Kelsey sat at a small table sipping watered-down coffee. The creator of this cup was definitely no connoisseur.
“How do you like it?” The old lady smiled at her guest. It was obvious that it had been a long time since she got to play hostess. Kelsey showed her teeth in an attempt to return the friendly gesture. She was still quite unnerved from the aggressive greeting she had received in the yard moments before.
“My name is Kelsey, by the way,” Kelsey chewed on the inside of her mouth as she finally met the gaze of the woman seated across from her.
“Ah, yes. You’re Michael and Sue’s daughter. They were such a lovely couple.” She got a far off look in her eyes momentarily. But it was removed by blinking rapidly. She was back to the present. “I’m Barbara, dear. I knew your parents years ago.”
It was the same old line. Everyone loved to say how close they were with people who were no longer living. Few could dispute how well they knew them. And it seemed to give them bonus social points to have known someone who tragically kicked the bucket. It was sickening. There wasn’t much Kelsey could say in response. She knew her parents. She knew they had retained a limited social circle, especially her father, Mike. Her mother, Sue, was more friendly than social. But she had perfected a way of drawing people to her without even trying. Kelsey could have sworn that her mother emitted a good, pure, golden energy most days. Few people could stay glum around her.
“Cool,” Kelsey went back to avoiding eye contact and instead focused her attentions on playing with the lace doily underneath the glass teapot. The lace was old, like it had seen too much cigarette smoke, tea stains, and time. It was as yellow as old Barbara’s teeth, and must have had as much attention. The kitchen was a claustrophobic step back into time. The only thing that reminded Kelsey of the present year stood in the corner near the vintage Frigidaire stove. Next to the counters built into the stove, the ancient fridge smelled like it was leaking mould. Thick, flower-print curtains smothered the windows. They were orange and red and ghastly. Kelsey wondered if they were ever pulled back during the day time. She was filled with more disgust with each minute that passed. Unfortunately, she had accepted the offer to have her clothes dried before she ventured back home. If the dryer was in the same state as the kitchen, her clothes wouldn’t be done anytime soon. She could be stuck here for hours as an unlucky guest.
“Sue was a remarkable woman,” Barbara carried on, the far-off look back in her eyes as she sat warming her hands around her mug of untouched coffee. Perhaps she knew not to trust the contents, either. “She was always so kind and gracious towards strangers. It’s such a shame that she couldn’t have lived up to her full potential.”
Her full potential of what? Being the ultimate housewife? Kelsey could feel Barbara’s gaze suddenly boring into her own downcast eyes. This woman was seriously giving her the creeps. Not to mention, the sweater and oversized trousers were beginning to itch. Kelsey mentally kicked herself for agreeing to this horrific arrangement of borrowing old people clothes and waiting a decade for her own clothes to be wearable again. She wondered if the mud was going to leave a stain. Was that even possible? Her mom would have known.
“You have her spirit,” Barbara concluded, pursing her lips as if she had just made a final decision that she wasn’t proud of.
Kelsey looked up, once again meeting Barbara’s gaze. The old woman’s eyes had grown cold and distrusting.
“Who are you?” She demanded, narrowing her eyes at the strange, sopping wet girl in her beloved kitchen.
Kelsey was having none of that judgemental tone. “You know full well who I am, lady. I’m Kelsey, and I live just down the street.”
Barbara slowly shook her head, her icy eyes never leaving Kelsey’s fiery ones. “No. There’s something inside you. I know why you hide it.”
Kelsey balked but checked herself. This old woman had no idea what she was talking about, she told herself. Had she noticed Charlie’s chain outside? Did she see it become magnetized to the ground and drop like a rock? Kelsey wanted to check the time on her phone, but it was still dead.
“Um, do you have an outlet? I kinda need to charge my phone so I can text my sister.” Kelsey held up the charger helplessly.
“There’s an outlet just here by the microwave. You can unplug it, it’s fine.” Kelsey was grateful to see the little empty battery picture pop up on her phone. It would only take a few minutes to turn back on.
Outside, the rain threw itself angrily against the side of the house.
Kelsey chewed her mouth and closed her eyes. She pictured the dog’s chain snaking through the mud. She hoped Barbara hadn’t seen anything suspicious. The old lady had disappeared wordlessly into a different part of the house. Kelsey was really craving was a proper cup of tea. She stared disdainfully at her bland cup of coffee, growing cold on the kitchen table.
“So are you just gonna stand there in the corner?” Kelsey demanded. “You’re shit at coffee but you can’t really mess up tea. Mind making me a cup?”
The dead-eyed android shuffled guiltily over to the counter and reached into the dark recesses of a cobweb-infested cupboard.
Kelsey’s phone vibrated to life.
Next chapter: Virago: Part the Fourth — Sisters