Droplets of dew dry in the slanting sun. She lay there in the cool meadow; spongy moss beneath her; the smells of earth—life and death, decay and growth—circling. She feels the arms of the earth, steady and strong, supporting her. She stares at the cloudless sky; the red rose sun beaming down hot and bitter and powerful like that first cup of coffee after a restless night spent wandering the house waiting for sleep, checking windows and doors and the gas on the stove and the coffee pot, mentally rehearsing a habit in a role she’s played far too long. She opens her eyes. “I have been here before,” she announces to the air, thin and stale. Her chilly words are carried away on a cloud of mist. Why the sun warms her body but not her words is still a mystery to her. She fells the pull of something, a niggling against her brain, like a word she cannot fasten to her tongue. She feels the memory of a memory. She frowns. “I have been here before,” she repeats.
He remembers his momma making cornmeal mush every Friday night; cutting the cornmeal into thick pieces and frying it up with onions. She’d take the piece of liver the butcher had given her for half price—nobody wanted liver those days—and slice it thin, coating it in a mixture of flower and salt before laying it in the pan upon a bed of oil. And as Joe and his little brother watched, the liver would dance and curl upon the stage of the twelve inch cast iron pan, blackened with time and use.
And they would sit and eat.
“My roses is good company,” she would reply. “I can love ‘em as much as I want and they won’t push me away. They don’t give me no lip, neither.”
One day, Joe came in from hunting to find a man he did not know sitting at the kitchen table.
Joe frowned. This wasn’t his momma’s momma.
Joe wondered why the man was here when his daddy was long gone to God knew where. He approached the table. “Hello.”
“Don’t mind him, son. His mind’s gone to mush.”
Within two years, his mother’s rose bush withered and died while she cared for her ex-husband’s father.
“Do you mind if I take my lunch early today?”
She lays a palm—cool and moist—against his cheek. “I think she’d like that mighty fine, Joe.” She pats the bed. “Now crawl back into bed here and let me get you tucked in.”
Miss June tiptoes from the room on thick-soled shoes and returns to the common area.
“Talking about roses again.”