Saturday, March 26, 2011
Standing at the bottom, she freezes.
Twelve steps. Sun baking the concrete cracks, it's not so far. Shuffled small, pulled in, she does as she can. A snap of dread in her gut, slow, slowly placing one foot softly on the stair, she runs her ears ahead to the open door.
"Aye, so it is, and that's what I said -"
"Not that she did, mind - I ask you.."
Her mother stenciling out his silence, throwing voice motes in the air. Crouching, Karen sits on the second step up, memorising banister rails. Too filled up to breathe she falls to counting, closing down. Sixteen rails, each rail capped by three prongs, she reaches forty-eight, one flight up another forty eight, and another forty-eight above that. She counts, tallies, focusing on the chipped green iron rails, whilst above her head her mother offers tea.
Rails counted, she stands.
Sitting in a sharp shaft of sunlight, Big John lifts his eyes to her as she quietly slips through the door. With a silent step back to close it tight, she quickly turns for her room before her Ma catches sight of her.
"Was that wee Karen? Och, now where has she gone? Honestly John, I tell you that girl has no manners at all these days.." Raising her voice, "Karen! Karen, come here and say hello will you? Uncle Johnny's here to see us."
No, she will not speak, he can not have her voice, but she opens the door anyway and comes out as is bid. Her mother sits across the table, a bright smile on her face. She is animated and happy, glad to have a visitor to talk at, someone to fill the space in between the scrubbing and the supper. Big John has a tray of allotment vegetables spread out between them. In season again, he is doing his rounds. Her mother continues her flow, picking through his offerings.
"So I went to see Mary and asked her straight, so I did, and you'll never guess what she said, the cheek of it! She only went and .."
Big John isn't listening, though it's no matter, her mother expects nothing less. It's enough she can loosen some words, so many seem to clog her throat. Seizing a fresh topic of interest, she pulls a chair out for Karen to come and sit, join with them.
"Eh, she's grown again, hasn't she Big John?"
Big John nods.
"Aye, I'll bet you see a difference from the last time you were here.."
He looks her over with a conspiratorial wink, smiling he responds, "Aye, Elsie, she sure has, she's changed a lot, hasn't she?"