“Young Niall is writing a speculative future fiction story, and I am preparing to read it at The Kinder Gardener’s Childcare, Tech Hub, and Retirement Villa”, informed Bee to her Grandniece Maevis, after the girl had grabbed the sheets of paper from Bee with her jelly-filled hands, and asked her what she was doing, spitting the question all over the pages through a mouthful of crumbs.
The young woman was only minutes in the door after coming home from college for Christmas break, and she was already smearing substances everywhere she could get her hands on, which every year, included more and more surfaces of Bee’s house. Maeve had shot up a full five inches since Bee had last seen her that Summer.
Crumbs-and-applesauce had been the odd girl’s favourite mid-day snack since her second day of first grade, thirteen years ago to this day. Do that math. That’s a lot of applesauce.
They didn’t have applesauce in the college cafeteria, and Maeve had already been missing it quite badly. She told Bee she thought she might be getting the shakes, in fact, to which Bee tut-tutted quite disapprovingly. Maeve hadn’t seen her Grandaunt in months, and all the child could think about was raiding the old woman’s kitchen. Hers. With her food in it. Bee had always been protective of her food. She did not much like that about herself, but there you are.
“There is no more applesauce, Maevis. That was the last bit. I threw out all the rest. They had molds. You opened every single jar I had that last visit, I think”. Bee tried to brush the crumb-jelly from Niall’s manuscript. The boy would most certainly notice.
Maeve snorted, because Bee liked to count molds, as though they were individuals, rather than one unfortunate thing you either had someplace or you didn’t. She hauled open a cupboard and began the Great Rummaging. “I’ll get more later at Too-Toonies. I gotta go drop this… Thing off for Niall and Blueberry before I head over to Normand’s.” She was holding something large and box-like under one arm, appearing to be wrapped in foil and rubber bands.
“Two kinds of molds, Maevis.” Bee re-stated. “Two. That’s two-too many molds to have in one’s applesauce, or any other thing.” The elder woman had put the sheets safely aside, and was now at the kitchen island (“The Isle of Hamm” is what Maeve called it), a butter knife held calmly in one gentle fist, and a soap-cloth clenched quite firmly in the other. Old Dooley was already lumbering down the long, narrow, central back hallway, where he enjoyed spending most days rolling lazily around, slowly following the sun patch as it crossed and stretched its way across the weathered and paint-stained wood flooring. His second-favourite past time these days was licking soap off the kitchen floor, a thing that happened more often when Maeve was around, he had long ago noted. He yawned a hello in Maeve’s general direction.
“Heya, Drools”, Maeve cheerfully slammed the cupboard, cracking something delicate on the other side, and strode across the kitchen to the immaculate sink, to begin filling it with things she would soon smear with the various applesauce alternatives she had just found. She scratched Dooley on the way by, which he huffed at. He wasn’t fond of of that nickname, at all. In all the years he had followed her around patiently, and waited for her to come home patiently, protected her from being possibly abducted (once or twice), and slept on her cold feet patiently (only to get kicked repeatedly in the head all night long,) and all those many other things… Maeve never once seemed to clue in that he knew what she was saying, almost always. In a dog manner, at least. He found the soap spill near Bee’s feet, and started working away at it – being perhaps a whit more careful not to drool any of it, out of principle.
Bee had moved on, to go close the cupboard Maeve had just slammed. There was a trick to getting it to not pop back out. She had meant to ask Bently to fix that, before… well. She put down the butter knife, aligning it perfectly with the counter splash guard, entirely out of habit.
Maeve half turned, eyebrow slightly cocked, a Move she had been working on. “Beatrice”, she countered. She was crumbling an entire loaf of white bread into a bowl now, but had paused mid-crumble. The house ants were already sending signals back to the Queen that the Maevis girl had returned, even taller, and considerably hungrier. There would be celebrations for days, which, bear in mind, is a lifetime for most ants. Some would come to call Maeve’s visit that year as the Age of Plenty.
“Maevis, we need to talk.” Bee said, plainly.
Maeve’s eyes shot a quick glance around the room, spoon poised over an open Nutella jar, and half-whispered, somewhat conspiratorially, “I think we might be already. Talking, I mean.”
“Maeve. I’m being serious. Stop trying to be funny quite so constantly. It’s tiring for an old woman.”
Maeve Morgan Laughed Out Loud. The idea of Aunt Bee… getting tired… that was the joke. Except Maeve also knew Bee wasn’t joking, and she knew it almost immediately, which was concerning. She always knew when Bee had said a True Thing, and she could sense the elder woman was tired, maybe for the first time, in quite that way. Had this happened over the last five months? She spooned more Nutella into the breadcrumb bowl than she had first meant to.
“Grandaunty Bee, you know I’m just like this because I have the ADHD, right? And I left my meds in the dorm – maybe on purpose – and I’m on Christmas – sorry, holiday – vacation… and I’m just really happy to see you and Dooley -” (Dooley had followed the soap trail to Beatrice, who was still clutching the soap-cloth, which was still dripping lemon-flavoured soap, his second-favourite kind) “- and I’m also happy to finally not have any schoolwork, for, like, two whole weeks. I brought so many books to read I have absolutely no space left on my ReKindle”.
Bee did not know what that was, but she would ask B.B. to “Google it” later for her, a thing she was also not so sure about. The world was changing too quickly these days, she couldn’t remember where or when she was, half the time or more.
“Well, I’m glad you’re still reading. I worry about children – I’m sorry, I meant young people – today. You spend so much time with computers, I wonder when you find time to keep up your reading skills. Also, you do not have ADHD. You have creative spirit, but you should still follow your doctor’s advice about taking your medications regularly.”
Maeve scrunched her face slightly, not quite sure how to respond to any of that. She scooped in some peanut butter packets she found in Bee’s Kitchen Accessory drawer. Bee looked away, her stomach turned a half knot.
“I need my ginger ale…” the old woman queasily half-spoke to herself, tottering off toward the walk-in pantry (“The Food Vault”, in Maeve’s mind and imagination).
Dooley finished the soap cleanup and stepped over to Maeve’s leg, leaning in for a good scratch, before he would retire for the day back to the sun room / art studio. Maeve’s hand met his furry old head reflexively. “Drools, you are a Dog Among Dogs.” Dooley knew that already, having been told it on countless occasions, but it still warmed his old heart to hear his human daughter say it. Every single time.
Maeve watched her Grandaunt Beatrice swing the pantry’s door open, and gingerly step in, in search for the Ginger ale, which she normally hid masterfully from Maeve whenever the girl came to visit. The woman wasn’t even trying to hide that she had some in there, and that wasn’t like her at all.
Don’t change our thing, Aunt Bee, please. I still need it. Maeve thought she only thought that, but it came out in a small whisper anyway, to herself. She had been practicing the art of Speaking Good Thoughts at Short Distances, ever since she had read Great Step-Uncle Bently’s weird wizard notebook, which she found and mostly photocopied last Summer break. The old man left stuff everywhere,which was why Bee would send him away for a while, before eventually letting him come back. Maeve hadn’t had time yet to ask if Bently was in the house, or somewhere else for the holidays.
“Niall is writing speculative fiction?” Maeve mumbled to herself, stuffing half of a PBNS (Peanut Butter and Nutella Sammich) into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. She hadn’t seen Niall at all last Christmas – that is Holiday – break. She felt slightly sad about that, being honest with herself, as she was now actively practicing at doing more of. Maeve hated fiction – she had always been on record as hating it. She wondered what Niall had written about.
Dooley gave her hand a knowing lick, extracting what Nutella, bread and peanut butter traces he could, and then tottered off toward the long, narrow, central-back hallway to the sunniest and sparkliest room in all of Elder Falls. Maeve watched him go, hiked the awkwardly wrapped tinfoil and rubber-band package up on her hip, grabbed the bowl of Sammich Supplies she had scavenged from Bee’s cupboards, and headed upstairs to do some serious thinking.
When the kitchen had emptied of the fuss of people and their worries and concerns, it would often breathe a long and silent sigh of relief. It expanded as it relaxed, in fact, but not so much that any measuring device in the house might ever notice. Old houses breathe – this is well known. We do not often ascribe reasons for them to do so, but that does not mean they don’t have their reasons. Maevis was home for another Winter visit, and the Old Grey Lady could stop worrying so much about her, if only for a week and a day.
The second wave of advanced scout Ants had just arrived, scurrying quickly from the tall toaster, to better assess the situation around the sink and surroundings. It was even better than They could have expected. The Queens would be Most Pleased.