Every Second Sunday

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When they met in the church hall that Saturday night, George was Gene Kelly out of the rain and Stella was tulled and rouged like a kewpie doll. Now in their eighties, they dance in the kitchen under the fluorescent globe that flickers and buzzes overhead. Tomorrow their son Andrew, who visits every second Sunday, will change it.

Every second Sunday Stella gets up early and puts on her apron as she did when Andrew was small. She wants the just-baked smell of biscuits to waft, like the smoke from a genie lamp, through the suburbs to him in his new grand house. On their only visit, she and George had been shunted to the playroom with their granddaughter Ellie; their daughter-in-law did not want to risk George spilling coffee over the mug’s rim as his hands shook. So they’d arrived at the arrangement of every second Sunday in Andrew’s childhood home, where spills were easily mopped up and the multi-coloured lino welcomed the trail of biscuit crumbs.

Stella kneads and rolls the dough then cuts out the star shapes, puts them on the tray and sprinkles them with hundreds and thousands. She slides the tray into the oven. She places the roast in the pan and salts it, knowing her daughter-in-law will comment as she does each time on its plainness.

‘You should add some rosemary and garlic.’

There is rosemary in the garden, but Stella cannot bring herself to flavour the meat with it. She remembers when they planted the bush in memory of their daughter who loved so briefly; struggled for her single baby breath. Remembers how George, her dancing man so light of foot then heavy of heart, consoled with gentle murmurs. Remembers the doctors loudly ordering her to have another baby to replace their Eloise. Andrew arrived eleven months later and pleased them with his brightness. Yet, always for Stella, there was a reminder of his sister in his blue-grey eyes that dulled his shine just a little. Stella wondered if he knew.

With the biscuits baked and the lamb and vegetables in the oven, Stella sets the table as she waits for the doorbell’s chime, but instead of ding dong ding dong, she hears Andrew and Ellie at the back door. They are singing.

‘Grandma!’ Ellie explodes into the kitchen, a shooting star of sparkling purple satin and tulle. ‘I can sing Twinka Twinka Little Star.’ She launches once more into the song.

‘So you can, my darling. Would you like a twinka-star biscuit?’

Ellie takes the still-warm biscuit and bites, sending crumbs to the floor. She cries.

‘I’m sorry, Grandma.’

Stella pulls her granddaughter to her. ‘It’s all right, Eloise,’ she whispers. ‘It’s all right.’