Tag Archives: fiction

Grizzly Remains


 

I once heard Dad say that the bear who ate my mother did him a favor by saving us the cost of her burial. Perhaps, in a strange way, Dad did me a favor, providing some image, at least, of the woman who gave me life. You see, I never got a chance to know her, so I make her up. The black and white photo, hidden in Dad’s desk drawer – the drawer where he keeps his whiskey shows a woman with short dark hair and freckled arms. I never saw anyone like her until that day at the Stop & Shop.

She bought something small enough to fit into a quart-sized, paper bag. It wasn’t heavy; it swung in her fingers as she walked.  I decided it was a birthday card; a special one – for me.  In fact, there were ten birthday cards in that bag; one for each of the birthdays I had celebrated without her. I wondered what she would write on the cards.

“To my dearest daughter… Love, Mommy.” I couldn’t imagine what would go in the middle, between dearest daughter and love. That was why I followed her; so I could watch her write the messages in beautiful long-hand script, slide each card into its envelope, lick the shiny glue edges, seal them, and drop them into the mailbox, kissing each one before she slipped it through the slot.

She walked fast. I had to skip to keep up.  Her skirt swayed left, right; swing, swoosh; it was a very pretty skirt with wide pleats of brown, beige, charcoal and gold – earthy, autumn colors. Her blouse, short-sleeved and crisp, with no wrinkles bunched at the edges of the collar, revealed her skill with an iron. 

When she stopped at a corner to look for passing cars, I waited a few yards behind. I didn’t want to stand next to her just yet. She crossed the street. Two blocks down, I crossed as well, and skipping fast, caught up to her shadow. It stretched grotesque and crooked, while skimming over sidewalk cracks in the afternoon sun.  I carefully avoided the cracks.

I wondered if she kept lipstick and powder in the handbag that slung over her shoulder. I decided the lipstick was called Romance. I imagined her removing the tortoise-shell cap, twisting the gold tube, and a rising bullet of smooth dark crimson appeared. She would apply it to her lips with skill, and finish by pressing her mouth on a tissue, leaving a paper smile behind, cracked with tiny rivulet patterns in a passionate, blood-stain kiss.  I would ask if I could keep the tissue.

She turned up a drive and walked to the side of a clapboard house, removing a key from her purse. She stopped, pulled open a steel-framed, screen door, and hesitated, with the door resting on her back as she inserted her key into the lock. All I could see was her screened silhouette, except her ankles – clearly exposed, in brown leather pumps, beneath the door frame. Before I memorized the density and curves of those ankles, one by one, each foot stepped up, and forward, and out of sight, until nothing was left, except the sound – a screen door – slammed – like the slap of a grizzly’s paw.

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Saving Manatees


The old woman hovered backwards over the hairdresser’s chair and landed with an audible thump. “Not so graceful as I used to be,” she groaned, settling her wide bottom.

 “What shall we do for you today?” asked the twenty-something, less-than-a-hundred-pounds hairdresser.

“Well, you can’t erase the lines on my face or bring back my youth, so you may as well trim the split ends, and I’ll be on my way” the old woman said with a sigh.

The hairdresser pulled a fresh lavender cape from the shelf. As she shook it out and slipped it over her client’s head, she looked in the mirror, into the woman’s eyes. She smiled. “I think you have wonderful features,” she said. “You remind me of my grandmother, and she’s the most beautiful woman I know.”  She pulled the pins out of the woman’s hair, watching it slip and fall onto and down her shoulders, gradually exposing lush silver and gold waves that shone like watered silk. “You must carry a lot of memories in this hair,” said the stylist as she ran her fingers through the glowing strands.

“That I do, girl,” nodded the woman. “That I do.” She scowled into the mirror. “Memories are all I have left at my age. It’s no fun growing old. I don’t recommend it.” She tugged at the cape on her lap and tried to cover her knees.

“Are you cold? Would you like me to get you a blanket?” offered the hairdresser.

“No, I’m fine. I just hate looking at my knees. They used to be so pretty.” She pulled the cape back up, exposing her legs for the hairdresser. “Look at them. Why, they look like a couple of manatees.”

The young woman’s eyes met the older woman’s in the mirror. She hesitated, not knowing at first how to react, and then she laughed. “What a funny thing to say,” she chuckled.

The old woman nearly smiled for the first time that morning. She looked around the beauty salon and began to relax. She noticed a pair of pantyhose hanging from a hook beside the hairdresser’s station. One leg was half stuffed with something, giving it the size and shape of a foot, ankle and calf. The other leg hung empty and limp.  “What’s that for?” she asked.

“Oh, that,” the young woman laughed as she combed the old woman’s strands. They hung down the back of the chair, nearly to her waist.  “After we sweep our clippings off the floor, we stuff them into pantyhose. They say that hair makes a good sponge for soaking up oil. So every week we send what we’ve gathered down to the environment agency in Louisiana. They can make booms out of them – to protect the coast from the oil spill.”

“Hmpff.” The old woman cared nothing about the coast of Louisiana. It seemed too far from her reality to get bothered about a bit of oil. She had enough of her own problems. She fidgeted in her seat and crossed her legs. The cape slipped back, revealing her sausage knees again. I’m glad he didn’t live to see me like this, she thought. He only saw my youthful beauty. She pulled the cape down, attempting to cover her knees. “It seems like a waste of time to me,” she said. “They’ll never clean up all that oil. And if they do, somebody else will come along and spoil it some other way. They always do.”

Only once had she been anywhere near Louisiana. It was a surprise trip to Florida that he planned for her birthday. They rented a canoe and paddled up a river on the Gulf side of the Florida coast. Warm springs fed the river with a temperature that attracted strange sea mammals from the cold winter gulf waters. Here, for the first time, she saw a manatee.

The hairdresser’s scissors began to snip inch-long clippings that landed on the floor. “Don’t take off too much; just the split ends.” After a few minutes of silence the old woman spoke. “They’re ugly creatures, you know,” she said.

“What are?” asked the hair dresser.

“Manatees.”  The old woman stared in the mirror stuck in a defiant silence. Memories began to cloud the surface of the glass. A large, gentle creature with fan-shaped tail and arms that curved and moved with uncannily human gestures slowly appeared, a calf by her side. A small intake of breath escaped the old woman as she remembered the sunlight, how it sparkled on white sand beneath the turquoise water and reflected in her husband’s clear blue eyes. They sat together entranced, watching the two strange creatures. His face, which had long since disappeared beneath years of crusted grief and disappointment looked up and smiled at her through the mirror. He didn’t seem to notice her age; he only saw her youth and beauty as it was back then.

“How’s that for length?” said the hairdresser, spinning the chair around and holding a hand mirror for the old woman to approve the trim in back. “Will that do?”

The faded hair was still beautiful, luxurious, long, and now with ends neatly trimmed. But she couldn’t look. His face – it was so young, so alive. She pushed the mirror away, dropped her chin and bunched the lavender cape into her fists. “Take it off,” the old woman sputtered. “I can’t stand it.” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she tugged at the material on her lap.

The hairdresser reached to untie the cape, releasing the woman from her cloth prison.  “I’m so sorry; I didn’t realize the cape would upset you. It is a bit confining. Here, let me help you. I’ll take it off.”

The old woman grabbed the hairdresser’s wrist and held it with a firm grip. She raised her chin and expelled a deep sigh. She looked into the mirror, at the young woman’s eyes.  “No, not the cape,” she said. “I meant the hair.”

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