Wow. Three weeks gone already.
I first arrived to trees full; colorful; very welcoming. But today only a few tenacious stems cling to stark branches waiting for a strong breeze to rip, then hurl them to where? The next yard. The river beyond. Or to the base of their beginnings.
One vibrant golden brown leaf caught by the same breeze ruffling my hair as I raise the car window, my eyes follow. It falls rapidly, blown in several directions, before landing on my windshield. Its peaked form slides down the glass, my finger tracing its journey, before the wind lifts it again, sailing, eventually settling it gently on the path to Mom’s house.
For some reason I hurry to get out and race around the front of the car to place the tip of my loafer on its stem; I squat to note its colorful details. With it I stand admiring its endurance, its strength to be torn from home, tossed about, and remain beautiful. Even its small weathered veins wore beautifully, I note, thinking; if I had my journal I would entitle it. . . .Ah. Survival. How it can be beautiful.
Hesitating a second, I flick the leaf off into the air, watching the wind twirl and transport it a ways behind me, home to mother oak to eventually dry and wither at its base in the days to come.
Yes, survival can be beautiful; but painful too. I recall four years ago, twenty stories above the traffic and famous shops in an exquisite modernly decorated condo on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, Madame sent me away.
She said to me, “Diamond, I am ill. I must see a doctor in Maryland who will run a few tests. But everything should be fine. Take that time to see New York. I own an apartment there. You can occupy it while I am away.”
This news floored me.
Madame going for tests? . . . Me in New York? In an apartment she owns? Alone? I couldn’t.
To me Madame embodied wisdom. She’s perceptive and my main source for guidance. How was I to make it without her? And for how long?
Madame further blew my mind by withholding some information from me. Crucial information. I overheard her on the telephone telling a fellow realtor that the doctors diagnosed her with a terminal illness. With proper care and medicine they foresaw a maximum of five years for Madame to live, if she was fortunate.
Why didn’t she tell me? Yes, I brooded, but in vain. Madame never divulged the details to me; she just orchestrated my move.
Before we parted company in Chicago, I met Madame Downtown before dinner in her luxurious “Loop” office. There, she made me vow to locate her ex-son-in-law, my father, a well-known jazz pianist who frequently played the Manhattan clubs when not abroad or elsewhere in the states. She thought it time for us to forge a bond.
I remember Madame’s words as I sat on her black leather sofa, the skins tight beneath me. Looking professional in a tailored hounds-tooth suit, with steel-gray hair cropped close and hands clasped behind her, she broke her purposeful stride on Persian wool to stand before me, her hazel eyes—my inheritance—piercing.
She said, “Diamond, you have never been alone. I have. That is not what I want for you, but I am an old woman. So find Seneca. You need family. . . And he is right there in New Yo--.”
“But Madame,” I said, her words propelling me to the sofa’s edge, my voice high-pitched and animated in comparison to her slow deliberate speech. “I barely remember him, and I can take care of my--.”
“Shush girl!” Her velocity picked up then. “Don’t interrupt. Now, listen. . . I expect that you can take care of yourself. I taught you to; so I count on that. And I realize that it has been awhile since you have seen Seneca, though you will know him when you do,” she ended in control.
Chastened and apprehensive, I fell back against the sofa, my hands picking imagery lint from the lap of my knit skirt.
Again she paced, then paused before the large picture window facing shoppers carrying department store packages and plastic “thank you” bags, the early dusk silhouetting their figures. Destination home? Probably. The question, now where will I call home and with whom? boggled my mind.
With her back towards me, she said, “Diamond, give Seneca the chance to know you,” her tone pleading?
If it were anyone else. I thought, Madame. He doesn’t want the chance.
She turned around saying, “People love you, Diamond. . . He won’t be any different. Go on and win him over,” she encouraged, smiling. She rarely smiled.
Also, with her eyes focused elsewhere and her hands fidgeting abnormally with the bottom of her jacket, Madame said, “Initially, Diamond, do not say who you are or you may frighten him.”
Frighten him? How? By appearing? Then why—Madame kept talking.
Poised and confident again, Madame held my gaze; finished, “Let him get to know you slowly, Diamond. Everyone needs family; he will come around.”
Just whom was Madame trying to convince? Surely not me. Believe me I welcome optimism; but I’m also a realist. During childhood, I nurtured that selfsame desire of Madame’s—a reunion with father; but the majority of my letters addressed to his P.O. box in Brooklyn went unanswered; or when answered, the words felt dry, detached. The letters bestowed no sense of family; it only left the impression of “duty-done,” maybe, or at least hopefully, out of kindness. Then they stopped. Completely. My own letters stamped: Return to Sender. The message blood red.
But Madame surprised me.
“Here,” she said, handing me a framed miniature dangling from a silver chain. “You should have this.”
Full lips and teasing warm brown eyes in a strong lean face smiled at me eliciting a smile and tears in return. My handsome young father. The fading portrait matched his image retrieved from the dusty vault of my memories, bolted for self-preservation. During her varied recounts of heart stirring “remember when’s,” Madame extracted the necklace from a locked desk drawer cornered in her office. I last glimpsed it as a child. It graced Mom's neck.
Now looking at my hand, I recalled the pain, a sharp pain; it forced open my fingers. Afterwards I stared mesmerized by a receding imprint surrounding the miniature’s intricate carvings in my palm. My hand’s gentle throbbing underscored the resurrected ache in my heart—Madame’s instigation.
Yet, Madame despised vented emotions, obvious weakness; so I blinked several times to conceal mine. She had me. From then on I wore that necklace. It represented a measure of hope, of success . . . until last month.
Turning towards the house, I sigh, maybe it’s just good to have a home to fall back on, when a delicate double, “Meow” causes me to whirl back around.
Peering up into the sparse leaves of low-hanging branches, it’s not long before my search for the owner of the soft endearing sound ends. I exclaim, “How did I miss you?” to the crouching striped-gray furry frame of a Persian, calling, “Here, kitty, kitty. Here, kitty, kitty,” gazing into its golden eye.
He turns towards my voice . . . “oh my god!” instantly muffled by my hand covering my mouth.
“How sad. . . .Oh, come here, kitty, kitty,” I again call; hoping to comfort the cat whose badly scarred left side of her face held an eye permanently shut? Is she permanently blind? I wonder as my eyes blur.
“Come here, kitty, kitty,” I coax. “How did that happen? Who did that to you?”
“Meow,” she finally answers, pouncing off the limb, landing a few feet before me—close enough to acknowledge me, but far enough to escape, if necessary.
“Smart, kitty,” I praise while stooping.
Her stature erect, she slowly approaches me, then gently brushes against my leg before proceeding to lead me up the walk, gracefully climbing the stairs as I follow, obediently amused.
I think, despite your injury you are still the commander, huh?
“Since, Mom’s not here” again noticing the drapes pulled shut driving up, I ask, “why don’t you keep me company?” I unlock the iron screen door for us. But instead, the cat walks across the front porch, glances back at me, meowing one final time before turning the corner headed towards the back yard.
Again tickled, I ask, following, “Don’t want to come in, huh?” reaching the end of the porch, before once more calling, “Here, kitty, kitty. Here, kitty, kitty.”
Hey! Where did she go to so quickly? Well, I think, smiling, spotting her crossing the neighbor’s back yard. She’s sure independent, assured she can handle herself. But my smile fades when I turn back towards the door.
Um. Maybe the cat has a point.