I'l Come to You With Stories
Both hands dip into the cedar chest. I pull out tests and pictures, report cards and notes. There is a painting of a cabin in the bush, with a sun but no people, because I didn't want to draw them badly at twelve. Now that I am twice that age, I no longer paint at all.
There is no particular order to the items in the box, nor are some items deemed more valuable than others. They are testimonials to what I had accomplished under my mother's tutelage, promissary notes for the future. The chest is hers, and no one till now, has ever dared open it.
"What are you doing?"
I look up startled. My father is leaning against the door jamb. His dark eyebrows come together at the bridge of his nose and I know he is displeased with me.
"I'll visit her with a story." I want to bring order to this mess. I imagine bringing my mother small bundles of memories, helping her re-trace her life. What else can one do when one's mother is taken away?
"She's too sick for stories. She won't understand." He sits down on the chair and watches as I sort through the papers.
"She doesn't need to do anything," I say. I'm doing this for me.
At the bottom of the box is a small pillowcase, edged with lace. Wedding lace. Baptismal lace. Inside are three sheets of thin paper tied with a narrow blue ribbon. Letters.
"Do you remember these?" I wave the letters in front of my father.
"Put the letters away, Tamara. They don't belong to you."
"They don't belong to you, either. I'm her daughter. Who the hell are you? " I have never said anything so harsh to my father.
We wait, watching each other, and there is no way I can take it back. When he speaks, his voice is even, his words slow, as if he has been practising to say them for some time. "I'm her husband and I've chosen to be your father." His voice cracks; his arms hang limply at his sides.
This man is the only father I have ever had, but he is not what I want now. I hate his reserve, want to get on with it, any action will do, any action is better than waiting. I see my mother, a thin wild woman, sitting on the edge of her hospital bed. A woman with vacant eyes. Anger pushes me beyond sorry. I snort derisively and open the first letter, letting its creases determine how the page will sit on my lap.
He reaches for the letter, I snatch at it at the same time and the letter is torn in two. His face looks peculiar, as if he is going to be sick. Part of me wants to ask him for forgiveness. Forgive me for my self-righteousness, my smugness, my need to root out secrets. Part of me wants an explosion, a cataclysmic fight.
He says nothing, gets up and walks out of the room. The cellar door opens.
"Hide. Go on." I mutter under my breath. "Keep things to yourself."
I bring the letter fragment closer to the light. Each small tight letter seems to be drawn rather than written. I find my mother's name, Lyuba, decipher promises and words of endearment, pleas for love and for absolution.
I read the second letter and the third. Each letter a testament to love from my father to his wife. I do not understand why I care so much, or why any of this should make a difference, but it does. The living room has not changed. The curtains are closed. The doorways are still there -- one leading into the kitchen, the other into my parent's bedroom. I lie down on the floor, weeping.
Much later, I go downstairs to find my father. He is sitting on the cot, his back bent, his shoulders drawn up as if his head could then more easily be pulled into his body. I am at a loss as to what to do. I want my father to talk to me, tell me his story, but there is a painful awkwardness between us. In the end, I put my arms around him and we hold each other, for a moment, without touching too much. His sweater smells of smoke and blueberry wine.
"You're beginning to look more and more like your mother," he says and reaches out to stroke my hair.
If the Northern Lights were out I would whistle them down and they'd sweep towards the earth in great waves of pastel pink and mint green light. But the sky outside the cellar window is pitch black.
About the author:
Louisa Howerow's poems and short stories have appeared in on-line journals, such as E2K, Augustcutter, A Woman of a Certain Age and the-phone-book. Louisa's short stories have also been published in Canadian Literary Journals: The Amethyst Review, Room of One's Own, and The Antigonish Review. One of her short stories was a finalist in the Canadian Literary Awards Contest (1999).