Mara looked older but the lines around the sides of her mouth and eyes made her appear warmer, the brittle pointedness of her face now softer with age. Prue studied her, trying to assess how Mara felt about her arrival–if she was genuinely happy to see her or if she was welcoming her out of a sense of duty as Edward’s sister.
“Welcome traveler! You should be fine to park up there by that truck just beside the house.” Mara had picked up the Australian accent and Prue was surprised at how much it suited her.
Indeed, it seemed like Australia had been good to Mara. All her younger prickly energy had fallen away and replacing it was a generous openness in her body that Prue had never seen in her before. Not that Prue had seen much of Mara in the past; Edward had made a point to ostracize his sister and often belittled her in front of Prue. Pure always admired Mara’s spirit and more so when she made the leap to live on her own just after high school. That decision, Prue remembered, came after an enormous row with Edward not surprisingly. Mara was always the rebel and Edward the hero; it was a hopeless situation that Mara wisely chose to leave.
Mara closed the gate behind her and Prue drove cautiously up the dirt road towards the house. She looked in her rearview mirror and watched as Mara whistled and made a small gesture towards the field. A spark of black and white whipped through the tall grass towards her and leapt up to her thighs as Mara leaned over to stroke the dog’s ears.
Prue shifted into first gear and eased into a spot next to a dusty truck with hay still in the back of it. She felt proud of herself she’d learned stick shift in Italy. She would offer Mara a ride to make sure she didn’t think of her as the same woman she’d been when she’d seen her last–sitting in the back of a car with a driver, never in the driver’s seat.
You don’t have to prove anything. You are who are you now. And that is enough she told herself.
Yes. It was enough.
With that, she grabbed her leather pack and stepped out of the car and walked towards Mara.
“Prue, you are driving that car!”
“Yes, indeed I am Mara. And would you believe it’s manual?”
Mara let out a deep laugh and slapped her hip.
“Does Edward know? My god, that is just delicious.”
Prue stepped back on one leg, pausing, pulling up her inclination to hug Mara short. Just the mention of Edward had yanked her back and she hesitated, unsure now of her place here, unsure why she was here even.
Mara measured her face and body and stopped.
“I’m sorry, you know, I shouldn’t have brought him up, it’s just the thought of him seeing you behind the wheel–
“Oh, forget it, you know? You have every right to be surprised.” Prue wanted to let the past be the past but here, with Mara, it was thick in the air, a layer they had to cut through and discard before they could be at ease with one another.
“How about a drink? You must be parched after that drive.” Mara walked by her and towards the steps, stopping to give a look that said, I won’t take your bags for you so you’d better hurry up.
“Yes, a perfect suggestion Mara, a drink would be grand.”
Behind Mara banged a screen door, the same kind of bang you’d hear in the background in movies. It was an idyllic porch . With an idyllic door.
Prue opened the back door of her rental car and looked at her worn bags, flopped over with her folded hat spilling out onto the far seat. She felt worthy for once in her life. Those bags had seen the last year of her life. Transatlantic flights. A heartbreak in Italy. Coasts, mountains, oceans, taxis, buses even. Many happy solo adventures.
She crossed the porch and held the screen door behind her with the tips of her fingers until it made a puff and settled into its dusty soft worn frame.
Inside it cooled in temperature, and Prue became aware of how wet her hair was against the back of her neck. She craned her neck around an enormous bookshelf and saw Mara. She was swirling a dark wooden spoon in a pitcher of red liquid. Oranges circled the bottom.
“Am I lucky enough to be in the same house as a cold jug of Sangria?”
Mara tilted her head and smiled. “You, my long-lost sister-in-law, my world traveler, are correct in that.”
Prue walked towards Mara, unsure of how to say what she had to say. It needed saying. It needed saying before drinks were poured or masks of the past were put on.
“Mara, I want to just be Prue if that’s okay? I want to just be Prue and you just be Mara. And we get to know one another like that? Is it possible, that we can do that?”
Mara looked up at her and was as calm and settled as the floor beneath them.
“That’s a relief Prue. I’m really happy for you. And yes, of course we can. I’m really happy you came.” Mara leaned in and pulled Prue’s shoulders towards her.
Prue laughed. Mara’s hug felt incredible. It had been months since anyone had touched her and at least several years since anyone had hugged her and meant it.
“I hope you have an extraordinarily–obscenely– large glass for me.”
Mara burst out laughing again, a sharp punchy laugh that leveled you and made the room feel like a party had just started.
“Well, all right then sister, let’s get our sangria on.”
They sat in the shady living room, with afternoon light filtered by the long overhang and uneven lead windows, making the room have the air of an antique store. Prue sat in a rattan chair with a peruvian blanket draped over it. She pushed the sleeping cat to the side to make room and settled down with her sangria, hoping the loud creaks were not a harbinger that her bottom was about to break through the chair and drop to the floor.
“It’s a little less glamorous than you’re used to I think Prue?” Mara leaned back and took a long sip of her drink. “But it’s our home, a little torn on the edges but we’ve been really happy here.”
Prue paused and looked around the room. She remembered how she might have looked at this room and been uncomfortable in it in the past. How she would have noticed each picture, whether matted or framed, archival or cheap backing, crooked or straight. And she would have gone on from there, noting each imperfection like a coroner, making notes in her head like, ‘for christmas remember to tell Edward they need a large gift card to Ikea’ or ‘remember to tell Edward they could use a decent rug from 1st Dibs’ and on it would go, from wall to wall, a ticker tape of judgement that buoyed her up while at the same time fencing her in like an old Victoria torture chamber, it’s iron lung staged in her mind creating a vacuum of feeling, a mirage of humanity.
“It’s so lovely Mara, really, to be in a home, and your home, it has such meaning for me now. Trust me, after a year and a half of traveling in hotels, seeing photos in frames of real people, lived in furniture, the smell of meals, and…family is lovely. I had no idea how alone I’ve been until now.” Prue paused and Mara waited, calmly petting another cat nosing her hand for attention. Prue made an attempt to put what she was feeling into words. “When I first left, I reveled in the anonymity. It felt like I had jumped from a great height and was hang-gliding in my life, just swooping and landing wherever the wind took me and never having to think about answering to anyone, recognizing anyone, or being recognized and I could be entirely…”
“Selfish?” Mara laughed then and lifted her glass to Prue. “Way to go is what I say Prue. I salute you. I do, really. It took some courage to do what you did.” Mara lifted up her glass to Prue.
“Yes, well it didn’t come without a lot of pain upon landing but I kind of got the hang of it. Though I think it took Edward a little longer.”
“Hey, you know what? We’re just the two of us in the room. I’m in too good a mood to talk about Edward.” Mara made a silencing gesture with her hand. “Besides, you know once he figures out you’re here the phone will start ringing until we hup-ho and give him answers.”
“True.” Prue paused and looked down. “Should we bring the pitcher in here then or?” Prue smiled and pushed herself out of the low chair with some effort.
“Bring ‘er on in Prue. Pour us both another. I gotta bring in the horses now but will be back in a jiffy okay?” Mara called out to the kitchen and Prue yelled back. “Horses? I didn’t know you owned horses!”
“Yes we do and you’ll meet them all tomorrow don’t you worry. No one rides for free here, we’ll put you to work.”
The door banged behind her as she left and Prue heard her boots hit the three porch steps hard. That was Mara, thought Prue, sure of her step, no wavering or pausing or gingerly doing anything. Straight on, assured, with purposeful blinders on that filtered out what wasn’t useful or needed and kept her life one that answered to her deepest instincts.
She realized Edward was the same but his intense focus didn’t serve anyone beyond himself. It didn’t serve to deliver goodness or kindness or empathy and this was what Prue had come to realize was missing for her. She needed, more of her life spent being in service. She had no idea how she would do it but she was sure that being here, being in Mara’s world, had something to do with it.
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