Such joyful sounds…. giggles and coos.
A man’s laugh.
I peeked around the corner, wiping my hands on the apron tied around my waist.
He was in the floor playing with Anne. She looked up at the Reverend with adoring eyes as she waited for the wooden ball to roll back to her.
“Are you ready? Here it comes!”
He rolled again gently and she caught it between her good hand and the bad one.
She used the damaged hand as if she did not need for it to work like the other, as if she did not recognize that the hand was not normal. She did not need for it be normal, as it did what she wanted regardless. She knew nothing else.
Still, it hurt to watch. Joy and pain and sadness intermingled. Life. It was relentlessly bittersweet.
I went back to the formidable black oven.
Cooking for myself was easy. Subsistence did not require anything fancy. Cooking for him was another matter. I would practice during the week, trying something new, then whip it out for his visits.
Why was I trying so hard?
Truth be told, I had started looking forward to his visits, the gifts he brought. Sometimes they were for me. An ornately carved tortoise shell hair comb. Oranges and dates. Heavy stationary paper and ink. Sometimes the gifts were for Anne. A doll that was much too old for her. Or the ball today.
Each Sunday I would stand at the window and watch for him.
At times I worried that loneliness clouded my judgement. There were whispers about him around the town. Attendance at his church fell. Out and about I found the animosity toward me enhanced and magnified.
And then there was the question of where friendship ended and romance began. What did he want from me ultimately? Penance? Or a wife?
There was an easy familiarity developing between us, dangerous in its potential.
I cracked open the oven and tapped a towel wrapped hand on the dish resting in the water bath.
Not yet set.
I closed the heavy door again.
Why did I decide on baking an orange custard pudding? Granted it was with the oranges he had given me but it was taking much longer than I had anticipated. It would still have to cool before it would be edible.
A throat cleared from behind, causing me to jump. It was then that I realized I was standing in the middle of the kitchen with my right hand still wrapped in the towel, unmoving, lost in thought. I must have been an odd sight.
“I am sorry! I did not intend to startle you,” he said.
The Reverend was now standing in the doorway to the kitchen, Anne perched primly on the crook of his elbow. When she saw me she opened her arms, indicating that her loyalty still lay with me, at least in so far as carrying duties went. He stepped forward and handed her off to me.
“Come to mama, baby girl…” I kissed her fat cheek. It felt cool against my lips.
She hugged my neck tightly enough to squeeze my heart.
The room was warm and I could sense strands of hair stuck to my forehead by beads of sweat. I brushed them away with the back of my hand, suddenly self conscious.
He stared at me for a long moment.
He was close enough to touch. In fact he reached out his hand toward my waist as if he would, but thought better of it, instead shoving the offending hand quickly into a pocket.
My heart beat harder in my chest.
He had almost crossed into territory from which there would be no return.
I realized that I could not decide if I wanted him to cross that point or not.
I stared back.
Edinburgh felt as if it was shrinking up, fading into the distance.
“I think I should go.” His voice sounded thick and deliberate.