At exactly seven in the morning, Cam comes home, her hands coated with gesso as usual. It's odd of her to be so punctual. With her artistic temperament, she normally wanders around town and comes home much later.
"Your hair is a mess," I remark as she sits down and deposits the morning mail on the table. As always, my coffee cup is before me, and a croissant before Cam.
Cam doesn't answer. She pulls the pastry apart and begins cramming the pieces into her mouth. "Shouldn't you wash off that gesso?" I ask.
Cam pauses and considers her hands, still covered with white spots of primer. Then, "It's dry, Aline."
"I should hope so," I say, taking a sip of coffee. "I won't have you getting it all over my pastries." Cam says nothing, just continues to eat until she's cleaned all the crumbs off the plate. She rises and washes the dish. Of course she pays no heed to her crow's nest of hair, doesn't bother to straighten it. I get the urge to walk over to her and pull her black hair tight into place, tight as my mother used to pull my hair back when I was a girl. But of course I don't.
Cam comes back over and takes my empty mug.
"You need anything, Aline?"
"No," I say. "Not right now. Why don't you get some sleep? I'll call if I want anything."
Cam nods and, without another word, turns and heads toward the stairs, grabbing an envelope from the mail pile as she goes. She disappears from view, and I am spared another few hours of that cousin of mine.
I remember the first time she showed up on my doorstep. I was still stuck in a wheelchair then, and it took me several minutes to come to the door, hoping the whole time it wasn't somebody important. Family, by the way, doesn't count; it's O.K. to keep family waiting.
"What is it?" I said, wrenching open the door. Cam said nothing as I looked her over. She dressed daringly for one who arrived in Montréal in December: no hat, a lurid scarf, a black jacket, and khaki trousers. I noticed the two suitcases by her side.
"You're here for a long stay?" I asked.
"Naw," she replied sarcastically. "I'm touring the world and just forgot to tell you I was dropping by."
"Well?" I demanded. "Which is it?"
"Both," she said, with typical taciturn wit. I liked that answer. So I let her in, got her seated, gave her a croissant, poured myself some coffee. And it's been that way, every morning, for the past two years. Except for the suitcases, of course. Those sit in the room upstairs, where she's probably fast asleep by now.
© 2012 by Tuong-Phi Le