“You don’t know me,” she said, “but I used to live here.” She said it matter-of-factly, as if they’d already been in the middle of a conversation and she hadn’t just knocked on his door. She didn’t follow it up with anything, instead just looked past him into the house and he half-suspected she might just walk right in. Charles wasn’t accustomed to beautiful women appearing on his doorstep, or anywhere else in his life for that matter, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said, stepping aside as if it were the natural thing to do when a stranger arrived announcing that your home used to belong to them.
She slipped off her shoes and slid her bare feet around on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor. Charles stood back and watched her, not sure what to expect next. “I always loved that,” she said. “Coming in hot from playing outside and cooling off on the tiles. How is it that no matter how warm it is they always stay so cold?” She didn’t wait for an answer and Charles was glad because he didn’t have one. Instead she told him how sometimes, when it was really, really hot she would strip down to her underwear and spread herself out on the floor, pressing her skin against the tiles for relief. Charles couldn’t help imagining what that would look like now and then quickly averted his eyes as if she might be able to tell what he was thinking. An awkward silence filled the kitchen.
“Well, then…mind if I look around?” She didn’t wait for an answer and headed off down the hallway. Oddly, Charles found he didn’t really mind at all.
“What’s your name, then?” he called after her, finding his voice again.
“Penny,” came the reply. Quite fitting, Charles thought as he watched her long copper hair disappear with her into one of the spare bedrooms.
That was last week. Since then Charles had heard a hundred tales of childhood adventures that had taken place under the very roof of the house he’d come to think of as his own and now he wasn’t quite so sure of that anymore. Penny was one of those people whom, once you’d met, seemed to somehow insert her reality into your own until you were no longer able to tell whose life was whose. Charles was still trying to figure out whether this was a good thing or a bad thing when his phone vibrated with a text from her.
Meet me for breakfast at the coffee shop on 6th in half an hour. It wasn’t quite clear whether this was an invitation or an instruction and Charles looked at the half-eaten bowl of cereal sitting in front of him. Either way, it was a better plan than cold cereal alone with the cat. See you there, he typed.
When he arrived, she was waiting for him in a booth near the front window. She’d already ordered and bacon and eggs and pancakes sat on plates spread across the table. As Charles sat, she slid a steaming cup of coffee toward him.
“Cream and two sugars, right?” Charles wondered how anyone who talked so much could have picked up on such details. “Yes. Thanks.”
“Listen, Charles…I was thinking…”
That was six months ago. Since then Charles had grown accustomed to taking cold showers. He didn’t mind….not anymore. At first, he wondered what a person could possibly do in there long enough to drain all the hot water. But Penny sang when she showered and her voice became something he looked forward to waking up to. Besides…she had to walk past his bedroom to get to her own and visions of her wrapped in a towel made cold showers something of a necessity. Penny had never mentioned a boyfriend, but women like Penny never went for Charles.
That was a year ago. Since then Charles’ bedroom had transformed. He had night tables now, with lamps on them and sheer scarves draped across their shades that diffused the light and bathed the room in a pinkish glow. And it always smelled faintly of magnolia blossoms. He wasn’t sure how, although he suspected the aroma originated from one of the many mysterious bottles that now covered his dresser. He’d never admit it to his friends, but he rather liked it. And he didn’t mind one bit how Penny always stole the covers in the middle of the night or that she sometimes laughed in her sleep loud enough to wake him. No, he didn’t mind at all.
That was 6 years ago. Since then Janie had started kindergarten and Philip had started walking on his own. “Ready for another?” Penny asked him over dinner. They made a point to go out alone together at least once a month. “Another drink? No, I’d better not unless you plan to drive us home.” “Not another drink, silly…another baby.” Penny was an endless source of energy and enthusiasm for life and everything about her was contagious. Their life together was loud and messy and full and so much was still to come. Charles had long since learned to trust her instincts and follow her lead and somehow everything always worked out. “Another baby, huh? “
That was a very long time ago. Long before all the wonderful memories that now flickered like old movies through Charles’ mind. Funny how it wasn’t the big things he remembered now…not the vacations or the graduations or even the grandchildren. No it was the little things, like how the house hadn’t known a silent minute since Penny had first knocked on the door all those years ago. Not that he minded. In fact, the silence now was almost as painful as it had been to bury her today. It was so hot at the cemetery he could barely stand it. Why had they decided to have it at noon? He supposed it didn’t matter now and he slipped off his shoes and socks and loosened his tie. The tiles of the kitchen floor were cool beneath his feet and the shock of it brought to mind the day they’d met. He smiled and took off his suit, folding his pants and placing them neatly on the kitchen table, along with his shirt. He hung his jacket from the kitchen chair and lowered himself slowly to the floor. Charles was no longer a young man and he made the appropriate noises to prove it, grunting as his knees objected to their current position and resisted his descent. But eventually he made it to the floor and pressed his skin against the cool of the tiles. As he lay there, he imagined her in that exact spot, seeking relief from the heat of the summer sun.
That was a lifetime ago.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2016.
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