KITTENS by Lynette Tucker
“You’re not supposed to name the kittens. You know we live in coyote country.”
“But they’re so cute and sweet.” She nuzzled the little ball of fluff against her cheek. It squeaked back in protest, then settled down and rubbed against her neck.
“They have a short life here.”
“But that doesn’t mean they can’t have a good life.” She set the kitten down and picked up the next ball of fuzz to give it the same treatment.
I shook my head. She was always a stubborn one. She always named the kittens. Raised them. Loved them. Spoiled them with fresh eggs and goat’s milk. Cried for them when they were suddenly gone. And then the cycle would start all over again. I brushed the hay off my jeans and headed for the house.
“Suit yourself. See you up at the house.”
“Love you, mama.”
“Love you too, sweetheart.”
It was a good life, but a hard one. It had been four years since her daddy, my high school sweetheart, had been killed in a tractor accident. My husband’s family told me two women alone couldn’t run the little farm. Maybe she wasn’t the only stubborn one.
I scraped the muck off my boots on the edge of the porch, then changed my mind and pulled them off. It was so hot already that my socks were sticking to my feet. I sat on the wood bench and peeled them off and wiggled my toes. My girlfriends’ toes were painted and pampered. Mine were tired and sometimes blistered. Their lives held no allure for me. The farm did.
The dog started barking, and I raised my eyes to the horizon. Dust rising. Must be someone coming. Dang, I just took my boots off. Bet my hair’s a mess too. Too bad.
I could hear the rattle of the truck as it banged along the dirt road that ended at our driveway. Pretty sure that lower gate’s shut. That will slow them down. Give me a chance to regroup, maybe wash my face. I headed into the house, the wooden screen door slamming behind me.
By the time the driver pulled up in front and climbed out, I had a clean face and a fresh shirt on. And bare feet. At least they were clean. I stepped out on the porch. The driver climbed out of the truck, bent down and greeted the dog who was sideways with delight, then looked up at me.
“Hey, York. What brings you out this way?”
“Sightseeing.” He laughed when I raised my eyebrow at him. “No, actually you got a package and I thought I’d deliver it to you.”
“Cuz I’m on your way, right?”
“Cathy wanted me to check on you guys too.” He slammed the truck door and headed towards me.
“Tell her hi and we’re fine.”
“You always are.” He shook his head. “It’s okay if you’re not….”
Except we are. Whatcha got for me?” I stretched out my arms to receive the parcel. He reached into his pocket and placed a small box into my open hands instead.
“Not sure that qualifies as a package, York. More like a matchbox.”
“Yeah, Cathy thought the rural driver would probably drop it between the seats and it’d never make it out this far, so she asked me to bring it.”
“And spy on me.”
“And spy on you.” York laughed again. “Honestly, Maggie, it’s okay for people to care.”
“Care all you want. You’re good people, York. Give Cathy my love.” I started to turn away. “I got chores to do,” I lied. “Could you catch the gate on your way out?”
“Where’s Lizzy? Can’t leave without saying hello to my goddaughter.”
I turned back toward him. “In the barn, of course. We’ve got a young batch of kittens.” I slipped the box into my pocket. Seemed a waste for York to drive this far for such a little thing. I should have offered him something cool to drink. Maybe another time. I didn’t feel like company.
“Think I’ll just head out and say hello.”
“You do that.” I turned away again and walked into the house. I knew for sure, true to his nature, he’d be back in for that cool drink before heading out. Because Lizzy always spoiled him. And he always gave in to anything Lizzy wanted. Best go slice up some banana bread too.
I grew up with Cathy and York. They were my friends. We played in the dirt together. Laughed together. Cried together. They believed in me and in Lizzy too. They were always there. It’s just hard to let people get too close. They have a way of dying on you. Problem was, they were way past too close. And I had a mighty fear of losing them. And they knew it.
I had just finished making lemonade and setting glasses full of ice on the table when Lizzy and York showed up, arm in arm. They were laughing over some private joke and seemed pretty pleased with themselves.
“Look who’s here, Mama!”
“Yeah, I caught sight of him before you did. You guys want a snack?”
“Of course. Sit down, Uncle York, let me get you some.” He wasn’t really her uncle. It didn’t matter.
We sat around the table in companionable silence, eating banana bread and drinking lemonade. They probably don’t go together, but it was another thing that really didn’t matter.
“I hear we got a package.”
“Not big enough to qualify as a package, but yeah, we got something.”
I pulled the little box out of my pocket. It barely filled the palm of my hand. It was wrapped in brown paper, the texture of a grocery bag, and triple taped with cheap scotch tape – the kind that has an old yellow tint to it even though it’s brand new. It was addressed to Margaret and Elizabeth, c/o RML Farm. No return address.
“Hey, wait a minute, York. There’s not even a whole address on here and no return address whatsoever. Is this a trick? There’s not even a stamp. You don’t have to pull this in order to come out and see us.” I had to work to keep the edge out of my voice.
“Nope. No trick. Someone dropped it the mail slot overnight. And I know I’m welcome here anytime.” He sat back in his chair and gave me his “whatcha gonna do about it” look. Point taken. I could never stay mad at York. Guess I’m almost as big a pushover as Lizzy, I just don’t like it that he knows it.
“So are we going to open it or have a stare down?” Lizzy looked at York and then at me.
“We’re going to open it, of course.”
I tore away the brown wrapping. Inside was a white box, the kind that jewelry stores use. It was off white actually. It looked old. I slowed down and lifted the lid off carefully. I don’t know why. I just thought I should. There was a stiff piece of white filling stuff. I don’t know what you call it, but it’s always in these kind of boxes. I lifted it off and set it on the table. Inside the box was a pin. A brooch, actually. It was two black cats sitting back to back with their tails entwined upward between them. Their faces and bodies were turned in opposite directions. They had little red rhinestones for their eyes, and their bellies were covered with little white rhinestones. It was actually quite lovely, not gaudy like so many cheap pins I’d seen. It looked fairly old.
“Somebody sent us some costume jewelry.”
“Let me see.” Lizzy held out her hand. I handed her the box bottom with the pin in it.
“It’s heavy. I don’t think it’s cheap.” She lifted the pin out of the box and turned it over in her hand. “I think it has a maker’s mark, but I’m not sure - it’s kinda tiny. Looks like maybe a lowercase m. Can I take it by the jewelry store next time I go to town? I’m curious.”
“Sure, baby. It’s probably m for make-believe.” It didn’t matter to me.
“Want to do it now? You can ride into town with me.” York leaned forward to get a look at the brooch.
“No, then you’d have to drive out again to bring me back.” She looked at me. I looked away.
“Not a problem. We can stop by the store and pick up stuff for your mom, if she needs anything.”
“Your chores are done, and there’s no school tomorrow. You decide.” I grabbed the plates and headed for the sink.
“Let me clean up real quick, and we’ll go. Mama, you need anything?”
“Just you, baby.”
“I’ll be back quick, okay?”
Lizzy scratched the dog, then pushed his big head out of the way so she could close the truck door. York waited until they were headed down the driveway before he spoke.
“So what’s up with Maggie today?”
“It’s March 13th.”
“It’s the day of Daddy’s accident.”
“Oh. Oh, man. I forgot. I’m so sorry, Lizzy.”
“She’ll be better tomorrow. She grieves in her own way. Weird this box showing up today. Wonder why.”
“Shall we turn it into an adventure and see what we find out?” York turned and smiled at Lizzy.
She smiled back. “Sounds good.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you okay today?”
“Well, I figure I did all my crying, and I know I’ll see him again in heaven and so I’m okay with waiting. We had lots of long talks for those three days he was in the hospital before he got bad and all. I guess we kinda have an understanding that it was ‘see ya later’ rather than ‘good-bye’. Mama had to keep going back and forth and I think she’s never forgiven herself for being gone when he passed.”
“But you were there.”
“Yeah, but it’s not the same for Mama. You know she and Daddy were crazy for each other even to the end.”
Silence fell. They drove on alone with their thoughts.