Cecily returned home after a long day in the service of others, thoroughly spent and ready for it to end, but the faintest streak of pinkish-azure light lingered on the western horizon still, almost mockingly; she could not appreciate the beauty of the moment in her tired-out condition. Later on, she would slide down into the tub and allow warm water to wash over her shoulders, let her worries dissolve for a little while along with the Epsom salt that would take some of the swelling out of her joints. Now she bent over the threadbare armchair in the little living room where her mama sat reading and kissed her on the head before lowering her weary frame onto the sofa opposite it; I am too young to live inside the body of an old woman, she mused silently.
“Did you eat?”
Claudia nodded. “They’s some lef for you; it still on the stove.”
Cecily leaned forward and lifted the hem of her dress over her knees, and then unfastened and grasped her stockings, rolling them down her legs one at a time, over her calves and ankles and off her feet. She carefully unfurled and folded them neatly, and placed them on the sofa next to her.
Claudia admired her daughter’s fastidiousness, but clucked at her softly, “Why you foldin’ dirty stockins?”
Cecily allowed a smile to come in one corner of her mouth while she massaged her thighs, allowing her fingers to work into the tops of her knees, pushing her thumbs deep into the soft tissue and then forward into the bony joints, with a bit too much fervor; she winced a little when one knee objected. She leaned her head back so the sofa supported her neck, stared for a moment at a hairline crack in the ceiling before closing her eyes while her mama talked to her softly about the day, telling all about the friend from church who had earlier stopped by with the gift of a plate of biscuits, recounting her brief chat with the mailman, and then adding how that reminded her, the electric bill had come due and was waiting on Cecily’s desk.
Cecily was too tired to do much except listen to the reassuring cadence of Claudia’s voice, nodding now and again at important points to make sure to acknowledge them with the reverential treatment her mama deserved. After a long silence, Claudia returned to her reading, and Cecily pushed herself back onto her feet and padded into the kitchen. The covered leftovers were there as promised, but Claudia had also left a mountain of unwashed dishes and pans in the sink. She had probably been distracted by something, Cecily imagined, and then forgot about them; it was an oversight that never would have transpired only a few years earlier, worrying to be sure.
Claudia flipped on the oven, opened the kitchen sink tap, and held her hand under it, waiting for it to come to temperature. She nudged the dishes away from the drain and snapped the stopper into place and then drizzled soap over the pile, mesmerized briefly by the color spectrum in the bubbles. When the water had risen about halfway, she used her hands to agitate it a little to encourage more suds. While the sink continued filling, she deftly emptied the dish drainer of clean dishes, and then tidied the rumpled dish towel under it so that it met all four corners of the drainer. Then she pulled a clean dishrag from a drawer and began scrubbing each dish expertly, almost lovingly, using her nail now and then to remove some stubborn bit that clung to a plate; she kept inventory of the piles under the bubbles, the dishes and pans she had washed and the ones she had not.
The soapy water left clean streaks in its wake when Cecily opened the drain; now she refilled the sink with water as hot as her hands would allow, and immersed and then lifted out one plate at a time, dried them and placed them in the cupboard with the steam still rising from them. Finished, she turned to a small, battered roasting pan and a saucepan in roughly the same condition in the bottom of the sink, and carefully stacked the pair upside-down in the drainer; a few pieces of flatware were all that remained, and she gave each the same unrelenting attention she had the dishes, inspecting them as she worked and then placing each into its proper slot in the drawer.
Now she reached behind her neck and found the zipper on her dress and began working it down as far as she could with her right hand, while her left reached up from underneath and finished the job. She slipped her dinner into the oven and moved silently down the short hallway to retrieve her robe from behind the bathroom door. Cecily was still lean and muscular despite feeling occasionally frail, but her intellect possessed the dexterity of a child’s, eternally curious and eager for answers to everything, even when her limbs were not. She retreated into her bedroom and sat before her small desk, proportioned in fact more for a child, and opening the drawer, removed a single sheet of cottony ivory stationery and a matching envelope, and a blue fountain pen. Uncapping the pen, she marked the day’s date in the upper left corner of the paper in her practiced hand, making sweeping, elegant lines and watching as the ink filled in the minuscule divots in the fibers.
Her hand was poised to continue with a salutation, but now she paused to consider—Dear Sir or Madam? Or, To whom it may concern…? Unsure, she recapped the pen and placed it on the paper. She would find the answer tomorrow, maybe, before dispatching this enterprising missive.