I know folks are busy in Iowa tonight, but there’s some business going on over here at If You Want Kin, too.
Oh yes, that’s right: it’s another writing challenge! I managed to get halfway through September before I remembered that I was supposed to be doing 30 stories in 30 days. So that didn’t happen. Rather than wait for September to roll around again, I’m diving in for February. I even made a logo! (It needs some work, but I was in a hurry.) I’m super rusty. I started five stories today … and then wound up writing this one in the last half hour. I don’t think it’s finished, but the day’s over, so … Here’s hoping the rest of the month plays out a bit differently.
You, of course, are welcome to dive in with me!
Letta unfastened Jacob’s lapis cuff links and put them in her jewelry box. She liked their weight, the thick silver setting, the solid clunk as they landed on the felt that lined the wooden drawer. She’d been wearing Jacob’s accessories since choosing which suit to bury him in. His tie tacks became tiny brooches, his tie pins adorned her hats and caught up her scarves. The cuff links served their given purpose as she wore his French cuff shirts every day.
She reached into the jewelry box and picked out the last set of cuff links she’d given him — onyx owls articulated in gold. He’d laughed when he’d seen them.
“Now you’ve done it!” he’s said. “I think you’ve officially given me every possible owl gift there is!”
He might have been right. She’d stayed on the look out for owls, and they never seemed to go out of style. Jacob had even made a sign for their front door, “The Owlery.” He’d carved a pair of True Owls below the name, one for him, one for her. He’d given hers a little tilt to the head to match the way she would look at him when he started to go on about owls.
She’d seen owl cuff links before the onyx pair. None had been of high enough quality. Jacob had been serious about his dress, always looking his best. “Old-money fine,” he liked to say. Cheap, novelty cuff links would have hurt his feelings.
“You home, Grandma Letta?!”
Letta put the links back in the box and closed the drawer. She rolled up her sleeves as she turned toward her granddaughter’s voice.
“Just coming now, Christina dear. Didn’t hear you come in.”
Christina, or one of her sisters, came by several times a week. If anyone asked Christina why she spent so much time at Letta’s, Christina talked about coming for cooking and sewing lessons, but Letta knew the visits were to keep and eye out, make sure the old lady was okay on her own. Christina’s mother, Letta’s youngest daughter, was convinced it was long since time Letta should have sold her home and moved into care.
“I baked yesterday,” Christina said, smiling, taking a tea towel-wrapped package from her bag. “I made the soda bread, the one you make, just the way you taught me. I wanted to be sure you got a taste before Mike and the kids ate it all.”
“Let’s go inside,” Letta said, nodding toward the kitchen. “I’ll make tea to go along with that bread.”
She was having fun teaching Christina different cooking techniques and tricks. They hadn’t moved on to sewing yet, but she was ready, had just bought some beautiful, summery cotton fabric that would be fun to work with. She planned to nudge Christina in that direction soon.
She loved the visits, but didn’t love the feeling that they were work for Christina, that the visits were more about duty than pleasure. She caught her checking her watch often, had seen the look of near-panic that had been quickly smothered the one time she’d thought Letta was asking her to stay for dinner.
The water boiled, Letta poured it into the tea pot, dropped an old knitted cozy over the pot, and brought it to the table. “How are Mike and the boys?”
“You’ll see for yourself on Saturday.” Christina said. “Remember, we’re taking you to the botanic garden and then for lunch.”
“Yes, I remember,” Letta said. She pointed to the cork board by the phone, happy to have proof that her memory was just fine. “I picked up maps to the garden so you can decide what you want to see when we get there.”
“What are you having for dinner tonight?
Letta gritted her teeth Then took a bite of the bread to make Christina wait a beat. The bread was good. Clearly, their afternoons together were bearing some fruit.
“I still have leftovers from yesterday,” she said. They had made two large trays of mac and cheese, one to go home with Christina. The other was sitting in the fridge. She focused on the soda bread to distract her from her annoyance. “Christina, this is perfect. You did a great job.”
“That’s what Mike said. He really liked it!” Christina blushed. “I think he didn’t believe me at first, thought I’d brought it from your house.”
Letta smiled. “We’ll call that a compliment, shall we?”
“When he says that after I make your lemon pound cake, I’ll call it a miracle.” Christina poured the tea and buttered another slice of bread. “I can’t stay long today. I’ll just have a few sips of this and then I have to go.”
Letta nodded. “That’s fine, dear. We’re all busy.”
She wanted Christina to leave, which surely made her America’s Worst Granny, but that was honest, and she was tired of pretending otherwise. She wanted the house to herself, wanted to sit with her photo albums, forget about the present day for a moment, remember the ways Jacob could make her laugh. Mostly, she wanted the freedom to let her guard down, not have to perform wellness to keep her children and grandchildren at bay.
She closed the door behind Christina and put on the chain. She went back to her room and took out the horned owl tie tack she’d bought the week before Jacob passed. She’d waited, wanting to find a tie to go with it, had plans to comb through the selection at his favorite men’s store. Instead, she’d woken up to find him dead beside her, never having seen that she’d found one more owl gift, one more way to make him laugh.
She pinned the owl to her collar and went to clean up the tea and bread.