Ada is the working title of a novel-in-progress by Varnya Bromilow. This is chapter two. For the first chapter click here
He poked at the yolk of the egg with a butter knife. There was a thin skein of albumen still there. He flipped part of the white up over onto the yolk, partially covering it. That should do it. He turned the heat off the pan and looked at the clock. She should be back anytime now. Would she want an egg? If he cooked it and she wasn’t back it would be wasted. He decided not to cook her an egg.
He removed a plate from the cupboard and popped the bread down to toast. Where was the salt? He turned back to the pan and scooped the egg out. Then he remembered the toast and put the egg back in the warm pan. He retrieved the butter from the fridge and set it next to the plate. The toast popped and he pulled it out and tossed it on the plate, blowing on his fingers. He turned back to the pan and scooped the egg out with the spatula, landing it neatly in the middle of the toast. Then he remembered the butter and scooped the egg back to the pan and buttered the toast. This time when he lifted the egg back to the toast, the yolk broke when he flopped it down. He grumbled to himself and then laughed. Old brain. The egg leaked vivid yellow onto the toast.
Just as he sat down he heard the car. Well, he could give her this egg if she wanted it. It was probably too undercooked for her liking. He salted the egg and shook a little white pepper over it. He could hear her fussing with her keys at the door.
“Hello?” She called.
“Hello!” He replied.
Her footsteps clipped down the hallway. She came in holding two chocolate bars. Her hair was a little mussed, white strands clinging to her cheek.
“Would you like one?”
“Nope,” she grinned, holding up the two chocolate bars. “I have these!”
He laughed. “Nutritious.”
“For my mental health.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your mental health.”
“Chocolate’s good for your spirits.”
“I thought spirits were good for your spirits?”
“You got any?” She giggled.
She went through to the kitchen and returned with the two chocolate bars cut up on a saucer, accompanied by a glass of milk.
She raised her glass at him. “To your mental health, dearest.”
He smiled and poked some egg into his mouth. “How was the dentist?”
“Fine. They wanted to do an X-ray but I told them to nick off.”
“What did they want an X-ray for?”
She screwed up her nose. “I don’t know. Something about roots. They always want to do X-rays. They’ve got to recoup the cost of those ridiculous machines.” He watched her jaw as she chewed the chocolate. She had retained a suggestion of jawline, despite her age. She looked marvelous really. Her white hair, still thick, framing her old face in a neat bob. He was relieved that she had never gone in for that short, curled style so popular amongst women of their age. Why did they do that, he wondered. Did they think it made their hair look somehow fuller? Didn’t they realize that the only people who cut their hair short and permed it were old women?
“What are you looking at?” Ada said.
“Thanking your lucky stars?”
“Always,” he winked at her.
She grunted happily and held out the plate to him. On it was the last piece of Cherry Ripe.
“No, you have it.”
“No, I don’t want it.”
“Alright then,” her mouth curled into a smile. She popped the chocolate into it. “What are your plans today?”
“I’m going to have coffee with Bert,” he said.
“Then I thought we could go to the park for a walk.”
“Yes, let’s do that,” she said. “I’m going to call Leonie. I thought we could have them over on Wednesday?”
“Should we have Helen and Affan over too?”
“I don’t know. We could ask them.”
“Yes, I’ll ask them.”
He pushed his chair out from the table. “I’m going to water the garden.”
“Yes, I might do a little weeding.”
“Is that all you’re having for lunch?”
“I’m not really hungry,” she said. “I’ll have something later.”
He shrugged and went out the back door.
They lived in a one-bedroom flat on Carr Street in West Perth. The building, which dated back to 1918, was surrounded by a relatively large garden, cordoned into four different sectors, each belonging to a ground floor flat. There were another two flats upstairs, larger but with no garden. Their garden was an unnatural green wreathed in a colourful haze of blooms this time of year. He loved it here. Cocooned by an ivy-covered red brick wall, his patch was an ever-changing pattern of flowers and vegetables, cottage-style. Leonie had lectured him more than once on the water he and Ada used to sustain their non-native verdance – she kept encouraging them to plant natives – but Ada had never become accustomed to the dun khaki and paltry blooms of her adopted homeland. It was an acquired taste, he thought, Australian flowers eschewing petals in favour of meagre tendrils, the prevalence of spikes and thorns. When he was young, in the first half of the century, his mother had spent hours replanting the thin Australian soil with plants from the Northern hemisphere. He had grown up essentially repulsed by the native flora. In marrying a Canadian, he had effectively given himself an excuse to indulge his own horticultural preferences.
They had lived in the flat for 17 years, the longest they had lived anywhere. When they were younger they had moved about every few years, perplexing their friends and annoying the hell out of their children. He was glad, when he looked back, though it had left them bereft of the well-established communities enjoyed by their more stationery friends. It didn’t matter – for the most part he found anyone apart from Ada quite irritating.
“Oh! Look at that one!” Ada was pointing at a giant dahlia, its head a full mass of curled white petals, tipped with pink.
“And this,” he said, admiring an example in deep fuchsia. “They need more staking actually.”
“I’ll get a couple.”
They spent the next quiet hour staking the stalks of the heavy-headed flowers, weeding the beds and instructing each other on gardening techniques. Eventually Ada retired to the wrought iron table on the small patio while he gave everything a good spray.
“It’s so lovely,” she smiled, removing her boots. “I can’t remember when we’ve had a better year with the dahlias.”
“You’re 84, you can’t remember anything!” He retorted.
“My memory is better than yours.”
“Rubbish,” he said. The sun was starting to burn the skin on the back of his neck. He turned off the hose and went and sat with her. Ada was staring at the garden, unfocused. He reached across the table for her hand. Canadian hands they were, even after 40 years, pale and unspotted. His rough, freckled paw looked monstrous next to hers. She turned to him, the same small smile playing around her wrinkled lips, the skin around her eyes deeply creased. For a long time he had kept expecting to wake up one day and not love her, but it hadn’t happened. This amazed him. He had been ambivalent – perhaps ambivalent was too strong – he had not been as sure as she had, 52 years ago. His lack of certainty had bothered him. He felt sure it was a sign that his feelings would not endure. But by the third year of their marriage he felt that the tables had turned and that he was surer than she. That had been a terrible period, unconfided to her. He had been convinced that she had belatedly changed her mind. It was terrifying to realize how smitten he was after all. He had lost whatever edge of distance that separated them in the beginning. Now he was in, well in, and unable to control how he felt. But in the end, she had stayed and he had stayed and they had endured, both besotted, in their understated fashion.
“Look at your hands!” She chastised. “You should moisturize them.”
“It’s too late for that,” he said.
“You’re beginning to look like a bit of leather with eyes.”
“Well aged,” he looked at his watch. “I’d better wash up if I’m going to meet Bert.”
“Shall we meet at the park?”
“Yeah. About 3:30?”
“You coming in?”
“No, no I’m going to sit here for a while,” she said.
He went inside.