It has been raining for hours. Rain pelts the skylight. Water streams from the eaves in sheets. Wind shakes and rattles the doors and loosens the screens. Cheyenne and I hunker on the porch futon, nestled in a cocoon of comforters and shawls. The chiminea glows brightly, the fragrant apple wood crackling and spitting as it burns.
I am re-reading Susan Schwartz’s Silk Roads and Shadows. Alexandra is battling her demons–inner and outer–amid a killer sandstorm halfway across the vast Sahara. She’s well into her quest to save her ancient city and her heritage when Cheyenne’s toe finds its way to mine under the comforter and tickles me.
“We have company,” she says. Sure enough, through the heavy slanting rain, huddled together under a useless umbrella, race the Twins. Cheyenne is up before me and has the door open just as the girls reach the steps. A gust of wind and rain slam in with them, and I am already helping them strip their wet windbreakers while Cheyenne pushes the door shut.
“Whatever are you girls doing running around in this weather?” I chide, handing them each a woolly afghan to drape around their wet heads and shoulders.
Shivering, June laughs. “We have a present for you, Rose.”
“But first we gotta dry off,” Kami says, shaking her wet mop of curls.
I run into the bedroom and pull two sets of sweatshirts, pants, and socks from the dresser, stopping at the linen closet for a couple of towels. By the time I return, the girls have their shoes and socks off.
“Take these into the bedroom and change your clothes. Bring everything back out here and we’ll hang it to dry by the fire.”
Kami pulls a bag, one of Janine’s hand-woven designs, from under her sweatshirt and lays it on the rattan table next to the futon. Somehow, soaked as she is, she kept that bag dry.
When the girls return, glowing with the exhilaration of running in the rain, I pour tea from the pot Cheyenne and I have been sharing this afternoon, but they are already warm and quickly set their cups aside.
“We came to apologize for the other day, Rose,” Kami says.
“And to tell you we’re sorry we broke the bowl,” June finishes. Before I can open my mouth to respond, to tell them it is I who should apologize to them, Kami continues.
“We forgot, you see,” she says. “After you left, Janine wheeled her chair over, raised herself as high as she could, and picked up where you left off.”
Back and forth, I watch these darling young women, too soon adults, as they tell their tale, finishing each others’ sentences.
“She said we should have known better. . . ”
“We forgot that yesterday was the day Marita died.”
“Not the day, Silly, the anniversary of the day. . .”
“You know what I mean,” June continues. “We forgot. We know how much she meant to you.”
“We loved her too, Rose. Really we did. She was always so kind to us. Whenever we got on everyone else’s nerves, Marita would just laugh and give us one of her great big hugs and invite us in for cookies.”
“Marita taught us how to make kites . . .”
“And took us all up on the hill . . . ”
“All the kids, every one, and showed us how to fly ’em.”
“Remember Rose? Remember when the whole village made kites and flew ’em?”
“I do,” I laugh at the memory. “I laughed so hard that day that my face and belly ached half the night.”
“The kites were beautiful,” Cheyenne says. “I remember yours especially, Kami. Yours was a Phoenix, and you would not stop chattering about how every time it lifted, someone’s dream was lifting with it. Do you remember?”
“Yes.” Kami actually blushes. “My first kite didn’t turn out so well, and I wadded it up in a ball and threw it at June, ’cause her kite was so pretty.”
“Yeh,” June says, “Marita picked up the ball and tossed it in the fireplace. Then she winked at me, and grabbed Kami’s hand. She said they were gonna make a Phoenix rise from the ashes.”
“‘Because everyone’s dreams can take wing if they get a little lift,’ that’s what she said,” Kami finishes.
June grabs the brightly colored bag from the table and pulls out two oat straw dollies.
“We’ve been saving them since the harvest over in Central Village,” Kami says.
“We were going to return them to the field in the spring, like the ancients did, but we want you to have them instead, Rose.”
“They’re absolutely beautiful!”
“We know!” the girls chime in unison, but it’s joy in the beauty, not pride I hear in their voices. I turn the dollies over, one at a time. Only young, nimble fingers can braid the long oat fibers so daintily.
“But Rose,” June says, “You know how Ralph is always saying that nothing is permanent?”
“Especially oat straw dollies,” Kami says. “Plenty of Central Village children made dollies last summer for the fertility festival this spring. No one will know our two dollies didn’t make it back to their fields.”
“We decided to give them to you, Rose,” June again. “We’re sorry we were careless and unmindful yesterday.”
“What June means is, we’re sorry we forgot that you … ,”
“… and most everybody else!”
“… were remembering Marita, and maybe feeling sad.”
“Corn dollies are beautiful, but just like people are fragile and don’t always live out their lives, and, well, the corn dollies might not make it till spring either.” June turns to Kami. “You tell her.”
Cheyenne puts her arm around June. Kami leans in to her other side.
“We thought,” Kami seems embarrassed, “well, maybe it’s silly, but we thought maybe you could plant them in the garden or something, to show that you forgive us, and as a reminder that, that . . .”
“That things always grow back if the ground is well-tended, or something like that!”
I am momentarily speechless, so deeply touched at the girls’ sensitivity.
“You want to have a ritual of some kind to show your love and remembrance for Marita and ‘bury the hatchet’ so to speak?” The girls nod, their eyes bright. The near-irrepressible grins hover around their mouths, waiting to return.
“I have an idea,” Cheyenne says, glancing to see if I agree. “Let’s toss the corn dollies in the chiminea and watch them burn. Like Marita, they will burn brightly for a moment and be all too soon gone.”
“And so will any sense that any of us owes the other an apology for our behavior yesterday. What do you say, Girls?” I wink at Cheyenne, who nods her approval. The Twins grab Cheyenne’s hands and pull her to me.
We hold each other a moment, each in our own thoughts. My mind is flashing with images of the twins and Marita, their mutual exuberance, at times so exasperating, at other times so full of joy that we mere ordinary folk could only observe, laugh, and enjoy ourselves to the fullest.
Kami pulls away, hands me her straw dollie. I admire its beauty one more time, then toss it on the fire, followed closely by June’s. The fire flashes. The straw crackles and snaps. The brightly colored ribbons that decorated the dollies flare on their own, then wither to ash.
I hug the girls, each in turn, while Cheyenne heads to the kitchen. The lid of the cookie jar clinks, and Cheyenne returns quickly with a plateful of white-frosted ginger cookies.
“Mmmmm! Our favorite!” June grins, and pops one nearly whole into her mouth.
“This is the real reason we came over,” Kami says impishly.
“Yeah,” June’s words are muffled. “We smelled the ginger baking yesterday.”
I glance at Cheyenne over their heads, and say a thank you prayer to Marita for her goodness and love, and another for the generous hearts of these two young women.
May the village ever be blessed with ones such as these.