Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 10, Part 1

Chapter 10

It was late when I finally reached South Hero. The roads were so familiar here. How many times in my life had I driven down them? I drove past the home I had shared with Alan. I slowed down to take a closer look. There was a car in the driveway. It was strange to think of someone else living there. I had met the new owners at the real estate closing. They were a young couple, a little older than me, maybe. They were new to the area and had a little girl. They had put a gym set in the back yard. It was good that there was life in that house. Would life have been different for Alan and me if we’d had a child? That question would always remain unanswered.

I was happy to finally turn down the road to my parents' home. They were the only ones who lived on the street. All the land around the house was theirs. I could remember as a child going out to play with my brother and just being able to run and run and still be on our land. I missed that in Springfield. I owned a tiny little postage stamp of land. Oh well, everything in life has its tradeoffs, I suppose. It wasn't like I was going to go outside and run anymore. Walking around my neighborhood suited me just fine. Besides, it was nice to have neighbors close by in case anything ever went wrong. About a mile down the road, I could see the light on the front porch, welcoming me home. I was nervous, and felt silly for being so. After all, I was going home. These were my parents. What was there to be nervous about? Yet, things were different. I had run away from this world. I felt a little bit like the prodigal daughter coming home, even though I hadn't done anything wrong. I pulled into the driveway and took a deep breath. This was it.
My mother came running out of the house before I even had the chance to open the car door.

“Lucy, you're home! It's so good to see you!” she exclaimed as she threw her arms around me in a big bear hug.

“It's good to see you, too, Mom.”

“Pat, get her things out of the car,” she hollered out to my father as he came out the front door.

“Hi, sweetheart,” he said, as he opened the back door of the car and took out my things.

“Hi, Dad.”

By this time, Lady was awake and making her presence known. “Let me get my dog out before she has a fit.”

“Oh isn't she just adorable?” my mom said as I took her out of the car and she promptly relieved herself on their front yard. “Let’s go inside and get you both settled. You must be tired after your trip.”

I nodded in agreement. I was tired. It had been a long day.

“You look pale,” my mom said concernedly as we stepped into the house. “Have you been taking care of yourself?”

“I'm fine, really. I had the flu last week, but I'm feeling much better.”

“The flu? Why didn't you tell me?”

“I didn't want you to worry.”

“I'm your mom. It's my job to worry.”

“It smells great in here,” I said, attempting to change the subject. When my mom got to worrying about me, she was capable of discussing the subject for days. I just didn't want to go there.

“Oh, I've been busy getting ready for our dinner tomorrow.”

“She's been cooking nonstop. She's so excited to have you here,” my Dad added on his way upstairs.

“I can tell!” I surveyed the kitchen. There were pots and pans everywhere, and it smelled so good. I drank in the scent of pumpkin pie and stuffing. Yum. I was hungry already. “At least let me do the dishes.”

“Oh, good grief! The dishes can wait! You don't even have your coat off yet. Come and sit down and talk to me a bit. I'll get us a cup of tea. It is so good to see your face.”

“It's good to see you, too, Mom.”

Lady followed her around with a hopeful look on her face. “And you? What can I get for you? Let me see.” She rummaged around in the fridge. “How about some leftover ham? Would that work for you.” By the way Lady scarfed it down she seemed to think it was just fine.

“I'm so glad you could get away,” my mom said as she handed me my cup of tea. “It's peppermint with honey – just like you like it.”


“It just wouldn't have felt like Thanksgiving with neither of my children here. I know you two had to grow up and live your own lives, but I miss you both so much.”

“How is Bill?” I asked. “I haven't talked to him lately.”

“Oh, you know, busy as ever. He doesn't talk much, that one. Like father, like son, that's for sure! Melissa is good about sending me pictures and updates about the baby, though. You'd be so proud of me – I've actually learned how to use email and download photos and everything.”

“That's great!”

“Look, Melissa just sent me this one of Emily just the other day.” She pulled over a picture frame she had on the counter. “Isn't she beautiful?”

“Yeah, she is,” I agreed.

“She looks a lot like you did when you were a baby. I do wish they lived closer. I finally get a grandchild and she lives 3000 miles away. It just isn't fair,” she said sadly.

“I'm sorry, Mom. Are you OK?” I could see tears starting to form in her eyes.

“Oh, this is silly of me. I'm a grown woman. I've just been missing you both so much.” She wiped away a tear with her finger. “I'm just so glad to have you back home, even if it is only for a few days.”

“I'm glad to be here.” I said. For all my hesitation before the trip, it did feel good to be home.

I climbed up the stairs to my old room. Lady had bounded up ahead of me and was waiting for me at the top. The stairway was filled with photos. There was my parents' wedding photo. My mom looked so beautiful and happy, her red hair up in a perfect French twist (I did inherit her hair). My father looked steady and serious, ready to take on whatever the future might hold. There were baby pictures of Bill and me and photos of us growing up. We got older as I climbed the stairs. Near the top of the stairs was Bill and Melissa's wedding picture along with a couple more photos of Emily. And, I noticed with a grimace, she still had up a photo of Alan and I from our wedding day. The day probably still held happy memories for her. I was nowhere near as pretty as my mom had been in her youth (ironically, my brother seemed to have gotten most of the looks in the family), but I had been happy. Naïve, I guess would be the more accurate word.

I went into my old room and sat on the bed. My mom hadn't changed it much since I had been gone. I knew she used it as a guest room, now, but the wallpaper and curtains were still the same. My old porcelain dolls still stood on an upper shelf. There was also a plaque with a little girl in a veil with my name and the date of my first communion engraved on it. My mom would be so happy I was going back to church. I knew it had broken her heart when I had stopped going. I hadn't told her about my recent foray back into the fold. Doing so would have meant telling her about Mike and I honestly didn't know what to tell her about him. There was a lot to talk about this weekend - if I got up my nerve.

Here in my old room, I felt a little like I had stepped back in time. Maybe if I tried really hard, I could close my eyes and pretend I was only ten years old again. Life was simpler, then, wasn't it? I know it didn't feel that great when I was going through it, but in hindsight it seemed wonderful. In another fifteen years, would I look back and want to be twenty-five again? That was a frightening prospect. Maybe, just maybe, life was a one-way trip for a reason. Otherwise, we would always want to go back and do it over.

I slept soundly with Lady curled up next to me. I woke up early, but my parents were still up before me. Life on a farm meant getting up at the crack of dawn. I didn't really miss that. My dad was already out taking care of the animals and my mom was in the kitchen getting the turkey ready to go in the oven.
“Happy Thanksgiving, sweetheart,” she greeted me cheerily. I had forgotten just how much of a morning person my mother was. I can't say that I inherited that gene, especially in the winter when it was pitch black outside. I may get up early, but I don't really come alive until at least 9 a.m., or at least until after I have had a cup or two of coffee.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” I responded, still in something of a daze. “Do you need help with that?” I gestured toward the turkey.

“No, I'm fine! I've been doing this for thirty years! I enjoy the ritual,” she smiled. “The coffee is ready. Would you like a cup?”

“Yes, please - a large one.” Thankfully, she obliged. Mom also apparently remembered I didn't like to talk too much in the morning because she left me alone to drink my coffee and read the paper.

“Do you want another cup of coffee?” my mom asked as I was finishing reading the comics (I had to keep up with the storylines, after all).

“No, thanks. I'm going to take Lady out for a walk.” The sun had just started to come up. I went back upstairs to get Lady, who was still curled up on the bed doing her usual early morning protest.

“Come on, pretty girl. It's time to go outside.” She rolled over and showed me her belly which I obligingly rubbed. “Yes, you have a pretty tummy, but you still need to go outside. Come on, we'll go for a walk. You can check out some new territory.” Still no movement. I picked her up and carried her down the stairs. It was a good thing that she wasn't a big dog because she definitely had a mind of her own.

“Enjoy your walk,” my mom called out after us as we headed out into the cold morning air. I could see my breath as I walked. A couple inches of snow had fallen overnight, which made everything look bright and clean and beautiful. A few flakes were still falling. Thankfully, I remembered to pack my boots. I always loved new-fallen snow. It seemed to give the world a fresh start. I checked my cell-phone as we started out. Some small part of me hoped that Mike would call. OK, maybe it was actually a big part. As I flipped open the case, however, I realized there was no service. That's right. We never did get very good service out here. I'd have to go into the center of town later to check. He probably hadn't called anyway.

I walked and walked and walked down the road. There was nowhere to go, really. All I could do was walk down to the main road and then turn around and walk back again. It wasn't particularly productive which I always found frustrating. I liked to walk with a destination in mind, but it did give me some fresh air and exercise and helped me get the cobwebs out of my head. Lady didn't seem to mind, either. There were all sorts of new things to sniff. Her nose was twitching and she was in her glory. As I studied the landscape, I realized that not much seemed to have changed in my absence. All the same trees still seemed to be standing guard over the terrain. The old picket fence still marked the territory. The same dilapidated shed still managed to stand. Life here seemed frozen in time. It was strange, yet comfortably reassuring to be home.

By the time I got back, I felt much more awake and ready to take on whatever the day would hand me. Lady bounded in the door as soon as I opened it.

“Mom, let me help you!” I hurried over as soon as I saw her struggling to put the heavy turkey pan into the oven.

“I guess this must be a bigger turkey than usual,” she said as she closed the oven door. “Thank goodness you came in when you did.”

I noticed when she stood up how much older my mother was looking. She was thinner, too. Had she really aged that much in a few months? Somehow, I hadn't noticed last night.

“Come on, Mom. Let's sit down. I'll get you some coffee.”

“I'm OK, Lucy. Don't bother yourself fussing over me. I just got a little tired, that's all.”

“Well, then sit and take a rest. I can take care of making the dinner. I'm a grown woman. I don't want to hear any arguing,” I said quite emphatically, as much to convince myself as to convince my mother.

“Well, of course you are, dear. I've just been doing it for so long . . . I guess I could use some help,” she reluctantly acknowledged. “How about we do it together?”

“How about you sit there and tell me what to do?” After all, what do mothers do better than tell their daughters what to do?

“That will work!”

She had really done most of the work the day before. I just needed to get the vegetables ready which took a lot of peeling and boiling water and mashing. Even I, with my rather limited culinary skills was able to accomplish that! As I worked, we talked. We spoke of light topics first. She told me about the happenings on the farm, and in town. As it was such a small town, everybody pretty much knew everybody. She filled me in on all the gossip about her friends from the ladies' guild at church and on people that she knew that I had gone to school with. I heard of births and deaths and marriages begun and ended. I guess I was wrong. Life did change, even in this sleepy little town.

“I saw Mrs. Lyons the other day,” my mother began with trepidation. I cringed at the thought of my former mother-in-law. We had never gotten along especially well. She always felt Alan had married beneath him when he had taken me as his wife. No doubt she would have appreciated that tramp he was going to leave me for much better.

“Did you?” I tried to sound casual, but I began peeling potatoes at a feverish pace.

“Yes. I saw her at the supermarket. We were both in the frozen food aisle.”

“Uh uh?”

“She was telling me she and her husband are spearheading a campaign to have the old playground at the park renamed for Alan in honor of how he died.”

“You're kidding?” I asked incredulously. I don't know why I was surprised. He was their honored son, the golden boy, and they had money and influence. Of course they would want to do something like that. I know, I was being heartless. The woman had lost her son, after all. Would I feel any different if it were my own son? Forgiveness, right? I was supposed to be working on forgiveness.

“No. They are trying to raise money to build a new playscape. You should have heard her! She was so excited about it. She asked me if we wanted to contribute, seeing that he was our son-in-law.”

“What did you say?” I asked, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. I had taken so much off the potato in my hand that it was quickly turning into more of a French fry.

“I think that one is done, dear,” she said, pointing to the potato.

“Uh, yeah. Sorry,” I put it down and picked up another one.

“Anyway,” she continued. “I told her that we would see what we could do. She asked me to ask you as well. She said that she would like you to be involved in some way.”

“Oh, I bet,” I said, remembering the disdain with which she used to treat me. I hadn't missed her since I left. That is for sure. “Mom, you know she never liked me. The woman could barely stand to be in the same room as me.” By now, my anger was wide out in the open.

“Calm down. I know. She was horrible to you, but she really seems to be trying to reach out. She realizes that she wasn't the only one who lost someone they loved in that fire.”

“Geez, it only took her eighteen months to realize that! How can you stick up for that woman?”

“Because she is trying. She knows that Alan loved you.”

“Ha! That's a joke!” Another potato was suffering at my hands. At this rate, we would have no potatoes for our dinner and I quite honestly didn't care.

“What do you mean by that? Alan adored you.”

“No, he didn't, Mom. He didn't love me at all.” I admitted.

“What on earth are you talking about? You have completely lost me.”

“Oh, Mom, there is so much that you don't know.”

"Through the Open Window" is available at
Visit Anne Faye's blog at

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