The phone was ringing -again? Still? – when Karina walked into the cottage that still smelled like Mother.
“I should have had it disconnected.” She made a face probably better suited to someone a dozen or more years younger. The phone responded by ringing again, as Karina kicked off her loafers and wiggled her newly painted toes against the smooth cool sandstone floor. Maybe it was already too late to pretend she hadn’t heard it, but Karina decided to try. She’d come home with the thought of a cold glass of raspberry lemonade and a long bubbly soak with candles and music, and she wasn’t going to let them rob her of it.
“There’s just too many of them,” she said to Mustafa, as the large grey tabby wound himself around her ankles, purring loudly in greeting. “If I keep answering every time the phone rings, I’ll never have time to do any of the things I need to do – let alone anything I want to do. But why am I justifying myself to a cat?”
She stepped carefully around him, and went to the phone. A quick glance at the answering machine said that there were already three messages – and she’d only been gone an hour or so. Before she could talk herself out of it, she pressed the mute button mid-ring.
The immediate silence was soothing – and a weight she hadn’t gotten used to carrying yet.
Karina soaked in the large whirlpool tub with Enya echoing gently through the cool and soothing space. Mustafa perched in the window, purring and grooming himself.
She tried not to think about the phone, or her siblings, but still ended up leaving the bath after only fifteen minutes or so. As she pulled on her robe, Karina looked at Mustafa, who was now draped along the windowsill, sleeping in the sun.
“Maybe it takes practice to learn to relax.” Her voice was muffled by the towel she wrapped around her head.
Karina tried to ignore the phone, which sat there in silent accusation, and the beckoning of the “5” that flashed like an indictment on the answering machine screen. She poured another glass of lemonade, feeling the warm relaxation of the bath fading into the beginnings of stiffness –
The machine engaged, again – and, after her own calm greeting, a flood of Russian so fast and shrill that Karina could focus only on the voice – Svetlana, again. It was the tenth time, today, at least, and the sun was hours from setting.
Karina glared at the machine until it cut her sister off, the stiffness becoming a hot lightning bolt of pain, arcing up her neck, through her head, and down to radiate across her shoulders. The flashing “6” seemed to burn itself into her eyes, an unspoken curse.
The machine engaged again, and Svetlana picked up right where she’d left off.
“7.” The machine flashed.
And her message again, and, again, that shrill Russian.
Karina put her head in her hands. It hurt to touch it. She felt tears starting, and tried to stop them – it would hurt to cry against the tight band of pain. The greeting, the Russian…
Mustafa came to leap up on the back of her chair and rub against her shoulder. Karina sighed as the machine engaged again. “I was wrong,” she told him. “It doesn’t take practice to learn how to relax – it takes being part of a different family.”
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