Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday Musings, 20 March 2010

Good morning,

Silence rises from the driveway to greet me as I deactivate the alarm and open the front door. I do not see the black cat on my stoop, but I see a long stretch of white unbroken by anything more than the faint groove made by my neighbor's tires as she came home late last evening. Winter has played its last trump card.

I fill the glass carafe to the twelve-cup mark, then pour the clear water into the back slot on my newly acquired coffee machine. In gleaming stainless steel, the waxy mark of the second-hand price still faintly marring the right front corner, this modern brewer puts my simple 8-cup, two-setting Proctor-Silex to shame. I will have to find a corner of my basement shelves on which to store the failing coffee maker until I can convince myself to trash it. One never knows; Old Faithful sputters at times, but might still prove useful in a clutch.

I did not sleep last night. For some days, too many to number, I have been haunted by a ghost that I had thought I had put to rest. A friend lamented watching his parents age, helpless to reverse his mother's frailness, and, forgetting, had said surely you went through this? But I did not; my mother died before her 59th birthday. His query triggered my reveries, and now I cannot shake the recollection of my last glimpse of her, just before the undertaker slipped the garnet pin from the Sunday dress in which she had lain in state.

That pin occupies a slot in my jewelry box now. My mother had four daughters and four good pieces of jewelry. As the youngest girl, I was the last to get my dower, and I was loathe to take it until she had quite finished with it even though she had given her blessing for me to do so. I waited until I could wait no more, then held it in my mildly sweaty palm, standing at her graveside, her brooch tucked into the pale green handkerchief that my sister Adrienne had ironed for me, my hand pressed against the crisp green of my linen dress.

It is Spring Break, but such is not apparent in the fierce bite of the morning's wind or the dull scrape of the heavy branches of my cedar against the upper floor windows. I glance at the computer clock and calculate the time in California, where my only son has gone with friends. As I tried to sleep, at eleven p.m. central time last evening, the familiar trill of Verizon-Wireless-Assembly-LIne, Patrick's ringtone, sounded in the quiet of my bedroom. I'm in Sunny San Diego! It's 66 here! I'm safe! I love it! I've got to go! I'll write to you tomorrow!

I'm skeptical, but that is as it should be. The child leaves the mother; the mother leaves the child.

I shopped for new clothes yesterday at one of my favorite consignment shops. I had no choice: I am officially a size zero now. My size-2s hang at my waist, and drag on the floor because nothing impedes their helpless fall towards gravity's inevitable attraction. I have long been an advocate of recycling in all things fabric, so I spent the end of my Friday, after a morning of trial prep, downstairs in the ladies' clothing section of Pete n Repeat, the last bastion of decent second-hand clothing before you enter Kansas.

A stirring in the rack of dresses startled me. From its depths, a small boy emerged, grinning his gap-toothed grin and waving his arms. On seeing someone other than his minder, he stopped, a scowl gathering, just behind it, no doubt, a wail. But his mother spoke from where she stood, a few feet from me, reassuring him. It's okay, I'm right here, she said; and, suitably comforted, he launched back into his solitary round of hide-and-go-seek. She had not lost him; he had tagged home base.

My mind floated beyond the store's basement. Another time, another child. Darkness gathering in another basement. A little girl stirs beneath fluttering eyelids, panicking at first, unsure. Smothered in billowing dankness, she struggles to raise her small frame, to fathom her surroundings. Pulling, pushing, wiggling, she finally clutches smooth wood and pulls herself upright, small feet driving against the piles of clothing in which she has awakened.

She knows this place now. A large, always-full clothes hamper in their laundry room. She is too close to the old coal room in which she has been told, for the five, shaky years of her life, that a red-bearded pirate lives. She had felt brave, hours before, when the summer sun shone through the windows of the garage door; she clamored into the one place she thought her brother would not expect her to go, and had gleefully listened as he counted, nine, ten, ready or not, here I come!

And he had not peered into the hamper. She had listened as he scrambled through the adjacent rooms, capturing first one sibling, then another, but not her. She had felt a tiny thrill, deep in her little stomach; and still he did not espy this clever space. She had remained silent, even as the bunch of them called her name, summoning her with the familiar chant that meant you were the victor: Come out, come out, wherever you are! She would not come out; she would show them; she had found the best hiding place of all.

A lethargy had descended over her while her brothers and sisters still moved about the basement, repeatedly shouting her name with increasing annoyance. As drowsiness overtook her mind, she thought about how proud her mother would be. Perhaps the pinched look on her mother's face would fade; perhaps she would set the baby down and place a hand on each of the girl's thin shoulders, and pull her into an embrace, and praise her cleverness. She fell asleep envisioning the smile on her mother's face, feeling the warmth of her mother's shoulder, the cloud of fragrance rising from the sweep of auburn hair that hung down her mother's back much like the dark fall of her own curls.

With a last, desperate pull against the sides of the large hamper, the girl, now fully awake, hoisted herself over the top and lowered herself to the cold cement floor. The thrill of winning left her timid soul, and she thought only of getting to safety. In the dimness of the room, she struggled to remember the way out, past the deep, dark closet where her mother kept the Christmas ornaments, to the stairs that would lead upwards, to the bright green linoleum of the kitchen floor. Her clumsy feet knocked against each step, and she reached to push open the kitchen door, hearing the familiar slap as it hit the cabinet on the far side of the kitchen wall.

She winced against the brightness, shuddered at the acrid smell of a burnt supper, shrank back from the distant, muffled tones of frantic grown-up discourse. Her steps slowed; she heard the voices of people whom she did not know. Reluctance overtook her, but she slowly rounded the corner of the hallway, and dragged herself through the tall arch, into the construction mess of the conversion underway to make the dining room into a nursery for the newest child in the family.

A policeman stood by their front door in his dark blue uniform, with its row of gold buttons, a round hat with a dark chin strap rising above the crown of his thick head. She stopped, afraid to place her grimy saddle shoes on the sheet rock abandoned on the living room floor. She looked around, and noticed the man from their church who had been coming every day to build a wall for them standing beside the couch on which her mother sat. The frown had not left her mother's face as the girl had dreamily imagined while waiting for her brother to find her. In fact, it had intensified, and beneath pinched brows, tears fell. What could be wrong, the girl thought. Why is my mother crying?

The policeman saw her first. There she is, he called, in a large, deep voice. She stopped, and turned to look back into the hallway. There who is,she thought, in confusion, before seeing her mother jump from the sofa and stride across the mess to lift the small child into her arms. She realized, then, that the worried group of adults had been looking for her, and a warm rush of guilt spread through her body. She cringed against her mother's chest and peered out at each of them, dutifully thanking them as her mother urged. Thank you for rescuing me, she told them, one by one, as they pressed a hand against her shoulder and pushed their scratchy faces into the creased skin of her cheeks. They ignored the odor now rising from her soiled clothing, but, mortified, she burrowed farther into her mother's arms. When the last of the searchers had left, her mother, finally, took her into the bathroom, stripped the damp clothing away and slid her, ever so gently, into a warm, sudsy bath. She sighed and closed her eyes, and leaned against the smooth enamel of the tub's high back. She closed her wide blue eyes, and smiled a secret smile.

I'm the best hider
, she whispered to herself. Nobody found me.

The cat is yowling, calling me, complaining that I will not let her go outside. I know that she would only sniff the air and look at me with reproachfulness in her eyes. She does not like the cold, and she likes the snow even less. The boy cat is somewhere in the wilds, seeking adventure; but the girl cat, like her owner, is something of a homebody. She will watch the snow from the safety of the living room window, and will only emerge onto the open porch when the earth remembers that spring has arrived.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.