Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nothing to say

I perched on the wide green armchair next to Kathleen, my spine twisted awkwardly. She had made room for me. When I walked over to greet her at the party our friends were hosting, she had patted the seat with her thin hand and offered a small, tight smile. The bones in her jaw stood out like a ledge. Her skin was specked with reddish blemishes. She spoke slowly, her words forming as if from a long way away. Perhaps it was the effect of the medication; perhaps her mind was enveloped in a thick fog, or perhaps she just didn't know what to say to me.

Just as I did not know what to say to her. What do you say to an anorexic and alcoholic acquaintance?

So we didn't say anything for awhile. I watched her two children: four-year old Pamela, blonde and serious, and two-year old Michael, sandy-haired and exuberant. A three-inch scratch ran down Pamela's pale face. Shadows cupped her blue eyes. She wore a pink T-shirt with the words “Little Chick” underneath a cartoon chicken, a light blue velvet skirt, and ribbed white stockings. Michael was dressed in a red short-sleeved Canadiens hockey shirt and blue elasticized pants.

Kathleen's gaze fell on her children. “They're good kids,” she said softly. That's what everyone says about their kids when they're young. We chatted lightly about the shapes of their noses. Pamela's nose turns upward, just like her father's, while Michael's nose has Kathleen's straight blunt end.

Kathleen smiled at me, made an effort. “So how are things with you?” she asked. Please don't ask about me, her eyes pleaded.

I told her about loving coaching, about the piano, about my latest passion of learning poetry by heart. “I used to memorize poems,” Kathleen said, her voice brightening. “In high school. In French.” I told her about learning a poem while on a long drive, and becoming so engrossed in it that I completely missed my turn-off. Kathleen tipped back her head and laughed. I noticed the tendons standing out in her neck, the skin stretched taut. We smiled at one another and fell silent.

And you?” I asked, gently patting her bony shoulder. “I heard that you've been going through a bit of a rough patch.”

Kathleen looked away. “Yeah,” she said slowly. “It hasn't been the greatest winter.

But I'm all right,” she insisted, her eyes darting like a swallow over to mine. “I'm okay.”

Not a word rose in my throat. My hand rested briefly on her sholder. There was nothing to say.

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