Saturday, July 09, 2011
Our Past - Always Present
“Pass the sugar, dear,” Mai said as she settled herself against the raised back of the booth.
Anna Goldberg slid the container of sugar, and sugar substitutes, in her direction. She was seated next to the wall. Rachel on her left, Rose across from her.
“You should cut back.” She said the words, part of the ritual.
The laugh, in response, was as much part of the ritual.
“If it hasn’t killed me by now, it never will,” Mai said, sprinkling the contents of a sugar sachet into her coffee mug. She crumpled the empty sachet in her hand and sent it to join the previous two at the corner of the table.
“You won’t be able to taste any of that coffee,” Rachel said, picking up the thread of the ritual.
Anna sat back, relaxing into the familiar three-times-a-week gathering of the four women. She reflected that they’d been getting together like this for more than twenty years.
“More than twenty years,” she said aloud.
“What dear?” Rose asked. Rose’s hearing wasn’t what it used to be,
Anna turned to look at her, just realizing she’d spoken aloud. “Twenty years, us, coming here like this,” she said.
Rose nodded and Mai spoke up. “I liked it better before.”
“Before?” Anna asked.
Mai waved a meaty arm, taking in the hard, bright, colored plastic that covered every surface in the restaurant. “It was quieter, easier to be in before.”
Rachel laughed. “Wasn’t all that quiet when we each had our children with us,” she said. She nodded towards Mai. “And yours the noisiest.”
Mai laughed her loud laugh, her body shaking. “Yes, mine were always loud. Can’t say I know where they got it.”
The others laughed with her, remembering.
“I suppose they were all noisy, at times,” Rose said, “except your Ruth, Anna. She was always a quiet one.”
Anna nodded, saying nothing.
“Mine put their noise to use,” Mai said. “Young Brent’s still singing. Doing well for himself.” She nodded her head vigorously. “Heard him on the radio just last week.”
The others all congratulated her on her boy doing so well for himself.
Rachel spoke of her sons, Ben and Roger. Ben was just finishing up his business studies. “He’ll be starting in his father’s business next month.”
Anna put her hand on Rachel’s, comforting her friend. “I’m sure he’ll do very well.”
Rachel turned her hand to hold Anna’s and swallowed before she spoke again. “No, it’s good. A boy needs his father. It’s good for him.” She smiled at Anna. “Yes, he’ll do well.”
“What about Roger?” Mai asked. “He still away?”
Rachel nodded. “Yes, still away.” She shrugged. “The army medical corps. What can you do?”
Mai reached over and placed her hand on top of Anna’s. “We pray, Rachel. We pray. That’s what I’m doing for my Tammy. Her second deployment...”
Rose added her hand to the pile of her friends’. “We’ll all pray,” she said. “We’ll all pray.”
The four women sat, hand in hand, for a moment longer and then returned to their breakfast.
“Sandy’s expecting her second,” Rose said. “She’s going to make me a grandmother again.” She smiled. “How did that happen?”
They laughed, the tension passing.
“Surely you know,” Mai said, “and you a grown woman.”
Rose laughed. “You know what I mean, Mai.”
“I got a call from Ruth,” Anna said. Rose looked at her sharply.
“She asked how Sandy was doing.”
A moment passed before Rose answered. “Sandy’s doing fine,” she said. “Tell Ruth not to concern herself. Sandy’s doing fine.” Rose lifted her face to Anna’s. “I’d prefer if Ruth didn’t contact her, Anna.”
Anna held up her hand. “No,” she said, “that’s not it. Ruth isn’t going to do anything. She knows Sandy has her own life.” She looked pleadingly at her friend. “She was just asking how she was, that’s all.”
Rose nodded slowly. “Sandy’s fine. Her daughter’s keeping her busy and her new baby will fill in any time she has. Her husband’s away a lot on business, but everything’s fine.”
Anna waved her hand, signifying acceptance of what Rose was saying. The other two women were silent.
“I’m glad,” Anna said. “Glad. And I’ll be happy to let Ruth know Sandy’s well. Please don’t worry.” She smiled at the other woman. “Anyway, Ruth has news.”
“News?” Mai asked.
Anna smiled and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “She’s getting married in the Fall.”
Rose’s face showed surprise. “Oh,” she said. “Married? Ruth?”
“Well, I’ll be,” Mai said. “I never thought she would. He must be some boy to…to win her.”
Anna shook her head. “Not boy, Mai,” she said, though she was looking at Rose.
Rose met her eyes.
“Jenna,” Anna said, “her name’s Jenna.”
“Oh,” said Rose.