My mother bites her lip, fishes the depth of her purse, rummages through lipsticks, combs, and compacts, to offer something, anything to sweeten the journey and soften the grief.

“People disappoint,” she says. “Best get used to it.”

Words drop. She is tired of the narrative. Her eyes fixate on the contents of a purse, scattering her lap, rolling out of reach.

“Ah- here it is.”

I watch as she lifts a tissue bundle, holds it mid air.

She regards peppermints as medicinal. A sugar salve to cover grief and sweeten the moment.

“Take one,” she says. “It helps.”

She tucks the peppermint bundle beneath a stashed scarf, clicks the clasp of her purse.

“Grief aches like a broken bone,” she says. “The good news- you learn to carry on.”

I watch as she squares her shoulders and stares down the end of the road.

“For awhile, it’s horrible. You speak it. Words pour out, ugly, pathetic. You stop speaking. People say, ‘Find peace.’ You wonder, How? There’s a hole in your heart and it won’t heal.”

She shrugs. “So- you throw yourself into charity, community, family. You summon new interests. Delight in passionate pursuits. You dare believe you can write your story.”

She turns to admire a grove of trees on a distant hillside. Their limbs seem as if adorned in scarlet ribbons, lit by ochre light.

“How beautiful,” she comments. “I used to rake the leaves of the chestnut trees lining the boulevard. Oh those leaves. Such a rich shade of green. You do recall?”

I nod. How to forget? Year after year, the trees grew taller, more abundant. Today, they form a canopy overhead. I do not tell my mother. In autumn, I return to the block. I choose one chestnut.

My mother speaks. “You’d toddle along, amusing yourself, collecting chestnuts. Only a certain few stayed in the wagon. As the pile of leaves grew higher, you grew bolder. Arms high, face first.”

She places her hand on mine.

“You learn to go on. Softly, softly. Forward.”

***

My Grandmother ends each visit with an offering of peppermints placed in tissue.

“Just a moment,” she says.

Bags rustle on a pantry shelf. Fingers fumble. She centres five peppermints, twists the tissue and presses the bundle to the palm of my hand.

“Tuck this away. Later, when you take tea, slip one. Don’t share.”

I meet her gaze.

Her eyes are oceans.

We come to understand. Life is loneliness and then it is joy. It’s sweet, tiny moments and sacred silence. We laugh and then, we’re overcome by sorrow. It’s a question without an answer. Scar tissue thickening on a soul. We seek the road home. It’s a song on the radio, a photograph that slips to the floor and then, everything collapses.

Draft Two

Tiny Struggles

Fiction

The Mind

The red door is shut, the handle, polished steel. It begs to be opened.

I turn the handle to enter, brave. The room is cold. Two chairs stand in the middle of an Oriental rug. One is empty. A child, stares back. I have seen her face before. A forgotten photograph found inside a weathered cigar box.

A wild- eyed, willow wisp. Her moon- face stuns the dark. Emerald eyes glitter. A stubborn curl falls over one eye, as if to shield her from the world. Freckles dot the bridge of a tiny nose, claiming the familiar landscape of wide cheek bones.

My hand reaches forth.

It is as if she has waited an eternity to place her palm in mine. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Draft Two

Excerpt From A Scene

Free Write

Paeonia

Bees dance. If the sun is hot, you’ll swear they talk.

“Walk barefoot through the garden until you find her,” they say.

Paeonia. The bees have held back her stories and claimed her as one of their own. They beckon to follow beyond the fence of rose canes, thorns sharp. An ornate bird bath stands in the distance. You wonder who placed it there and the story behind it.

You follow to a clearing carpeted by moss. Beneath your feet is hidden evidence of another world- a black tunnelled darkness where drowsy beetles sleep and artifacts are buried: the torso of a child’s broken toy soldier, the bones of a bunny, lovingly set to rest in a cloth lined, cardboard box.

A completely different map. Where you stand, a river once flowed. Boulders line the now dusty bank. Ancient time seeps into your bones.

The bee’s drone reminds you: she waits, green fists tight amidst the darkest of foliage. Wild yet tame. Her head bows under the weight of a heavy crown.

Paeonia.

You sense a rustle, feel a breeze. Soft petals drop at your feet.

And suddenly, you’re in love again.

The world is a mysterious place, so much of what exists is hidden. This truth magnifies the allure. It is the dance of bees, the forgotten bird bath and mossy life. It is layer upon layer. Such is the peony seed that drops from the swallow’s beak to bury between the crack in the paver. Humble yet proud, it fights to bloom another spring.

~ Draft

You asked how I knew.

I told you. It’s simple. You are 35,000 feet above land, imagining all that could go wrong. Waiting for the drop. Yet, you feel safer than you have ever felt before. Safe enough, to rest on another. Safe enough to close your eyes, if only for awhile.

I recall that morning. Everything was misty grey: the gravel road that kicked dust from the tires, the clouds above us, her sweatshirt adorned with the words, ‘Carmel- by-the-sea.’

We were so far north of Carmel.

Desperate for a break, hoping to convince myself, fears are paper tigers come to play, I’d left the city behind.

She stood there, familiar yet out of place.

“Listen, Child.

Remember who we are: daughters of strong limbed women with imperfect hearts, makers and givers of life. Suffering to our dreams. Forming circles of comfort, sweet tea and honey. We cooked because we had to. Who else fed the children? Believers on a crooked path to a better life- a place where every other step didn’t involve a battle. Give it all up, lay it all down. Sacrifice is all we knew.

Sacrifice. This is your power. You don’t have to win. You don’t have to have all the answers. Grit your teeth and bear it. Turn suffering into beauty. Be a true hero. Fight for more than just your own heart. Have the courage to let some things go. You are victorious for the decisions you have made. They can not steal memories. Brave one, this is who we are. “

~Her Truth