When Jesse said his people could fly, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water instead of digging crawdads for supper. Though he fled to D.C. after the Klan burned Wilmington in 1898, we kept in touch.
In 1965, both ninety-five years old, we rode to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. Afterwards, Jesse said, “The moral arc of the universe must be a rainbow. Takes faith to find the end of it.”
“Helps to fly, doesn’t it.”
He nodded, picked up his two-year old great-granddaughter, who spread her arms, laughing and flapping. “This one’s in training.”
It rained. And then froze. The rain a teaser. Maybe no drought this year. Maybe there’s snow piled into the mountains. Not that we’ll know. Since the electricity stopped working, we haven’t heard from anyone more than a buggy’s ride away.
Try explaining electricity to a five-year old. It always ends up with magic. The same way that putting seeds in the ground and getting peas seems like a miracle. We used to show our daughter how peas grow. How they need water. Used a plastic cup and a paper towel. None of those left. Good thing there’s still miracles.
Trying to cheer me up, a friend said, “Imagine a start-up selling a flying car. A guy named Tad, with genius hair and cargo shorts, runs things. Like Icharus, he falls to earth. Landing in an old growth forest close to the coast, he’s looking for a mechanic when Chloe comes along on a breath of pine and salt water.
“They marry. They’re happy, too, despite the devil on Tad’s shoulder teasing that he could have had the world. Tad pays that devil no mind. A new dad, now he’s flying by the seat of his pants.”
There was a fight about money after my father’s funeral, though money played no part. The details don’t matter. Proximity: same car, same hotel, same any building and we erupt. It would have been a ruckus except our husbands intervened. My sister pushed a finger at my chest. Ghosts burned through me. We could have been scrambling over sharp-edged furniture into the emergency room.
The argument was predictable, something to schedule for a convenient time. A time free of hot flashes and cold stares. After forty years of not settling things, the fracas was expected, even anticipated. Not an emergency.
Since the virus started, Lolly made her own decisions. Even hard ones, like, could she go across the street for a physically distant chat with her best friend, whom she’d known since first grade. Tempting fate, maybe.
Her parents worked at the hospital. They self quarantined. She missed seeing them and arguing about the silly things that had seemed important three months ago.
She said, “I love you.” Made omelets and sausage plated with sprigs of parsley which everyone ate alone. So grown up. So post high school. So very responsible and thinking about others more often now. Real adulting.
The door swings open. Your roommate pumps his fist and plops on the bed. “Winter break, here I come. Hey, wanna go skiing.” He’s always after you to relax.
You want to go, but you count every penny since your dad went bust in real estate. “La Jolla’s warmer. Mom would love to meet you.”
He agrees. Mom agrees. Everything is set. You’ve registered for classes next term, it’s dead week and you’re confident about finals. Then you get e-mail from the bursar. The autopay from your bank failed. Calling Mom, you hope your Dad hasn’t hacked the account again.
Her mother texted Aimee : “Your Grandfather left you everything.”
After mixing peanut butter into vanilla cookie dough, Aimee replied, “No way.”
She was stumped. He’d barely spoken to her the last time she visited. Aimee had hidden her resentment, watching how his care exhausted her mother, knowing her mother loved him.
Traveling to the funeral, she’d worked it out. Of his four children, only her mother had fulfilled his wishes, giving him a grandchild and care at life’s end. It fell into place. While Aimee stood in for her mother, her aunts would feel the sting of his venom one last time.
The chair, a lucky garage sale find, tucked itself under the desk after Anne’s husband died. She thought to never change it. Her sister thought otherwise and upholstered it in maroon brocade.
“Much better,” Marla said, deploying a tack to the seat’s bottom.
“Like Burgundy, his favorite wine.”
The new fabric smelled different. She sat in the chair, holding the original brown corduroy. After a year, she gathered her husband’s belongings: the chair, his books, his desk, etcetera and sold them from the driveway. Neighbors shared memories with Anne, bought remembrances. She stowed the proceeds in her brown corduroy purse.
At Grandma’s Thanksgiving, a mash-up of turkey, cranberries, second wave feminism, and Madman era misogyny collide. After a luscious dinner, you and your London chum play at Cockney rhyming slang in the library. Uncle Uncle fumbles, mumbles, tumbles, never suspecting that your friend, whose ass he pinches, is an expert kick boxer.
What did he expect? A docile blush? You show him a shot of his pained face on Snapchat. It’s captioned, “Stand back, the fourth wave is here.” He retreats to a corner, nursing his ‘Enry ‘Alls*, chugging highballs. Rules change. Change rules. You have exceeded his expectations.
* Rhyming slang for balls (rhymes with Halls.) See the entry from Wikipedia for Rhyming Slang.