The back porch hadn’t been invaded yet, so I took up residence there. Since the funeral, the house had been consistently full of people dropping off food and paying their respects. It was strange to see my mother interacting with a room full of strangers, though they all seemed to know her quite well. I tried to blend in, but after a while I had to escape. These days I found comfort in the rhythmic rocking of my grandmother’s chair.
“You are the spitting image of him.”
The voice was a mere whisper, but it startled me. I turned to see an elderly man peering through the screen door like a small bird trapped in a cage.
He stared for a few more seconds before turning and walking away. I got up from the chair and headed inside, slamming the screen door behind me. The living room was full of guests, but the old man had no problem making his way through the center of the room. He headed for the front door.
“Eden! Where are you going? Let’s help Mrs. Carmichael in the kitchen. She’s setting out desserts.”
I looked out the window to see the old man walking away before heading to the kitchen.
After all the guests departed my grandmother’s house, and the last of them had hugged my mother for the umpteenth time, expressing condolences, I helped her place all the food in containers and stacked them in the refrigerator. As much food as they’d brought, we wouldn’t have to cook a meal for three weeks.
“Eden, I’m going to lay down for a bit. I’m exhausted. Everyone had such nice things to say about your grandmother, and I do appreciate them stopping by with all that food. However, I’m in desperate need of a nap now. Will you be okay on your own for a while?”
That last question was not one I had heard from my mother before today. I was used to being on my own most of the time, but then she was usually sleeping off a bottle of vodka. This new version of her was a welcome change, but one I was having a hard time getting used to.
As soon as she headed to her room, I headed out to the treehouse. It didn’t take long for me to get lost in my parents’ story once more. I had gathered the two of them had run into each other a couple more times at school, and had managed to awkwardly get through a few painful conversations on their way to Biology. Delving further into their notes, I felt like I was intruding on their story. How else was I going to find out who my father was, and what had happened to him?
Colossians 3:9-10 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Althaea, September, 1966
He ran down the school steps and caught up to me on the sidewalk.
“Is it okay if I walk with you?”
“Sure, I’m headed to the library to drop off some books.”
“What were you reading? I’m not much of a reader, unless you count comic books.”
“Comic books tell a story, don’t they?” she challenged.
“I guess, but I’m sure they contain a heck of a lot more pictures than the books you like to read.” He looked at the books she was carrying.
“Different strokes for different folks, or whatever that saying is right?”
She hugged the books a little tighter. They walked in awkward silence for a block, when he noticed she was making it a point to step on the cracks in the sidewalk.
“I know it’s backwards, but it’s a game I play sometimes. I look for the imperfections in things. It’s nice to see things the way others may not.”
They continued to walk in silence, and had almost reached the library when she noticed he had started stepping on the cracks alongside her.
Ms. Langley took her glasses off as they entered the building. She wore them on a pearl necklace that bounced ever so slightly off her chest when she walked. Althaea had been coming to the library every Wednesday for as long as she could remember. Two books every week in exchange for two others. One day, Ms. Langley asked her why she never checked out one at a time, since she would more often than not extend the second book another week. Althaea wasn’t sure why she did it, except she liked the security of having a second book in her possession. It was something to look forward to.
“Good afternoon, Althaea. Who is your new friend on this bright afternoon?”
“Good afternoon, Ms. Langley. This is James. He’s fairly new in town.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” said James extending his hand.
“Aren’t you all good manners and chivalry? How refreshing!”
“My mom would be happy to hear that. She’s always telling us proper etiquette seems to be fading fast in our society. She still believes in setting the dinner table with china and cloth napkins. Says a set table sets you up for success. Don’t get me started on her lecture about making my bed every morning, and how that one small task can set the tone for the rest of my day.”
Ms. Langley couldn’t help but laugh.
“I think your mother and I are going to be fast friends. Althaea, let me have your books, dear. I’ll get them back on the shelf.”
“I put them in the book drop.”
“Now why on earth would you do that? You never drop them in there.” She made her way over to the book drop, muttering to herself.
“Wait right there while I grab them!” she yelled over her shoulder.
“Why don’t you want me to see the books, Althaea?” James gave her a playful nudge.
“Huh? What are you reading about? Horror? Mystery? Is there a dark side to you I should know about?”
He laughed as he said it, but quickly turned and wandered off to one of the tables.
Althaea looked over at him, expecting more questions, but he just smiled and nodded at her. She wasn’t used to people picking up on her emotions, but he had obviously sensed her discomfort and backed off. Did she give off a weird vibe or was he just that laid-back?
Ms. Langley setting the two books on the counter, brought her back to reality.
“Okay, you know the drill. I’ll meet you back here when you’ve discovered your latest treasures. How about you James? Can I interest you in a library card?”
James looked at Althaea and they both laughed this time.
“Not unless you have a comic book section.”
Althaea walked off as Ms. Langley shushed them.