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Those columns, those flowers, that house, that doorbell.
Finally, she found the courage. She swallowed. Holding her breath.
It was her voice. Or was it a maid? From looking at the house, it could definitely be a maid.
Oh my she was about to pass out. Her head was spinning, her heart was collapsing.
Surely, her cheeks were burning.
Oh why did I ring again??
“I’m coming, I’m coming!”.
It was definitely her, a maid wouldn’t lose her patience like that.
Steps were approaching. HER steps.
Maybe it would be better if I went away, maybe I’m totally wrong, it’s not the right time, it’s inappropriate, maybe it’s not her.
She recognizes her immediately. As soon as she looked at her in the eyes… while she was fixing the belt of her dressing gown.
It was her.
With her long ash blonde hair, just like hers, those blue eyes and the wrinkles, that nose.
It was her.
Just staring at her, maybe too much, was enough to live again a life of wait and wonder, with that disoriented expression and that breath that didn’t want to come back.
“Yes… good morning… I-I’m here on behalf of the Departement of Statistics of the University of New Jersey. We’re doing a survey. Would you mind answering some questions? It will take just a few minutes”
I have looked for you my entire life.
“Yes, sure. Please, come in”
The house was white. Shining. A big window with a green backyard with palms and other trees, a turquoise pool in the middle. A sofa, white too, in front of a huge TV. The table in the kitchen was simple, in wood. They sat at the one in the living room, one in front of the other, one with the survey sheets, the other with a cup of coffee in her hands.
“Would you like something to drink?”
“No, thanks. Oh well, yes, ok, just a cup. But not too much.” Shit!
“So, what is this survey about?”
She asked her while she was making some coffee, and Mary Anne noticed how elegantly she moved.
“It’s about rubbish collection. We would like to find out about your experience. If you think it’s useful, efficient, expensive. Nothing important, really”
“You shouldn’t undermine your work, or others would do the same.”
“I… Yes, you’re right, it’s true. Sometimes I do that”
She couldn’t swallow at all. Neither she could blink. And now that she was thinking about it she couldn’t breathe, relax her shoulders, her forehead. She must have looked so ugly. But she sounded so confident when rehearsing at home.
“All right… Let’s start. First question… Oh, thanks!” Coffee. Finally, something to swallow.
“Do you recycle?”
“And has it ever happened to you to regret throwing away an object, or… something?”
“Sorry, what do you mean?”
This hint seemed so clever and subtle when she wrote it.
“In the sense…” and her voice was breaking. “In the sense… I mean… Have you ever thrown something away, maybe left in a bag, or something like that, only to realize you didn’t want to get rid of it?”
“No, it’s never happened to me.”
“Good… and how often do you recycle?”
“Well, every day”
“35 years ago… were you already doing it?”
“35 years ago…? Yes, I think so”
“Good… and were you already living here 35 years ago?”
“No, I was living in Oklahoma”
“Ah, I’ve never been there”
“You should go, it’s beautiful”
… “Does your husband help you recycle?”
“I don’t have a husband”
“Oh, sorry, I thought…”
“And… and so, you don’t have any children?”
“Good… what do you do for a living?”
“Excuse me, what all this has to do with the rubbish collection?”
“It’s merely for statistical purposes. If you wish, you may not answer”
“No, that’s fine. I’m a Professor of Economics”
“Are you satisfied with your job, your life, would you have made any different decisions? Any regrets?”
“… No, my life is good as it is. Choices gotta be made. Right or wrong as they are, you gotta make them and accept the consequences.”
… “Well… the… the survey is over. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I mean, to me on behalf of the Department of Statistics. And thanks for the nice coffee.”
It was over. That nightmare was over. She had imagined it completely different. She didn’t get to relax. The survey went badly. She hoped that at some point they would recognize one another. Maybe it’s not her. Of course, it’s her. Thing is you don’t have the courage to tell her anything. For the first time in your life, probably the one and only time, you’re having breakfast with your mother. And the only thing you’re able to do is asking a list of silly questions about rubbish with the aim to hurt her. But instead, everything feels awkward and you end up making a fool of yourself.
“Thank you again, I will just get my stuff and leave now” She heard herself saying.
“But you didn’t even touch your coffee”
“Mom, please, I don’t want the coffee – she would have said – I just want a hug and then go back to work”
“I don’t like coffee. But you can’t be aware of this. Not yours, of course. I didn’t even touch it. I mean, I don’t like coffee in general. Now I got to go, please let me go.” but what I’m saying? Why I’m so in a hurry? Stop! Please, stop. You already put the coat on. Or maybe I didn’t even take it off. You’re already in front of the door. Stay. Look at her. Hug her. Cry. Of a liberating cry. On her chest. Into her arms. Tell her that you miss her and that she can’t imagine how much.
“But thank you again”
And she was already at the front door, with the survey sheets in her hand, waiting to leave and start breathing again. Waiting to get some closure for a story that had lasted too long. 35 years. The door’s opening.
“So, thank you. Goodbye. It was a pleasure” Idiot.
The door’s closed.
“I’m sorry… I-I left something”
She ran into the kitchen before she could notice that she hadn’t actually left anythin or her teary eyes. She pretends to put something in her bag, she takes a breath again.
“Excuse me… may… may I use your bathroom?”
“Thanks” – ouff. But what am I doing? Am I gone crazy? What will she think of me? That I’m mad. She’s going to call the police. Or at least, she would. Or maybe she recognized me. We look the same. Same eyes, same hair, same nose… Wait, let’s flush the toilet.
“Well… thank you again. Also for using your bathroom”
“You’re welcome. Are you sure the survey is over?”
“Yes, yes, as I said it wasn’t anything important”
“Ok… I understand… Goodbye then, goodbye.”
The door’s closed. She feels faint. Mary Anne leans against the door. Her neck against the peephole. She slips down the door. She slips down slowly until her legs are against her chest, her eyes tightly closed, her teeth clenched. Her tears finally flow uncontrollably.
It was a sunny Sunday in September when, while she was cleaning up some coffee stains from the table, Anne Marie heard the doorbell. Strange, I’m not expecting anyone.
She tied up a bit and then went to the front door.
In front of her, there stood her daughter.
It had been 35 years since she last saw her. When she was only 19 years old and left her at the door of an orphanage in Oklahoma.
She recognized her immediately. Her same hair, her same eyes, her same nose.
And she heard a strange whistling in her ears.
“Yes?” she managed to say calmly.
She didn’t understand what she was talking about, she didn’t understand whether she was there by chance or not. She let her in. Let her sit. She offered her a cup of coffee but she didn’t drink it. She got asked some questions about rubbish. She didn’t understand. Her heart was in turmoil. She wasn’t able to talk. Suddenly, she stands up. She wants to stop her. She doesn’t know how to. She’s already at the door. She’s gone. Then she’s back. She goes to the bathroom. Why? And if it’s not her? Maybe she’s crazy. A burglar inspecting the house. But… no, that whistle. She is back. She goes again towards the door. She can’t stop her. The door is closed.
Anne Marie is alone again. Like she has been for the last 35 years, asking herself what would have been having a daughter to share her life with.
She leans against the door. She slips down slowly until her legs are against her chest, her eyes tightly closed, her teeth clenched. Her tears, after 35 years, finally flow uncontrollably.