SHE CALLED IT the piazza. I'd been to the library and it isn't a piazza at all, but she says it just the same.
I didn't say that, but it's not like I know what to call it anyway. I wouldn't say it to her face if I did know because she is so fierce. The doctors, like bad farmers, pulled babies and other things you’d think were vital out of her and all sorts of bits off of her as the calendars repeated themselves, and father says when they bury her there will be an echo inside. She carries on like the turning of the earth, and everyone loves her and fears her no matter how much of her is left.
She never went leathery; she got adamantine. She was a basilisk to a stranger and a pitted madonna to her own. We make a pilgrimage, no less, to visit her. Which one are you again is the name she uses to prove she loves us all the same amount. She presses a quarter in my hand like a card trick when we leave.
The piazza is just a rotten porch that leans drunkenly off the building and she sends me to get the food that cooled out there. It’s thirty rickety feet above the jetsam of a thousand lives gone bad, surrounded by chainlink and crime. She’s like a one-woman congress, overruling all sorts of laws of man and nature, but you can’t help feeling she can’t keep a lookout for gravity forever on your behalf, can she? Everything is only a matter of time in this world.
It’s always hot and close when you return, breathless from fear and hurry and the whip of the wind, and you notice she has only two colors: grey and the pink of her cheek. There are always things I don't understand, boiling. Everything on the plates is grey and pink, too.
The rooms are in a parade. The triptych of the parlor windows shows the sack of a forgotten Rome through the tattered lace. No running in the hall! Her daughter lives down stairs so there was no one to bother but… the very idea!
But how could any child linger in that tunnel of a hall? You had to get past it to the kitchen table. The bedrooms branched off, dim caves that smelled of perfume bought in stores forty years closed by men thirty years dead. The indistinct whorls on the wallpaper reached out to touch your hand like a leper.
At the table, the lyre-back chair groans and shifts under even my little weight, and you sit transfixed while she spoons the sugar and dumps the milk into the tea until the saucer is a puddle, and you wondered in your head how many times the bag could take it. There’s cinnamon and laughter now and then and blessed sunlight that turned the battered battleship linoleum into a limpid pool. The cork shines through the scrim of the coating, a million footfalls revealing more and more of it over time.
And Catherine? The Cork shows through there, too.