The Nightcap

“What time are you going?” Her voice was barely a whisper.  The stillness swallowed her words.

“Later.  Let’s talk a bit more.  We still have time.”

She smiled and looked down at her knitting.  The needles went back to life, clicking and sliding the thick yarn into place.  The smell of musty blankets and burnt toast clung to the air.

“What are you making?” he asked.

“It’s a hat.  For John.  I just hope I have enough yarn.  I always seem to run out too soon.”

He rocked as she clicked, a time-perfected synchronicity.

She reached for her glass, took a sip, then noticed the circle of shine surrounded by dust and crumbs from blackened toast.  She hurriedly replaced the glass and swept the crumbs onto the floor, hoping he wouldn’t notice.  She never was one for dust.

The rocking continued.

She told him about the tree in Mr. Magee’s front yard that fell down in the snow storm.  “It was dead long ago, the trunk rotting, the bark peeling into husks that littered the sidewalk.  Now with the tree gone, sunlight dances through the curtains I sewed together before John was born.  Remember?  I used the scraps from the second hand store on Pine Street.  Those were the good days.  We were young and stretched in too many directions.  Too busy, too rushed.”

He nodded, smiling, rocking, his foot tapping on the dusty floorboards.

She told him about the grandkids, how John was now in California, how he called dutifully every Sunday afternoon, at half past two because he knew how much she loved attending the 12:30 mass with Father Bill.

“Doesn’t he know that Father Bill is dead?”

“No, I didn’t bother to tell him.  Don’t want him to worry.”

He smiled, leaned forward in the rocker, elbows on his knees. “Did you invite him back home yet?”

She glanced up, eyes watering and lips pursed.  The clicking stopped.

“Not yet.  I’m not ready. I need more time.”

He nodded, then sank back into the chair.  “Take your time,” he said. “Don’t bother with what your sister says.”

The clicking of the needles resumed, then she looked up, her eyes bright and wide.  “I’ll invite John when the raspberry bushes are in full bloom. We’ll go berry picking, down where the backyard slopes down to the creek.  I’ll take the kids out, we’ll mash the berries and mix with sugar and syrup and make a pie and top it with vanilla ice cream.  Just like we did when John was a boy.”

He nodded, rocking again, the floorboards in rhythm with the sewing needles.  Outside, a sharp wind rattled a loose shutter from its screws.

They sat in silence until the yarn ran out.  Her hands alone again, she looked up at the clock, her eyes red and starting to well with tears.  Exhausted, consumed by another day of isolated grief, she laid down the knitting needles, rose from the rocking chair, and walked quietly up to bed.

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