I note the time on my phone as I ring the bell. It’s 2:12 p.m. As I put my phone back into my purse, the door opens, and I force myself to smile. I enter the old house and the familiar warm, stale air envelops me.
I am pulled into an awkward embrace. The stink of cigarettes and unwashed hair assaults my senses and I squeeze my eyes shut while suppressing the physical urge to gag.
We pass through the room with the thousand books. Now we are in the kitchen. Now I am sitting at the round wooden table, sipping shitty, cheap coffee from a dirty cup.
I’m pretending to listen, but the complaints and stories have been soliloquized verbatim for years. I am sitting back from the table
(crumbs everywhere, smudges of jam and butter)
holding the mug handle with my right hand while my left awkwardly holds the side, as if I’m posing for a commercial.
I’m disgusted and for just a moment the disgust softens into concern, almost caring, but the moment passes, it won’t stick. I know from a thousand attempts that it will not stick.
My mind starts going back, and I know I need to get out of here.
(Please stop telling me about your uncomfortable bra. Please stop telling me about your friend from 75 years ago.)
“Here, here, take this.”
I take the folded white envelope from the wrinkled, mottled hand and shove it into my purse.
A hundred dollars cash, in twenties. From a lonely, fragile old woman who doesn’t realize she’s paying penance for an absolution she will never receive.
I hope it was worth it.
I know it wasn’t.
But I’m not giving it back.
I glance at the dash of my car as I back out of the driveway. It’s 2:33 p.m.
Anne Alexander is a native Houstonian. She is a writer, wife, mother, autism advocate, and rescuer of animals, not always in that order. In a former life, she was a travel writer, correspondent and managing editor of a small town newspaper. She holds a BA in Psychology from Texas A&M University and is currently working on a collection of essays about families, mental illness and other delights.