She’d first heard the voices the night after she buried her husband.
Since then, the disowned, half toned whispers had grafted themselves into the soundtrack of the house and while 34 year old Solie Henry knew she was home alone, exhausted habit made her look toward where the voices would have come from.
“Fold the clothes sweetie…”
No one was there. No one was ever there when she heard her dead husband Lync calling her name or her buried mother directing her to complete the chores of her childhood.
Cold suddenly, she re-wrapped the heavy cotton robe tight against the bones of her gaunt frame and slipped out of the bed. A draft had seeped up through the bedroom’s floor and the bare bamboo was icy under her socked feet. The day was giving way again to the dark promises of nightfall and as Solie moved to close the master bedroom’s patio doors, only the tops of the subdivision’s oldest pine trees were visible in the moonlit sky. A late August hurricane had passed more than 12 hours before, but utility crews had yet to repair the power outage that still blanketed her North Georgia neighborhood in darkness.
Solie reached for the flashlight that was resting on one of the moving boxes next to the bed. The room’s disarray gave no indication about the love that had never gotten a chance to live there. Wardrobe boxes, weary under the weight of their long assignment, stood like wounded butlers under the drape of her and Lync’s still packed belongings.
“Those clothes aren’t going to fold themselves.”
Solie didn’t bother searching for a source this time. She left the 2nd floor bedroom and moved slowly through the rest of the house lighting candle after candle until the place stood as a lamp lit beacon at the base of the quiet cul-de-sac. Walking through the dining room, Solie ignored the scatter of unopened mail and condolence cards that spilled from the table to the beige, construction grade carpet below.
She and Lync had only lived in their new home a week when a car accident decimated life as she knew it, killing him and critically injuring her mother. He had died instantly, the power and strength of his body unable to withstand the drunken velocity of the oncoming SUV. Her mother, Cecily Turner, had survived the impact of the collision only to succumb to a massive stroke on the day her daughter buried her husband. Solie and Zekiel, Lync’s best friend, had arrived at the Miss Cecily’s bedside just as the monitors and alarms began to signal the end of her days. Solie had crawled into bed with the woman whose life had given her breath and held her as close as space and skin would allow. And when she felt her mother’s body give up its spirit, she refused to leave her side. When hours had passed, Zekiel, his eyes bloodshot from his own tears, finally lifted the inconsolable Solie from her mother’s deathbed and carried her out of the hospital. That night was when Solie, insulated by the effects of sleeping pills and collapse, first heard her dead husband call her name.
In the light of the following day, she relegated the happening to her dreams and was grateful for the sedatives that bought her husband and her mother back to her.
“Fold the clothes sweetie…”
As days turned into weeks, nighttime whispers evolved into disembodied daytime voices that couldn’t be explained away with narcotics. Afraid that Zekiel might see the evidence of hallucinations on her face, Solie stayed in her room, claiming sadness or illness or headache as her reasons for hiding away. Eventually, Zekiel had to fly back to New York. He hadn’t wanted to leave. There was still so much to do with the studio and the business and they both knew that Lync would not have wanted his wife left by herself. But Solie had insisted that he go. While she told him that she needed to be alone, what she really wanted was to be left, unwitnessed with the evidence of what she knew was her slipping mind.
Ten weeks later after Zekiel left, Solie lay curled on her bathroom floor with her forehead pressed against the cold porcelain of the clawfooted tub. And as her thighs inexplicably covered with blood, her womb gave in to the burdens of sorrow and voices expelled its contents onto the tile. Solie hadnt even known she was pregnant.
It had been almost 15 months since she lost her child and a lifetime since she buried the two people who bookended everything that was right and whole in her life. Now Solie remained hidden away in her unpacked home hiding from the offered sympathies that still promised to scissor the tenuous truce she maintained with her own grief.
Once in the kitchen, she turned on the oven and opened the freezer in the hopes of salvaging a frozen pizza or chicken pot pie.
“Some real cooked food is what this kitchen needs.”
This time the present resonance of the voice caught her off guard and when instinct turned her toward its source, the entrees in her hands crashed to the floor in half-frozen, prepackaged chaos.
Her dead mother was at the kitchen sink washing collard greens.
“Baby these greens are beautiful. You must have picked these up at the Farmers Market because Kroger’s has never carried collard greens this fresh.”
Solie didn’t answer. Instead she stood stock still letting her eyes soak in the picture that was her mother standing, Sunday best and apron strings, in her kitchen.
“Well come on now don’t dawdle, start cutting up these here onions and press those cloves of garlic. That smoked turkey’s just about come to a boil.”
When Solie still didn’t move, her mother stopped applying her customary ribbon cut to the greens and came out from behind the kitchen island that was somehow now covered with bunches of freshly washed Collards, Vidalia onions and garlic cloves.
As her mother approached, Solie closed her eyes and was enveloped in the cold cream and peppermint scent she thought had been lost to her forever. And when the spirit of her mother embraced her, Solie pressed her face into her mother’s shoulder, always so solid and soft, and gave in to the mourning she couldn’t have borne alone.
While her back bent low under the weight of her grief, the arms of her mother never loosened and sank with her to the kitchen floor receiving wave after wave of her weeping. As she lay there on the icy tile, swaddled in the impenetrable protection of a transcendent love, Solie’s cries escaped from her belly and raged at the specter of her loss.
The feel of her mother’s hand in her hair and the soothing lullaby of her whispered endearments carried Solie into the deepest sleep she’d had in months. And in her dreams Lync came to her and serenaded her with his laughter. And with that, memories of him and the years of life they had built together finally eclipsed the apparition of his death. And while she slept, a smile, her smile, unused to its new liberty, settled gently upon her lips.
When she woke up, she was alone in her bedroom, the cold cream and peppermint scent of her mother still a hint in the air. Beams of sunlight slow danced across the room as the boastful sounds of the new spring morning coaxed her out of her bed and out onto the terrace. As she watched, knapsack and lunchbox carrying children, unimpressed by their parent’s urgency, slow poked their way towards idling minivans. One of them, a little loc-haired, paprika colored preschooler, saw her and, unused to the sight of his phantom neighbor, sent her the tiniest of waves. Then she, so unused to the effort of a greeting, sent him the tiniest of waves back and watched as he and his neighbors tumbled and pushed their way into their waiting cars. When she turned back to the room, the vision of its long tended disorder made her uneasy and seemed at odds with the curtain filtered dance of sunlight and shadow. This time though, instead of turning away and inward, she dragged one of the bent wardrobe boxes with her towards the bed. And with the slight, sweet scent of cold cream and peppermint supporting her, she began folding the clothes inside.
It was three weeks before her mother appeared to her again. The half whispers that had been the house’s constant soundtrack had gone silent but the scent of cold cream and peppermint had been a recurring presence, offering comfort as she worked to reconnect with the excruciating, everyday tasks of existence. Solie, not wanting to question herself about realities or imaginings, had relegated the experiences of that night to the murky realm of exhaustion and the persistent fragrances of cold cream and peppermint to the power of grieving remembrance.
This time, when scent of cold cream and peppermint returned, she was sitting on the floor in Lync’s office with their wedding albums cradled in her lap. Their marriage ceremony had been a so simple and so perfect. No rings, no flowers, no white dresses and just her mother and Zekiel, by their side.
“Not every Momma gets to see her daughter get loved so much.”
Solie’s breath shallowed and her hands stilled over the pages of the photo album. Despite the room’s sudden chill, a sheen of sweat covered her palms and forearms. She looked up to see her mother slowly appearing just inside the ray of mid-morning sun that cascaded through the office’s enormous picture window. This time though, her voice was ready.
“You were so beautiful that day,” Miss Cecily’s spirit laughed, her body whole and solid now, “Shoot girl, we ALL looked fabulous…”
With this, Miss Cecily moved closer to her daughter, just outside of Solie’s reach, to the edge of where light met shadow.
Solie eased to her feet, letting the photo albums slide to the carpet.
“Momma,” she asked, her hands slowly reaching out to touch and push away what she knew couldn’t be there, “How…How are you here?”
“Oh Solie,” said Cecily, reaching out to her daughter, “My sweet, sweet Solie, baby, Don’t cry ”
Solie’s legs stopped holding her and she fell back onto the solidness of Lync’s desk. Hot tears saturated her face as she squeezed her eyes shut.
“Oh God, I can’t do this. Please help me.”
The fragrance of peppermint and cold cream was stronger now and when Solie opened her eyes her mother was standing in front of her her. Solie felt a peculiar current as her mother, still lit from within somehow by the light of the sun, cupped her face and wiped her tears.
“Answer it Solie,” she said, her eyes distant now and looking past her daughter, to something far and away.
“Momma please,” Solie said, weeping and reaching out in vain as her mother and the light that brought her began to fade and shimmer away, “I don’t understand, don’t go… Please… please don’t leave.”
“Answer the door Baby…”
And then Solie was alone. When the chime of the doorbell came a moment later, she ignored it. Sure it was just another sound effect of her lost and haunted mind. At its insistence, she wiped the worst of the tears from her face with the arm of her sweatshirt and went to answer the door. When she opened it she found a little boy of about 4 or 5 years standing on her front steps. Accompanying him and barely contained on his leash, was the biggest pitbull puppy Solie had ever seen.
“G’mornin’,” said the little boy.
“Hello,” she answered.
The boy looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. His hair, a crop of springy, barely contained locs, hung to his shoulders and his face was dotted with a constellation of paprika colored freckles.
“Can I have my turtle back?” the boy asked.
“My Ninja turtle. It’s in your backyard and my mom said that that’s why I shouldn’t have thrown it over the fence but I didn’t mean to throw it over the fence and my dad says you need your privacy and that good fences make good neighbors but isn’t privacy something you have in the bathroom and why do you need it to have a good fences and how can fences make good neighbors if you can’t get your toys back?”
Solie just stared at the child, sure she was still hallucinating.
“So can I?” the little boy asked.
“Can you what?”
“Have my turtle back?” he answered rolling his eyes at her cluelessness.
“Um, yeah. Okay. Of course. Be careful though. I haven’t been back there in a while and it’s a mess. Just go around back.”
“Yeah!” The boy grinned, as he shoved the dog’s leash into Solie’s hands.
“Can you hold Fin for me? He’s not all the way trained yet and I don’t want him to make a stinker in your backyard.”
And with that, the little boy darted round the side of the house to look for his turtle.
“Morning Miss Solie!” yelled Evan Halloway as he dragged his Thomas Tank Engine book bag behind him and crossed the cul de sac toward her lawn.
From her spot on her porch, Solie opened her eyes to the clamor of the boy’s loud exuberance. While she would have preferred a few moments more of the morning’s solitude, she couldn’t help but be tickled by the six year old’s precociousness. Bracing herself she waited for the rest.
“Did you know that the diameter of the Earth is 7986 miles?”
“Why no Mr. Evan, I did not know that.”
“But the diameter of moon is only 2159 miles.”
“What?! Really? And it looks so much bigger up in the sky.”
“And you know what’s in 6 more days?”
“Hmmm let me think, a full moon?”
“No Miss Solie” he said, rolling his eyes, “ya gotta keep thinkin’. Harder this time.
“Hmmmm, ok, a solar eclipse?”
“Nooooope” ,he answered.
“Evan Nathaniel Halloway!”
“Uh-Oh” Solie said, “I think that’s your cue.”
“What’s a cue?”, the little boy answered as he scuttled to hide behind her chair, “Does everybody have one?”
“Well this cue means your momma is calling you and you had better get a move on.”
“But you haven’t guessed what’s coming in 6 more days.”
As his mother approached, little Evan giggled his best stage whisper, “Don’t tell her I’m here.”
47 year old Autumn Holloway stood just shy of 5’9” and shared the paprika coloring of her youngest child. Evan, having snuck in under the radar of his parents somewhat inconsistent GenX birth control methods, was 20 years younger than his oldest sister and 1 year younger than his mother’s first grandchild. The family had moved next door just a couple of months after the accident. The night Solie miscarried, Autumn and her husband Andrew had been out walking the family’s new pitbull puppy Fin and had arrived back home just as a too still Solie was being lifted into the waiting ambulance. Other neighborhood residents, unused to the sight, siren and strobe of an EMS vehicle in their quiet community, stood about in bathrobed bewilderment, frightened by the proximity of such unrelenting tragedy. From them, Autumn was able to piece together some of the details of what Solie had been through.
In the more than a year since, Autumn had only caught glimpses of Solie when the young widow opened her door to receive the rare postal package or food delivery. Then a few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, while Autumn and Andrew were in the garage arguing about whose job it was to clean out the backseat of the minivan, she’d heard Evan in the cul de sac chattering at the top of his lungs about Ninja Turtles and samurai swords. When they’d gone to investigate, they’d found him and Fin sitting on Solie’s porch having made fast friends in the way that kids and puppies and new neighbors do. Fin, in bellyrub heaven had hardly acknowledged them when they’d walked over to introduce themselves and extricate their reclusive neighbor from their son’s endless questioning. Solie had been gracious and reserved, moments later retreating from the awkward silences that were an inevitable byproduct of an undiscussed heartbreak.
Thanks for reading my story! *LBD
All content © 2013 Lisa B. DuBois