Judah wasn’t pretty, but she wasn’t ugly either. She had a simple grace in her movements that made up for any physical attractiveness she might have lacked. Her knees stayed the proper distance apart when she walked and her spine was straight and proud under her soft cotton blouses. I watched the way her calves strained as she reached high into the cupboard for iced-tea glasses.
“You sure you okay, sugar?” She cocked a hip and rested her wrist there, two glasses painted with pale yellow sunflowers clenched in her fingers. Judah told me once where she had grown up but it seemed to have faded from my head. It was somewhere cold, where everyone talks too fast and no one ever calls anyone sugar.
“Fine. Just wanted to come and visit. Got lonely at the house all by myself.” I started to blush but didn’t know why, ducking my head to hide the creeping redness from showing in my cheeks.
She poured us both a hefty serving of sweet tea with extra ice and I was thankful for the distraction. Truth was, I didn’t know why I was sitting in her kitchen that day instead of at church, but something felt right when I was there, nestled in the midst of all the clutter that was Judah’s life. Things got reordered for me when I was there and life seemed to somehow click into place.
"You ever feel like—” The phone rang and cut my tentative question short.
“Just a second,” she called over her shoulder as she sprinted for the phone, iced-tea sloshing down the sides of her glass and spattering on the green linoleum.
“Hello?” The caller’s response got lost in the sound of shattering glass.
Judah’s white sandals were suddenly stained and soggy from the spilt tea, the broken glass a halo of crystal shards around her paralyzed form. For a dead moment, she just stood there, staring past me through the white curtains streaked golden from the midday sun, out into the pasture behind her tiny white farm house, to the laden boughs of the apple trees, offering her their bittersweet fruit. She sucked in a gulp of air, choking on its unexpectedness and turned a fake smile on me.
“Go find me the dustpan, doll baby. Okay?” Her eyes were brighter then I had ever seen them. I backed out of the kitchen, watching her knuckles blanch against the dark telephone receiver. Pushing my way through the door that led into the hall, I waited until the thin wooden door swung shut and pressed myself against the wall beside it, listening through the sliver-wide crack between them.
I heard nothing for several aching, heart-pounding seconds, then Judah’s gravelly voice hissed into the phone, sounding distorted and muffled from the other room.
“How did you get this number?” All of things I loved about Judah disappeared in those six words. The affectionate twang of her accent, her familiar playfulness, her unflappable charm was gone and in their place was stony resolve and hints of something I didn’t know how to identify yet.
“Leave me alone.” Her voice, which had changed so suddenly since I left the room, was snarled and broken, all traces of kindness and humor evaporated into the thick, humid air. I panicked as her footsteps rang out across the floor and ran to get the dustpan, hearing the phone slam even from three rooms away.
I hurried back to the kitchen, dustpan and broom in hand, but when I pushed through the door this time, Judah wasn’t there. I stood alone in the heat of the small kitchen, broken glass and iced tea around my feet, and watched through the open back door as the black pick-up drove out of sight.