An Unexpected Reunion (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 13)

Aunt Mary came back two weeks after Grandma Betty’s funeral when the cupboards were almost bare. We had eaten the last package of beans; we had run out of bread, flour, cornmeal, milk, all the essentials. And for a week our meals came only from the garden. We made every kind of soup we could think of: butternut squash soup, carrot and cabbage soup, each with a little potato, onion, and tomatoes. When Aunt Mary arrived she didn’t say anything. She parked, popped her trunk, and grabbed a grocery bag. She nodded in our direction, sign language for “grab a bag,” so we did.
“Why didn’t you come pick us up for the funeral?” I asked, putting a grocery bag on the table. I stared at the side of her face, waiting for an answer.
“Come on, Juni.” Sage pulled my arm and said, “Don’t worry about it. We already made our peace.”
When Sage took the last bag out of the trunk, Aunt Mary hopped in her Buick and rode off.
“You think she’s coming back?” I asked.
“Yeah, she’ll be back…bringing more food, but I think we’re on our own.”

The house felt bigger with Grandma Betty gone so I hung out in Sage’s room when she let me. It was filled with wedding stuff. Every night I lay with her as she wrote in her journal.
“What are you writing?”
“Just stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
She put the journal down next to her and looked over at me.
“Stuff about me…like the wedding details,” she smiled. “…what I want to be…stuff I want to do.”
“What do you want to be?”
“I want to be a lawyer,” she stood up, moving her arms with excitement. “I want to take the cases that really help people.” She picked up her journal and her pen. “Or maybe I’ll be a judge.” She put her pen to her mouth and contemplated herself in a long black robe. “Everybody would have to stand when I walked in the room,” she chuckled. “What do you want to be?”
“I don’t know yet,” I shrugged my shoulders. “I haven’t thought about it.”
“Well, you’re very smart so you could be anything you wanted to be.” She smiled and patted me on the arm. “Now go lay down. We have school tomorrow.”

***

I hadn’t spent much time thinking about my life after Prosper Road. Though we had been through a lot, life seemed to be moving in slow motion. Now that Sage was getting married and moving on, I had to think about my life, who I would become. But I was eleven, eleven and a half; I didn’t know how to think about the future in any real way, so each morning while eating my breakfast I wrote in my journal, first making lists of jobs I might want. I wrote things like nurse, teacher, farmer, babysitter, and skywriter. Then I doodled, making hearts, stars, and swirly lines along the edges of the paper.
“Finish up,” Sage said.
“Okay.” I took a few more bites of oatmeal and gulped down a half glass of milk.
We waited on the porch for Sage’s friend Emma to arrive. Emma was my favorite of Sage’s friends. She was a quirky fast talker with a high-pitched laugh.
“Morning ladies,” she sang as she pulled up.
“Hey Em,” Sage opened the passenger door and pulled the seat forward; I squeezed in and plopped onto the back seat.
“Hey Juni bear,” Emma said, looking at me in the rearview mirror. “Did you get that report done?”
“Yes,” I smiled.
“What was it on? Koala bears?”
“That’s part of it.” I shook my head.
Sage closed her door and Emma drove off.
“Did you get a dress yet?” she asked Sage.
“No, Steven is going to give me the money and take us out to the dress shop out on Baker…you know which one I’m talking about?”
“I know it…what’s the name of it…it’s on the tip of my tongue,” they laughed.
Winter ball was just a few weeks away. Sage and Emma went back and forth on the details, Emma’s bursts of laughter filling the car.
“I’m so happy for you and Steven,” Emma put her hand on Sage’s. “You make such a cute couple…and the babies…they are going to be just darling.”
“Babies? I don’t know about that anytime soon,” Sage blushed.
I laughed along with Emma as she slowed the car.
“Have a good day, Juni bear.”
“Okay,” I said, but my mind was reeling. I hadn’t thought about Sage becoming a mother, what that would be like, where I would be in her new family.

***

Most evenings Steven stopped by after work. He left his dirty work boots by the door. Sage welcomed him, leading him to the kitchen for a hot meal. He left behind a thick stench, sweat and steel.
“How was your day, babe?” Sage asked, already assuming the role of wife.
“It was good. I picked up an extra shift this week, so you know what that means.”
“No…” Sage flirted, “What does it mean?”
“I’ll be able to get you that dress you want…but there is one catch,” he teased.
“What’s that?”
“I get the first dance.”
“Of course, sweetie. Who else would I dance with?”
“When is dinner?” I interrupted.
“It will be ready in a little bit,” Sage dismissed me. “Go finish your homework.”
“I am finished.”
“Well, go draw or something.”
“I don’t feel like drawing. I’m hungry…”
“It’s not done yet…just go back in there,” she motioned towards the living room.
“I want to sit in here with you guys.”
Sage rolled her eyes and let out a long, angry breath. I knew I was in the way, but I couldn’t leave. I was torn between good manners and jealousy. The only sound now was Sage stirring a pot of beans. I sat with my arms crossed, defiant. Steven got up, moving to stand behind Sage.
“Don’t worry about it,” he offered.
“No,” Sage slammed the long spoon on the stove. “Get out,” she yelled at me.
“Babe, it’s okay.”
“Get out now,” she continued, rushing towards me, her face tight, furious.
“Fine,” I stomped out into the living room.
“I’m so tired of this,” she confessed.
“She’s your sister. She’s supposed to be annoying…I have two sisters; that’s twice the annoying-ness,” he joked. “Come on. Let’s get ready for dinner. I’ve got to get home…since you won’t let me stay here.”
“You can’t wait six more months?”
“I guess I have to.” They laughed.
I sat in Grandma Betty’s chair, my knees to my chest.
“You have to let Sage have some space,” Grandma Betty would have told me. “She’s older than you. You’ll understand one day.”
A few minutes later Steven called me back into the kitchen. I returned mopey, letting out a dramatic sigh.
“Sorry,” I said under my breath.
“It’s okay,” Sage said.

***

Sage found the perfect dress at Mathilda’s Dress Shop. It was a blue, floor-length, lace-embellished dress. She looked beautiful. Emma helped her with her hair. Marley and Joanne did her make up. Then she returned the favor while the guys, Steven, Chris, Bradley, and Robert waited downstairs. I sat on the edge of Sage’s bed and watched the transformations.
“You look good.”
“You look good too,” they chuckled.
It was my job to take pictures. Clicks and flashes interrupted their chatter as I tried to capture the moment. Downstairs they joined their dates and I took more pictures. We were all lost in the excitement: Winter Ball had arrived; it was a time for love, for magic. After serious and silly poses, they all reached for their coats, heading for the front door. Sage pulled me to the side. Her face was glowing, her perfume sweet.
“Are you going to be okay by yourself?”
I nodded yes. Everything in me wanted to scream no, but Grandma Betty’s voice was in my ear.
“You let Sage do her thing and you do yours. You’re a big girl, right?”
When the door shut behind her, I ran to Grandma Betty’s chair and cried until I drifted into sleep. I awoke energized. I ran upstairs, unbraided my hair, letting it fall to my shoulders like Sage’s. Then I put on my finest dress, the lavender Chiffon, which was now at least two sizes too small. I twirled and made my way downstairs. With a flashlight in hand, I turned on the radio and shut off the lights. I waved the flashlight to the beat, dancing and singing. The flashlight was my microphone, and I was the queen of the ball. The living room was my dance floor. I moved fast, slow, off beat, on beat until sweat covered me. Then I treated myself to a bowl of ice cream with chocolate chip cookies on top. I wrote “Maybe I will be a dancer” in my journal and drew a girl on a stage. I took my time drawing an audience of forty stick-figure people. They sat in rows of red seats in their finest—dresses, suits, hats, bow ties.
Satisfied, I collected my drawing and ran upstairs to pin it on my wall. I slipped out of my dress and into pajamas and headed back downstairs, dragging a white and brown knitted blanket behind me. I curled up on Grandma Betty’s chair and waited for Sage. Around 11:30pm I awoke to the sound of a car pulling into the yard, the tires crushing dirt and gravel.

“They’re back,” I jumped up, sleep in the corners of my eyes, my mind far away still trapped between sleep and awake. I wobbled to the door and opened it, the cool air spraying moisture on my face. “Sage?” I called, stepping out onto the porch.
But it wasn’t Sage. It was Aunt Mary, and in the passenger seat was Mother. She stared straight ahead clutching a small duffle bag.
“Come on Marcy,” Aunt Mary demanded.
Mother turned to open her door, her body stiff, precise.
“I’m coming,” she stood up and looked around as if her eyes could penetrate the darkness.
As they approached, my legs grew weak.
“Little one,” Mother said. She put her bag down and extended her arms. “I’m back…and I’m all better…look at me…can you tell?”
Now my whole body trembled.
“I’m better, little one….and I’m going to do better by you. I promise.”
She put her hands around my waist and pulled me close.
“I have tools now…and medicine, lots of medicine…and no more voices. They’re all gone.”
She squeezed me.
“I can be your mommy now,” she whispered into my neck.

I looked up at Aunt Mary. She wore a scowl on her face, her pores overflowing with disdain. Then I looked back at Mother. Her smile was unfamiliar. Everything about her felt forced, unsteady. Her words ‘I can be your mommy now’ crawled all over my body biting through the flesh. My breaths shortened until I was gasping for air. Pee trickled down my legs. I stood between a woman who, if it wasn’t for her fear of hell, would have left me to die and a mother who I wasn’t sure ever knew how to love me. The one person I knew could protect me felt far away, her life unfairly anchored between burdens and blessings.

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9 Responses to An Unexpected Reunion (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 13)

  1. afthead says:

    I am really enjoying this story and thank you for creating captivating characters that keep bringing me back. To recognize what you’ve done, I’ve nominated you for the Liebster award! http://afthead.com/2015/08/13/the-liebster-award-socrates-edition/ Thanks for writing posts that I look forward to reading.

    Like

  2. dray0308 says:

    Reblogged this on Dream Big, Dream Often and commented:
    I love how this writing flows. I wish I had this type of talent!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It will be soon. 🙂 Blogging is helping me stay on track in getting this work completed. I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

    Like

  4. koolaidmoms says:

    Just found you from “Dream Big, Dream Often” now I have to go and read your previous posts! Love the story.

    Liked by 1 person

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