Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vignette #13 - Visitor

Figure I might as well finish them out, since I only had a few more to go to complete the #15.  OK, so I'm nearly three weeks late and it's really a little too long to qualify.  Oh well.

I think this one may grow into a short story.

Norman was waiting for Amanda when she got home, sitting on the bottom step with his knees drawn up and the old blue coat she'd given him last time pulled tightly around him.  The coat was much the worse for wear: filthy, the edges of the cuffs hanging in ragged, sodden tatters.  Duct tape patched a hole in one sleeve; greyish stuffing spilled out on one side where the tape had pulled loose.  He jumped up with an open grin as she approached, revealing a new gap--one of his top teeth was missing.  "Heya, sis!"  For a moment, he seemed about to embrace her, and she drew back involuntarily.  A shadow crossed his face; he held out a rough, black-nailed hand instead, and she grabbed on, swallowing her disgust.
"Norman," she said.  "It's been awhile."  His hand was not only dirty but also cold as ice and clammy.  It took all she had not to pull away immediately.  "I gave you gloves," she said.  "Two pairs."
He shrugged.  "I get by."  Which meant, of course, that he'd given them away.  He always did.  It was a wonder he still had the coat.  Probably no one else wanted it.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
He looked away.  "Just wanted to see you."
He raised his head to look at her, his grey eyes thoughtful, but said nothing.  She sighed.
A neighbor pulled up in the drive next door; the woman stared at Norman with alarm as she climbed out of her car.  Amanda felt her face flush, and felt simultaneously angry with herself for her shame and with Norman for shaming her.  She managed a weak smile and a wave.  "'Afternoon, Marie!" she called out.  Marie smiled back uncertainly, and hurried up the stairs and inside, glancing back over her shoulder, her face pinched.
"Thinks I'm going to mug you or something," Norman whispered cheerfully.  He knew--that was the worst of it.  He knew, and yet...
Amanda pursed her lips and turned away.  "You'd better come on in," she muttered.  She stepped past him up the steps, unlocked the door and banged it open, switched on the light, dropped her keys with a clatter in the tray by the door, and went into the house, Norman following silently at her heels.  They'd done this often enough to have a sort of ritual, she thought bitterly.  No words were needed.  Norman waited with his hands folded in front of him while she dug out some clothes she'd picked up for him in the interim; he took the shirt and pants, underwear and socks, pulled a plastic grocery bag from the bin by the laundry room, and went up to the upstairs bathroom to clean up.  Always the same thing.  And as always, when he came down, shaven and scrubbed, carrying his dirty clothes in the grocery bag, she asked her usual question: "Have you eaten?"
And as usual, he tried to make light of his situation.  "Depends on what you mean by that.  I couldn't possibly have arrived at my current age and state of being if I'd never--"
"Norman," she said sharply, "are you hungry?"
The half-smile faded and something like sadness flickered in his eyes for a moment.  "Yes," he said quietly.
"OK, then."  She slammed the refrigerator door open and started taking out containers of leftovers, banging each one in turn down on the counter as Norman stood silently waiting in his clean clothes and his stocking feet, blinking a little at each impact.  Why was she being this way? she asked herself.  To punish him?  For what, exactly?
When the last option was set out, she turned around, leaning back against the counter with her arms folded and demanded, "Which one?  And don't say it doesn't matter.  That doesn't simplify anything.  There's chili, tuna casserole, turkey for sandwiches, or I can heat you up a burrito or make an omelet.  Which?"
He gazed at the containers, swallowing.  "Chili," he said finally.
"Fine."  She snapped the lid off, set it loosely on top, and shoved the container in the microwave. "And sit down, why don't you?" she said, pointing at a chair.  "You're making me nervous."

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