Head Home

Indigo. A fading dream of the color, and the sound of soft rain. Passing geese loudly lamented from beyond her window. Morning light fell warm on her closed face. An ache in her spine. Shoulders cold cliff-rock. Creaking knees. Complaining muscles knotted tight as wood. The wooden house around her also creaked. Winds whistled. She scented the vibrant rain, the scent of another damned day. And echoing somewhere through her fields Edgar barked three times, then once more with playful affirmation. Inside her mind’s eye, falling almost back into dream again, Nora surveyed those long acres surrounding her cold home. Untended wheat, alfalfa, cattle-corn, all woven with untold ecosystems of weeds. Stray indigo flowers and violets, maybe. Scattered dust-filled barns. Husks. What the place must look like after all this time. With her right hand she sought the frame of the bed, found it, felt rough chips of paint flaking. Slowly exhaling at once Nora lifted her iron legs over the edge. Thin-socked feet found the bedroom’s planks. Cold air. November hopelessness. With antenna-sensitive fingers she plucked her way around the room, imagining violet dawn spilling through her window. Stood before the poker-faced mirror out of habit, ran her brush through hair that must now be silver, or white. She felt the satisfying tug on her scalp and loudly past her ears. If her dresser was in front of her, then to her right was the window and the pine-fresh boxes where she still kept his clothes. Behind was her rumpled bed, and to her left then was the bathroom. She felt along the door-frame, the sink, the toilet, and sighingly she settled onto its ice-sharp seat. Felt relief.

Rain drops on her roof were like the “shh” breathed to an infant. Warm blanket of rain over her whole cold farm. The breathy wind drove the downpour against her home, making her cranky knees complain. The house was creaking even more than usual, but there was something else. A distinctive groan from the foundation up the east wall to the roof-tiles. Someone was in the kitchen. Constance, just like it used to be. Connie was here and the twins were playing outside somewhere, Edgar probably over-enthusiastically dogging their footsteps. They must have gotten here pretty early. Heavy pick-up truck’s tires in mud, their headlights pioneering dawn darkness. She wiped and stood from the seat, letting her nightgown fall all down around her knotted ankles. Loud swirling flush. Then a short shower before the water turned cold. 

Nora washed. Massaged her own back, kneaded the the flesh on either side of her spine. Felt along the wall, found a towel’s softness. Dried her wrinkles feelingly, smelling soap, and pulled her nightgown back on. Socks.

Always a joy whenever Constance came to call — less frequently these days it seemed — always a joy to be with her twins though little Bastian was still mistrustful. Always a joy to see her daughter’s family… but she never got to see Matt’s. An image of her son’s face, a red haired vision from the past, flickered in Nora’s memory like a lightbulb about to go out. Matt couldn’t stand this place since he was young, hated his full name “Matthias,” maybe hated Nora too. After his father died he had no reason to stay. Fled to the city. Must have a wife, several children by now. Well. At least Constance kept coming by. Shuffling from downstairs. The front door opened and shut. The rain grew heavier, played on the roof like the roll of a snare drum.

Out of her bathroom and her bedroom, feeling the planks of floorboard with her soles, hand by hand and foot by foot she traced her steps down the rickety stairs. Uneven. Nora knew the chandelier she hung here was red; she pictured the color as hard as she could to envision its reflection on each surface of the stairwell. Smell of pine. The smell of his clothes safely preserved. Jagged nostalgia. Nora had met her dear Rowan back in another world: a world where she could see sights and colors and beautiful ugliness and ugly beauty and. To America when she was nineteen, leaving behind all Germany and studying her new tongue. Had still devoured books then, was able to become a school teacher. When twenty-three, met in a chance cafe Rowan who worked construction. Red hair. Scottish but of many American generations. His face floated just out of her memory’s reach. Her grip on the bannister revealed the places where varnish had been rubbed away by her wringing hands. Antennae guiding her. From the kitchen, acrid cigarette stench and shuffling. Inflamed knees hating her meticulous descent, but better this ordeal each damned day than to abandon the bedroom they had shared. When the two met, Rowan still sent money to his folks in New York (“Upstate,” he protested more than once, “Not that awful city, but in the countryside!” and he’d pantomime a deep breath) because of the expenses of running their farm. Nora’s farm now. From the cafe he had bought her an almond pastry, triangular, smaller than her palm, and its sweet crisp flakes made her think of Mediterranean beaches, and when the two were married they tended these hereditary acres. Nora knew all the animals, when they still had kept livestock. Now Nora’s farm, but then whose? When her little Matthias was born they had praised him as the farm’s inheritor, and Rowan never had a second thought about it. But Matt was long gone.

Last step. Sound from the kitchen of Connie shifting in her seat, rustling papers. Smell of strong coffee. Strong cigarettes. Composed herself, quietly cleared her throat. Sauntered down the hallway, monitoring expression and movements. Nora said, “Hello Constance. When did you three arrive?”

“Hey Ma,” said the woman’s voice when the elder crossed into the kitchen. “For christ’s sake don’t call me that.”

“For christ’s sake, don’t take his name,” Ma scolded, but then traced her way past the table to the countertop and felt about for utensils. “I’ll fix you something.” The counter was in front of her, bathroom to the left, stove to her right and along that same wall was the back door. ”Some nice eggs and toast, like how you like.”

“No Ma, I handled it already.”

“And what color is that hair of yours this time?” Ma asked, carefully inserting slices of bread into the toaster. “Seems like months you haven’t been by.”

“…It’s orange, Ma. Listen—”

“That is so nice. Your father’s hair was exactly that same shade of orange.” Felt around inside her refrigerator. The styrofoam carton. Small and cold and round, her fingers seized four of them. “You remember?”

Pause. “I remember, Ma.”

“What I don’t understand,” said Ma swallowing a cough, expertly igniting one gas burner as practiced and putting on hot water for tea, “is why you don’t keep it natural. I love our nice fair hair, very blonde, very pretty.” Back home in Germany Nora had been the favorite of two gentlemen, but many years since engaging in the frivolous antics she in those days entertained. “Best to flaunt that natural color while it’s still there whether its orange like Matt and dear Rowan, or fair like you and me and Lorelai got.” Memories of her own face as she remembered it. Relatively young the last time she had seen. What wrinkles there must be. What a mask to wear. No wonder Bastian mistrustful. Nora ignited another burner. Tick tick tick fwoosh. Smelled gas. Sound of the almost boiling water straining against its kettle. Phantom taste of anticipated tea. Regret. The contents of the vial hidden on the top shelf. Today maybe the last today. Sound of heavy rain. But cheerfully, “And how are the bundles of mischief?”

Connie sighed. “I told Lorelai to get her little butt inside, as if she hears a word I say. She’s with Edgar somewhere in the fields I don’t wonder, rain be damned. That girl is such a little — well she’d better not be down by the creek anyhow. Might get flooded in a downpour like this. Bastian was out with her, but he’s playing in his room now. You know we don’t have time to stay long today, it’s just that you and I finally got to square this business away. No more deliberating, ok? Let’s just get it over with.”

Swallowed. “Course, Constance. Just nice to hear your voice. You’re taking care?”

“Care enough. Now, there’s a nice nursing home I found not an hour from— oh! Jesus, Ma!”

Ma’s egg missed the pan’s edge. She felt herself shatter the shell into the stove top, in her mind’s eye saw the bright orange yolk squeezed into the albumen. The burner hissed against liquid intrusion. Connie made a strained noise and scooped her mother into a seat at the table. Movement. Crisply the sound of two fresh eggs being broken and sizzling on the pan. Scrambled as orange as Connie’s carefully guarded temper. Cool surface of the table. Phantom smell of pine wood polish and recollections of Rowan at his woodworking tools building this table, once. Other breakfasts. Young Constance, young Matthias. Young self. Her right hand massaged her aching left shoulder, then she switched. The sound of plates being readjusted with unnecessary force.

“Living in a retirement community could be fun,” said her daughter. “It’d be good for you instead of moping around this place. But we got to make our decision today. I know you aren’t taking walks, cause where would you go? Be rational — what’s the point in keeping all this damn land if you’re not gonna use it? You can’t even fucking see it!”

“Constance! Language!”

“Cut it out, Ma! This is great property, and you’ve let it get so it’s bleeding money.”

“…But Constance I can’t sell it, not like your brother wants me to do. He’s always trying to get rid of this place and turn a profit, but someone needs to take care of it! You know that this is the house that —”

“‘That your grandparents lived in where your father and I raised you…’ Yeah I know, Ma. And I get it. Believe me. But you’re being impractical. You’re just haunting this place like a ghost. Wouldn’t you rather be somewhere where you can make friends? Things can’t go on like this.” A plate was placed softly on the table and it slid in front of Ma. Can’t go on like this. Egg smell. Salted. Toast, margarine. A cup of tea appeared nearby. “Anything else you want? Here’s a fork.”

“What will you eat, Constance?”

“I ate, Ma, I told you. I ate already. Have your breakfast, then we can talking about this for real. Ok?” Then the sound of her daughter’s body shifting in surprise, a pleasant unexpected, “Oh,” before Connie said low and matronly, “Hi baby, how you doing? Are you hungry?” But only the sound of the downpour. Untouched eggs still softly sizzled. The wind teased the creaking house. “Sweetie, you don’t have to hide behind the door, it’s ok. Come say hi to Grandma… don’t you want some scrambled eggs?” Refrigerator’s hum. Barking echoed, coming over the hill. But not even the little boy’s breathing. Grandma had met the twins two years ago, following the gash of Constance’s rebellious years and the independence she had seized. Nora was reminded of her german gentlemen and her own amply tumultuous adolescence. Therefore, forgiveness. Two years ago Lorelai and Bastian had already been too big to cradle and fawn over, but they were discovered to be just starting school and already bright pupils. Grandma hung her head. Warm steam from where the uneaten eggs waited patiently. Edgar’s approaching yapping. And, fleeing from the doorway, a scampering of feet so light they might have been moth wings. Down the hallway back into his room. “Sorry Ma,” said Constance.

Shrugged. A nerve flared in pain up her neck but she didn’t react. Only fork scrape. Ate eggs. On introduction, poor little Bastian had burst into tears and refused to go near her. Connie had consoled: “It’s ok baby, she’s just Grandma Nora! She’s my mother.” But poor little Bastian inconsolable: “No, no, no! She’s not!” What a wrinkled mask it must be. How hideous unkempt with silver hair. How horrible unflinching eyes. “She’s not,” would sob the quiet boy in earnest, “she’s a witch! Don’t you see?” And he never would let Grandma hold him. Lorelai was always polite, hugged warmly, looked after her pitiable brother, but her mind too was far elsewhere. Edgar alone loved them all unconditionally and was equally beloved. Barking. Yowling. Scratches at the door. Downpour. Door and screen door opened, wet dog happy dog entered, shook, and droplets on her cheek.

And in walked Lorelai, a star out of sight. “Hey Mom. Hi Grandma!”

Grandma swiveled for appearence’s sake to face the door. Smiled, “Hello, dearest. Aren’t you drenched?” Envisioned yellow sunlight entering with the excitable girl in spite of the sound of deluge. 

“Oh it’s so rainy out there Grandma I found little streams through your fields and big mud puddles everywhere and Edgar showed me where your secret treasure was — we found it, look!”

“Stop right there, missy!” commanded Constance. “For christ’s sake you look like you took a bath in the mud and the damn dog with you. Come on, get your coat on the rack. Now what do you do with your boots?”

Warm nose found Nora’s palm, excited lapping. Slimy fur, smelly fur. A cold piece of egg dangled in her fingers, then dog breath came hot and licked it up. Satisfied, he trotted off elsewhere, collar jingling out of the kitchen and down the hall.

Little Lorelai lamented, “I couldn’t help it Mom, the mud was all over the place! When we got past the motor barn and the one alfalfa field that looks like a big marsh frogs went ‘croak! croak! croak!’ but Edgar growled and chased them and then we made it all the way in the rain to the creek and it’s—” Sounds of wrestling. Grunts of a struggle.

“Now you just hold on. Hold still!” Connie frustrated, out of breath. “That creek must have been overflowing! Didn’t I tell you not to? You didn’t take your new phone out there did you, Lori?”

“No ma’am.”

“Damn right you didn’t cause I ain’t buying you another. Didn’t I tell you not to go all the way out there? Hmm? Now you get into that bathroom and wash your damn hands!”

“But I’m telling Grandma a story!” huffed little yellow haired Lorelai.

“Well wash your hands first and then we’ll hear it. Grandma doesn’t listen to muddly little girls. Not a squeak from you till you look like you come from heaven instead of that nasty-ass creek.”

A profound sigh, a condescending, “Fine,” a door closing and a squeaky faucet running. Muffled hands splashed, dampened off-key ‘la la la’s.

“Who knows what the hell that one is ever talking about,” said Connie. “It’s everything I can do to get her to shut up for five goddamn minutes.” Sigh. “You done with your eggs?”

Ma fidgeted. The plate was scraped away, and a clunk by the sink. Licked her shriveled lips, mouthed a syllable, about to speak. But then her house creaked three strong along the south wall. From deeper within bubbled a suppressed sob: “Mom,” little Bastian wailed, “Mom, come quick!” Constance sighed, Constance cursed, and Constance swept off down the hallway struggling to refrain from stomping.

Sound of washing. Wind. Rain. Alone. Cold. When they picked out the paint for this room, listed in gloss as ‘golden straw yellow,’ Rowan hadn’t liked it and chose himself the bedroom’s color in retaliation. The loss of this home they had built together. Even to his last breath, dear Rowan had wanted Matthias to inherit it. Regret. Guilt. Nora had seen what her husband could not, and had betrayed his trust. Thoughts of the inheritence. Smell of pine-fresh boxes by her bedroom window. And the vial hidden on the top kitchen shelf: do they see it? The vial that kills guilt and regret. Sink stopped flowing, door wrenched open. Smell of soap, clean smell. Egg-taste still yellow on her tongue, Grandma said to her, “Your mother went to check on Bastian.”

“What a bitch!”

Stunned pause. “Young lady!” Grandma snapped. “Don’t you dare take that language!”

“But Mom does it all the time.”

“Then Lorelai, it’s up to you to be better than your mother. When I’m not around any more, and neither is she, you’ll be the one who keeps us alive.”

“But you’ll always be around and you’re not a bitch like Mom. And remember, Grandma, remember? I got all the mud off, so can I finally tell you what we found? Well actually it was Edgar found it. Oh and I’ll describe it real good for you Grandma just like you could see it: when  we were just wandering in the blue rain, Bastian and me, and silly Edgar joined us but Mom tried to make us come back of course but I told Bastian to stay with us at first, but later I changed my mind on it. But he and me and Edgar hiding in the old motor barn where it smells like a gas station remember Grandma and he was so excited to see the sun when it rose and made the morning violet sky he started clapping and Edgar got excited too and was barking ‘bark! bark!’ and howling so I told Bastian to go back even though he didn’t want to but I made him. And I thought I was gonna come back too following him but I just knew somehow I was gonna find something good today and I did find it! And Bastian’s just a big crybaby anyways with his sniveling and his eyes all red and I’ve seen him blow his nose thirty times in one day, Grandma! So gross! But I didn’t wanna go back and Edgar didn’t also wanna go back because he had something to show me so he went away from the motor barn and we had to go through the big alfalfa field and frogs were and Edgar ran and Grandma it was just one big puddle I couldn’t of gone in without my rainboots on because…! And we crossed it and we got there and are you listening to my story Grandma? We got to the creek and it was so big, so much flooded from the rain and it was so muddy! Edgar’s fur got all covered in it and you saw how Mom threw one of her fits when we came back, but your thing was there, your thing! Grandma, I found your treasure! I found it but why did you put it all the way out there buried by the creek, Grandma? I had to dig it up but Edgar knew it was there sniffling at the sticky yellow mud and he got it all over his nose and Grandma he tried to lick it off! So yucky! But Edgar knew your box was there and dug it up! Do you remember? You know the one, don’t you Grandma, little wood box covered in icky sticky mud? The creek was wide flowing fast and the rain so much made it worse and Edgar so happy wagging and howling and running in circles because of the ring inside! Oh Grandma, I held the little box up to the rain mist clouds wind dawn fields barns your house and in it I saw the yellow, glinted! So pretty!”

A strange disbelief stung Grandma’s dead ducts. Hot salt, searing old wounds. Held it in, looked away. Fact or fiction? It couldn’t be the first ring he gave, because. Why would he have…? Right thumb against her right ring finger rolled the wrong ring around. The second set of wedding rings he had gotten. Coughed to clear phlegm. “What did you say it was, Lorelai? Did this really happen, or are you telling a story?” Nora barely remembered the little golden loop or the night it was ‘stolen.’ The original ring. Serendipitous superstition.

“I knew it was yours when I saw it sparkle and Edgar knew it and all we all knew it and I knew to come back straight away because when it flooded like Mom said the creek collapsed a big piece of land into it and washed away big branches and Edgar fell down and made a growled at it, but we ran back and I was brave and I didn’t get hurt like Mom thought I would like she always does and look I got a picture of it for you!” Grandma, unsure, felt forward with fingertips. Little girl’s warm hands, still damp with sink water. A small cool rectangle: one of those phones.

“Do you have it, Lorelai? My — the ring?”

“No. After I took pictures I tried to wash the mud off but the water was strong and the flood creek grabbed it right up and then Edgar fell in after it swimming, splash splash splash, he swam out of the creek again and we walked home again, but look at it! Look, look, look here! Do you see the picture I took of it, Grandma? It’s so beautiful.” And for almost a moment Grandma, trying hard, thought she really could see it even crisper than her last memories of vision. Rowan had said about the burglars who took their original wedding rings. But now Nora searched in stifled silence for clues. “I knew you’d want a picture,” Lorelai continued heedlessly, “but then we ran back through the farm to here. And your fields were so green I could have lived in them forever, and Edgar and I, and I’d let Bastian live here too. And Mom, and you too, and Daddy and Joe and Uncle Matt and Pastor Fischer if he wants, and Lisa Welldrow and her daddy and Angelina and Billy Henderson. But I’d have my own place and I’d paint it blue. Or maybe purple, or both, and everyone of us would work the farms and make it so growing Grandma and when I would be here the fields are tall are wide are deep are—”

“Lori,” said stern Constance who had approached unheard. “Your brother is in tears and he says it’s because you hate him. Go work it out.” Heavy skipping down the hall as Lorelai, humming wordlessly, left. Grandma wiped surreptitiously her wrinkled lids. Connie said, “Bet she talked your ear off. What was she saying?” Lost in the void. The inescapable golden glint of disrupted truths. “Ma, what did Lorelai say to you?”

“Oh? Oh, some story about finding my first wedding ring by the creek.”

Connie loosened, laughed. “No kidding. I just told her that story on the way over here last night in the truck.”

“About the night our wedding rings were —”

“Yeah, yeah, how someone broke in but only took the rings. I’ve heard it a million times, don’t you remember how I’d tease Pop about it? Anyways, Bastian was having a little tantrum but when Lorelai’s got him all calmed down I want him to eat something, and then we’re gonna head on out. That’s ok, Ma? Do you need anything?”

“That’s ok Connie. I’ve got you and the twins, and that’s all I need.”

“Course you do. You’ve got us. Now till then let me read you these pamphlets I brought. I know it’s rough Ma but you got to let the farm go. Longer we put it off the more money we lose. Last time, you said Bellview Center wouldn’t be a bad place to live. Let’s just look for an hour or so, is that alright with you, Ma?”

Shoulders, spine, and the scoop of her back clenched. Blanket of rain. Lingering egg smell, sulfurous, now a sickly green. A nerve in her neck. Home perturbed by wind gusts.

***

Hours elapsed. Sitting on her porch now, bones as cold as night. Heaven having loosed its flood only drizzled. Choirs of amphibians worshipped the darkness. Her family had since left, Bastian inaudible but Lorelai all laughter. Their truck had roared, then whined, then echoed into oblivion. Now back and forth, Nora in her favorite rocking-chair. She knew her vantage afforded a well-remembered view of fields as green as discontent. Envisioned barns blossoming among her acres. Frogs enough sang, plenty of frogs to populate her dim hovels. Contemplated abandonment and inheritance, survival and dismay. Wind picked up again. Smell of decay. Frogs would not fall heir to the farm; chaotic structures crave constance. Envisioned lineage lines drawn from roots of the past into the branches yet to grow, saw her home pass overgrown into obscurity. When Matt finds out she changed the inheritence. Nora swam through her fields of grave stygian green, lost her breath, and drowned. Poison.

Today the last today. Lurched to her feet, tormented knees screaming. Hobbled to the door. Creaking open, a furry cannonball shot out and barked away into the wilderness to chase frogs.

“Goodbye Edgar,” she said pointing her face in the direction of his barks fading farther. Fragmentary vision of verses on a long-ago page. Shake patiently off my great afflictions my snuff and loathed part of nature should burn itself out if Edgar live oh bless him now fellow fare thee well. Falls forward. The extreme verge. Funny what lingers. There were many books she missed.

Squeal of the screen door entered her into the kitchen. Ignited burner. Smell of gas, queasy green fog. Kettle to sink, kettle to burner. The contents of the vial hidden on the top shelf. Today the last. Frightened, but yes. Lined up a stool meticulously failing twice. Climbed and finally grasped it high up behind canned food. Ran fingertips over it twice, the smooth vial. No smell. Shook on the stool, but balanced. Regret. Contribution. Remaining responsibilities. Wind’s hand made a puppet of the house’s creaking voice: Matt saying he would blame her. Bastian relieved. Dear Rowan disappointed but understanding, eager for their reunion at last. And the ring: had her marriage been built on a lie? Loyalties misplaced? Breathy drafts tore at her nightgown. The tea. Whistled. Time. Carefully crouched, made peace with the harmless vial in her hand. Shrill whistle. Let herself off the stool. Overcome by the piercing whistle. Time. Life. Got it off the burner, quiet at last. Steeped the tea and left no friendly drop. No sound from the vial but felt the powder empty; today the last. Her nightgown and hair tugged by her home’s breathing.

Groaning hallway. Up the stairs. Bannister clenched in one hand, tea too hot in the other. Searing droplets wet her socks. Slow nervous footsteps. Crk. (Son, fuming: “How could she leave it to my sister?”) Crrk. (Grandson, comic: “Ding dong, the witch is dead!”) Crrrowak. (Husband, feigning ignorance: “I don’t understand why someone would have stolen them! Honey, we’ve got to get a security system for this place.”) Smell of pine from her room as she tried to ascend one more stair that wasn’t there. Splashed hand, scalded hand but held tight. Minutes until the nightstand in her gusty bedroom. Crept. Cup down, hand in mouth, hot tea painful flesh. Sat in bed listening to the wind. Smell of pine. At last, determination. To life! Drank.

After many sips, even the dregs were drained. Today the. But there would still be many tomorrows. Envisioned Lorelai coming into her own, marrying, tending and caring for these acres. Envisioned the blue night that must now be spilling through her window. Over to the boxes piled. Hands knees and feet against the floorboards. Crawled to his boxes. Fingers on folded cardboard as dry as sawdust. Opened. Felt a rough button shirt on top. The blue one with white stripes. Brought it to her face, inhaled the ghost of her husband. Uncertainty, fright, unwillingness. She believed Rowan and loved Rowan, she believed Lorelai and loved Lorelai. The one she could not believe anymore was Nora. Her tiresomely milked love had run out. It was time. Stood. Faced the blustery blue woodwinds beyond the window, still holding his shirt. She didn’t know whether to clutch it like a raft or fling it from the precipice. She had to believe in her daughter Constance and the daughter of her constancy. Nora knew it was already time. It was ok. Dropped the. Kneeled carefully beside her bed like she hadn’t done since a little girl, knees rough on the floorboards. Smelled pine, recent rain, her fields. And when her prayer concluded, relinquishing the chill room and lands to pass on, ignoring aches, she climbed easily into. Indigo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.