Your eyes have seen the sun rise on 90 days, you have felt the dust of three months on soft skin. The woman holding you has gathered the days of war in her lungs, and where her memories are now smoke signals not even she knows how to decipher, her hands still tell her brain how to hold your little body so you won’t fall, how to shield you from the world she has fought and conquered and forgotten.
By the nursing home kitchen table she’s got no notion that dark coffee will scold her own mouth, but she moves the cup away from you, ”careful so he doesn’t burn himself.”
Suddenly, her language returns, her voice is the voice of the woman who has been hiding in the back of her heart since the turn of the decade.
She has held so many children safe in her arms, cured the scrapes of playground battles and lulled sobbing nightmares to sleep with lullabies she can’t recall ever knowing.
But holding you in hands that have held rationing cards – knitting needles – dried apple slices and one way tickets – the lady in the back of her heart breaks the surface of forgotten memories, takes a big gulp of air and looks at the world with her own eyes once more.
Her mother threw birthday parties on rationing cards, dressed three children in the living room curtains, and sent them to bed with a kiss on the forehead. Her father lived only in the stories, the captain that went down with his ship, the war hero.
Sixteen years later she stepped ashore where her father set sail, trying steps after crossing the ocean that took him, three dresses and a Bible in a tattered suitcase. Governess by day, she told tales of foreign forests before sending new children off with a forehead kiss, Lady in the evenings, at Dr Flemming’s dinner parties, keeping her kisses to her chest like cards.
When the words for hands and home and country were of no use anymore, they slowly slipped away.
Sixty years later, I get off the plane in the country she no longer remembers. Her memories are smoke signals no one can read, but I look to the sky to try anyway.
When I reach the sea, I put my hand in the water, I feel the cold against my skin, how it circles my fingers, my palm.
In a pocket with fraying edges I’ve still got her rationing card.
We met in 1952, and I remember her dress from the first day of college. It was red and I asked her out a week after I saw her for the first time. She declined. We still talked though, and I still noticed her. Noticed how no matter how hard she tried to pin her hair away, it would always fall into her face, and how her eyes always wondered why to everything. Then, a year later, after we’d had a bit more time, almost set fire to our homeroom together and passed all the exams we’d studied for, her red pen next to my black, she asked me out. We danced a slow dance by a jukebox, listening to Nat King Cole.
It’s very clear our love is here to stay, not for a year, but forever and a day.Read More