Rivalry

hot sun rays

image:cloverleafherbs

Day three of no A/C.  The small fan helps me sleep, but in the day’s heat, not much helps except to sit still at the dining room table under the ceiling fan.  Mother is suffering more today.  She went out in the sun to put water in the bird bath, then boiled water to make hummingbird feeder syrup and Jell-O, which heated up the kitchen further.  There’s nowhere to cool off.

“I’m headed to the post office to mail this package,” I said.  She sat under the dining room fan, crumpled, wilted and miserable in her sleeveless flowered shirt and white culottes that ended just above the tops of her compression hose.  She stared at the hand full of pills she takes every morning.  The classical music from the radio was doing nothing to soothe or cool either of us.

“When I come back, we’ll escape to the library for a couple of hours to cool off.”

She picked up a pill and her insulated water bottle. “Ok.”

That surprised me.  When I’d suggested it yesterday, she refused.  I’d decided today that we were going, even if it was forcibly.  Elderly people die in the heat all the time and since it’s my job make sure she’s ok, she was going to go cool off whether she liked it or not.

Post office and bank errands done in no hurry as I cooled off in the car’s a/c, Mother was waiting when I got back.  She’d taken her pills and changed into a short-sleeved, purple, red and green flowered blouse and purple slacks.

“Well, look at you all spiffed up.”  Mother goes nowhere public unless her hair is combed and sprayed and she’s dressed in nice clothes.

The a/c on high, we drove slowly to the library only to find an empty parking lot.  I left the engine and A/C running while I tried the big glass doors.  They were locked.

“I checked the library’s hours,” I said to a teen-aged girl sitting on the steps.

“The library?” She said.  “It’s closed from August 18th to Sep…tember…ish.”

“Thanks.”

Back in the car we headed to Taco Bell to get Mother a Strawberry Mango Frutista.  They’re mostly high fructose corn syrup.  Mother loves them.

“I hope we don’t have an earthquake in this awful 98 degree heat,” Mother said.

“Well, if we do, maybe it will be a huge one that just takes us home to God.”

“You hope.  But what if it just leaves you in misery?”

“That’s what I mean.  A big one bad enough to kill us and then we’re home with God.”

“But that would be painful,” She said.

Arggh.  She is so negative it makes me crazy.

“But it would be so quick it wouldn’t matter,” I said

“But it would still hurt.”

“Well then,” I said, “I hope you get just what you want.  Lots of pain and misery and don’t die for ages while you suffer.”  I looked at her in frustration and she looked belligerently back at me.

“I wouldn’t want you to not experience your predictions,” I finished in a huff.

We pulled into the Taco Bell drive-through line.  I took a deep breath.  “There are two things we have to do today,” I said.  “We can’t go back into the house until we’re cooler and feeling better and we can’t sit in the car and argue.”

“Fine,” she said, “I won’t say a thing.”

Help me, God, or one of us just might not survive this.

[1st Place Winner – LinkedIn Writing Contest #16]

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HOMECOMING

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

I hadn’t meant to stay so long.  Orders were clear: get in, gather the data, get out.  Unobserved, preferably.  No tampering with the timeline; no drawing attention to yourself.   I’d made other trips without incident and didn’t expect any this time, even if it was Paris, 1831.

I dove into the culture and studied the societal and political factors that would lead to the June, 1832 death of 800 insurgents.  Falling in love with Amélie was a surprise, but by June, 1832, we’d been living together for months and our child was nearly due.  Any thought of going back home had long left my mind.

I was confident I could protect her.  We would leave the city for the day.  It was her political student brother, Alain, that drew her to the streets that day to try to save him.  By the time I saw her face-down on the Rue du Bout du Monde, the city was in chaos.  I took a blow to the head and all went black.  I woke in our apartment to find Alain had survived and had dragged me off the streets.  We searched but never found her body.  In my desperation and grief I knew the only way I could save her was to go home.

Transport back to the Twenty-Fifth century was simple.  Activate my Travel Device and I would return, arriving the same day I left, February 15, 2415.  If not for the fact that it was DNA specific, I would have taken Amélie back with me long before.  Somehow I managed to appear coherent and convinced our project manager it was vital I return to Paris, 1832.  I tried two more times but no matter how I tried to alter the events of that week, Amélie died, her body never found.  My project manager was beginning to look at me strangely so when the assignment to study the Anasazi, 1275 A.D., Southwestern U.S. came up, I took it, hoping my nightmares of Amélie dying would fade with in the heat among the Anasazi.

It had been over two years, the memories of Paris getting dimmer, when I met Amy in the company cafeteria.  I’d been many places in time and she was fascinated by my history stories, though she never knew I was relating actual travel.  She was in Genealogical Research and only those of us in History Research time-traveled.  It was so easy to be with her.  It felt like coming home and I was able to finally put Paris, 1832, to rest.

Today’s trip had been tough, a week’s blizzard in 206 B.C. at the first section of the Great Wall of China in the Qin Dynasty had left me chilled to the bone.  I had just sunk down in my easy chair next to a roaring fire when Amy got home.

“Darling, how was your day?”  She called from the kitchen and went on before I could rouse myself. “I’m so excited.” she said.  Mimi meowed as Amy put out fresh food; water ran at the sink, a drawer opened, closed, ice tinkled in a glass.  The welcome sounds of home, especially after a tough travel trip.

“I just wish I had been able to find this before Mama died,” Amy hung her coat in the closet, “the missing link, my 7th great grandmother!  From there it was easy and I got back to 1832, Paris, to my 13th great grandmother, Amélie Gaubert.”

The truth was clear, even through tears; the tilt of her chin, her blond hair, wide smile, twinkling eyes; all so familiar; not identical, but a strong resemblance.  I had descendants generations older than me.

“She had a son, during the Paris insurrection of 1832.  She died giving birth so there’s no clue to the father.”  Amy crossed the room and lowered herself carefully onto my lap.  “Are you crying, darling?”

I wrapped my arms around her and our unborn son, “There’s nothing like coming home, to the ones you love; to family.”  I said, and kissed her.

[2nd Place Award, LinkedIn Writing Contest #15]

NIGHTMARE

dandelion sky

image:wallpapersforest

It felt good to know who I was.  My job paid enough that I lived in Beverly Hills adjacent.  Just a one bedroom apartment but fine for a single, career woman.  Only ten minutes from work and in Southern California’s one to two hour commutes, I was living easy.  My circle of friends from church and I went to movies, ate out and cared for each other.  I was loving it.

When I moved back to California, Mother wanted me to live and work near her and Daddy but my skills meant LA’s financial center and living near them in Pomona meant a two hour commute.  Still, weekend trips were doable.  I had the best of both worlds.

I had lost weight, had a new wardrobe, learned which colors and hairstyles looked good on me, was taking voice lessons and singing regularly at church.  The new pianist had a red sports car.  He was cute.  Life was good.

Mother was working on family genealogy when I got to the house that Friday night.  The dining room table held picture albums and family tree info.  She jumped up, piled things together and fretted over how she meant to have the table cleared for dinner.  At his desk, Daddy gave me a warm smile, a kiss and a hug.

Mother made Daddy’s favorite meal of steak and baked potatoes.  As we ate, I asked Daddy about his work driving around Southern California to meet with churches that needed financing for construction.  The talk turned to the genealogy Mother was compiling.

I was content.  The old, Spanish house with craftsman hardwoods was filled with pictures of my brothers and sister and their kids, Mother’s plants and knick-knacks covered every space, her various projects were stacked around.  The book shelves were overflowing.  Cozy and lived-in.

Daddy pushed his chair back, took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin.  Mother was still eating tiny bites.

“I found pictures of the house we lived in when you were born.”  She said.  “I had two babies and a toddler, all in diapers.  Your father was out working all day.  We propped you up in the corner of the couch with your bottle.”  She sipped her iced tea.  “Mama” she went on, “came out for the weekend and said, ‘That baby is failing; if you don’t want her, I’ll take her.’”

A knife-like pain hit my gut. I couldn’t breathe. I flushed hot.

“Well, it scared us to death, of course.  We never did that again.  We held you for every bottle.”  Mother went on cutting and chewing.  Daddy smiled at me and stood and carried his plate to the kitchen sink.

image:google images

image:google images

My head was spinning.  I didn’t remember the rest of the evening, but in the spare room, the twin bed tight against storage boxes, my sleep was flooded with old thoughts and feelings.  I didn’t fit in at school, was afraid to take an art class or join in sports or school clubs.  I could never make Mother happy.  She never approved of my hair, what I wore, what I wanted to do.  I never felt pretty or useful.  I was worthless.  I jerked awake as bile rose and threatened suffocation.  The pain in my gut told me I finally understood.

The next day I limped back to Beverly Hills adjacent, wounded and scarred.  One part of me weighed the facts: she was a young mother, busy, overwhelmed, tired; Daddy was working; they did the best they could.  The other part of me felt pain in my gut; ache in my heart; the need to know I was loved and valuable to Mother.  Life with Mother had always been about her, not me.  I felt weighted, drugged, my nose barely above the surface of heavy water, the swirling mists taking the shape of Mother.

I opened the door to my apartment and knew I had to choose.  I could drown in the nightmare of old memories, old programmed responses or I could embrace the new person I had become.  There was only one way out.  It would take time, but I couldn’t go back.  I would have to forgive.  I pushed through the heavy funk that swirled around me, opened the drapes and let in the light.  The specter of Mother in the murk faded away.

[3rd Place Award, LinkedIn Writing Contest #14]

Mirror Life

image:andrewkavanagh

image:andrewkavanagh

The walls were taller than I could see and the ceiling, if it was a ceiling, seemed to be a far off galaxy.  Both behind and in front of me, the walls stretched on and on.  I walked along trying to make out what was on the walls, squinting, straining, but the view stayed blurry.  Light seemed to bounce off the walls, sometimes showing the path clearly and other times I could only faintly see where to take the next step.  I’d go slowly then, careful to not stumble, which seemed to work out ok as the path felt smooth and easy.

From time to time the wall was lit by bright lights and beautiful colors strong enough to light up the brier ditch between the walls and the path.  Then the light that bounced off would die and I was surrounded again by dusk.  Other times the light seemed garish and harsh and strangely, fell to darkness before that ditch could be seen.

Maybe to really see I’d need to get closer to the wall but that meant I’d have to leave the smooth, easy path and cross through the briers.

I wanted to see detail.  I needed to understand.  I yearned to know more about those walls.  Why did they sometimes glimmer and other times feel dangerous?  Maybe I could jump over the ditch.  I needed to go.  I was afraid to go.  I could get scratched, wounded, harmed in that brier patch.  But staying on the smooth, easy path was making me uneasy, making me feel cheated, lost, unfulfilled, and empty.  I had to go.  I couldn’t go.

Was that Mother’s voice?  Yes, now I could see her.  She was on the other side of the ditch.

“I need……” she said, but her voice trailed off in the breeze.

How could I stay where it was safe and easy when she needed help?  I would go.  As I left the center of the smooth path and got closer to the brier patch it was clear I couldn’t jump it.  I’d have to place my feet carefully.  Slowly, wincing at the sting when a brier would scratch, I made my way through, until Mother reached towards me and pulled on my arm and I forced my way through the edge of the patch.

My legs were scratched, a drop of blood here and there but I’d made it.  Finally, I was close enough to see.  This world was lined with mirrors, not walls.  As Mother stood in front of her mirror, there were brief piercings of light and every now and then flashes of colorful flowers and birds and music, but mostly clouds of sadness and fear and pain blocked the light.

I walked on and at the next mirror found Daddy.  His mirror reflected blue sky, high mountain peaks, beautiful valleys and the sound of heavenly choirs singing.  I could feel the joy and peace flowing from the mirror, swirling around Daddy.  He smiled.

I didn’t want to go on.  I would stay and bask in the light of his mirror.

“This is my mirror.  You have your own journey.”  He said.  “Only you can take it, but don’t forget what I taught you.”

Tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, yet excited for the adventure, I kept walking.  Each step I took drew me to other mirrors.  Friends, jobs, bosses, co-workers, family that kept multiplying, roommates, lovers; each had a mirror that was unique.  Years went by as I worked different jobs, lived in different places.  Sometimes there were dark clouds of pain and self-doubt in my mirror and from time to time a great light broke through and a celestial peace and joy swirled around me.  I learned I could not fashion my mirror for anyone else, nor could I force another’s mirror to reflect anything except the truth of their own choices.

Eventually my journey led me back to Mother’s mirror.  Hers was now alone, as Daddy was gone.  She needed me, so I stayed.  The reflection of my mirror often clashed with hers.  Her mirror pulled at me, drew me into its gaze, threatened to drown me; its tug strong as it pulled against the force of my resistance.

No, I wouldn’t go.  I would not embrace her dark clouds.  I’d worked hard to rest in the truth of my mirror.  I’d learned the ceiling to this life was that unknown galaxy where the Creator of this world of mirrors waits for each of us.  I would keep my eyes on Him who is author and finisher of our faith.

Resolved, I faced that I could love her but I couldn’t fix her.  All I could do was let the light of my mirror shine and pray she would make the right choice.

FIRST KISS

The idea had startled me but as we talked about it and I gave it some thought, it seemed the natural thing to do.  My brother, Mark, who had been my defender against teasing at school and who had made sure I went to college after our parents died my senior year of high school, Mark needed me to do this.  He was the one who had stayed by my side and helped me out of despair when my Ron was killed in that train derailment, so how could I refuse him?

His Elaine had been pregnant I don’t know how many times, but never able to carry a baby to term.  She was now desperate and Mark, faithful, strong, loving, rescuing Mark, had asked me to do this for them.

Why not?  Ron and I had no children, I would not marry again, and had no desire for children, but I could do this and give back to Mark some of what he had given me.

The in vitro was an easy outpatient procedure, a mere day away from work. I managed the museum staff by day and at night fed my cat and put my feet up with a book just as I had the last ten years.  The little fertilized seed grew.  I explained the favor for Mark and Elaine to my staff as I began to show and life went on, predictable and uneventful.

Mark and Elaine were thrilled.  Mark pampered and Elaine gushed and giddied and I smiled in indulgence.  Elaine had baby showers and everyone seemed so impressed I would do this, which seemed a little extreme; after all, I wasn’t doing much more than carrying the package for them.  I’d always been strong physically and while I will admit the last two months had been uncomfortable, none of it seemed that difficult or impossible.

Tonight, however, I could not rest or find ease lying, sitting or standing.  I’d been to the bathroom again as my bladder seemed to stay squashed and just as I maneuvered myself carefully back onto the bed, my water broke.  I called the taxi and Mark, and then waddled out the door.

“Don’t push!”  The nurse commanded.  The glare of the delivery room lights bounced off the white walls and bored through my closed eyelids as I huffed and panted and gritted my teeth through the long slog up the hill with each contraction and slid down the other side when they eased.  The sound of monitor beeping mingled with the overhead hospital intercom and the faint noises the nurses and doctor made as they worked.

Mark and Elaine, gowned and masked, on either side of the delivery table, gripped my hands; Mark telling me how great I was doing and Elaine crying.  She had pressed into my hand a small silver cross on a ribbon for her baby’s wrist and every push, every pain, every effort seemed poured into the rounded edges of that cross as it made indentations in my palm.

Then came the great wave of release followed by the sound of the first cry of the baby girl I had carried into the world.  My head was spinning as the nurses and doctor gave more instructions and worked to finish the job.  Mark pried his hand from mine and took the bundle the nurse handed him.

“Thank you,” he said into my eyes as he leaned over and placed the bundle next to me so that I could see what I had done for him.  His eyes brimmed with tears; his face was lit up with a huge grin.

She was beautiful!  I kissed her cheek and a huge rip opened my heart.  Out bloomed a wave of longing, love, desire and beauty.  All those things I hadn’t felt since Ron was killed.

Mark picked up his daughter and handed her to her mother, Elaine, whose face shone with joy even through her tears.  “Thank you, God.  Thank you, God.” she kept saying.

Those months of life pushing and kicking; that little heart beating against mine now pierced my heart and I was back among the living.  That first kiss had set me free. Free to ache, to feel sorrow and pain, free to cry again.  Through my tears I could see Mark with his arms around Elaine as hers held their baby girl, their heads bent together.  I wanted to be in that hug, but from here on out, I would be Aunt.

[2nd Place Award-LinkedIn Writing Contest #13]

Escape

image:scrapbookheavenga

image:scrapbookheavenga

I was in the kitchen when I heard the roar of propellers.  So loud, they must be right overhead.  In my gut I knew it had to be them.  I went outside and looked for the searchlights that would be tracking Buffalo and Bear Cub.  I’d told them it was dangerous to go.  Or maybe I just thought it but never said anything.

High in the sky, an outhouse, a blacksmith’s anvil and a Christmas tree, their propellers making waves in the air above them, were north of where I stood, probably just about at the 10 Freeway.  No circling.  No searchlights.  They just hovered.  Back inside I turned on the TV to see if I could find a news report and there it was.  Breaking news.

The news camera caught the tears that fell upward where they met the flames falling from the car as it careened off Buffalo and hit the trailer of the semi as it barreled east on the 10 Freeway.  Before the spinning and clanging were finished five more cars were tangled in the tears and flames.  No one said whether or not there was anything left of Buffalo.  They wouldn’t give names, until the immediate families were notified.

Was Bear Cub gone as well or had she left Buffalo’s side when she saw the car’s bumper about to reach her nose?

I stood rooted to the spot as the reporter droned on.  I’d wanted Buffalo out of my life.  I’d dreamed up ways to end our relationship.  I’d thought about how to leave without alerting the world outside our four walls what our life really was.  Oh, she cleaned up well and put on a good show, but that wasn’t the real Buffalo.  The party had been over for a long time and I had come to the point where I no longer wanted to dance.

When she brought Bear Cub into the house, I’d stepped aside with a mix of relief and dread.  It was bizarre watching my dance partner cook with someone else, all the while telling me her driving days were over, that she was just being kind to Bear Cub.  Did that innocent know what was ahead?  Was Bear Cub even innocent?

The news report was replaced by the blare of a commercial and I was jolted into action.  At the hall closet I pulled out the golf bag, went into the bedroom and stuffed in all the wallpaper that would fit.  If I hurried, I could be gone before anyone realized that I had been here when Buffalo and Bear left.  I could deny all knowledge of the real Buffalo and Bear Cub.

Years went by when that house and Buffalo were a blurred memory, the details of that time watery and undefined.  Was it even Bear Cub or was it Lamb that was there at the end?  I couldn’t remember.  I was too wrapped up in my new life with its Saran Wrap and I was grateful I’d escaped unscathed by those days.

One day not too long ago I found a picture of Buffalo that had been taken in the old family home one time when I’d taken her with me for a family get together.  That must be why the memories had begun to come back.  I looked on facebook and twitter and LinkedIn every now and then to see how Buffalo was doing these days but I couldn’t find her anywhere.

I don’t even remember the last names of Lamb or Bear Cub and anyway, they’d probably be married by now and have new names, because after all, who would want to stay with Buffalo over a lifetime?  It has never even occurred to me that Buffalo’s name might have been changed as well.

Last night I woke with my heart pounding; the wax paper covers binding one sweaty arm, one leg cold and shivering.  It may be nearly forty years but I feel her hot breath, her sticky paws.  They said she died in that late night crash, but I know she’s out there somewhere.  I know she knows my real name.