Bette was stirring her coffee when she saw the postcard, tucked between a large print arthritis monthly and debt consolidation offers.
On the front was a rose window. She turned it over, expecting to learn that Jesus loved her, or God would smite her.
Finally taking a road trip. Made it to Atlanta. Slept in a twin bed last night. Ha! Got this in the motel gift shop. Beautiful. No time to see the real thing. Have you heard from Lars? Tomorrow: Louisiana. —Glen
It was addressed to the former tenant, Martha. Martha had died a month earlier from a stroke and Bette got off the waiting list for senior housing. It was affordable and there was a clubhouse. She liked the picture of a group playing cards in the pamphlet.
Bette clipped the postcard on the fridge next to a diner delivery menu, where she had circled Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Caesar Salad.
She took a sip of her coffee, then spit it back in the mug. She’d bought the coconut creamer again.
The second postcard came a week later. It had Louisiana landmarks on it.
New Orleans! Full of music and life. Had my first beignet. Best thing I’ve eaten in a while. Wish we could’ve tried them together. Lars isn’t answering my calls. I think we should’ve waited to tell him. Headed to San Antonio now. —Glen
There was no return address, no way to tell him Martha was gone.
Bette had never had a beignet. She looked it up on the internet: fried dough squares covered in powdered sugar.
She went out to buy a cruller and confectioner’s sugar from the grocery store. She expected the nice cashier with the blue hair to be there. Maybe she would tell him about the postcards. But the shy girl rang her up instead.
At home, Bette warmed the cruller in the oven, then sprinkled the sugar on top. As she was cutting it into quarters, the knife slipped, slicing her index finger. She watched the blood turn the sugar into a bright red paste.
She rinsed her finger and fished a bandage out of the first aid kit. Rubbed a little honey on the soft part of the bandage before putting it on, like her mother used to do.
When Robert was alive, Bette thought, he would have called her stupid for trying to make a beignet out of a cruller, for putting honey on a wound.
The day she received the postcard from Texas, Bette skipped her crochet group to wait for the mail. Her joints were stiff and the women didn’t talk much.
San Antonio is unlike any other city. Hope to do the River Walk with you some day. You said you needed time. I understand. Lars will accept it, accept us. You were separated by then. Already in Tucson. Heard cacti can grow to be several stories high. Let you know if I see one. —Glen
Her stomach turned, like it did when she forgot to take her ulcer medication. Tucson was just hours from San Diego.
Bette considered calling her son, asking to stay with him in L. A. for the week to spend time with her grandchildren. But she knew he’d say they were busy. She had barely seen them since Robert passed.
Lars might give up the cold shoulder and tell Glen, she hoped.
Bette put the Greetings from San Antonio! postcard on the fridge next to the others and took a microwavable chicken pot pie out of the freezer.
On the postcard from Tucson was a single cactus with pinkish-white flowers.
I’ve seen weeds taller than some of these “big” cacti. Guess I wasn’t looking in the right place. I’m coming to see you, to talk in person. You might not open the door, but I have to try, make the grand gesture. You are the sweet to my sour, Martha. I won’t leave here for a couple of days. —Glen
Glen would get to San Diego that day, or at most, the day after.
Bette imagined Glen angry. She had read his postcards, kept them for herself. She had attempted to make a beignet. By pretending for a moment she was someone else, she had betrayed him somehow.
She considered shutting the blinds and hiding in her bathroom until he left or one of her neighbors called security.
No, she thought. He wouldn’t be angry. He’d be sad, heartbroken. Like her, he would feel alone.
Bette filled her electric kettle with water. She arranged an assortment of herbal teas, two mugs, and a plate of sugar wafers on a serving tray. In a small bowl of honey, she put the wooden dipper she never used.
When he arrived, Bette would offer Glen something sweet, something soothing.
And he would listen.
Alexandra M. Matthews is a teacher and writer living in the Hudson Valley. Her flash fiction has appeared in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Barren Magazine, and Atlas and Alice.
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