The Same Time

Had she just put these Christmas decorations up or was it time to take them down? She had just decided they were to come down, when someone (a woman? a girl?) called her and asked her what she wanted for Christmas this year. This year? She thought maybe an opal ring, but she looked down at her hand and the exact thing she had in mind was there on her finger. How long had she had that ring? How long had she imagined getting it, how long shopped around for it, how long now had it been on her hand? But that girl couldn't buy her an opal ring. Even if she had the money, she wouldn't know which one to buy, her taste was off. Not by much, but just a notch or two to the left of her own. And what good would it do her to have an opal ring she didn't quite like? None. That's what.

She told the woman silicon utensils, red ones. A pie server, a slotted spoon, a ladle. Not that she made pie more than once a year any more. Or was it twice? She hoped the girl would somehow let slip in her prattle some clue as to who she was. She'd called her Grandma, hadn't she? Or was that yesterday? She got up and walked to the kitchen, at first worrying that she'd tangled the phone cord, but when she felt for it, there wasn't one. Oh, that's right. They're all cordless now. How long had it been since she'd gotten this new hi-tech wonder? A long time ago and a very short time at the same time. In the kitchen she looked in the crock next to the stove where she kept her wooden spoons and spatulas, and there was a red silicon pie server, a slotted spoon and a ladle. Did this girl know that? Had she already gotten these as a present from her, last year?

She tried to tell the woman, "You know what? How about some truffles? I always love truffles," when she remembered with a shock how many boxes of truffles she had gradually whitening and drying up in her pantry. She'd bring them out when people (who were they again?) would come to visit and offer to make the coffee for her, but they never took any and she didn't blame them, they didn't look that good to her when she opened the box. She wished she could offer one to her own grandmother, a woman she never saw eat anything she hadn't made herself, but who loved sweets, especially chocolate. She wished she could go back to the bench swing under the pear tree at the farm and sit next to her grandmother, give her a truffle, watch her eyes as she bit into it. Then she'd love to brush her grandmother's thin silky white hair and roll it back into a bun at the nape of her neck, like she used to do when she was about eight.

Her hand reached for one of the silicon utensils, the pie server, and she saw the claw of an old witch pluck it from the crock. Whose was that? And then she saw the opal ring again, the same opal ring she'd buy if she could, and it was on the finger of a witch's hand. The pie server clattered to the countertop, she heard the woman say, "Grandma? Grandma?" in her ear, and she knew it to be her hand, her own hand, her ring--that's right, she'd bought it in 1976. Or had Bill given it to her after she'd pointed it out to her daughter and sent the two of them to buy it for her birthday? She used to remember all these things. Everything she owned came with a detailed pedigree: a time, a place, a person, a price, but now it was all swirling together, like mixing different colored paints and gradually becoming a matte gray substrate like clay.

She put the phone down and wandered out of the kitchen, finding herself in front of the Christmas tree. Each shiny object twirled on its little purpose-made hook. She'd placed each one so carefully. For years now, she'd been able to decorate it exactly the way she liked, not having to come out at night and surreptitiously move an ill-placed ornament to a better spot. She put out her hand to touch, gently, gently, a horse her mother had made. White felt with individually sewn on sequins. She had thought it so beautiful many years ago. Now it was ugly and plain and almost tasteless, but too precious to get rid of. It was a piece of her past that seemed almost unbelievable now. She took it from the tree and sat down on the sofa, running her fingers over the sequins and tiny translucent beads. Who would do this kind of work any more? No one she knew. Her fingers knew how to sew on beads, though they hadn't for decades. Her mother used to make at least fifty of these every year to give as presents to her friends and grandchildren, and at the busiest time of the year, while making dozens of cookies, planning big holiday meals, wrapping a hundred presents. How had she done all that? No one wanted to do any of that any more. Her mother had traced around a stiff cardstock form of a horse with pencil, fitting them as closely as possible, cut them with pinking shears, sewed two together and stuffed them with cotton batting, one after another. Her mother had done this, and the sequins and beads, after supper--after working all day, she worked on these or other sewing or crocheting projects as if they were relaxation. Her mother liked to keep busy. She remembered thinking she'd never be such a slave to the needle as her mother was; she'd wanted store-bought goods, things that didn't look homemade. All those years, all that know-how, gone. Poof! She hadn't ever done all that her mother had done, and yet now, even that seemed like a fairy tale, a Snow White amount of drudgery and woe. Now there was so little to do, so little change from one day to another that they passed like a boring dream she could only hope to wake up from. When would she?

The phone was ringing. Who could it be at this hour? What time was it, anyway? Why was she sitting here holding this crooked animal? What was it anyway? She saw the tree again and thought, Was it time to put the ornaments back in their boxes? It must be.