Alice Reflects

This is a “flashback” written in “Alice’s” POV. She is in the kitchen, recalls her son. Hope you enjoy reading this passage.

Alice stood in the kitchen and gazed through the window. It was oddly quiet for five o’clock, suppertime. The children from the neighbouring yard were silent. Thank God, she mused. Most afternoons, the neighbour’s offspring tussled and tumbled about the fence line. Their play stretched on for hours. Out of control crossed her mind. This thought from a woman who believed children should be seen and not heard. Alice lit the stove’s burner, felt the heat leap forth to warm her cold hand. She dropped the matchstick. All day she’d felt chilled, out of sorts.

She thought about when she’d gazed into the mirror earlier that morning, when she’d seen the face of an unrecognizable woman reflected back. Lines formed around the corners of her once bright eyes. Were the lines deeper? Silver threads edged along her hairline. Who was this time-worn woman who reflected back?

Focus on the task at hand, she reminded herself as she reached beneath the oven door and pulled out the warming drawer. Fingers searched through metal baking sheets until they felt the familiar handle of the blackened frying pan. This action caused her to smile. She recalled a memory from two years ago. Had it been two years? It was the day Roy unexpectedly returned home, catching the two sisters by surprise. The now faded mental image of her sister, Molly, as she held the heavy cast iron pan like a shield for protection, was comical.

Always, Roy haunted her thoughts. That was the reason Alice so often felt out of sorts and irritable. When he snuck into her head, she got busy. Placing the frying pan onto the stove element, she carefully poured out the correct amount of oil, just enough to brown the waiting onions. Soon the heady scent of caramelized onions filled the tiny room. Alice trimmed a small cut of beef and added it to the pan. As she stirred the mixture, the meat sizzled and browned. Cooking comforted her, gave purpose and routine to each day. It was just the two of them now. Did she mean anything, anymore to her husband?

She recalled Roy’s last visit home, checked the tallies on the new calendar that hung beside the telephone. When last year’s addition ran out, she added the number 365 to the present copy. It was exactly two years and fifteen days ago. The calendar protected the evidence, an ink mark scrawled through each day that passed, signs of her son’s absence. Proof that he was remembered.

Alice didn’t know how to fix her broken family, didn’t realize that it was simple. Shame and pride beat her down. Was she a good enough mother? Pride demanded she hold her head high and whispered back, you were.

Unconvinced, Alice thought about the last time she sat with Roy, remembered the bottled up anger that simmered in silence as they sipped tea. When Roy had left, he slammed the back door. She had noticed, even winced as the door hit the frame. After such a loud exit, Molly startled, hurried to the front door to wave goodbye to her nephew. As he roared off on his flashy motorcycle, Molly had quietly shut the door and marched back into the kitchen. She saw her sister, the cup poised mid-air.

“Alice.”

Stone faced, Alice set her cup onto the saucer and turned toward her older sister.

“Did you have to be so aloof?”

Alice tightened. Molly noticed her sister’s purposeful silence. At last, Alice commented,

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course you do, Alice. You didn’t say a meaningful word to the lad.”

Molly moved closer to the table, positioned herself directly in front of her younger sister.

“Roy comes home, after two years gone and all you can do is sit silent, sipping tea?”

Alice set her jaw, looked away.

“It was Roy’s choice to leave in the first place, “Alice said.

Enraged, Molly grabbed her sister’s wrist, a bit too hard. It hurt. Her words bit Alice.

“For the love of Mike, Alice. Everyone makes mistakes. Including you.”

Alice felt her cheeks warm at Molly’s comment, a reminder of a past she would rather forget. A secret they shared. She shook free of Molly’s grip.

Molly continued, “No one sent you away.”

Alice bristled, “I didn’t send Roy away.”

Molly’s words flew back, “You never gave him a reason to stay.”

Believe

Long ago, I stood at the window, my small fingers crossed. I prayed for snow to fall. A child who believed that with some divine intervention, she could will the fluffy flakes to float from the heavens above.
My hand lifted the iron latch, pushed the window open a crack. I leaned into the space. Cold air kissed my cheek. Stillness lingered and paused within the eerie morning’s quiet breaths. Tall, gnarly branches of oak canopied the street. The oaks waited too. Waited for snow to dress them in winter finery.
A voice broke through the silence.
“Hurry up girls,” our mother commanded, “We’re leaving in thirty minutes!”
Time meant nothing to me then. Yet, this morning I had reason to dash.
Mother was taking us to see the annual Christmas displays. I recalled the twinkling lights and little elves dressed in red and green that bustled about Santa’s miniature village. It was the reindeer I coveted. How do they fly?
“It’s magic,” our mother said.
Quickly my sister and I ran to the hall cupboard, opened it and grabbed our newly sewn velvet coats.
“Where’s my fur hat?” I asked.
Scrambling through the corners of the dark hall cupboard, I retrieved the faux fur hidden beneath my father’s plaid scarf. The hat was a gift; the muffler disappeared at school.
“Found it!” I cried out.
I watched my sister; her small fingers struggled to slip the shiny buttons through the stitched openings.

Gently,I took her hand and showed her how. We slipped stocking feet into fur-lined rubber boots, momentarily teetering, off-balance from the weight of our outerwear. My sister and I stood in the doorway; two winter snow-babies waiting for snowflakes to tumble.
Our mother, wrapped in Persian lamb, led the way as we headed toward the bus stop at the end of the block. As we waited for the 41st Street bus to appear, I looked up and peeked through the canopy of tangled branches that crisscrossed overhead. An empty nest sat tucked within a nook of hardwood. I wondered if Santa would leave a small gift for the birds to open when they returned in the spring. Perhaps a pine cone adorned with a strand of tinsel snagged from a glittering cast off Christmas tree.
The bus rolled up to the curb, we clambered on board, dropped our coins into the cash slot and took our seats.
“Hold on, Grace,” my mother tipped her head toward the shiny pole. As the bus lurched forward, my fingers held the metal pole, the other hand wrapped around my sister’s small one.
We watched as passengers came and went about the business of life. Near the end of the line, a dapper man stepped aboard. He wore a top hat and wrinkled pin stripe suit.
“Ladies,” he nodded and tipped his hat.
In one hand, he held a scuffed leather briefcase; in the other he held a bouquet of bud roses, white as fallen snow.
A second man stepped aboard; the white whiskers on his chin visible. His threadbare overcoat patched at the elbows. A red scarf scrunched about his neck. As he passed by I caught the acrid, heavy scent of cigarettes. Golden fingertips gripped the metal pole. When he smiled at us, there were dark spaces where teeth should have been. I looked away.
It seemed to take forever to reach our destination. As we rose to exit the bus, the man with the whiskers spoke,
“Merry Christmas,” he said and reached into his deep pocket, pulled out two wrapped candy canes, and grinned a toothless smile. My sister and I hesitated. The man smiled and reached deep into the other pocket and pulled out a plastic angel. Golden wings glinted and gleamed.
“This you must share,” he murmured. He reached out and handed the angel to me.
“Say thank you, girls,” our mother said.
“Thank you,” we whispered.
He nodded, “Merry Christmas, children. Don’t ever forget that once someone did something kind for you”
I gingerly stepped from the bus, a candy cane clutched within one small fist; a sugared angel twinkled in the other. How would I manage to share such a treasure?
Once again my mother took the lead and hustled us along to the Christmas displays. The miniature Winter Town hummed and bustled, alive with visions and sound. Holiday songs punctuated the scene. Candlelight shone through a small window as an elf stationed at a workbench hammered wheels onto a train. Another elf stood alongside and wrapped a gift. He placed it atop the growing pile of presents from Santa.
Bells jingled and lights twinkled, snow blew from a machine and dusted our boots. It was the reindeer I had come to see. They lay upon hay; their thick whitish coats brushed and glossed, their velvet antlers strong and upright. At the peak of the stable hung an angel, a heavenly guardian hovered overhead.
We heard the sleigh bells jangle and the familiar chortle of Santa’s low voice as he boomed,
“Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas!”
Who wouldn’t believe in wishes that come true, magic, heavenly beings and a hope for snow?
***
That was a beautiful moment so long ago. The wondering child rarely surfaces anymore; the woman is grown. Time is fleeting now; it rushes by her. She remembers the man on the bus; recalls his curious words,
“Don’t ever forget that once someone did something kind for you.”
Grace still doesn’t understand human nature; choosing to believe in goodness. She understands the science behind snow, the necessary ingredients of weather systems. Still, every December she pauses at the window, opens it just a crack. She leans in toward the opening and waits. For what you ask? For the cold wind to kiss her cheek, for those first flakes to fall, for that magical feeling of love to wrap itself around her, for an act of compassion or a kindness shared, for Santa to arrive, and for peace on earth. Believe.
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For Him

For Him

 

Every haunted autumn, Grace recalled a particularly beautiful moment in time. Stepping from the car to behold the glorious splendor of the colorful landscape that surrounded her, she paused to survey the unfolding scene. The sun cast a low light; the shadows ominous, darker, stretched longer, slightly sinister across the manicured lawn. Grace glanced up; a canopy of leaves, resplendent in dresses of crimson, orange, and green covered over the sky, a shelter. Golden beams sparkled and peeked through the limbs of the tree, far-reaching. She recalled it was autumn when he finally left them behind. All is not as it appears.

 

The light exposed a tiny bushy-tailed squirrel. Nimble, fleet feet scurried up, scaled the Maple’s trunk, the scritch scratch barely audible in ascent. Grace willed herself strength; just enough to enter the brick building that loomed ahead. She imagined herself confident, sure- footed, as she navigated through the raw emotions and truths that swirled around inside a frantic mind. For it was true, she loved him and it was truth; he broke a heart. Why didn’t they see each other’s pain? All is not as it appears.

 

Leaves crunched; tiny sticks snapped under slow footsteps. It was the scattered acorns that caught her focus. Their auburn perfection, swollen to a taper, some adorned with matte caps still attached. Grace paused, clutched a handful from the earthen ground and tucked them into her sweater’s woolen pocket. The seeds with their tops in place, she gently wrapped within a soft tissue, and tucked them safely into her purse pocket. Autumn gifts a magical performance; she possessed a talisman of sorts, an agent to ward off the inevitable glances, the forthcoming storm of vicious words; for now she clutched a shield of beauty to front her heart. The door of the institution automatically opened. She stepped inside.

 

He is gone now. Those same acorns remain today, nestled together within a crystal bowl, placed center upon an oak sideboard. They remind her of him, his impossible quest for perfection, his strength mixed up in a fragile, tumbled mind, his broken heart and the shadowed path he chose to walk along.

 

Every autumn Grace recalled that moment in time; memory held the beauty that unfolded into a perfect autumn scene. Now, she imagines him standing beside her. She places the acorns into the palm of his outstretched hand and whispers, “I love you. Always.” A tear brims and slowly rolls down to rest upon his cheek. “Always,” he replies.

 

Autumn’s looming shadow shivers; questions remain unanswered; a heart broken. Still, every season nature repeats the glorious show, adorned in resplendent, golden beauty. Grace smiles. She has come to accept, all is not as it appears.

 

 

Memories

Breathe. Just breathe; this will pass. That shivery sensation again, secreted memories unwrapped, tangled over her heart. Left shaken, emotionally disheveled, abandoned and dismissed.

Memories, elusive, dark, stealthy fairies, suddenly pop up, resurfacing on a whim. Beguiling tricksters snag a heart off guard. Thump, thump– stomping glee filled feet as they encircle.

“You didn’t matter,” they screech.

Imagine a perfect day, diamond lit skies, kitten white clouds and joyous moments suddenly met with gloomy storm. You wonder why these demons surface? You’re just stopped at a red light, an ordinary moment in life.

Love’s betrayal is their life- blood, their sustenance. Waiting in a ruby jewel box, carefully wrapped within life’s layers, to suddenly emerge kicking, thumping, merciless.

“You are weak,” she screams.

The cowards scamper away. They have left her alone to find beauty in another day. There will be another day; she will find it glorious, waiting not yet discovered. Beautiful moments: Look there in a child’s precious smile, see the late summer bloom of the single last rose, be in the quiet silence of reflection.

There is a purposeful plan. This is her given life complete with struggles and overwhelming joys; the path she is placed on. There is intentional strength and courage at her core. She learned compassion.

“You will never rule,” she shouts to the blustering wind.

These brave words, carried forth on a gust, travel far and wide until coming to rest upon a doorstep. Truth.

Strength in Struggle

 

 

Charles grew up working class poor. There wasn’t much money. Emigrating from England with parents and two sisters, settling in a small, bleak town. Land was available and his father saw an opportunity, the chance for more. The land harsh, unforgiving; the family scrapped on.

 

People living off the bleak land didn’t have much in the way of extras; if they did, they shared with another. They tirelessly toiled, hand to mouth, along with sent up prayers. Religion played an important role in their lives; they buried sweet babies in the local cemetery.

 

Charles lived respecting the principles of family, stay loyal and inclusive of one another. In later years, he dutifully went to his sister’s side to help a child she bravely and lovingly sheltered from an institution’s walls.

 

There was military service, an opportunity to travel and fight for freedom in the larger world. Charles believed in worker’s rights and fought to unionize railway workers. He stood alongside the great Tommy Douglas, a Canadian leader, carrying forth the hope and promise of social medicare.

 

My grandfather Charles was the quietest and gentlest of men. Through simple acts of kindness, small actions filled with compassion, I watched him and learned how to treat others. He watched over our mother, checking in on her; he loved us. His eyes could see the words we never expressed; his heartbeat strong when we faltered. We knew.

 

A fleeting presence in life, Charles was one of the first social responsibility role models I knew. Stand up, be brave, be kind, are actions he’d support. Sometimes, I imagine him seated at my table. Charles removes his felt fedora and pushes back a strand of hair; his starched white shirt, sleeves rolled to show just a peek of a mermaid’s tail on a forearm, a tattoo from long ago. I smile at the sight of red suspenders, a signature piece he wears clipped to the waistline of pressed khaki pants. Polished boots, the leather gleaming will rest for a spell.

 

We drink a cup of tea; Charles loved tea time. Sugar biscuits, Alice’s favourite, shine waiting on a floral china saucer. He sips and swallows the steeped brew. After a moment or two, I will update him on the comings and goings of life; he will hang his head. When he looks up, his misty eyes will focus upon mine. We know.

 

“It’s okay,” I say.

In that instant we both look away; we know it isn’t.

 

Charles will leave; time is fleeting. Life unrolls. One day I  open a newspaper to read an article about a brave action, a loyal stance; a union’s notice lending support for worker’s rights. I sit within the loving circle of family and friends, safe and valued. I’ve learned to listen to the pause between heartbeats; it is there in that fleeting space where he stands beside me.

We know.