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At Last

Sam walked down the long green entryway to her grandmother’s door gazing at the new orchids blooming in the courtyard. Her eyes wandered up into the mango tree and she wondered when the fruit would start to weigh heavy on the branches. The year before they had come in April, unseasonably early, almost two months before they should have. Global warming, Sam thought. The flavor of fresh off the tree mangos danced in her head teasing her tongue. She regretted skipping dinner the night before.

When she reached the front door Sam took a moment to straighten out her shirt and smooth down her dirty hair. She could smell that her grandmother had a fresh coat of paint put on the house since she had been there the week before and remembered hearing something about how old Rose’s handyman was getting.

A woman’s voice drifted smoothly through the afternoon heat when Sam opened the door, “At laaaast, my lo-o-o-ove has come along.” Sam smiled at the sound of her old friend Etta James.

Sam looked toward her grandfather’s office. It was empty. Hi, Grandpa, she thought, her eyes lingering on his study, I miss you. He had always played jazz while he worked. Colonel Sommerset had retired from the military years before, but never actually stopped working a day in his life. Everyone in Sam’s family had their addictions, at least his was profitable.

Sam had spent endless hours of her childhood lying on the yellow shag carpet in front of his desk, sifting through his records, playing them as she pleased. The variations of melodies that the trumpet hummed, the soul searching trills of the saxophone, the attention that keeping time with the symbols had required.

The Colonel would look up from his work and Sam would drop whatever else held her attention to stare up at him, fascinated by everything that he was.

“Where’d you get those eyes, Child?” her Grandpa asked.

“I don’t know,” Sam beamed.

“Come give your Grandpa some sugar,” he said and she was up in his lap in an instant. “There’s something about those eyes, Little Girl,” he said balancing her on his knee.

In a family of southern women with light hair and light eyes Sam’s dark features shone brighter than an orchid in the Everglades. Sam could say exactly what was on her mind with those eyes, without ever opening her mouth. The Colonel told her once that before Sam could speak, her eyes did the talking.

They had truly enjoyed the comfort of each other’s company, and hearing the trumpet softly blow reminded Sam of all the questions she had longed to ask about a time that she had missed, but hadn’t, for fear of disturbing her grandfather’s work. She scratched her stomach and it was like the ugly, old carpet, along with the questions she’d never asked, somehow still itched.

Sam wandered into the kitchen and saw Rose poised over the stove stirring a big pot and moving her shoulders to the melody of the saxophone. The smell of her grandma’s vegetable soup hit Sam’s nostrils and saliva gathered on the sides of her tongue.

The music was so loud that Rose hadn’t heard her granddaughter come in. Watching her, and knowing that she was all alone in that big, old house, hurt Sam’s heart. She knew how much her Grandma must miss him. Sam closed her eyes and Etta sang her into the fantasy of a memory.

She saw her grandparents dancing in an old jazz club. The women’s bright dresses were full. Their skirts swished back and forth, a variety of colors and flowers dancing together to the music. The men wore uniforms and smoked Lucky Strikes.

The tall, curvy woman standing at the old fashioned microphone had on bright red lipstick to match the flowers on her otherwise white dress. The spotlight touched her and her skin was like cocoa with thick cream. Her voice was nothing but soul. She was beautiful.

The song ended and the dance partners drifted off the floor. The smoke swirled around itself the way Van Gogh painted the sky.

“There she is,” Rose gushed. Sam opened her eyes out of the smoky night club and saw her Grandma’s pretty eyes twinkling at her. The music had been lowered to a comfortable volume.

“Hi,” Sam wrapped her arms around Rose. “There is no one softer in the world to hug, Grandma.”

“Hello there, Sunshine,” Rose said holding Sam at arms length, “Look at you in black on a Sunday afternoon,” she tisked.

Katherine Rose Tempelton Sommerset only wore black on two occasions: to a funeral or to a black tie affair, and she would wear navy or white to either if she could get away with it.

Sam smiled humbly knowing that Rose had commented on the black clothes she wore because it would have been unkind to comment on the black circles under her eyes. I have to remember to leave some concealer at Jake’s, Sam thought.

“Oh, Samantha!” Rose exclaimed seeing the lilies Sam had placed on the table. She walked to them and stuck her face right into the arrangement and took a deep breath. “How sweet!” she exclaimed and turned to Sam with a smile like cherry preserves. “Honey, they are beautiful. What did I ever do to deserve such a wonderful grandbaby?” She came back for more hugs and kisses.

“Sorry, I’m so late,” Sam said and they sat down at the kitchen table, “Chrissie kidnapped me last night for girl’s night.”

“Oh, you know I don’t mind. I’ve just been bouncing around all morning getting things done here and there.” With this she was up and off to the refrigerator. “I have juice, tea, lemonade, milk, and water,” she paused, “Is it too early to share a beer?”

“Yes,” Sam barked, “I’ll have punch. Please.”

“So, tell me about Chrissie. What’s she up to these days?” Rose asked taking out glass pitchers of orange juice and iced tea. “What was that man’s name that she was seeing?” She placed the pitcher of lemonade on the counter then turned to Sam and put her hand on her hip. “Karma?” she wondered aloud, “Clover? Something like that, right?”

“Dharma,” Sam said laughing, knowing her intentions. “And I liked him, but they broke up.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Rose said. She winked at her granddaughter pleased that Sam had laughed at her joke and then turned back to the punch. Having been married to a republican for more than fifty years; Rose could hardly help making fun of hippies, even if her own daughter had married one.

“Yeah and she dated a jackass after that.”

“Well, that isn’t very nice.”

“Neither was he.”

“Is she still with him?”

“No.”

“Good,” Rose said firmly. Aside from her joking she was a smart woman who had a heart big enough to defend the basic human rights of any person.

Sam watched her grandma mix the juice, lemonade and iced tea. No matter how many times she had sat right there and watched her grandma make her punch Sam still had never been able to get the portions right when she made it herself.

“What would I do without you, Grandma?” Sam wondered aloud.

Rose turned sharply and looked right at Sam. “You would get along just fine.”

“Maybe,” Sam smiled. Rose set the punch down in front of her, “but no one can make your punch.”

“You know who can?” Rose asked as she returned to the stove to stir the soup.

“Who?”

“Your daddy.”

“No.”

“It took him a long time, but I think he’s the only one who likes it more than you do.” Rose poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat back down. “So, where did you girls go last night?”

“Monty’s,” Sam said, “I’m still recovering.”

“Well, you just need a bowl of grandma’s vegetable soup!” Rose was up again in an instant gathering bowls, spoons, napkins, stirring the soup, and fishing for crackers. Sam was exhausted just watching her. “Did Annabelle go?”

“No.”

“Is she still sick?” Rose asked in that grandmotherly way that feigned ignorance.

“She’s not sick, Grandma,” Sam searched for words, “she’s….gone.”

“Oh, honey.”

“For some reason she has it in her head that we’re suddenly all out to get her and Chrissie refuses to talk about it like it’s just going to go away. Dee is the only one who Annabelle will even communicate with, but all she tells her are these angry delusions that she has formed. It’s like the Annabelle that we know and love is gone.”

“It sounds like she needs some time to herself.”

“No,” Sam said sharply, “Sorry, but I don’t think that is the case. Mental illness usually manifests in people in their early twenties. I’m afraid leaving her alone is exactly the wrong thing to do, but I’m the only one who seems to feel that way.”

“What do her parents think?”

“Nothing, at all. They’re in denial. They didn’t even meet my eyes when I went to talk to them. They think I’ve turned against their daughter, but I have no reason to! Just like she has no reason to have turned against me,” Sam’s voice trailed off.

“There’s not much you can do to change some peoples minds. You know, I was at the club the other day and this ignorant man…” Rose started on but Sam couldn’t listen.

It infuriated her the casual way people spoke about a person that she loved so much. Sam knew Annabelle inside and out, and knew that this wasn’t her friend. A switch had been flipped inside Annabelle’s head and Sam wanted to flip it back but no one would help her find it. Everyone seemed uncomfortable even looking.

She looked down into her papaya colored punch wishing it were a crystal ball. She wanted to see when she would get her friend back. Or when people would start admitting there was a bigger problem at play, at last.

A Second Chance

Jamal slammed his car door shut. He looked down through the tinted window at the resume sitting on the seat and shook his head. He kicked his tire and regretted it as he walked heavily up the stairs to his apartment, the pounding in his head now matched by the throbbing in his toe.

He stopped at the front door to compose himself. Tomorrow will be better, he thought, still the bitterness lingered. He put the key into the lock and tried once again to shake the resentment that had followed him out of the interview and all the way home.
“Hi daddy!” Dee ran to meet him at the door. The four-year-old ball of joy threw herself into his arms.
“Hi sugar!” he said scooping her up and kissing his little girl all the way into the kitchen. “Hi baby.” He set Dee down and wrapped his arms around his wife. She smiled warmly.
“Did you have a good day?” Cassie asked leaning into him. She had one hand flat on his lapel, the other on the stove, both of her eyes right on his, their daughter danced at their feet.
“Yeah,” he said breezily, his eyes communicating that he didn’t get the job, hers saying she was sorry. He sat down at the kitchen table and Dee climbed onto his knee. “So how was your day?” he asked, smiling into his daughters eyes.
“I unna get a baby,” she said proudly.
“You’re going to get a what?”
“I unna get a baby!” she said loudly. She jumped off his knee and ran back into her room to play with her dolls.
“That girl she adores at school, Sandra, her mom is pregnant. They’re all excited about the new baby.” She leaned on the doorframe of the small kitchen watching him. He took off his tie.
“I was so qualified,” he started. He unbuttoned his top two buttons, then rested his hands on his knees and let his head fall. “Cassie, the guy looked at me like I was a day laborer,” he said meeting her eyes.

Continue reading A Second Chance

The Old Head of Kinsale

It was dark when we arrived. The lights of the city stretched farther than I had expected. Traffic was bad, but not as bad as it had been in Dublin. John took the first parking spot he saw and we headed into the Pub across the street. There was some sort of meeting going on and we invited hostile looks from people present. One woman glared like we had come to ruin her conspiracy.
“Hey mates,” John said. “Hope we’re not interrupting, just lookin’ for a pint.”
“Oh, Dear,” an Irish mum called getting up, “Come in, come in, excuse my manners. What’ll ya have?” She smiled and in the wrinkles around her hazel eyes I saw years of worry, strength, and laughter. Her hair reached out in tight curls.
“Guinness,” I smiled.
“Of course, dear, and for you?”
“Same.”
“There you are.”
She was endearing and nervous and her strong hands and rosy cheeks were everything I expected from an Irish barmaid. She was going on about some old head and John was paying close attention but I was drifting, taking in the authenticity. It was the Irish pub that I had always wanted to be in. I admired the flags and lace curtains and shamrocks that someone had painted on every spot of empty wall, gaily. At this point such space was hard to come by. There were top to bottom pictures from all sorts of celebrations, weddings, birthdays, football matches, all that looked like St. Patty’s Day and all to which we were at least 20 years too late.
“We’ll join,” John said and I turned back to the conversation I had missed. “Won’t we?”
“Sure,” I said trusting his judgment.
“Hey, Pauly,” she called both excited and more serious than I had heard her sound, “we’ve got two new recruits.”
“Sorry, we’re full,” snapped the vicious woman.
“Oh, bollocks,” the barmaid said ushering us over to the group.
A dark haired man with crystal blue eyes rose from the head of the table, “I’m Paul.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said trying not to sound too American.
“This is Violet, I’m John, and we’re always up for fighting the good fight.”
I nodded and wondered what he had gotten us into. I felt like we accidentally stumbled into the den of a revolution, and I liked it.
“Do you know anything about the Old Head of Kinsale?” the steaming woman asked still glaring at me. I shook my head. Her hair was long and deep red and poured over her thin shoulders like the fire she seemed ready to spew.
“This is Nora, don’t let her passion frighten you. She grew up outside Kinsale so this matter is very dear to her heart.”
I wanted to ask what the matter at hand actually was but I was not about to say anything, lest she might rip my face off.
“Well, its nice to meet the lot of you. How can we help?” John asked

Continue reading The Old Head of Kinsale

Beseeched

“No,” the little girl said simply, “I will not go.”
“But Sara,” her mother pleaded, “you must come to Church with us.”
Sara looked plainly at her. “God knows I’m a good little girl,” she said full of purpose, “so you don’t need to pray for me anymore.”
“I don’t know what to do with her,” she said to Sara’s father, “and I swear she reads my thoughts.”
He smiled. “If God knows she’s a good little girl then it sounds like it’s out of our hands.”
“Real funny,” she said leaving the room, “You’re a great help.”
“Come here,” he said patting his knee. The four year old climbed into his lap, staring up at him with big brown eyes. “Why don’t you want to go to church?” he asked.
“It’s too cold there,” she said guiltlessly. “Everyone talks too much and they ask for the same things, every Sunday. Mary asks for dolls, Maggie asks for a little sister, Max asks for his little sister to go away and for a little brother instead, and Johnny asks for yucky things about bugs and boogers.” He couldn’t help but laugh. “And Daddy, you aren’t supposed to pray about football.”
“You’re right,” he nodded, “but am I the only one who prays for us to win?”
“No,” she sighed, “most of the daddy’s do.”
“And we still don’t win,” he said shaking his head. “Tell me something Sara, what do you pray for?”
“Peace,” she said simply. “And to go to church somewhere warm.”

 

* * *

“You’re too young,” Sara’s mother cried, “why must you go so far?”
“You wish all the time to go far away from here,” Sara said smiling sweetly. Her mother frowned. She placed her palm on her mother’s cheek, “I’m eighteen. I’ll be fine.”
“But alone? Why must you go alone?”
“You understand.” Sara folded her favorite sweater and placed it carefully in her suitcase.
Her father stood leaning against the doorway, his tired eyes watching respectfully.
“And you? You’re fine with our little girl going across the world to Italy, alone?”
He stepped into the room and looked around. He picked up a picture frame sitting on the desk. It was a picture of Sara in a field of wildflowers. He remembered everything about that day.
It had been unusually warm for March, and the snow was beginning to melt. He had told her that he would take her to see something special and she had smiled completely. It was rare that she smiled with all her heart, even at eight years old.
They walked along the small road past the edge of town to the abandoned church. When they reached the top of the hill, she went running down the other side. He stood where he was and studied her intently. She seemed to be glowing.
It was too early for spring. He was sure there had been snow covering the valley the day before, but as she walked through the flowers with both arms outstretched, her open palms touched lightly over the tops of the petals. She was talking, and though he was too far to hear, something held him from moving any closer.
“That was the first time you took me there,” she said smiling.
He nodded, and ran his finger along the glass. He could still smell the lavender in the air.
“You appeared on that hill and the whole valley bloomed for you,” he said with the same amazement he had felt that day.
“That’s my favorite place,” she whispered, “it’s the only place that I can pray for my own dreams without having to listen to everyone else’s.”

* * *

Sara sat in her favorite Roman church looking up at a fresco. Three cherubs floated above the head of baby Jesus. She loved the fat little Renaissance babies, and everything about the art.
“Are you hearing this?” she asked the four of them silently. They didn’t respond. “I didn’t think so.”
She listened as a man very close to her wished for his mother to find someone to grow old with. It pained the man that his mother had been without his father for so many years. Then she melted a little as he prayed humbly for love to find him.
“Ciao,” he said behind her.
I must be imagining things, she thought. She turned around to see a perfect smile, and turned back quickly, blushing. He rose and his heels clicked away on the marble floor, rounded the end of the pew, and came clicking back down her aisle. He sat beside her.
“Ciao,” she said softly, without looking at him.
“You come here everyday,” he said quietly, facing forward, “and you sit in a different place, everyday.”
“Yes,” she said blushing again.
“Why?”
She turned to face him. “What is your name?” she asked after a moment.
“Gabriele, and yours?”
“Sara,” she said extending her hand.
She felt a surge of warmth when he touched her. He stared into her eyes, and shook her hand softly. She loved him at once.
“Do you ever wonder if people can hear your thoughts?” she asked, “And then say ‘Hello,’ just in case they’re listening?”
“No,” his face split into a wide smile, “but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to hear all that you think.”
Her fists clenched and she realized that he was still holding her hand.
“Can you hear my thoughts now?”
“Only your prayers,” she whispered, “and you shouldn’t wish for such things in a sacred place.”

 

* * *

Sara stood in her kitchen alone. Leaning against the countertop, she studied the curve of the wine glass balanced in her hand. She preferred the way her satin flats looked against the black and white tile at her feet, to the conversation that she could hear from the dining room.
“They were so drab,” she would tell her husband later, “him continuously praying for more money and her for me to cut the black forest cake.”
She took a sip of wine and held it in her mouth as she closed one eye and looked at life through the burgundy liquid. The blue cheese sauce for the pasta danced up to her nose. Her curls stuck to the back of her neck while random thoughts walked mazes within her mind.
She heard the hot sizzle of water on the burner as the pot boiled over. Her eyes came back into focus and she reached for potholders and turned the burner off. As she emptied the fresh gnocchi into the strainer she saw something move in her kitchen window.
“Gabriele,” she shrieked as the pot crashed to the bottom of the porcelain basin.
He flew around the corner. The terror in his face matched the sound of her voice.
“What is it?” he asked barely breathing. He had never seen her look so scared.
Her thin frame moved slowly away from the window, her head shook back and forth ever so slightly. She stared out the window with wide, unblinking eyes. He looked down at her clenched fists.
“There’s something terrible out there,” she whispered, “and it’s praying for a way to come in.”

The Old Man That He Sees

He wakes. His feet touch the cool stone floor. He ignores his weathered reflection, rinses his hands, and splashes water on his face. The sticky dawn drifts through the seaward window. He sees the fog and the distant orange circle muted above the horizon. He turns back to the looking glass. You will catch a big one today, he says to the old man that he sees.