She’d much prefer her voice didn’t waver, but age has done away with that dignity, too. At least she still has her posture, and what she lacks in depth she makes up for in sharpness.
“Take the drawers out first, at least! That’s eighty-year-old mahogany, not IKEA.”
The youngest of the pair fixes wide eyes on her, and nearly drops his side of the bureau. She sighs. There’s so much less of her now than there used to be, and yet they’re all so easily cowed. A simple flick of the afghan covering her knees, a hint of disapproval, and they pale.
Her age does come with one advantage: anyone who knew she didn’t come to New York with this upper-crust accent has long since faded away. And she’s learned to wield please as a weapon and thank you as a rebuke, just as well as any of them.
The movers disappear down the stairs once again, and she’s left sitting in the patch of watery sunlight by the window. It’s bright but cold, heralding winter more clearly than the useless forecast on the radio.
She gazes around at the apartment she moved into nearly forty-five years before. The bare spots that appeared like a slowly encroaching rash on her walls over the last few years have finally accelerated to a terminal disease in only a few hours. It’s indecent, like pale skin accustomed only to darkness, bared to morbidly curious onlookers.
She averts her eyes, gazing out the window onto the traffic of Fifth Avenue.
A muffled conversation drifts up the stairs, and in a moment, a figure appears in the doorway to the sitting room. His coat is draped over his arm and his nose is red from the cold, and for a moment he looks so like his father that her heart stutters. But no: he wears his fine wool suit with far more ease than his father ever had.
But of course, he was born to it.
His gaze takes in the bare walls and the missing rugs, before finally settling on her. “Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
“Don’t be absurd.” She longs for the cane she used to wield, thumping against the floorboards to great effect. Now, she can’t even move this accursed wheelchair on her own. She satisfies herself with staring through him and folding her hands over the reticule in her lap. “I’ll be quite all right.”
He shifts his stance. “But my father wanted—”
An ember of foolish desire flares in her heart. That the war didn’t tear her and his father apart. That this man were her own son. She and Connor spoke of building a family, a lifetime ago, his callused fingertips tracing a line down her spine as she stretched like a lazy cat on threadbare sheets.
But no. When he was away at war, she was forced to make her own choices, and she always knew she’d have to live with the consequences. “What we had was a long time ago. I’m not about to pick over his corpse like the rest of your family.”
He sighs. “Margaret, he still spoke of you—”
The ember burns to ash, and what’s left is a yawning ache. “Please leave.” This time she turns her head toward the window. The faint honk of taxis many stories below is the only break in the silence.
Finally his footsteps retreat, and she lets out a breath.
Her fingers tighten on the reticule in her lap. It may be frayed, and the beads may be mostly gone. The threads may poke out at uneven intervals. But the little pearl-handled pistol inside is a solid weight beneath the thin fabric. It’s one piece she’ll never cede to creditors. She traces the line of the grip with only slightly unsteady fingers.
Her options may be limited, these days. But they’re not gone yet.
By day (and often night) Tanya Breshears is a freelance designer, living in San Francisco with a bossy Australian Shepherd and two motorcycles. She has a story upcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, and has kept a list of “good words” since 2007. She can be found on the Internet at http://www.maybefriday.com.