Cari opens the door quietly in case Mrs. Page had fallen asleep on the couch; she lets herself in with the keys she was given a little over a year ago. She tiptoes into the kitchen and unpacks the groceries she brought. It’s the regular breakfast stuff—eggs, English muffins (the extra large kind, which works better for sandwiches), and vegetarian “bacon”. Mrs. Page begrudgingly put eggs back into her diet when her doctors told her they were worried she wasn’t getting enough iron and protein, but she has refused to go back to red meat or pork, which she hasn’t eaten since before the war. Unlike the doctors, Cari refuses to quit and prefers to find a way around Mrs. Page’s stubbornness. True, she’s a tough old bird, and doesn’t change her ways easily, but she’s not as unreasonable as people think. Cari got Mrs. Page to eat vegetarian bacon, which has soy protein. That’s a tiny victory.
“Is that you, Cariad, dear?”
Mrs. Page is the only person who ever calls Cari by her full name. Not even her mom calls her Cariad. In fact, Cari’s not sure anyone other than Mrs. Page, her mom, and Asha even know her full first name. Most people assume “Cari” is short for “Carol” or “Caroline”. No one really asks—and yet it was the first question Mrs. Page asked Cari when they first met.
“Yes it’s me, Mrs. Page. I’m in the kitchen.”
“Well come here and show me some love, darling” she say with a laugh, as an inside joke shared between them. Cariad comes from old Welsh, and can be translated as “love” or “darling.” Mrs. Page once told her that there’s a kind of magic in knowing a person’s full name. And indeed, it feels like magic when Mrs. Page uses hers.
Cari walks through the kitchen and passes the old cherry red antique cabinets that have been in Mrs. Page’s family since she was a little girl. Delicate china frozen behind their glass doors. Cari makes a mental note to bother Mrs. Page yet again about actually using this china, to remind her again that life is short and she should enjoy the things she has. That’s another fight Cari’s not quite willing to quit just yet.
As she emerges into the living room, Mrs. Page smiles, then quickly frowns disapprovingly—but not fast enough for Cari to miss the smile that preceded it. Not that she needed to register it; Cari knows Mrs. Page is always happy to see her. And that she always complains about the same things.
“Still with those boots, Cariad?”
“You know I love these boots.”
“They make you look like a hooker! How are you going to get a good boy, wearing boots like that?”
“Boys these days like these kind of boots, Mrs. Page.”
“Hmph! Boys in my day liked those kind of boots, too! But not the boys you want to settle down with.”
“Who says I’m looking to settle down with a boy?”
And Mrs. Page sighs.
“You’re young, stupid, and foolish.”
“All true. And maybe you weren’t much different at you my age. How do you know what the boys thought of boots like these?”
Mrs. Page gives another “Hmph!” at that suggestion, but denies nothing. Cari smiles and continues, “And besides—I’m here. If I had a significant other, you might not see me on Sunday afternoons.”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t. And I’d be happy for you. It’s not healthy for you to be spending so much time with an old fool like me. It’d do my heart good to know you had a boy who took you away from me on a Sunday.”
“You don’t really mean that.”
“No… I guess I don’t. But I should! Now come here and give me some of that love, darling.”
And Cari leans over for a kiss, forcing Mrs. Page to lose the pretensions of the supposedly disapproving frown once and for all.
Cari spends the next hour making breakfast for Mrs. Page and reading her the newsfeeds. It always amazes Cari how Mrs. Page has a remarkable capacity for following and understanding the intricacies of politics, especially for a woman her age. In fact, it’s likely enhanced her age. Mrs. Page has lived long enough to observe history repeating itself. Cari on the other hand could care less about politics, and she reads the words not paying any real attention to them. She’s just glad she can be here for Mrs. Page, glad to do these small acts of kindness for this woman who has lost so much.
“Why do you come here, love? You don’t want to end up all alone like me.”
“But you’re not alone, Mrs. Page. You have me.”
“I’m sorry dear, I know that. And what would I do without you?”
“Live with a greater degree of peace?” Cari offers with a lighthearted laugh. But Mrs. Page remains wistful.
“Ah, peace doesn’t come that easily, love.”
It’s then that Cariad notices a single eyelash has fallen from Mrs. Page’s eye, and has settled precariously on her cheek.
“Stop, Mrs. Page! Don’t move.”
And with the precision of a surgeon (or a focused kid playing a game of Operation), Cari removes the eyelash and says, “Now let me have your thumb.”
Bemused and playing along, Mrs. Page does. Cari gently places the eyelash on it.
“What’s this, then?”
“Your eyelash, Mrs. Page. If you make a wish and blow it off your thumb, your wish will come true.”
And suddenly, Mrs. Page grows serious.
“Oh no, dear. You take it—please. You make the wish!”
“I can’t. It’s your eyelash. It’ll only work for you.”
But Mrs. Page lets it fall, disappearing into the air before it hits the floor.
“Why would you do that, Mrs. Page?!”
“Because wishes don’t come true.”
“Of course they can!”
“Not mine, love. All my wishes are all for things to not have happened that happened long, long ago.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Mrs. Page. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories—”
“It’s alright. Every memory is precious. They’re all to be treasured. Even the bad ones. And anyway, you’re right of course. One of my wishes did come true.”
“Which one was that?”
Mrs. Page reaches over to Cari and strokes her cheek fondly.
“I wished for a friend, after all mine had died. And after Dexter stopped visiting.”
Mrs. Page’s son’s name, “Dexter,” comes from the Old English word meaning “skillful”. And Dexter Page has indeed been a truly skillful businessman. And yet for all his capability, success, and riches, he almost never comes by to see the mother that gave him that drive. Cari has never met Dexter, yet she hates him.
“Well I’ll always be here for you, Mrs. Page.”
“I know that. There’s power in your name. Cariad. You are my last remaining love, darling.”
And Mrs. Page and Cariad embrace.
You’ve been reading CHAPTER 5 from the new young adult illustrated novel ASHA ASCENDING, written by Vivek J. Tiwary with art by Sara Richard. Please FOLLOW this blog to read previous and future chapters, serialized here for free.
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