The kitchen should have looked different after she left. There was no teenage daughter grating the cheese, sitting on the counter, even though she knew her dad hated it. The off-white counters imperceptibly scratched by her jeans. Mom ran her fingers over the marks only she could see before wiping them down before bed. Eighteen years in this kitchen with Julie at her feet, at her hip, at the stove, and on the counters. The kitchen wasn’t changed without her, it would wait patiently for Thanksgiving when new stories would fill it.
The air in the kitchen was bubbly. Mom wondered if Julie was remembering to breathe as she talked through the first semester. The phone calls hadn’t been enough to really capture it. The friends, the seasons, the air, the classes. Julie rolled out the pie crust over her scratches, grinding the dusted flour in. Mom shared her stories at the stove, making the filling, but left a few key details out.
She scrubbed at the counter-top. Grimed of some form had settled into the seams and scratches. They couldn’t afford to replace it while Julie finished college. Elbow grease and stubbornness would get it looking like new. Julie han’t come home for the summer, like Mom had hoped. Her internship was in a different city, a different state. Thanksgiving was out as well. She was heading to a professor’s house or doing a dorm meal. Something. College was supposed to be exciting and new experiences, but Mom wanted her little girl home. Just for a few days. Mom ran her right nail into Julie’s scratches, coaxing out whatever green gunk had gotten in there.
Julie sat on the counter over her scratches, kicking the cabinets, eyes glued to her phone. Mom’s attempts to get a story or some help were met with mild acknowledgment of her existence. The vegan sausages, carefully separated from the others, started to smoke, asking to be turned. “Julie! Please put the phone down and make a salad for dinner!” Julie’s parents-are-so-whatever sigh harmonized with scraping across the counter as she slid off. “Watch the counters!” “Why? Their gross, Mom. That looks like mold.” Julie’s scratches had turned black.
Mom hadn’t been able to stop sliding her hands across the new granite counter-tops. They were unbelievable smooth. She ran her fingers over it mindlessly as she watched her daughter, trying not to stare. Julie sat at the kitchen table, phone down, looking out the window. No sitting in jeans on the counters this time. “That’s okay, Mom, I can just sit here.” She’d been home for a month, not talking more than yes and no and I don’t want to talk about that right now. Mom ached to fix whatever had happened. She’d somehow thought just getting her baby home would do it.
The nicks in the counter were from wear and tear but had ended up on the same piece of counter-top real estate where Julie’s had been. She was home from her new job in the city. Close enough to visit but far enough to be separate. Mom sat at the table, as Julie made dinner. Still quiet in the kitchen, but the job was there to ground her, to give her something safe to discuss. She was doing well, getting back on her feet, planning for what was next. Mom listened.
Julie wiped down the kitchen counters and looked around at the boxes. Mom finished labeling them and surveyed the space. Julie’s partner and son were out in the yard, staying mostly out of the way and out of trouble. Mom opened the fridge and pulled out last thing left. She tossed the wine cork into the trash bag, hopped up on the counter, scratching her jeans along it. After taking a long swig, she patted the space next to her, and Julie jumped up. Julie leaned into her mom and rested her head on her shoulder. “I’m gonna miss this place.” Mom handed her the wine bottle. “Yeah, me too.”
Story inspired by this prompt.