First Place, Fiction
Ettie hummed as she stood at the sink and looked out across the yard. Her eyes swept over the two brown and white lawn chairs on the concrete patio, past the dingy gray birdbath, and rested finally on a cramped line of lilac bushes that marked the end of the property. The temperature had reached fifty-one degrees and she noticed for the first time the small green buds sprouting from the branches of the bushes. Her hands, beneath a mountain of suds, were busy scrubbing the starchy potato residue off the sides of an aluminum pot. She had made cabbage, ham and potatoes for lunch. It was Herman’s favorite. She reached into the drawer below the one in which she kept the silverware and pulled out a thin towel. She dried the pot, two bowls, two spoons, two forks, two knives and two milks glasses. At eight-nine she ha long since reduced the household to the bare essentials he needed to get through the day and that amounted to only two of nearly everything. When the last dish was returned to its place in the cupboard, she opened a fresh green can of Folgers and dumped two scoops into the filter before hitting the red button on the coffee maker. While the coffee brewed she set the table with two white saucers and two mugs that no longer matched in color. She watched the coffee drip until the machine made its choking noises, and then she carried the pot to the table and poured Herman’s coffee before pouring her own. He drank his coffee black, she, with cream.
She gave Herman a long look when she sat down. He was reading the newspaper and didn’t look back. She studied the white hair he wore combed over his otherwise bald head, his wrinkled face and thin lips, his gray eyes arched with overgrown eyebrows hidden beneath bifocals, and in her mind his image turned into the handsome face she had married seventy three years before. She smiled into her coffee cup. Her chest was warm with emotion. She had never loved another man. It was Herman who had built this house, it was Herman who had made it a home, it was Herman who had loved their children with a devotion that was well before his time. She had reached across the table for his feathery hand, resting her own on top of it.
“Mom! Are you here?” Pamela was standing in the living room.
“Yes, yes. In the kitchen!” Ettie swallowed the last bit of her coffee.
“I picked up your prescription.” Pamela made her way through the quite house.
“Oh. Just set it on the counter.”
Pamela pulled an amber bottle out of the tiny white bag and set it in a basket with the rest of the pills.
“How are you feeling Mom?” she kissed the old woman on top of her head.
“Never better. You just missed lunch.”
“It’s ok. I’ve already eaten.”
“Well, let me get you an iced tea.” Ettie was already at the refrigerator. “The sugar’s in the cabinet,” she said over her shoulder. Pamela had already been there and was holding the shaker in her hand. Ettie handed her the glass before returning to her chair. Pamela pulled out the second of the two chairs and sat down. She poured a generous amount of sugar into her glass and used a long handled spoon to stir the granules until they dissolved. She puzzled over the untouched mug of cold black coffee before her, and then pushed it aside before setting her glass in its place.