“Hey,” she said, and left it at that, taking a seat to watch him. He’d found a tee shirt and boxers in his stack of weekend blues, the shirt slightly lighter from bleach or from wear. Fastidious David with dried mud on his neck and the tops of his feet, sandy hair dark and twisted with sweat, wearing fresh cottons and flipping the waffle iron, humming something cheerful to its steam. There was a breath of panic in her laugh for him.
“What’s so funny?” he grumbled, a growl that wasn’t, smiling with his eyes and serving a plate of bacon.
“Just you.” Afraid he would kiss her. Hoping.
Their table chairs were mismatched, different heights of straight backs and curved; a Shaker, one ladder, a bow, and a slightly lower seat with arms. They’d come home with Lena tied with bungee straps to her rear pannier; the result of a quick tour of alley-leavings and moving-out sales in the walkups throughout their old neighbourhood. He had stripped them in the chemical bath at his Saturday gig, where he’d transformed his Dad’s barnboards into her vanity stool, their headboard, this table. She had painted them while he was at exams – Victory Blue she had called it, though to him it looked more like cobalt. Like something she bought off display at a home store, with a bulk bag of votives and a jar of potpourri. All of that gorgeous, reclaimed wood…. Thank God she’d not touched his table.
“Eggs?” he asked, sweetly, setting the plate of waffles on a hot pad between the mason jar of forks and his Mum’s white Denby butter dish.
“No.” Coughing so hard the word came out strangled. She pressed the tears back with her palms. Breathe. “I’m okay.”
“Right.” Don’t ruin this.
The indigo dawn was grey, now. She had missed the pink flush on the clouds. Magpies and jays were stretching their voices, crowding out the sparrows’ gentler song. He took the chair opposite hers to watch the sun climb the mountain, framed in white vinyl above the kitchen sink. They had never found curtains for this window.
He said, “I’ll have to go out and help them clear the deadfall, soon. Get the worst of it off the logging roads.” He layered fried eggs with bacon between two waffles, and crunched thoughtfully, watching her. She got up and served coffee. “You want to come?”
On the mountain they found fathers with sons – boys eight and nine, thirty and sixty, working chainsaws, swedes, and folding laplanders. The few wives wore toddlers riding metal-framed backpacks, passing cookies from pockets back over their shoulders between bundling branches and trimming the lengths worth saving. A community of gloved hands and scuffed denim, lashes and fringes wet with mist, meeting across splintered birch and aspen. They were surprised to see Lena. Tight eyes. Stiff smiles. Her silence distanced them, though many had seen her at the school. She stacked the fresh cordwood in the trailer the Coopers had brought. Their two-year-old, Miles, held out his cookie, a zwieback coated with slime.
“Thank you,” she whispered, taking a pretend bite off the side. She pulled a cell phone from her pocket, waved it at David, then turned and walked herself home.
© Desi S. Valentine, 2012