In this excerpt from An Accidental Life, a mother and daughter try to enjoy a rare visit without calling attention to any of their previous conflicts or differences.
“Good morning, did you sleep okay?” Joyce bustled in and set the tray at the foot of Shana’s bed, her eyes gleaming with excitement. “I made your favorites…” She gestured toward the colorful plate bearing two slices of French toast with bacon; a large mug of coffee was set next to it, and a side plate held a grapefruit.
“You remembered!” Shana enthused, not having the heart to remind her mother that she hadn’t eaten like this since she was a teenager. “Looks delicious!” She obediently sipped the coffee and scooped up a bite of grapefruit. “Are you going to join me?”
“No, I’ve already eaten. And I thought you might enjoy reading the paper in solitude. Unless you’d like company,” she added, almost hopefully.
“Sure, why don’t you join me? Have another cup of coffee and we’ll share the entertainment section.” Shana patted the end of the bed.
Jumping up quickly, Joyce retreated to the kitchen, returning with a mug of coffee, which she placed carefully on the antique trunk at the foot of the bed. Then she pulled up the little wicker chair and waited for her section of the paper. As she did, she looked around the room, marveling again at how much difference a little paint and new linens could make. Reaching for the proffered paper, she began to skim the pages, all the while very conscious of Shana sitting there, picking away at her food and apparently engrossed in her reading.
Joyce waited, not wanting to interrupt the mood. Everything seemed so peaceful and this little ritual they had enjoyed all those years ago almost evoked that time in her mind. But not quite. Something was off. But Joyce decided not to push the issue.
A few minutes later, Shana reached into her canvas bag and retrieved a pack of cigarettes, and at the same time, a little crystal ashtray, which she placed in her lap. Joyce almost said something, but again held her tongue while Shana lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply. In the end she couldn’t help herself. “When did you start smoking?”
“Oh, sorry, Mum. I guess I was a teenager when I first tried it, but I never smoked here in the house. I knew you wouldn’t approve. Want me to put it out?”