“Who could that be at this hour?” Della startled awake as she heard a car door slam in the street, then fast footfalls.
It was 3 a.m. and no one ever stirred this time of night.
Puzzled, Della sat up gingerly so that she didn’t get woozy. Then she picked up her glasses carefully by the bows and set them on her wrinkled nose. Finally, she reached for her dentures, which were soaking in a glass on her nightstand.
“Might as well get up since I’m not going back to sleep,” she sighed. She knew she’d pay for it when she nodded off playing bridge with Harriet and Harriet’s loud cousins tomorrow.
Della peered out her window, trying to figure out who was moving in her neighborhood and why they were up at such an awful hour.
She saw a young woman pacing on the porch across the street, the Maddock’s. Whoever it was knocked again, rapping the door swiftly about a dozen times. Then she pressed the door bell over and over.
Della watched this for several minutes, knowing full well that the Maddock family was in Boston for a wedding and that the house was empty.
But the girl trying to get in didn’t leave.
“I wonder what on earth she wants at this hour?” Della pondered. The woman didn’t look like she was in any danger, like she was running from something. But she clearly wanted to get into the house — she even tapped the windows near the door in hopes of stirring some sign of life. When none appeared, the young woman sat on the steps, her head in her hands. Della could hear faint crying.
“Oh, the poor dear.”
Della frowned, a wave of empathy lapping at her conscience. Should she offer to help the girl? She knew that her son would have a fit if he heard about it; he had been threatening to move her out of her home for months now and getting robbed in the middle of the night because she let someone in the house would probably send him over the edge.
On the other hand, the girl looked so forlorn, so sad sitting there. She was tiny and delicately fragile, just perched on those steps with that big empty house behind her.
If Henry had been around, he’d have taken care of this. But he died over a decade ago, leaving her a wee bit lost in the world. There were so many things she didn’t understand, didn’t care to know. How she hated depending on others, especially her son. But should she call him and wake him up? She didn’t think that was prudent, especially since he lived on the other side of town. And her daughter? Well, her daughter had cut ties when Della had criticized her for getting a divorce from that nice Steve, so she hadn’t seen her daughter or granddaughter for almost fifteen years.
Della put her bathrobe on and started down the hall to the kitchen. She put on a pot for tea and pulled out a heavy ceramic “World’s Best Grandma” mug. It was one of the last presents her daughter had given her before the argument and pain swallowed their relationship. Della loved the mug because it reminded her of her granddaughter Rose, whom she hadn’t seen since the child was five years old. Henry had tried to get her to toss the mug, but Della just couldn’t. She would sip her tea and look at the photo of Rose pinned to the bulletin board in the kitchen and wonder what her girls were doing.
As she sat there, thinking about the granddaughter she would never see again, she realized that she needed to help that young woman across the street if she was still there. If it were her granddaughter, she would want a kind old woman to help, wouldn’t she?
So Della poured a mug of tea for the girl and carried it to her front door. She opened it carefully, light spilled out onto her front steps and sidewalk. The girl across the street looked up, startled.
“Hey!” Della called. “Can I help you?”
The girl stood and strode quickly across the street, wiping her eyes and shoving a cell phone into her pocket.
“Yes, yes please.”
“Like some tea?”
“Oh, no thank you ma’am.”
“There’s no one home over at the Maddock’s. I know you’re not supposed to tell people that, but you look — ”
“Wait! That’s not Della Kirchler’s?”
“Oh, no, hon. I’m Della.”
The girl looked at her, realization dawning. She struggled to speak.
“I’m… I’m Rosie, Grandma.”
Della set the mug down on the porch rail and dragged Rosie into the light.
“Oh, my stars! It is you. Oh, Rosie…”
Della threw her arms around Rosie, crushing the slight girl with an enthusiastic hug. Rosie began bawling, huge gulping sobs shaking her.
“There, there, darling… It’s all right. It’s OK.”
Della patted Rosie’s back until she calmed a bit, swallowing and drawing her sleeve across her eyes.
“Rosie, oh, Rosie… You are just beautiful. Just like your mother. So grown up.”
When Rosie had collected herself some, she accepted the mug of tea and followed Della into the kitchen, where they sat at the worn table.
“Della — Grandma — I don’t know what to call you. I just don’t,” Rosie sniffled into the tissue Della had thrust at her.
“It’s all right.”
“I have to tell you that I needed to find you. I don’t want to do this, but I have to tell you that Mom is sick. Very sick.”
Rosie’s tears started anew.
Della held her mug. She looked at the picture of her daughter and granddaughter, at the crying young woman in front of her. So much time, rivers of time. So many hurts, wounds left open.
“Does she know you’re here?”
Rosie shook her head, “No.”
“Let’s get some sleep. We’ll need our rest to go see her, won’t we?”