Afternoon Miniature 8.2.20

It was twilight and Cecily’s bones ached. She stepped off the city bus and began the short walk to the home she shared with her mother, whose health had spiraled into a steady decline in the last year or so. She turned the key in the front door lockset and stepped inside quietly to the familiar and comforting perfume of a supper cooked to perfection some hours earlier, now cleared and the dishes and pans washed and put away, but knew she’d find a foil-covered plate waiting in the small refrigerator. On it were a single fried chicken drumstick; mashed potatoes and a puddle of gravy—a small amount had escaped the confines of its potatoey mountain valley and dripped onto the shelf below; and pale beans cooked so long they scarcely bore a resemblance to their former vibrant green state, but this was precisely how Cecily preferred them.

This half of the tiny duplex was dark mainly, save a small, dim light above the kitchen sink Claudia would have left on for her, and the remnants of the day filtering through sheer curtains on a pair of street-facing windows. Dropping her pocketbook inside the front door, Cecily stooped down to lift her dress hem and undo her stockings; the shadowy light revealed the same chiseled landscape on her legs as her mother’s once bore: There was a time when every woman within a thirty-mile radius wished those legs belonged to her.

Now she slipped off her work shoes, and aligning them neatly beside her purse, padded quietly down a narrow hallway and peeked inside Claudia’s bedroom; the nightstand light was still burning and a book lay open on the matron’s bosom, which heaved silently up and down as she slept. Cecily tiptoed to the bedside, gently removed the book and marked its page, flipped off the light, and stepping again into the hallway pulled the door to—she never closed it all the way, thinking somehow this act would hasten her mother’s demise. Anyway, she reasoned, if Claudia called out in the night, she’d hear her.

Back in the kitchen she peeled the foil off the plate, poured a glass of cold milk, and pulled her chair up to the table, eating quietly but hungrily. Now and again she paused to massage the tops of her knees, pushing thumbs and index fingers into the neat hollows on either side of each kneecap, put there by her creator she imagined, for precisely this purpose.

Finished with supper, Cecily washed her plate and flatware in the sink and placed them in the drainer to dry, but poured a second glass of milk. She stepped back into the entryway, which doubled as a minuscule living area, and pulled a volume from a small bookcase. The book smelled musty and was marked up with notes inside its pages, in an unknown hand: Second Year Latin, whispered the cover in faded gold leaf. The pages fell open without resistance to the spot where Cecily had marked them. Quietly, a little haltingly, she began reading in a murmur, but gradually found her soft contralto voice:

Dīcet sē velle… He says that he wants….

Dīxit sē velle… He said that he wanted….

Dīcet sē vīdisse…He says that he has seen….

Dīxet sē vīdisse… He said that he had seen….

Sciō eōs ventūrōs esse. I know that they will come.

Scīvī eōs ventūrōs esse. I knew that they would come.

Somewhere on the other side of town a surly white child had been browbeaten to study her Latin lessons, finally relenting on threat of some undesirable outcome or other. But Cecily devoured this singular moment hungrily, with as much gusto as she had earlier downed her supper, wiping away the letters with the back of her hand as they fell from her lips as one might the grease from one’s chin, returning time and again for second and third portions.

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