Small Reminders of Love (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 9)

“Dr. Davenport?” his secretary knocked on the door and poked her head in. “Your parents are here,” she turned her attention to me.”
Rachel and John stepped in the doorway, smiles carefully fixed on their faces.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s good.” I smiled and looked at the clock on the wall behind me. I had left them waiting in the car for an hour.
“We were just wondering,” John added. “Are these your mother’s things?” he pointed at the box on the desk.
“Come in,” Dr. Davenport stood up and held out his hand. “I’m Dr. Davenport, Arnold Davenport. Please, have a seat,” he looked at me for approval.
I nodded and watched them take their seats. It reminded me of our first year together, hour long counseling sessions to tackle, explore, and rewrite the memories that covered me like skin.
“There’s one more picture I wanted to show you…if that’s okay,” Dr. Davenport requested.
I wait as he flipped through the notebook. A headstone with her name, date of birth and date of death was the first thing that caught my eye. Its pencil-shaded edges were decorated with wings. A hardwood casket suspended above the ground, the words “I’m so sorry” whispered through its lid. And standing on the side, Little One, in the same yellow dress, her hands behind her back, alone on the grassy grounds.
“What is this?” Rachel asked.
“She kept a notebook…and there are pictures…”
“I believe these pictures give us some insight into what Marcy was thinking, and because many of the pictures have…”
“They’re pictures of me,” I interrupted. “She remembered me…”
John grabbed my hand. Rachel smiled with tears in her eyes.
“Of course she did.”

***

Routine lined our days, made them feel more significant: Creamed wheat, two slices of bacon, and a half glass of milk greeted us in the morning: A snug two-arm hug and a kiss on the forehead from Grandma Betty as we walked out the door. School hours filled with lessons in faith and academics. Dinner served hot, homemade, always stuffed our bellies with love. Evenings spent in the yard with friends or just us on the porch talking until nightfall. A simple life. Smiles and laughter the standard. But with routine time quickened, milestones came and went, sucking memory into its vault.
Mother had been gone a year. I had turned ten, Sage seventeen. I had earned three Girl Scout badges. Sage and Steven had become quite the lovebirds. They were now making plans for marriage.
“When you and Steven get married are you going to live here?” I sat in the middle of Sage’s bed.
“No, silly.” She flipped through Bride Magazine. “We are going to have our own house. Steven is already looking for houses.”
“What are you going to do when he graduates next month?”
“What do you mean?”
“You won’t see him at school…”
“He’ll be working while I’m at school and then I’ll see him in the evenings,” she smiled. “What about this one?” she pointed to a white dress with a fitted bodice and flared skirt.
“I like it…but I don’t think Grandma Betty is going to like it,” I warned.
“Well, I’ll be eighteen so I can do what I want.”
I marveled at each dress she showed, asked questions about the flowers, the reception, but most importantly, life after the wedding.
“What’s going to happen to me?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you leave…”
“I’ll be around. You can come to my house. Steven is going to buy me a car so I can pick you up.” She grabbed another magazine and handed it to me. “Tell me which flower girl dresses you like,” she smiled.
I dog-eared the pages with dresses I liked, knowing the future was near and change would come again, this time bringing more happiness, more togetherness with the one person I couldn’t imagine living without.

***

Sage and Grandma Betty didn’t talk much about the impending wedding. Instead Grandma Betty started a new quilt. First piles of old clothes appeared in the living room. This pile was reduced to smaller piles of square-shaped patches. Then came rolls of interfacing and thread. Needles in their red cushions decorated the arms of the living room chair. And endless clippings followed us around the house.
“Grandma Betty, what are you going to do with this quilt?”
“I’m making this quilt for Sage.”
“For her wedding?”
“Not for the wedding, as a gift as she starts her new life…a reminder of those who love her and wish her well.” Grandma Betty threaded her needle. “What do you think of all this?”
“She said I could be her flower girl,” I giggled.
“That’s nice. I think you’ll make a good flower girl.”
“Yeah…I get to go to the rehearsal.”
“What do you think about Sage leaving?” Grandma Betty probed.
“A little scared, I guess. I don’t know exactly where she’ll be,” I admitted.
“Well, it will all work itself out so don’t you worry.” She patted my hand. “Life has a way of working itself out, even when it looks like things are going wrong.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“You two will be just fine,” Grandma Betty. “She loves you and you love her…always keep it that way.”

Before we knew it, Steven was graduating. Sage and I sat in the audience next to his parents, David and Lucille, joining in the pomp and circumstance as 150 graduates crossed the stage in their black caps and gowns.
“Steven!” we jeered as he climbed the steps to the stage and crossed. He threw his cap in the air and caught it. We screamed louder and clapped until our hands were red. After the graduation, David and Lucille cornered Steven and Sage long enough to get pictures for their photo albums. I was in some of them. For the others I sat and waited for them to be done. As they posed, I watched the crop dusters in the distance. They swooped down over the green field, spraying fertilizer. I imagined myself in that plane flying through the sky twisting and turning, lost in the loud rumbling of the motor, far away from the excitement.
By the time we got back home, Grandma Betty had finished cooking and was taking a rest. Steven let me out of the truck and they watched me walk up the path to the front door.
“It’s locked,” I shouted.
“Ring the bell.”
I rung the bell and waited. Steven inched forward in his truck ready to take off. But when the door didn’t open, he stopped.
“Ring again,” Sage yelled. So I did. I pressed the button twice and stood there listening to its two-note chime.
Still nothing. Sage jumped out of the truck and opened the door with her key. I followed her inside. The house smelled of black-eyed peas and okra. I went into the kitchen and on the stove were two pots, and on the counter was Grandma Betty’s famous butterscotch cake. My mouth watered as I slid my finger down the side collecting the warm butterscotch drizzle.
“She’s sleep in her chair…don’t bother her,” Sage came into the kitchen, grabbing a plate. “You want me to fix your plate?”
“I got it,” I told her, wanting to determine my own portions this time.
I listened for the front door to close and the truck to drive away before cutting myself a big slice of cake. I sat down at the table and savored each bite. I didn’t worry about how I would explain the missing chunk to Grandma Betty; I just ate.
With a full belly and sticky fingers I went into the living room and sat on the floor next to Grandma Betty. First I read my own books. Then I got some of Sage’s magazines and looked through those. Still Grandma Betty wasn’t awake, so I went into the yard. I sat down in front of a dandelion patch and picked the dried flowers one by one, blowing their white seeds into the air. My stomach started to growl so I headed back to the kitchen, this time with the intentions of eating peas and okra. I put a spoonful of both onto a small plate and sat down. I took one bite of the slimy okra and decided if Grandma Betty was going to sleep all day I might as well enjoy a little mischief. So I cut myself another slice. Not until after I had licked the icing off of the plate did I stop to see that only half the cake was left. I got up, pushed my chair in, and put my plate in the sink.
Back outside I picked more dandelions, twirled, laid on the ground and watched the clouds inch across the sky, and sang, making up new words to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It was about 4 o’clock. The sun was fading and the wind had a chill. I got up and went inside to check on Grandma Betty. She still lay in her chair, scraps of fabric scattered on her lap, in one hand the quilt, and in the other scissors, her fingers still stuck in the holes. I went upstairs and grabbed Sage’s makeup bag and a bottle of red nail polish. First I painted my own nails, fingers and toes. In the bathroom I applied two coats of lipstick, eyeshadow, and mascara. Then I changed into a white summer dress, getting lipstick on the collar. I primped, pulling my hair this way and that, pursing my lips as I stuck my nose up.
“Juni,” Sage called as she opened the front door. “Where are you? I got something for you.”
“Just a second,” I answered, trying to get the makeup back into the bag.
“What are you doing?” Sage was in the doorway, her face breaking into a wide smile. “What did you do?”
“I dressed up.” I confessed. “I borrowed your makeup…”
“I see. You look pretty.” She wiped a layer of eyeshadow off with her thumbs. “There, that’s better…I’ll have to teach you some makeup tips.”
“Okay,” I said, relieved that she wasn’t angry.
“Where’s Grandma Betty?”
“She’s still sleeping.”
“What?” Sage gasped.
“She’s still in her chair…sleeping.” My heart skipped a beat, as I watched the blood drain from Sage’s face.

“Get back,” Sage yelled.
She did everything she knew to do, everything she had seen on TV, everything she had learned in health class. She checked for a pulse, an obstructed airway. She pumped her chest and counted. I stood back, my legs shaking. I knew what it all meant. The little voice in the back of my head confirmed death’s presence.
“I think she’s dead,” Sage held Grandma Betty’s hand, still hoping to see some sign of life. Sage stood over her body waiting for the outcome to change, for a miracle to restore us back to a time when life was comprehensible. But the part of her that made her who she was had already slipped away.
I sunk to the floor.
“What are we going to do?” Sage looked at me. “What am I going to do,” she moved to the window and opened the curtain. Our reflections peered back—two generations hurt by the sharp edges of love.
“I’ll help you,” I said, but Sage was not convinced. She avoided my glance, put her hands in her pockets, and leaned against the wall.
We each found a place for our eyes to rest and waited for darkness to cover us. When I woke up, Sage was sitting next to Grandma Betty’s recliner. The quilt lay across her lap, a threaded needle in her hand. She had picked up where Grandma Betty left off. Lost in quarter inch lines, nothing else existed.
“We have to call Aunt Mary,” I said, my voice raspy.
I looked at Grandma Betty. She had been our miracle and now uncertainty reared its head. I had to believe that somewhere in this uncertainty was love, stretched and worn, ready to nourish our wilted hearts.

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