A Strong Woman - Cover

A Strong Woman

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

Chapter 5

I got up the next morning, put on a pair of sweat pants and a vanilla Coke t-shirt that Darlia had given me, and went out into the kitchen in my bare feet. I always put my boots on when I go out – growing up in the desert doesn't teach you to go barefoot – and I could feel first the carpet of the hallway and the living room, and then the cool smooth tiles of the kitchen, under my feet. Cecelia was there, putting a plate and silverware into the sink.

"I've just finished breakfast," she told me, "but I can fix you something."

"You know I don't never eat no breakfast."

That got me a finger in the ribs. In 13 years I've never once been able to block that. "Your predilection for speaking execrable English, beloved, is as constant at the tide. I despair of ever civilizing you."

I grinned. "I'm about as civilized as I'm ever gonna get. I'm crude, rude, an' uncouth, an' proud of it."

"Yes, you are – all of the above. Nevertheless, I shan't abandon my efforts. After all, the horse may learn to sing."

I laughed at that. I'd told her the story years before:

A sultan was angry at one of his courtiers, and sentenced him to death. The courtier, thinking fast, offered a compromise. If the sultan would spare his life, he would teach the sultan's favorite horse to sing. Amused, the sultan agreed to delay the execution for a year while the courtier taught the horse to sing. One day a stable hand said, "You know, you're just wasting your time here. You're going to die anyway when the year is over." And the courtier said, "Perhaps. But much can happen in a year. The sultan may die. I may die. And maybe, just maybe, the horse will learn to sing".

"If this horse learns to sing, C, you'll be the wonder worker of the ages. But if you do want to fix me a snack," I said, emphasizing that it wasn't going to be breakfast, "I'll sure eat it."

"In that case, Darvin, sit there at the counter, and I'll prepare you something." I turned to go, but she snagged my arm and turned me back to face her. Then she put her hands on my cheeks and gave me a kiss and said, "I must tell you that I love you."

I sat at the counter before I replied. "I love you too, Cecelia."

"I know you do," she said over your shoulder, as she pulled a loaf of her homemade bread out of her oversized bread box.

I didn't say anything, just watched as she sliced the bread, stuck four slices in our big toaster, and got out jars of prickly pear jelly and cactus honey. I was sitting in one of the high chairs we have, what would be stools if they didn't have backs to 'em, on the dining room side of the counter that runs between that room and the kitchen. On the other side of the counter were the deep sinks Cecelia uses, and counter space where she could put bowls, or chop vegetables, or whatever. She cooks like a bird flies, and sometimes she'll have every inch of counter space occupied – not just the space by the sinks, but the space around the stove as well. The counter doesn't reach the walls – on the south side there's a passage to the living room, and on the north, by the corner where Cecelia keeps some green indoor plants on a stair-stepped wrought iron stand, a way to get into the dining room.

The toast popped, and Cecelia put it on a plate. She spread goat butter on it, as white as an angel's wings, and then split the four slices – two got honey, and two got jelly. As she worked I took her in. She's 5'7", just an inch shorter than I am, with the torso-to-leg ratio of a man, so that her legs seem short. She's skinny, toothpick thin I'd thought when we first met, but although she was wearing a long-sleeved shirt I knew that her arms – and her legs and body too – were knotted with muscle from decades of lifting weights. Her hair was in its standard ponytail at the base of her skull, with a bit of red ribbon holding it today. Her face was narrow, with black tilted eyes that always remind me of a cat, and her skin was the color of broken milk chocolate. Her nose and her kinky hair are clearly African, but her lips are thin – the result, we're sure, of a white or maybe an Indian somewhere in her ancestry. There was a lot of what the Kluckers like to call miscegenation in the old days – it was all right with the bigots, apparently, as long as it was a white man raping a black woman rather than a black woman marrying a white man, or a black man lying down with a white woman.

She must have felt my regard, for she looked up from her work. "Do you like what you see?"

"How many times you gonna ask that?"

"As often as you stare at me with that greedy look on your face. Do you know that you are quite beautiful when you look at me that way?"

I felt myself getting darker. I'm so heavily tanned that I don't get red, but I surely do get warm. "Cecelia, Darlia's in the house somewheres."

"She was still asleep when I last peeked into her room," Cecelia said. "And she is nearly 12 years old; if she does not know by now, in some sense, that you and I have a physical relationship, and that we find each other physically attractive, she is neither as intelligent nor as observant as I know her to be."

I looked at her for a moment. "You know, C, when I say you're relaxin' some these days, I'm understatin' it a bit. I can remember when it would have embarrassed you to death to say that."

Now she grew darker – I may have a permanent tan, but her whole skin is browner than I'll ever be, and she couldn't get red if you paid her. "I still feel some embarrassment, Darvin. But I have loved you too long, and too passionately, to prevent me from telling you my heart. I am coming to feel mortality – not that I am fearful of dying tomorrow, but that I realize more and more that every day we possess together is precious. I choose not to waste our days, nor our moments."

I shrugged. "Makes sense to me, as much as any o' that analytical stuff ever does." I pointed at the plate. "Meanwhile, I'm ready for my toast."

She chuckled, and set the plate in front of me. "Darvin, you may be beautiful, but you are also one of the most exasperating men I have ever known."

I talked with my mouth full, just like my Aunt Anna always told me not to and then did herself. Everyone does it, or else there would never be any conversation during meals. "The last time you got irked at me, I was the most exasperating man you knew."

She turned a palm up. "I'm feeling charitable this morning. And I have a request to make of you. I am, therefore, attempting flattery."

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