I let them in, hiding my surprize. She wept and chattered, he giggled and joked, I watched silently, keeping my mind as free of anything as I could. Not even sign language, only movement. I closed the door, and walked to the kitchen, started the kettle. They followed with increasing bafflement, as I put out mugs, shifted patiently around them, retrieved the large teapot from the mantle in the next room.
They talked, and I can honestly not remember what they were on about, only that there were no real questions. No questions I could answer, even if I would. Comments about my hair, vaguely negative observations about how silly it was to have an inflatable penguin in the dining room, how it looked old, as I liked things - antiques with a negative connotation. The kettle boiled. I used the tea bags, Earl Grey. Not the best tea, accessible tea. I watched the clock. They wondered why I wouldn't say anything, but that seemed rhetorical, not a real question, no way to answer it. Not without prompting them. More tears from her. He seemed to be suppressing anger. I poured the tea, one into the green glass mug, one into the brown and cream one. Added milk without asking. Set them at the table, sat myself without a mug. Waited.
They sat. They sipped, they harangued. How could yous and don't you wants aplenty. Still, and I did specifically listen, not one genuine, answerable question. No acknowledgment of their own specific sins, only generalized chest beating. Mea culpa, without awareness of the nature of the error, nor any curiosity of what they might have failed at. My brother, to his credit, got quieter and quieter. My mother cried harder, wrung her hands. I waited. Right down to my marrow, my smallest cell, my darkest soul shadow, I simply waited.
Somehow, the silence got through. She would never understand, did not want to understand, but she finally stopped. Pulled up her anger, and spat out bile-full words, a shred of dignity for her, and waddled out, limping, old, frail. He followed, looked back at me. And a trace of understanding, a nod. Not enough to ask, not enough. But something, a crumb. Then the tears welled up in my eyes, and I'm sure he saw.
I poured out the tea, washed the pot, emptied and refilled the kettle, and set it to boil. Filled the small daily pot with good tea, sat to wait.
I would have told them, would have answered if they'd asked. But they did have to ask, and they did not. Curious.