Every evening at 6, Elsie Turner drinks her juice. That is what she does every single day. That’s what I think, lately, when I’m pouring the juice out into my glass. Every single evening at six.
Every evening Elsie Turner uses the old fashioned glass with the gold and black stagecoaches printed on the outside of it. Every time. The same glass. That is what she uses. That’s my next thought these days.
There used to be ten of these black and gilt atrocities, these old fashioned old fashioned glasses, but little by little, over the years, they all broke. Except this one. Cracked, more likely than not, up against the heavy pots and my old thick dishes I used to throw into the sink every which way when Henry and the children were here. But I don’t honestly remember what happened to each of them. I never had time, in those days, to stop and tell myself what I was doing. Today Elsie Turner broke another old fashioned glass. No, I never did that.
There was no time to keep track. Those days I was lucky to get all those dishes (oh how many dishes husbands and children can make!), those pots, those cups, those forks and knives and bowls and baking pans and roasting pans and everything else we used to use, into the water to soak before I was washing them and then drying them and putting them away and then taking them back out before they all went back into the dishwater again. No, I never noticed much then. I was always washing, never watching.
Life was always washing something then.
Washing dishes with hot water. The water coming first from a kettle into a dishpan, then like a miracle, out of a tap into a sink, a real sink, after the war. But I didn’t stop to marvel at the time.
Washing laundry. There’s always laundry with two children and a husband. Vats of it, then tubs of it, then—later on—machine loads. Always dried on the line. Even now, even when there’s no laundry to speak of, what I do have I dry right out on the line, same as I always did. But now I find it relaxing more then something to hurry hurry hurry through. But now, of course, there is nothing to hurry to. The children are gone.
Ah, the children. With children you are washing them all over, bathing and dunking and washing them all over all the time at first. Then, just places on them cheeks, chins, hands, sticky patches. Then they grow up and the washing’s all gone.
All of it.
Dishes, clothes, childish places?all gone. Even the holes and the trampled flowers and the buried toys that used to confound Henry in the little patch of back garden we had, all left with the passing of them, my children.
Maryanne is my youngest. My daughter. She grew up to become a woman-dentist, of all things. Married one, too. All those teeth we brushed were well cared for even after she left us. All the shiny equipment you could want, she could use. Her own children had lovely teeth. Still do, I suppose. Some of them have children with lovely teeth too now?grandchildren of my child. Imagine that. They call me great grandmother. So formal. I don’t want to answer to that, but what do you call a person when they are not your mother’s mother but your mother’s own grandmother? They don’t have sticky patches on them. Or smudged cheeks. They aren’t like my own children at all; I don’t know what to do with them.
But they are all I have (I don’t think I really have them at all) left.
Dickie died in a jungle fighting people the government said it was important to fight. Dickie. My son. He was the oldest. My first child. My son. Dickie. Richard, it says on the memorials, Richard Turner. I think it would be better if it said Dickie because then, then everyone would be forced to know that a real person died, they wouldn’t gloss over just another meaningless dried out name. We named him for his great grandfather, but, really, he never was a Richard while he was alive. Now he’s stuck being one forever.
But who is there to get mad to anymore?
Maryanne’s not troubled at all by it. For heaven’s sake, mother, it said Richard on his school reports and on his dental records too she reasons at me. She refers to him, when she does on Memorial Day, as great uncle Richard, now, to her grandchildren. They cannot picture a great uncle Richard anymore than I can. He’s truly dead now, to them. When I’m gone he will be nothing at all.
She’s the one who brought these old fashioned glasses into the house. She won them at Henry’s company-picnic raffle one year when she was 8. Oh she was so proud of winning them! Not of them, mind you, she always had good taste, but of winning them. We had to use them, though, no matter. Until I broke nearly all of them. They were such thin glass.
I put the last one away, for her to have when she grew up. I didn’t want to keep it. Garish with their black and gold stagecoaches running all around and around I always thought. So I put it away for her. She never took it. Called it an ugly thing when I offered it back, once. I think she didn’t even notice that it was something she won all those years ago.
Henry never noticed them. Just used them, of course. He would have used anything. Just so long as the iced tea was cold and had enough sugar. Dickie was just like him. Drank his milk and ate and left the table. Never noticed the boomerang pattern of my dishes. I loved those dishes so much; they were my favorite part of dinner, eating off of them. And my silverware, well? my flatware, it was plate, but I loved it. It had a swirl design and felt so good in your hands. It made washing things up easier to stand, washing things that you loved.
Those black and gold glasses never matched my dinner things, but Maryanne loved that we had them. Loved that she won them for us. So we used them. I washed them.
Now, it doesn’t matter at all, does it? What I loved, what I didn’t love. Doesn’t matter at all. My old lovely dishes are gone. When did they become replaced with these thin anonymously white ones? I think after Dickie.
Yes, after Dickie. After Dickie so much changed, got replaced, was shorn away. A terrible time when nothing mattered and nothing was noticed. I could hardly stand it.
It was more terrible then when Henry died. I know it is a hard thing to hear, but it was. Because, we knew that Henry was going. You don’t last long with lung cancer. So life adjusted around his going in little slow ways. Things were still able to matter. I could still notice. I could still stand it. I didn’t want to, but I could.
It’s amazing how much a person can make herself stand when she has time to make sure she can do it, even losing a husband, you can make yourself do it. There’s nothing else to do, no short sudden edge to drop from, there is nothing else to do but stand it. I stood it. Yes I did.
I stood and I stood. For years I stood.
But, little by little, the margins of what I feel like standing must have moved in closer and closer. I didn’t notice, didn’t notice the lessened space around my life, but then, suddenly there it was. Suddenly I knew: I cannot stand much anymore. And, really, what is there to stand?
Maryanne doesn’t need me. Hasn’t needed me since she was 12 years old, really. Certainly doesn’t need me now.
Dickie and Henry are gone. The laundry is done. My lovely boomerang dishes are gone.
All I have left to stand is this glass. This black and gold atrocious glass. This glass that makes me think when I drink juice.
And when it breaks, Elsie Turner can be done.
About the Author
Juleigh Howard-Hobson lives in the Pacific Northwest with an artist blacksmith husband, three homeschooled children and a small herd of guinea pigs. An award winning poet as well as co-editor of the Arets Boker award winning Norwegian-press literary collection Undertow, her work has most recently appeared in Aesthetica Magazine, Bewildering Stories, The Australian Reader, Shatter Colors Literary Review, The Raintown Review, Dead Letters Vol 2.2, The Hypertexts, and HipMama Magazine. An inveterate multitasker, she is currently working on two novels, as well as collection of short stories.