So, a page for my writing. How terrifying!! Really! I’m Super scared! But you have to suck it up sometimes and do something you’re completely, totally, absolutely unequivocally uncomfortable with. Branch out. Test yourself. What’s the quote? Something to the effect of: ‘if you want something you’ve never had you have to do something you’ve never done’. Here goes!
There’s probably a great way to do this. I wouldn’t have the first clue what that would be so I’m just gonna stick with the hard way. Good ole copy and paste! lol I rarely title anything until it’s finished so we’re just gonna jump right in. Fell free to point out anything that doesn’t make sense, ask questions or leave any feedback. I’m as open to critics as I am compliments. Honestly, I started this on the Evernote app on my phone and it looked a lot longer on that little screen! Oh well, a start is a start and that’s all I’ve claimed to have. Enjoy!!!
The moonlight drapes itself extravagantly over the arm of the love seat. A burlesque girl posing for a photo. Just out of reach the cat lay tightly curled, feigning sleep. Slowly he cracks one eye at me. Contention tints the sliver of green. He hates1 it when I paced. I turn and creep back up the hallway, away from his accusations. He was right. Stomping my way through the house did nothing but rattle my bones. Answers never came, no matter how many miles I consumed. The bed springs squeak slightly as I throw myself on the bed. Circling above, within my gaze the fan tries in vain to take flight. I wish it was selling tickets. I’d go just about anywhere right now.
Tea. Tea is the answer. Abandoning the hope of airborne salvation, I tiptoe into the kitchen. Not succeeding in any form of stealth, Lewie joins me at the sink. The water rushes into the kettle as the big grey cat winds around my legs. It isn’t that he had forgiven me as much as he hopes a splash of milk may escape my mug. He doesn’t mind taking action towards this fate.
The only problem with tea was the waiting. Water was shy, everyone knows, and yet, I can’t help but to stare. The kettle never answers my pleas. The virtue of patience eludes me as I stare at the pour spout willing it to whistle. Huffing I step away from the stove. Lewie must also be impatient tonight, or he protests feet on his tail. There’s no point explaining to him his part in this occurrence. He never listens.
Back in the bedroom, I grab my book. An old favorite. Something comforting with plots I know and happy endings I can be sure of, something to get lost in as I drown myself in Sleepy Time. As I enter the kitchen, still no whistle. Damn kettle. It never considers my feelings or the green numbers glowing behind it. It’s entirely too late for me to be awake. Or is it too early? I’m never clear when the syntax changes. Finally, the hissing begins to build into a full throaty whistle. The most glorious sound. A bit of honey and a splash of milk and my respite is near.
The steam abandons my cup like smoke escaping the flame. I find myself watching it rather than taking in the words on the page. Why was it could focus on water vapors but not nouns and verbs and plots and themes? Maybe I was too comfortable with the text. I venture from the living room down the hallway to the office, passing Lewie on the way.
Apparently my steps were different when I was pacing. He didn’t even bother a glare. The bookshelves are the main feature of this room. My favorite room. I often ponder coming in and never leaving. The only place in the world better than the inside of these walls is my father’s bookstore.
This wasn’t going to help. Tears slowly leak from the corners of my eyes. I had cried too many to believe I was still capable of producing them. My hand moves without direction to my face. The glare of the light reflects on the water as if proving its existence. At least the sobbing had ceased. That was the worst. The wracking, gut wrenching pain that came from sobbing. They call death heartbreaking for a reason. I couldn’t look at books, I couldn’t smell aged leather. I spin, sloshing tea from the cup. The hollow sound of the door closing echoes down the hallway. I have to stop crying. I have to pull myself together. It has been over a month since my father passed.
The droning of the alarm is the next conscious awareness. My cup of tea, long cooled, sits on the nightstand; only missing that which is lying on the floor in the library. At least I had slept. My eyes are swollen, like peeking through cracks in the darkest curtains. There’s a dull ache between my ears. I’m not bothered my either of these things. They have become normal. I would almost miss them if they were absent.
I open the cabinet and reach for the toothpaste. The mundane task keeps me going. My brain can remain stagnant, sleeping. Like a tiger you know you shouldn’t poke. I feel as if I have lived this day already. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bill Murray sitting in my living room in his tie and brown coat. I have feared the coming of this day for so long it’s as if it should be over with. Every scenario has been played out in my mind, someone just tell me which ending to cope with.
Down the hallway, passed the closed door damming the emotions and tears, into the living room. No Bill; must not be Groundhog Day. I put the kettle back to the heat and prepare a new cup. Lewie believes this to be a day like any other as he sits glaring at me beside his empty bowl. The clatter of dry cat chow grates against my raw edges. He has no idea today I will break my mother’s heart.
The desolation radiating out from my bones freezes my hand to the cup as I wait, yet again, for the tea pot to sing. I turn; the window over the wash basin should draw my attention. A soft glow has risen from the west. The resident squirrel is chattering his complaints to anyone who will listen; probably warning against the huge gray beast that lurks beyond the glass. Birds are bathing in the cement bowl, a public wash and good song. Their lives are musicals without the stage, envy leaks around my cracks and they are many.
The shrill call of the kettle draws me back. Lewie’s questioning eyes shine at me. He’s tired of me; tired of the moping, the tears, the pacing and sadness. He’s ready for this day to be over as much as I am. Routine and schedules and monotony, sounds like paradise. I scoop him up and perch him on the window sill. I’ll be yelling at him for being here on another day. But, for now, let him have his fun. Everyone deserves some joy.
The chill of the air greets me this morning as I grab the newspaper from the front porch. Once this would have called to mind invigoration, now….. Now, the cold chill of death seems to be breathing down my robe. I settle at the table and look at the pages. My father used to read the paper every morning. I would take up the sections as he finished and look them over with all seriousness. I yearned to know what those letters spelled, what wonders were delivered to our doorstep every morning. I sip at my tea. I have no idea what the headlines are or that the forecast is sunny and mild. The phone rings, making Lewie jump. The squirrel also abandons his post. The trilling of the land line is shattering, the land line I keep only to please Mother. It is safer, she said, you just can’t tell if cellular phones are truly reliable.
It is her, of course, double checking our plans for this morning; breakfast at her favorite restaurant, the one with cloth napkins and stuffy waiters. It is the least I can do. I am going to smash her heart in my hand; the least I can do was let her eat her last meal at her favorite place. Let her feel like someone important and pompous. In one of the many scenes I have imagined my poor, dear mother collapses after the news is broken like fine china on the hardwood floor. In real time, I confirm our arrangements and say I will pick her up in an hour. I try to keep my tone light but it’s obvious by the way she sighs dramatically through her nose that I haven’t succeeded. “It will all go back to normal soon,” she tells me. I’d love to scream into the receiver, “No Mother, not this time, it won’t.” Instead I tell her I’ll see her soon and bid her adieu.
I really don’t understand why she is so against this. I, of course because I am a coward, haven’t even let her have a single inkling of what is to come. Every time it has arisen I have smiled and nodded and changed the subject. It isn’t even so much that I have made a decision she won’t agree with. I haven’t made a decision at all. It was made for me, requested of me.
It is fine to make excuses; more like rehearsing for what will conspire within the next hour. The honest truth, which even now I am ashamed to admit in decent company, is that I am glad for this to be thrust upon me. I have dreamt of it my whole life. It has always been the dark secret I have hidden from my mother, knowing she wouldn’t approve. I have always disappointed her; never living up to the ideals she has for how a woman should behave. She called me a tom boy with such disgust; I was a teenager before I knew this was not a derogatory term. The only reconciliation for her with my life as a “career woman” was that I had at least I had chosen a “feminine career”. I hated that she referred to me that way – career woman – I am not a lawyer or a CEO. The only thing worse than that was the shame I have come to feel whenever I tell someone, especially a man, that I am a librarian.
As I turn on to my mother’s street I realize I am humming “Bridal Chorus” and immediately feel slightly guilty. The traditional wedding march would seem out of place confined in my small sedan to most. The problem is that I am not thinking of a blushing bride coming to wed her husband, but the murders that follow in the play for which it was written. I swallow in the new silence and crack a window, fingers crossed that the street noise will fill my head and the breeze will carry the guilt away.
I pull into the circle drive and see my mother rise from her perch on the porch where she has been waiting. I stifle my amusement as she opens the back door. Seems today will have an all-star cast as I have become Morgan Freeman and she Miss Daisy. She places her handbag on the back floorboard and closes the door. Taking the passenger seat rather than making me her chauffeur, she scans my appearance. I hope I have passed her test, but she will never reveal the final score.
My mother is a small woman in a slate pantsuit. Her slacks are nicely pressed; the creases could slice a tomato with fine accuracy. She has always been soft-spoken, a woman on the periphery. That was how a woman should be, like good help, an ever present yet never acknowledged entity. My outspoken nature was adopted from my father and my mother’s frown has always been the umbrella over the opinions leaking like a faucet from my lips. She has been known to physically move away to avoid the splash.
The rules are different in groups of only women and even more changed when it’s only she and I. In a group, the hierarchy is decided by seniority; although you would never point this out. Comments are more freely given but with the utmost courtesy. Even insults and disagreements are served with smiles and thank you’s like expensive caviar. But when it’s only the two of us, the smiles have run away with the courtesy like forbidden lovers and left only the bitterness that has always lurked under her surfaces.
I know my mother loves me. I have never questioned it, never doubted. We are just too different to understand each other. An African tribesmen trying to understand and follow the cultural dictations of an Irish nobleman. Even our climates are mismatched.
“You’re quiet,” she says. A simple statement. I find myself dissecting it in warp speed to check for traps or pit falls.
“It’s early for me,” I reply slowly, still not trusting my footing. “Barely got the paper read.”
“It’s good you’re sleeping again, not that your face shows it yet.” She said looking out the window. This indirectness was once reserved for my father’s presence. I’m uncomfortable with it now that he’s gone. It makes it seem as if he’s in the backseat now. Intruding on our breakfast date.
“Yes,” is all I can think of to say. The stoplight turns green and I praise the traffic gods. The restaurant is only two blocks further. “How’s Dianne?” I ask.
“Fine,” she says turning to me. I’m glad I’m not required to make eye contact. Dianne has been my mother’s friend since college. When Mom dropped out to marry, Dianne continued towards graduation. Mother was sure she would never find a man. She had pitied her and the ferocious beast of a degree that hung so proudly in her friend’s home. She was amazed when Dianne met her future husband while completing her doctorate in anthropology. She chalked it up to luck and prayers. No respectable wife had a degree. Some opinions would never change.
When I was in high school my mother and I had an argument over my class schedule. Many things were said, many verbal knives thrown but the one that had hit the fatal mark was hurled in an instant. I told my mother I wished Dianne was my mom. Her face had gone white. I instantly wished I could draw it back to me, to remove the blade from her heart. It was true though, Dianne understood me and my drive in a way I knew my mother never would.
She turned back to the window. “I spoke to her yesterday. Kevin is coming home this summer. “
I roll my eyes, knowing she won’t see. Kevin was a year older than me and not interested, or interesting for that matter. My mother would never let it go. I am sure she believes he is the only other man on the planet who would take a woman with a degree. “That’s nice. She’ll be glad to have him home.”
The strained conversation halts while I park the car and we gain entrance to the restaurant. My mother requests a table by the window. As soon as we take our seats and unfold our linen napkins she complains of the draft from the window. She declines the offer of my cardigan.
She reiterates the newspapers declaration of a bight warm day. I give a noncommittal grunt to satisfy her. When an adult speaks you must always acknowledge them. Somehow I have yet to enter that realm. Or maybe I have skipped it completely. She has started sighing deeply and shaking her head around me like she did when my best friend turned thirty and still had no husband. I had run headlong to escape my childhood and bounded straight into old maidism. Great.
We speak of “normal” things, common acquaintances, familiar places, current reads. She updates me on world and local news and gossip among her girlfriends. I tell her about the books I have recently acquired for the library and how my own writing is coming along. Words are our only commonality and yet we are always at a loss for which to serve the other.
The waiter clears our plates and we sit sipping tea from fine white cups. The chit chat had calmed me, sedated me to a degree. Gazing through the glass I take a deep breath and slowly let it pass between my lips. “I miss him,” I say. I can hear her take in her own air sharply. We aren’t this open, this exposed about personal things. Our personal thoughts come in different languages, each with its own complex dialects and slang. We can’t see each other across the great span that is our own personal thoughts.
I turn to look at her. I can’t help it; I have to see if she has gone white again. I have to make sure she isn’t going to drop dead on the shiny oak floor. There is shock in her eyes but the rest of her face is neutral. We are in public after all. I wish I had been looking when I first spoke. I want to know her genuine reaction. Somehow this would make her more human.
“Yes Dear, I know you do. So do I,” she almost whispers. She hasn’t broken my gaze. Somehow we have entered a staring contest. An eternity passes before I admit defeat. I watch the water swirl as I add more from the china kettle to my cup.
“I have a meeting with Mr. London this afternoon,” I say without looking up. I have opened this door, flung it wide and watched to see it bang against the backstop. I will not let it close now, the courage can never be found again. As I am not an adult, she does not respond. “Remember, he said he and I had a few details to work out.”
“Yes, about the bookstore,” it seems that she has lost her voice. When a soft spoken woman misplaces such an important aspect it’s as if you are watching your favorite movie on mute. You know the words that are being spoken, yet your ears are robbed of the sound. I nod to acknowledge even though it’s as if she hasn’t really spoken. “When will you be contacting the realtor?” she asks with more volume because I have returned my focus beyond the glass. I wish I could avoid all this. Write a letter or a clever poem and ride off into the sunset unscathed.
I inhale deeply and turn my gaze back to her. I cannot miss it this time. I am sure this will do it. I am suddenly aware of my phone pressed between my body and the chair. “I won’t be contacting a realtor,” I say slowly. It hits her in slow motion. I watch emotion dance across her face; a modern ballet of confusion, shock and something much like anger. I don’t want her to speak. I want to say my piece now, to get the words out of my mind and into the air. No longer will they fester and ferment. “Daddy asked me not to. He asked me to keep it alive for him. It’s what he wanted Mother. I promised. I love that store. I cannot imagine it not being there. It would be like losing him all over again.” I wait to hear the crash, the harsh sound of bones and meat striking wood. I feel deceived when it doesn’t come. It must be a trick of the light that she is still sitting in front of me. Her lips have become a hard line. A line drawn clearly in the sand. A line I know I will cross. “I promised,” I repeat, “It’s what I’ve always wanted.” I almost whisper it, like tiptoeing across the line hoping to not set off the alarm. I know I will never repeat this to anyone. What shame to have dreamed of that which will break my mother’s heart. Maybe I should have been Dianne’s child.
I want her to speak now. Desperately I want more words from her. I begin to rearrange the ones she has already given me on this occasion, to form something meaningful in this context. I fail horribly. I want to beg her to say anything, scream, cry, laugh, to tell me I am nothing but a silly over reaching girl. And still, nothing, just that hard line across her face.
I look back into my cup. I want to apologize. I know I have done nothing to warrant it. My father’s dying wish was for me to carry on his legacy. To live our dreams inside that store. We always knew they were meager dreams, but they were ours and I would not feel sorry for them. The thought of my father among the racks shelving volume after volume has given me resolution to see this out. I looked back up into her face and tried to read what clues lay before me.
The line has vanished. My mother’s soft pink lips have returned and reach out slowly for the rim of her cup. “Are you ready?” she asks. “I have other appointments today, as do you.”
That’s it. That’s all I’m getting. Nothing. She’s going to act like I haven’t spoken. I wonder, is it because we are in public? You never air your garments in public. If this is the case, I’m in trouble. I feel like a child as we make our way back to the car. I feel silly and out of place behind the wheel, like I shouldn’t be allowed to sit here.
The return to the circle drive is quiet. My mother closes the door without comment. As she retrieves her purse from the back seat, I catch her eye. What I find there is a mystery. I don’t know if she is angry, disappointed, sad? “Next time,” she says.
Next time? Next time what? Next time she will tear my head from my shoulders like a sloppy b movie? Next time she will tell me how proud she is? Well, surely not the latter. Not from her. But I am still rolling these words around in my head as I drive home. The legs of the X keep puncturing my grey matter. I can feel the sliver jelly slowly leaking out. I knew I shouldn’t do this on the same day as the meeting with Mr. London. I am worn out. It’s not even eleven a.m. and I fell as if I have been awake for a week. Next time. Next time I’ll follow my own advice and send a poem by telegraph. Sunsets are easier to bear than this. Next time.
The house is cold when I return. Someone has left the fan of depression running in my absence. I feel even more alone now that I am waiting for next time. Lewie waits for me on the bed. He actually raises his head when I come in. I can’t help but curl myself around him. His warmth soaks into my arms. He doesn’t resist me as I pull him to my chest. I try not to cry. He will leave me until next time if I do. Lewie purrs softly against me. I wish for sleep to take me and thankfully I feel my eyes begin to droop.
I am awakened by a shrill sound, the screaming of some horrendous creature. My eyes snap open. Lewie is stretching after his nap but looks unconcerned as the ear piercing resonance begins again. It almost sounds like music, something familiar. I hold my breath to listen. I realize how soundly I was sleeping when it dawns on me my cell phone is ringing. The technological version of Beethoven is nothing to cause me fear. I look at the screen. I was mistaken. I should be afraid, very afraid. L and D Law Associates lights up my screen.
“Hello,” I say, hoping I don’t sound like a child even though I cannot shake the feeling. Mr. London wants to confirm our meeting today at 2:00pm. The secretary is very nice and never lets on that she is speaking to a naughty girl who should be grounded and not allowed to attend this meeting. I tell her I will be there. I am glad I stuck to my guns about not having a lunch meeting. There is no way I will be able to eat as I sit sharpening the throwing knives with my mother’s name on them. Does she know I love her? I realize the connection has been closed and hope I said goodbye. I check the hands on my watch. They have been playing tricks on me again, speeding up when I’m not looking. They waited until I fell asleep and then began their games racing each other around the face. I have only twenty minutes before I have to leave.
I wonder what it would be like to have broken legs as I lay looking up at the celling. I cannot make myself rise. I think that if it were a physical ailment that held me to the bed I would not be as content as I think I would be. To choose immobility is much more rewarding than to have it thrust upon you. I begin to feel guilty. What kind of person breaks their mother’s heart and wishes for paralysis in the same day? A screwed up one I would guess.
I finally rise and check my reflection in the mirror. I try to see myself the way my mother does. She seems to be haunting me now, always in the background pushing air through her nose and pursing her lips. I fail this test and I know I have many more to fail ahead. I think of the bookstore after hours, or how it is now. The lights are all out the answering machine turned on, my voice waiting to greet callers after three rings. I have always thought the books seemed lonely there in the dark. My father was their friend. He loved them and cared for them. I find my strength to go on with this journey. I will meet with Mr. London and step into my father’s shoes, the worn in loafers with soft soles and no squeaks. Quite shoes for a quiet place. A feeling akin to excitement simmers way down in my stomach. I ignore it. To enjoy this process would be to rub such disgrace in my mother’s face.
I am in the car trying to recover from my meeting with Mr. London. I couldn’t describe what just happened, mostly because I can barely remember it. Paperwork and pen and polite conversation. I remember him asking about my mother, but after that only the sound of pen on paper permeated my short term memory. I hope I have done everything correctly. Did Mr. London say I am now officially the owner of Daring Books? I think he did. I am the owner. I want to call someone, to talk in excited tones and speak of orders and customers and book club meetings. I look blankly at my phone. There is no one I can call. I surely can’t call Mother. There will only be disappointment in her voice. I can’t imagine the guilt of celebrating this moment. I want to. I love this bookstore and now that I can say that it is mine I cannot contain the joy that has been restrained like a chained dog. Its tail is wagging uncontrollably now and it yips with exuberance.
As I turn in the drive I see Lewie in the window. It is past the time I would usually have been home. He doesn’t like it when I am late. Winding himself around my legs as I walk to the kitchen, he complains loudly of my absence. I scoop him up in my arms and whisper in his pink tinged ear all the news I have been withholding. I let my happiness out to him, my confidant. He will never tell, never betray me to my mother. I get caught up in the ability to so openly express myself and we dance around the kitchen in big elaborate circles. I tell him in a sing-song voice all the plans my father and I discussed throughout the years. I tell him of when I was a little girl and I brought him to class for career day. I told everyone I had asked my father to come because he had the best job in the whole world and I hoped to be just like him one day. I don’t tell him how disappointed my mother was that I had not asked Uncle Tom, the doctor. This thought dampens my celebration. I place Lewie back on the tile floor and fill his bowl again. The sky is beginning to darken with my mood. The irrational part of my mind wonders if I have caused it.
From my purse I hear Beethoven playing techno again and wonder why I don’t change the ringtone. Surely Ludwig would be appalled with the rendition. Emily’s name appears on the screen along with her Facebook picture. She is the only person I have told about my meeting with the lawyer. I didn’t give her specifics, but she knows how deeply my father’s death has affected me. I am glad that she has called but I am afraid to answer. I’ll have to tell her about the store. I’m afraid I will let on how happy I am about it. That somehow it will make its way back to my mother. I answer anyway.
Emily begins with simple, trivial things. She tells me of a disruption in the library today and how she wished I was there. How my quick comebacks always put the jocks in their place and how they respect me for it. She always makes comments like that. What she doesn’t know is that I am always nervous when they come in. How their eyes on me makes me uncomfortable and I have to keep busy so they cannot see my blush. Emily tells me of her life, they are trying for a baby still with no luck. I tell her I am sorry to hear it. She drops the bomb on our conversation. “How are you doing?” she asks, “You handling everything okay?”
I clear my throat to buy some time. How am I handling things? I really do not know. Suddenly I cannot bear to be alone. “Miles working tonight?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says, slightly weary like I might be laying a trap.
“Come for dinner,” I say. I can hear the pleading in my voice and I hope it does not sound so grating to her as it does to me. Like broken glass between two stones.
“Of course I will,” she says, “What shall I bring.”
“Nothing but your elastic waist pants. All comfort food tonight!” I say. I can feel the tension drain out of me. I’m afraid I may slip in the puddle as I move to the cupboards. I pull out the mac and cheese and turn the oven to 350. Chocolate chip cookies and fried chicken and mashed potatoes should complement it well. I find that I am excited for Emily’s arrival. Glad to have an excitement I am not ashamed of I begin to ready the batter for the chicken and the dry ingredients for the cookies. I bet they never make it into the oven. Cookie dough is always better.