Guest Contributor, Judy, of somewhere in the Southwest. This is one of (7) chapters to come. Come back soon…
“…The day sparkled painfully, seeming to shake on some kind of axis, and through this a leaf fell, touched with unusual color at the edges. It was the first time I had realized that autumn was close. I began to climb the last hill….”
-Deliverance, by James Dickey
It was not autumn, but summer that was approaching. The heat on the highway shimmered in the afternoon sun, and the smell of privet, once neatly trimmed and planted by the front steps of a long ago farm house, now growing wild and tall, drifted through the window of the car, and into my head, where it brought back memories of my early life on my grandparents’ farm, surrounded by my grandfather’s roses, shrubs of bridal wreath, snow ball, and wisteria vines dripping from the roof of the porch.
I began to have that uneasy feeling in my stomach, and I could feel the storehouse of my tears filling up behind my eyes. The panic of returning to the city of my former self was building rapidly and painfully in my chest. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend that I was somewhere, anywhere but here.
The traffic began to build, the closer we got to the city, and we soon found ourselves having to edge our way over so we could exit and take long-known short-cuts over surface streets. On the south side of the city, everything looked the same as it always had–dilapidated houses with peeling paint and torn screen doors, old buildings boarded up for decades, and on either side of the streets, hoopties were parked haphazardly. The people who lived in these houses had begun trudging home from work, from jobs that brought in only meager wages for all the hours they worked, and their slow steps and drooping shoulders told of sorrow and desperation in a city that had once promised deliverance.
After we crossed “Ponce,” the cityscape changed dramatically. There were well-kept lawns, and neatly cut shrubs in front of the homes in which many of our childhood friends had lived when we were growing up. Huge trees lined the streets, creating an archway dappled with yellow patches of sunlight. Winding, winding, winding, we finally reached the main street through the university. Here, all was changed. Huge new buildings were every where we looked. The little house in which I had lived in my grammar school and high school days was long gone, torn down, as were all the little houses on my street, to make way for more university buildings—for PROGRESS! “So be it,” I thought. I had no fond memories within those walls. It meant nothing to me that they were no more. The fact that I had no feeling for the place gave me some measure of comfort.
We turned off the main street and headed toward Mum’s house. The canopy of trees and vines began to thicken as we wound our way to her street. In its day, and even as late as 10 years ago, this area was sought-after real estate for its proximity to the C DC and the university. For all I know, it may still be. My own mother’s home, on the other side of the main street, sold only eight years ago for somewhere in the mid six figure range. If we could ever get that for Mum’s house, it could only be due to some serious divine intervention of the kind Lazarus received when he arose from the dead.
We turn into the driveway of a mid-century ranch designed by Rod’s dad with the help of a well-know Atlanta architect of the day, a friend not only of his but of my own father as well. The lawn looks neat and well-kept, but that façade ends when we pull into the carport and emerge from the car. Cautiously, I make my way to the kitchen door, being ever vigilant for something over which I might trip—some thing of the unwanted variety, carelessly thrown out and left for someone else to remove to the open trash cans beside the door.
I push open the door and step into the kitchen. Immediately the odor left by the two cats fills my sinuses. My heart sinks, and my brain screams out for me to take it anywhere but here. It takes all my fortitude to continue on. I close my eyes for a brief second, then regain my strength.
“We’re here!” I call. I try to make my words as cheerful as I possibly can. Rod walks in behind me, and together we make a sharp left turn into the tiny den. Mum is sitting in a corner, in her chair. I have to look twice before I see her.
“Hey, Mum,” I speak loudly, because she is almost deaf. “We’re here!”
She looks up, startled, and I am aware of her shrunken frame, her beautiful snow white hair, now so horribly thin, pulled tightly back with a clip, and her pale, translucent skin hanging loosely on her bones. Her eyes have faded even more in the last year, and now are a pale, watery blue. A glass of her favorite wine sits untouched beside her.
“Hi, darlin’!” she says. “Did you just get here? I’m so glad to see you! Is Rod here?”
“I’m here, Mum!” he says, and he is as dismayed as I by what he sees.