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A Door Closes, A Window

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Sue's 53rd birthday passes peacefully. Later, she remembers it more for the peace than the birthday.

Sue and Peg live together, quietly, in a house in a boring suburb of London. They don't celebrate birthdays, much. Peg's 60th passed a few months back without fanfare, and this morning Peg only says, "Happy birthday," before they get out of bed and go about their day. Peg makes tea, the horrible strong stuff that she learned to love in the war. Sue put up with it for five years, tolerated it for another seven. Now, if she's honest, she doesn't know what her morning would be without it. Peg puts two spoons of sugar in Sue's cup without needing to ask. They don't need to do much talking anymore.

Sue met Peg back in 1964, when Sue was working as a typist for a firm in the city. There was a whole room full of sleek brunettes in sharp suit dresses tak-takking out words for men with mustaches and trilby hats. Smoke and chalk dust hung heavy in the air. Sue loaned Peg her lipstick and they moved into an apartment together the next week. They stayed up all night most nights, talking to begin with. Sue's still not sure which of them got up the courage first.

It's chilly. Fall is settling in with a vengeance. "Full moon tonight," Peg notes, reading the newspaper.

"Yes, I remember. Meeting tonight, then."

The two of them have been attending the midnight moon meetings for so long that some of the newer members think they're founders. They're not; Greta Scot and Mary James started the MMM back in the late sixties. Peg and Sue got invited shortly afterward.

"Bunch of magic mumbo-jumbo," Peg mutters.

"You've never missed a meeting."

Peg subsides, turning her face up for a kiss.

"See you after work, Peg." Sue puts on her blazer and grabs her handbag, then walks out to the car. They just have the one, but Peg mainly putters about in the back garden these days. Sue drives into Woking, the long way round to avoid the railway crossing—the scenic route, Peg calls it—and parks. These days she works at a cheerful shop that sells children's toys, called the White Rabbit. The picture on the sign looks a lot more like a mouse in a uniform than a rabbit, but that's part of its charm.

It's an unremarkable day, except for selling an actual white rabbit to a little girl who's come in with her grandmother. They also leave with a toy garden that has felt carrots to pull out of the corduroy ground. Sue calls home during her lunch hour.

"Sold a white rabbit," she tells Peg.

"You've sold the shop? Are you owner, then?"

"No, goose, a toy rabbit. And a garden."

"How appropriate."

"I know, I felt extraordinarily accomplished. How was your morning?"

"Saw an owl in our garden," says Peg.

"What, during the day?"

"Not a cloud. Bright as anything. It didn't look sick, but I've left out some water in case it comes back."

"I didn't think we got owls."

"All the white rabbits had better be on the lookout, hadn't they?"

After work, Sue locks up. She walks down the street to the market on the corner to get some apples for the meeting. They've got the radio on inside.

"Just the apples, ma'am?" The clerk is a lanky, spotty young man.

"…flying over St Albans," says his radio. "Although it's unusual to see them out during the day, nearby Chiltern Hills could be the source…"

"And cod, please. Twelve ounces." Sue pays and drives home.

They eat the cod with a bit of thyme and garlic from the garden, and some peas from the icebox. Peg takes a nap. Sue tugs the paper over to work on the crossword. After a while, she gives up on that and reads a little. She falls asleep in the chair and wakes to Peg's hand on her cheek.

"Did you buy the apples?"

Sue fetches them.

The meetings aren't far. Back when they first started, they used to get dressed up every full moon. A lot of young ninnies in ridiculous black dresses swanning about chanting things, as Sue recalls. These days they mostly go in what they've got on already. Peg wears a clean pair of trousers without dirt stains at the knees. Sue leaves her blazer at home.

Their neighborhood is turning over. Young couples looking to start families are moving in as the older folks move out. Almost all the houses are full of new faces now. Some of them are delightful young folks. Some of them, like the house at the end of the block, are downright miserable. The woman stays at home with the baby, and the man rolls out every morning in the world's ugliest suit and tie. The woman spoke unkindly to Peg within the first month. They moved in a year and a half ago, and they haven't improved with age.

There's a cat just down the block. Sue stops to scratch its ears. "We should get a cat."

Peg grunts.

"A black cat," Sue continues, just to tease her.

Peg elbows her.

The meeting is nice. It always is. Sue cuts up an apple for the table of offerings to the Mother, and takes a sip of the wine. There are candles. It's held outside, in Greta's garden. Greta's begun to make some noise in a rather pointed kind of way about getting too old to host anymore. In the next year or two, Sue suspects, she and Peg will start having the meetings at theirs.

A few excitable young women approach them, as usual. They've both got blond curls combed to look wind-swept. One of them has one of those silver crescent moon necklaces on.

"We're just so happy to be a part of this group," one of them is telling Peg. "We younger girls have so much to learn from you elders."

Sue pulls Peg away before she can reply. "We're delighted you're here. I'm Susan, this is Margaret. We do look forward to seeing you next month. We've got to be getting back."

"We were never that young," Peg complains, holding Sue's hand on the way back.

"Oh yes we were, and twice as silly."

Peg arches an eyebrow. "I was never silly a day in my life."

Sue, who has lived with Peg for almost twenty years, laughs in her face.

That's when they see the baby.

It's on the front stoop of the house down the street from their own, the one belonging to the unpleasant people. Sue wouldn't have even noticed if it hadn't been for the cat, who flicked around the side of the house just as they passed. The movement caught her eye, and there was the basket.

"Peg," she says, stopping.

Peg sees. "Sue—"

"They're awful people," Sue says.

"Sue, we're old women."

"They already have a baby," Sue says.

"So they know what to do with one."

"Yes, can you imagine?"

Peg sighs, and Sue has her.

"We'll take it to the fire station in the morning," says Peg.

"Of course," says Sue, and neither of them believes a word.