Steam rose from the simmering soup. A tall dark haired young girl urged the liquid expertly around the half-full pot. When she needed to lower the flame, she did so with a practiced well-trained hand.
“Grandmother?” She asked as she poked at clumps of beef and barley with her wooden spoon.
Her grandmother Maeve Sienna warmed store-bought whole-wheat dinner rolls in the toaster oven. She looked totally out of place in her flowery ruffled apron. The traditional six-pack of Miller High Life; “The Champagne of Bottle Beers” sat nearby on the counter.
“Grandmother, why do we celebrate great, great-grandmother’s birthday?”
“It’s mostly for your grandma Roxanne. She was the favorite you know?”
“Did that bother you, grandmother? Your sister Roxanne being the favorite?”
Maeve stopped poking at the rolls. The only thing that would bother Maeve was if the other grandchildren knew Agatha was her secret favorite. She tried hard not to show. “No, dear. I was happy for her. She was … our grandmother’s namesake. I remember the last time Roxanne saw her grandmother. Grandmother had been in long-term care for a while. She shrunk, as she got older. Our mother always said that would happen.” Maeve shook her ebony locks and smiled in memory of the story about the ironing board, and then continued. “She got crankier too, but when the nurses said that we were coming to visit, Grandmother Roxanne turned into another person. She was friendly, happy and couldn’t wait until your grandma arrived. I remember that day. It was bright in her room, but not because of the light coming in the north-facing window. Rather it was the smile on grandmother’s face and the giggle in her voice, when she looked up out of her bed and saw Roxanne. It was sunset. The stuccoed white-walled, brick-topped buildings facing the hospital blazed with light. Our mother and sister-in-law stood on that side of the room, almost invisible against the glare. Grandmother positively beamed and in the radiance of that admiration Roxanne positively shown. Her hair was never so fiery. Her green eyes never shone so brightly. I swear to God, that under the warmth of our grandmother’s lovely gaze, Roxanne actually grew taller and more beautiful. She was never so charming, lovely, and witty. She was charismatic in grandmother’s presence. The little nieces stroked the old woman’s wrinkled translucent hands lovely. She smiled whenever she looked their way and said what beautiful young girls they were, but honestly, Agatha, your great, great-grandmother only had eyes for Roxanne.
The two of them spoke as though there were no other people in the room. As the aged sun continued to fail, some passing nurse must have turned on the over light, or maybe it was the mutual inter light of their love because their skin still glowed as they whispered sweet nothings to one another.
“Honey, I could have spoiled you awful.” Grandmother joked as she gazed into Roxanne’s green eyes.
“You always have grandmother.”
I looked up at your great-grandmother at that moment; middle child, forgotten as usual. Your great-uncle’s wife had the smile on her face she always wore around us; her thoughts seemed elsewhere. Roxanne seemed on fire! If I had not been standing in the glory of their affection I surely would have suffocated as the world shrunk to just the two of them. I have rarely seen Roxanne so radiant and self-confident. I swear your great, great-grandmother lost twenty years in those precious moments. Those glorious thirty minutes were an eternity!”
Agatha, eye on the soup, ear to her now silent grandmother, suspected the rolls had been in the toaster oven too long. She looked towards Grandmother Maeve. She found her grandmother looking happily off into space, with something that looked totally out of place on her fair face; tears.