To Color My Dreams

I lie in my bed, heart pounding, wondering what it is that has awakened me.  I stare into the dark, listening and waiting, trying to make sense of my confusion.  Is there a raccoon at the bird feeder again?  Trouble at work?  I rise and go to the window.  Part the curtains and peer into the darkness.


There is nothing.


I turn to the bed and I am flooded with memories.


 “Daddy?”


I switch on the light.  She stands there at the door, in pajamas too small.  Her hair is knotted.  I wonder if she brushed her teeth before she went to bed.  I wonder when she went to bed.  If.  I sit in the rocking chair Liese bought for my thirty-eighth birthday and pat my knee.  Tess wiggles her way onto my lap and leans against my chest. 


“I’m afraid, Daddy.”  She sticks her thumb in her mouth, a habit my sister comments on every time she stops over with another one of her crappy casseroles.


I begin rocking.  “What are you scared of, Baby?”


She pulls the thumb from her mouth to whisper.  “Forgetting.”


I tense then force myself to relax.  I cannot be angry: Tess has had fewer years to manufacture memories.


“I try to remember her face, Daddy.  But it’s going away.  It’s like the pieces of her are falling off.  I can see the parts, but I can’t put them all together anymore.” 


I picture the curve at the tip of Liese’s  nose.  The long red hair.   Her eyes.  Green and fiery.  Irish. 

I put my hand against Tess’s chest.  “She’s in here, Baby.  You’ll never forget the love.  Never.”  I blink back tears, hold her tight, wonder how in God’s name I’ve allowed myself to wallow so deep in my own depression that I’ve started to neglect my children.  “Go get Mommy’s brush.”


She slips off my lap and stares at me wide-eyed.  Liese’s possessions have been off limits since the accident. 


“It’s OK.”  I run a hand across her tiny back, make a mental promise to myself to take her shopping next weekend.   She returns to my lap and hands me the brush.  I pull a strand of Liese’s hair from the brush and curl it around my finger.


“Daddy?” 


“Yeah?”


“Are we going to be OK?”


“I hope so.”  I begin working the knots from Tess’s hair, gently tugging, one hand against her head.  When I am through, Tess skips to the mirror to examine her reflection.  Her red hair bounces and sways the way her mother’s did.  “You look just like her, Tess.  You know that?”


She turns and gives me a shy smile.


“Let’s go make a cup of cocoa.”


“Should I wake David?”


“Not tonight.  Tonight, it’ll be just us.”


The kitchen light feels too bright at this hour.  The clock over the sink ticks too loudly.  Tess measures out cocoa and milk; salt and vanilla. 


“Be right back,” I whisper.


“OK, Daddy.”


I return to the bedroom and open the top right drawer of my dresser.  I reach to the back of the drawer; take out the last pair of socks.  I remove the bottle tucked inside.  I run my thumb along the cut glass, feel the weight of it in my palm. 

If you’d asked me six months ago what my favorite possession was, I would’ve answered without hesitation, “the Ferrari.”  The Ferrari was red and fast and powerful.  It took me away from the troubles that seemed, back then, insurmountable: The credit card bill.  The water in the basement.  The demands of parenthood.  Behind the wheel of the Ferrari, I could forget everything.


I remove the cap from the bottle in my hand and inhale deeply.  I smell lemon and musk.  I smell Liese.


This was her only extravagance.  And now it is mine. 


My children don’t know it.  My sister doesn’t know it.  Even the therapist that my in-laws insisted upon doesn’t know it.  I keep it to myself: My greatest possession in life is a half-empty bottle of perfume my dead wife used to wear.  Every night, just before I go to bed, I dab a bit on my pillow to color my dreams.


Because I’m scared of forgetting, too.


“Daddy?”


Tess stands in the doorway.  “Cocoa’s ready.”


“OK.”


She steps in.  “What are you doing?”


It’s unfair, really.  Keeping this from her when her image of her mother has morphed into a Picasso.  “Did you know that smell carries memories?”  I open my hand, reveal the magic within. 


She leans forward and sniffs.


“That’s Mommy.”


I put the bottle into her hand.  “You take it, Tess.  Mommy would want you to wear it.”  I’m sure my sister will have something to say about an eight year old wearing hundred dollar perfume.  And somehow, this pleases me. 


I help her dab a little behind her ears and bring her close.  “Let’s go get our cocoa.”


We drop a handful of marshmallows in each mug.  I pull a box of cookies from the cupboard.  Tess takes a sip of cocoa.  

“Hey, Daddy?” 


“Yeah, Tess.”  I smile at the chocolate moustache she wears.


“I think we’re going to be OK.”


I nod.  “Me too.”


“And Daddy?”


“Mmmm?”  I rub my eyes, glance at the clock. 


“When I’m a hundred years old, my memory of you will smell like cocoa.”


And somehow that makes me laugh and cry at the same time.   

 


Note: This was written for Sandra’s Writing Workshop.

Varnished

This post was written for Sandra’s Workshop Writing Hop.   We were to write a piece in close first person.

Lavigna bustled about the diner.  I could see the gap between the top two buttons of her skirt; could see a hint of red lace above her ivory skin though that gap.  I could see the bump of raised skin on the back of her thigh where she’d had stitches from that dog bite back in ‘eighty.  Lavigna sure knew how to market a place; knew that the truckers came to her diner for more than a plate of pork chops and fried potatoes.  We came for hope.

I watched Lavigna touch the mole at the corner of her lips; watched her press those lips together and try to smile at Harvey Daniels like it was perfectly fine that he was taking ten minutes to decide between scrambled and overlight; whole wheat and white.  I could tell she wanted to snap that gum she kept tucked inside her cheek while she talked to the customers.

“Fried, Harv,” I shouted.

He looked at me.  “You think?”

“Yep.”  Harv was a new trucker, unaccustomed to life on the road.  Unaccustomed to loneliness.  He took what human contact he could from the CB radio and thirty minute stops every ten hours. 

I ran my fingers across the table—oak.  Lavigna never did spare a dime on anything.  Always the optimist.  Always thinking this was going to work out just fine, if she just spent enough money; if she just worked hard enough. 

I pulled a cigarette from my front pocket.  Plugged it in my mouth.

“You know there ain’t no smoking here, Earle.”

“I know it.”  I nodded.

“I got my eye on you,” she said.

“I got my eye on you, too, Lavigna.”

Harv perked up at this.  “Where’d you get a name like Lavigna, anyway?”  Harv considered himself the intelligent one of the bunch: He’d been to college, after all.  Had a career in the computing industry.  After he was laid off, he found out he weren’t so special after all.  “That’s an awfully unusual name.”

“Shut up, Professor,” I said.  Harv was parking himself on my own turf.

But Lavigna just smiled that little smile; that knowing smile; that smile that looked like she had a butterscotch candy nestled on her tongue, just melting there. 

Harv looked at me. 

“Her daddy was some Eye-talian.  Had a winery somewheres.”

Harv studied the ceiling for a moment, his mouth moved like he was chewing down real hard on his thoughts.  “Latin.  Vinum.  Wine.”  His face brightened. 

“Yeah, whatever, Harv.” 

“She doesn’t look Italian.  She’s real white.”

I frowned.  I could tell Harv had been studying in between them buttons. 

“Her daddy’s from the north, dipshit.  What’d you major in up at college, anyhow?”

“Finance.”

“Well I see you’re taking a refresher course in women.  Your wife know about your studies?”

Harv had the decency to blush and drop his eyes as Lavigna slapped a plate of eggs before him and bustled over to my table.

I straightened up in my seat.  Balanced my smoke on my spoon.  Smiled.  Waited to study that gap between her buttons myself.

“Earle.”  She nodded.  I could see the chewing gum tucked behind her teeth.

“Marry me, Lavigna.”

“How’re things with Duane?”

“Shitty, like always.”  I spoke like I was giving the weather report.

“Fix it, then we’ll talk.”

“Me and Duane, we’re never going to be square, Lavigna.  Some people just aren’t meant to get along.”

She cracked her gum.  “He’s your son, Earle.”

I hated the way Lavigna always had to state the obvious to me.  Times like this I wondered why I was attracted to her.  “Men ain’t into that relationship thing all that much, like you women are, Lavigna.”  I ran my hand over the table.  “It’s like this here table.  You can see the grain beneath, but you can’t get to it.  You can’t feel it, Lavigna, even though you really want to.”

“Ain’t no varnish between you and Duane.  You ain’t tryin’ hard enough.”

I sighed.  I preferred the smooth, protected surface that acted as a barrier between me and Duane.  It was easier that way. Easier to pretend that we were irrevocably divided.

“Guess I’ll just have to find me another man, then,” she said, walking away.

I sighed.  Picked up my cell and punched in Duane’s number. 

“Duane?” I said, after he’d picked up.

“Yes.”  He was curt.  I wanted to hang up.  I looked at Lavigna, leaning against the counter by the coffee machines, arms crossed, chewing on that bottom lip again.  Lord, I wanted to touch that mole.

“I got a woodworking project I need your help with,” I said.  “You any good at sanding?”

The Memory of Memories

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.

Joe looks up from the card game, startled. 

“Never mind her, Joe.  Miss June say that every day at nine.”  The bigger one tosses down a jack.  “Your turn.”

The cards are glossy and slick in Joe’s hands and he hopes his eyes don’t reveal the truth: He is terrified of the disease Miss June carries within her head.

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.

“Don’t put that pan in water,” Momma would always say, after the dinner had been dealt onto the nine chipped plates she’d bought from the Salvation Army.  “Jest wipe it out with a towel and set it back on the stove.”  She would smile then to soften her words, revealing her chipped and yellowed teeth.  Just before dinner, Momma would clip one rose from the bush outside the back door and set it in the vase in the center of the table.  “There,” she would clap her hands and admire the bloom, red as anger, “don’t that look fine?”

And they would sit and eat.

“How come you favor them flowers so much?”  Joe’s eldest brother would always ask.  “You fuss over them things like they was  your own children.”

“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.” 

The boys would laugh, then.  Joe supposed that, in a houseful of boys, his mother needed a spot of beauty to bloom within her sad and bitter life.

One day, Joe came in from hunting to find a man he did not know sitting at the kitchen table.

“Say hello to your granddaddy, Joe.”    

Joe frowned.  This wasn’t his momma’s momma. 

His mother forced a note of cheer into her voice.  “This here’s your daddy’s daddy.”

Joe wondered why the man was here when his daddy was long gone to God knew where.  He approached the table.  “Hello.”

The man—his grandfather—looked at Joe without appearing to see him. 

“Don’t mind him, son.  His mind’s gone to mush.”

“Don’t say that, Momma,” the eldest son, who figured himself an intellectual, said.  “The connections have gone bad, that’s all.  Can’t you see you’re scaring them boys?” 

Within two years, his mother’s rose bush withered and died while she cared for her ex-husband’s father.

“Your turn, Joe.”

Joe startles.

The bigger man laughs.  “You look like you seen a ghost.”

“Do you mind if I take my lunch early today?” 

The bigger man shakes his head.  “It’s alright by me.  Long as you get your work done.”  He picks up a pencil stub and tallies the scores.  Joe gathers the cards and tucks them into the box.  He grabs the handles of Miss June’s wheelchair and pushes her back into her room.  He stands before her, leaning forward, his hands pressed against his knees.  “I’m gonna’ get my momma a rose bush, Miss June. Now what do you think of that?”

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.”

Joe slides into the bed; allows the covers to be tucked up all around him, the way his momma did when he was but a boy.  He falls asleep, dreaming of roses.

Miss June tiptoes from the room on thick-soled shoes and returns to the common area. 

“How’s our patient?” The bigger one asks.

“Talking about roses again.”

The bigger one nods.  “He does that every day.”  He tosses down a jack.  “Your turn, June.”