Friday, October 21, 2011

The Celery Dish


“I’ll take this,” Emily said, picking a dish from the china closet and blowing on it.  Tiny dust moats, small as no-see-ems, swirled in the sunshine.

The doors of the china closet were opened wide and the three sisters stood looking into it. From behind they resembled three slats of an uneven picket fence.  One tall, one short and one in between and heavier than the others. The glass in the doors was old with the tell-tale bubbles of hand blown glass.

“Oh, but of course that’s what you would choose,” Shirley said. She was the shortest of the three with shoulders that sloped down as though her arms had always held weights that had gotten heavier over the years.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Emily turned the dish over, inspecting the underside of it. Emily was the oldest, the tallest and the thinnest.

“It’s Waterford,” Shirley said, shrugging. “Nothing but the best for our Emily, right Connie?”

“After all, I’m the one who bought it for Mumsy.”  She polished the dish on the sleeve of her sweater and held it up to the light again. “So I should be the one who gets it, right Connie?”

“Well, la-de-dah. So now you have to remind us how rich you are. I bought the Waterford,” Shirley mimicked her older sister. “That’s what you always do. She always does that, doesn’t she, Connie?

“Don’t start. Now’s not the time.” Connie turned away from the other two. Her eyes were red, her face swollen. She sat down at the dining room table and put her head down on her arms. Her hair fanned across her arms, the back of her blouse strained across her broad back and there were half circles of sweat under her arms.

The women fell silent. The only sound was the creaking of the wooden rocking chair where Dorothy, the fourth and youngest, sister sat knitting. She was working on a gray scarf, straight stich back and forth. The length of it coiled on her lap like a bird’s nest. Her fingers were oddly short and she flicked the tip of her tongue between her lips in rhythm with the rocking.

Connie raised her head and pushed her hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ears. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Ten o’clock.  We ought to leave in about an hour.” Emily said. She put the celery dish down on the table and turned back to the china cupboard.  “What do you want to keep, either of you?”

“I don’t want anything. We need to sell everything, get as much money as we can. You know, to take care of. . .” Connie’s voice trailed away and she glanced over at Dorothy.   

“Shhh.  No need to upset you know who.” Shirley closed the doors of the china cupboard and sat across the table from Connie. “I just want one piece of Mumsy’s jewelry. The charm bracelet if I can find it. The one with each of our birthstones. Why don’t you want anything, Connie?”

“You want to know what I want?  I want her back.  I didn’t help her enough.”  She pressed her fingers against her eyes.

“Oh, puh-leeze.  You did more than either of us. I lived too far away.  I don’t know what Shirley’s excuse is but I’m sure she has one.”  Emily raised her eyebrows and stared at Shirley.

“What’s the point of all of this?  Who did what, who bought what, all this looking back, looking over our shoulders. So much diarrhea of memories.”  Shirley shook her head impatiently. “The estate sale is in three days. Then the house goes on the market. And we need to take care of, you know, things.”

The sound of Dorothy rocking continued in the background, distant from the three at the table. She was concentrating on binding off the long gray scarf, placing the tip of the right hand needle into the next stitch on the left hand needle, wrapping the yard, slipping the stitch. She rocked, and flicked her tongue in rhythm.

Connie asked again what time it was and they stood in unison, preparing to leave.

“Dorothy, do you want to come with us?” Connie asked loudly.

“For God’s sake, Connie, she’s not deaf!” Shirley said. “Dorothy, do you want to come with us?” She also spoke loudly but Dorothy didn’t look up. She continued binding off the last final row of the long gray scarf.

“Mumsy sometimes left her alone for short periods of time,” Emily whispered. “It won’t take us long to check this place out. She’ll be okay while we’re gone.”

The three sisters left, their purses hanging from their shoulders. Emily’s was Brighton, burgundy leather, Connie’s was hand made in calico and Shirley’s was a straw bag from Wal-Mart.

After they left, Dorothy cut the yarn on the gray scarf and wove the end into the stitches. She lumbered in an awkward gait to a small cabinet near her rocking chair and took out two more gray scarfs. She laid all three scarfs, gray exclamation points, side by side on the old walnut dining room table and picked up the celery dish.

Carrying the celery dish, she left the house and started a long walk down the road to somewhere.

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