Slender fingers tapped the table as Grace waited. It was like this every week; she eagerly awaited her sister’s arrival, spending the entire day looking forward to it – and then within minutes, it was over. May came strictly to deliver groceries, and no matter how much Grace tried to convince her to come in for coffee, she never did.
The lockdown was hell, and that’s all there was to it.
Moments later the doorbell rang and Grace jumped to her feet – only to wince as the blood rushed from her head. Fighting back the growing headache, she answered.
“Hey, Grace!” May grinned from the bottom of the steps, waving cheerily. May had the dark curls and bright green eyes of their mother – and all of Mum’s cheer too. Grace, by contrast, had the deep blue eyes of Dad; and his dour attitude to boot. Yet May continued to smile, lifting up one of half a dozen shopping bags. “Want me to put them away? Some of this stuff is heavy, and I put a few extra things in there.”
Yes please, Grace wanted to say, and stay for coffee while you’re at it. But as much as she hated to admit it, her health came first. If a cold was enough to have her bedbound for a week, she hated to think of what could happen to her now. Having been sickly since she was a child, Grace knew the rules.
May’s smile faded, brows furrowed in concern. “How have you been? You must be bored to tears, stuck inside by yourself.”
Understatement. Yet she forced a smile and a shrug of narrow shoulders – too narrow, and May likely knew she hadn’t been eating right. Blowing a strand of auburn hair from her eyes, she said, “fine, I guess. I’ve kept myself busy.” It wasn’t entirely a lie – there was plenty to do around the house, on the days Grace felt well enough to do them. Since it was mostly true, she didn’t feel bad saying it.
Unconvinced but unwilling to push further, May sighed. “Well, if you’re sure… I should get going, I don’t want to loiter.”
They said their goodbyes – Grace from the safety of her house, despite how much she wanted to wrap her arms around May and never let go. She settled for a wave as May meandered down the path, picking her way through cobblestones and overgrown ivy. It wasn’t as if Grace had the energy for gardening.
With one last grin and a cheerful wave, May climbed inside her car. Within moments she was gone, leaving no trace of herself behind.
Except for a massive amount of shopping. There was way too much for one person – but when Grace peered closer, she caught a glimpse of something that definitely wasn’t food. Crouching by the bags, she tried to ignore how her joints protested. Then she saw what it was, and a soft smile formed on her sharp features.
It was an entire bag of photo albums.
She wasted no time in hauling the shopping inside after that. Despite being eager to delve inside the albums, she didn’t want frozen food melting all over her front step, especially in the May heat. One by one the items were put away, and she hardly even noticed the struggle of lifting the heavier items. By the time Grace was finished she was exhausted, joints aching with the strain. Even things that were easy for most people were tiring for her, but she had long gotten used to it.
Then her eyes fell on the photo albums, spilling out of the bag and onto the kitchen island. Scooping up the first, she settled down to flick through.
Photos of her childhood; back when Grace wasn’t so ill and her older brother still lived at home. There was a photo of them as kids, sitting by a pool with their feet in the water. The sun beat down overhead, obscuring half of the photograph. Their first holiday in Italy; the year her brother Oscar had burned himself to a crisp and May had cried the entire plane journey home.
Beside that was another photograph. Just May and Grace, lying sprawled across deep green grass. A book was perched in her tiny hands, May staring at it intently. Had she been reading it to May? It was so long ago she hardly remembered; but it must have been worth sticking in a photo album, anyway.
The longer Grace flicked through, the wider her grin became. Her entire childhood was documented in this one album; her holding newborn May, her first day of school, the time she and Oscar found a stray kitten. There was even a few photos of her first hospital stay – hardly a happy memory by any means, but it brought a kind of nostalgia rising in her chest.
She had no idea anyone still had these, let alone May. Yet she had always been sentimental, so it made sense really.
There were four albums in total. One for each child – Oscar, Grace and May – and one for the family as a whole. The family album was decorated with stickers, the cover beneath faded with age. Grace picked that one next, smiling gently.
Her parent’s wedding day came first. Dad in a dark navy suit, and Mum in a pale cream dress that fluttered about her feet. They were only eighteen when they married, but they looked so happy, so elated, it was obvious they were in love. Behind them stood the best man and bridesmaid, both grinning at the camera.
There were other photos of the wedding day – cutting the cake, dancing, Mum tripping over her dress and laughing. There were photos of other family members too. Some Grace recognised, some she didn’t. Some had hardly even aged in the thirty-odd years since the photos were taken.
The longer Grace looked, the less anything else mattered. It was difficult to feel bad when she was looking at her entire family, even if they weren’t really there. There were family that looked just like her – and old black and white of her great-something Grandmother, with fluffy curls and a narrow face just like hers. They even had the same ridiculous eyebrows, and Grace found a laugh threatening to burst from her lips.
Eventually, she reached the end of the photo album, letting it fall closed with a gentle thump. She was eager to see what secrets the others held – perhaps blackmail material against her siblings – but her stomach growled fiercely. Had it been that long? A glance at the clock confirmed yes, she had been staring at albums for almost two hours. Huh. Grace had never been good with time, but she hadn’t even realised.
Stacking the albums neatly in the middle of the island, Grace couldn’t help but let her hands graze across the surface. Later, she reminded herself; but it was still difficult to leave them.
At first, she couldn’t figure out why May had sent them over. Or why she even had them. Now, Grace knew. Just glancing through them had made her feel worlds better, like she was glimpsing the past. Which really, was exactly what she had done. It reminded her of all the family she had, how many people loved her and she loved in return.
It was also a reminder that she wasn’t alone. Even if she had to spend another month – or more – in isolation for her own health, that didn’t mean she had been abandoned. Things would get better, the world would return to normal, and she would have dozens of people to welcome her back.
Grace set about making dinner with a smile broader than she had managed in weeks. Usually, cooking felt like the worst chore in the world; this time, it came so easily she hardly even paid attention.
Say what she liked about May, but she had known exactly what she was doing. A swell of pride and gratefulness rose in Grace’s throat, grin widening even more. If that were even possible.
Grace was still sick, and would be for her entire life. Lockdown was still in effect, and there was no end in the near future. Yet, Grace found she didn’t mind so much any more. There was still plenty to look forward to, a future to be excited for, and Grace decided she quite liked this new optimistic outlook.