The front door squeaked as it opened before Mary heard a voice call out, “Mary Alice? Are you home?”
“In here, Eva!” Mary called back from her chair. She was still in her nightgown and housecoat.
As her sister shuffled into the living room, Mary thought about standing up, but stayed seated instead. Eva cast an appraising eye on her before saying, “Look at you, lazing about in your nightclothes and here it is almost lunchtime. Are you sick?”
Mary shook her head and pulled the afghan tighter to her gaunt waist. “I’m fine.”
Eva narrowed her eyes as she shrugged out of her worn jacket. “Are you sure? You look a little droopy around the eyes.”
“I’m an old woman,” Mary sighed. “I always look a little droopy around the eyes.”
“What?” Eva cupped her hand around her ear. “I didn’t catch that.”
“Now, don’t get sore,” Eva swatted her older sister’s shoulder before carefully dropping herself back into the other chair. “I cain’t help that I cain’t hear good anymore.”
“I’m not sore,” Mary protested. “I’m just tired. I haven’t slept good in a week.” Changing the subject, she asked, “How’s Lenard?”
Eva closed her eyes as she settled her ample bottom in the easy chair. “He’s so much better! He gave me a scare with that pneumonia. I thought I might lose him this time. Took him three weeks, but he finally kicked it.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“What’s that?” Eva opened her eyes as if it would help her hear better.
Mary raised her voice, “I said I’m glad to hear it.”
Eva nodded, “I know we cain’t live forever, but I wish we could. I don’t know how I’ll get on without Len. We’re going on fifty years now.”
“It’s tough.” Mary ran her wrinkled hand over the afghan. “I miss Arthur every day.”
“I do, too,” Eva agreed. “Art always kept us laughing.”
Mary nodded, but didn’t respond.
“What’s got you so down in the dumps, Sis?” Eva asked. “You look more than just tired.” She paused, studying her sister’s face. “You look sad.”
“Well, that’s because I am sad,” Mary blurted.
“Well, you look sad.”
“I said I am sad!” Mary tried not to get frustrated with her sister. She knew her hearing loss wasn’t her fault. After losing her hearing in her left ear as a child after a bout with scarlet fever, Eva’s gradual loss of hearing due to old age was especially detrimental.
“I can see that,” Eva agreed. “What’s wrong?”
“My friend, Josiah, didn’t come last week, and I’ve not heard a word from him,” Mary said. “And the little girls next door have been busy with other things.” Mary felt the backs of her eyes stinging as she admitted, “I’m lonely.”
Eva reached across the small table between their chairs and grasped her sister’s hand. “Mary, why don’t you come live with me and Len? We’ve asked you to for years.”
Mary squeezed her sister’s hand, but shook her head. “I can’t, Sis. This is my home. Mine and Arthur’s home. This is where we raised our kids at, and I just can’t stand to leave it.”
“I understand that, but I hate thinking of you sitting here lonely. Especially when I live so close by. I’d be by more often, but Len’s sick so often these days.”
“I know,” Mary dismissed the guilt she heard in her sister’s voice. “I was fine before, but I’ve gotten used to Josiah’s visits every Thursday. I still haven’t heard from him. I called his phone but I just get that answering machine mail every time. I tried to leave a message saying I was worried about him, but I don’t know if I did it right. It’s not like before when you called someone’s house and if they were busy somebody else would take a message. You just have to talk to the answering machine in their phone.”
“I just hang up,” Eva commiserated. “I cain’t understand real people, much less that voicemail stuff the kids use.”
“Voicemail!” Mary attempted to snap her fingers. “That’s what I meant to say. Not answering machine mail.” She looked thoughtful, as if she was trying to commit the term to memory before saying, “I don’t know if he just forgot to come or what. He’s never forgot before.”
“How long’s he been coming, anyway?” Eva asked.
“Almost a year.” Mary thought for a moment before saying, “I was out in the yard last spring trying to pick up a beer bottle some no-good threw in my front yard, and he was driving past. He stopped to give me a hand. He told me later I looked like I was about to break my neck and my hip, hanging on to my walker while I tried to get down low enough to pick the bottle up.” Mary chuckled. “He stood around in the yard talking to me for a long time, and then had a cold drink with me. He asked if I needed anything, and, since I was out of eggs and bread, I said so. While he ran to the store, I fixed him a bite to eat, and he’s been back every week since.”
“Maybe he had a family problem to attend to,” Eva suggested. “Or he’s working overtime. Lots of reasons he might have missed one week.”
“I know,” Mary agreed. “I just worry about him.” She pressed her trembling lips together before adding, “And I worry he might not come back.”
“He’ll come back,” Eva assured her.
“He’s been like family to me,” Mary dabbed at her eyes with a wadded tissue from the pocket of her housecoat. “I love that boy like he was my grandson.”
“He’s a fine young man,” Eva agreed. “Not many boys his age would be out here eating with an old bird like you.”
“Eva!” Mary laughed despite herself.
Eva shrugged and grinned at her sister, “Facts are facts, Mary Alice. No use sugar-coating ‘em. We’re older than dirt, but at least we’re still kicking around.”
“You’re kicking,” Mary corrected. “I’m more of a shuffler these days.”
“You’re shuffling on top of the ground, though, and that’s all that matters.”
“Thanks, Sis,” Mary squeezed Eva’s hand again. “If I could get up, I’d hug your neck.”
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.