Hi! This was written for Review Game's WCC challenge for January 2013. If you like my story, please go there to vote for it! :)
Sometimes you just got to watch to flies fuck, before you know what true boredom is. But on a farm, contrary to most city folks' view, there never is an idle moment. At least that's what I've grown to know. The bad part is that busy hands lead to a wandering mind. And, in my old age, nothing could be truer.
I let the stubbornly dirty pot slide out of my hands into the dishwater. I dry my hand on a towel while inspecting the decorations that make this place home. Above the sink a shelf juts out, unaware of its awkward location. More than once I've almost gave myself a concussion trying to violently persuade a dish into cleanliness. On that shelf waddled a family of porcelain ducks. The mother frantically quacking behind her to a lineup of precocious ducklings, or, more specifically, to the runt of the litter who hung comically to the edge of the shelf like a Christmas stocking holder. A daily reminder to me that a mother's work is never done, even 53 years after the birth of my first child.
I turn off the water and, with duty beckoning, go to the window facing the patio. Across the yard swaying on the old tire swing sits my grandbaby. Jenny was a little older than 23. Until recently, she has only known the summer time here. The kind of where summers that seem to last forever, the sunscreen never runs out, and the cooler stays packed. Her beauty, well talked about in my little town, had every neighbor boys pestering me to know when she'd would return even though they knew she visited every summer.
Through the kitchen window I see her long, auburn hair twisting in unwashed ringlets to frame her face and fall around her shoulders. In her hand a cigarette that I imagine is burning dangerously close to her little fingers. It saturates her tired bones with its smoke. Her other hand clutched to the rope like a lifeline. The setting sun casts long ghosts on her face, but still her beauty was evident.
"Now give that girl space," my brooding was interrupted by my husband. He had a slice of pumpkin pie in one hand and a glass of milk in the other. He timed his entrance perfectly, already sliding into the kitchen table before I could put a word in edgewise.
Still, my hands fly to my hips, wet dish towel whipping in the air for emphasis. "Is it dessert time? My, my wish I had known before I began cleaning all these dishes."
"My dear, it is the time to grab your heart's desire and eat it like there'll be no tomorrow!" He laughs at his own cleverness. "Did you hear about Ole Dick?"
I nod. Ole Dick was in a nursing home, suffered his 2nd stroke about a week ago. His family couldn't help him any longer. This is the type of stuff we should be dealing with. Not the broken heart of youth.
"Save a bite for me. Going to get my needles," I shuffle to the living room.
I find it my chair next to the fire place. As I rustle up the half-done baby blanket and pools of baby blue, forest green and mellow yellow yarn I notice something under the chair. I give it a tub but it is stuck under the leg of the rocker. Finally i work it out and throw the abandoned book in my bag of yarn.
I pause over the fire mantle inspecting the long line of family photos and little trinkets that surround our new center-piece. Its stars sparkle brightly in the dim light, as though it is a sign of beauty. Fittingly, the folded flag is nestled between Papa's favorite hunting rifle and shotgun. A few rounds of ammunition are hidden in a beautifully carved box. The guns are Papa pride and joy and he insists on keeping ammo nearby. Now, the flag is the forefront of our mantle now, a harsh reminder of why tears mark this visit. I don't want to look at it. For that same reason, Jenny spends most of her time outside. Trying to forget, and forgetting to try.
"Boy, this is some good cake!" Papa's words brought me out of my reverie, and quickly remind me of his sweet tooth. I hurry back to the kitchen.
"Come on dear, what did we teach baby Nate last Christmas?" He gives me a puzzling wide-eyed stare, "When Karen wanted to play with his toy trucks. We taught him: sharing is caring."
"Oh of course! That's fundamental for every kid to know."
I sit beside him waiting for my bite, which comes without fail. We finish the cake. He gives me a goodnight kiss and retires upstairs to bed. I take up my needles like I do every evening and lost in it.
This easy love, with my constant companion and best friend, was something of little girl's dreams. I know, because I had dreamt it. All those years back before I knew anything else. I dreamt it alongside my sisters. My dreams morphed along the way into a more beautiful reality. My Dreams grew while nurturing my only child, my baby girl's dreams. Now, we are immensely in love, despite the rough years, and despite our scars and I couldn't be happier.
The screech of the front screen jerks me back to reality. Jenny. I tell myself. A blurry eyed glance to the clock tells how late it is. It's late, for me at least. Her usually routine consists of going to bed as the night turns to grey, and waking up just as I finish up my afternoon program.
"Probably needs a new pack," not ready to lecture on the evils of smoking I keep that thought to myself. Through the doorway I see her and for a moment I almost catch her eye. Beautiful hazel eyes in an otherwise hollow face. Red swollen rims the only indication of life but mostly a hint of suffering. Her vacant gaze drifts through the kitchen before she goes to the living room.
"We all suffer," I want to plead and to reason. Instead, from inside my bag of yarn I fish out the book I found earlier. Flip to the inside cover page, I read:
To my Wonderful Grandbaby, Jenny, and her adoring husband, Jeff:
We have lived worlds apart, but love is something that is always constant. I dedicate this book to you two, as Jeff returns to Afghanistan for a second tour. Remember your love for one another. And read these words of wisdom from an Army Wife who has been through it all.
Grams and Papa
Tears well up in my eyes, but my shaky hands refuse to drop the book. If only I could take his place, and let the tender heart know joy once more. I want to cry out to the Heavens and let my indignation be heard on the monstrosity of war or the fragility of life. But I shake my head. Nothing can change this, God, as almighty as he is cannot erase this scar. But a caring and loving mother can guide her children home.
The screen door screeches once more. My opportunity lost. I return to the sink; draining the dishwater, drying off the remaining chinaware, and leave the rest for tomorrow.
Thunder shouts out across the yard. Silence. Breath—caught in my throat. The dogs barking. I run to the window. Stillness. The swing sways. The dirt beneath it, maroon, mixed with the shadows of earth and the hot essence of life—I dry heave.
"My baby! My baby!"
I didn't hear Papa come running down the stairs, or the words he shouted, or feel the vice grip on my arms. He left.
"Why is the sky so blue, Grams?" The old lady looked thoughtful to the sky above: A beautiful clear day, above the beautiful blooming land below. The day was idyllic for a stroll through the fields and maybe a visit to the creek.
"Because it's a giant's eyeball looking down at us!"
Giggles circle around the woman, the child's exuberance too much for a simple walk.
"Why are the clouds white?"
"Oh silly, don't you know the clouds are the beds of angels?"
More giggles escape. "So angel's sleep in a giants eye, Grams?"
"Why yes! That way the keep the giant good! So he won't eat any stray men who climb bean stalks."
"Good thing I'm a girl!" They both laughed to that.
The little girl skips ahead, humming a hymn she learned in Sunday school. At a tall tree ahead, she crouched down, examining. "Grams, come here. It's a dove. Is it hurt?"
The white bird did seem hurt: one wing was bent at an awkward angle. With every hop back, the little girl scooted forward. Fear glazed its eye in its tiny head. Innocent curiosity from her big eyes. Not quite a dove, the hurt bird was a stray white pigeon who somehow found her way there.
"I want to fix it!" she began to coo, hands outstretched, in solid determination to become allies. "Daddy gave the pony medicine and he was better. We need give her some, too."
"Honey, we can't take her with us, she needs to heal on her own."
Those large, hazel eyes turned on her. "Please, I want to help her. She's hurt. But I know I can help her. She needs a friend. I'll be her friend. I know, I'll call her Snow White and I'll pray for her to get better. Will you pray with me Grams?"
"The innocence of a child," her throat tightened. She nodded her head fervently, "yes, I think I'll pray for Snow White."