So I arrive back home to subject myself to the past. Right off the back, I must listen to her personal brutal honesty. Spoken from the depths of a bottle. I beg inwardly; please, Mom. Don’t do this; I didn’t come here for this.
I word my response careful and quiet and deliberate. “Mom, you’re beautiful. You always were,” trying unsuccessfully to blow off the sting of her words. I repeat to myself these same words as if she spoke them to me.
Still, it takes me a second to regroup. So we continue to stand and scrutinize each other’s appearance as if to be quizzed at a future date. She wobbles, hand now braced against the door-frame, with a smirk skipping about her lips. Her eyelids continue to slightly droop as her head rises and drops. She continues to eye me up-and-down.
But I swear to myself, this one image I must forget. I will erase, as I hold myself ram-rod straight. Brace myself against utter dejection/rejection.
Whatever, I think; since, we both seem stumped as to what to do next. Here’s one for the etiquette books. A drunken reunion with your mom. How to pull it off?
This question makes me wonder: How did Prudence know? Maybe I should open her little gift right here on the stoop for Mom to see that somebody cares. Though, I’m more inclined to flee. To turn right around, like the coward that I once was and fly home.
However, I can’t. I won’t. For my own self-respect. So, I notice the blush in her cheeks. That it looks rather nice. Makes her look vulnerable.
Maybe she me; needs my protection.
Finally, she breaks the silence, her expression changed. “I can’t believe it. . . . look at you. All sophis . .tica . . .ted,” her words broken; her voice shaky.
“Come,” she pulls my arm. “Come with me.”
I stare into glassy eyes before she leads the way, thinking again, I can’t believe it. After all these years. It’s like time took a reversal leaving me in this stagnant drunken yesterday.
“Hold on, Mom,” I stall. “Let me get my luggage.”
She drops my arm and I pick up my overnighter. Pulling my bags into the house I try to unload frustration, as her slim figure staggers in front of me. Brings back the past belief, she won’t always act this way. The anger—about being stood-up—is ashes. And I don’t chide Mom about her condition. I wonder, hope actually, that I’m concerned prematurely. Maybe this is her display of anxiety.
Optimism. I again bank on it pulling me through.
Yes, Diamond. Let’s see what the future holds, that reflection hangs suspended as the present odor of burnt bread demands my attention.
“Mom, you baked?” that never being one of her fortes, but thrilled with her effort.
“Um hum. I cooked for you,” her head bobs, her eyes slits difficult to read.
So that is why she couldn’t pick me up? my focal point now the dining room before me, though I stand in the well-worn living room. There lies all evidence of Mom’s diligence. A feast, spread upon a white embroidered cloth graced the table, surrounded by our four old parson chairs covered in faded yellow gauze with a wilted gold bow tied in back, wondering; does Mom even know four people to fill those chairs?
The arrangement I remember from a picture of a small wedding performed in this very room. The ceremony between Mom and Seneca. My family—Madame, Seneca, Mom—and the Reverend occupied those chairs. A very small group—of necessity.
Cream-colored transfer ware dishes, elegant silverware and glass goblets encircling the table were probably once Madame’s. These and the tureens, elegant tureens placed center, hold an assortment of foods casting off all hope of her ever becoming a chef.
The table setting is a sweet dream. Yet, beneath those scents of charred remains lingers another odor.
What is that?
When I first walked in, I noticed this smell, but got distracted. Now, it only takes a moment to identify rot. The house smells damp. Of mold and mildew. Decay.
I refocus, thinking; I’ll worry about that later, as I glance towards the kitchen. There further exposed proof of her efforts lay—scarred pots, pans, open cans; but on a wet counter, out in the open stands—Mom’s stimulus.
A wine bottle.
“Oh, Mom. You shouldn’t have,” I say again back tackling tears.
“I wanted to.”
“Diamond, look! I wanted to prepare smothered chicken, . . .lamb chops, . . . garlic tatoes,” she enumerated on unsteady fingers. “Rolls, green beans, salad. And for de. . .dessert. . .your favorite . . . . chocolate cake. . . . Would you have been pleased?” she asks, flustered, her eyes bright pink and swelling. “I hoped you would. . . .you still like chocolate cake?”
The knot grows in the back of my throat.
“I do Mom. I still love chocolate cake.”
Why is she doing this?
“Mom, please sit down.”
I help her to the living room’s old worn floral sofa where she falls back against the matching pillows; tears streaming down her face.
“Ah, Mom, don’t cry. There’s no need to. Everything’s okay,” I say again hoping to also reassure myself. No point in simultaneous breakdowns.
But she says, “Diamond, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. . . .I burned the hot dogs and baked beans. You liked them too. . . when you were little. You grew up. . . .I should’ve. . . I wish. Can you ever forgive me?” she asks.
Forgive what? The fact that I grew up without her? Or the burnt kiddie meal presented as a buffet delight?
Wanting to understand, I attempt to quiet her while stroking the tears from her cheek. “There’s nothing to forgive, Mom. I’m okay, really. . . . and hey! You set a mean table. Mom, I bet everything’s not burnt. I’m sure there’s something to salvage,” I exclaim, standing up to break the emotion. “Let me freshen up and let’s look. I’ll be right back.”
“Diamond,” she says struggling to sit up, her arm too weak to hold her weight. “You want help . . . with all your luggage?”
Not needing help or redirection, I say, “That’s alright, Mom. I’ve got it,” settling her back down. “I’ll be right back.”
I turn towards the steps, the design of the house etched deep into my mind. The door just left of the dining room leads upstairs, so I trudge my luggage up the long wooden staircase, which creaks with every other step. A couple of steps I take two-at-a-time, hoisting my bags over several split ones.
As I climb, the smell of rotting wood grows even stronger. I think, why didn’t any one take care of this place? Yet this time the smell mingles with something different, but pleasant.
When I reach the top I turn left, walking along the shaky railing through the door before me into the attic bedroom of my childhood. There I’m assaulted by the overpowering smell and sight of fresh flowers. Beautiful bouquets of flowers everywhere. On the windowsills, bookcase and bed now override the suffocating scents downstairs.
I can’t move. My room resembles a flower shop . . . .or a funeral parlor, the thought springs unbidden, though I know where it came from.
Her conviction that Mom causes death, destruction to everyone must be subconsciously ingrained in me. An idea I repress by admiring the various flowers. But the calla lilies, begonias, roses, tulips and sunflowers—my age four favorite—tied with ribbons and welcome balloons kicked in the storehouse door of my confined issues.
I fall across my old full-size bed, located before a small window under the alcove, fighting a sneezing fit between sobs, noticing the cause—Mom resurrected my old tattered quilt? The faded pink ballerina print now covered with petals failed to cover the blanket’s mustiness. Though now a fashionable career woman I’m transformed back into the anxious little girl of the past—a little girl never distant.
Despite blurred vision I look around, temporarily distracted by the frayed dingy pink curtains. Did anyone ever use this room after me?
Then, lying here I face another memory.
In Winnie-the-Pooh cotton pajamas, my hair centered-parted into two ponytails, the front door closing—or thunder?—had me kneeling in bed, peeking out of the window onto the front lawn. There I saw Seneca. First, his head high, then low. It sank as his long stride carried him down the lengthy block. Streetlights highlighted he and the rain as waving shadows from neighboring trees concealed alternately revealed him until he shrank, eventually receding right out of my life.
Gone, not unlike sun’s banishment of dawn’s morning mist, he left only a remnant of his presence, a terrible ache, which like dew evaporated, hardened my heart—its soil now fallow, still untilled; love’s growth hindered.
Lying among the petal’s softness, a fragrant bowl for my tears marring their beauty, I cry for that man.
After trying to pull myself together, I glance towards my miniature Victorian rocker, stunned.
Raggedy-Ann? sits erect like she never disappeared. I recalled how devastated I was when I couldn’t find her.
Now she’s back? Mom had her? And why did put her out now? . . . . Is this a peace offering?
Suddenly Raggedy-Ann grants me strength, reminds me of my mission; familial bonding.
Seneca-the-Dad gave me the doll; Seneca-the-man gave me a purpose.
Pulling off my jacket and boots and replacing them with a pair of socks, then a cold-water splash from the bathroom’s pedestal sink, which Madame installed in the converted storage room, I prepare for dinner.
Feeling refreshed, a bit, I hurry back downstairs only to find Mom sound asleep gently snoring on the sofa, my footsteps on the wooden stairs not causing her to bat an eye. I take the stained lavender throw off the sofa’s arm and cover her. With her cheek warm and moist against my lips, I whisper; “Mom. Thank-you for asking for me.”
Yet, out of my mind’s shadow a tiny voice asks; What are you doing, Diamond? Are you prepared for this?
I whisper back, “I want to be.”
Its reply: But can you be?
I watch through the bedroom curtains.
Her nerves are probably shot. Why it’s taking so long for her to go to the door, I wonder.
“Just do it!” I should shout. “Just walk right on up to that big old house and see dear old mom. Go on. Git it over with.”
Finally! She went in. Man. How much agonizing could she do?
And for a minute there I thought she was toasted too. I knew for sure that dear old mom would be blasted already, I think, laughing to myself. Or at least well on her way.
That means our Diamond’s reunion wasn’t what she thought it would be, I think, laughing again. I can imagine her shock after getting that gooey letter. All filled with promise. Then bam! Nothing goes the way she thought.
What she think was going to happen? I laugh again. I bet she forgot that whole scene.
“That’s right. Nothing’s changed, Diamond dear. Why do think I wanted you to come back? Don’t think I spent all that money on flowers for nothing!”