“Jessica, pass me a biscuit, would you, lovey, there’s no point being careful at this weight any more.”
Jean said this while eyeing her twin sister with a hopelessness that blended into her third chin so well nobody noticed her self deprecating comments any longer.
Jessica passed the platter of custard cream biscuits without thought, her always mercurial expression untraceable to anything or anyone present. Her thin arms were reliable and safe to all who knew her. The only person Jessica was in danger of failing was herself. You’d never know it to look at her.
“Arlette, how is that truck driving job of yours doing these days?” Melony asked of their other sister.
Melony didn’t really care how Arlette’s job was; she already knew the answer. She just wanted to divert attention away from all of them watching their older sister eating the entire plate full of cookies.
“It’s a job. Work is work. Not much changes there. I wish I could put my feet up and be a lady of leisure like you,”
Arlette said this while pouring tea for all of them, their cups designated by their birth order. The twins always got the matching pink cups.
“Don’t think for one second I didn’t pay my dues, Arlette. Everybody’s got skeletons. Being able to retire early didn’t come cheap for me and Dean. There is a price to pay for everything in life. You, of all people, should know that.”
Melony’s French manicure and pedicure momentarily seemed almost real to Arlette who always hid her hands from view, wearing tops or jackets with pockets so no one could see all the biting she’d done right down to the quick.
“Girls, girls,” their mother said, sitting all primped in her cable knit pink sweater.
Anne always sat closest to the gas fireplace she ran night and day no matter the season. She was always cold. Nothing could warm her, especially now that her circulation had all but shut down.
Anne had done her best by her girls, that’s what she always told them. Sometimes when she watched them, she felt like apologizing. Still, at seventy-six, every time they met for tea she felt herself repressing the urge to apologize. Still, she didn’t really know what she would apologize for.
“Nevermind, Mother, we’re fine. Just fine,” Arlette was always silently appointed sooth-sayer among them.
“You want to find yourself a good man so you can get into a proper house like your sisters have,” Anne said.
She set her navy and white cup down on the side table beside her tapestry wing chair.
“Nevermind, Mother, nevermind. I’m just fine without a man. Just fine.”
Arlette rose and turned toward her mother, planting a kiss on her cheek and giving her a quick squeeze,
“You’re not going already are you?” Anne asked.
As if on cue the other three women rose and made their excuses to exit. Jean carried the last two biscuits in her hand, noshing on the way through her mother’s receiving line. Jessica hurried as though her home were on fire despite wearing stiletto heels that carried her above everyone else.
“Melony, would you bring some of those lemon squares you make so well next time?” Anne asked this. She didn’t like asking for anything but it was her way of ensuring there would be a next time.
“I sure will,” Melony said, “How about two weeks from today we all have tea with Mom again?”
She opened her patent leather hand bag to withdraw her date book.
No passerby would have guessed the four women exiting their mother’s townhouse were sisters who had just come from visiting their mother. They just looked like any other four strangers exiting the lobby at the same time.
Inside, Anne sat in the quiet flicker of the firelight though the sun shone in through all the tall windows, steady as ever. Her eyes were on the multi-colored bouquet of roses Melony had cut from her garden this morning.
“Get your dust cloth out,” she called out to the third agency housekeeper she’d had in as many months.
The petals were already falling.
(c) Aurora Morealist