The phone was ringing.
“Could you get that?” Elaine called from the kitchen over the sound of running water.
“Sure,” he said, then, under his breath. “I’m not doing anything.”
He muted “Law and Order” on the television with a mental groan; Sam Waterston was just about to lower the boom on the lying, dirtbag of a defendant. Instead, he answered the phone.
“Joe? It’s Vera,” the rasping voice of an old lady said into his ear. “I just got back into town and heard. How is Elaine?”
He sighed. “As well as can be expected. We’ve known this was coming for a while. Would you like to talk to her?”
“Just a minute.” He pushed himself out of the easy chair, wincing as the pain flared down the back of his thigh. His sciatica was acting up again today. The credits for “Law and Order” were silently rolling across the screen as he limped into the kitchen with the phone.
“Who was it, honey?” Elaine was fussing over a platter of crackers and tiny bits of yellow and white cheese. Two cups sat on their saucers beside the platter, dry teabags waiting for the arrival of hot water. The kettle was just beginning to hum on the stove.
“It’s Vera,” he said and held out the phone.
Her face lit up as she took the phone. “Could you watch the tea for me? It’s almost ready.”
Without waiting for an answer, she took the phone and platter of crackers and disappeared into the living room.
Joe sighed and stretched his aching back, resigned to standing there, watching the tea kettle come to a boil. It was white with painted black cows prancing around it. Everything in Elaine’s kitchen was decorated with some kind of painted cow. It was her “theme.”
The kettle finally began to boil. He picked it up with a bovine-themed hot pad and poured the water over the bags in each cup. When they’d steeped to a proper color, he removed the bags and carried the cups out into the living room.
Elaine was deep in her conversation with Vera. She just smiled and nodded when he set her cup in front of her. A handful of crackers were already missing from the platter.
He set his cup on the end table and returned to his armchair.
“That’s not the point, I told her,” Elaine said. “The point is that Momma promised that I would get grandmother’s locket. She knew how much I loved it. So did Marilyn. That’s the only reason she wants it now, because I do.”
She listened for a moment. “Well. All I know is that she never seemed interested in it until now. She’s just doing it to spite me.”
Joe smiled into his tea.
Maybe he’d send Marilyn flowers.