Dear Boomer Highway Readers. Happy Summer, a great time to kick back on the porch or patio with a glass of lemonade or something with more of a jolt AND READ A BOOK. It’s truly a summer necessity. In a future post I will be sharing some of my favorite reads for summer 2015–and I better get started before the summer is over.
In the meantime, here is one of the stories from my collection of short fiction A Mother’s Time Capsule which was published in May. This is the absolute shortest one, and if you like it, I’ll share more. Comments and questions? Greatly appreciated. So whether you have a rainy summer day, or a hot mid-afternoon break or even a porch lit with soft lighting on an evening when the fire flies are chasing the sky–please enjoy.
Kate is on the ladder. She’s got a roll of paper towel tucked under her arm. She’s permeating the film of old winter dirt with a thick spray of Windex and then wiping across and down in a definite pattern. She’s slipping into something familiar, the hot sun on her arms, the jiggling of the ladder, the tops of the evergreens brushing her bare legs as she leans over to swipe at a corner. Her position on the ladder allows her an abnormal height as she looks down into her daughter’s bedroom through the now clean pane.
She pauses to take in all that is there, thinking that maybe it’s her position, her being able to see the room from a totally different angle that makes the looking so interesting. She’s a voyeur seeing the rug running a different way, seeing the bed from the headboard down instead of the usual footboard up. And there are other things leaping into her vision.
On the bed, three books, a stack of notebook paper sliding into an arc over the side and a pile of rumpled clothing. Kate presses her face to the coolness of the glass. Brinn’s underwear rolled up, piled and scrunched and then on the floor, almost kicked under her bed but not quite, a box of Kotex. Kate pulls a clean towel from the roll. She gives the top pane another squirt and works her hand in a circle. They’ve talked about keeping these things rather secret, not secretive-scary, but reasonable.
Jody is only five and doesn’t need to be asking a lot of questions. Brinn could learn to put her private things away. But then it is all new to her. She’s had one period and Kate guesses today is the start of another, though Brinn seemed her usual crabby self, the one that can’t find time to pack a school bag, dress and eat breakfast before the bus. Kate looks back into the room as if to find another explanation. There is only one. Brinn doesn’t have her period again, the box simply got kicked out from under the bed.
Kate starts down the ladder, but something else moves forward in her mind, something she feels more than thinks, like a shiver to signal that she’s about to topple from the ladder—Brinn has her period and doesn’t need to mention it to Kate—ever again.
On the ground she lifts the light aluminum ladder and moves it down the side of the house. She’s almost done. She wipes her forehead and sighs, because it feels good, because that’s been a response to a lot of what she’s heard lately. And yet the sighs are often pleasurable.
Her mother: I’ve become a modern thinker. Well maybe not modern, but I think you do entirely too much for that man and always have. I think it’s time you stop it.
Hot sunshine on Kate’s arms, the contentment of staring at a clean window, the pull of the wind at her back, the caress of air on a sweaty forehead—yes, getting things done. She backs away and looks at the house, sees so much about it that is hers—the newly painted red door, the dug-out flowerbed around the tree.
Entirely too much for that man.
She wants to laugh aloud. Her mother doesn’t even watch soap operas, that she knows of, but the line is so perfect.
She climbs the ladder to do one more window. She is careful holding the sides, but distracted by the bird in a bush beyond that sings a song, wee-who, wee-who, like one note up, one note down, like the squeak of an old porch swing—the bird on the swing.
“Other women have time to shop, I mean shop for parties they’ll attend—or they meet for lunch or play cards. Other women–”
“God, I don’t want to play cards. Spare me that.”
Her mother was smoking a cigarette, the ashtray on the floor near her feet “so the smoke won’t bother anyone.” She’d just had her hair done, and though Kate is never really sure what that means, it looks okay, always the same. Her mother seems pleased.
“He’s been out of town, right?”
“Mother, my husband’s name is Ted and yes there was a business trip this week.”
“Well—when is it your turn?”
Kate has trouble adjusting the ladder for this last window. The ground is uneven and the ladder wobbles and there’s no one around to hold it for her. She could wait until Brinn is home, but she has to pick up Jody from Kindergarten soon and it would be great to finish.
She climbs, inching her way up. This is Jody’s bedroom window, the rumpled bed inside, stuffed animals everywhere. There’s never enough time.
And your children should do more. Delegate. I learned that from your father, God bless him. You don’t know how to delegate. Believe me, I’d never do some of the things you do.
She balances carefully, works at each corner where a thick layer of grime has settled. Kate on the ladder, sunshine on Kate. She’s good at pushing away things her mother says. Of course she had better not fall, her mother would explode in front of Ted. And then Kate gasps, the roll of paper towel slipping out of her grasp and falling. She holds on tightly. She’s at least a story and a half up. Her mother would have to nurse her, watch the children—she’d get to hear about the fall every five minutes.
She finishes by turning the soaked towel over and over until the window is clean enough. The bird is still in his swing. She starts down.
You have to say the right things to your mother, be tactful, but point things out to her. Then she’ll see that you’re not my slave. Ted’s take on equality—they discussed what he does, what she does. Think about the life your mother led when she was raising you. She didn’t do her nails and shop with friends. She worked like a Trojan. I’ve heard some of those stories.
Kate drops the Windex to the ground, grips the ladder, walks carefully to the shed to put it away. She worked like a Trojan.
And the story of stories comes circling back: “When you were just a little girl, I got locked out of the house once. I was hanging the washing and the door blew shut and I was locked out. You were asleep in the upstairs bedroom and the windows were open to the breeze, so I pulled a ladder from the garage and climbed it high onto the front of the house. I prodded you with a broomstick to wake you up. I knew you were old enough to go down and open the front door for me. I was just frantic going up that ladder. I had to get back inside to you.”
So how was it really, that day. She hanging laundry. Working like a Trojan. Was she panicked thinking that Kate’s father would be angry, locking herself out of the house, leaving the child alone? And what was she wearing, going up the ladder—a long-skirted dress, or maybe shorts and a blouse. Or was she in high heels, her hair done, smoking a cigarette, her perfect nails clicking on the metal of the ladder. Or was there an apron, the cling of soft fabric that is warm and scented like nothing but spring air. Or a worn apron with food stains, her feet bare, the wind tossing her about, sun on her arms, drafts catching her precariously.
Was she agile, was the ladder shaking as she hurried up it? In the room—a child napping and how old, four or five, tossing in nap-sleep, drooling on the pillow. A hot day and her mother leans over to the open window and calls softly Kate, Kate and then prods her child gently with the end of a broom. And the edge of Kate’s dream becomes a stick, becomes poking and the voice outside an upstairs window calling her name—but her mother’s voice, like a song.
Back inside the house, the phone rings.
“I’m lonely today. Could you just drop all those chores and go out to lunch with me?”
“I’ve got Jody. Have to get her from morning Kindergarten.”
“Of course you do. She eats, doesn’t she.”
Kate looks out the kitchen windows. She can’t hear the bird any more, can’t quite remember its song as the memory of her mother’s words lingers. I was frantic going up that ladder. I had to get back inside to you.
Thanks for reading WINDOWS. If you liked this story, there are 12 more in A Mother’s Time Capsule, available in soft cover and ebook. www.elizabethahavey.com
Photo: ourvintagehomelove.blogspot.com and somavida.net and all you.com