Eileen

Note: This is an extract of a much longer story. But the exercise was to chew the fat out. And I did that quite nicely, I think. 

Eileen stood in her kitchen staring out of the window while washing dishes. She had recently eaten dinner; the early summer evening air caressed her cheek as the yellow curtains, delicately embroidered with images of corncobs, gently swayed in the breeze. She had made them herself, when she was a young woman learning how to do such feminine and maternal things. She could see the backyard. She did not have a fence; she and Harry never thought of erecting one in the years they lived at this, their St. Catharines’ residence, purchased decades ago, before their two children were born. It had remained this way ever since, open to the ravine below, and though the area had tolerated urban development through the decades, the ravine remained untouched. A stark reminder of years passed.

Eileen saw, deep in the sparse forest a deer drinking from the creek. It looked so peaceful and she thought of all the times that she had stood here watching the seasons change. Her children matured from infants to adults, Christmas and New Years’ celebrations have come and gone. The deer, the deer always seemed to remain constant and close at hand.

It remained drinking, almost motionless, sometimes raising its head as though, like her, taking in the surroundings. Eileen smiled, in what appeared almost a magical summer evening; the setting sun created a warm, translucent quality, almost dreamlike.

Once when she was a young woman, Eileen lay on the grass in this very backyard while Harry was at work. She lay there from noon until early evening. She reminisced, long after, how serene that afternoon was, as though every day brought with it a sense of possibility.

She painstakingly washed the small bowl, from which she had eaten a homemade ginger, carrot soup with a dash of minced garlic. Antioxidants she said. Women her age, she thought to herself, needed to eat healthy to stay active and alert.

Whenever someone in the community, or a relative asked her what her secret to longevity was she would always reply with a curt, “Grapefruit.”

After she finished washing the dishes Eileen cleaned the counter with a damp cloth and turned away from the window to observe her kitchen.

They’d never renovated the house, her and Harry, and it still had the original dishwasher. ‘State of the art,’ he’d said when they moved in, but now long broken down. It made a huge hole in the counter, into which she’d have to drive her hand far down to reach the dishes at the bottom. Harry was now dead five years, and Eileen’s grandchildren did not visit often. Now adults with jobs, lives, spouses and children of their own, they visited during the holidays, if that.

The house had its own distinct smell of decaying upholstery, dust, old newspapers and magazines, antiques, knick-knacks, jewelry, unwashed curtains and empty rooms; all had been subject to age, and had faded from their original splendor to remnants of a time long ago. There were three bathrooms in the two-story house and three bedrooms. One for her and Harry and the other two for their daughters, Marjorie and Gretchen who were now all grown up, past middle age with families of their own.

Eileen could not accept the help of those who considered her feeble or mentally incapacitated. She was as sharp and spry as those twenty years her junior, and if she caught anyone raising their voices at her, thinking she was deaf, or hard of hearing, she would prompt them to mind their manners. She did not abide anyone treating her like a child, often resenting it when observing how others treated the elderly, as though they were dimwitted defects.

The kettle whistled, she turned off the stove and placed it aside, opened two packets of orange pekoe tea and dropped them inside the lime green ceramic teapot. She placed the tea pot on a white paper doily beside the vegetable platter.

Eileen then walked slowly towards the washroom located at the end of the kitchen to pee. She washed her hands, dried them, and brushed her white, curly hair, which she kept styled close to the scalp. She admired her reflection in the mirror. White, with fine wrinkles littered throughout her face, around her eyes, her mouth, checkered across her cheeks. Her nose and ears were disproportionately larger than the rest of her face, a sign of old age. She had on a periwinkle dress adorned with white polka dots that cut off below her knees. For comfort, she was wearing a pair of white socks that once belonged to Harry and a pair of black Reebok sandals.

Eileen stood on her porch waiting for her guests. An hour passed, then another hour before Eileen returned to her kitchen, cleaned the teapot, put away the veggie platter and set the kitchen back in order. She looked out her kitchen window to the ravine, the moon reflecting from the water, leaving an aquamarine shade across the forest.

Eileen stepped out onto her backyard. Slowly, methodically she walked towards the ravine, in search of the deer. She stepped into the water. Its cold bit her, and she convulsed slightly while she held her footing against the current. Her head turned from side to side to observe the trees that encompassed her. There was no deer. She held her bare arms up to the sky. In her grief, she hoped to cry. She waved her hands as in prayer, staring at the moon.

“Harry?”

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