“Time is not duration but intensity; time is the beat and the interval […]”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea
“I don’t watch the news anymore, Eva.”
There was, in fact, a lilt to the woman’s tone, that one could, if one listened closely enough, decipher as sadness, but more closely resembled nostalgia. Eva (who was neither listening for tone nor abstracted emotion) continued ranting loudly about the state of affairs in a foreign country, that one could only assume was located on some middle continent rife with political unrest and lacking in enough humanitarian effort to satiate Eva’s youth.
“Loaded up with enough facts to launch at the next unsuspecting victim?” the woman tossed offhandedly and immediately chastised herself for what could be seen as a drawing of the sword. The news had been turned down to a dull roar, as had Eva herself.
The woman saw the fire reignite in her young daughter’s eyes. The pretty 24-year-old blonde in front of her still resembled something of the little girl in glasses and pigtails that would read old biographies at her kitchen table.
“You can’t just stick your head in the sand, Mom. People are dying!”
“People have always been dying, sweetie.”
Before Eva could launch into one of her youthful and energetic pleas for her mother and the world at large to become more involved, the woman changed the subject. “So, how are classes going?”
Eva’s eyes drew downward. “Classes are good. They are solid, nothing to worry about.” This sentence, of course, aroused immediate worry. The woman took a second to consider her approach, and decided to leave well enough alone.
The theme song to Mary Tyler Moore rang through the air as Eva reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. “New ringtone?” her mother asked, delighted and amused. Eva nodded as she answered her phone.
“Yes. I got it… I’ll be there in twenty.”
“Is that Michael?”
Eva nodded and kissed her mother’s cheek. She grabbed her keys and jacket and was out the door waving before another word was spoken. Just as the door almost closed completely a voice called through it – “I will call you later!” The woman shook her head. Eva had never been one to over-share her time. Only her opinions. Henry had joked often when she was young that the only secret she could keep was her life.
The woman stared out the kitchen window. Her eyes settled on her own reflection (dusk was providing her with the perfect lighting). Upon examination, she realized she was not old enough to be old; nor young enough to be, well, young. In her better moments she still felt mostly young. Maybe not the kind of young that wanted to scream at the TV (that urge had left her when she realized that politicians were all the same and she no longer recognized, with total familiarity, the world she saw) but indeed the grounded youth of her thirties, or even forties. Old enough to know better. That was how she felt now. Her hair was only slightly greying, be it either to her inherent fairness or the subtle colorings she did monthly.
“Connie, you are nothing if not beautiful,” she could hear her husband say, warm breath whispering in her ear. She turned around to an empty kitchen. A younger ear had heard those words and a younger man had spoken them. She smiled at nothing. The face of a young handsome man in her mind’s eyes. The feel of his hands as he would guide her through the kitchen.
“Time to punch out for the day, love. There is something that needs your utmost attention.”
The woman would always laugh at this. “Oh, and what, exactly would that be?”
“ME!” he would exclaim, with a twinkle he reserved only for her.
“Sounds like more work to me”. Then laughing, both of them together. There was always so much laughing. She could measure her whole marriage in laughter. With a sigh, she examined her hands as she dried them on a dish towel. Her mothers hands. She used to hate it. The spots. “Age-freckles”, her daughter would call them. She would scoff at the idea. “I am too young for age, dear, and too old for freckles.” However, the dark spots and lines appearing what felt like daily would beg to differ. Her hands. Her mother’s hands.
She walked into the living room the TV still reporting its endless news cycle, track-lights blazing over every square inch of space. Annoyed, she exchanged the violence of the track light for lamps and the lunacy of the news for nothing in particular and sat on her side of the sofa. The room was softly lit now. In this light, she could make out none of the dust that was collecting itself in corners and shelves. Overhead lighting was a curse to the inconsistent housekeeper and the anxiety-ridden alike, she thought .
“No, thank you.” she said aloud, presumably to no one, though the cat looked up from it’s observatory and stretched its paws in an long luxurious yawn. Assuming her words were an invitation, he sauntered over, availing himself of the warmth of her lap. Soft purrs and nudges.
“Oh, Mr. Darcy,” she softly clucked, “you are an informal creature at best.” His eyes narrowed haughtily at the implication of ill manners, though he was not offended enough to actually relocate.
Looking around the room, there was nothing that spoke directly of the woman’s taste. Nothing of the furniture nor the nick-knacks would give even the keenest observer an idea of the pleasure she often took in looking at fine things through the windows of shops and .coms. Instead, they told the stories of others, mostly family, but the occasional stranger. Much of it was acquired when her mother passed. And although she had picked and placed each worn piece of furniture, shelf decor, and decorative pillow it said little other than sentiment.
She, however, did not seem lost among the past. One need only look at the few, but lovingly hung, art pieces, or the family photos where she, Henry, and Eva were captured in time. Smiling, laughing, and living their lives together. She rarely actually looked at the photos. When she did, she was struck by an overwhelming sense of contentment. A wall of photos may be all she had to show, she thought, but it must be the most important wall in the history of the Universe. No, the room seemed to speak to a person, bound neither to this time, nor to any other.
The books on the shelves – a lifetime of collection. She thought of Eva on tiptoe, desperately reaching for a book of poems or one of her father’s worn science-fiction novels.
“Where is Eva?”
“In her books, of course.”
That, of course, was the point, she thought. For in this room, if there was a place the woman could be found, it was in her books.
Not every room in the house belonged to someone else. The kitchen was hers; her lifetime project. She had begun working on it when they bought the house over twenty years ago. She had, ever since, tenaciously overseen its transformation into the odd-yet-beautiful amalgamation of old and new it now was. It was her theme: a modern twist on a forgotten era. She was a person who could be delighted by the most modern conveniences, yet longed for a simpler time. She never had quite given up the fantasy of living a busy city-life filled with career and female empowerment. It was in constant contradiction to her yearning for the era of Regency and quiet simplicity.
Her mother used to call her “a walking contradiction in time, unable to pursue anything” due to her need to “opine its opposite.” That, however, wasn’t quite true. It was not so much “the grass is greener” as “do I want this grass or that?”. Some may call it a deficit of attention. The woman considered it a cognitive dissonance, one she had long ago given up trying to integrate.
“My Neuroses, Old and New: A Biography of an Unaccomplished Housewife,” she muttered.
She hadn’t heard the door open. Nor had she heard her daughter step into the room. She was not sure how long she had been trapped out of time when Eva’s voice yanked her back. The shock almost failed her heart.
“Mom, are you okay?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I be?” Even she could register the embarrassment in her tone, as if she had been caught doing something terribly illicit or, even worse, sentimental. Like the time (the night of Eva’s high school graduation) her husband had found her looking at baby pictures and crying. He had laughed, in the most loving way possible. He had put down the bottle of wine and half of a chocolate cake he had smuggled back to the room for her. He pulled a tissue from his pocket (she never could understand how he always had a crisp clean tissue in his pocket at just the right moments), pulled her head to his chest, and just smiled as she balled her eyes out. As she looked at Eva, she wondered if her daughter had ever felt the love for anyone yet the way she had for her husband at that moment and so many others.
“Mom? You’re just staring at me, it’s bizarre. Did you smoke a joint with Mary again?” This last statement was less judgmental and more informational. As if to remind the woman that her daughter held just as many of her mother’s secrets as her own.
“No, Eva, I did not smoke a joint with Mary. Though it doesn’t sound like a half-bad idea.” The woman’s smile faded as her daughter sat down and for the first time she looked her daughter in the eye. “Honey? You look like you did the day you hit the neighbors cat with the car. What’s wrong? Is it Michael? Is it your father?” The woman’s mind started spinning tales of woe and tragedy. Within the short silence between her words and Eva’s she had run through every possible scenario, from somewhat horrific to reasonably unsettling. Seeing her mother drift again, Eva spared her mother.
“I’m pregnant. Way to bury the lead, I know, but that’s it.”
The woman stopped mid-thought. The room stopped. The Universe stopped. She felt herself falling backwards through time. Traveling backwards through family dinners and vacations. Every fight, no, every battle she and Eva had inflicted on each other since puberty onward. Through the maze of Eva’s first day of school: gripping her mother’s hand, staring at all the other kids. Through holidays and dance recitals. In a moment she was in the hospital watching her own mother hold her new-born daughter. “You’re somebody’s mother now,” her mother had said to her, “but you’re still my little girl.” She moved back, back to the night, the night she had sat among these very same things with her own mother and spoken those very same words. She couldn’t remember what her mother had said. What was it?
The memory washed over her. She could smell the perfume and cigarettes with a hint of coffee. Her mother’s smell. She could hear the same ticking of the clock. Time moved painfully slow in the space between the announcement and the mother speaking. She was afraid. No, not afraid. Terrified. She loved him, but they had only been together a year, she was still in school. Hell, she was still trying to figure out what kind of life she wanted; totally unprepared to take care of another human being. Hands shaking, heart racing, on the verge of tears. Not wanting her mother to see any of it, as if she ever could have hidden it from her.
She suspected her mother, never one for sentiment herself, said all she knew in that moment .
“Connie, you have always been one to let the Universe make decisions for you. You will manage.”
Those words had hurt at the time, stung in the deepest part of her. No one could hurt her like her mother could, she had thought. Looking back, it was not altogether untrue. The truth often hurts and no-one knows the truth of you like your mother.
“Mom, are you mad? Say something, please? It’s not as bad as it sounds.” Eva launched into a speech that would rival any college essay on Female Rights and Progressive Economics in a Changing Society. A world her mother, in Eva’s opinion, could no longer refuse to accept. “Why the aging choose to accept mortality by rejecting a world that will move forward without them, I will never understand!”
The woman looked at her daughter and smiled. “Eva, you are so full of crap sometimes and you don’t even know it.” Pulling her daughter’s head to her, she soothed her just like the day she had come home with the story of her first heartbreak or, as Eva had put it, “the last time I will ever let a guy have power over my world.” The woman had just laughed and said “we shall see”. The woman held her daughter, a woman now herself; not just a woman, but someone’s mother. The woman now someone’s grandmother. She decided to correct the past.
She said the only thing she could think of.
“Someday all this stuff will be yours”.
“I know, Mom, I know. But all I want is the books.”