INVITED FOR TEA, she arrived ten minutes early, combed hair, swiped color across lips, tied and re-tied each shoe. Five minutes before three, she approached the house where she used to live. Told herself she had come from somewhere and was now here. What’s the difference about time? At least she came at all.
In the kitchen, they leaned their elbows on the soapstone counter and he told her that he remembered the way she smelled that first time he met her after she pulled herself out of the swimming pool: like coconut and Chlorox.
She told him, don’t start fooling around with all that, I am here to talk about the children, the two we have left, and how they must not, must absolutely not, be told how their sister died; it would kill them.
He led her to the living room. The furniture quivered at the sight of her, or so she imagined. The leather was skin, the velour a caress. Her mind was slipping into old ways, how she used to love this room after lunch, with him, before work, the children in school, and she steadied herself with the piano. He took her arm.
The couch, she told him. We’ll have our tea on the couch.
Western sunlight swept in low and late through square panes in the dwarfed room. He poured the tea, lavender and lemon and mint, handed her a thin cup, blue paint on bone china, from Aunt Evie’s set that was to go to Catherine on her wedding day. She took the cup as if it were a fresh blossom, a peony. Wrapped her fingers around its warmth and fragrance and began to cry.
He stood and walked to the window. There was dust. Dust floating onto the ivory keys of the piano. New dust, not as if he hadn’t cared, or hired a woman to clean, or sent the woman away when he tired of her cough, or her cigarettes, or the clunk of her shoes on the wooden floors. She herself had worn hard shoes in this house before now.
When he didn’t come to her, she set the cup down, preparing to say what she had come to say, that he must never describe the way the lake was dredged, after thirty years, because a recreational diver had found a bone.
She never meant to break the cup.
She never meant to care for that young man by the side of the pool who had warned her to look the other way as he killed the phoebe with a broken wing with his bare hands. She had heard the soft crunching. He had used her pink towel to wipe his hands.
To save it, he had said. I did it to save it from the pain.
Jodi Paloni lives and writes in the viridescent hills of Vermont. She earned her
MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her fiction appears in
Carve Magazine and upstreet. She blogs at Rigmarole.