“Monday’s Meander” Note on Tuesday: North Carolina Week

Flying over Newark, New Jersey last night

Well, getting up at 3:30 to catch a 6:00 plane (boarding at 5:25) is for the birds. Since readers and others know I am neither a jolly or well-seasoned air traveler, this was a challenge I was intent on meeting but with a bleary-eyed whine. I kept my moans on low the rest of the day; why annoy my traveling partner (Marc) further? He’s a good guy and he has to go to work all week. It is not an actual vacation for us, and for me it is a little getaway for a few days. I’ll take it!

We got to the hotel around 9 pm. I was awake until 3 am, sadly well into morning. It took that long to sink into a level of semi-drowsiness, then heavy sleep after a long day flying from Oregon to East Coast. This, however, followed my research of free phone apps to find one that promoted nature’s (doctored) soothing sounds so I might settle down to rest. Ended up with rain falling on a lake (I think)–more pleasing than a fan’s loud whirring, a metal wheels-on-track train ride or night’s city shenanigans, or even frogs croaking that was more froggy gossip fest with burps interjected. Well, it takes what it takes for us all. At that time in the dark (although only midnight in Pacific Time…) after a numbing day, nothing quite seemed as it should. I also was battling the usual allergic response to recirculated airplane air. Sneeze, blow nose, sneeze, cough, repeat. Apologized to the stranger on my left, assured him I was not sick in a conventional sense. But today I am less allergically waylaid and rested a bit; all feels much better.

This is a view from one of the hotel windows.

It was a lark, really, to accompany Marc on a business trip to an area where there isn’t anything for me to do within walking distance. I am not renting my own car, not driving him to and from work 45 minutes each day. We always stay a distance from his place of work as the manufacturing town is very small–he prefers to keep distance when day is done. And I preferred a hotel with an indoor pool and exercise room as it is surprisingly colder here than in Portland– despite North Carolina being the mid-South. Marc said there could even be snow later. Egads, I am not quite prepared for that scenario.

I occasionally travel with him as sometimes I like a little break from usual routines, enjoy refreshment of life here and there. (I might prefer Mexico, another of his business destinations but lately various political and other events have not encouraged risk taking…)

I began my respite after breakfast with a short walk to get a better look at the colorful trees noted from my high window. Nice start to wake up my mind and senses. It was freezing wind and with no hat packed, it was wide-eyed I went into the world. But here is a bit of what I found:

A twenty minutes walk did me good. On return, a lingering spell by the lobby fireplace, a look at the fine pool I will dive into before long and then the quietness of a pleasant if anonymous room… I admit this has restorative potential, wandering, writing at a cleaned off desk, gazing through a window at the November blue sky and last of autumnal trees. And the simple anticipation of strong side strokes for a few laps is a boost as later my energy flags some again. Must rest better tonight!

Tomorrow is my usual fiction post day; I will try to stay on schedule. At end of week we will be visiting daughter Naomi, a sculptor primarily. Her 5 foot tall art installation “Boundings” as well as a photograph entitled “Personal Space Capsule” are exhibited in South Carolina’s Biennial Part II, in Columbia. A pretty two hour drive certainly worth taking!

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: What Goes Here, Woman?

Okay, this direct question could be put to anyone, bold, commanding. But for me the question has several interpretations that slink around my brain lately. The inquiry is a twist on the common one: “Who goes there?” Except that I know who goes there–it is I, just Cynthia. The woman in question. One who has reached her 69th year, still sentient and fully conscious (on the mostly good days, anyway, as long as I don’t bring alcohol into it), and who likes supple black boots, fabulous scarves, books bent over into deep of night and spontaneous dancing with a little song now and then. A writer. A lover of family and loyal to friends. An introspective person who sees the world like a changing canvass of rich art. A woman who loves to talk with strangers anywhere I happen to be. Someone who has had several terrible things happen; nonetheless, they can and do happen to anyone, and I am sad for their sorrows. And I walk 2-3 miles daily if at all possible.

This much I cannot dispute.

But the rest–what is going on now with me as a result of what came before; what is more likely to occur based on present moments; and what is an intelligent response, though wait, why bother?–the rest is under review.

Not that it never has been before. How often I–in fact, our collective of humanity–revisit the status of personhood, often and perhaps that is embarrassing to confess. Are we who we think, do we prefer to be more, or less, or another altogether, and what the heck does all of it have to do with the routine and demands of daily living? There is always work at hand, little enough time to consider things. Yet how acutely we do engage in the study of ourselves. We are a species of the ruminative sort. We must prod and question to sort things out.

My state of mind is mixed. It’s akin to being close to a good fire, wrapped up in a soft and tensile blanket of contentment–while being aware of a feisty and potentially miserable porcupine outside the campfire. It may shoot its quills with or without provocation, with little preparation to deal with its displeasure. It might be a person with conflicting attitudes, a random car swerving too close, the relentless news with its fists up, my body’s jagged messages. Even how the wind already blows so cold the heating bill will be a tough thing. One more quill to eye, here and there. One must stay aware even in coziness. It is a matter of learning how to navigate life yet it feels harder this year. Would that we were prepared from the onset of our initial yowl. But we grope and gauge, try to figure it out.

Today I would quite rather write of all things good and true. I just came in from a glorious walk in surrounding woods. The sun is beaming, all the hues and tones of autumn transfix, the breeze is almost frosty, refreshing. I enjoyed the hour out as I do every day, rain or shine. So one part of me is steeped in such peace that a passerby might suspect I move from an ultimate calm. The other part is, though, laboriously picking apart knotty threads and connecting elegant strings of others so all may cohere. It is the same most days. And I don’t quite get why, though logic informs me there are several reasons.

Recently I hiked down to Bridal Veil Falls in the Columbia Gorge. I do this every fall. It commemorates my survival of a likely heart attack, not sure, I did not get to the hospital in time to know definitively. I write of it enough that old followers of this blog know it too well. Half-carried out by my husband, then we sped…home. I thought it was congested lungs even though I was brought to my knees, flattened by deep, intense squeezing in the chest area, the weight like an elephant–yes, it is that–on top of ribs and the feeling I was going, going, gone. I’d quit smoking the same year, had often run out of breath when hiking. So I went home nauseous, breathless, so exhausted I suspected I could not get off the bed again. Heart never entered our minds then–who has a heart attack at 51? I was strong and fit, especially since not smoking. I looked in my earlier forties, not fifties then–who worried?

The next morning I awakened with one phrase buzzing in my brain: It is my heart. I got on the phone and found my own cardiologist and got in a day later. Why do it that way? Usually a doctor refers a patient to specialists. But my primary doctor had thought nothing was wrong with me a year prior when I’d complained of very rapid heartbeats and feeling breathless on and off. “Anxiety and menopause,” he said and patted my hand. Would I like drugs to help calm me? No. I held back angry tears all the way out of the building, then lay my head on the steering wheel and wept. What was wrong with my generally healthy and strong body?

A year later: two stents over 18 months (first one failed), rehab stints and I started to make progress that was noticeable and trustworthy. Ever since, I’ve felt more well than not and last December another look in my arteries showed lovely pathways with no clogs or narrowing. It was about then I heard I’d already outlived my expected ten years so keep doing all I do. I respect and love my cardiologist, the same one who told me often in the early days of recovery when i got scared that we’re all going to die so stop worrying and just live. To that point, I reminded him heart disease killed my parents and two siblings already. He leaned forward, his handsome face smiling, that last visit and said, “Well, I say your heart is even stronger than before.” He did not say I was not going to die of heart disease. But it is a great thing to be this much better until…whatever.

I ran into a fond acquaintance who had a serious heart event recently with emergency surgery. We both were walking along the river. Feeling grateful, I spotted her and gave her a big hug. She had been in the hospital again with chest pain but was later released, deemed okay. I get how that goes. She is an admirable person, a VP of a commercial real estate company, a talented writer (met her in writing groups), a loving mother. After we parted, I thought: she is about the age I was. How did this change her? You learn that life can be torn from you in an instant, that it is a flimsy thing we carry our small lives in–even though it again surges with power, and heals.

So here I am, also still living as the days and nights come and go. But is that enough? Is the success of staying alive and grateful enough? What does it all tell me about the quality of my choices and actions? And what in those elicits appreciation from others? Or am I partly invisible, as we all can be invisible, even when we need to be seen? Is the hard work worth what I am now? Isn’t there much more I can and ought to contribute?

The hike down to the beauteous Bridal Veil Falls was easy. Hard to think it hurt so much 18 years ago. But this time it was going back up that was hard. I managed the incline of steep trails fine. Marc and I had a discussion that turned difficult; it was perhaps foolish at first glance. He hates taking photos. I like to commemorate the yearly hike with one: victory! Yet I am often displeased with his results–blurry, off-kilter, too far off. One reason I like him to get me in a photo is that I always take pictures of family plus snap away at the tons of other scenes that intrigue me. I have few shots of myself taken when I was a kid (my family took few)-or even older, when our children came along, as I was taking their pictures for photo albums, of course.

Truth was, I felt a bit hurt after that last hike. Why did he not see how important it was for me to well document that I am still here and could manage the trail well once more? He got the importance of the hike; he did not get the importance of a picture being clear and nicely aligned. I said, “I want my children and grandchildren to be able to see it and know that, yes, our mom/grandma so loved hiking amid nature’s wonders and she did the trail one more year, a triumphant hike.”

We fell silent and I was sorry I felt so sad about it, and he so irked.

I think I get tired from all the laboring and even reaching goals, including small ones. I usually have a handle on what matters most when the chips are down and when all seems well. But how much can a life mean and how can we give it, share it, transform it endlessly? A I get older and closer to that still-nebulous but undeniable finish line, the reassessment is in earnest some moments. It is not the same sort of review as when I was 30, 40, 50, when there seemed decades left. In fact, it is this year of age 69 that has impacted me so differently.

It has been a time of surprises, shocks and reorientation. Of setting new courses and not having a clue where this may take my husband and myself by the next year. Of letting go of places (moving from a comfortable home to a very different place) and people (grieving others’ passing or grave illnesses), of greeting the glorious twins and wondering if what I have to offer my daughter and her family is enough. How to draw the line, too, when I am worn out. Of worry about money, how much to give and how much to keep. Of coping with emotional blows from any who shut me out of their lives–this has happened so rarely in my life, it c mes as a shock, the events flummoxing me. And I’ve dealt with my discomforts behind the scenes as mush as I can, as a responsible person, a wife and mother from my culture was taught to do when I grew up. I have discovered more flexibility and strength than expected–that has been an insight gleaned. caring for yourself doesn’t necessarily come more easily when older; you just see more quickly what is needed and get to it.

Where I was confident before, there has been some tentativeness. I do not want to pressure anyone. I don’t want to assert opinions not wanted. But, too, I’ve found that physical and psychic pain still may cut perilously deep …and the power of healing can occur even when not looking. It’s like limping along and suddenly you find sturdier legs, so you walk as if well, with shoulders up and head up. The soul is buoyed again.

So maybe I am getting a better handle on the changes and learning to ride the bumps. Resilience is our friend. Inspiration comes in funny places. You know how you think you have had just about enough for awhile and then you see a hummingbird visit the feeder, and it pauses mid-air before you? How you forgot the shopping list, wander about like an idiot until the important items come forward and it feels like a win? Then you go to the cash register and the cashier looks right at you, tells you how much she enjoys the fall color and sunshine, do you?– and she likes your jacket and really, have a good day because today is what we’ve got, right? It is the commonest things. It is the wisp of light that plunges into shadows, how one finds one’s way.

Every portion of my faith in God and living is based on the real likelihood of something good and rejuvenating that will counterbalance the difficult and damaging. Just when it doesn’t seem likely, it arrives– or I can create it. We are meant to always do creative work, inside and out, at home and at work, in our dreaming and thinking. Mending, altering, finding new parts for old fittings, unique solutions to knotty problems. No one lives without this gift. And how wise a thing that we are given a brain and will to use it–if we just do use it.

Most of the time I do know “what goes here.” I do not sleepwalk; I am in slumber or I am awake. I get up and open the blinds, take in the trees and sky. I make a mug of steaming chai and meditate. What is happening is simple: moving through another year, addressing its needs. I choose to surmount tough times and appreciate the value of each fulfilling moment, and the most ordinary ones. It is choosing kindness over being right or having the last word. It’s letting hurts heal and welcoming people who can care better. It’s finding ways through or around blockades. And holding close the blessings in person, in prayer, in actions. I can’t know what tomorrow will bring–health or illness, wealth or poverty, disaster or protection, triumph or defeat. It is still, at this age, a step-by-step dance, alone or with one another.

I do have a solid sense of who I am. There are a very few regrets lingering. Mysteries unsolved. Moments ahead that will ask much. Failures still occur despite best efforts. So then, what goes here, woman-person? What if I am getting older (even the leaves grow old and flare bright before the end, are wonderful as they drift and twirl back to earth) and it’s not the best or the worst of times, but a satchel full of curious odds and ends belonging to me? It is what I make of it; I will poke about and see what comes together. Maybe I need to pause, review again and again. I’ve survived, have had great times, grown the past ten months, and once more have counted God as my one irrevocable constant. And I expect more to come. As far as I know. I am open to highs and even lows, the many in-betweens.

That is my view of things today. It may always be the main stuff I know. (And I write what I know, so stay tuned if you like…)

Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: A Matter of the Blood Oath

Photo by Hakan Hu on Pexels.com

It was a radiant red and gold fall Monday morning when everything got ready to change. Not that Perth would know it from a glance around the quiet house or when crossing Dartmoor Parkway, the traffic thickening and their mother waving from the porch, or the train right on time along Fourth Street. Victoria was ahead of her but not by much.

It would take the day cracking open–didn’t everyone hear it?–at lunch hour. It made her brain hurt, all the crackling and crashing as her mind took in, then recoiled at the scene before her.

Her sister didn’t even glance her way. How could she? Her wide brown eyes were glued to Dominic’s, the new boy’s, the one who sat across from Perth in eighth grade English class. Vic, as she called her at school, ten months younger but in the same grade, had him in drama class. They’d briefly noted him during the first week of the semester. And only because his thick dark hair fell to his shoulders and his bare ankles hung out where his jeans might have covered them. It was otherwise obvious he was out of place, though all new kids were out of place, as they knew. The sisters had moved a lot. (But now all three were “firmly planted,” their mother said, “in very good soil, we will bloom accordingly.” Perth and Victoria hoped with every fiber of their beings she was in this marriage for the long run.)

Perth carried the lunch tray to where she usually sat, between Jana and Elise, across from Vic. The two of them were in heated discussion about who did better in a math pop quiz and why Mr. Mercer was a terrible teacher, so Perth leaned forward and said,

“Hey, Vic.” She craned her neck to see Dominic but he was looking at his cheeseburger before taking a huge bite.

Victoria looked the other way while picking up several pieces of lettuce and tomato and stuffed them in her mouth. She acted embarrassed by that and she licked her fingers, then grabbed a napkin. Dominic was oblivious, attacking the burger, but he lifted a free hand at someone passing by. he had a friend already, that was good.

“Hey Victoria, what’s up, gorgeous?” Perth asked again, hands palm-up in the air. She then speared veggies from her chef salad. Why was was she being ignored?

Dominic’s gaze drifted around Jana, who took off, and landed on her. Vic gave up, flashed a smile as fake as possible at her. Perth gave her a level, cool stare.

“Well, hi,” Vic said, “I’m eating lunch, like you. Like Dom and Elise. What do you want? We have fifteen more minutes to eat. So, if you don’t mind…”

That wasn’t strictly true; they had over a half hour, but if they wanted time to walk around or fix their hair and all or gossip with friends, they had fifteen more left to eat. And they always made good use of their break times. They were together in school as they were usually around home: Perth and Victoria Didrikson, the reigning “Irish twins.”

“Hi Dom, I’m Perth, Vic’s sister, or do you know her as Victoria?” She gestured to her sister. “It makes a difference. Only insiders call her Victoria.”

“Perth, quit already!”

Dom swiped at his greasy mouth and shook his head, dark hair shimmying. “Just Vic, we met a couple weeks ago. Hey, aren’t you in my English class?”

“Yeah, with Miss Marsh, good deal, huh? Mrs. Harner is a cruel one. What are you working on for the essay?”

Vic stood up, tray in hand, salad barely touched. “Excuse me, Dom, you done? Let’s go outside where there’s more air.”

He shot her a grin, grabbed his tray and, to Perth’s shock, just followed.

Perth felt a slow burn make way from face to chest to gut. She listened to Elise jabber on about something, tried to finish lunch. But nothing felt right. Perth had an impulse to go to the nurse’s station and say she was sick. Because all in all, she sort of was. Vic had found a boy when they had absolutely sworn them off for another year. They had a yearly oath, and they each signed it. Then they pricked a finger and let a drop of their blood mark the page right under their names. It was one of a few mysterious ways they did things. It was like that since they had been kids.

******

The first thing everyone wanted to know was why she had such an weird name. Perth was, after all, the capital of Western Australia. Or if you didn’t know it, now you did. Her mother was born there and she’d had a supposedly idyllic childhood. Until her family immigrated to Canada, namely Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Maddy, their mother, had thrived there even more. Although the island was a bit isolated, not nearly as much as it was in Perth (where ocean and outback surrounded that city). She’d loved it so much that she fell in love and got married there. Later, she named her second child for that city.

Neither of the sisters quite recalled the city on the island; they had been two and three. But after Maddy’s divorce they’d lived across Canada several years. And then she met Keith, an American businessman, and that was that. That was five years ago. Now they were in Cincinnati and it could be worse, they guessed. But all through the ups and downs, Perth and Victoria were stuck together, one in mind and action more often than not, even though not in age or appearance. Nothing could have pulled them apart, not really, not even their tendencies for clear territorial space or their differences in musical taste or a constant need of reassurance that they were equally loved by their gorgeous, smart, but at times distracted mother. It had so often been romance that she preferred or so it seemed to them, and they had vowed to avoid it at all costs. Or at least as long as they possibly could, until age thirty or forty when they had established careers and good friends and homes of their own. Nearby, of course.

Maddy hugged them close when they told her the plan, thinking she might agree it was smart. They did not speak of the signatures and blood.

“Maybe so,” was all she said. “You never know what’s ahead. It is all an adventure…”

But ambiguous words meant little to her daughters; they were devoted, and so bold with certainty. She’d not forgotten how hard past times had been, the pain she’d suffered. Maddy had grown up cared for and secure, though, and she knew it had saved her. She now worked as a speech therapist four days a week; she’d remarried well, was happy again. But it had taken a terrible divorce and several more promising or miserable men, of being poor and deeply lonely while slowly finishing college–all in between then and now, meaning her degree and then Keith.

Perth and Victoria got wounded some in the fallout along the way. Maddy regretted this. What could be done but live a healthier life now, be generous with love? But she was a more and more realist. Heartbreak was not something they’d avoid. And that made her ache deep inside where no words lived.

******

After lunch, Perth obsessed about things. It was as if a part of her had been misplaced, and there was bodily discomfort, and when she looked around for her sister at her locker down the hall, he was there, one hand up, his body half-circling Vic’s. Perth’s body clutched; she felt it as anger, but who was she mad at? Him? Her? Her own self? Hormones? Hers must be sluggish or defective, despite being ten months older. Her sister did look older than she did, and Victoria thought she knew more, that was clear.

When they met back home and sat at the dinner table, Vic avoided Perth’s scathing looks and talked little or to their mother and Keith. Maddy noticed but said nothing; the girls had their rough moments. Their stepfather had little clue–who got anything about freshly minted teenagers?

Since they had their own rooms avoidance was a snap later, or so Victoria hoped. She was texting with Dominic, nothing that interesting yet fascinating to her, and she had homework to do, and her elaborately designed and colored “Do Not Disturb” sign was hanging on the doorknob. Maybe Perth would respect that awhile.

But Perth pounded on the door. Victoria wished for her to go away.

“Victoria, let me in,” she said in a loud whisper into the keyhole. “Time to talk…”

“No.” Vic was watched the phone screen for Dom’s response.

“I can get in, you know.”

“Not without breaking down the door. Do not pick the lock.”

“Come on, you can’t refuse your big sister entry. It’s against the rules,” she whined.

“Your rules, not mine.”

There it was, three small words from him: have to go. She stared at perth through the door.

Perth leaned her back against it. She could hear their mother and stepfather laughing over whatever dumb show they watched. “I’m bored. I want the whole story.”

Victoria sighed, got up, walked around the end of her bed, looked out the window. It was a hard cold night; stars glittered like ice and a frost warning was up. It would be another beautiful day in the morning and they’d meet at lunch, maybe, again. In drama class. Casting had occurred for the play and if he got the male lead and she got the female lead….She recalled the way his hands laced fingers, then slid behind his head and then neck, his elbows sticking out. She didn’t know why that got her, but it did, they was he seemed more…something…open, reachable…that minute, even though it was more a stretch. He was two inches taller than she was already. He was funny in a quiet way. It made her feel dreamy.

A hand smacked hard once at the door and Victoria started, then bounced back onto her bed.

“Go away, Perth, you’re only making things worse…”

She lay very still, staring at the ceiling, fiddling with silky fringe on her purple flowered pillow held against her chest. There was no more said, and not even Perth walking away was heard. And that suddenly scared her. Enough to stop thinking about Dominic, enough to make it tough to get on her homework. What was happening? How could such a thing make them slide around each other, but ready to fight?

******

It went that way, more or less on Tuesday and Wednesday, then Thursday. By Friday Perth stopped going to–much less talking at–her sister’s bedroom door. She stopped sitting at her usual lunch table so she wouldn’t see the two of them excluding the world. She and Elise ate outside on the lawn as there was a warming spell, and when Janna joined them one day, Elise warned her to not ask about Dom and Vic, it upset Perth more each day and it was all over school already: Vic and Dom, together.

“Are you so freakin’ mad or jealous or what?” Janna asked, anyway. “Why her and not us?”

“No, it just isn’t what I expected, that’s all,” Perth said. She made a scornful face, then pulled her long hair back into a ponytail so the wind wouldn’t readily catch it, turn it upside down.

“You have the best hair,” Elise said. “Vic and you got lucky.”

“Thanks…I have the best sister when she isn’t an idiot,” Perth said.

“She’s not an idiot, just dumbstruck with puppy love,” Jana said and Elise socked her in the shoulder. “I mean, who can blame her?.”

“Oh, please. He’s okay, just a new eighth grade guy and why she is so mesmerized…well, I don’t get it. He isn’t all that smart or anything.” Her eyes filled suddenly and she closed them. “And she promised!””

“Mesmerized…he’s dangerous magic!” Jana wiggled fingers at them and gave them a hard stare, one eyebrow raised, the goofy one as usual.

Elise sat up straight, ears perked up by Perth’s last words. “Promised what?”

Perth wasn’t listening. Dangerous. Yeah, that’s how it felt, as if they’d entered a dark maze, and she couldn’t quite find the way to Vic even though she felt her so nearby she almost heard her breathing. Laughing at her. And that guy calling out to Victoria. But why did her sister avoid her? They’d always talked. They’d always known what the other most needed or wanted. Yet Perth could figure almost none of this out. It was as if she had been suddenly closed out. Victoria took one step that way, not the other way where Perth and she were used to going, and the world they shared stopped turning. She felt queasy and dizzy–again.

“It’s like Vic pulled down the shades, turned out the light and even my banging on the door doesn’t matter. Okay, 911–but big deal, just not answering, Sis.”

“Oh,” Janna said.

Elise put her hand on her friend’s shirted back, smoothed away damp wrinkles from unseasonable heat and wondered what it was like to have a sister. She had an older brother who she might do without.

“Crap, Perth,” Jana said and sat closer to the other side but the truth was, it was just a boy so why all the drama? She sort of had a boyfriend who was really just a good friend. Much better that way. They were only thirteen, fourteen, anyway.

******

“Quiet down some!” Keith called upstairs.

It was Victoria’s music for a change, very loud soul or was it pop music. Perth liked Ella Fitzgerald lately, a real shocker, but then she was a unique one. A couple months ago it had been David Bowie, of all people, and before that, some rapper he had never heard. Sampling, that was a good thing he thought. He’d also noticed the girls weren’t talking much, and Maddy was getting worried. He lingered at the bottom of the stairs. The music quieted. Perth stuck her head out of her room, took one step into the hall, so Keith retreated.

Perth tiptoed to Victoria’s room, bent down and slid a note under the door. She backed away then disappeared into her own room.

Victoria’s head was bent over the first play script, hair draping a side of her face as she tapped her pencil against her lips. She had gotten the lead but told no one at home yet. But she heard the paper slip over the worn floorboards and knew what it was. Her eyes lost focus on the words below. Dom hadn’t gotten a part so a stage connection was out, but he was working on lighting. She was excited. She’d always imagined being a stage actress so now it could start happening. A lot was changing. She felt breathless at times, her situational anxiety rearing its head (or so their mother would say, it ran in the family).

She slipped off the quilt and retrieved the note. It got right to the point.

What have you done with my wonderful sister?

She opened the door but Perth was not there. She crossed the hall and knocked.

“Who goes there?” Perth called out in a booming voice.

“One lady of the forest, to another.”

“Are you armed with sword or words?”

Victoria paused, almost letting go a chuckle. This is how it went.

“I come in peace…my sister bids me welcome,” she said.

“I will confer with my cabinet and ferns.” A momentary silence, then a brass bowl was struck. “Enter with hands and mind open and free.”

Maddy was halfway up the stairs when she heard some of the exchange. Her throat tightened as she pressed hand to chest, and returned to her husband.

Victoria entered a room lit with soft white, star-shaped lights strung about two windows and across top of the wall behind the bed. Two huge ferns hung in planters in opposite corners; a tarnished brass deer perched on her desk beside an ivy. Perth was seated at the desk–as she often was–but stood gracefully, shoulders back. The one who danced best, had such posture.

“Okay, I know, it’s stupid, but Dom is the first guy I’ve really noticed and–“

“So stardust got you but that shouldn’t interfere, should it, with us–“

“Right. I thought he might like you, though.”

“Sure, no interest indicated either way.”

“So what’s next?”

Perth and Victoria eased back on fluffy bed pillows, looking at the soft lights.

“I think you need to revise the oath a bit,” Victoria said.

“Me? I did nothing, changed nothing. You’re the changer.”

“But we’re getting older.”

“I suppose. But why do I have to alter the document”

“You know.”

The wind came up, rattled maple limbs like a handful of dry bones. Soon Perth would be able to see out across the street again. She liked the comfort of dense greenery more than an open vista but that was nature.

“I know, I’m the writer Irish twin. Really ought to be accurate and say Australian, that makes more sense…”

“Perth! Listen: no more bloodletting?”

“Agreed. I will just revise a bit: we’ve determined that flexibility and understanding are crucial when faced with a possibility of any outside love, but we must never lose our sister bond.”

Victoria lay her head on Perth’s shoulder. “Yeah. Well stated, sister.”

“Well received, sister.”

Perth and Victoria knew their mother was anxious downstairs, hoped to hear what they were up to this time, but they did what they always did. They kept their secrets to themselves, unless threat of harm was evident and imminent. And none was.



Monday’s Meander: Fun in the Fruit Loop

All photos copyright 2019 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Just south of Hood River, Oregon is the Fruit Loop, a 35 mile winding back road that showcases much of the beauty and many edible/imbibe-able offerings of this area. It makes its way about fruit orchards, farmland, pleasant little towns, and surrounding forests. As seen above, Mt. Hood’s majestic 11, 240 ft. high peak dazzles in sunlight.

Twenty-nine farms dot the meandering roads. I learned that 39% of the USA’s pears are grown and harvested here. There are also seasonally grown berries, cherries, apples, peaches and pumpkins, among others. Kids love to visit to enjoy traditional family activities, including corn mazes and hayrides. The farm stores offer abundant choices of jam and baked goods, as well as seasonal gifts and decor. If you are a wine lover, this is a good place to visit, too. (Have to admit, wine would be what I’d drink if I could!)

I was after fresh batches of apples and pumpkins for food and pleasure. And hot cider and cinnamon sugar cake donuts. We’ve visited five farms so far. This visit we included 3; we always hang out in Hood River and it takes a few hours to see just a few. (But it was at a more local farm that I finally got my tasty, warm donuts during another outing yesterday. Delicious!)

First off was Pearl’s, a humble but pleasing stop.

I was delighted to see an alpaca…I think! We have many alpacas and llamas in Oregon but I get confused as they look similar to me from a distance. This lovely creature was observant and curious.

Packer Orchards was a great stop. I’ve bought their jams at farmers’ markets for years so was happy to visit–and pick up more ginger spice pear jam. Pumpkins galore at this stop!

The above 3 pictures of Foxtail Distillery and Cider Mill are of a brief stop, but we managed to leave with a dozen delicious, mostly different varieties of apples. Good plain cider!

It was getting later so off we went. This countryside thrills me as much as any other Oregon area. We continued on to a hidden spot, Tucker Park, to round out our day.

Tucker Park is on the actual tumbling and refreshing Hood River (as opposed to the town), where there are several campsites. It is at times quite fast-running and also cold. A very attractive spot; we will go back and poke around the banks and trail more.

I hope you enjoyed coming along with us on our Fruit Loop foray!

Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: Fortuitous Forgiveness

If only, if only, if only…it was a well worn refrain, no, perhaps more a mantra for Maxine.

Eve worried they might be her mother’s last words one day, they hung between them so often, cluttered up space like meaningless items. It made her want to bolt, or at least grab the wine bottle and pour a tall one. Her parents didn’t drink, so that would come later.

“If we’re revisiting this topic even before coffee and pie, leave me out of the discussion.” Eve rose, took a serving dish and wooden salad bowl in her hands.

From the corner of her eye she noted her father had picked up the paper from the next chair over–Alden’s chair, topped with a booster seat– and proceeded to hide behind the Culture and Arts page. She wondered how long it would take him to check the stock market and predicted thirty seconds max.

“It is what it is, Maxine, let it be,” he mumbled. The pages were rustled, turned faster.

Eve disappeared through the kitchen’s Dutch doors; Maxine’s words sailed through like crows on the wing, undeterred.

“If he’d just finished his degree, this wouldn’t have to happen, you know that, Douglas, and he still could do that,” she intoned, dabbing her thin lips with a beige linen napkin, four of which I had ironed before they came. “If only he had given two thoughts to what it would mean…” She sighed and shook her head, a luxuriant bun freed slightly from its pins. Her hands–so like parchment they scared Eve lately– deftly re-secured it.

The leftover chicken and dumplings and salad disappeared down the garbage disposal and Eve turned it on. Let it run longer than needed.

What her mother was really saying was, If only you had gotten your Masters’ in chemistry or business management, this might be avoided–and: if only your husband did more to secure your family’s future. And saying it to her, not to the tension-saturated air. Eve being a teacher wasn’t enough for them, she knew that already. It had always been about the correct education and supposed power that brought. It was as if they were stuck in another decade when degrees meant financial and oddly, perhaps even spiritual victory. It brought respectability and status, after all. In their day. That was another story. One that Maxine seldom grew weary of sharing, putting a present day twist on things that was entirely made up.

Certainly she was not talking to Eve’s husband, Mick, as he was out, just as he tended to be for every Sunday mealtime. He was at his best friend’s huge garage where Garth was working on another of his special order paint jobs. Mick loved to see the shiny designs come to fruition; some of them were his ideas, in part, though he never shared the credit. “I’m the amateur, a spectator, he’s the pro; it’s all good,” he always said.

Mick was a landscaper, and he used his design sense in garden and lawn development and execution. But he had been laid off. As usual. It was heading toward winter and Mick was the most junior member of the team. He’d do snow removal until spring, and watch Alden, their three year old. They boy slept now, thankfully; he could dream about puppets and parks and wooden blocks, unaware of the stress his grandparents created with a few tiresome words.

Her father said something low to her mother– likely, Maxi, soft pedal it, play this snafu down, not up. He isn’t a bad sort.

Eve hung her now throbbing head, then straightened up and looked out a window, took in the expanse of open land. The mountains beyond. Breathed. Turned off the disposal.

“Look at Alden, there’s my boy, sleepy head! Come to join us at Sunday table, have you?”

Douglas’ voice boomed with happiness and relief. Eve could hear Maxine getting up and tottering over in her too-high heels to give her grandson a soft hug. She was not a hugger, but for her only grandchild she made the exception. Eve rinsed her hands, dried them, lifted her head and smiled, then greeted her son.

“Hey, my Aldy boy!” She wanted to squeeze him.

“Alden, up just in time for apple pie?” Douglas reached out a hand.

The child took it, then rubbed one puffy eye and ruffled his straw-colored hair. “Yes, pie and then match-the-cards game with Grandpa!”

Maxine sighed. “It’s always Grandpa. You boys! How can I get this child’s attention more? And where do you suppose he got all that blond hair? Maybe it will still darken.”

Stop talking so much nonsense, get on the floor and play, Eve wanted to say, but retrieved the fragrant, warm pie, the plates and forks. The thought of Maxine removing her heels and sitting sideways on the cat-furry rug in her herringbone skirt and silk ivory blouse made her smirk. And Alden’s messy, gorgeous hair? She wished Mick was there, his thick, bright waves making the overt point for her. Again. She checked her watch.

Maxine and Douglas should have stayed in Chicago suburbs another couple of years. But Douglas had retired and they wanted to ease into a simpler life, or so they said. They might have given Eve and Mick more time to get ahead, to build their lives with one another. Now her parents were a half hour down the road, through the hilly farmland, in a smaller manse in East Braxton.

******

Eve wished she could say it was always this way. But things once were normal, or what she knew to be normal, and she had been happier. Then all changed when her father got the Big Promotion. She was eleven then, halfway through school and already itching for more freedom. The family home, a sweet 1920s bungalow, was sold and then they moved into a five bedroom brick house, too much space but never mind, they had intercoms, and a yard that took half a Saturday for her brother, Tim, to mow. Their father was gone more than he was home; when he was home he was near-invisible or they wished he might leave again for all he understood about their lives. Their mother was gone, too, maybe more–to the beauty salon and spas and on shopping trips, at various club meetings and luncheons. She learned about roses and had many planted, front and back. About costly perfumes and handbags and had her closets renovated. About Chicago’s splashier charitable events where she’d get her photo put in the “People Out and About” section. She found being home more and more tedious as time went by. She liked to celebrate her sudden good fortune with her new friends, with new clothes.

Tim and Eve got many things done for themselves or they learned who to call. Eve became a budding cook but against her will. They got hungry when their parents were late, then later, so at last Maxine hired a cook three days a week. They learned how to fake their parents’ signatures if they wanted or needed days off school. If they got sick they checked in on each other more often than not. Tim ran quietly down the long hallway before he went to sleep around midnight–he was two years older–and stuck his head in, told her good night, good dreams. Even if she was asleep, though more often she lay there staring at the ceiling where starry stickers glowed. And Eve checked for light seeping under his door when she got up to use the bathroom or listen for her parents and if she saw it she knocked softly until he said to come in. Usually he was reading. If he had had a nightmare–which he had pretty often– she patted his arm, gave him a little hug.

In the morning, when their parents asked if they slept well, they smiled in unison, said, “Of course.” They knew better than to distract them from their fast-paced lives. Even then, their mother could turn up her lecture voice in a flash as their father hid behind work or the paper.

Things might have gone on like that–not comfortable in most ways, but pleasant in others– until they were sprung from the brick house by virtue of time: their eighteenth birthdays. But Eve and Tim grew restless long before they were ready to handle what beckoned. They drank on the sly, they smoked pot. They had some interesting, wilder friends in common. They helped each other with school work that otherwise may have sunk them; they waited until they got out of detention for tardiness or skipped classes. Share and share alike. “Two goofy heads together are better than one,” Tim liked to say.

Then Tim turned seventeen and decided he wanted to be some kind of race car driver. Street racing. Illegal, risky. He drove far too fast and took chances that scared her and she liked to avoid it. And that was it, wasn’t it, for the madcap duo? She was not there; he kept on. He didn’t last at it despite a sterling reputation. It went bad fast and as hard as possible. Spinal injury, head trauma, they whispered at school as Eve slumped down the halls– when she even attended. Before he got a decent chance at more life, he was stalled completely. And not surprisingly, Eve was blamed in large part. Why didn’t she stop him? What happened the night she ignored his antics? Why didn’t she tell their parents about it before it was too late? Never mind that she was with a girlfriend that night, watching old movies. She and Tim had been less attuned to each other that past year. Still. Why had she not done more to discourage him? Why, why, why?

If only…

Maxine and Douglas faltered under grief heaped on them a long while. They looked to Eve for much and got little back; she was worn out, she was drowning, too, as she tried to tread waters of her daily life. So Maxine blamed her, too. It was one long sentence that never seemed to end.

“If only you’d been there, you could have stopped him, he adored you, I know you could have…”

Douglas stopped talking. Not entirely, no, he had that big job and its demands to navigate daily, and it took his mind off much. But at home, he was a quiet man made nearly mute, like a creature that goes small and silent as a bad storm comes.

And Tim lay in a hospital bed, tended to by nurses, specialists, physical therapists. And he still did. At home, yes, that came finally. But what was the difference? He saw little he desired as he looked out at the world.

Eve was determined to finish high school and leave. It almost killed her to go to classes knowing Tim could not, would never come along with her as he once had. He barely stayed alive despite her daily talks with him, her ministrations to him, her prayers mumbled in tears. When he stabilized and could flick his eyes at her, she knew she had better leave then– or never. She could not bear the “if only” anymore.

She got a degree in earth sciences–botany her favorite–and then taught middle school students ravenous for knowledge about the beautiful and changing earth. And that was something, wasn’t it. It was about all she had. She counted on that need, to get up each day, be there for her students. It carried her until the week-ends when she drove two hours each way to visit Tim for at least a day. And their parents. So it was working then in a way, despite the continuing loneliness she hadn’t anticipated. The roaring silence of night as she tossed and turned in bed, a darkness beaded with hardness of guilt. The stunning lack of peace in early morning even as coffee brewed, a good plan for the day at her fingertips. The fact that she could not call her brother to tell him about the kids, her book club, the sporty car she was thinking of buying. He could not even put a mug of steaming brew to his lips or smile at her. Eve didn’t know for certain if Tim knew she loved him even more than before. But she thought so, felt so. How could he not when they had always known what the other thought? Well, almost, almost.

Nothing was sure and good enough to bring real happiness back. Until practical, cheerful Mick came into her life with dirt on his hands and room in his heart for her. Who knew kindness could be such an easy thing for some to give and for her, so hard to learn to accept? They got married, they moved to the semi-rural town of Marionville.

******

Douglas and Alden were on the floor flipping and matching little animal cards as Maxine read a book Eve had recommended and loaned her when the back door swung open.

“Hey beautiful, what’s cookin’?”

“Chicken and dumplings,” she said, smiling at him. “Just put it in the frig.”

He pushed the back door closed with a foot and placed two bags on the table. Eve could see a couple of garden tools and his requisite bags of snacks, her own list of nonfood items.

Maxine and Douglas were just putting on their coats at the front door. Mick gave Eve a kiss on her neck and then went to bid them goodbye.

“Hey, folks, how was dinner? Sorry I couldn’t make it, Garth and I were busy working on a car, a 1992 Chevy–“

“Well, we missed you, but your afternoon was likely more entertaining,” Douglas said, eyebrows rising, his narrow hand shaking Mick’s square one briefly.

Mick wasn’t sure if his father-in-law was joking or serious. He knew the older man was not much for family chat but he loved his daughter (and her cooking) and, of course, his grandson so came along dutifully. Perhaps Mick really ought to show up more. He could deal with being given a hard time but it was worse when he got barely a nod on Maxine’s worse days.

“Ah, hello Mick, nice to see you, how’s business going?” Maxine said as she pulled on her favorite burgundy calfskin and cashmere gloves. Mick thought how much Eve might enjoy those, too, but would never consider asking for such a luxury.

“As a matter of fact–I was waiting to tell Eve–” he turned toward the kitchen, then swept up his babbling, reaching son. “Honey, come on out.”

She wiped hands on jeans and leaned against a door jam, crossing her arms. She’d hoped her parents would slip out faster. They of course asked him about work and they already knew he’d been seasonally laid off, so why?

“I’m happy to say I just got hired on at the Jameson Farm. Their evergreen tree farm needs more help, along with other land maintenance jobs. I can work through Christmas, at least! And a part time job tending the art museum’s winter garden just came open, so that’s an option.”

Eve moved to hug her her son and husband tightly. “Wonderful, Mick!”

“Mick, good news is always welcome,” Douglas said and patted him heartily on the back.

“It’ll pay for bread and butter, I suppose…” Maxine buttoned her coat, smoothed stray wisps of hair at her temples. But she paused, almost unsteady; her husband reached out but she batted him away. Her wrinkled pale eyelids lowered as if to shield them of her real thoughts.

Eve looked at her mother with the one look she tried so hard to not show. The one that could set fire to stone. But her mother stared at her with a face gone softer, then took a step closer to Mick. When she spoke her voice was almost frail. Tentative. But gentle.

“You do know you’re a good man, Mick, don’t you? And that we’re -I am–so glad you married our daughter.”

Douglas drew himself up, nodded at Eve and Mick, then opened the front door and let themselves out.

“We’ll see you and Tim next Saturday then,” Eve called out.

She’d followed them past the open door, wanting to offer something more, words floating in twilit, chill air. The visit was their routine, but she wanted to make sure; an urgency had come over her. Tim needed to see his nephew every week, Alden needed to see his uncle. She had to be near him, tell him things. Had to believe he heard her, even now. And Mick, he just had love enough to share.

Maxine lifted a hand in the fast falling darkness, her back receding. Douglas touched his hat brim with a finger, opened the car door for her, helped her in.

The shivering family of three went indoors. Alden got his blocks out. Mick built and lit a fire in the sooty old fireplace.

“Well, Mick.” She had to be careful what she said–Alden was all ears and too much feeling wanted to spill over. “I suspect–I know–it’s time for me to let the past go. I just decided that I have to forgive what was not, and cannot be, any different. And just be there more for my parents. For Tim.”

He turned on his knees and patted the floor beside him as fledgling flames spat, sputtered and flared. Mick sat cross legged, put an arm about her, pulled her into him. When she settled with a sigh, Alden sat in her lap one hand held up to the fire’s warmth and one hand on his father’s knee. Their good and right fit.