‘Please don’t say that about me, Diane,’ Rae said.

‘Well then,’ I said, ‘you have always worked like a dog.’

‘Babka,’ said a lady who joined us. We were at Rae’s.

And the lady had a piece of cake on a plate and she sat down behind a slant-top desk that appeared to cut off her head at the neck.

But her face was a vivid face I would have been proud of, had it belonged to me, and it was fully in sight until she ducked down to fork up the cake.

Who was she? Should I have known?

As I mulled this, Rae’s daughter came in to ask – ‘How do you murder (she meant, how do you pound thin) chicken breasts?’

The lady chased her back out – as the pricking of my wig clips against my scalp grew worse.

So, then I was left alone and irritable with Rae, who was saying, ‘A rolling pin.’

And who is Rae?

She is my cousin who lives with her paradisiac vistas of Central Park, delphinium with peonies in a vase, and there’s the herringbone floor.

In her kitchen, I saw the pink lobes of the chicken breasts beneath plastic wrap.

‘Did you wash it first?’ – the lady, who was waving a heavy discolored utensil – was asking Maud – that is, Rae’s daughter.

And then the lady turned to ask me, ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Tea would be nice,’ I said.

I saw nearly an entire babka tucked beneath a glass dome.

‘And, may I have some cake, please?’

Maud had left the room and the lady did not turn back to answer me and with her tool she began again slapping at the meat.

Then the door opened and a young man – my son – stood there and was not invited in.

‘What are you doing here?’ the lady asked.

‘Be nice to me!’ he said.

‘Close the door! Go away!’

With both her arms briefly stretched above her head, she looked like a woman whose identity I knew I should have known.

Surrounding her, on the surfaces, were peas in their pods in a vine leaf, green bowl and some drops of blood.

I stepped farther forward over the checkered black-and-white linoleum to where there is a charming view of a sphered copper church roof that draws to a point, with a golden cross atop it.

A pair of pigeons were busy mating on a parapet and this looked so hazardous. I could feel talons – Do pigeons even have them? – digging painfully into my back. And then I was distracted by a large, proud aqua Mixmaster.

Not immediately, but I turned just in time to see the beauty put down her bat.

Speaking of beauty, she was standing in the awful fluorescent light – her heaving and her lifting well over by then.

Would now be the time to take the cake? – I thought.

I admired the color of her shoes, how her hair was coiled and braided. I knew who she was well enough, by then – a competent woman in earnest who didn’t like me.

One of her shoulders was lower than the other. I could see that when she turned to face me. She was small-sized and strong, but had crooked shoulders.

So, the lady did get excited when I just shoved the bowl of peas aside to make more room for the cake’s cover.

While I ate my first mouthful, I saw her mouth open and close as I opened and closed mine.

What she did do – she posed quietly.

All that she said was, ‘You are Diane Williams? Do you even know what most of your friends say about you?’

 

 

 

Photograph © James Bowe

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