“Raising you and your sister was a harrowing experience,” she said to me, apropos of nothing, as we sat in the window seat of her favourite restaurant.
It had been her idea to meet but she had been unusually quiet for most of the meal. I, meanwhile, had been idly watching the glamorous shoppers bustling to and fro outside in the early winter gloom. But with this statement, she ripped me back into the moment. Was this what she invited me out to tell me, or had she just let it fall accidentally from her lips to fill the silence?
I felt my face flush and grow hot.
Why does she do this to me; tell me things that the rest of our family wouldn’t believe if I repeated them? And what did she expect me to say this time?
Talk about harrowing.
We sat a while longer in that newly-defined silence, the one she had created. I felt it stretch out around us like a foul-smelling balloon, and waited for it to pop.
Refusing to submit, I looked back outside and contemplated the gnarled tree by the window. Its leaves had blown, exposing a spindly skeleton. It seemed all the more stark juxtaposed against the brightly-dressed people whirling past. I knew how it felt; alone, stripped bare, ugly.
She didn’t say anything either, she just sat there twisting and untwisting an empty sugar packet until finally it ripped and the few remaining granules scattered across the red tablecloth. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her continue to stare at the packet she had destroyed.
She and I are forever tied to each other, no matter how much we would like to be free of each other, no matter how little we really know or like each other, no matter what is said. My sister and I never asked her to raise us, though I get that there was no one else.
But now this. How could anyone be expected to move forward from this kind of statement? I mean her as well as me.
We can’t, really. All I could think to do was order a piece of cake, to show her how little she had upset me. I tried to savour it though I don’t remember tasting it. Once I was done, we both mumbled “thank you for lunch” and “let’s do this again,” but we knew we wouldn’t.
I stood outside the restaurant and watched her walk away. As I turned to go in the opposite direction, the tree caught my attention once more. I wondered if it would still be there in the spring. It was hard to imagine its barren arms covered in fresh buds, infused with new life. Then again, life does sometimes find a way, even in the most unlikely of situations.