Time and time again she came to the house in search of butter. Or eggs. Or only a quarter-cup of milk, when she ended up taking two entire cups. She operated on the belief that neighbors were still the lean-over-the-fence kind to have a chat, or have a cup of coffee as the kids go to school every day. “That was her old neighborhood,” my mother told me. She said that Mrs. Allison didn’t know that times had changed, so we simply pretended like they hadn’t.
It was easy, for a time. She used to not come around that often, maybe once or twice a week. My father brushed it off as that she was just extremely friendly. To be entirely honest, I think he was creeped out by the whole thing from the start. He had never been a pretender. But as long as my mother was there to shush him, he managed to get along, until about mid-July when her visits reached an all-time high. Suddenly she was coming every day, and when we really thought about it, it had been a steady climb; from one or two visits a week to three to four, until this, when she somehow popped in, usually at the worst times. What really got my parents was how she would just open the door, no knock, no doorbell, just open it and step on in. To her credit, she always asked for the supplies before she got them, though we were sure that by this time she knew the exact location of even the lemon extract.
The breaking point came when she was asking for two eggs. To all of our surprise, it was my mother who flipped out, not my father, attesting to the theory that the calmest of people are also the most wired. She held the eggs above her head and just let them drop, a splatter to the floor. My father just cringed at first because it was new flooring. Realizing his place, though, he rushed and grabbed paper towels, padding them down around my mother’s feet where she still stood with yolk-soaked hands. “No,” she said. “You may not have two eggs. You may not. Because I may need these. But you know what’s great? There’s a grocery store a block away. Just a BLOCK. Block, block… knock, knock… and that’s another thing! Why can’t you knock? Please, oh please, I just wish — ”
At this point my father, having successfully picked up the shells, led my mother to the living room. I went and sat with her, but I could hear him leading Mrs. Allison to the door, telling her how sorry he was. She didn’t say anything. I heard the door click shut and then my mother put her head in her hands. She was crying, I could tell, because I had once hit her in the eye with a stick (accidentally) and her shoulders had shaken the same way. My father was getting some yolk off the walls. It was pretty quiet for a while, until my mother stood up and began to cook, pulling out a recipe for banana bread, slowly beginning to come back to her efficient self. It was cooking, my father once told me, that your mother needs. Her hands busy. I still was sitting in the living room, flipping through photo albums, when the banana bread was finished. My mother put on her coat and left without a word, but it wasn’t as if we needed to know where she was going.
Mrs. Allison died about a week later. She and my mother had reconciled, but we all knew my mother still felt tremendously guilty. At Mrs. Allison’s funeral there was a neighborhood potluck, as we thought she would have liked it that way. My mom brought a pasta casserole. I brought two eggs.
Isabella Boettcher is in high school. Her favorite quote is by Helen Hayes: “Age is not important unless you are a cheese.”