Edna gathered her purse and shopping bags, took a deep breath, and opened the car door. Nine paces to the front door. Eight if she took big strides. Head bowed, her fingers fumbled with her keys at the doorknob as usual. Every window on the quiet street seemed to frame a curious neighbor peeking from behind blinds or curtains. She dared not look.
The door latched behind her, but she leaned back against it anyway and dropped her bags. Reaching across her body to set the deadbolt, she glanced at the calendar: three weeks to the day since she moved. Boxes still lined the hall. Bubble wrap still overflowed the recycling bin. She had yet to find her full set of coffee mugs.
Coffee. Maybe that would help. While the coffee brewed, she unwrapped a few more dishes. “Don’t know why I bother. I’m the only one eating.” One cup, one fork, one bowl, one plate; that’s all she needed. Would she ever get used to it? To this…“loneliness.” She said the word aloud, like a declaration, and stood up straight.
“Buck up, kiddo!” the words came to her lips unexpectedly, but her body’s response didn’t surprise her. She crumpled into the nearest chair, tears brimming over her lower eyelids. “That’s what he would have said. That’s what he always told me when I got discouraged. He would already know all the neighbors by name, too. We would have baked a Bundt cake and delivered a few slices to each door. He would have rung the doorbells while I held the cake. He would have made the introductions so I could just stand there and smile.” The usually comforting smell of coffee turned acrid in her nostrils as she rose with a sigh.
At the exact moment that she pressed the button to turn off the coffee pot, the doorbell rang. It took her a full twenty seconds to realize that the coffee pot didn’t make that kind of noise.
“Must be selling something,” she muttered as she stretched across the grocery bags to access the peephole. A young woman stood outside shifting her weight from foot to foot. In one hand, she held a plastic wrap-covered plate. The other hand stretched down, grasping another, tiny hand tightly. While she watched, the young mother looked down anxiously and stage-whispered something to the child.
Edna’s hands shook as she shifted the shopping bags away from the door and fumbled with the deadbolt. Why had she locked her door at four in the afternoon? The door stuck so that, when she finally wrenched it open, she had to catch her breath. “May I help you?” Her words sounded too formal even to herself.
“We, umm, we live right there,” the woman nodded to a townhouse across the street, “ and we noticed that you just moved in, and umm, we thought maybe you…umm…that is, we wanted to say ‘hi.’” She thrust the plate toward Edna with a nervous half-smile. The plate shook in her hand. Edna reached out to take it, but the girl (She really seemed more like a girl than a woman.) didn’t let go. They stood awkwardly, each grasping a side of the plate. “Usually, my husband is the one to go out and meet people, but he’s, umm, he’s…away right now. In the military. We’ve been married for three years, and he knows how shy I am, and he always helps me meet new people, and I don’t even know why I came over here today except we had this whole Bundt cake, and we couldn’t eat it all by ourselves. Jake here,” she gestured toward the child, “has already eaten about half of it. I’m afraid he’s going to throw up, so when he woke up early from his nap, I thought maybe I’d just come over and give you some, but I think we’ve disturbed you because you look kind of upset, like you’ve been crying or something, so maybe we should just go now, and I’m really sorry we bothered you. Come on, Jake.” Her cheeks blossomed with uneasiness.
She let go and turned before Edna could balance the plate of cake. She was helping Jake down the steps before Edna could speak. “Wait!” Edna’s voice croaked, emotion and lack of use thickening her throat. “I just made a pot of coffee…” Now her voice trailed off, as if she were indecisive. While the girl turned around, Edna took a deep breath. “Please! Don’t go.”
The girl smiled gratefully and exhaled as if she, too, had been holding her breath.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:40
Author’s note: This is a departure from my usual post, but I took up Lori Roeleveld’s challenge to write a piece of “flashover fiction.” You can read about what that means and find other flashover fiction stories at Lori’s blog. Let me know what you think about my story by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!