"If this is some elaborate ruse to win my favor, do not bother with it. As I told Becca, I will not be a nurse"
Teacup brimming with warm milk in hand, Hannah knocks on Emmy’s bedroom door. She waits. She leans toward the door, hoping to hear the call: Come in.
It doesn’t come.
Her mother never knocked on doors. Not that there were doors at home. Only curtains. But even if there had been, her mother’s arms would have been burdened with laundry or firewood or a neighbor’s baby, and there wouldn’t have been a free hand to knock.
There is a sound. A groan, perhaps? Enough to justify Hannah turning the handle and walking inside.
Emmy blinks. “Oh, Mama, it is you.”
She sets the teacup and saucer beside her daughter’s bed. “I brought you some hot milk. With a little honey.”
Emmy’s lips curl. “Hot milk?”
Hannah’s palms grow cold. She picks up the teacup again and cradles it in her hands. “It is a cold morning.”
Emmy yawns and with the back of her hand, flips her hair away from her face. “Cold mornings are for staying in bed, not for drinking hot milk.” She sniffs. “Please. Kindly, remove the milk. The smell…”
She turns over, face to the wall.
Hannah picks up the teacup. And just what is wrong with the smell? It is the most wholesome smell in the world. When she was a girl, when it was her job to milk the cow in the mornings, she’d bring the bucket close to her face and inhale.
Before Becca left, she gave Hannah some parting advice; now, it dangles just out of reach. Speak to Emmy. Talk to her. Ask her what she wants. Hannah swallows, stands up, and returns the milk to the kitchen.
Then she returns to Emmy’s bedroom. “Say I were to prepare you a hot drink in the morning,” she says. She puts her hands on her hips, but then removes them. “As Felix would say, a purely theoretical case.”
“Yes?” Emmy turns around and opens one eye. Both hands are under the pillow, as if she is dragging it toward her.
“What would it be?”
“Black tea with honey and a cinnamon stick,” Emmy says promptly. “And the slightest dash of brandy.”
Emmy props herself up and looks full on at Hannah. “But if this is some elaborate ruse to win my favor, do not bother with it. As I told Becca, I will not be a nurse. So you may as well leave me to sleep late in the mornings and idle away my time with frivolities. No milk, please. Just sleep. And fun. I thank you kindly.”
Emmy slips back under the covers and closes her eyes.
Hannah hesitates for a second. Should she respond? Is there a response?
But then, feeling slow and stupid, she returns to the kitchen. She sniffs the warm milk. It still smells of home. Lifting the teacup, she gulps down the warm, frothy comfort.
When she puts down the empty teacup, she shivers. She glances at the fireplace in the living room. No wonder. Gertrude has not tended to the fire. It is nothing but ash.
As she strides across the room to the fireplace, her heart lifts at the task ahead. Something to do, instead of just wondering how Becca hit it off so beautifully with Emmy, while she is hopeless with her daughter.
She drops down onto her knees, and with her hands, smooths a bed of ash.
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 679)
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