It’s been one of those days. Here is a little short story which the emotions decided to write. I do not know why, but I cried while writing it. I guess it was because the emotion which wrote it was sadness. A work in progress which will be submitted to this year’s Prose contest for the Corn Creek Review here at Young Harris College
Grandma Tinning died on a stormy Saturday night last fall, right before my thirteenth birthday. I was there with her, as well as my mother, and I remember the smile she gave to me as she drew her last breath. The release of her soul was peaceful, her face relaxed as she left this realm, and traveled to the place where grandfather waited for her.
I remember mother being very upset, her world upside down, tears flowing freely, without any regard for proper appearance in front of the doctor and others who gathered with us, as they covered her mother with an old quilt kept on her bed. While the rest of the family held mixed emotions concerning grandma’s death, especially one of my aunts, for me, it brought deep sadness to my heart; the only child of the eldest daughter, her death marked the progression towards the hollowing and aging of my soul.
Grandma and I were very close, and often when I visited during the holidays or summers, we would steal away from the rest of the family. Tired of the formal attire, and attitude, to which our family adhered too, we sought the uninhibited flowers and trees, which coaxed in both of us, the wanton desire to mix with the inhuman, and converse with those who lived among their branches. Grandma loved walking down to her gardens and talking about the wildness of youth, and what she did as a young girl to quiet her untamed heart. Even though she was my grandmother, she seemed to understand what flamed a girl’s secret desire, and spoke of love with such a passion, that it kindled in me a fire which could only be extinguished once we reached the secret gate behind the blackberry patch, and entered into the magical world beyond.
Back behind grandma’s blackberry patch, there was a secret opening to a hidden refuge she created long ago when grandfather was alive. It was a place she always talked about with love, as they both shaped it to be their own hiding place from the rest of the world. The place held mystery in my eyes, and as she opened the wooden gate, it was almost as if we stepped from this earth into another world not visited by humankind very often. Grandma Tinning
would tell me about the fairies that lived back in the dark corners of the garden, and how she visited with them every month when the moon was full. The fairies first appeared before grandfather died, marking a strange pact for both of them, she told me. Only after his passing, as grandma became alone, did she find a new friend to keep her company.
“Before I had you Lucille, the fairies were my companions,” she whispered with a smile.
She still conversed with them from time to time, she confessed, and during the light of the full moon, the fairy prince would become human just for her, and whirl her into waltzes, to music played by the numerous grogs and frogs that formed the night time band. As a child, I believed every word, and watched as the dusk would come, and the lights would fill the garden and the blackberry patch, and grandma would pointand say, ‘there, Lucille, there under the willow trees, behind the blackberry patch, there is where my prince and I will dance next time the moon is full.’
Watching them lower her into the frozen ground, away from the beauty of light, and fairy magic, caused something within me to die as well. Her stories, which were once clear, began to fade, and my memory refused to hold on to them. It was only after the funeral came and went that I began to understand why there was so much mixed emotion about her passing.
“Celia, mother was getting senile. All those stories she told Lucille about fairies living in her garden were plain nonsense. Why, she was eighty plus years living in a child’s world.”
That was my Aunt Estella, the youngest of grandma’s daughters, but she thought herself the wisest. Aunt Estella did not marry like my mother and her sister, Maggie, instead choosing to continue her education through graduate school. She was actually a PhD, but my mother did not like calling her doctor, because she felt Aunt Estella went to school just to get the title so she could look down on others.
“Stella, there is no reason to badmouth mother in front of Lucille.”
That was Aunt Maggie. A middle child, Aunt Maggie faired the best of all of them. Quiet and aloof, shy and mild-mannered, she married a very handsome doctor, whose practice thrived in the rural mountains of Tennessee because of his and his wife’s gentleness and caring.
“Mother loved her gardens, and if they were magical to her, and made her happy, then that is all that matters to me. You need to stop Stella, before we say something each of us will regret.”
That was mother. Always the mediator, never wanting to fight, but would if she felt a wrong being committed. She was also the divorced woman, whose decision to take her own life into her own hands, instead of allowing her husband to control it for her, ended a fifteen year marriage. She was happier now, more so then with papa.
“Both of you need to realize the woman was living in a dream world towards the end of her life. I bet if you look at her will, she made changes, leaving everything she owned to this supposed fairy prince. I bet there was some man who came every month pretending to be this wonderful lover, and got her to change her will.”
Aunt Maggie sighed, the sound heavy and impatient. “Stella, is that all you care about, mother’s will? I think this is the umpteenth time you have brought it up. Really, sister, you disappoint me.”
“Mother’s will was locked up after father died. She has not touched it. All she cared about after dad’s death was her garden that he built for her. I handled her money transactions. She did not want to bother with any of it, she told me,” my mother replied.
I kept quiet, sitting alone by the large window overlooking grandma’s blackberry patch. Did any of them know what lay behind it? Had grandma taken any of them to the secret gate into her world of magic? I wondered if they even knew how wonderful the fairy lights were at dusk.
“Well I still want the will read out by my attorney. I do not want any unforeseen obstacles to probating the estate.”
“For God’s sake Stella, the woman’s not been in the ground more than a day, and all you can think about is mother’s will and things. It is just stuff, no bond of love, or word of comfort, will come from it,” Aunt Maggie retorted angrily. I could see Aunt Estella was getting to her nerves again.
“I do not want to stay here any longer than I have too,” Aunt Estella snipped briskly. “I had enough of this manor when I was younger. Mother never took to me like she did you and Celia; there was never any ‘love bond’ between us. I rather not dwell on unpleasant memories.”
I watched Aunt Estella march from the room, her shoulders thrown back, black suit starched to stiffness, never giving way to creases or touches. I always found her to be very sad. She was so smart, but not smart enough to realize what she needed to do to belong in a family.
“Celia, that woman cannot be our sister, she is like a dragon, her fire scorching everything it touches.”
My mother took a smoke from grandfather’s old cigar box. It was one of her hiding places in the manor. When things became tense, she would puff on about half of it and then gag, often voicing her wonderment at why she ever picked it up. This time I saw her hand shaking, and she drew a breath longer than normal, her eyes watering. But whether from the smoke or something else, she refused to allow the liquid to escape its captivity.
“I have never understood Stella. She always seems to think only of herself. Mother left the estate to be divided equally among us. It is almost like she is afraid of being left out,” mother murmured as she exhaled the cigarette smoke.
Aunt Maggie said nothing. Her eyes wandered around the room until they caught me in their study. Nodding, Aunt Maggie smiled lightly, the motion brief, as her eyes reflected sorrow that her heart could not contain. I could tell she was deeply affected by grandma’s death also.
“Well, tomorrow it will be over and done with. Let her attorney read it over, for pity’s sake, so at least she feels in control of something.” Mother stamped out the smoking cigarette in
the ash tray at the corner of the desk, her lips drawn into a frown as she punished
the piece of tobacco, twisting it and mashing it until it was just a small piece of white pulp.
I stayed at the window long after they left the room. The evening breeze was picking up and the sound of the rustling leaves was comforting. It was like grandma’s voice, soft and
assuring. I could hear her whispering in my memories, to come and follow her out to the blackberry patch, leaving the unkind world behind, and seeking the solace of magic, in the secret place beyond. The manor was deathly quiet, and I suddenly felt that I could not take its silence any longer. The sun was still above the horizon, and I needed to find our place once more, before all was abandoned as youthful things are most often discarded, into the back of a box, and they allowed grandma’s secret garden to become overgrown and forgotten.
Escaping from the crowd which was congregating down below, I slipped through a side door and into the freedom of grandma’s yard. Running towards the blackberry patch, I was delighted to see the fairy lights already peeking in and around the green leaves and dark crimson berries. Her magic had not faded yet.
Following a half hidden stone path, I quickly darted around the edge and squeezed through the thorny branches, as they tried to keep me from the secret gate. Grandma was back there, I could feel her hand reach for me, and I wanted to be with her, for just one last time, to hear her tell me of her fairy prince, and the midnight waltzes under the silvery full moon.
Squeaking with irritation at being burdened with opening, the hinges to the gate finally gave way and allowed me entrance. I crossed the threshold, and stepped into grandma’s fairy world. It was as I remembered it, the color flowing like an endless sea of flowers, the scent intoxicating.
Her fairy lights darted quickly, hiding themselves from view, uncertain of the visitor which suddenly intruded into their kingdom. The frenzy which I felt earlier, dissipated as I walked to our stone bench by the lily pond. Cottonwood seed floated on the gentle wind as I place myself on the center of the cold seat, and I sang the calling song, which grandma taught me many years ago, the hum of the words seemed so forlorn now, more so than before.
And I waited.
The ticking of time passed more rapidly than I wanted and I sang again, this time with more urgency. Yet, the fairy lights stayed within their shelter and refused to show themselves.
No matter how hard I sang, none came forth, venturing to visit like they did when grandma was here.
Then as the sun settled at the edge of the earth, the shadows filled the garden, and the vibrant colors begin to wash from their places in the petals. Once in awhile I saw the brief glimpse of fabric behind one of the azalea bushes, or passing behind the dogwoods and crepe myrtles, but the movement was gone before I could clearly see the pattern of the dress.
Now as I think back, it seemed to me to resemble the gay frock that grandma used to wear.
As the sun laid itself to rest, the full moon rose, and I stayed, my hope to see the fairies one last time powerful, and unyielding. I glanced at the orb above me in the night sky in anticipation. Would her fairy prince come out now, to dance with me like he did with grandma?
Time waned, and the air became colder, and the cottonwood stopped their dance, and the flowers lost their colors entirely as the light of moon bathed them in quiet sorrow, and washed them of their life. I shivered. Grandma’s prince did not come. And as the silvery glow became obscured behind thick, dark clouds, it was then, that I realized, grandma’s magic had said its farewell. The garden behind the blackberry patch became just like every other ordinary garden, and I was alone.