Fury and force heaved and shattered all that dared defy their presence. With exhaled breath, they battered the stalwart evergreens. Tree- tops spun. Boughs snapped and fell.
I knew it was a matter of time.
In the distance, a low rumble shot like a freight train through the land. The faint thundering of hooves grew louder. Beside me, a squirrel scurried for shelter. Overhead, a raven screamed a spell.
A veil hung, ominous and sheer, separating earth from the heavens. Deafening silence overtook the land. The faintest sound was the pumping of my heart. Even still, I was not afraid.
Leaves spun, suspended in air. Shades of red through orange, shapes of maple and oak teased my outstretched hand. Pinecones scattered and rolled across the mossy carpet beneath my feet.
From a clearing he appeared, lit beneath the hunter’s moon. I watched ringed fingers grip and tug the reins. The stallion reared, muscles taut, its coat damp and shiny, head twitching side to side.
On the charge’s back sat the royal one. A body clothed in leather, eyes the sparks of flint, a rugged face devoid of emotion.
It was then I glimpsed his truth. I saw one hand lift, watched as his fingers stroked the mane. The steed lowered its head and stood like stone.
The Storm King lifted from the saddle. Dark, dangerous, beautiful and mysterious he kneeled before me and bowed.
Through an open window she heard notes. At first the soft pitter- patter of sound that quickly gathered to pounding momentum. Outside, a staccato rhythm clipped the walkway. From the heavens came the boom clap of thunder and then a whisper in the pause: I love you. I am by your side.
Slowly she rose to standing. Broken memories glittered about her feet.
A current hummed within the stillness. Fireflies flitted through the open window to hover above a wooden desk. The glow from a hundred glimmers of light lit upon the blank pages of a waiting notebook.
The story was hers to write in all of its beautiful form. Piece by piece, the memories altered, mended, whole. The largest piece, the foundation, evidence of a fierce strength and an enduring love, shone brightest.
Her fingers reach to lift the fallen pen from the ground. One hand shields her eyes to the sun. She gazes up to the place he waits. The clouds have thinned. The air is silent. The storm has ended.
Bare feet stand in a small pool of freshly fallen rainwater. Sunshine warms the asphalt. She takes a breath and lets the steamy heat rise up through her lovely bones. A hot breeze playfully slaps her cheek.
From the pecan tree comes birdsong so lilting, notes mirror a symphony.
Electric, she has risen. A tingling races down her backbone. She envisions the feathers that flow from her spine. Wings. Arms lift in unison.
Truth and love are resilient. She casts one last look back before soaring on.
Sometimes it’s the small things that hold the most meaning in our lives. They show up as everyday actions, expressed through the simplest gestures and the gentlest of comments. Yet make no mistake, this is what love looks like.
This Mother’s Day my mother wants only an ice cream cone. She says, “that will be enough.”
Mom opens the passenger door and slides onto the empty seat. She smiles from under her new straw hat. “Do you like it?” Her words sound timid.
My fingers reach to adjust the brim of woven straw. “It’s jaunty, Mom. Wear it lower on the forehead.” She pulls back. In that moment I catch my tone.
A memory returns. It is of a different mother.
This mother waited in the car or stood on the street. This mother adjusted and rolled the brims of her sweet babies’ hats, made certain they were safe.
This mother’s children scampered down the steps from school or daycare, their small heads bobbing, their hats askew. Her fingers reached forth to roll and adjust. She was the mother who smoothed the cloth, caressed a cheek.
Voices warbled as chubby little hands rifled through backpacks to produce a rumpled painting or a sample of schoolwork. “Do you like it, Mom?”
I always did.
There is something achingly similar in the whispered words of young and elderly. The shy questioning notes that search for reassurance and approval. The eyes wide, searching.
My mother’s voice calls me back to the present.
“Do you like it?”
I nod. “It has flare, Mom.” I smile and tug it closer to her ears.
A truth snags hold. Some days, I am mothering her.
While I steer, Mom shares a happy story. She speaks of a friend. “I was just about to sit down to eat when the phone rang. It was Francie.” Breathless words continue, “ She tells me there’s a new park bench across the street and insists we go and sit on it. Christen it.”
At first she resisted this adventure. There were excuses. The dinner, the six o’clock news- Francie persisted.
My mother sighs. “I told her, dinner could wait.”
I nod. “Good choice, Mom. Sometimes we need to lose the plan.”
My mother’s world is small. She plans each day around breakfast, lunch and dinner. She eagerly awaits the Friday paper, the daily news and me.
She explains how they ambled to the nearby park and sat on the wooden bench. “Two old girls,” she laughs. “Francie told me I needed a straw hat. When I told her I didn’t own one, she pulled a floral pop up umbrella from her bag.”
Mom acted the part, raised her hand above her head, lifted her hat and shook loose her fine grey hair. In that moment she was twenty-five. I glimpsed the shimmer in her eyes and felt the swish of hair.
She is beautiful.
My hands flutter and smooth the top of her head. She eases the hat into place. “Francie held the umbrella over my head,” she says. “I felt like royalty.” She pauses and raises one hand. Fingers lower the car’s visor.
“I’m looking for a mirror.”
I lift the cover to reveal one.
She gazes at her reflection. “Do you like it?”
“You look pretty, Mom.”
Sunlight streams through glass. She looks in the distance. Swiftly her fingers reach. She shuts the cover over the mirror and lifts the visor.
“We’ll do something for Mother’s Day,” I say.
“Nothing fancy, just take me for ice cream. That’s enough.”
Silence fills every bit of space. A silence so vast it reminds us of all we never said. A veil of crepe settled over memories, the years spent tip- toeing around the shards that filled up spaces. Somehow we managed to hold to one another. I told her, “You are worth so much more.” I vowed that she would never break again.
The car pulls to the curb and I watch as she walks the short path to the front door, see her turn the key in the lock and notice that she looks back to wave good- bye. This is her signature.
It is the hug I will not receive, the kiss on the cheek that is missing and the spoken words I will never hear.
I imagine my mother walking through the lobby and checking her mailbox. She stops at the elevator and pushes the button. As the door opens, she smiles.
Her finger touches the second floor light. She stands and absorbs the familiar creaks and groans of the pulleys that lift her higher.
At the second floor the elevator stops and the door clunks open. My mother exits and begins the short climb up the three stairs to her suite. Her veined hand grips the rail as she slowly places one foot ahead of the other. She hears the familiar sound of voices chattering down the hall. Laughter rings, a television booms. She inhales the spiciness of turmeric and smoke that seeps from beneath a door. On her head is perched the new straw hat. She smiles.
If I wait long enough my mother will appear in the apartment’s window and look down upon the street.
Our eyes meet and I see her, a beautiful woman wearing a straw crown.
The elegant bones were the give away. Once hers held richer presence. Austere yet luxurious, polished and shiny, shades of auburn and chestnut beckoned.
She stood behind a door, snugged against a wall, opposite a front window, preferring to stand in the light. The overcast days cast too many shadows. Yet it was from behind the door that she listened.
Beauty fades, even hers. Bought on time; she should have seen the coming settlement of account. She was disposable. The carpenter’s base upon which she stood once solid, now broken. The scratches, scuffs and scrapes of time, earned and more than paid for.
Behind a glass exterior were hidden her best kept secrets. Evidence of coveted treasure and tales from a far away land. Slipped away whispers of hushed conversations as the china teapot passed from hand to hand.
Yet she stands whitewashed, transformed.
The circle opened to let me in. A hand reached for mine. Warmth from a touch pulsed through starved veins; a fingertip graced my forearm. A heartbeat slowed.
We stood tall together. Ancestors, cousins, sisters, mothers and aunts all stepped forth, heads held high. You turned and faced us.
Strong women. We’ve known struggle. The brave ones; we’ve faced fear, cut it down with our light. Words tossed like stones only bruised our surface. We’ve known betrayals and chose to rise above the duplicity. Compassionate, we conquer hate with tolerance and love. Joyous we drink from celebration’s cup.
Honourable women. We’ve known loss, felt its icy fingers spear our hearts. Tears slipped like silk to cleanse sorrow’s stain. Babies born and buried, husbands lost, doors shut. Voiceless we screamed to a seemingly absent god, “ Have mercy.”
We’ve stumbled; momentarily lost our footing through the darkened forest. Our advice to you is simple.
Take shelter under the limbs of the finest tree. Pause within the stillness. Perhaps the only audible is the wind as it lifts the leaves to dance. Punched by noise leaves you fit to embrace silence. Can you hear the rustling?
Realize a presence, something more. It is their legion. They come to circle and say, “Your story, your voice, your being, matters.” Something enchanted, other worldly happens. Whispered voices murmur, “We are here. You are not alone.”
The circle opens to let you in. A hand reaches forth. Its touch pulses through hungry veins and warms you. A fingertip graces your forearm. You feel your heartbeat slow.
We stand tall together. Your ancestors, sisters, cousins, mothers and aunts. Strong women.