Life hadn't been kind to the Kinlayson's, but they had risen to the challenges well and there was very little evidence of the hardships they had suffered. The two sisters and brother lived together in relative harmony bonded together by the traumas that had left them without parents and without many of the creature comforts their peers had acquired.
Larry was now the breadwinner of the three. He was most of the way through his carpentry apprenticeship when the accident occurred, and while the insurance money paid the hospital bills etc., it didn't quite pay off the debt on the house and there was no money at all left over for general living expenses. It soon fell to him to provide the household income and between his modest apprenticeship wage and some careful budgetting, they managed to survive.
Jean was the homemaker in the family, a role that had been thrust upon her when when both parents were severely injured in the car accident that claimed their parents. Dad passed away after only a few days in hospital, but Mum managed to hang on to life for nearly eight months. It was during this eight months that Jean learned to juggle all the household tasks, spend time visiting at the hospital, comfort her brother and sister when they needed it, and still keep up some semblence of a social life.
While Jean kept the house running smoothly, Joan made their many and varied guests quite welcome in their house. Of the three, she was the hardest hit by her mother's drawn out departure from this life, and spent many an hour at her mother's side encouraging her and trying to give her reason to live. It was only in the last month or so when her mother spent more and more time unconscious and less and less time being lucid that Joan actually came to grips with the impending death. Her mission in life was now to make people happy so that they had no reason to leave, particularly not by dying.
Joan's pre-occupation with people did annoy Jean at times. Joan could spend hours talking and laughing with people while the cockroaches crawled over the dinner plates, while Joan shuddered at even the thought of leaving unwashed dishes. Eventually Joan would get around to cleaning up, but if Jean walked in on such a situation, she would give Joan a strong, big-sister glare until she got the message that work needed to be done. Not that Jean minded entertaining guests at all. In fact she probably brought home as many guest as did both Joan and Larry together, but she made sure that the household duties didn't slip either.
Today, the guests had been invited home by Jean. They had both been out shopping that morning and stopped for a cup of coffee at one of the cafes in the shopping mall when a group of travellers came to the café. That didn't leave much room left at the tables, so Jean and Joan instinctively cleared space at their table and invited some of the travellers to sit down. Well that was an open invitation for Joan to start up a conversation, and start one up she did, but soon it was Jean doing most of the talking.
These were more than just travellers - they were a religious group, but they understood Jean and Joan's situation quite well and Jean and Joan found it good to talk to someone who understood. The leader of the group was called Jesus - he did most of the talking and was the one who had the most insight into their situation. He went on from there and warmed their hearts with talk of eternal life in the life beyond death. Both listened intently totally absorbed in everything Jesus said. Jean was staggered when she looked at her watch and found that it was well past lunch time. She had no hesitation at all in asking the group back to their place for lunch. After all, it was the least she could do after taking up so much of their time.
When Jean reached the house she swung into full action. Joan stayed with the travellers both to guide them to their house and to give Jean a headstart in cleaning up the house and preparing lunch. The house was at least semi-respectable by the time Joan, Jesus, and the others arrived but lunch was far from ready. Jean cleaned down the large outside table and then fussed over which tablecloth she should use to cover the stains. She had just walked back into the kitchen and the wind blew the tablecloth right off almost into the fence. Jean ran back and rescued it before it landed in the really dirty section. She shook it clean and fortunately that was all that was needed. As she ducked quickly into the kitchen to get plates to hold the tablecloth down, she overheard Joan and Jesus talking. "Good", she thought, "they haven't noticed how slow things are yet."
With the tablecloth weighted down, Jean turned to the preparation of the food itself. A simple salad was all that was needed for this meal. She opened the cupboard to get the bread, but there were only a few slices there. "The car!" she thought, "The groceries are still in the car!" Out the back she scurried and unloaded the morning's shopping from the car, transferring it into the kitchen. Well that took up all the spare room on the kitchen table. Quickly all the cold items were placed into the fridge and the remainder of the bags of groceries stacked as tightly as she could on the floor.
Jean started muttering to herself, "Bread, bread, now where did the bread get to?" Much to her dismay, the bread was at the bottom of the grocieries she had just stacked. Not only did she now have groceries scattered all over the kitchen again, but the bread more resembled a pancake than a loaf. She had no choice but to use that bread, so she patted it back into shape and started wishing Joan was in the kitchen to help. Cutting the tomatoes was next, but the knife was blunt and when combined with Jean's haste produced some unusual looking slices. The cheese didn't want to cut any better either and Jean started getting frustrated.
"Joan, can you come and give me a hand please", Jean yelled out from the kitchen. No reply came.
Jean kept working, but the rumblings of discontent grew with each passing minute. Couldn't Joan figure out for herself that Jean needed help getting lunch ready. Jean knew that their guests needed entertaining, but they also needed lunch and just a bit of courtesy from Jean would go a long way in getting that lunch ready for everyone. She broke open the lettuce and shredded it into a bowl. Her frustrations made sure the lettuce was well shredded, and most of it did land in the bowl. She filled and turned on the kettle.
"Typical." Jean started thinking to herself. "I always end up in the kitchen while everyone else enjoys themself. Just once, I'd like someone else to do this."
Off to the fridge she went to get the cold meat. There was at least enough there for everyone. Jean pulled the meat out but on the way to the table the kettle boiled. She reached over to turn it off and the meat slipped out of her grasp straight on to the floor. That was the last straw for Jean. Why wasn't Jean in there to help and just who did this stranger think he was that he could demand her sister's whole attention at a time like this. If he was as clever as he made out to be, why didn't he realise that Joan should have been helping in the kitchen.
Jean stormed over to Joan and their visitors.
"Joan!" she said as she glared at her.
Everyone looked at Jean, including Jesus - the silence was deafening.
"Well don't you care that I need some help. Lunch just doesn't happen by itself, you know."
Then Jean realised what she had said, but she was past caring at that stage. She was totally convinced that if she wasn't around that nothing would get done around the house and it was about time people recognised that. Jesus turned around to face Jean.
"Jean", he said, "you are worried about a lot of things, and we really do appreciate what you have done getting lunch ready for everyone, but in a few hours lunch will be past and we will be hungry again. There is really only one thing that will last on into eternity, and your sister has chosen that one thing. She won't ever lose that."
The words came like a jug of ice cold water over Jean, and she stopped dead in her tracks. Then the realisation struck. What she did was needed, but how she prepared for eternal life was far more important. Suddenly the mis-shapen bread and the awkwardly cut tomatoes no longer mattered. There was food for the stomach, but there was also food for the soul.
Copyright Darryl Severn 2000