by Eileen Hopkins
Katherine’s blue eyes stared out the window into the early dawn, watching the snowflakes float suspended in the glow from the yellow street light. She lingered in the warmth of the bed, delaying the morning trip to the bathroom for just a few more minutes. The floor would be cold and she hated slippers.
“Slippers are for old ladies with walkers and old men in bathrobes,” she mumbled to herself.
Out of habit, she reached across the bed and rested her hand on the empty pillow beside her. It had been three years today since Dan had left her side for a hospital bed and one week later, he had obstinately died. They had always joked that he had better go first or he would starve to death within a week. It had been funny then. But, here she was, still reaching for his shoulder.
Urgency won out over nostalgia, and Katherine sat up, grabbing her blue fleecy robe as she gingerly stepped along the wall, leaning on the dresser’s edge to keep the pain in her feet at bay until she could pop one of those expensive anti-inflammatory pills her doctor had prescribed. Grey shadows flickered across the living room floor as she crossed the rug and opened the bathroom door. She didn’t bother to turn on the light.
“Not much I want to see at this time of the morning,” she quipped and wished that there was someone to laugh at her morning humour.
Katherine dressed quickly, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed down the hall to the lounge in the Sunnydale Senior Residence she now called home. Dot and Josie had already commandeered the two best chairs near the fireplace. Katherine waved with her free hand and happily grabbed a hardback chair at the puzzle table she shared with Delphine and Carrie. They rolled their eyes at the two ladies holding court at centre stage and suppressed knowing giggles as they turned their attention to the morning chat.
Morning chats in the lounge were extra special – almost like a game show. Phone calls from children rated high on the charts – scoring 9 out of 10. The only thing scoring higher would be a call from a grandchild – that got you 10 out of 10 and a guarantee that you would be the subject of conversation at the evening tea time. Katherine had scored a nine this morning when she reported her youngest daughter, Cynthia, the one from Vancouver with the busy legal practice and two teenagers, had called to find out how she was doing. Katherine’s friends gave her a 9.5 when they heard that Cynthia asked her what her plans were for Christmas this year. It might have even stretched to 9.75 if she had invited Katherine to spend it with them but they were off to Hawaii on December 23 for a much needed vacation with friends. Of course they would be thinking of her and would be sure to call. It was the highest score of the day at Sunnydale.
Just before noon, Katherine stood up, said her goodbyes and headed off to her own apartment for lunch. Someday, I am just going to sit on my ass and ask someone to deliver it, she thought to herself, smiling as she rounded the corner and ran nose to nose into Joe.
“Going my way?” he asked, winking at her with his soft brown eyes.
Joe always winked at her and said the same thing. She did enjoy the little flirtation even if it was constrained to the public hallways of the Sunnydale Senior Residence.
“Oh Joe,” she laughed. “If I ever fall for that line, you and me would be fighting for the steering wheel!”
Katherine moved off with a wink of her own and walked into the quietness of her empty suite. The aroma of her homemade soup simmering in the crock pot made her think of winter evenings and December skating parties on Jone’s pond. She grabbed a bowlful of soup and the box of saltines and sat down at the tiny kitchen table she had rebelliously placed in front of the living room window. No dark corners for her!
“Looks like Wendell is dragging out the Christmas lights. Snowmen or angels, this year?” she wondered out loud. “I hope it’s the angels – the snowmen were looking a little yellow and drab last year.”
Katherine remembered the many years she had celebrated with a big tree, the school concerts and the proverbial mistletoe. She didn’t bother with a tree anymore. The staff always put one up in the lounge. Joe always insisted on putting the star on the top. He said it was the only ornament he was ever allowed to hang in the good old days. Katherine smiled. Dan had been allowed to hang only the mistletoe, but he never complained, she thought.
In her 85th year, Katherine still loved Christmas but she had long ago eliminated all but one ornament in her tiny suite – her Christmas angels. For forty years, Katherine had lovingly unpacked the four Christmas angels . Funny, it had started on a Christmas that had begun as bittersweet. Money was scarce, her divorce from her children’s father was done and two of the girls had been away at university for four months. Uncharacteristically, all four had hidden out together in one bedroom or another, to the point she had thought they must be angry about something. She had even shed a few private tears worrying about the why and being afraid to ask. On Christmas morning they had presented her with her angels – four cute little cherubs made out of tiny flower pots painted gold, each with hair styled to replicate one of her daughters and each holding an instrument like the ones the girls had played in school bands. Her daughters also had a scale to measure family connections. If you made mom cry happy tears, you scored ten out of ten. That year they had scored twenty!
Katherine set the angels gently on her bedroom dresser. With a sigh, she laid down on the bed and pulled up the old blue quilt. Her “happy hour nap” was essential.
Katherine woke shivering in the late afternoon darkness. Confused she searched the shadows. The big photograph of her and Dan taken just ten years ago, smiling like a couple of teenagers, was sitting to the left of the mirror. She rested her eyes on his face for a few minutes, the grainy texture of the picture in the winter darkness not doing justice to the warmth that always sparked from his brown eyes. She remembered, with a blush, that he had just pinched her behind before the photographer snapped the portrait. He was such a rascal. But, there was something more she needed. Her eyes continued to roam. A golden halo of light broke up the shadows lingering for a few brief moments on her precious Christmas angels. Katherine smiled, resting again on her pillow, eyes now softly looking out the window, feeling the tension leave her fingers and toes and all the way to her ears. She laughed as Dan reached for her hand.
“I brought the mistletoe,” he whispered. “Time to come home!”