“Annie, I’m hungry,” Kadie said softly to her sister. “I think I need to eat something.”
“Nonsense,” Annie answered sharply. “You just ate.”
“But that was yesterday,” Katie told her. “Remember? That was yesterday.”
“Nonsense,” Annie said again. “It’s just your mind playing tricks on you again.”
Annie got up out of her chair, lay her nearly finished afghan she’d been knitting on the seat, and walked up to where Kadie was lying in bed. Aged like a summer peach left forgotten in the sun, Kadie was bedridden and totally dependent upon her sister.
“I’ll bring you some cheese after I finish feeding those raccoons,” Annie told her. “It’s just about time for them to come up to the house and I don’t want to keep them waiting.”
“Annie,” Kadie said, slowly. “I don’t want cheese again.” She paused for a moment. “Remember? I don’t like cheese. Could I please have something else?” she quietly begged. “Please?”
Underneath a layer of quilts that had been hand-sewn by their mother, Kadie lay pitifully in an old wrought-iron bed. Above the bed was a German crucifix that was as old as the sisters themselves, and on the bed next to one of Kadie’s pillows, lay a blue-beaded rosary. It belonged to Kadie. It was the only thing left in the house that did. The sisters were spinsters and have lived in that same house since birth. Annie was older by seven minutes.
“I’m so tired of just eating cheese, “she said, practically in tears. “I need to eat something else. Please, Annie,” she begged. “I’m sick.”
“I’ll bring you some soup then,” said Annie quickly. “Soup and cheese — it’s good enough for anybody.”
Annie walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. She snapped on the back-porch light and smiled when it illuminated most of the yard. Four round, fat, and very tame raccoons were sitting on the back porch eagerly awaiting their dinner. Annie went to a cabinet near the back door and pulled out two loaves of fresh, white bread and a handful of crisp, vanilla cookies. She opened the door and the raccoons immediately backed away, allowing her enough room to scatter the food on the porch. Annie stood there for a moment and was going to watch them eat when she heard Kadie’s frail voice calling her from the bedroom. Annie turned off the porch light, irritated that her time with the raccoons had been ruined and shut the door. She walked back into Kadie’s bedroom, went directly to her chair in the corner where her knitting was waiting, picked it up, sat back down, and began to knit.
“Annie?” Kadie asked while slowly picking up her head to look at her sister. “Please, Annie,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I’m sick,” she said. “I feel so sick that maybe if I could eat something then I might feel a little better. Please,” she pleaded. “I’m just don’t want to feel sick anymore.”
Annie scoffed. “I don’t know why you think you’re hungry,” she said. “It’s not like you’ve done anything to work up an appetite or anything just lying there all day. I can’t for the life of me see why you think you need to eat so much. You’re not like those raccoons, you know,” she rattled. “Why, those little things are always so busy, so busy all the time always doing something or other and you don’t hear them complaining about being hungry, do you?” she asked, laughing slightly to herself. “Every night it’s the same thing,” she said her knitting needles flying flawlessly through the yarn. “They just sit there by the back porch patiently waiting on their bread and cookies. It’s always the same thing and they never complain.”
Kadie fell slowly back onto her pillow and closed her eyes. Annie continued to knit, almost seemingly able to knit in syncopation with Kadie’s shallow breathing. She continued to knit until the sounds of the night quieted her own breathing and she slept there in the chair until the morning light broke through the windows. Annie went into the kitchen and came back in a few minutes with a chunk of white cheese on a tiny tray to give to Kadie for breakfast. She came up to the bed and when Kadie didn’t wake up, she snapped, “Kadie,” and when she didn’t respond, “Kadie — sit up and eat now. I don’t have all day long to wait on you.”
“I’m not hungry,” Kadie said rather breathlessly. “I’m not hungry.”
“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Annie exclaimed. “I ought to know when you’re hungry,” she said. “You never listen. Don’t you know what kind of trouble I went to? I have plenty more important things to do than waste all this time cooking your breakfast just so you can lie there and turn up your nose. Quit being so hard to get along with and eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” she repeated.
“You’re just being hard-headed,” Annie told her.
“I’m not hungry.”
Annie shook her head and picked up the tray and practically dropped it on the floor beside Kadie’s bed. “It’s good cheese you know,” she told her ungrateful sister. “It’s the kind of cheese mama used to always give us,” she said, “remember that Kadie? I think it was her favorite.” Annie walked back over to her chair, picked up her knitting again, and sat down. “Seems like a person can’t get anything to taste good anymore,” she said. “Cheese, cheese is about all you can count on tasting the same anymore.” She looked over at her sister in bed — Kadie’s small frame practically disappearing into it. “Yes,” Annie said, a far-away look coming into her eyes. “Cheese,” she said, “Mama always said that you could count on cheese.”
Annie took a deep breath and began to quietly hum a song. “Do you remember that song, Kadie?” she asked. “Isn’t that the song that mama used to always sing to me?” she asked. “You do remember that, don’t you, Kadie?” She stopped knitting for a moment and sighed. “Nobody could sing like mama.”
Kadie didn’t answer. Annie kept humming.
Annie sat there in the corner all day, knitting and humming until the light in the room grew dim and the air grew cold. She got up out of her chair and walked over to where Kadie lay. She switched on the lamp by the bed and the soft glow illuminated a lifeless Kadie — her rosary hanging off the side of the bed — Kadie’s piece of neglected cheese directly underneath it. Annie stood over her sister and pulled the top quilt up over Kadie’s chin. The movement knocked the rosary off the bed, and it landed on top of the tray holding Kadie’s piece of cheese.
“I’ll bring you some new cheese after I feed those raccoons,” Annie said while picking up the tray. She shook her head in disgust. “Look at all this wasted food,” she said. “I sure wish you were more like them,” she said, reaching over and turning off the lamp. They never let a single scrap go to waste. They eat every little scratch and snippet.”
She turned around to walk out of the bedroom but stopped in the doorway. She looked over her shoulder at the image of her sister lying silently in bed. She shook her head again slowly and walked on into the kitchen. She didn’t want to keep the raccoons waiting.