The Kitchen Table
At the kitchen table in an old farmhouse, we sat and talked for what felt like hours.
At the kitchen table in an old farmhouse, we sat and talked for what felt like hours. The cake in front of us disappeared as we took in each other’s words; and when the last piece had been scooped off the plate, she collected the dishes and rose from her seat. An audible silence fell over the room, and I could hear each of her steps as she shuffled to the counter –just as well as I could feel everything that was left unsaid. She rested the plates in the kitchen sink, and then gripped the edge of the counter as she took in a deep breath. She sighed the air back out into the room, and I could feel the shaking in her chest.
We hadn’t been talking about anything in particular –mostly just the weather, and the odd chuckle at the animals calling from outside. I had escaped a beating the night before, and the pain on my body and the fear in my eyes must have given that away to them. There was so much I wanted to say, but I could somehow feel that they knew the words on the edge of my lips. The silence continued to grow in the spaces between the three of us, and I began replying my previous statement, and then the look they exchanged in response.
The first piece of cake was placed in front of me, and I was brought to tears when I felt the familiar taste of chocolate. Words began to fall from my lips, and I heard myself say, “Mm… just like Mama used to make!” This was the first thing I said to these people who had taken me in, and when it seemed that my words had raddled them, I had to confess the truth. “I’m sorry,” I began. “I don’t know why I said that. I’ve never met my mother.”
I shook off the words as quickly as they had come, and I focused on the cake in front of me. I picked at it with my fork and savoured every last bite, all the while feeling their eyes on me. The silence had become unbearable, until someone came by to break the tension.
A cow had wandered into the yard, and stuck her head through an open window in the kitchen. We were all so lost in the worlds in our minds that we didn’t see her until she announced her arrival. She let out a long moo, and the fork fell from my hand and clattered onto the plate. We fell into silence again, as their eyes darted back to me, and then I let out a howling laugh.
Tears were in my eyes by the time our laughter had subsided, and all the tension was gone from the room. The cow had moved on, after bringing joy back to my face, and the three of us carried on like we were old friends.
They didn’t ask as many questions as I had expected, and they mostly let me watch them talk about their farm chores. Every now and then she’d lean in to me, place her hand on mine and ask me if I needed anything, “Would you like some more cake, or a glass of milk?” I thanked her, and accepted another piece on my plate, and then shuddered as a gust of wind blew through the open window. “Oh dear, are you cold?” she asked, as she shuffled over to the window. “Jimmy! Throw another log on the fire!” She put a blanket on my shoulders as she walked past me, and then opened the door to her woodstove for him to throw in a new log. They sat back down at the kitchen table, and we felt the room warm as the last pieces of chocolate cake disappeared.
Her back was still to me as I replayed these moments in my mind, and then another stuttered sigh brought me back to the sight of her. His eyes were on her instead of me, and I could feel that, somehow, she was in even more pain than me. Her head began to hang lower and lower, and I saw a tear fall from her face into the sink below her. I wasn’t sure what to do or say, but I found myself lifting off the chair and limping over to where she stood. She could hear my shuffled steps on the floor, and she wiped the tears from her eyes before I could reach her.
I stood next to her at the kitchen counter, looking out the window at nothing in particular. I could still feel her pain, and the cloud inside her chest that made her want to burst into tears and scream. She was older than me, by a few decades, but I almost felt like I was standing next to a scared child. She was tired, and defeated, and longing to rid her body of the weight of her emotions. With her hand still gripping the edge of the counter, I spread my fingers and placed them between hers. I felt a wave of relief overcome her from the touch of my support, and she turned her head slightly to meet my gaze.
Her eyes were glossy and red, and from this close, I could tell she had been crying long before this moment. I began to wonder about this woman –about her life and her family. Where was she from; what had she experienced? What was she holding onto that made her shrink like an old woman, and a scared child, all at once? Who is this woman, and why does it feel like I know her better than I know myself?
Her eyes were fixed on mine, and I wondered if she heard the questions playing in my mind. She parted her lips, as if to speak; and when no sound reached my ears, I decided it would be me who broke the silence. “I’m Ann –but everyone calls me Annie.”
Across the room, from the corner of my eye, I saw him jolt out of his chair. His boots hit the floor with such power, I thought it might send him into the ceiling fan above his head. Our eyes locked for a moment when I turned to see the commotion, and he looked at me with his mouth gaping open. “Jimmy, is it?” I asked; but when his only response was his jaw dropping even further, I continued, “Nice to meet you, Jimmy. I’m Annie.”
He gave me the same blank stare, so I turned mine back to hers and found love in her eyes. She placed one hand on each of my shoulders, being especially careful with the one she had tied in a sling. She looked me deep in the eyes and sighed, “Annie…” Her eyes closed as a tear streamed down her cheek, and I could feel her heart when she continued. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Annie. I’m Dorothy, but you can call me Dot.” Each of her words was spoken with intention, and I could feel her heart hugging mine as she pulled me in closer and wrapped her arms around me.
I began to melt into her as all the tension in my body was released. My chin rested on her shoulder as my hands fell to my sides, and my knees began to buckle, unwilling to hold up my own weight. I was about to give all my weight to her, or crash down to the floor, when another sound burst through the kitchen and we were all startled out of our emotions.
It was three loud raps on the door that pulled us away from each other, and almost sent me flying across the room with fear. She left me where I stood to approach her front door, and he led me back over to the chair at the table. My head was starting to spin, so I closed my eyes and took in a few deep breaths as I heard the patio door open and close. I was still steadying my breath when she walked back through the door; and there was something in her hands.
She took slow steps across the floor, almost stumbling towards him; and that look of shock was back on her face. She held a box in her hands, about the size of the cake we had just shared. It was covered with brown paper, along every stretch of its surface, with a strand of twine crossed on the bottom, and tied into a bow on top. I didn’t think anything of it at first glance, but the look they exchanged told me this package wasn’t expected.
She didn’t say a word as she handed it to him, and he simply stared at the words on the paper before passing it along to me. I read the words as well, and then my face dropped to match theirs. “Where did this come from?” I asked her; and all she could do was point at the porch on the other side of the patio door. “Who put it there?” I continued; and all she could do was shrug.
I looked down at the words again, and traced a finger along the familiar curves of the handwriting. I didn’t know how it was possible, but I was looking at my own name, written by his hand.
To be continued...