Chapter 11

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Jeannie

Erick stayed about an hour. During that time, he talked with Mary about a few people they both knew. Once, he asked me about the kids. After I had answered, he announced that he needed to run some errands. A short visit was an understatement. I thought back on my dream I had had earlier. A chink appeared in the perfect scene.

Before he left, he brought in a small box he had found in the house. It had been by Mom's bed and looked like she had been going through it. Erick had glanced in the box and seen mostly pictures and a few pieces of paper. He hadn't looked closer but thought we might like to go through things while we sat there.

I was not about to argue. It was something to do, plus I could learn more about the family. Over the years, I had noticed that everyone talked more about the past when they saw pictures.

Mary took the box and put it on the floor next to her chair before walking Erick out. I was left in the room with Mom. The heavy silence intensified. Less than twenty-four hours had passed, and I was near to screaming. What did I expect? More interactions with Mom? More activity? We were watching an old woman die.

While Mary was gone, I decided to bite the bullet and open the box. Knowing her, she'd wait several days or until Mom was gone. Knowing Ann, she'd dive into it and start claiming things. I might as well get a look before it was too late.

The box was a foot high and wide and about two feet long. Markings on it showed it to be a castoff from a local grocery store's meat department. The flaps had been criss-crossed to close it. I pulled them back and looked down into a pile of pictures.

The first picture on top was a tinted picture of my three siblings sitting on a bench. It was a faded yellow. Mary sat on the far left with her legs crossed at the ankles and her posture perfect in a checkered dress. Curly black hair was pulled back with bows on both sides of her head. Erick sat beside her. His leg was pulled up to his chest. His dark pants had a rip in the knee of the raised leg. Light blonde hair sat disheveled on his small head. On the far right, Leslie sat with her thumb in her mouth. Her nearly white hair was curled and wild around her face.

Mary walked in then, telling me about how warm it was outside. Her eyes took in me with the box and the one picture in my hand. She didn't say anything about it, just slipped into the bathroom.

When she came back out a few minutes later, I held the first picture up. "Here is a pic of you guys. I'm not sure where it was taken. You look to be about five or so."

Mary took the picture and chuckled. "Yes, I was about five. We are at Aunt Tiny's house one summer."

"Aunt Tiny?" The name was vaguely familiar.

My sister nodded but seemed to wish she hadn't said anything. "Yep. What else is in there?" My eyes followed her putting the picture off to the side as she sat down beside me on the couch.

The next picture that I had already glanced at was one of our mother's sister and her in front of a large flowery bush. They had to be around their early teens.

"Mom was so pretty," I said. Why did I sound so surprised? Maybe because I never saw her as pretty. Now why was that?

In her teens, Mom had had long dark hair that looked very thick and hung down to her waist. She had such an innocent face with a wide smile. Even her eyes smiled back at the camera. That was the difference. Mom's smile never reached her eyes, not that I remembered. She smiled when it was appropriate. Even when I knew she meant the smile, it never fully encompassed her. Happy was not a word that could describe her.

I felt myself get irritated, not at anyone but me. It wasn't like Mom was an unhappy woman or angry all the time. She had times when we had a blast together. We laughed together. We enjoyed life. There were times though when....

We had only gotten through two more pictures when Leslie walked in. She frowned when she saw us sitting together over the box.

"What do you have there?" she asked as she put her purse down on the chair.

"Erick brought these pictures from Mom's," Mary explained. "Brings back memories." She looked down at the one in her hand. "Here you are with your dog, Brownie."

"Brownie?" Leslie smiled and took the picture. "Boy, do I remember him. He was the best pet I ever had. Followed me everywhere."

"How long did you have him?" I asked.

"Oh, I think he died when I was about thirteen. He started breathing heavy and Mom said he was sick. A week later, he was gone." Leslie pressed her lips together. "I cried so hard the night he died."

I turned to Mary with a thought. "Did you ever have a pet? I never heard anyone talk about one."

She shook her head. "No way. Having a pet meant you had to take care of it. Not for me. I volunteered to cook instead of dealing with the animals."

"What is this?" Leslie reached into the box and pulled out an old Polaroid.

I looked over at the picture and laughed. "That is Erick posing for the camera. Dad said something about him being popular with the girls, and Erick started flexing. I remember Mom and me laughing so hard." I paused when I caught the surprised looks on my sisters' faces. "What?"

"Mom and Dad joked about Erick being a ladies' man? Really?" Leslie narrowed her eyes at me.

"Doesn't sound like them," Mary added.

"Well, they did. In fact, Mom took the picture."

Leslie drew in a deep breath. "Wish you'd stop exaggerating things."

I felt like cold water had been splashed me. My breath caught in my chest and tears burned my eyes. I turned my head away so they wouldn't see my reaction and sat back against the cough. They continued looking at pictures as though I wasn't there. Yep, everything was normal.

Wishing for the ground to swallow you up might sound cliche until you are in that position of actually wishing for it to happen. I would not have fought death by burial at the moment. I would have welcomed it with open arms.

Fighting the tears, I stood up and mumbled something about getting a soda. I left the two alone and went outside to sit on a bench and let the tears flow. The small garden was surrounded with climbing roses and gave a little bit of privacy off the main entrance of the nursing home. I needed it. I needed to feel alone.

When had they ever believed a word I said? Anything I said, my older and wiser siblings always said I had to be lying about it. They might have called it exaggerations, but they really called me a liar. It never mattered what the topic was. I was wrong. If I didn't know me, I'd think I never spoke a truth from my mouth.

It was always a struggle to connect with them. They were older than me. They were at different stages of their lives than I was in. They had lived in different worlds than I had. They were strangers who judged me at every turn. There was nothing to connect us aside from our parentage.

My chest burned from the tears, but I knew I had to get control of myself and go back in eventually. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called my husband. He was at work, but maybe he could talk for a minute. Voice mail. I left him a short message, asking him to call me back when he had a chance. I needed to hear some reassurance.

The sun was warm on my skin, and the fragrance of the new roses filled the air. Such a pleasant spot that I brought sadness and anger to corrupt. The world didn't care about the death inside or the pain that filled me. It moved on. Life didn't stop for anyone or anything. That's why we had to push on ourselves or be left behind.

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