By Helen Lapakko
It was a black thunderous night; the rain was pouring down, the bony hand with its long fingers of light reached out with its death grip. Trees were bending with the weight of the wind. Large tree branches were being torn loose and tossed into the air like toothpicks. The thunder growled its way across the sky. The wind howled outside the window. The car she was driving was being tossed around like she was in a snow globe and someone was shaking it. She wondered if the storm would ever stop. Up ahead of her she saw the wall cloud begin to rotate… she wondered if she would even make it home.
She pulls her car into the garage, opens the car door and gets out. She walks outside into the cool night air. She looks at the wooden garage door as she closes it. The brown paint is peeling in spots. She notices pieces of wood are missing at the bottom of the door. She looks up at the garage and notices it is starting to slant ever so slightly to the right. The cement in the driveway is cracked and dirt and weeds are pushing their way up through the concrete. She sighs and walks up the sidewalk to the back door.
She looks around the backyard. She sees the swing set with two swings. One of the chains has come loose so one swing is on the ground. The sandbox has the beginning of a castle—a tower with a window. The kiddie pool still has water in it. Leaves are floating on the top of the water that looks a little green. Her daughter’s Big Wheel bike is sitting on its side, like she has just jumped off it and rushed into the house. Her face glows with the memory.
She opens the back door and steps into the kitchen. The kitchen is in its usual state of chaos. Dirty dishes are stacked in the sink, crusted with day-old food. The cupboard doors are partially opened, showing rows of cereal boxes and cooking supplies. The drawers are not quite closed, so food has fallen in among the silverware and utensils. Coffee rings shine like halos on the stove and table. There is dried food on the counter that will probably need a knife to scrape it up. The floor looks like a child’s playground: sand here, toys there, cups and food lying under the table. The red light shines on the stove; one of the electric burners is still turned on low. She smiles to herself.
She notices the bathroom as she walks by. The faucet has the usual leak, dripping occasional slow drops of cold water on the white porcelain. Beard hairs cover the ledge and bottom of the sink. The towels are hung in their sagging position, labels half off. The bathtub wears a dark ring of dirt around the inside. The rug is no longer a soft white and blue; it is a dingy gray. Dust balls form in the corners and under the radiator. She hugs herself.
She turns and goes into the living room. The piano keys are showing; music covers the top of the piano like someone has just finished a frenzied concert. The couch is sagging in those favorite spots people sit in. The toys are picked up and neatly stacked in the corner. The carpet holds white strings, crumbs, and shredded candy wrappers. The big easy chair is minus one of its cushions. A tear escapes from her eye and rolls down her cheek.
She enters her daughter’s bedroom and looks around. Her dolls are neatly stacked on the shelf. Books are still on the floor and table, piled high, covers battered with frequent use. The green carpet has begun to get bare spots; lint can be seen in the soft beam of the night-light. Her daughter’s clothes are scattered on top of the changing table. Dresses, overalls, shirts, all piled in disarray. She can see her daughter asleep in her little bed, cuddled into a fetal position, hugging her teddy bear. She sits a moment, watching her daughter sleep.
She looks last at the master bedroom, clothes hanging haphazardly on the chair and dresser. The bed sheets are half on the floor, half on the bed. The light is on. She sees her husband sitting on the edge of the bed, hair disheveled, head in his hands. She hears her daughter wake up with a whimper in the next room. Her daughter crawls out of bed and runs crying into the bedroom yelling, “MAMA!” She watches her husband pick up their daughter, cuddling her tightly into himself, and lay his head gently on hers, kissing the top of her head. She hears him whisper, “Mama went bye-bye honey, she won’t be back anymore. But I know she sees us and is watching over us right now. She loves us very much.” His tears glisten in their daughter’s hair where they fall. He rocks her gently back and forth, singing softly, “Birdies fly up in the sky, look at them fly, they’re flying so high,” until their daughter drifts off to sleep.
Mama crouches down and reaches her hand out to touch her husband and daughter, wishing she could put her arms around them and experience their warmth, and feel them once again and the touch of their kisses. !