The Story of Ten

Today’s story is in response to the DP Challenge Prompt: Ten. 

My name is Hortensia Louisa Broadway.  Close family and friends call me Ten. My seventy-five year old mother lives with me. She is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and I am her caretaker. Since I take care of her, I don’t have time to take care of myself. I know. It sounds like a cop-out, but I really don’t. I don’t work so I can go on vacations, or have nights out on the town with my friends and maybe meet a nice guy. No, I work and schedule my time and finances around caring for mama.

I watch a little more of her slip away, day by day. One minute, she knows my name and that I’m her daughter. The next minute, she’s telling me to get out of her house – my house – or she’s going to call the cops. Sometimes, I can make light of her outbursts. Most times, it absolutely shatters me.

It would be nice to be one of those women who have a meltdown and goes traveling to a foreign country to do yoga and find herself, or go hiking in the dead of winter and lose a few toes to frostbite, just for a change of scenery and spiritual enlightenment. But I can’t afford that life. I stay up all night to make sure mama doesn’t leave the house and get lost.

My workday starts at 11 pm and ends at noon. The nurse shows up at 7am to tend to mama. I sleep between noonish and 6pm, while the nurse is there. This is my life, seven days a week.

While I long for the future, mama lives in the past. Most of the time, it sounds like a happy place. Then there are the days she goes room by room, calling for him, the one that got away, only to end up on the living room floor crying for Winston. He was her first love. She loves the man who broke her heart more than she ever loved daddy. I think daddy knew it, too. He loved mama the way mama loved Winston. I remember the last thing my father said to her. He said, “Honey, I love you more than all the sand, on all the beaches.” She said, “I’ll see you when you come out of surgery, baby.” He didn’t survive the surgery.

When I was about fifteen years old, she told me she married my father because she didn’t want to be lonely, but that she grew to love him over time. But, Winston would always have a special place in her heart. There are some things a fifteen year old doesn’t need to know.

Shortly after daddy’s death, she went searching for Winston. She found out from a mutual friend that he married the woman he’d left mama for, and they had seven kids. All girls. He’d passed away the year before daddy died. It wasn’t too long after daddy died that I noticed the signs. She’d forget my name, or that she was ever married, even though she still wore her ring. She’d get dressed to go out, but only have her underwear on. After she left food cooking on the stove for the third time while she went out to grocery store to buy something for dinner, her landlord told me she had to go. He begged me to put her into a nursing home.

Sometimes, it’s not clear to me if I resent mama or her illness. But I’m angry that the day I brought her home to live with me, is the day my life stopped. I don’t have any siblings or other close relatives to spilt the responsibility of her care of with. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to put her in a nursing home. So, I deal with this burden and guilt quietly. I save my tears for the moments when I’m alone. But I think it may be time to let her go.

adult_hands

Lucid Moments

Mama had good days and bad days. I was grateful for the days she remembered my name, or her wedding day or any part her childhood. I started to record her voice on my phone. I didn’t know how long I would have her with me, so I made it a point to capture her moments of clarity. I tried to record her on video once, and she cussed me out! She called me everything but a child of God!

Sometimes, she talked about daddy. But mostly, she talked about good times with Winston. What I learned about my very proper, buttoned down mother during these moments of reminiscence was, she was a freak. She and Winston enjoyed each other every chance they got, everywhere they could. Not that I wanted these details, but she didn’t speak of daddy so passionately. She spoke of him fondly, matter of factly. For the first time in her life, she removed the filter and spoke her truth.

“It bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“What bothers me, mama?”

“That I wasn’t in love with your dad.”

“I’m fine with it mama. You had a life, a past. It’s not a bad thing.”

“We were good friends. But that was all. You were an accident. I didn’t want children. He did. Now, I’m glad I had you. You weren’t too bad as a child. You were a good kid. You turned out to be a good woman. And now, that I need someone who knows me, you are here. I’m not entirely alone.”

I pretended that her words didn’t sting. I pretended to appreciate her disease driven candor. Somewhere in that moment, I found myself wondering how much longer she would linger. Then, I quietly admonished myself for thinking such a thought and not enjoying her lucid moment. There were fewer moments like this, lately. My feelings would mend, eventually. She didn’t realize that being unfiltered was not her natural state of being. She used to be more diplomatic. At this point, I settled for any moment that brought my mother back to me over the stranger who didn’t recognize me most days.

Today, she felt like talking about the love of her life, Winston.

“Did I ever tell you about how Winston and I met?”

“No mama,” I lied, “Why don’t you tell me?”

“Well, I was young. Maybe about fifteen, if my memory serves me right. I received and invitation to go to Tiffany Jackson’s birthday party. She was the rich, snooty girl at school. I’m still not sure how I ended up on the invitation list. But I heard that Winston was going to be there. I had to be there! It took a lot of convincing for my parents to allow me to go. Daddy was dead set against it because boys would be there. Back then, boys were considered more dangerous than street drugs are today. No parent wanted to lose their precious little girls to some fast-ass boy. Being seen in the company of a boy with no chaperone, was a BIG no-no. Anyway, after much debate, Daddy agreed to let me go, under the condition that he attended as my plus one. Embarrassing, to have your parent as your date! You just don’t know!

“Anyway, I was surprised to see a number of fathers had the same idea when I arrived to the party. Some of the dads sat at the bar watching their daughters like hawks as they danced. A few of them walked up to their daughters while they were on the dance floor to warn the boys not to let their hands slip anywhere below the waist line. They followed their daughters around the hall, and stood outside the ladies room to make sure the girls weren’t trying to sneak off with the boys. My dad intended to dance every dance with me! I drew the line when he tried to  Walk the Dog. I went and sat down in one of the seats along the wall. Daddy didn’t leave the dance floor. He and Mrs. Jackson tried to do all the teen dances that night to demonstrate how silly they thought we looked. He wanted to make sure he embarrassed me enough that I didn’t dance with anyone. He succeeded! All the girls laughed at me until their fathers noticed my daddy’s tactic worked, and began to follow suit.

“Winston noticed me sitting along the wall, pouting. He brought me a drink and sat beside me.

‘Hey there, Wallflower,’ he said. That became his nickname for me. He sat with me until the party was over. He tried to look aloof and uninterested in me to make my father feel good. Daddy came over a few times to make sure I was ok and that Winston wasn’t bothering me. That Winston was so smooth! He was exactly what every parent wanted for their daughter, the perfect gentleman. But when he got me alone, ooooowheee!! That boy was fire!”

Mama gazed into the distance wistfully, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. I watched as she retreated to that place where Alzheimers hides her away from me. I saw the light leave her face, as she turned to me.

“Have you seen Winston? Did you make him leave? Winston! Winston! Where are you?” She stood, and began to wander through the apartment, searching for her first love. I remained in the living room, wondering how long it would be before I got to speak to my mother again.

Photo Credit: Wallflower by Bunky’s Pickle
Inspiration for this post came from the Daily Post’s word prompt: Invitation

If These Walls Could Talk

Empty Room by Brad K. creative commons

Unspeakable things happened in this place. Things that I don’t want to remember, but I relive every day. People have come to this place to pray for me and apologize. They leave flowers and stuffed bears and balloons and candles. They try to tell me to move on. But, I can’t. I need them to listen. I just need them to listen.

I was brought to this place when I was five years old. I was told that it would be a nice place to live, and that I would have a new family that would love me and take care of me because my real mother could not. I remember crying, because my big sister, Karla, could not come with me. My new dad said she was too old and that they didn’t want a girl. My new mom didn’t say much. She had a kind face, but she looked sad, and maybe a little scared. I remember that she jumped a little, when I walked over and took her hand. It was like she didn’t like being touched, but she didn’t let go because she knew I was nervous.

“Can I call you ‘Mommy,’” I asked her in a very quiet voice. She looked at me, and then at my new dad. He was talking to the social worker and signing papers. She looked back to me, smiled a little and nodded. My new dad turned around, looked at us and frowned.

“Let him go. Don’t baby him,” he grunted at Mommy. “You’ll spoil him. He ain’t gone be no good to nobody if you spoil him.” She dropped my hand and walked out the door. He shoved me and said, “Walk, boy.” I followed Mommy. Tears rolled down my face. I could tell he was a mean man.

On the car ride to our new home, he told me the house rules.

“Bedtime is at 7 o’clock, not a minute later. You will eat what’s put in front of you and like it. You will have chores to do every day, and you better do them right or you won’t get any supper. I don’t want not one bad report from your teachers, or I’m gone tear your backside up. Don’t you back talk to me, or any other adult. I’ll knock your friggin’ teeth out if you do. You speak when you’re spoken to, otherwise be quiet. Understand?” I nodded. All of a sudden, he reached back punched me in my chest. He hit me like I was a grown-up. I couldn’t breathe. He knocked the air out of me.

“It’s ‘Yes, sir,’ or ‘No, sir!’ You understand me, brat? Don’t ever nod or shake your head at me! And quit all that damn crying! You ain’t a girl! Girls cry! Do you want me to put you in a dress and frills?”  I was gasping for air, but I managed to respond with the right phrase in a volume loud enough for him to hear me.

“No, sir.”

“Good,” he growled, as he glared at me in the rearview mirror. He parked the car in front of the house. Mommy hadn’t said a word. She looked out the window during the entire car ride. It was like she was somewhere else. He yanked me out the car and shoved me toward the house. The front yard was covered in dried leaves that had fallen from the oak trees in front of the house. We crunched our way through the leaves to the front porch. We went inside and he showed me to my room.

“Put your stuff away and then come to the kitchen for supper,” he said.

The room was small. It had bare walls and bed. No toys. No dresser, no closet, and it was cold.

“Where should I put my clothes? There isn’t a closet,” I asked.

His fist connected with the back of my head. I fell to the floor. Before I could get up, he punched me in my back, knocking the wind out of me, again. Then he took off his belt and whipped me.

“You ungrateful little bastard! Do you think we’re rich? You crack-baby! I told you to be quiet! Stop that crying!” I heard the sound of the leather belt cutting the air, and felt the sting of the strap through my shirt as it landed across my back, arms, head and legs. The end of the belt hit my eye twice. I covered my face to protect my eyes and to prevent him from seeing my tears. I don’t remember when he stopped. The room was spinning and getting dim. I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart was racing and his voice was an echo.

“Get up, boy! I said get up!”

I heard Mommy rush into the room.

“What are you doing to him! Ed! Stop! He’s just a boy!” I heard a thud, and she stopped speaking. Then he started on me again. He kicked me in my side. My body felt so heavy. I couldn’t move. My body just kind of jerked with every new blow, until I didn’t feel anything any more.

It was strange. All of a sudden, I was floating above the room and watching us. He stopped beating me and was on the floor shaking me, trying to wake me up. There were blood stains on the back of my shirt and the side of my face. Mommy was laying on the floor, in the doorway, blood was pooling around her head. She wasn’t moving. Then I was standing in front of him. I looked at his face and I wasn’t afraid of him anymore. As a matter of fact, he looked scared, and maybe a little worried. He walked away from me, he stepped over Mommy and walked up the hall. I heard his keys, then the sound of the front door opening and closing. He left us there.

“He’s not coming back, sweetie.”  I turned around to see Mommy standing beside me. I looked back to her body in the doorway. “We should go, too,” she said, holding her hand out to me.  I shook my head.

“We should stay, Mommy. We should stay until someone comes for us. We need to tell them what happened.”

“You tell them. I’m finally free of him, free from all of it. I can’t stay here anymore. I have to go.” Then, she left me, too.

I stayed. I understood why she left. She knew about the others. I saw the others that he hurt. They are here, too. They live in the walls. They told me what happened to them.

Unspeakable things happened here, and if these walls could talk, they would tell you everything.

Secrets and Shame

Photo found on Black America Web
Mother nursing

As I helped Aunt Delores with restocking the kitchen pantry, I told her I wanted to document the family history. She was the last of her generation. She was in good health for a woman in her 80s, and would probably be with us a while longer, but I didn’t want to suddenly lose her and have no record of the family history. She didn’t respond, other than glancing at me, and continued to take non-perishables out of the grocery bags and place them on the counter for me to put on the shelves. I wasn’t sure if I should prepare myself for a good telling-off, or if I should break out my recorder to begin to document the next words she spoke.

There was always some task attached to Aunt Delores’ stories. Cooking, hair braiding, sewing, knitting, all had a story to go with the activity. She was the family oral historian. No one else talked about the family’s history. She told me once, that I reminded her of herself as a child. “I was always up under some adult asking questions or eavesdropping on grown-folk conversation. They would scold me and tell me I was being too womanish for asking about adult business. I was just curious. But, they eventually told me everything.”

We finished putting away the groceries and then went to the living room.  She sat in her favorite chair and reached down to open the basket that held her knitting supplies.  She dropped a skein of deep turquoise yarn onto her lap with a set of extra long knitting needles that looked almost as thick as my pinky.  She pulled at the hem of her dress until it bunched up at her knees, exposing the tops of her knee-high stockings, and creating a pouch that would not allow the yarn to roll off her lap as she pulled at it while she knitted.

“You know, the problem is that we are covered in shame. We tell lies to make ourselves look good to the world. We are so afraid to be discovered as less than perfect.”  I listened to my aunt as she wound the yarn around the knitting needle and began to stitch and purl. Her movements were smooth and nimble. The click, click sound of the knitting needles created a soothing rhythm as I sat on the large ottoman at her feet and listened.

“Every family has secrets,” she continued, “from the poorest person on earth, to the Queen of England. Our family is no different. We do what everyone else does, we hide certain facts so we can keep up a good public image, and good standing in the community. That used to be a really big thing when your grandparents were raising us. For example, the worst thing that could happen to any family was for one of the girls to turn up with child, and no husband. The entire family would suffer for that.  It happened to Jacksons.  Remember Ms. Adele?  Her little sister, Petunia got pregnant when she was 15. The story they gave everyone was that she was needed by family out west to care for a sick relative. She had a little girl. They took the child from her and sent her back home once her milk dried up so nobody would know she had a baby.”  She had completed two rows of her creation and looked over her glasses at me.

“You may want to start writing this part down, honey.” I went over to the sofa, where I had rested my pocketbook and pulled out my mp3 player. I made sure I cleared some memory so I could record my aunt for a few hours. I also grabbed a pen and small notebook from my purse to take additional notes. I sat back down and turned on the recorder.

“There were seven of us. Dexter, Isaac, me, Florence, Angeline, Prentice and Leon. Everyone thinks I’m the oldest child. I’m just the oldest girl. I never knew the two oldest boys. They passed on long before I was born. No one talks about them. As a matter of fact, if you were to ask anybody else in the family, they would tell you Dexter and Isaac did not exist. My mother fell in love with a young man when she was just a teenager. I don’t know his name. She only spoke of this one or two times that I can recall. They would often sneak off to see each other. They were very much in love and wanted to get married, but granddaddy didn’t want his daughters courting until they were much older, and they young man’s family was very particular about their associations. One day, granddaddy caught them together in the shed, just going at it. The young man ran off, but mama got the beating of a lifetime. She was already pregnant. It was a wonder she didn’t lose Dexter. The young man was the son of the town’s only black doctor. They were practically royalty. Once word got out that he had been caught with mama, his family packed his bags and shipped him to Canada to stay with family there. Then they began to blame mama for seducing her son and half the other boys in town. Granddaddy was a pastor at the time, and Grandma was a school teacher.  People stopped going to granddaddy’s church and pulled their children out of the school. All the people they thought were friends, shunned them. Mama was sent away to live with family in New York and have the baby. After she had Dexter, she decided to go find her sweetheart up in Canada. She made her way there when Dexter was about three months old. She showed up to the address she was given, knocked on the door and a young woman answered. It was the young man’s wife. The young man acted like he didn’t know her, never seen her before. They gave her a few dollars like she was some kind of beggar and sent her on her way. She was devastated.  She returned to New York, broken-hearted and depressed. Every time she looked at her son, she got sick. So, late one night, she bundled her son up and went out to the bridge. She gathered some heavy rocks and put them in a basket. She fed Dexter, so he would be quiet. She bundled him and the rocks in the basket in such a way that he would not get loose, and she tossed him over the edge of the bridge.”

She continued to knit one, purl one. My eyes were wide and my mouth was open and I thought of the sweet woman who used to give me sweets and anything else I wanted despite my parent’s protest. She killed her child!

“Did she ever go to jail for that?”

“No. Once family in New York found out what she did, they hurried and sent her back to her parents, who were living out west at the time. Granddaddy started a new church and grandma was teaching again. It was there that she met her first husband. He was quite a bit older than her, in his early thirties, when they married. She just made nineteen. But, granddaddy approved of him. He was educated, a lawyer, I think. But he was mean man. He used to beat mama, and he had some other ‘lady friends’ around town. So when she got pregnant with Isaac, she thought he might change, soften toward her. He didn’t. He beat her even more after she had Isaac. See, Isaac was born fair-skinned with hazel eyes. Mama was brown-skinned, with dark eyes. Her husband was dark-skinned with dark eyes.  He took one look at the baby and accused her of cheating. She hadn’t cheated. The baby looked like my grandmother. She was so stressed out, she couldn’t produce milk for him. He got very sick and eventually died from malnutrition. She thought Isaac’s death was God’s judgment for her getting pregnant out-of-wedlock and for killing Dexter. Her husband divorced her and put her out. Once again, she was the cause of shame in the family. Granddaddy told her she needed to leave town. He would not let her live under his roof, again. He told her she was an embarrassment and that he would not see her pull the family down anymore. She left with nothing more than a few dollars, a few pictures and a few pieces of clothing. She came up here to Washington state. She never went back to her parents. One of her sisters reached out to her when we were kids. She stayed with us for a week.  She said something to mama about her ‘sinful past’ and the need for her to repent to be welcomed back into the family. Mama called her everything but a child of God and turned her out of the house! She never spoke to her sister again.”

She put down her knitting and looked at me. I stopped the recorder. She scratched her leg and pursed her lips for a moment and then said, “I want you to write down the histories. I want you to share it with your kids and grandkids, in the right way and time. Not everybody is going to be able to handle these stories. Nobody wants to think of their favorite relative as less than pure and holy, but we’re humans. We’re flawed. We make mistakes. Lord knows I’ve made my share. Shame is a powerful thing, sweetheart. Very powerful. I’ve told you a little something about your great-grandparents and your grandmother. Now, I’m about to tell you about people you know. You can’t share this information with anyone. They will hate you for what you know. So, if you can promise me that, I’ll tell you the rest of our story.”

She was right. I heard some of the things my family members had been involved in, including Aunt Delores. We were not angels, but we kept a good reputation. Most knew us to be a God-fearing family. We worked hard to keep our secrets. I knew which family members hated my aunt because of what she knew. But, she knew enough to keep them quiet and in check. I was a younger member of the family, they would slaughter me if I revealed their past. Shame was a powerful thing, indeed.

“I understand, Auntie. This will stay between us.”  She nodded and picked up her knitting needles again. I turned the recorder back on and she continued,

“Mama and daddy met at brothel…”

Dead Meat

I wrote this story some time ago as part of a writer’s workshop. I decided to open the story with dialog and as I continued to write, the dialog just kept flowing.  So, I let it flow! It was just as much fun to write as it is to read! Enjoy!

Butcher's counter

“Mel, you have nothing to worry about.  Just relax.  If you look nervous, they’ll know!”

“I can’t help it. I’ve never done anything like this before.  Are you sure no one will notice?”

“Positive.  I’ve been doing this once a month for the last year and I haven’t been caught yet.  Just act like you are checking prices.  Do a lot of inspecting so you look like a serious shopper.”

“Oh! Excuse me.”

“What?”

“I get a little windy when I’m nervous.  Sorry!”

“Mel!”

“I can’t help it Lynn!  We could go to jail!  Do you know what happens to women like us on the inside??? Do you?!”

“Mel…don’t make me slap you!  Calm down! Here…sniff some of this lavender and pull yourself together!!  I knew I shouldn’t have brought you.  Pastor’s wife’s thought you could handle this.”

“The Pastor’s wife?!  You brought the Pastor’s wife!!!!  We’re all going to hell!  You’ve corrupted the Pastor’s wife.”

“Are you kidding me?  She’s the one who told me about it!”

“What?!  Oh my gosh…oh-my-gosh! I’m involved with a cult!”

“Mel! I’m going to explain this to you one more time!  The people who own the place are blind!  Can’t see a thing and they’re deaf.  They wear hearing aid’s but Lester, the guy they hired to help them, takes them out.  He is also hired as their security guard.  He is the only sighted person here.  They treat him like dirt.  They pay him $20 a week to keep an eye on the store.”

“Lynn, he’s getting paid.  It’s not great pay, but he gets money for his services.  I don’t see how they are harming him.”

“Well let me tell you: he has to get here at 4am every morning, fix them breakfast, bathe them, drive them to doctor appointments on his dime, open and close the shop, and he’s security!  This is how he balances things out.”

“Oh Lynn, this doesn’t feel right.  It doesn’t seem right at all.  He looks happy, they look well taken care of.  Maybe we should just talk with them and see if they can’t do something to lower their prices.”

“I didn’t want to say anything, but this business has been willed to the church when the owners pass.  Right now they are the only butcher shop in the area.  We would have to travel at least 30 miles outside of town before we found reasonable prices.  Trust me, this is the best option.  The last time the community made a fuss about meat prices, everything in here went up by 10%.  Trust me Mel, we are handling this the right way.  We’re just waiting for the old bitties to croak and then the church will have another source of income.  Now, listen.  I’m going to hand you the packs of ground meat. Put them in your belly pouch.  You do have the belly pouch, right?”

“Yes.  I-I have it on.”

“Great!  Remember…meat side out!”

“Hail Mary! Full of grace…”

“Mel?”

“Hmm?”

“We are Baptist! Not Catholic!  Why are you saying ‘Hail Mary?’”

“Sorry! It was the first prayer to come to mind!”

“Quit praying and start stuffing, woman!  Hurry up!  He’s giving me the signal that they are coming over.  I won’t tell you what happened the last time someone was caught stealing from them.”

“Something happened to people? Were they hurt? What happened?! I can’t go to jail!  I don’t want to be bunk-mates with some 6 foot tall tattooed woman named Tiny! I’m a good girl! I don’t even have a parking ticket on my record and now this!”

KEEP STUFFING!!!!

“Hello Lynn! I thought that was you! How are you doing sweetie?”

“Hi Ms. Liz! I’m doing just fine! How are you feeling? I heard you were in the hospital for a few days. “

“Oh, I’m fine sweetie!  Nothing serious.  I was careless and tripped over my cat in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom.  Thank God for Lester.  He was sleeping on the floor in the hallway, just in case I needed him. He broke my fall, but poor Mittens…”

“Mitten’s was hurt Ms. Liz? Will she be ok?”

Let’s just say she’s in a better place now.

“Oh! I’m so sorry to hear she died. She was with you and Miss Ethel for so long!”

“Died? Oh no sweetie! Lester said she ran away when he opened the door to let the paramedics in!  I guess she wanted to preserve her last three lives!! Heh, heh, heh!  So who is your friend here? She’s breathing a little heavy…is she ok?”

“Oh! How rude of me! This is my friend Mel! We go to the same church.  She’s new to the area and she and her husband are expecting their first child together! Isn’t that precious?”

“H-h-h-hi Ms. Liz.  V-v-very nice to meet you.”

“Oh dear! Are you well, child?  I used to be a mid-wife.  Let me feel your belly.  You sound like you might deliver any minute now! Oh my! Your belly feels…well very soft and lumpy!  Let me check your pressure! Your arm! It feels so…so…swollen!  Well, I’ve never seen such a thing! Are you sure this isn’t affecting the baby?”

“Oh! Ummm…well she is a bit of a workout diva and clutz! Her doctor told her not to workout so hard while she was pregnant, but did she listen?! Nooo! Hahahaha!  She was doing a high kick and lost her balance doing a…umm a…tae bo workout! She fell on her side injuring her arm and is suffering a little nerve damage and swelling.  The doctor said she’d be fine.”

“Is she mute, Lynn?”

“Umm…No ma’am…”

“Well, how about we let her speak for herself.  Mel?  How, are you feeling sweetie”

“Umm..uh…I…I no speaka the English..my English not good. Very bad is my English.”

“Oh…dear…well that’s too bad because I have something very important to tell you both.  Lynn, maybe you can translate for Mel.  The truth is, Ethel and I each have one good eye and one good ear.  We hired Lester to balance out our lack of visual and hearing senses.  People steal from us all the time!  It breaks our hearts because we try so hard to keep our prices low, so people don’t have to travel outside of the community for quality food.  Well, we realized not long after hiring Lester, that he was helping the thieves!”

“He’s helping the thieves? Oh the shame!  Why haven’t you fired him or called the authorities?”

“ Well, he’s not the brightest crayon in the box.  We know he’s not the master mind of the thievery that’s been going on over the last year or so.  So we’ve been working with the authorities to pinpoint who is involved and we think we have pretty solid list of all parties involved.”

“Is that so?”

“Oh yes!  Would you like to know names?”

“Well…umm…”

“Come now, Lynn!  These are your neighbors!  People you think you can trust!”

“Umm…I….uh…I would love to say and chat, but we really need to go.  Mel, probably should’nt be standing for this long….she suffers from edema…she probably needs to put her feet up.  Isn’t that right Mel?”

“Sí.”

“That’s too bad, especially since some of these people have already been picked up by the authorities.”

“There have been arrests?!  Who? How did you find out who was stealing?”

“Oh! So glad you asked!  Do you see that big, gold pig head right behind you?”

“Yes…”

“It’s a security camera!  It’s digital and all of the images are stored on our computer at home.  We go over it every evening.  These thieves are so clever!”

Copyright 2013 Nike Binger Marshall

Spreading Ashes

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I carried him, cradled him in my arms, all the way to our private beach.  It was his favorite place to go.  He loved the sun, and the feel of hot sand under his feet.  He found the burning torment of hopping across hot sand on the hottest day of summer to be an adventure. “Today the blazing sands of Rehoboth, tomorrow walking across hot coals!”  Then, he would throw his head back and laugh a hearty, belly shaking laugh. The joke never got old – to him. But that was his nature; jovial, optimistic, and carefree, to the day he died.

I didn’t want to release his ashes. I wanted to keep him near me. We were always very close. I told him things that most girls would not share with their fathers.  He knew about my first kiss, I told him when I was thinking about having sex.  He took it pretty well. He had to walk me through my first period.  He had “the talk” with me.  Actually, I had the talk with him.  I demonstrated how a condom worked and everything.  He was beet-red and sweating throughout the entire conversation. But, he felt better knowing I knew how use protection properly. I didn’t have much choice but to tell him everything. There were no women in the family I could talk to. My father had no siblings, no immediate relations.  Grandpa died of pancreatic cancer when I was a toddler and grandma died of a broken heart months later.  My mother’s mother would have nothing to do with us.  She blamed daddy for “ruining” her daughter.  She disowned my mother and never communicated with daddy and me.  She didn’t like my dad because he was 15 years older than my mom and already once divorced when he got my mom pregnant.  Mom was just 19 when she had me.  They got married 3 months before I was born.

My mother walked out on me and my dad when I was nine. There was no reason, at least no reason I understood.  She said she needed to “find herself.” She had been on that journey for seventeen years.  She and daddy did not divorce. The just lived apart.  She kept in touch.  Daddy told me once that they were still in love, and loved each other very much, but mom just couldn’t deal with being “in a box.”  She told me during one of her phone calls that she left because she didn’t get to do the things young people needed to do.  She told me that she needed to go out into the world and explore and live.  I’m still not sure what that means and why having and raising a child and was not enough of a life for her. Why wasn’t I enough reason for her to stay?

Releasing his ashes meant that he would be gone forever. I clutched the urn close to me and took a breath. He was the one I gave Mother’s and Father’s Day cards. He was the one who wiped my tears, kissed scraped knees and made my prom dress. My face was wet with tears and he wasn’t here to wipe them or comfort me anymore.  All I had left in this world was my mother, and she was a stranger to me.  I said that to my father one day when he asked me if I wanted to stay with her one summer.

“I don’t know her, I don’t want her, I don’t need her. She’s a stranger to me,” I told him.  He yelled at me. “That is your mother. She’s not a stranger! I don’t care how long she’s been gone, or even if she never comes back again, you will not disrespect her like that ever again! Do you understand me?”

I nodded my head, but I couldn’t speak. I was crying. He never yelled at me like that before. He pulled me close to him and let me sob. Then he said, “If I’m not here one day, she is all you have in this world. I know she’s not here when you need her, but she will be one day. Just love her. Love her because she is your mother and the only other person in this world who will take care of you if I’m not here.” He didn’t send me to stay with her, though.  He knew there was truth in what I was saying.

She came to the memorial service today. Here I am, twenty-six years old, and she came back, finally ready to take her place in my life, and I have no idea where to put her.  But, I remembered what my dad said. She’s my mother. If she didn’t know how to be a mother, she still had time to learn how to be a good grandmother. I have eight months to get her acclimated to the idea.

In the meantime, I need to let go of what was left of my father’s body in order to make room for my mother’s presence in my life. I stood at the edge of the water. It was cold. I opened the box that held his ashes, and carefully shook his remains into the tide, and watched as the water swept him away from me.

Copyright 2013 Nike Binger Marshall