Your soul is a garden of roses. Eternal. Shielded in strength. Evermore beautiful.
~ forehead kiss
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Jacqueline: Draft 8
“Write our story,” she says.
The seasons cast differing light into the shoebox of her room. The ceiling is vaulted, the walls painted the palest shade of blue: ‘frost,’ as designer’s coo. If one looks up, one can imagine an open roof and paper-white clouds. The windows are long and rectangular to let in light. It is spring and the light exists like no other time. It shines on a distant branch, illuminating a chimney pipe on a neighbour’s rooftop.
Jacqueline refers to the care home as, “Heaven’s Waiting Room- orchids and white furniture all over the place.” The view exposes a tot playground. The sound of children laughing brings joy. Outside the window, she is transformed and twenty once more. A daughter is tucked against the space between her hand and heart.
She asks, “Where are the children?”
“It’s Sunday. Tomorrow they’ll return.”
“Anna. Set the clock. The time is off.”
Time is measured in setting suns. Her door remains partially open, a chance to glimpse a world beyond four walls. Familiar faces wheel past and hands flutter. Along a hallway is a sitting room with a coffee table. A newspaper is delivered for those who still read. The couch is slip covered and inviting, however, she never stays too long.
“Not much to do around here,” she says.
“There’s always Bingo,” I say. We share a wink.
I cringe as she speaks my name, emphasizing the initial vowel, dragging it through air- “A-nna.”
” I’m not your Bingo gal. Never been my style,” she says.
I imagine Jacqueline in a gathering of women. Sprinkle in the odd man, the lone wolf. Curious, she slips on her best sweater, the one with the threads that sparkle. A forgotten lipstick is remembered. Fingers suddenly steady. She applies a pale shade of pink cream with the precise skill of a surgeon. Jacqueline removes her purse from the closet, scans the pocket for her wallet. There is just enough cash.
Her voice floats from across the room, interrupting pleasant thoughts.
“I went the other night. With Doris. We get a kick out of watching the others. Neither of us can hear.”
I reach for a hearing aide that lays on a table and hand it to her.
“This is why I like a calendar,” she says, “keeps me on top of my schedule.”
Jacqueline takes a novel from the shelf and opens it. She checks her watch. It is an unspoken rule, a signal to silence. It’s time. She must leave.
I await her return. All the sounds, smells, and personalities that enter her space are familiar. Chosen objects remain on display: a trio of Benedictine monks, a cluster of carved birds, all gifts from my father. Two oil paintings hang on the wall. Long ago, she stopped listening to music.
Lately, she has taken up traveling with the Scottish Clans. On our last visit, she whispered, “As a child, I wore a swathe of ‘Black Watch’ tartan, pinned to my skirt. Never owned a kilt.”
On the dresser, there is a sepia coloured photograph. I see a child, standing beside a weary eyed man. She is holding his hand. Beside her is a fashionable aunt wrapped in fox fur. One arm circles my mother’s shoulder. Mother leans in to feel the fox hairs kiss her cheek.
It is late. The cover on the bed is turned back. Tonight, she’ll steal away to Inverness, her dark hair flowing in the wind. Once arrived she’ll stand atop a hillside to scan a lowland loch. She is searching for home.
A memory returns. It’s 1965. My mother walks into the tidy living room of her father’s home and drops a box in front of me. It lands in the centre of a rose woven into carpet. The edge of the box has been slit with a knife. She has opened the box to peek inside.
“Take a look.”
She watches as I lift the cardboard flap and waits as I remove the book from the box. It is larger than other books. The jacket is divided into a grid. Each square contains a photograph: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, Galaxies, Early Man, and what looks to be a World On Fire.
“It’s for you.”
She speaks with a trace of Scottish lilt. “From ‘Time Magazine.’ Read it. “
I look up.
“Annie. Do something besides sit by the window.”
She has left.
The heat in her room smothers me. If I open the window, she’ll become upset, complain that she’s cold. If I’m quick-
“I’m shivering,” she says. “Somebody hasn’t paid the heating bill.”
My head bows toward the floor. Its surface reflects back like polished glass. I see an outline. The features aren’t visible yet I know her. She is a daughter, sister, every woman who tries to please yet fails.
My mother’s voice interrupts.
“Anna. What are you waiting for?”
She straightens. Her expression softens. The novel that’s held her captive, closes and rests upon her lap.
Is she pleased with my answer? The keeper of a story carries a heavy load. There are emotions to protect, characters to guard. If I fail to honour us, instead, dropping characters like stones, can she forgive me? Can we forgive one another?
“This is good news, Anna.”
“Perhaps,” I say.
Our stories have patiently waited, collecting like scattered pearls. They’ve accrue over years with interest. They’ve waited to be forgotten or begged to be polished and tossed across the page. Set loose, the windswept moments we’ve treasured, the landmines we’ve navigated, no longer will belong to us.
“Get on with it, lass,” she says. “Write it. Hurry up. I won’t be here forever.”
With these words, she re-opens her novel and parachutes onto the streets of Lille. It is June 9, 1940, just over a week since the Nazi invasion of France. The day is brilliant yet cold. She is wearing her best coat.
I imagine her footsteps, light and quick, running along the cobblestone street. She is looking for ‘The Hotel Beauharnais’, Rue de Lille. Inside her hand bag, hidden beneath silk lining, is an opening with enough room for a slender finger to slip in and pull out a note. On the note is a penciled name: Jacques.
Stories. There is nothing more powerful. Set free, stories travel in search of a home or a heart. Whispering messengers of peace, conduits of love, beacons in the dark, they search to find us and yearn to be shared.
I did not ask to be a family’s memory keeper, the child who watched and listened, who carried her own world. I write for her: the little dreamer, the quiet one, the timid and the brave. I write to understand why it is that the people we love the most, wound us deeply. I write to find beauty in the chaos and to prove I remember. I heard her weep behind closed doors. I watched him strive to be better.
Hope was the name of the bird that lived in our house. The soft touch of feathers from a wing that taught us to believe anything can happen and that magic surrounded the inhabitants of a simple Craftsman- style house on 13th Street. How else to explain the stubborn shoot that pushed through the concrete path? Each spring they crushed its greenery. While winter slept, it returned. Stronger. Curious, they waited and wondered. A flower bloomed.
Hope perched inside their hearts. It was the anchor in their storm, the lonesome dove perched upon a windowsill. It was all the words they couldn’t say until now. It’s the jewel buried deep in ash.
Darkness shadows my mother’s face, softening her features. There is something about her eyes. This evening, they burn bright.
“You are more than capable,” she says and wheels her chair to face me.
“Finish it. For us.”
I open the window, leaving her an escape. Her diminutive self, wings formed and ready, can choose when to slip out and soar beyond reach.
As if knowing, she says, “I’ll wait.”
~ Jacqueline (Draft 8)
I imagine you in your other world
Watching over me.
A star falling from an inky sky.
An acorn found in spring.
The question I can’t answer.
The forgotten song I sing.
“I’ve held on to you for so long. Sometimes, I forget to breathe.”
“And I wish I had known him when he was younger
Before he had exchanged his smile for a mask
I would have begged for a ride on his motorcycle
The one he left in pieces on the dirt floor of a wooden shed.”
Once upon a time, two children planted a Lilac bush. Inch by inch the bush grew taller until it towered over the garden. In spring, the blossoms bowed, heavy with rain.
Lost in time, the children crept behind a wall of heart shaped leaves and bloom, playing until contented from perfume. Hands shook the branches, feet crushed the errant petals.
“A path for the bees,” they said.
one of life’s great truths, the simpler the better.