The instant he knocks, the door opens. He sees her behind the screen. She is older than he expected, or more worn out, worn down, worn thin, burnished. Her apron is the old-fashioned kind with a bib that ties at the back of the neck, where her iron-colored hair is cropped short. The fabric of the apron, its blue-and-white checks, has been laundered almost to transparency. Her fingers fumble at first one then a second latch on the screen door, but after all this isn’t the safest street and he had already been thinking I could’ve grown up here with boys in parkas and wool caps pulled low, sliding their eyes at passersby. Already been thinking No college, let alone law school. Now she pushes the screen door open and he steps inside. He is too large for the tiny kitchen, his body stirring the room’s warmth and aromas, fresh rolls and a roast that must have been on low for hours. Three covered saucepans warming on the white enamel stovetop. The table set with plastic dishes crosshatched brown in their centers by a million knife-scores. Her heavy tortoise-shell eyeglasses slide on the wide bridge of her nose and she adjusts them while she studies him, her eyes flint-gray and steady, her chin lifted. He is at least a foot taller. She scans his hairline, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, checking off her expectations. Not smiling, she says Pleased to meet you and offers her hand. It feels like tiny twigs inside crinkled leather and he says only Yes because all his glibness has deserted him. The phrases he practiced won’t come out. His cross-examination—Where were you from? How old were you? Who was my father?—dissolves. Everything dissolves. He thinks of sand castles dissolving on an oncoming tide. Summers at the shore. With his family. Dissolving. She finishes looking at him and says I made lunch and he is unbuttoning his coat, which she takes and openly admires, smiling now, caressing the camelhair and saying You have fine things, that’s good. And he says Thank you.
Andrea Lewis writes short fiction, essays, and prose poems from her home on Vashon Island in Washington State. Her work has appeared in Catamaran Literary Reader, Prairie Schooner, Cutthroat, and others. www.andrealewis.org
You can read another piece by Andrea Lewis in issue 1.2.