Thursday, April 29, 2010

Missing Alice

On a windy spring day, she drives down a winding road. Dry oak leaves blow in front of the car as if someone forgot to tell the leaves that it was spring, not autumn. She thinks about death during her drive; she kills off not one or two characters in her novel, but a whole slew of them. She's worried that she hasn't written the emotion to carry the deaths. But her lack in narrative emotion, she realizes, comes as a result of strong faith. She knows there's a heaven. When people die, they don't just die. When people die, there's sadness and missing, but not devastation. They don't disappear for good.

When she reaches home, she's met with news of a death. A woman nearly fifty years her senior, a woman she visited regularly. A woman she brought homemade peach jam to, who welcomed the gingerbread boy with blocks, who showed her newspaper clippings. In fact, she visited this woman in the hospital not four days prior. The woman's family was there, all gathered around that day. She had to wear latex gloves during the visit, but as she left, she squeezed the woman's hand--a squeeze as if to say, "I love you, dear one," for she did love the woman. A squeeze as if to say, "I'm sorry you're suffering."

And now she's gone.

And now she misses her.

The woman requested two specific songs to be sung at her funeral, two choral pieces that would be a challenge under the best of circumstances. She tries to learn the songs, though the notes are much too high for comfort. She sings them anyway. She makes a cake for after the funeral, and a pasta salad. But she is still sad.

In the afternoon, she goes out to the woods, urged by the Gingerbread Man. There she finds dozens of jack-in-the-pulpit. Maybe they'll preach to her, tell her that the woman flew through the wind that day, carried along by the oak leaves, flew away to join her husband. She lifts the leaf covering the small Jack. All is well, he says. All is well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Menu

Supper's late.

The sun peeked out from behind the clouds, so instead of making supper, they go down to the river. She sits on the naked roots of a tree that weaves in and out of the bank, overhanging the water. How odd to look down and see water rushing underneath. Next to her is a sapling sheared down by beaver teeth and left to rot. The sky is blue, and the air is fresh.

When the gingerbread boys return from explorations over the stream that feeds the river, they all clamber over an old and massive stone wall, thick with moss and lichen. Where the forest floor was the tan of bleached leaves only a week ago, now wild lily of the valley carpets it. Ferns curl upward, lifting their fronds to the sky, stretching after a long winter's nap. Parchment berries spot the ground, specks of red amidst the green. Soon, she thinks, the lady's slippers will rise, ready to dance.

But now, supper.

At home, she measures the spices and stirs. She boils water for the rice, She roasts the vegetables. She whips the cream for the chocolate pie. And in the other room, the gingerbread boys giggle together snuggled up on a chair.

"What was that you said in the forest?" the younger one asks.

"I said that I'd always love you, even if I was angry."

"Oh, yeah."

"And I said that if you were hurt, I'd never leave you. Unless Daddy called me for supper."

Ah, yes, supper. She finishes cooking, while the gingerbread man sets the table. All is well in the gingerbread house, full of steam and good things to eat. Love is on the menu tonight, and for that, she is thankful.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Saturdays at Lockwood

She remembers long Saturday afternoons spent in Lockwood Library: Mom at the copier with piles of coins, sister claiming the best of the blocky chairs available. The options were limited. Ride the elevator up and down, up and down. Run out to the vending machines, having first snatched a quarter from her mother's towering pile. Quarter in, press F8, curly-cue swivels around, out pops frosted nut brownie.

Or there were the stacks.

Mostly, she spent time in the stacks. The one row of children's books, mostly books that sported shiny gold Newbery stickers. Somehow she got her hands on a bookmark that listed all the Newbery award winners, and she decided she would read them. Some of her favorite books were Newberies: A Wrinkle in Time, Tuck Everlasting, Bridge to Terabithia, The Westing Game, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. She thinks she read these books long before those Saturday afternoons, though. They were quickly joined by Summer of the Swans, My Side of the Mountain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Great Gilly Hopkins, A Ring of Endless Light.

She remembers, though, mostly spending those afternoons with E.L. Konigsburg. Oh, they weren't on a first-name basis, but nevertheless, she became great friends with Claudia and Jamie, wishing more than anything that she could stay in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that she could go to an automat (What was an automat, anyway?). She thrilled to the sound of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. She gobbled up About the B'nai Bagels, while developing A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver. She even became Father's Arcane Daughter for a while.

But she could only read those books so many times before she would dutifully return to her Newbery list, wanting to check another one off her bookmark. But some Newbery books she just couldn't get into. She would try one, then another, but the stack of Newbery books that didn't interest her grew and grew, and she would return to her trusted friend, E.L.

Last week, at the school book fair, she came across used copies of some of those Newbery books that she hadn't read those many years ago. Now's the time, she thinks, and shells out her quarters for several, determined to give them their due.