Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Musings, 19 April 2014

Good morning,

From my rocker on the porch, I hear the cheerful twittering of spring birds, no doubt happily nesting in our gutters.  The neighbors still run their furnace but I sit outside in my pajamas, listening to its mild hum, watching our new flag sway in the wind, gazing at the quiet street and the greening yard.  Spring seems finally to have completely embraced our neighborhood, though my bare feet cringe from the cold.

Our scruffy boy cat sat on the porch chair this morning when I came out for the paper.  He stretched, eyed his empty dish and hopped to the ground. He skirted the delivered water which no one has bothered to bring into the house and crouched expectantly.  I let my hand graze his fur, then snagged the dish and spoke to him, assuring him of my imminent return with food. I went back inside, set the paper on the table, let the dog out, started coffee, and went back out to the porch where he waited.  He cast his eyes up at me; though we speak different languages, I got his message: "What took you?"

I like feeding critters.  Human ones, most of all.  Yesterday I taught my son to make lentil carrot soup so he could feed himself cheaply and well, once he's ensconced in his new life in Evanston.  But sometimes the boy children need me to fix their dinners, or their midnight snacks.  And as this thought occurred to me, standing in the dining room last night listening to the music from Patrick's laptop. I thought of two little boys whom I babysat many years ago.

Robbie and Wade.  The sons of a nurse, whose name I confess to have forgotten.  I met her at Incarnate Word Hospital in St. Louis, where I worked as a unit secretary.  She needed someone to watch the boys during her Saturday shifts.  She brought them to my home in Laclede Town, slipping through the patio door with Wade's hand in hers, Robbie's carrier held firmly by her side with her other, strong arm.  She'd give five solid minutes of instructions for every minute of the eight hours they would spend with me, while Wade stood completely still.

The first time they came, I lifted Robbie from his seat and held him to kiss his mother.  She raised one hand and touched his nose, but wouldn't move towards his face.  She walked briskly back out of my townhouse, across the patio, down the sidewalk to the street.  Wade and I waited until her compact form could no longer be seen before we closed the screen and went into the living room.

"What shall we do?" I asked.  I hadn't babysat in years, but my last gig, in high school, had been considerably more challenging:  I watched nine children from 3:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. while their parents ran a  restaurant.  I figured, two years later, that I could summon my latent skills and amuse two small boys.

Wade looked around my living room.  I followed the sweep of his gaze.  Plain couch, table for four, rocking chair.  My roommates had gone their respective ways earlier and the house waited some new source of noise.  Wade walked, slowly, to the table.  "Do you have any books," he asked, in a tone which told me that he would not be upset if I didn't.  I returned the baby to his carrier and crouched in front of the bookshelf, extracting my childhood Christopher Robin set.  "Indeed I do, young man," I announced.  I led him to the couch and for the next several hours, while Robbie slept, I took young Wade on a tour of Pooh Corner.

By eleven, I had completed the first two volumes.  Wade had sat next to me on the couch without complaint, one small hand on my arm, occasionally tracing the  lines of a picture or asking a question.  His small body barely dented the couch; his feet did not touch the carpet; he scarcely moved.  I realized he must surely be hungry.  The baby had awakened, and seemed to be watching everything I did with something resembling guardedness.

I stood.  "Goodness, you must be starving," I ventured.  I watched the boy.  He wore a white, short-sleeved shirt, stiffly ironed with each button engaged clear to the collar.  I leaned down, rummaging in the backpack that their mother had left, hoping to find something less fussy for the child to wear.  But the bag held several diapers, the baby's bottle in a thermal storage container, baby wipes and talcum powder.  Nothing for a four-year-old to don for rough play; no rattles; no board books.  I began to wonder about the mother, but pushed the thoughts aside.

"What would you like for lunch?" I asked the child, and he tilted back his head to bring his eyes to my face.  I saw his brow pucker, felt the intentness of his contemplation.  Finally, he lifted his small shoulders in the tiniest of shrugs.

"Whatever you fix," he said.  "Whatever you pick out."  A long moment passed, in which nothing more came, except a small noise from Robbie.  I raised the baby, checked and then changed his diaper, and brought both into the small kitchen to see what there might be with which I could feed a cooperative young man.

Robbie and Wade continued to spend their Saturdays with me for many months.  Robbie gave me no trouble. He slept,  mostly.  Wade and I ploughed through all of my childhood books and moved on to some that I bought at the thrift store just to amuse him.  I acquired crayons and coloring books; water colors and paper; and looted  my mother's basement for leftover Fischer price animals and alphabet blocks.

When I moved from that apartment, Wade and Robbie's mother kept bringing them, to the new place, a second-floor flat on the south side of town.

One Saturday, Wade and I decided to build a cave out of blankets, chairs, and my dining room table.  Robbie had gone to sleep, surrounded by pillows on  my double bed, and the little boy and I created a make-believe world in which we huddled in the dimness of the under-table waiting for the dragons that would storm our hideaway.  He shrieked and stabbed at the monsters with his imaginary sword, and we danced around the room, victorious, when he slayed the dragon and saved me.

And then I realized that the baby had vanished.

Frantic, I tossed the pillows aside and pulled each cover back, fearing what I might find, scrambling to get to him before he suffocated.  But no Robbie to be seen, no crying baby to be heard.  I stood next to the bed in complete dismay, Wade by my side.  His hand crept up my leg and held one of my fingers.  His eyes found my face.  Neither of us spoke.  Helplessness overcame me.

I noticed, finally, that the bed stood several inches from the wall.  I couldn't recall if I had moved it while looking for the child.  I walked slowly to its foot, and pulled it further out.  The baby's still form lay on the floor under the window sill.  My heart stopped.  I lowered myself down, on my knees, and reached out to touch him.

Warm.  His skin felt warm, not cold.  I put my hands around his torso and lifted him from the floor.  His eyes opened, and he smiled.  I held him against my chest and sank back down, leaning against the wall, feeling him mold his body to mine and snuggle his head on my shoulder.  I felt a long shuddering sigh course through him; felt his body relax back into sleep; heard the soft whisper of his breathing.

Wade and I spent the rest of the day in the rocking chair, reading books, holding Robbie.  We left our cave structure untouched, abandoned the lunch dishes, didn't change Robbie's diaper.  When their mother came, she looked around at the mess.  In her immaculate nurse's uniform, her hair pinned securely, her face smooth and clean, she beheld the scattered books and pillows and did not even ask how our day had been.

She never brought the boys back.

From 1976 to 1991, I had a total of four pregnancies.  During the one which resulted in the gift of my son, I had  the most intricate of the prenatal care at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  There, I participated in genetic testing and had my amniocentesis.  The technician asked me if I wanted to know the gender.  "No, I don't," I admonished, right before she said, "It's a boy."  I had been sure it would be a girl; I had convinced myself that I would never have to fight another dragon, nor worry about the motionless form of a little boychild lying under a windowsill while I neglected him.

But I had a boy.  We slayed dragons.  We climbed mountains.  We rode bikes.  He scraped his knees, earnestly swung a small bat at a T-ball, strode with heartbreaking determination out onto the floor at a martial arts school week after week, had his heart broken by little girls, and listened to me read about the House at Pooh Corner.  He's a man now; done with college; about to embark on his own life, pursuing his MFA, and he knows how to make lentil soup.

I find myself wondering about Wade and Robbie from time to time.  They would be  middle-aged  now; Wade must be 42, Robbie nearly 40.  I wonder if Wade remembers me, and the macaroni from a box that I made him on that first day.  "From a box," he said, wonder in his voice.  "My mother says that kind isn't good for you."  He ate three bowls full, with great scoops of cottage cheese, and peaches from a can for dessert.

I wonder, what did he feed his own children?  And does he remember the crazy lady who bought T-shirts for him to wear, while he played at her house, careful to have him change back to his button-down shirts, before his mother came to get him.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday Musings, 12 April 2014

Good morning,

I lie in a dark hotel room, the dimness broken only by the blinking lights on various chargers.  My son and I have come to St. Louis to visit family.  The sound of early morning travelers on Highway 40 has wakened me.  Only briefly do I fight the morning.  My mind moves from sleeping to that state of alertness which defies return to dreams.

We spent three hours on a deck overlooking an erstwhile farm yesterday, with my cousin Paul and a friend of his, trading stories, laughing, marveling at the intricacies of two generations disparate enough to be from different planets.  Paul's breathing grew labored as the afternoon waned. Little else drew attention to his fading health -- certainly not his air, bright and uncomplaining.  We came away with the warmth of his smile still lingering on our own faces.

We drove to the city for dinner.  I knew my old breakfast place had closed, but had not heard about Duff's, where I'd spent so many nights in college and graduate school.  The news of its demise dismays me.  Even though my visits to St. Louis occur infrequently, I want to imagine that, like Brigadoon, it never changes.  Perhaps my disappointment at not being able to have their fish and chips spoiled my appetite; whatever the reason, I did not enjoy my meal at Bar Italia.  But the company saved the evening: my friend Joyce Kramer, the New York expat, with her stories of meeting "Bobbie DeNiro" before he reverted to his full name and embraced fame.  We strolled down to her home on Maryland  for coffee afterwards, making our way past the crowded tables of Central West End cigar smokers and chess players.

About thirty feet from Joyce's front walk, three tiny children broke away from their mothers to fling their arms around our legs and greet us.  Clad in minuscule coats, wearing backpacks no bigger than wallets, none could have been more than two feet tall.  They toddled back and forth between us and the two women who stood adjusting a baby carriage, murmuring, watching for anything alarming.  Joyce leaned down to zip one of their jackets, clucking, fussing.  I lifted one and hugged him, feeling his lightness, wondering what genetic code produces children no bigger than dolls.  The mothers reclaimed their offspring; we cooed over the baby; and they moved beyond us, towards the frozen yogurt shop.

After coffee, my son and I reversed that path, passing, in turns, the hostess from Bar Italia and one of the waitresses, off-duty, oblivious to us now, morphed into their better selves.  The swarm of humanity on the sidewalks amazed me.  I strained to imagine where all those people lived.  Some most certainly came from the suburbs, packing into cars, enduring bumper to bumper traffic, passing three times around the block before finding a space in which to squeeze their vehicle.  The women's shoes baffled me with their tall heels, thick platforms, and rounded toes.  I watched them walk, picking their way around cracks in the sidewalk, chins held parallel to the ground, shoulders squared.  I can't recall ever being so young, so bold, so comfortable with myself.

The sun's rays sneak under the curtain, and the roar of traffic has increased.  In a little while, we'll breakfast with my sister, in St. Peters, and later on, we'll dine at the restaurant where one of my nieces works.  We're stepping our way through this trip, restaurant to restaurant, embrace to embrace. I crave coffee, but don't want to awaken my son before time.  So I linger in the darkness.

I think about the contours of this city where I spent my youth, which I can no longer navigate without the GPS on my son's phone.  I ponder the poignancy of my memories, of Paul's memories, of his faith, of the words he spoke, looking skyward, to my lost brother.  "We love you, Steve," he said.  I touched his arm; his eyes found mine, and in that moment, in the silent exchange between my cousin Paul and me, I realized that I truly had come home.  I might be a stranger here; I might not recognize the highways and the corridors of this town.  I might have a place where I belong that lies distant from here.  But the roots which anchor me germinated in this ground.

In the darkness of the parking lot of our hotel last night, we spoke to a family gathered around the back of their SUV, drinking, eating, talking.  "Who won?" I called out, referring to the baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.  "We did," came the glad reply.  "And who would 'we' be," I asked.  "We're from Wisconsin," they told me, leaving me to infer their Northern allegiance. I waved my hand in the dim air, saying, "But I was born and raised in St. Louis!"  They chuckled; and I responded with another little wave. As I turned away, one last comment drifted across the asphalt:  "Maybe tomorrow!"

Indeed.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Saturday Musings, 05 April 2014

Good morning,

I won't pretend to be surprised that frost clung to the grass and the furnace kicked on just as I rose to make coffee this morning.  I've walked through snow in Easter shoes and told the same old story about not liking the weather, and waiting a minute, for my entire life as a Missourian.  Still, I can see my vincas peeking from under the rotting leaves that we let lie on the parkway at autumn's end.  Spring slowly creeps into our neighborhood, and my next few blog entries might be written from the wide expanse of our front porch.

A few piles of clutter surround me; there's housework to be done.  But I feel lazy this morning; and thoughtful; and so I sit gazing through the curtains, at the neighbor's trellis which soon will bear great masses of climbing rose.

And I think of other views, from other windows, in other springs.

My rental house in Fayetteville had windows all around it.  On top of what passed for a mountain in town, the house seemed luxurious to me, with its open first floor layout and wide French doors.  I could afford more house there, in that town; I didn't need three bedrooms but had them, and an L-shape living room with a long area for a dining table adjacent to the kitchen.  A balcony off the kitchen and a patio beyond the lower-level  gave me a feeling of grandeur.

There, in that house, with a Calico cat named George, I lived very well on my own.

I had lived thirty-four years in Missouri without seeing frozen pipes and our pipes had frozen the previous winter in Jasper where I lived with my husband before coming to Fayetteville by myself.  But I had seen many spring storms in St. Louis, and so I knew the still feel of the air when a twister approaches.  I knew the cold silence of emptyy trees, with birds hunkered down and squirrels skittered into hidden holes.  I held George in my arms on that little balcony and watched the sky.  My stomach sank; I knew that color, knew what lurked in the gloom on the horizon.  I hastened back into the house and, for some reason, locked the glass doors behind me, shaking their knobs, throwing the burglar latch as though the wind would rattle the frame and, finding it locked, relent and move on.

I stood in my glass-wrapped house, surveying the view, nearly 360 degrees of a watchtower's perspective on the storm that would hit Skyline Drive.

I ran the options:  Closet? Bathroom? The bedrooms all hugged the perimeter, with their own windows, and the open floor plan that I had found so inviting would soon creak beneath the storm.  The cat growled, my own little miner's parakeet, feeling the dropping pressure, or maybe its rise.  Storm's coming, her low rumble told me  Take shelter.

The rooms, painted pale yellow, seemed to dim as the clouds gathered and the tornado neared.  And from somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a  picture from "Life" magazine emerged:  Hurricane-lashed towns, houses demolished, nothing left standing except the chimney, the fireplace, and the hearth surrounding it.  

I pulled the cat inside my sweater and buttoned her against my chest, feeling her claws sink into me, her head snuggle against my throat.  On my own hearth stood a thick Alpaca rug, a patchwork of square fur pieces, with their cured leather backing.  I scrambled into the deep old fireplace, the cat huddled against me, and pulled the rug over the opening just as the storm slammed into us.

The wild noise outside and the yowling of the frightened cat deafened me.  The wind's fury crashed into my home with the force of the devil.  I shrank back against the brick and curled into a ball, while the wind raged and the cat screamed and the thunder roared.

Minutes later, a great stillness surrounded us; falling over my house, and me, and the shivering cat, as we cowered there beneath that Peruvian rug.

I waited.  The cat's body trembled, but I felt her claws retract and only when she had released her grip did I realize that she had plunged those claws into my skin so tightly that I knew I must be bleeding.

When I felt sure the storm's wrath had moved on east, I pushed the fur away from us.  As it fell, I heard the light, tinkling sound of a thousand little beads falling, the rapid, light trail of a shattered rainbow on smooth flagstone.  George and I emerged, and I saw that what had clung to the fur rug now lay scattered across my living room -- a great pile of broken glass, from the windows, the empty frames of which now looked out upon the tree which had fallen on my little balcony.  The rain fell straight, soft, and cool, and the room had the pleasant air of an outdoor cafe.

I stood in the middle of the rubble oblivious to the dampness, my arms wrapped around the cat, who quietly purred against my skin.

Once again my coffee has cooled in its cup while my mind wandered through its dusty scrapbooks.  The room has grown too warm; I realize that the furnace's blast has outlived today's need for it, and the day grows warmer.  Across the state, my nieces, my brother, and a handful of friends hunkered down through the first tornado of this spring, the spring of 2014.  I wonder, not for the first time, what happened to that fur rug.  George, the cat, moved with me to the country when I bought a house later that year; and finished her life in splendor, where she could roam my seven acres, keep my country kitchen clear of field mice, and stretch contentedly by the wood-burning stove to ward off the chill of early winter or the bluster of a sudden spring storm.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley






Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Musings, 29 March 2014

Good morning,

I tripped downstairs today to the smell of freshly ground coffee, the last sentient being awake in my household.  I sat in the comfortable chair beside my husband's place at the couch, and smiled as he rose to go into the kitchen to pour a cup of brew for me.  I glanced outside, gauging the type of day it might be; pure, clear and sweet.

Like mountain air.

The first time I set foot on Reynolds Mountain, my companion convinced me that I needed to beware of flying snakes.  I put my hand up to my head and pulled the kerchief tighter around my French braid.  "Flying snakes?" He laughed.  "Yes," he cautioned.  "They dart from branch to branch.  They're native to Arkansas and prevalent here in Newton County."  A shudder ran through me.

The thick veil of dark green rose above us as we trudged up the path towards the site where we would pitch our tent.  He carried our packs; I held a walking stick and a water bottle, my purse having been locked in the back of the vehicle. I walked behind him, watching where he put his feet, trying to match his stride.  We'd been dating for a couple of months, and I had agreed to camp.  I, a city girl, whose prior experiences with camping were minimal and years ago.  I shrugged, ducked under a branch, and soldiered on.

The platform on which we would sleep faced nothing in particular but nonetheless seemed surrounded by beauty.  The tall trees, both deciduous and evergreen, canopied the clearing.  Chester set his burden on the worn pine boards.  "Don't leave the packs open, or on the bare ground," he cautioned.  It occurred to me that he might be exaggerating the dangers until he mentioned spiders and I felt another lurch in my stomach.  He went back to the car to get our cooler, and I sat down on the edge of the platform, facing a little dip in the ridge, contemplating what manner of love might drag an urbanite like myself into the Arkansas wilds.

I heard a rustling, all of a sudden, low at first and then louder.  Pulling my feet back, wrapping my arms around myself, I stared in the direction of the noise.  The wind picked up a bit, in the cool of forest.  Something slithered past me, low to the ground, only the stirring of the undergrowth signalling its path.  I stood, panic rising, wanting to call out but afraid to alarm whatever hovered beyond the small clearing in the dense woods.

The noise ceased but I did not relax.  I watched the brush, waiting.  I don't know what I expected; a bear, perhaps, or a fox.  I saw a low branch on a shrub bend down and braced myself.  Two small eyes peered at me, surrounded by fur.  We held each other's gaze, the little creature and I; it fearful to come out, me fearful to see the rest of it.

Just then, Chester set the cooler down behind me, with a loud thump.  The creature broke its stare and vanished and I breathed, loud, jagged.  I turned around to find my boyfriend looking at me with puzzlement.  "Something wrong?" He asked as though I were not so far out of my element that I didn't even know what might be wrong, couldn't even articulate the threats I feared.  I just shook my head.

We pulled out the small tent and got it staked.  He built a fire, and I unpacked the sandwiches that I had made, hours ago, in my apartment in Kansas City.  By the time we finished our cold supper, the sun had slipped so low that our campsite seemed shrouded in darkness.  We lay in our sleeping bags, side by side, talking quietly until I felt drowsy and let fatigue overcome me.

I awakened before he did, and stood by the tent in the chilly morning air.  The sun still sat low enough in the eastern horizon that our clearing wore a twilight veil.  I took a long cool draw of air into my lungs and raised my face to feel the breeze.  I held my arms up to the sky, stretching my muscles, lifting my hands as far as my reach could take them, greeting the rising sun.

That camping trip was twenty-eight years ago.  Here in the city, in 2014, no critters lurk in the bushes except the neighborhood cats.  But I stand on my porch, the porch that Chester built, and breathe the coolness of each morning.  I often find myself transported back, to that Arkansas summer, to a time when I believed  that flying snakes existed, and an afternoon when a little animal stood in the safety of a gnarled bush, wondering if it needed to fear me, while I studied its deep brown eyes.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Brookside, 29 March 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Musings, 22 March 2014

Good morning,

A mild air greeted me on the front porch this morning.  I stood, pajama-clad, for several moments and breathed the crisp fragrance of new leaves and damp earth.  The work week had ground to a rocky close yesterday with a client crying in my office.  My words to her gravitated between stern and gentle; I understand her grief at having lost custody but I also appreciate the judge's point of view.

 The woman holds bitterness towards her child's father as he does to her.  The trial in part came down to which of them had the better acting skills.  The father hid his hostility but hers came through as self-righteous indignation. It's anybody's guess as to whether either parent deserves the other's load of blame.  I walked out with her, at five o'clock, and watched her car pull away from the curb as I dialed my husband's number and listened to the telephone ring at the other end.  Maybe it's time for a new career, I thought, a rueful smile slipping to my face.  And then I entered traffic, signalling for the turn to home.

Earlier on Friday, a state worker advised me by e-mail that an appointed client could not get her state-funded tubal ligation due to being pregnant.  "With twins," she added to the sentence, in all caps, underscored.  This will be babies four and five for my twenty-one-year old client.  Her parents, retired folks in their late-sixties, have already adopted children one and two; and also foster child three, who is not yet seven months old.  Now the Children's Division has accelerated its search for Section 8 housing for my client, so that she can at least get off the streets before she suddenly has to raise twins by herself.  I stared at the words on my computer screen.  Pregnant, with twins.  Twins. 

This young lady has an IQ of 68 and once appeared for court in Elmo pajamas with matching slippers.  She thought she looked cute.  She did, in fact; but I could not let her sit in even the dingy courtrooms of Family Court attired like a simpering teenager at a pajama party while I tried to stop the onslaught of the system's inevitable separation of the mother from the unsuspecting children.  At that time, she had only the first two, the oldest being a little girl then two years old, who clutched her grandmother's pant leg and stared at me while her mother cooed at her baby brother as one might a Cabbage Patch doll.

All the stable women longing to bring babies into their barren marriages, and my client pops infants out like sunflower seeds spat upon the sidewalk.

I think about pregnancy as I stand on our porch, cradling the newspapers in the crook of my arm.  I recently completed yet another pile of new-patient information forms for yet another new specialist.  In the "for women" section, I had acknowledged four pregnancies and one live birth.  This is accurate.  I had my first miscarriage in 1978; two more in the late 1980's; and finally had my son in 1991, two months shy of my 36th birthday.  I glance across the driveway at my neighbor's home, where a six-month old baby sleeps.  That child came after several years of trying, thousands of dollars tendered to fertility experts, and a couple of months spent by the mother-to-be resting in the hospital before the little thing eased into the world two months prematurely.  The mother is a civil litigator and a damn fine one; the father is  contractor, whose skills allow him to flip four houses a year to tidy profit.  They are financially comfortable; and lacked only a child to complete the pretty picture.

All the established couples yearning to be parents, while young girls stuck living in poverty seem to have no problem getting pregnant.

I closed my eyes and let the breeze pass across my face, listening to the tinkling of my wind chime.  The neighborhood had not yet awakened.  My gaze wandered over the bungalows up and down our street, houses in which middle-class children had been raised by middle-class parents, who sent their boys and girls to private schools or walked them to the neighborhood public school which has since gone charter.  Our children have grown, now, and some have babies of their own.  My neighbors might well sell their house and find a younger block on which to raise their daughter, with room for a swing set and an extra bedroom in case they decide to adopt.

I wonder, briefly, if they have any interest in twins.  With a last glance at their sleeping house, I turn, go inside, and start the coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley









Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Musings, 15 March 2014

Good morning,

I wake this morning to the confusing sight of piles of clothing carefully deposited around the bedroom.  I shake my  head a bit, gingerly, lest the morning dizzy spells I've had for months overwhelm me.  I sit a moment, remembering that my husband is in Dallas at his guys' weekend and I spent last evening clearing out his closet to get to the small door which leads to our attic.  In the attic, I hope to find boxes of pictures, some books that I think I will re-read, and a small metal file filled with my early writing.  So no burglary halted in progress at the sound of my stirring; just the result of two hours of carefully lifting his pressed shirts and wool suits from their rods and draping them, with equal care, about the bedroom.  I rise and stumble, light-headed and woozy, down the stairs in search of coffee.

The little dog sits at attention in the kitchen, waiting to be released outside.  Strange, I mutter, maybe outloud.  I thought I heard Patrick come home 'round midnight.  But no keys; no wallet; no abandoned glasses on the dining room table.  I realize that I am alone, other than the brown mutt with her head now tilted to one side, pleading to be released.  When I have obliged her and reheated the Starbucks Americano that I couldn't finish yesterday, I slip into the chair where my husband usually sits, and let my mind wander.

But memories elude me.  The usual flood of sensation, the thoughts of places I've been and days I've lived lies quiet.  I stand before the passive water and let my hand skim the surface.  I hesitate to stir the pool.  I know what lies beneath.  Along with shiny crystals in the murky bed, ancient creatures hover.  They long to nibble my fingers, lure me under, and pull me into their embrace.  I loathe to wake them.

Some things don't bear replaying.  A tender bygone moment might rise to unfold in its sweetness but for every such delightful story, a half-dozen terrifying hours clamor to be told.  I've recounted what I tell as plainly and truthfully as my human mind recalls it, but spliced together with the most painful scenes left on the cutting room floor.

I've ordered my life with care.  The cracks in its facade have been plastered and painted to match the unbroken contours.  As long as no one pries with too keen a trowel, I know the surface will hold.  I strain to balance the walls on a shakey foundation, never knowing when a spring tornado or the distant rumbling of a fault line might bring the whole house tumbling.  I wrap the good memories around me and move forward in life, avoiding strong winds.

My mother received a diagnosis of uterine cancer in August of 1984.  Through a series of lamentable events, the cancer spread, something that we were told only happened seven percent of the time with that particular disease.  Of course, one of us would land on the far end of the Bell curve.

I went to see her in St. Louis not long after the full portent of her condition had been disclosed by the doctors.  We stood in her garden, surrounded by the stamp of fall with its fading flowers and its golden haze.  She said, "An angel came to me last night; at least, I think it was an angel.  He had a soft voice. 'Lucy,' he said, 'You've got just under a year to live,'".  She paused, then lowered herself onto her gardening stool and sank her fingers into the earth she had so carefully cultivated for years.  "I'm okay with that," she told me, her eyes gazing somewhere I could not see.  "I'm okay with that," she repeated as she stood.  I put my arms around her.  She seemed at once frail and resilient; fragile and powerful.  I had no words in that moment thirty years ago; I said nothing.  Nothing.

I've seen an angel twice, myself, so I didn't doubt my mother's account.  The first time for me came on February 9, 1982, moments after I had been struck by a car and catapulted into the air.  As I flew upwards, I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around my legs, tucking my head into the folds of my body and thinking, "Well, I won't die of a head injury, anyway."  I felt myself rising higher and higher until I realized that I had left my body and sailed on, into the clouds.  I gazed down at the ball in which my body had curled and thought, "I won't feel anything when I land."

And then I looked across the sky and saw an angel.  She placed her hand on my head and spoke: "It's not time yet." And suddenly I was back in my body and hurdling towards the ground.

The second time I saw an angel was this week.  As I drove down  my street, I glanced over at the sidewalk and saw a form, seemingly human, striding with purpose.  Layers of flowing cloth, grey, black and beige, fell from its body.  I met the being's eyes and it held my gaze for several heartbeats and then vanished and I realized, in that moment, that I had seen the angel of death.  "But not for me," I thought.  "Not for me."

You might call me crazy.  You might say my bleeding ulcer and whatever is making me dizzy causes me to hallucinate and you might be right.  But whether I saw the angel of death or an apparition caused by lack of sleep, still, the moment haunts me and leaves me thinking about my mother in her garden, calm with the knowledge of how much time she had left to get her house in order.

Take this with you, take this one thing into your week:  Leave nothing unsaid.  The chance to speak might never come again.    The face you love might die; or might close to your reach if you let that moment pass.  Someone who needs your comfort might walk away and leave the capacity to trust lying broken at your feet.  The desperate hours might never again open for the one whose hand stretches toward you.  Leave nothing unsaid, or undone; leave no touch unoffered.  Don't wear your shroud before your time.

I'm going to make a pot of coffee.  When I feel my head has cleared enough to venture into the dark attic, I'm going to arm myself with a flashlight and find those pictures.  I'm hoping they haven't been eaten by rats, or lost in my basement flood of 1993.  But whether I find them or not, I'm going to St. Louis to see my cousin Paul soon.  If I've found the pictures that I kept from my mother's belongings, the ones of his family and mine, I'm going to bring them with me.  I'll sit beside him, and we'll smile and talk about how loved we were, and how sweet were the summers that our families spent together.  One of his brothers, or maybe his wife, will sit nearby and listen, to whatever is left of his voice; and watch, whatever is left of his smile, as I know they will do as long as his valiant heart keeps beating against the march of the terrible disease that claims him.  I'll sit as long as his ALS allows for visitors, talking, listening, and turning the pages of whatever album I've managed to find, pages in which our lives are encased and only the goodness endures.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday Musings, 08 March 2014

Good morning,

The sharp sting of winter air greeted me when I ventured to the porch for today's newspapers.  I scurried back, clutching my robe against my chest.  Our dog snuffled behind me, feeling the air, the pull of the outside smells.  I shushed her back and moved toward the kitchen where bacon sizzled in the pan for my husband's breakfast.

The smell of breakfast takes me back, to mornings in my mother's kitchen.

It's a morning like so many others.  The stench of over-boiled coffee and the lingering pungence of eggs sizzling in butter surrounds me.  I stand in the small space between the door to the basement and the solidness of the oak cabinet which stands next to the refrigerator.  I run my fingers along its worn edges, feeling the slick of grime trapped in the crevice between the top of the vinyl surface and the rounded trim piece.

My mother comes into the room, her hair tightly rolled in curlers with plastic pins holding them in place and a kerchief tied round her head.  The warmth of her smile spreads to her eyes, liquid brown and dancing.  She greets me, then goes to the pot to pour herself a cup of coffee and moves beyond me to the breakfast room table.

A slight shiver courses through me. I huddle in a sweat shirt and jeans, thick socks on my feet.  I run my hand through the hair that I'm wearing short for only the second time in my twenty-two years.  I hold my hands in front of me and gaze at the ragged fingernails, the scars, the dark veins prominent against my Irish fairness.  My incoherent thoughts immobilize me, briefly; then I get a mug for myself and join my mother.

"What are you going to do today," she asks, and we both know the full import of her question.  This is a turning point for me:  I've slunk back to town, my tail between my legs, a stray mongrel shivering on her doorstep seeking a place at the edge of the hearth.  She minds less than I do.  But she is not privy to the wildness of the dreams I had; the impracticality of my plan; the ridiculousness of the story that I had spun for myself.

Even so, she's not asking if I plan to do laundry, or my nails, or the vacuuming.

I gaze out  the window before me.  There's a tray suspended from the outer sill and the birds of November skitter on its metal surface, pecking for the sunflower seeds and thistle spread beneath them.  It's nearing Thanksgiving and I've been working for a month as a secretary, a job we both know will not challenge me for long.  I can start graduate school in January and I've signed the paperwork; but I remain listless.  I'm still lost in the fog of failure, the morass of misery that led me to the moment when I called my mother, sobbing, begging her to send someone to bring me home from Boston.

A sudden flurry catches my attention.  The birds rise, chattering.  Something has startled them, something on the cold ground beneath where they feed.  I rise from my chair, just a bit, and strain to see what stalks them.  It's a cat, I think; I see  a flash of tail, a ruffle of fur, and listen to the rising talk of the blue jays, the wrens, the robins; those which are left, which have not migrated or never will; the ones who cling as long as possible to their Missouri home or never leave it.

I watch a clutch of birds rise from the evergreen and lift themselves into the sky.  As I gaze at them, flying effortlessly against the winter wind, joy floods my heart.  When I cannot see them anymore, I sit back down and turn again to my mother, whose eyes have never left my face.  We sit without speaking.  We have no need for words.

Here on Earth, in Brookside, in 2014, my coffee has grown cold and my dog has settled back to sleep on her old worn bed.  The newspapers lie idle beside me and my husband has gone off to tennis.  I gaze down at the oak table, seeing not it but the Formica on which I let so many cups of coffee cool, back then, in 1977.  I feel again the clutch of gladness that came to me at the sight of those birds; and then, for no apparent reason, I start to smile.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump

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I'm a family law practitioner, wife and mother living in Kansas City, Missouri. I've been practicing law for nearly thirty years and someday, hope to get it right. I am passionate about the rights of fathers, mystery writers, the Holocaust, and cooperation-vs.-obedience. I have a husband, a son, a step-daughter and step-son, an unneutered male cat who wanders home periodically, a pathetic epileptic Beagle-lab mix, and an airplane bungalow in Brookside. I vote Democrat, fly an American flag, and recycle.