A Friend: third Tourmaline (part one)
Mrs. Leonhardt had taken out all the old silver. Her mother’s silver, her own, the sugars and the salt cellars that she for a time had always been buying, always poking through the second-hand markets, offering half the asking price for anything blackened, anything with the handle or feet off.
“That’s good silver. You could polish it up.”
If a vendor gave her that, she gave back: “Well, so could you, then.”
She’d had foresight, that way.
She’d had Anton, now, past the weekend. Their first days, Mrs. Leonhardt had found him easy to manage, the way he’d crawled under the covers and stayed there; and she hadn’t known then if he was free as he claimed…if an officer would come pounding at the door…so it was as well.
In his suffering, his face had changed. Her son had had all along, so she accounted for it in her mind, the brow and chin and the dark hair of her maternal grandfather. Only his pallor and thinness showed it now. She was bringing out the things she’d coffered, to prove this to herself, that Anton was alive and not dead; that though he could not in memory place himself, how he’d lived away for ten years, been imprisoned…
Some guardian angel had done her this kindness. Of taking him to her doorstep and ringing the bell.
So, economy profited one in mourning, as in all things. This reserve, this heart-burning restored to the ledger, of debts to be paid in future (for of course, in old age, one could always grieve), had been yet another instance of her born wisdom. There were mothers like herself, bereaved, many of them now. They had spent it all and not been given this reward.
She had first nailed the mirror up—she had done this on her own—to hide the linen cupboard, those things she treasured, and things to barter. Of carpenter’s tools, she had generations’ worth. Anton’s father had not done very much fixing. But he’d been good about not giving things away.
“If you hear anything…don’t be afraid.”
She’d carried the hammer in her left hand, tapping Anton on the shoulder with her right.
“What, what?” He twisted towards her, fighting the comforter.
“I have a chore to do, I’m saying.”
To explain, she happened to raise the hammer. His face altered, lost its unconscious animation. He’d awakened almost keen, eyes engaged for the least second; at once, he seemed to remember himself. He met Mrs. Leonhardt’s eyes, and went guarded. She would not tell him again that she was his mother, that he was her Anton, and safe here at home. Today, she would tell him to go to the kitchen and get his own breakfast.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)