Family Reunion by Nancy Thayer



One


            Summer was almost here! Eleanor Sunderland sat on her deck looking out at the eternal Atlantic, savoring the view. Above in the sky, diamond-tipped stars were appearing, one by one, and Eleanor could hear the gentle shush of the waves on the shore far below her. The scent of long, sunny days drifted in with the light, salty breeze from the sea.

            It was late May, and if she tilted her head, she could scan down the row of houses on the bluff. She could see which ones had lights on, which summer people had arrived early. She felt both invaded in her happy seclusion and grateful for the company. The winters here could be lonely.

            This summer might be lonely, too.

            The air was chilly. She wore a long-sleeved dress, but still she shivered, and when her cat flicked his tail against her leg, she knew it was time to go inside, to give Shadow his treat, to prepare for bed. She had never liked going to bed. When she was outside by the ocean, Eleanor felt no age at all, but in her house all the new and necessary bits of technology made her feel very much her age.

            She stood up—too fast. Her blood pressure had trouble rising, her doctor told her, because she was so tall. Never one to enjoy being told what to do, it was a nuisance to be seventy years old and bossed around by her body. She waited, and the dizziness faded, and she went through the sliding glass door into the kitchen to give Shadow a small clump of Feline Feast. She checked the lock on the back door, out of habit, and made her way through the large house, turning off lights as she went. Upstairs, she brushed her teeth and changed into her light cotton nightgown and folded back the light quilt and settled against her pillows.

                         “Shall we watch some television, Shadow?” she asked the cat, who had eaten and now sat purring at the end of the bed.

            She picked up the long black remote control, which made her think of the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was magical, but it was surely going to give her carpal tunnel syndrome or whatever it was called. Her thumb hurt from pressing the buttons. Yes, she knew she could use voice commands to get to a certain channel: PBS. CNN. She knew about the ridiculously named Xfinity, another sign that the English language was being hijacked by idiots, but once she was on the channel—or what was it called now? Stream?—then she had to push a button to go up and down and across the rows of offerings, often accidentally landing in a Japanese anime series like The Legend of Korra. She pressed the blue button that allowed voice commands. It made a strange, unpleasant noise. The television screen said, Something is wrong. Well, she knew that!

            “What are we going to do, Shadow?” Eleanor asked.

            Shadow continued licking his beautiful dark fur. At least he didn’t run on batteries.

            “My hair is still as thick as yours,” Eleanor told the cat, who obviously didn’t care, but it was true. She had been graced with thick dark hair, and so far age had not thinned it out, even though it had streaked the black with white and wreaked havoc on the rest of her body.

            A pile of books lay on the bed next to her in all their glorious colorful jackets. New books she’d bought at Mitchell’s, because she loved that bookstore dearly, and also a few books from the library. She always gave herself some time to browse the library shelves to check out new reads she hadn’t heard about and wasn’t sure she would want to stick with. Like agreeing to only coffee on a first date, rather than an entire meal.

                         But she’d spent much of her day reading, and she wanted the effortless zoning out that television provided. She couldn’t tolerate being with her own thoughts for one more minute. She needed distraction.

            Earlier today, she had walked from her house on the bluff to Martha’s house in town. Martha was her best friend. They’d gone through weddings, childbirth, adolescence, and empty nests together. Martha’s marriage had been as happy as Eleanor’s was miserable, and it was Martha’s laughter and advice that had gotten Eleanor through life with her wildly handsome, indescribably tense, strict, virtuous husband, Mortimer Radcliffe Sunderland. Now deceased.