loans.” Andee shoves a strand of hair behind her ear. The firelight flickers off her face and I recall the days when my own skin was that smooth, in the days when I used to dream. She smiles at me. “We need to be content.”
I nod. The cat leaps from my lap and his paws strike the braided rug. And, watching him, I wish for his ignorance in the same way that I wish for his wisdom. "But to be content wouldn't be human, would it?"
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, FlamingNyx gave me this prompt: You're sitting next to a roaring fire and the cold rain is thumping down in front of you. Tell us a story about what happens in the space between these contrasts? I gave Kat this prompt: The bitterness and the sweet."
Labels: Fiction, Scriptic