The sunset filtered through the tree branches just above where the darkening sky touched the horizon. Pale pink and gauzy blue, the colors were so delicate Maisie could only see them if she cut her eyes to the side. Out beyond the trees, the dark bulk of a steer lumbered through the field. At the edge of the yard Kevin’s old swing set sat rusting in the twilight.
Maisie’s heart constricted. The house, the field, the yard, the gravel driveway, even the deep road-side ditches like mini rivers, awash in melted snow, all of it was as familiar as the back of her hand. It was all the same, but different, too. So was she. Her body was heavier now, her face more lined than ten years ago when she’d last lived here, in her parents’ house.
“Maisie? Do you want a salad before dinner?”
Maisie turned from the kitchen window. “Sure, but I can make it. Should I make salads for you and dad, too?”
“That would be nice, honey.” Her mother smiled. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” Maisie forced a smile of her own in return. She reached for the cane she’d left leaning against the counter, and stumped to the refrigerator. Her knee was still stiff, six weeks after a surprise encounter with a stealthy patch of ice had left both her knee and her car in ruins. PT twice a week was helping. The cane was more for balance now than for support, but she was still a long way from where she’d been.
As she moved around the kitchen, she found herself looking for things in all the wrong places. When she’d lived here before, the kitchen hadn’t been remodeled yet. How old had Kevin been then? Eight? Maybe nine? They’d moved out when he was twelve, finally able to afford their own place five long years after the financial ruin of her messy divorce. It still seemed like yesterday to Maisie, but her little boy was turning twenty-two today.
A haze of tears muted the bell pepper she was slicing into a blur. Her brain wasn’t only confused about where things were in the kitchen. So many times today, she’d thought she’d seen Kevin out of the corner of her eye. Each time she’d jerked her head around, expecting to see him, still eight years old, grinning at her with his laughing dark eyes and chipped front tooth.
“Mom, Dad, salads are ready,” Maisie plunked the salad bowls down on the dining room table. When no one came, she stumped to the hallway. Fox News blared from two different directions, the slight delay from one room to the other creating an echo. “Dad!” Maise called toward the den. “Your salad is ready!” She stumped a few steps in the other direction to poke her head into the living room. “Mom? Salads are ready.”
Maisie heard her father’s recliner swing closed, and the sound of her mother’s high-pitched voice shooing the cat out of the way as her parents made their way to the table. Maisie went in the other direction. She locked herself in the bathroom, then turned on the water in the sink full force. Her cane clattered to the floor.
The face of the middle-aged woman reflected in the mirror turned red and blotchy, her mouth stretched into a grimace by silent sobs. She clapped a hand over her mouth and tore her gaze away, looking down instead at the water rushing into the sink. The sink in here used to be ugly pink porcelain. This sink was white, its bowl molded seamlessly into the sleek surface of the vanity top. The ugly tile was long gone.
Kevin was long gone, too. He’d grown up and flown away, her baby bird a baby no longer. He was an adult now, busy and happy, living his own life.
Maisie fumbled her cell phone out of her pocket, hoping to see a missed a call, but the screen was blank. He was probably on his way home from work now, or maybe he’d stopped to have a beer with friends to celebrate his birthday. Whatever he was doing, he was out in the world, living his life.
Resigned, Maisie slid the phone back into her pocket and picked up the hand towel. She blotted her face and took a series of deep breaths. When her reflection was serene once again, she picked her cane up from the floor and made her way back to the dining room.
“There you are, we thought you fell in.” Maisie’s mother joked. As Maisie began to pick at her salad her mother got up and cleared away her father’s empty bowl. She bustled into the kitchen with it, then returned with a steaming casserole dish. “I tried a new recipe tonight, southwest casserole.”
The crunch of tires on gravel in the driveway came as Maisie’s father was reaching for the salt shaker. Maisie sat up straight in her seat, a forkful of lettuce halfway to her mouth. Could it be?
Someone clumped up the steps to the kitchen door, then the door opened to reveal Kevin’s tall form in the doorway. Maisie dropped her fork and stood up. Forgetting the cane, she hobbled towards the kitchen. Kevin flashed his familiar smile, her mind seeing the old chip in his tooth, the one he’d long since had repaired. “Hi Mom,” his voice rumbled in her ear as he wrapped her in a bear hug. She hugged him back, hard, her throat too tight to manage words.
“You didn’t think I’d miss seeing you on my birthday, did you? Mom! Why? You know I’d never forget.”
“I know,” Maisie’s voice was raspy with tears. “Don’t mind me, I’m just a silly old mom.” She looked up at her boy’s laughing dark eyes and smiled. So many things were different, now, but so much was still the same.
Kelly Ospina lives in central New Jersey with far too many children and animals. When not writing, she can usually be found doing laundry, yelling at children to pick up after themselves and cleaning up dog hair.