Friday, April 30, 2010

Reaping and Sowing

I remember the first time I heard the “Cats in the Cradle” song. At the end I thought, “That’s gonna be you someday, Mom. The second half of the song. Where the son doesn't have time for the father 'cause the father never had time for the son.”
            See, my mom hasn’t figured it out yet, but she’s reaping what she sowed. As far back as I can remember, she was pushing me out of the nest.
            “Here’s how you braid your hair. Now you can do it yourself every morning.” “This is the way you do laundry. Now you can do your own every Saturday.”
            What was I, six? Seven?

When I graduated college, she said, “Go out and make something of yourself, and take these boxes with you.”
           You got what you wanted, Mom. You made me in-de-pen-dent, like the dentist elf in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special.

Funny how time changes things. Now that you’re all alone, you want me back. As much as possible. I visit every two weeks, but you say it’s not enough. You think my family’s too busy, but I think you don’t remember what it’s like to have one. You want what I can’t give—more of me. I want what you won’t give—an apology.
          I’ve got good news for you, Mom. It just occurred to me that someday I’m gonna reap what I sow. That’s why I’ve decided I’m gonna try a little bit harder to give you a little bit more. Of me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

As Good as It Gets

Jessie tingled. A little from cold. More from naughtiness. She wrapped the blanket around her and used her pointer finger to push down a blind. She squinted at the dark morning. She tracked the headlights as they turned left, right, then out onto the county road. And . . . he . . . is . . . gone.

She let the blanket fall and darted down the hall and into the office. She shook the mouse as she sat. Clicked Outlook Express and waited for new emails to load. Spam. Delete. I don’t like you and your political rants. Delete. Spam. Delete. I don’t want to review the seller. Delete. I don’t need Viagra. Block sender. I don’t like you and your ‘send this to 10 people or something terrible will happen to you’ forwards. Delete.

That’s all? She pushed back the twirly chair and stuck out her lip. Nothing. From him.

It had been a week since she’d gotten his friend request. Curtis Wheeler? She’d done a double take. Curt? She bit her lip. Oh my.

They’d been in homeroom together all four years of high school. His hair was the color of corn silk, his eyes the color of cornflowers. And the way he’d filled out his Levi’s? She’d glanced over her shoulder. Nothing. Nobody. Accept.

She scooched the chair back in, scrolled down, and clicked on an old Facebook comment. Her wall came up without her logging on. Love when that happens. 257 friends. Woohoo! I’m popular.

Jessie looked at her best friend’s wall. Cute pic, Lori. When’d you put that on? Then her mom’s. FYI, Mom, it is so lame that you have a Facebook page. I mean, really. She looked at Mark’s page and cringed. Why does he still have the picture of him and that dang dead buck as his profile pic?

She clicked to get the newsfeed--most recent. She scrolled down. Happy Birthdays. Song lyrics. Quotes. Be original, people.

POP! Jessie looked at the name in the window at the bottom of the screen. She squealed. She put her hand to her heart and clamped her thighs together. She glanced down to see if her heartbeat was budging her fingers.

They’d been talking, well, im’ing, over the last week. It had done something to Jessie. Made her feel alive again. She was wearing out the stairs, climbing up to check email and Facebook all day long.

Hey there.


What's up?

Not much.

U happy?

She frowned. Where’d that come from? Up until now it had been “How are you?” and “Do you hear anything from . . .?”

She looked at her profile info. She’d never gotten around to posting much.

Most of the time. U?

Most of the time?

Jessie jumped when her cell phone buzzed in her robe pocket. She x’d out of Facebook and rolled the chair back from the desk. She slid the phone open to see the text.

“Good morning, sunshine.”

Jessie’s shoulders dropped.

“Morning to u too. R the bucks biting?” Send.

“I’m at office.”

“O.” Send.

"U on computer?"

"Yeah, y?"  Send.

"Seems like ur on it a lot lately."

"So?"  Send.

“I'm just saying.  Ttyl.”

“K.” Send.

She put the phone back in her robe pocket and rolled back up to the desk. Got back on Facebook.

Curtis is offline.

Jessie woke in the middle of the night. She rolled over and looked at the clock—2:34 a.m.. No Mark. She rolled her eyes in the dark. Asleep on the couch, no doubt.

An hour later she was still staring at the ceiling, and there was still no Mark. She heard the faint persuasive murmurs of an infomercial. Why do they think they’ll sell more stuff if the announcer has a foreign accent?

She got up and walked down the hall to the office. Flipped the light on. She laid her hand by the light switch. The walls were yellow—neutral. It was supposed to be a nursery, but they’d given up after, how many tries? How many years? She’d lost count. Gone dry from the crying.

She’d had a thought. “Maybe we can—“

Mark had shaken his head. “If I can’t have a child of my own, why would I want to adopt someone else’s problems?”

That was that. End of discussion.

Jessie sat in the office chair and looked down. She puffed out her belly and rested her hands on it, fingers laced. That’s what all the pregnant ladies do. She made her stomach jump. Is that what it feels like? They’d never made it that far. Aunt Flo was too faithful. Visited every month. Jessie's eyes burned. She rubbed them.

She clicked on Outlook Express. No new messages. She logged onto Facebook and changed her status. INSOMNIA.

POP! Jessie’s breath hissed. He’s here. I mean there.

“Can’t sleep?”

She went to his page. Touched his profile image. It was his senior picture. He’s so beautiful. I mean, handsome. But really, beautiful. That one tiny chip in his front tooth? It’s actually kinda sexy.



“What do—“

The stairs creaked. Jessie x’d out and tiptoe ran back to the bedroom. She pulled the covers up to her chin and made her breaths even and regular.

She heard Mark brush his teeth. No wonder his teeth are so perfect. He brushes them forever and a day. She listened to him pee, flush, and wash his hands.

He came into the bedroom. There was the soft clanging of his belt coming undone. Then the whoosh of his jeans dropping to the ground. In one motion he was in bed and spooned up next to her. She kept her breaths even and regular. She couldn’t help smiling when he lifted her t-shirt and used his pointer finger to trace, I ♥ U, on her back.

Jessie woke to the smell of coffee. He made coffee? Why? She washed her face, got dressed, and went downstairs.

He’d left a cup and saucer on the granite counter by the coffee maker. And a Nonni’s biscotti. She picked up the Nonni’s and pressed it to her heart. He’s a good guy. Most of the time.

“What am I going to do today?” she asked the empty kitchen.

The house was clean. The grocery shopping done. She’d been to the club yesterday.

She sat at the kitchen table. She squinted.  What’s that? She stuck her head under the table. A laptop? Whose?

She took her phone out of her hoodie pocket and slid it open.

“Someone’s laptop is in the kitchen.” Send.

“I know. I’ve had it for awhile. You didn’t notice? Bill gave me a loaner for a project. I’ll get it at lunch.”

“K.” Send.

She carried her coffee and biscotti upstairs to the office. No good email. No one on Facebook. She sighed and changed her status. Bored. She resisted the urge to add, “Text me.” Too juvenile.

She changed her closet over from summer to winter. Now watch. It’ll get hot again.

She put on her walking shoes and pinched her pedometer onto the waistband of her yoga pants. If I do three miles, I’ll be home in time to make lunch.

One mile in, she took the pony tail holder off her wrist and pulled her hair back. Hay bale hair is what her hairdresser called it. Jessie’d squinted at Tami in the mirror. “What the heck is hay bale hair?” Tami said it was hair that had several different shades of blondes and golds and browns. Jessie’d smiled. “Cool.”

On mile two she pondered whether or not to call Lori and let her in on the Facebook secret. Naw. She’d squeal on me, or tell me to get rid of the Internet. As if.

She looked down at the pedometer. 5000 steps, 1000 to go. I’ll get on after lunch. After Mark . . . Just to say hi. Jessie pushed up the sleeves of her hoodie. It’s no big deal. Jiminy Christmas.  He lives in Florida. It’s harmless.

Jessie set Mark’s plate in front of him. “So what’s the project?”

“It’s the water purification work we’re doing out at the lake.”

“And you need a laptop for that?”

Mark nodded and swallowed. “All the statistics are supposed to be recorded on-line right as the data is collected.”

“Oh, I see,” Jessie said. Not.

Mark stood. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for lunch, sweetie. Gotta run.”


Jessie listened to the car start, back up, drive down the street. She concentrated until she couldn’t hear it anymore.  And . . . he . . . is . . . gone.

She set her glass of ice water on the desk. Then she put on lipgloss and pursed her lips to spread it around. I feel pretty. Oh so pretty . . . She clicked on Outlook Express and sat down. One new message--a comment on her profile picture.

You look beautiful in this pic. Radiant actually.

Jessie’s mouth fell open. She put her hands up to her cheeks to see if they were hot to the touch.

She minimized Outlook and got on Facebook. She enlarged the picture to see what he saw. Radiant? Really?

She changed her status. Not bored anymore.

She sat back in the chair and drummed her fingers on the arm rest. POP!

Hi there.

She smiled. A silly smile. She tried to make a straight face, but the grin kept coming back.


I love you.

Jessie’s mouth dropped. She put her hand over it. She stared at the words. The clock ticked off seconds, then a minute. She looked over at it. Saw their wedding picture next to it. Saw how perfect they looked together. Her eyes sparkling blue. His, deep water green. And they’d looked so happy. Happily ever after happy. She went over and took the picture off the wall.  Put it face down on the bookshelf.

U still there?

Jessie hesitated.


Y what?

Y do u love me? I want specifics. Give me a really long list of how beautiful, and funny, and sexy I am. Then I’ll feel all warm and liquid and tingly inside.

U really have to ask? I have memories. Don’t u?

Not as many as I’d like. Homeroom every day. Him sitting behind her, playing with her hair. At least once a week, him saying, “You’re so pretty. When you gonna go out with me?” The time he’d touched her ankle and said how soft it was. After that, she’d shaved her legs every single school day that year. Just in case.

Can I ask u a question?

Sure. Shoot.

Do u ever wonder if this is as good as it gets?

My as good as it gets is pretty great.

Jessie crossed her arms and sat back. She sneered at the screen. If that’s how you feel, what has all this been about?

She sat up.  Warning. Change of subject . . . I’m sorry.

For what?

That I didn’t go to prom with u.

I know.

U do?

Yeah. U told me at our tenth h.s. reunion.

I did?

U told me u said no ‘cause I was only two out of three. U said I was good looking and funny, but not smart.

Jessie winced.

I said that?

Yep. As I recall, you’d had 3 margaritas. UR husband was standing next to us. He laughed.

He did?

Yep. I have to get off here. Clients waiting.

Clients? What do u do?

I’m a financial planner, remember? I told u that at the reunion too. And I’m a pretty good one. Guess I was smarter than u thought.

Curtis is offline.

Jessie put her elbows on the desk and cupped her chin with her hands.  A financial planner? Who would have thought? I had to help him with his algebra almost every day, and now he’s a financial planner?

Mark came up behind her as she was doing dishes that night. He rested his hands on her waist and buried his nose in her hair.

“You smell good.  Look good too.”

Jessie squirmed. “Thanks. Now scoot. You’re giving me chills.”

He didn’t let go. “Wanna try again?”

Jessie squinted over her shoulder. “Try what?”

“To make a baby,” he said.

Jessie sagged against the counter. “Oh, Mark. Not again. I don’t think I—“

Jessie turned, and he was gone.

Jessie opened her eyes in the dark. She slid a leg over to Mark’s side of the bed. Nothing. Nobody. She turned her pillow over to the cool side. He’s sleeping with the infomercials again. Probably because I . . .

She tiptoed into the office. The computer screen came to life when she sat. She opened Facebook. Went to Curt’s page. Clicked on his photos. He commented on mine. I’ll comment on his.

Your girls are beautiful!


I always wanted a little boy.

Boys run in my family. And, there’s ways you can make them, if you really want to.

LOL. Really? Like what?

I don’t know. I heard some women talking about it at Panera one day. I would have been happy either way.

Would have?


U could try again.

And bawl my eyes out every month when I . . .? I don’t think so. Besides, I never told Mark, but my doc says it’s not me that’s the problem. If that’s the case, why keep trying? KWIM?

Curtis is offline.

Jessie huffed. That’s rude. Must have another client. She looked over at the clock. Wait. It’s the middle of the night. She x’d out of Facebook and went back to bed.

Mark was gone when she got up the next day. She was walking down the stairs when the land line rang. It was her Mom.

“Can you stop by sometime today or tomorrow? I have a couple things for you.”

“Sure. I’ll be over after I go to the post office.”

Her mom pointed to the pile on the dining room table. “Take that stuff when you go. It’s the usual—my old Good Housekeeping and Newsweek magazines and some chocolate that my insurance guy gave me. You’d think by now he’d know I’m diabetic.”

Jessie reached into the pottery bowl on the coffee table and grabbed an emery board. She worked on her nails while her mother gave her the lowdown on the neighborhood.

“Mr. Johnson across the street finally died,” she said. “And Alice Workman got food poisoning at the new Chinese restaurant.”

Why did he just disappear off Facebook? And why hasn’t he been on since?

“Don’t be a stranger,” her mom said as Jessie walked out to her car. “Give Mark a hug for me.”

Jessie took the Mom pile into the living room. Recycle. Give to Lori. Maybe look through. What’s this? She unfolded a newspaper. Obituaries? Why’d she give me--

Jessie’s mouth dried up as she looked at the picture. It was him. Curt. Her knees buckled and she sank into the sofa. He’s dead? She looked at the date. Three months ago? How is that possible? She skimmed the article. “Motor vehicle accident. Leaves behind mother, father, one brother.” No wife? No kids?

Jessie heard the front door open and shut. She sniffed and wiped under her eyes.

“What’s up?” Mark said.

She shook her head. “Just going through some stuff from Mom.”

“Anything good?”

“Not really. Found out a guy I graduated high school with died.”

“Aw, man. Who?”

She looked up. “You met him once. At the last reunion. Curt Wheeler?”

“Blonde guy? Good looking?”

“Yeah. He died in a car crash. A few months ago.”

Mark sat next to her on the sofa and rubbed her leg. “You okay?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You look a little green.”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s just that, someone your own age dying, it makes it seem so real. That we’re all going to die someday. Know what I mean?”

Mark nodded. He stood up and walked over to his briefcase. “I brought you a present.”

He held out a dvd. She leaned forward and took it.

Jessie looked down at the cover. What the . . .  She felt the blood leave her face. She used her pointer finger to stroke the title. She forced a smile and looked up. “'As Good as It Gets.' It’s one of my favorites.”

He crossed his arms and smiled. “I know. Wanna watch it tonight?”

When Jessie got up in the middle of the night, there was a box on the back of the commode. A pregnancy test. She rolled her eyes. Not again. She sat down on the edge of the bathtub and pushed her fingers into her hair. Oh, what the heck?

She opened the box, pulled out the foil pouch, and followed the directions. She counted off the minutes while she plucked her eyebrows.

She glanced down at the plastic piece by the faucet. Her mouth fell open. No way. She held it up to the light and squinted at it. Double checked the instructions. She looked in the mirror. “I’m pregnant. There’s a baby inside me!”

She ran into the bedroom and flipped the light switch. “Mark! You’re never going to believe it. I’m pregnant!”

He propped himself on his elbow and blinked.  Then his face broke into a grin.

“You are? I thought you’d been acting strange lately. Come here. Let me give you a hug. Mommy.”

Jessie huffed. “Strange?”

She turned the light off and headed in his direction. “Ow!”

“What? Are you okay?”

“I just stubbed my toe! What pray tell is in the middle of the darn floor?”

“Oh, sorry. It’s the laptop.”

“What’s it doing up here?”

“I wanted to remember to take it back to work,” he said. “The project’s finished.”

Jessie tilted her head. The project’s finished? In the dark, she looked in the direction of the laptop, then over at Mark. She shook her head. Naw. Couldn’t be.

She sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off her slippers.  Could it?

She smiled as she felt Mark lift her t-shirt.

“Lay down. Let me write on your tummy this time. For the baby.”

Jessie giggled. “Okay.”

They were quiet for a few minutes.  Jessie rolled to face him. “Hey. I just thought of something.”

Mark put his hand on her waist. “What?”

She took a deep breath before she spoke. “Sometimes as good as it gets can be pretty great.”

“I know, Jess. I know.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

Give and Take

Sometimes God gives you something you didn't even know you needed.  That's the way it was with Honey and--

"What do you mean you don't know where the kids are?"

Mom didn't look up from her crossword puzzle when I came in from having lunch with a friend.

"They said something about whiffleball," she said.  "Then a little while later, something about a white rabbit."

I stood on the deck and looked out at the spring drizzle.  I cupped my hands around my mouth.  "Kids!"

"Over here!"  Their voices came from the woods.  I followed the sound of whoops and hollers. 

"Come here, baby!"

"Missed it.  Missed it by a mile!"

"Don't be afraid.  We're nice." 

Thing one, two, and three darted here and there, trying to get close to the pale, zigzagging puffball.

"Mom! It's headed your way!  Get it!"

Coffee, white wine, and mineral water sloshed in my belly as I joined the chase.  Over logs, under cars, and into burrows the white rabbit went.  More than once I nearly fell as my feet slid around on my flipflops.  Finally, I held Mom's empty aqua trash can on its side, and the kids chased the rabbit into it. 

"Are you okay, Mom?" my son said.

I sat in the wet grass, wheezing and cradling my abdomen.  "Yeah.  Why?"

"Your face is a weird color."

It felt like my stomach was debating whether or not to give up my $30 French lunch.

"Can we keep it?" Oldest Child said.

"Ask Daddy."


Middle Child came tearing up to the third floor. "A rat broke into the basement and mated Honey!"

I looked at the clock--6:30 a.m..

I squinted up at her. "Honey's a girl?"

"Honey's a mom!"

I rubbed my eyes and sat up. "Honey's a mom?"

"And they're gross. All pink and wiggly, like worms. Seven of 'em!"

I knelt on the cool, concrete floor. 

"Get me a tablespoon," I told my son.

A  minute later I felt the spoon's chill on my thigh.  I warmed it with my breath.  I opened the dog crate door and carefully scooped up the one lone pink ranger and relocated it on top of its siblings.  They were all snuggled in a pile, on a nest of silky soft, white bunny fur.

I turned to Oldest Child.  "Go upstairs and google 'raising baby rabbits,'" I said.  "See if it's okay to touch 'em."

Honey Bunny hunkered in the back of the crate.  I frowned.

"She's not keeping them warm.  Not nursing 'em or anything.  She isn't very good at this mommy thing."

"Maybe it's her first time," Middle Child said.

Oldest Child returned.  "A couple of websites say it's okay to touch them if the mother's tame."

I counted days on my fingers.  "We've had her eight days and she's never bit anyone.  That means she's tame, right?"

I reached in and stroked the baby I'd put on top of the pile.  I cooed.  It was  soft and warm, like the back of a child's neck.

The kids huddled around me. 

"That one's gonna have black spots," Middle Child said.  "And I bet that one's gonna be all white."

"Let's name 'em," my son said.  "The biggest one should be Goliath."

"And we'll call that tiny little guy, Gideon," I said.

"The one that keeps leaving the pack," Oldest Child said, "He's an adventurer.  Let's call him Indiana Jones.  Indy for short."

"We should call the one with black spots, Domino," Middle Child said.

It took us awhile to name the others.  One became Pogo a few weeks later when it learned how to leap into the air, way before the rest. 

"Name something that's all white," I said.

"Alaska," Oldest Child said.  "And Juno's the capital of Alaska.  Let's call that one Juno."

"But what about the smallest white one?"  Middle Child said.  "How do you say white in French, Mommy?"

"Je ne sais pas," I said.  "Bianca maybe?  Or is it Alba?"

"Bianca Alba," Middle Child said.  "She's my favorite.  She's little like me."

I went to the Exotic Jungle on account of Bianca Alba.

"Failure to thrive?" I said to the pre-vet salesgirl.  "Does that mean she's going to die?"

"Not necessarily," she said.  "Follow me."

She stopped in front of a display.  "I've raised tons of baby rabbits by hand," she said.  "You need kitten milk.  And one of these tiny bottles.  And some of this stuff." 

She handed me a package of three small metal tubes.  "In the wild, they'd eat their mom's scat to get the healthy organisms for their gut, but since she's not bonded with them, give 'em each a little squirt of this once a week."

We headed up to the cash register.  "She's not taking to them 'cause you touched them.  You shouldn't touch them while they're pink.  Gotta wait until they get their peach fuzz."

I whimpered.  "Aw man!  The web--"

She put her hand on my shoulder.  "Don't worry," she said.  "They'll be okay. I do this all the time."

A week into the baby bunny experience, I took matters into my own mommy hands.  I'd been spying on Honey.  Not once did I see her nurse those babies.  I even set my alarm clock for the middle of the night.  I snuck down to the basement and peeked into the crate.  No nursing. 

I pointed and hissed at Honey in the dark.  "Bad mommy!"

"The website says they usually only nurse between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.," I told my husband the next morning.  "Sometimes only once in a 24 hour period.  Man!  Rabbits must have super mama milk.  Still, I haven't seen 'em--" 

My husband's eyes narrowed.

I tilted my head.  "What?"

"What are you up to?" he said.

"Nothing," I said.  That you need to know about. 

After school I called for the kids.  They followed me to the basement.

I pointed at them one by one.  "You, get a clean bath towel.  You, get Honey.  You, hold this strawberry basket while I get them and their fluff nest inside."

"What are we doing, Mom?" Oldest Child said.

"We're giving Honey lactation training."

I sat with my back against the dining room wall, the towel draped over my lap.

"Hand me Honey."

I stroked her and whispered gentle encouragement into her long, warm ears.

"It'll feel like a Shop Vac on your nipples at first, but don't worry.  You'll get used to it."

I flopped Honey on her back.  "Hand me two babies."

Each of the babies quickly located a teat.  They squirmed as they nursed, their back sides scooching left and right.  After ten minutes, the wiggling bodies relaxed.


"They look like piranhas on her," my son said.  "Like the ones on the Discovery Channel.  Are they hurting her?"

"Naw!" I said.  "She's fine.  Nudge Bianca.  She's asleep on the breast.  She needs it most of all."

And that's how it went.  Twice a day, for weeks.  We bribed Honey with apples and carrots, and plantain leaves from the yard.  She ate non-stop while they nursed.  I reckon it was 'cause she was eating for eight.

The babies grew quickly.  In the beginning, my husband could hold all seven of them in his hands.  Not a week later.  At first, we couldn't see their poo at all.  Then it looked like a period at the end of a sentence.  Then it was as big as bee bees. 

When they were first born, their pink cotton swab ears seemed pinned to their heads.  Then later the ears got fuzzy and began to stand up.  Their fur was mostly white, like Honey's, but eventually, black and brown skin spots became black and brown fur. 

I loved to lay on the dining room floor when they were out.  They'd crawl all over me.  I called it Bunny Therapy.  I'd close my eyes and smile.    I never knew I wanted or needed bunnies, but thanks. 

Bianca Alba was still a concern.

"You have to stay with your brothers and sisters," I told her, as I held her an inch from my nose.  "They'll keep you warm."

I gave her extra nursings.  "Thrive, Baby Bianca.  Thrive."

I fed her kitten milk a couple times each day, putting the tiny dropper into her mouth and squeezing the rubber part.  I sighed as most of it ran down her chin and chest.

"Let's stay up with her tonight, Mommy," Middle Child said one afternoon. 

"To keep her warm and to feed her."

I nodded.  And to pray for her.  I had this bad feeling.

Middle Child lay on the love seat under her purple fuzzy blanket.  I sprawled on the sofa under a zebra-striped throw.  We took turns feeding Bianca and holding her on our chests.

"I'm giving you another name," I told Bianca at midnight.  "You're going to be Bianca Alba Lazarus 'cause Jesus is going to bring you back from death's door."

I wiped my eyes and sniffed.  'Cause I think that's where you're headed.

She was so wee.  She'd fit in a quarter cup measure.  Her fur wasn't sleek like the others'.  It was usually streaked with milk and sickliness.

"Another name, " I whispered to her at three in the morning as she lay like a comma between my breasts.  "You need another name.  Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle.  That's your new name.  Please live, tiny angel bunny.  Please?"

And then my prayer became my grief, and my grief woke Middle Child.

She sat up suddenly, her eyes huge.  "Is she--?  Did she--?  Why are you--?" 

Middle Child's breath sounded wheezy.  She held the sides of her face.

"Oh no!  But I prayed!  Why didn't God--"

I stroked Bianca with my pinky.  "See how peaceful she looks?" I said.  "She's all better.  Not here.  But better."

I slept until daybreak with Bianca on my chest and Middle Child between my legs.  She'd cried herself to sleep there.

I got up from the couch and covered her.  I took Bianca into the basement and wrapped her in some Honey Bunny fluff and a scrap of fuschia silk.  She looked like a Valentine, for a dead person.  I tucked her into a jelly jar and screwed the lid on. 

"Rest in peace, my pee wee darling." 

I set the jelly jar on the washer and fished in the laundry pile for one of my husband's t-shirts.  I covered my face with it, blew my nose, and sobbed.

Later that day, we all wrote goodbye love notes to Bianca and slid them in the jar. 

That evening, my husband and son buried Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle beneath the chestnut tree at the warehouse, with all our other beloved pets.

"What did you say when you buried her?" I asked my husband when he came home.

He put his arms around me and spoke into my hair. 

"I said, 'The Lord gave us eight bunnies, and the Lord took away one.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."

I nodded and spoke with a stuffed up nose.  "That's good.  That's real good."

Friday, April 9, 2010

To Make Her Smile

Tawny was rolling silverware when the two of them walked in.  Mother and daughter.  She'd watched their white Honda Civic circle the diner three times, looking for the door.  She rolled her eyes.

"Smile, Tawny," Sue Ann said.  "You get way better tips when you smile."

The mother tapped the point of her big, rainbow-striped umbrella on the floor as she and her daughter walked beside the row of booths.  They didn't sit until they found a clean one.  Tawny kept rolling.

Sue Ann bumped Tawny with her hip.  "Tawny, they're in your section."

Tawny winced.  "You want 'em?  It's five minutes to close."

"Nah.  I gotta do the bathrooms.  Now get on out there."

Tawny tossed two menus on the table.

"Evening," she said.

The mother beamed.  "Howdy."

The girl smiled too.

"My name's Tawny.  The specials are on the inside front of the menu."

The mom tilted her head.  "Tawny?  That's a neat name.  I like it."

Tawny resisted the urge to sneer.  "What can I get  you to drink?"

"Do y'all have sweet tea?" the mom said.

Dumb question.  Tawny clenched her teeth and nodded.

"Oh boy!  You know you're in the south when you can get sweet tea."

Tawny turned to the girl.

"Water, please." 

Tawny headed back to the kitchen.  Tawny's a neat name?  No, it's not.  A long time ago she'd looked it up.  It meant, a light brown to brownish orange.  Nothing about her was tawny.  Her hair and eyes were the same color as the used coffee grounds she dumped out of the Bunn coffee maker umpteen times a day.

She filled red plastic glasses with ice.  Let the tea and water overflow.  I should tell them how I got my name, my whole name.  Tawny wished she didn't know.  Wished her mom had never told her.  Mom had seen "Tawny Port" on a bottle at the liquor store and that's how Tawny Port Blevins came to be. 

Tawny had gone to the library a few years back and checked out a baby name book.  Someday when she got the time, she planned to change her middle name to Portia.  Tawny Portia Blevins.  Sounds classy.  Like a movie star.

Tawny took her order pad out of her apron pocket and headed back out.  The mom and girl were leaning across the table.  Their foreheads almost touched. Tawny cleared her throat.

"You ready?"

The mom looked at the girl.  The girl shook her head. 

"Give us a minute, Tawny," the mom said. 

Tawny huffed and returned to the kitchen.  She grabbed a bus pan, rag, and the bleach water spray bottle.  She walked back out.

"Country ham or pot roast?" the mom was saying.  "I can't decide."

"Me either," the daughter said.

Tawny folded the rag in half twice.  She sprayed and wiped a two top and its chairs.  You rich chicks are killing me.  If I'm not home at nine o'clock, Mr. Skoal Bandits, spearmint-flavored, will have my butt in a sling.  She refolded the rag.  Sprayed and wiped again.

--Do  you know how beautiful you are?--

Tawny stopped wiping.  She let go of the rag and held her hand up to her mouth.  Again?

--D0 you know how I dread each day coming and going?  Knowing it makes the day you'll be gone forever come faster?--

Tawny looked at the two of them from under her lashes.  The girl didn't answer.  Tawny knew why.  The mom hadn't spoken out loud. 

It was the one thing special about Tawny--her ability to sometimes hear people's thoughts.  She couldn't do it until two years ago.  Until Randy drove his fist into her right ear.

Everything had felt slow motion as she crumpled to the floor.  The room seemed tunnel-like.  The lights far away and small.  The noises all echoey.

--You're nothing special.  Never will be.  I'd treat a good woman better.  But you're not, so I won't.--

Tawny had struggled to prop herself up on her elbow.  Her head wobbled. 


"Shut up!  I didn't say nothing.  Get me a beer."

Tawny squinted over at her mom.  She didn't look up from her People magazine.  Tawny pulled herself up using the coffee table.  Headed for the fridge.

Tawny stood in front of their table, her pencil an inch from the pad.  The mom grinned and pointed to her selection on the menu.

"I'd like the pot roast, green beans, and mashed potatoes, please.  I'd also like an order of coleslaw.  I don't care if it's extra.  I love coleslaw."

Tawny clenched her teeth, nodded, and wrote.

--I'm sorry you're so sad, Tawny.--

Tawny didn't look at the mom.  Instead, she bit her lip and turned to the girl.

"Open-faced turkey sandwich.  Mashed potatoes and gravy.  And mac and cheese.  Thank you."

The girl looked up at Tawny.  Tawny pursed her lips.

--Why don't you smile?  Ever?--

Tawny took their menus and walked back to the kitchen.

"Order in," she said to Hugh.

She got the coleslaw container out of the walk-in cooler and scooped some into a side dish bowl.  She wiped her nose with her wrist.  I'll tell you why I'm sad, Mrs. Wear All Black and Lots of Rings.  My mom's lived with us ever since the roof on her place sprung a leak back in October.  Do you know how much that woman eats?  And Randy comes over every night 'cause we have cable.  Says he'll leave at 11, but he never does.

Tawny spooned macaroni and cheese into another side dish bowl and stuck it under the heat lamp.  He's there beside me at midnight when my daughter comes in to tell me she wet the bed, again.  And he's there in the morning when I wake up.

Tawny walked along the stainless steel work surface, pulling a washcloth beside her.  And my daughter?  She won't ever go to college like your girl there with her perfect curls and shy smile.  I won't ever hear her say, 'Mom, I'm scared and excited all at once.  I'm gonna miss you a lot, except for your annoying habit of talking way too much to people you don't know.'

Sue Ann came over and put her arm around Tawny's waist.  Tawny sniffed and pulled away.  She looked to see if Hugh had put their plates in the window yet.  He hadn't.

She crossed her arms and stood with her back to the dining room.  That'll never happen to me, 'cause my baby, she'll probably have a baby.  Just like me.  Just like my mom.  And they'll all live with me forever, and I'll have what?  Five mouths to feed then?

"Order up," Hugh said.

Tawny unloaded the tray, dish by dish.

The mom rubbed her hands together.  "Thank you so much," she said.  "It looks delicious."

Tawny put the empty tray on the booth bench behind them and started spraying and wiping the table.

"Good food.  Good meat.  Good God, let's eat." 

Tawny paused her wiping, then resumed.

"Oh.  And thank you so much that we didn't have to go over the New River Gorge Bridge."

Tawny stopped spraying, then resumed.

"Oh, and a little less rain tomorrow, please?"

Dang!  She talks to him like she knows him.

Tawny turned around.  "How's your supper?"

The mom looked up.  Stopped chewing to talk.

"Oh my goodness," she said.  "This is the best pot roast ever.  I don't even need a knife.  You are such a good cook."

--Will you smile now?--

Tawny went back to the kitchen.  She glanced at her watch.  Won't be long now.  She emptied the coffee pot into a go cup and pressed on a lid.  She walked back onto the floor and over to their table.

"You all want dessert?"  Please say no.

The daughter shook her head.  Tawny looked at the mom.

"Oh, my heavens, no," she said.  "I'm as full as a tick on a bear's back."

One corner of Tawny's mouth went up.  Ever so slightly.

--There.  I almost got you.--

Tawny picked up the empty side dish bowls and carried them into the kitchen.  The coleslaw bowl looked like it had been licked clean.  That's when she got the idea.  Maybe I can do it back.  She rested her elbows on the work surface and squinted at the mom across the divide.

--Your eyes twinkle.  Like the crystal thingy I have hanging on the rearview mirror in my Dodge.  Randy says all the flashing is gonna make someone wreck some day, and they'll sue me.  I don't care.  It makes me happy and well, not a lot does these days.--

The mom's eyes searched for and found Tawny.  She smiled and the room seemed brighter.  Tawny put her hand over her heart because it felt like it was coming out of her chest.  She acted like she was looking down, but then she peered at the mom again, from under her bangs.  

--And I wish . . . never mind.--

Tawny walked out and handed the mom the check.  "You can pay at the register."

The mom's gaze was intense.  "Thank you."

Tawny gulped and looked at her shoes.

--Thank you?  For what?  Did you hear me?  When I looked at you?  And thought real hard?--

She lifted her head slowly and looked at the mom.  "For what?"

The mom put her mouth on the straw and sucked the dregs of her sweet tea. 

"For making us such an awesome supper."

Tawny looked over her shoulder, toward Hugh and the grill.

"I didn't--"

"I know," the mom said.  "I'm just teasing."

Tawny watched the big, rainbow umbrella protect the mother and daughter as they walked out to their Honda.  She couldn't hear their thoughts through the glass.  When they got in their car, she moved to bus their table.  The tip was twice the bill.  Under the girl's plate was a note.  "You are special, Tawny.  You are."  She'd underlined 'are' both times.  She'd dotted the 'i' with a heart.

Tawny looked out into the night.  The Honda was there.  Right outside the window.  They were looking in at her.  She put her hand over her mouth.  The mom grinned.  Flashes of light came into the diner, even though it was night.  Even though there was glass between them.

The mom and girl waved.   Tawny waved back.  Her eyes filled and spilled over.  Then she smiled.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Heart, a Cross, and a Key

Jesus kissed my daughter and me at least three times last weekend.  We were on a mother daughter roadtrip.  In search of the college.

I gassed up the Honda in Summersville.  The cashier let me mix bold roast coffee with flavored cappucino for no extra charge, but he wouldn't look me in the eye.  I squinted at him.  Look at me.  Nothing.

I put my dollar five on the counter.  "Can I ask you a weird question?"

He cowered.  "Weird?''

"Have you heard of people who are afraid of big, long bridges?  And sometimes state troopers'll drive 'em across?"

He used his finger in the corner of his t-shirt to clean the ledge over the cash drawer. 

"I've heard of it, but I don't think they do it 'round here," he said.  "You afraid of the New River Gorge bridge?"

When he said the name, my heart revved.  I nodded.

"You can't see over the sides, you know."

I took a breath.  It sounded like a death rattle.  "But it's really high and really long.  And it's raining to beat all."

"Just drive slow.  Stay in the middle."

And pray like nuts.

He looked out into the soaking wet night.

"The wind," he said.  "Be careful about the wind.  It'll blow your car all over the place."

My fingernails bit my palms.  I walked over to the door and got my umbrella ready to go.

"Thanks," I said inside the store.

"For nothing," I said outside.

I knocked on my daughter's window.  "Your turn to drive."

We drove five miles.  I waited.  For the mist to form on my palms.  For my heartbeat to make my shirt move.  For my daughter to look over at me and say, "You okay?"

And then we turned left onto State Route 39, miles before the gorge.  We drove past the low level of Summersville Lake.  Wound through a mile or two of rhodedendron and mobile homes.

"Pull over," I told my daughter. 


"We missed it," I said.  "You don't need to drive after all."

I looked at the stars as I walked around the back of the Honda.  I clasped my hands and made my index fingers point up.  Like a steeple. 

"Thank you so much."

The next morning, after our complimentary continental breakfast, we took our bags out to the car.  It wouldn't start.  My palms felt slick.

"Your dad's going to be so mad at me," I said.

The front desk clerk didn't have jumper cables.  The maintenance man fussed me out for not having AAA roadside assistance.  I went back out to the car.

"I guess we take a taxi to the college tour."

My daughter stuck her lower lip out. 

"If you could find out who has the car on either side of us, maybe--"

I walked through the lobby, towards the dining room.  I paused outside.  Lord. . . . help . . . please.

The room smelled like waffles.  I took off my eggplant-colored rain hat.

"Does anyone have a red Sebring or a light green Chevy Malibu?"

A man in a Nascar hat raised his hand.  "Red Sebring."

I squeaked.  Raised my eyes to the ceiling.  Thank you so much.

Nascar man and his elderly father followed me to the Honda.  They produced extra long jumper cables.

I reached out to touch their bright orangeness.  "They're beautiful."

The older man squinted at my battery.  "Looks original.  If I were  you, I'd high tail it up to Wal-Mart and spend $30 or $40 on a new one."

The car started.

'Just let it run 15, 20 minutes," Nascar man said when his dad wasn't looking.

I dug in my pockets.  "Can I give you twenty bucks?"

The man swatted air.  "Pa-lease."

I bit my lip.  "A hug then?"

He opened his arms. 

"Thank you so much, you guys," I said.  "You saved the day."

My daughter knocked on the windshield.

"I best be going," I said as I opened the car door.  "Have a nice life."

I glanced over at my daughter as we climbed a monstrous mountain between here and there.

"You know Jesus has kissed us twice on this trip."

She didn't look up from her AP biology book.

"I know," she said.  "I just hope he kisses me one more time."

I was pretty sure I knew what she was talking about--the ring.

Two days ago, I had walked into my favorite jewelry store.  I showed a picture of the ring to the store owner.

"A heart, a cross and a key," he said.  "It's clearly Christian, but what does it mean?"

"It's a promise ring," I said.

The jeweler shook his head.  "No, it's not.  A promise ring is a ring with a tiny diamond that tells a young lady a guy intends to marry her someday."

I took my jean jacket off and laid it on the glass case. 

"Actually," I said.  "It's a purity ring."

The jeweler squinted.  "A purity ring?  What's that mean?"

I pushed my shirt sleeves up and puffed my bangs off my forehead.

"It means she's saving herself for . . . you know . . . marriage."

The jeweler huffed.  "In this day and age?  Whoever heard of such a thing?"

I didn't smile.  "A mother can hope."

The jeweler snorted.  "I grew up in the age where women did that.  Saved themselves for marriage."

He kept talking as he bent to examine a stack of catalogs.  "Every woman I've ever talked to said she wished she hadn't waited."

I put my hands on the glass case.  "I wish I'd waited."

The jeweler paused his searching and looked up.  "You do?"

I nodded.  "That's something you can only give away once.  I wish I'd given it to my husband, instead of . . . "

The jeweler massaged his jaw.  "Wow," he said.  "That's really nice."

I looked at my hands on the case.  I touched my wedding ring, then the  ring my husband gave me for Mother's Day the year our middle child was born.

The jeweler stood.  "You still married to him?"

I nodded and pointed to the blue opal ring on my left hand.

"He bought this here, remember?"  I said.  "For our twentieth anniversary."

The jeweler lifted my hand to his face.  "Him?  Ah, he's a good guy."

We looked through the books for religious rings.  We saw faith, hope, and charity charms.  Star of David rings.  Crucifixes, with and without Jesus on them.

The jeweler closed the last catalog.  "No purity rings,"  he said.  "I can make one.  Engrave a signet ring with the heart, cross, and key."

I headed for the door.  "I'll get back to you."

The college tour guide was not earning his keep. 

I leaned over and whispered in my daughter's ear.  "Wanna cut out?" I said.  "I'd rather go back over that mountain today than tonight."

She yawned.  "Yeah.  Let's."

We found the Honda in the vast commuter parking lot.  I held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition.  Success.

Before I backed out, I handed the Mapquest directions to my daughter.

"Basically, we're going to follow 'em in reverse," I said.  

She turned to the last page.  "We need Route 29 West," she said.  "Turn right at the second stop light."

After the second stop light, that's when I saw it.  The Lifeway store.  I flipped my turn signal on just seconds before I whipped the car into the parking lot.

My daughter clutched the grab handle over her window.  "What are you doing?"

"This is your third kiss," I said.

"How do you know?"

I smiled as I put the car in park.  "Just a feeling."

There they were.  Up by the cash registers.  Not one but two.  Two different styles of heart, cross, key rings.  The sign said, "Ask cashier to order your size."

My daughter flipped the display case back and forth.  "Which one do you like better?"

I shook my head.  "It's your ring."

"I like this one.  It's--"

"More delicate.  More feminine."

She smiled.

The salesperson took it out of the case.  "We can mail it to you in your size, but it'll take a few weeks."

I leaned against the counter.  "If this one fits, can she have it?"

The salesperson took the ring out of the box.  "Sure.  If it fits."

I put my hand on my chest.  My daughter slid the ring on, gave it a nudge to get it over her knuckle. 

She extended her arm and smiled at the ring.  "It's perfect."

I grinned.  "Awesome, but you can't wear it home.  You have to wait 'til Easter."

Her lower lip came out.  I shut my eyes and shook my head.

"Oh, okay," she said. 

Out in the car, she opened her phone.

"Who you texting?" I said.


"What are  you saying?"

She smiled at the keyboard.  "I'm telling him Jesus is the best kisser ever."


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