A woman dressed in a black rain jacket wanted to scream at the clouds and the torrents of rain sending her curly hair into a wild frizz. But sending a tangled wail of thoughts into the angry sky would attract attention, so for this reason, she preferred to remain silent.
As the downpour continued, the woman pulled a hoodie over her head, trying to keep herself; and the package, safe. Two more blocks until she would reach the metro station and take off to the house before the rain soaked through her clothes completely.
The woman was young but too old to be a young woman. Instead, she was ‘in the middle’, as the few people who cared to notice her pointed out. Blending into the lines was easier; it was easier to slip unnoticed under the covers of each house that way, being in the middle.
As the toiling night went on, the woman checked her watch and sighed, cutting behind dark alleyways to cover lost distance. The moon was high in the sky tonight, illuminating a small pond near the city’s park. A crackling noise vibrated through the swampy air from the bushes, fears gripping the woman’s lungs as she swept around. Slowly, she rustled the bush and pushed back green foliage, still not breathing. No, this woman was not afraid. Fear is quite different than being afraid. Fear coils around your lungs and makes you feel like the air is turning to ice. Being afraid is giving in to that fear.
Once she pushed back the last twigs of the bush, the woman saw a tiny bud wrestling with the grass. It was red-brimmed, like a rose, but the petals unfolded upwards to the moon. The woman did not address the young moonrise, nor did she admire its beauty-but for a second too long she lingered-until she dropped back to join the shadows in haste.
On the metro car, the woman didn’t speak. The people around her gave her space, and that was enough. Even though the curls in her hair were still in a frizz and her clothes were soaked through, the woman allowed the tiny traces of a facial expression to creep onto her lips. She watched the car speed into a tunnel, thinking many thoughts to herself.
Renee and Amaya Hutchinson lived in Apartment 3b in the Central Office Apartment Housing near downtown North Hampton. The package was for them, and the reason the woman who’d just exited the metro looked like a ghoul was because of them. She stepped off of the little train car elegantly and took out a slip of paper from the folds of her pocket. Thankfully, it hadn’t gotten wet and the woman could read the address easily. Stingy as she was, this time, she hailed a taxi from the curbside and hopped in, informing the man of the address, hoping to arrive at the Central Office Apartment Housing on time.
By the time she had arrived, true night was breaking out over the city, birds flying out of the gutters which they had sheltered in during the rainfall. The woman, now sporting a neon blue t-shirt with a green scarf, rang the doorbell three times.
“Amaya Hutchinson, how may I help you?” A young girl cracked open the door, dark circles under her eyes, wearing a bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers. She looked about the age of 9 or 10, and, upon seeing the woman, left her position at the door to scramble up the stairs to tell her sister, Renee. The woman patiently waited, the package at her side.
Renee Hutchinson, a good 4 years older than her younger sister, smiled at the woman curtly and motioned to the package.
“Mom’s out, so we can take it ourselves.” The package was exchanged, and the woman turned to leave before Amaya spoke from behind her sister.
“We’re making her special cookies, but we need your help to turn the oven on.”
Renee glared at her sister as Amaya rambled on. “We would love to have anyone around to help!”
The woman, though smothered with surprise nodded and smiled weakly, letting themselves in.
“Mom’s always out, and we wanted to try to make gramma’s special! You did bring the photobook, right? Renee said that you had all the records!”
At the doorway, the woman struggled to pull off her stocky boots, trying to compose herself before the girls. It was strange to be inside an apartment again.
The photobook was still in great condition despite all that it had been through, and both girls flipped through it excitedly, pointing to pictures of an elderly woman with a cheerful face and only slightly graying hair. Renee let her expression soften a bit around the book, suddenly aware of the woman’s still position.
“My gran; that’s who is in the pictures. Thanks for bringing this to me, and-” Amaya cut her off, interrupting.
“Stop it, Renee! We need to bake the snowdrop cookies!” The woman’s face paled, remembering the cookies and the recipe. She’d never stayed this long before on her deliveries. Sometimes a pot of tea was brewed or a silent thank you was mouthed, but the woman couldn’t linger at the apartment any longer.
“Here-come with me. The stove’s this way.” Amaya tugged at the woman’s shirtsleeve to a small kitchen with a miniature oven to the side. The woman did not smile. She flicked on the oven and motioned to the various supplies lying on the counter.
“You probably don’t want some stranger touching this.”
Renee shook her head. “No, we don’t want you touching this. We want you to make it with us. You helped.”
The woman tentatively touched the dough and felt it in her calloused palm. “So, what’s the recipe?”
Renee laid the photobook on the counter.
“Hm, let's see. Maybe 3 teaspoons of sugar and cinnamon glaze first…” While they tossed ingredients around, the woman still felt the sound of her voice ringing in her mouth. Her voice sounded different than how she’d imagined it, in this apartment with two girls she hardly knew.
“Yes! After we let them bake, can we put them under our tree for Santa in a week?” The woman wasn’t fond of holidays, but she nodded at Amaya, wondering what day it was, and when the cookies would be finished.
The dough was splattered all over the granite and messy spills littered the floor, dangerously close to a pink phone. Renee seemed to be the only one noticing the mess but didn’t mention it, keeping her eyes on the woman.
“You hold all the records on everyone in Wythe Hill, right?” The woman nodded, dialing up the oven.
“So, did you know my grandmother?” Though she knew the record files of Renee’s grandmother, but not the person herself, the woman was tempted to lie, but she shook her head no. Renee’s gaze faltered in disappointment and Amaya ran upstairs to find her chef’s hat.
“She was always around for us.”
The emotion wasn’t the woman’s thing. She hardly felt it but understood its presence, the scent of emotion, clear trail, and the deep eyes full of the ever-changing truth.
“Nothing is right with the world, now is it.” Renee nodded to the woman’s words, opening the oven lid to slide out the cookies and cover them with tinfoil. The woman, suddenly struck with an idea, quickly pulled on her coat and pointed to the cookies.
“Those will have to wait.”
Without objection, Renee called Amaya and they followed the woman outside into the cool grass, running to keep up with the woman’s careful and long strides.
“Are we going to deliver something?” Amaya asked, then switching to a new question. “And what’s your name?” The woman only responded with a rough grunt as they made it back to the pond where she had been a little more than 4 hours ago. The night was fading to dusk quickly, but the moon was just visible below the horizon. The woman neared the bush and pushed back the leaves to see the moon rose, delicately unfurling its petals to the moon. This time, the woman wore a pursed smile.
“Life does make some beautiful things.”
Amaya stared at the moon and unknowingly clasped the woman’s hand. Renee tenderly lifted the rose out of the bush, roots and all, and with everyone else’s help, planted it firmly in the dirt outside of the bush. All three of them stared into the twilight for a long time until the woman spoke.
“And my name is Helen.”
“Thank you, Helen.” Renee whispered, partly to the sky, and partly to the woman whose smile had blossomed over her lips.
“It was all the moon rose child. All the moon rose. Now let's get going...before the cookies get cold.”
20 years later
“Request from Renee and Amaya Hutchinson!” The voicemail stated. “If, of course, you’re still around.” Amaya’s childish voice had never quite left. It was another clear nighttime sky, and the stars were laid out like a canvas painting. “And bring the book, so we can bake the cookies if you find the recipe!”
The woman, Helen, listened to the playback a total of 3 times before scooching her chair back to search the records. She walked with a slight limp and her shoulders sagged, but soon enough, she found what she was looking for.
Slowly, she gathered the book in her hand, slipped on her black coat, and walked into the night sky, planning to take a direct cab drive to their new house. She hoped to take a walk through city park if time allowed it, but she had no doubt that the moon rose would still be there, even though it had been quite a long time. The older she got, the more memories she treasured.
The woman stared up at the sky, then howled loudly, to the moon, to the sky, to the hearts of those she never got to say goodbye. And the little moon rose, that was waiting for her like it did every year when she visited.
The book was still in her hand, title staring up at her longingly.
A book of recipes. Cookies and more.