Morning came too soon; brought with it an extreme headache—probably the subconscious dread of coming back to Mom’s house and life for me. After showering, I try to maximum my moments by first calling for a cab, giving myself fifteen minutes to walk down to Gracie’s cafe to grab coffee and a bagel on-the-run.
Racing through the lobby, I catch sight of Prudence chatting happily with some young people in the lobby. I hear her, “Yes, getting ready for work,” before she sees me.
Her eyes seem to ask, “Leaving already?” as I nod quickly with a shrug of my shoulders. I motion and mouth a sincere, “I’ll call you when I get back,” as I continue towards the door. I’m envious of the leisurely pace of window shoppers, book browses—new and used—etc. That used to be my routine, I remember.
When I arrive back to the hotel, I see the back of a taxi before my building. Rushing back inside, I say good-bye to the new gentleman at the desk, grab my duffel bag, which I pulled out to retrieve my few things from Chicago, then leave; remembering; that’s right! I never received my luggage from the airport.
Darn it! I break a nail on the cab door, slamming it before punching the numbers of the airport, while watching the early risers—joggers and dog-walkers—still on hold. The driver peels off for LaGuardia making me feel like I’m suddenly in charge of the war on terrorism.
Careening down the BQE—Brooklyn Queens Expressway—in the taxi felt like a racecar simulator, speeding, veering swiftly—right/left, then braking to near standstills amidst a barrage of horn honking. Funny, I’m not even terrified.
Though I do tap on the divider.
“Sir, it’s okay; I’m in no hurry. My plane doesn’t leave for another two hours,” I try to say nonchalantly.
“Yes Miss,” he responded, but didn’t slow down.
Saint Michaels Cemetery flashed by on my left at breakneck speed, the landmark proclaiming, “Ten minutes to the airport,” since traffic today is no problem.
Still on hold, I contend instead with the jostling and veering.
After arriving at the airport, the driver rushes around to open my door, but I’m already out. I ask, “Were you trying to terrorize me?”
“No Miss! I show you I got skills. I get you here safely.”
And he did, though ordinarily I probably would have jokingly responded, “Thank you for helping me realize how much I value life. One day I will be able to afford a personal driver and he won’t terrorize me.”
Today I just paid him; yet he keeps standing before me.
“That’s not enough?” I ask, since he continues to look at the money in his hand. ”Miss Sexy Sax?” he asks with a wink, reaching into his top pocket of his plaid shirt to hand me his card. “You are de lady that plays in the subway, yes?”
I say, “I do play in the subway, but I don’t call myself ‘Miss Sexy Sax.’”
“No? You should. Everyone else does. . . When you play again? . . . Soon?”
“Spring,” I say, pleased.
“Good. This ride on me. One day I work for you.”
“Well maybe you will. Thank you.”
My bright spot in an otherwise dreary day, I think as he drove off.
The flight and taxi ride to Mom’s house goes smoothly, though Mom stayed on my mind. Somehow I can’t help feeling this is really no accident.
“Hey, I made it back,” I call from the living room.
I hear her slight voice from her bedroom, “Honey, I’m here in here.”
Dropping my bags by the door, I head to her room. The darkness in the room caused by the drawn deep green velour drapes, still bars the true pale green color of the walls from recognition. However, the mosquito net hanging delicately from an arch in the ceiling plays tricks with my eyes, in that it presents Mom as an unearthly hazy creature, one on the verge of expiration.
At her bedside, I pull back the netting; asking “What happened, Mom?”
Mom is propped up in bed among many pillows. She looks ashen. Placed snuggly against the pale green and cream comforter is Mom’s arm in a sling.
“It’s not much, honey. I had a little accident and my arm is sprung. That’s all. They’re working on the car. It’s a little dented up. I’ve arranged for you to pick up a rental tomorrow.”
“Mom, how did it happen?”
“Well. Friday night was a little icy, so I hit a slick spot. I was fortunate after hitting a tree.”
“You hit a tree?” Suddenly I feel horrible. “You could have been killed?”
“But I wasn’t. Don’t worry. . . Was your trip nice?”
“Yes, Mom. It was--.”
“Good. If you want something to eat, I have some leftovers in the refrigerator. Would you mind heating me something up too?”
“Sure, Mom. No problem.”
She looks so peaked that I think: we’ll talk details later. But come to think about it, what details could I have? About my flights? Is that what she means? I didn’t have time for anything else.
Before leaving the room, I had noticed that around Mom, spread out on the coverlet, are pictures. They even overflowed from another floral hatbox jammed with pictures.
Earlier, I wanted this moment, a bonding, to go home with some semblance of kinship. To tell Madame it was a success; that her words, “she causes death to everything” weren’t true. But now a numbness washes over me. I feel like a tube, a hollow dark cylinder in which I’ve somehow manage to fall into, spiraling down into myself; freefalling. But strangely enough it doesn’t scare me. Though, the tears are present, ready to flow, they only request a release. Maybe a cleansing. Nothing more.
Mom interrupts my thoughts with, “I’ve been wanting to show you these for years,” not even noticing my nonchalance. She pushes the box towards me across the bed. She had taken out a few, also placing them before me.
I guess she’s not that hungry after all, I think, leaning to glance down at some black and white snapshots of a little girl who resembled me at about six years of age, except for the hair. The little girl wore hers braided, straight, whereas mine grew wild, uncontrollable, which I hated. The girl held the hand of a striking woman that looked like a younger version of Madame, both solemn.
“Know who that is,” Mom asks, sitting up to peer.
“You?” I ask, not really caring.
“Yes and Madame,” she says, slumping back.
After a moment, I notice that they’re standing in front of this same house. This catches my attention.
That’s strange. Mom and I grew up in the same house or is there another one similar?
I perch on the edge of the bed and wait patiently for Mom to explain her reason for bringing out the photos. She then proceeds to hand me photographs of her at different stages of her life, though none of them seemed to go past the age of sixteen, and none in which she smiles.
“What do you think?” asked Mom.
What am I to think? The pictures told me nothing, except that she and Madame were always unhappy. But I say, “We look more alike then.”
“Yes, but did you notice anything else?”
Not caring for the guessing game I say, “Only that you and grandmother didn’t smile a lot.”
I didn’t mention the house because I feel it’s too late.
She must have sensed it, because with her good arm she swooped up the pictures, put them back in the box and pushed the lid on it. She looked as if she were considering something before she spoke again.
“No we didn’t smile a lot. There wasn’t much to smile about. . . You knew of course, that your grandfather died when I was a little child didn’t you?”
“Yes, Madame mentioned it briefly. She said it was a freak accident. He slipped and fell and broke his back. He didn’t die instantly. She nursed him for months until he just gave up living,” I say my voice flat.
“Did she mention anything, else?”
“Only that she really loved him and how wonderful he had been to her the eight years they’d been married. She said, ‘she couldn’t have asked for a better life.’”
While I talked Mom started crying. She reached into her robe pocket and took out some tissue. After blowing her nose, Mom said, “Diamond, Madame hated me.”
“No she didn’t,” I say after she finishes. “She spoke of you often, mostly in regrets but never with hatred.” I didn’t want to lie, but what else could I say? This could go on all night
Her eyes widen in surprise, as she says, “But that can’t be true. . . Why didn’t she ever call?”
I ask, “Why didn’t you?”
“I couldn’t,” she says with bitterness. “She blamed me for my own father’s death. They were my toys he tripped over. She said it was my fault.”
“But, Mom. You were just a child. Those kind of accidents happen. . . It was terrible, but what could you do?” I ask ready to leave the room. I’ve had enough of this conversation.
“Well she did. She blamed me. That’s why we were so unhappy.”
“Mom, come on. There must be a misunderstanding. She couldn’t really blame you.” But I knew she did. Yet I believe that this conversation is not about that. I stand up, hopefully an indication that this topic is over. Mom seems to be trying to solicit sympathy from me, but right now I can’t produce any.