Ada stood by the kitchen counter, her back to the window. She might fade into a ghost, to haunt her own house. So weary, so very tired. It hadn’t seemed like John’s funeral at all. More like hers.
The mail plopped down through the slot onto the hardwood floor. Ada looked out her back door screen to the garden, then back to the scattered letters. Amidst the white ones lay an air mail envelope. She walked over and briskly scooped them all up.
She delayed the agonizing moment of finding the letter amongst the bills. When she picked it out, she ran her finger over the front of it, tracing the “A,” then the “d,” “a” slowly, methodically, of Kyle’s handwriting. The fat envelope felt light when she picked it up. She fanned herself with it, sniffing the air for his scent; but only itchy, feathery, tomato pollen tickled her nose. She turned the envelope over and ran a fingernail underneath the seal.
She read and reread the parts that spoke to her, telling her he missed her, wishing she would reconsider and join him in London.
Then he negated his words. “No, it is best you are not here. Parts of the city are devastated by the bombing, and it’s depressing to be here at night in a huge city without lights.”
Then as she read on, a line reached out to her, wrapping around her, pulling her into a memory of him. She shivered, folding the paper carefully along the creases and replacing it in the envelope. Ironing it down, she suddenly regretted making the letter less than it had been before she had read it. Tears splashed on the envelope, staining it grey. She vainly tried to wipe them off. Finally, she sought out her favorite chair in the living room and collapsed into it, pressing her body into the cushions so that they engulfed her.
She lay her head back and let the tears come. All of the words were right. He had made a promise he would come back for her, but she knew it was a lie. He was lost to her as surely as the rest of them. She hurt all the more when she thought of John.
She sat and cried until the tears came no more, then she closed her eyes and waited. Her heart ceased to pound violently and her breathing slowed. She inhaled deeply, held it, then exhaled until her ribs pushed out and she sucked in more air.
Something thwacked the screen door and stuck to the vibrating mesh. She shrieked. When she focused her eyes, she saw that it was a black kitten, its claws hooked through the screen. It mewed.
Ada stormed to the door, throwing off the latch. She grabbed the intruder by the neck with one hand and picked off each paw with the other.
“No!” she scolded. Still holding onto its neck, she looked at its open, pink mouth. It mewed softly. It still had the blue eyes of a baby. A white nose. Otherwise all black.
“I don’t need anything that needs taking care of. Go away.”
She put it down and clapped her hands. The kitten sat and meowed. Louder and louder. Ada scanned the neighborhood, feeling helpless against its pleas for care. She had noticed, earlier, unfamiliar children with a box running down the sidewalk. They had simply left the poor thing to fend for itself. She stared long at Madeline’s house. She might give it to Heather and Rachel.
Oh, no. Especially since Maddie’s sister was staying with them for a while. Carrie, demanding in different ways than Maddie, mentioned several times before and after the funeral how she could not tolerate animals. Allergic.
“Humph,” snorted Ada. “Wouldn’t share anybody’s attention, is all.”
Then she looked down into the unblinking blue eyes.
“Oh, all right!”
She jerked open the door, then held it until the kitten came all the way in. “I’ll get you some milk. Mind you, you take it as is. I’m not heating it.”
The milk sloshed against the sides the bowl as Ada set it before the kitten. The kitten nosed the dish, took a tentative sip and backed away from the bowl. It sat washing itself, paused, looked at Ada and meowed.
“I’ll feed you mush until I can get you cat food.” She slapped the box and pan down on the counter.
After the dish and pan were rinsed and put away, Ada sat on the couch. The kitten came beside her feet, rubbing and purring. She reached down and picked it up, placing it gently on her lap. “Well, what is your name? Most beings are born with a sense of themselves, so who are you?”
She scratched its ears. It nestled down, putting its head between its paws. She thought back over the years. The lost loves. The times.
She looked about the rooms. Her sewing machine in the other room. The fireplace, neat and sparkling. Rodger and Adele’s wedding picture on the mantle. With Kyle beside them. Rodger and Kyle in uniform. Adele, so pretty and slim in her mother’s wedding gown, her mother beside Adele, radiant, and her father looking off into the distance.
Her life wasn’t so bad. Not really. Then another wave of sadness crested, and she sat back into the cushions with arms dangling by her sides and let the tears flow anew. For John, for Sam, for herself. Spent, she rested, stroking the kitten absentmindedly.
Just as she welcomed the calmness, savoring the quiet, the telephone rang. She eased the sleeping kitten off her lap and on the fourth ring she answered.
“Yes, Mrs. Steele, I do have a garden.” Ada’s curiosity piqued. “What a lovely idea! Yes, I’d love to contribute vegetables out of my garden.”
She imagined all of the women baking and putting together sandwiches for the train loads of soldiers coming through Chicago.
“Why, no! The pick‑up spot is only a few miles from my house. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. All right.”
She paused after hanging up the receiver. A Victory garden, Mrs. Steele had called it. Oh! The irony of a day of bereavement and contributions. Relief swept over her that she hadn’t been asked to bake cookies and cakes. That would have been too much. Too much.
She started outside. “Oh, my! Forgetful woman!” she chided herself. “I must change my clothes.” Then she stopped and slowly shook her head. “No,” she whispered, “I’ll pick in my finery.”
She charged outside, slamming the door behind her. But when she heard the plaintive cries of the kitten, she returned and held the door open. The kitten pranced outside as if it already owned the entire backyard.
Ada grabbed up an old, metal washtub, pushing it against her hip. She plucked ears of corn, ruffling the long, green leaves as she marched down the rows. She pinched off green beans and tossed them in. The kitten followed her, darting in and out of the corn stalks, batting at a dangling tomato that drooped from the vine onto the path. Ada put the washtub down and shooed away the cat. She yanked out rutabagas and carrots and rhubarb, tossing them into the tub. She plucked several ripe tomatoes and nested them carefully on top.
The kitten came up behind her and bit her above her heel. “Ooh, you little monster,” she growled, picking it up and giving it a shake. Then she cradled it, stroking its downy fur.
“I’m tired. Let’s go rest a spell.”
She sat down at the patio table. The sun poured over the entire yard, so intense the light on the green grass, it hurt her eyes. Reluctantly, she rose, and nestling the kitten in the crook of her arm, she wearily padded back inside to the living room and sat where she could see outside the front window.
Ada watched Adele leave Madeline’s house and come to hers. She closed her eyes, wishing that Adele would go on home.
“Ada?” Adele pushed the front door open a crack. “I won’t come in if you don’t want company.”
“Come on in, dear.” Ada continued to stroke the kitten.
“Oh, isn’t she cute?” cooed Adele. She stood awkwardly beside the chair. “Where did she come from?”
“I don’t know. But I think she’s a he.” Ada motioned for Adele to sit. “For the life of me, I can’t think of a name.”
The kitten woke, yawning, its teeth exposed. It looked sleepily over to Adele.
“Are you going to keep him?” Adele winced at a sudden jab in the ribs. Ada looked at her expectantly. “No, Ada, don’t even think of asking me! I couldn’t cope with a kitten.”
“Then I guess he’s my guest until he decides to go.” Ada suddenly choked. She swallowed. “How’s Maddie?”
Adele stared at the kitten. “Doing well. It hasn’t hit her yet.” Adele relaxed into the seat. “Madeline’s one tough lady. She could have been Rodger’s boxing trainer.”
Ada had no reply. She nodded.
“Look at the way that cat stares without blinking. Like Rodger.” Adele chuckled. “Maybe he’s ‘The Kid.’ ”
Ada smiled, rubbing the kitten’s head. “ ‘The Kid.’ Cute. ‘Kitten the Kid.’ ”
Adele got herself a glass of water from the kitchen and brought it out to the living room. She sipped, then dipped her finger into the glass. Dripping across her dress, she placed the tip of her finger on top of the kitten’s head. He tried to shake her loose.
“I baptize thee ‘The Kid.’ ”
“You didn’t tell me what the doctor said.” Ada smoothed down the wet fur.
“I’m as healthy as a horse. I feel like one too. Probably going to be a boy the way I’m carrying him so low. That’s what the nurse said. She delivered a hundred babies during World War One.”
For the first time, Ada noticed that Adele looked stressed. The baby must be carrying all of the extra weight, she thought, because Adele’s face still had the hollow cheeks evident in her wedding picture.
Ada wagged a finger at Adele. “Don’t you believe every old wives’ tale you hear.”
“I don’t. I’m too smart for that.” Adele chuckled. Suddenly, her voice thickened. “How many more funerals, Ada?” Her face pinched, then relaxed a bit. “Don’t think me ill‑mannered, but I can’t help but feel funerals are a waste of time. I can’t understand why we do it.”
“For the living, my dear. So we can atone for our sins against the dead.”
Adele played with a wad of her dress between her index finger and thumb. Wisps of hair framed her heart‑shaped face. “Do you think Madeline loved John?”
Ada waited before answering. “Yes, yes, I do. And I think John loved her. In his way.”
Adele contemplated Ada. “I hope so.” She stared into Ada’s eyes. “I think he deserved to be loved. He was a good man. Kind.”
“He was a strong man, Adele,” Ada kept her eyes from wavering. “He took on moral responsibilities and did right by himself and others. It’s something, I’m afraid, Rodger has little understanding of.”
Adele shook her head. “Rodger’s a very moralistic man. Very duty‑bound.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. I meant he doesn’t…didn’t understand John.”
Adele ran her tongue along her teeth, making little sucking noises. “I don’t know. It’s all too much for me today. I’m going to walk home now and take a nap.”
“It’s a long walk. Would you like a ride?” Ada started to rise, quickly cupping her hand around the kitten.
“No. Need the exercise.” Adele pushed herself up. “Ada, thanks for letting me lean on you. Having one person to talk honestly with makes this small town bearable.”
“You’ll meet other young mothers, Adele, and you won’t feel so lonesome. Don’t let Maddie take you over. Keep yourself as yourself.”
Ada stood, leaning into Adele as the young woman kissed her cheek. Ada squeezed her arm. “Take care and rest. You’re going to need it more these next few weeks.”
“I will, Mama Ada.” Adele winked. “I’d like to help you weed the garden tomorrow, if that’s okay with you.”
“I would like that.” She waved back as Adele eased down the porch steps. “Come in the morning when it’s cool.”
She had the day back to herself. She paced the house. She straightened the books on the shelf. She picked up the empty teakettle, and then spied the washtub of vegetables outside the door by the patio table.
“I’ll take them over right now,” she said aloud. The Kid meowed when Ada left him behind inside the house. Ada hefted the washtub onto her hip and walked around front to her car. She set the warm metal tub on the driveway at the back of the car and went into the house to get her purse and keys.
The Kid followed her through the house. She eased herself out the front door, quickly closing it behind her so The Kid could not follow. As she put the vegetables in her trunk, she could hear him howling.
“Oh, all right!” she snarled. She dashed back into the house, dashed to her bedroom to find a shoebox of letters on the top closet shelf. She spilled out the contents onto the bed, corralled the letters into a pile, and swept them into a drawer. Then she hurried into her sewing room, with The Kid at her heels, and seized a flannel remnant, stuffing it into the shoebox.
“Come along, then if you must,” she said, swooping down on him. She planted him in the box. “But I’m warning you, no nonsense.” She tucked the box beneath her arm and scooped up her purse and keys, marching to the car. She scooted the box with the kitten over to the passenger’s side as she seated herself.
The Kid nested in the flannel and promptly fell asleep. Ada drove cautiously the fifteen minutes to Minnie Steele’s house, reminding herself to be careful of gas and wear on the tires.
Minnie had seven women organized and working at packing boxes. Ada stayed for a few minutes, chatting with the ladies about their home‑cooked meals for the soldiers in transit. She marveled at the women’s humanity. On the way home, her kitten stirred, then fell back to sleep.
Ada carried the box into the house, careful not disturb the sleeping kitten. The evening softened with the twilight. As the teakettle whistled, The Kid appeared in the kitchen, his vociferous cries unnerving Ada. As the tea steeped, Ada made mush for her kitten. He ate while she drank tea. She had fixed a cardboard box with sand in it for him and put it by the back door. It wouldn’t be long until he’d be going outside.
Ada blinked back the tears. She’d enjoy him now, as he was, a kitten. And not worry about what was yet to be.
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