Red

I don’t know what got into me today. I stormed from the kitchen in a fit of pique.

Oh sure, sometimes I let the Twins get to me with their high-energy goofing around–teasing each other mercilessly or playing catch with everything from carrot sticks to china cups.

“We won’t break Mary’s pretty bowl, Rose, we promise!” Kami laughed, deftly tossing the blown glass to June who, momentarily distracted by my ire–I admit–missed and watched in horror as the bowl crashed to the floor.

Usually, I enjoy their enthusiasm and unbridled zest. Today I snapped at them. Didn’t they understand the hours of training and work that Mary had endured to make that beautiful piece for our kitchen? What were they thinking? Had they no respect . . . on and on until I realized what I was doing, dropped the biscuit cutter, wiped the flower from my hands, and left.

You would think a woman my age would have better control of her emotions. But here I am, stomping across the meadow with no never-mind, as Aunt Rind used to say, paying no heed to the tiny florets popping their heads through the winter grasses, no care what rabbit or titmouse I am starting from the brush.

Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! I jab the dry winter ground hard and loud with my heavy garden boots. I’d like to squash something right into the ground. Smear it to nothing.

What is wrong with me today?

I stride at break-neck speed past the harrowed fields, past the plum trees blooming pink in the upper orchard, hardly giving them a glance, past the old dam long since abandoned, and a good five miles from the village.

Good grief, have I slogged five miles already?

Turkey vultures circle overhead. Some poor coyote or deer probably got suckered by a mountain lion. Well, it was her time, that’s all. When it’s your time, it’s your time.

Cold.

I stop cold. Sweat drips from my hair into my ears. It is warm this sunny January morning, 67 at least, but it is not only the exertion that causes me to perspire. I’m having a hot flash. Yet, here I stand, shivering in my sweat-soaked clothes.

Why didn’t I think of it sooner?

A huge weight sits down on my heart, hard, heavy as a cast-iron griddle. I plop to the ground, grunt painfully as the sharp edge of a rock the size of my fist scores my backside.

I deserve that.

I press into the rock, focus on the pain–physical pain a relief against the heart pain I feel today. Chest heaving, I crumple all the way to the ground, sobbing into the thin dry grass, overcome by a grief I thought long suaged. I grasp at the few wispy blades of grass, dig my fingers into the hard-packed soil surrounding their roots and cry out loud into the dirt, not caring that I taste it, gritty on my lips and tongue.

Then, momentarily lucid, I smell scat–fox. Where? I raise my head, but the tears come all the more. Alone here on the open hills, I wail, and on the in-breath, that scat again. Nostrils wide, I concentrate on the fresh scent in a vain attempt to distract myself from this pain. Still, the guttural sobs come, from deep in my belly, forcing themselves up and out, and I give way at last, to a retching so violent I fear I’ll break a rib.

Marita, I miss you so. I had forgotten today–anniversary of your death. Dear friend. How long you’ve been gone. How far away. Jacob nearly a man now, though still a child–those awkward years between bright-eyed innocence (his lost too soon) and striding adult. He works like a man, with his father’s broad shoulders. Ah, Marita, but he has the heart of a healer. No one more gentle than your Jacob.

I pour my sorrow into the ground and, finally spent, fall asleep where I lie until something tickles my nose. My own sneeze, rude and harsh, wakens me. Jacob’s face is next to mine, his eyes at once sad and mirthful. In his hand, a wisp of grass.

“You’re crying for Mom, aren’t you, Rose?” he says. I’m ashamed he’s found me so. I sit, brush my hair back. He reaches to pull a tiny clod of dirt and a ladybug from my hair.

“She’s still in quasi-hibernation,” he says, placing her tenderly in my palm. “No aphids for her to eat yet.” Soon, warmed by my touch, the ladybug lifts her wings and takes flight on the breeze that lifts my shirt-tail as well. My shirt is askew, a button loose on its thread. Fiddling with my clothing, I do not speak. Then I reach over and give Jacob a bear hug so tight I might break both our ribs.

“I wish I knew her the way you did, Rose,” he says. “Tell me something about her.” His voice is strong, deep, momentarily lacking the familiar adolescent crack of recent months. A shock of red hair, so like Marita’s, falls across his left eye and he brushes it away distractedly, the gesture also hers.

“Oh my god, Jacob,” I say, swiping at a fresh slab of tears on my face. “So many things. Her laugh. That’s what I liked best. Any time you were near Marita and Jonathon, there was laughter. Your mom laughed from the belly, without apology. She laughed with her whole body. She was a hearty woman, Jacob, filled with the joy of life! I never understood why she had to be taken from us like that. It infuriates me to this day!”

“You loved her,” he says simply, leaning back on his elbows. Lazily, he lifts one long arm and points to the sky. “Look, a red-tail hawk.”

“Your mom’s favorite bird. She told me once that when she saw a red-tailed hawk, she always imagined, for a tiny second, that she could fly. She said it was a body-memory. She said she could remember flying. She wasn’t the least bit apologetic for that either.” Jacob does not move, nor does he take his eyes from the raptor circling overhead, but his voice is cottony when he speaks.

“Long as I remember, whenever she saw a red-tail, Mom stopped what she was doing and watched until it was out of sight. She told me once that I would always know she was watching over me when I saw a red-tail.”

“Do you feel that way, Jacob? That she is watching over you?”

“Let me put it this way,” Jacob sits up, straightening his spine and lowering his voice in the self-conscious way of young men whose vocal chords have become unreliable. “More than once when I was little and alone on the hills, a red-tail hawk saved me.”

“Why Jacob, I didn’t know! Tell me!”

“Well,” he runs his fingers through his hair, “once before I knew better, I was out here somewhere running through the grass. It was summer. The grass was high as my chest, and I was a horse galloping on the prairie. I was just a little kid, see, and I still pretended a lot.” Jacob twists a small stick in his hand and scratches at the ground with it, his face lowered. His cheeks are redder than usual when he raises his head to watch the hawk again.

“A red-tail spiked down in front of me from nowhere–I swear it wasn’t there until that second–and grabbed a rattlesnake. Right there, Rose. Right in front of me. If I had taken one more step, I’d have been bit for sure.”

“And there were other times?”

“Lots of them.” Jacob jumps to his feet. “Gotta go, Rose. I’m glad you’re okay. Scared me seeing you on the ground like that. Thought maybe you fainted or somethin’. See ya’.”

He lopes away on his gangly legs, across the meadow, past the stand of live oaks. I watch him disappear up and over the crest of the hill.

You have a fine son, Marita.

One comment

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    Your writing is pure magic! The smells, the feelings, the air, the bird – I am there; your love and compassion comes through loud and clear. Again, I thank you.

    Like

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