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Authors: Nicole Seitz

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BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
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I grab the lever and grit my teeth as the seat pulls me back up to sitting. A piece of paper ripped from Daddy's old prescription tablet falls to my lap. My hand trembles as I turn it to the fading light in the window. I'd know that scribble anywhere, right there below the Rx and the symbol of a mortar and pestle. I can hardly believe it but I'm reading a note from my dearly departed father. For a moment I imagine it's him in the kitchen, cooking up a storm like old times. This dying thing has all been a cruel joke. He'll pop out and yell something like
Surprise!
Some play to get me home.

Make yourself at home
, it reads.

I press the paper to my chest and hold my breath. The pain inside could rip me apart, but I won't let it. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth slowly until it subsides. Did Daddy leave this for me? No, it's impossible. I don't ever remember him writing me anything. I've sent him postcards from the Orient Express, from Bali, from Australia, but never a word back. For a second I wonder if Vesey wrote this note. Would he do that? My head feels groggy, and I have to get up. I'll get through this pain; I just need to clear my head.

I open my mouth and mean to call for Vesey again, but what comes out is, “Daddy?”

It sounds so ridiculous, a grown woman calling out for her dead father. The fan whirs above me; a flock of geese flies, honking, toward the sunset outside my window. Part of me expects him to answer me back. The other part of me knows it will never happen. I swallow and head to the kitchen on tender feet for a glass of water. When I get there, my hand involuntarily crumples the note and my knees go weak.

There he is, wrapped in white steam. My father is standing at the old stove, one hand holding the lid of the blue crab pot, the other stirring something with a long wooden spoon.

“Daddy?” I hold myself up on the edge of the door frame and he turns around as if in slow motion. “Da—”

“Miss Ally, you all right? Don't look good.” As soon as he sets the spoon down and comes toward me, I know it's Vesey. I know it, but I swear, my father was there. He
was
. I guess I need to lay off the muscle relaxers. I feel like I'm losing it.

“Can you sit down?”

“I don't want to sit.” It sounds childish and I shouldn't snap. I feel so out of control. “I'm sorry, I just . . .” I look around the room. Daddy's crab pot is there, but the old Krups coffeemaker is gone. It's been replaced by my fire-red Cuisinart. The old wooden table and chairs have been changed into a carved set of mahogany I picked up in England, an antique from an old castle. The table has claw feet. It barely fits in the room.

“You got rid of all his stuff,” I say. “It's all . . .” I look at Vesey and notice he's graying around his temples. Funny, I didn't notice it before. He looks tired.

“Sorry if I didn't do it right. Hope you don't mind I set it all out. I can change it 'round anyway you like.”

“No, it's fine. Everything. I just can't believe—”

“And your daddy's things, I packed 'em up myself. They said you told 'em to take it all back to some storehouse in Georgia—”

“Yes, with Ronnie. It's ours. At least it was. He and Marlene still let me use it. I'd travel and have things shipped back there over the years. I can't believe I have amassed all of this. Not sure it really goes together.” He seems unsure of what to say, so I laugh, then he laughs right along with me, shaking his head.

“No, ain't never seen the likings of these before. You been all over creation, ain't you?”

“Yes, I have.” I sniff the air. “And what are you cooking? You didn't have to do all that, Vesey. Truly. The moving and now this? How am I ever going to repay you?”

“Don't owe me a thing. Just being neighbors.”

“Neighbors, my behind. People don't do what you just did. What in the world is that heavenly smell?”

A wide smile comes over his face and his eyes sparkle. “Gumbo. Lots of crab. That's a good trap you got. Had near sixteen big'uns. Here, lemme get you a bowl.”

“I can get it.” But before I can move, he's already at the stove, ladling a big bowl of steaming rice and red gumbo. My mouth waters before the food hits the table. “I didn't know you can cook. Doesn't surprise me though.”

“Oh, been livin' 'lone a long time now. Man's got to survive.”

I lower slowly into one of my antique chairs, gritting my teeth, and he serves me. I can see diced celery and tomatoes, lumps of fresh crabmeat on top. His hands are strong and lean, the backs of them dark and weathered, the undersides of his long fingers, two shades lighter. He stands there, waiting, so I take a bite, and I tell you, it's like falling in love. I moan. “Oh, how did you . . . You have got to give me this recipe, or teach me, or something.” He rubs his hands on a dish towel.

“Glad you like it. It was Beulah's. She sure could cook.” My heart pricks at the sound of her name. He looks out the window over the sink. Beulah was his wife of twenty-two years. She died giving birth to his youngest daughter. It was tragic. A hideous tragedy. “It's right near dark now,” he says. “I best be going.”

“You're not going to stay and eat with me?”

“No, ma'am, but I'll check on you tomorrow evening if that's all right.”

“Goodness. 'Course it is. And don't
ma'am
me, neither. How about you take some of this gumbo back home. It's enough to feed Texas.”

“Cuttin' back.” Vesey rubs his fit midsection, then pulls out an old grayed fishing cap from his pocket and fits it on his head. He reaches for the screened door that leads to the side yard, then stops. “You ain't gonna try to lift nothin', are you? Don't mess with them stones or statues out here without me. I'll be back to spread 'em out where you want 'em.”

I hold my hand up, scout's honor, and smile.

Vesey walks out into the night and I am left, a guest in my new-old house. I stare at my things, at my daddy's walls, and at the most amazing food made by a very old friend. I pick up the spoon again and remember Daddy's note. I meant to ask Vesey about it. I set it to the side of my bowl and spread it out, tracing his words with my left hand. When did he write this? Right before he died? I picture him, lying in bed, knowing I'd be home soon. Did he know I wouldn't make it in time to see him alive again? That a note was all we would have between us?

Tears spring to my eyes as I stuff another steaming bite into my mouth. The sweet crabmeat melts on my tongue, the steam finally dissipates, and I find that I am alone here. An orphan at sixty. All alone.

SIX
Faith and Postcards

Ally

I
T COULD BE WORSE
. H
AS BEEN WORSE
. O
NE TIME
I couldn't get out of bed for three weeks. I've been careful with my back since hurting it this morning, so it's much more comfortable, just a dull ache that bristles when I bend the wrong way.

My father had a bad back too. It's one of the frailties of our genes, I suppose. When Daddy's back would go out, he'd be laid up for days in the bed with Mama and me waiting on him hand and foot. I never minded. In fact, secretly, I relished those days when Daddy couldn't go to work, couldn't go check on someone else's family but was captive to my stories and I to his focused attention. He had one particularly bad spell when I was around, oh, seven or so. Daddy usually didn't talk about his patients around us at home, but he'd had a tough case, and a little boy had died after contracting a parasite from standing water. It had happened so fast. Daddy was torn up pretty bad. I heard him behind closed doors crying to my mother about it. “There, there,” she was saying. “You did all you could do, Reid. You did all you could do.”

I'd never heard my father cry before and it scared me. It made me think that death was real, that it could actually happen. To me. To Mama or Daddy.

With his back out, I took advantage of the situation. I would sit there next to Daddy, reciting to him Grimms' fairy tales, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin. He in turn would tell me Uncle Remus stories of Brer Bear and Brer Rabbit. He did it in a low, gruff voice too, and I would cackle and roll to the floor. “That rabbit is smarter than Brer Bear and Brer Fox,” I'd say. “If they throw him into the briar patch, he won't die, will he?”

“No, he won't die. The briar patch is where he was born, sugar. He's trickin' 'em, see?”

“But . . . someday he'll die, won't he? Brer Rabbit, I mean. Everybody has to die, right?”

My father knew we weren't talking about the fairy tales anymore, and his eyes moistened as he lay there helpless on his back. He reached for me and winced with pain. I fell into his arms and lay there on the bed next to him, feeling his warmth and listening to his heartbeat. “You know, dying isn't all that bad. Considerin'.”

I didn't dare speak.

“What I mean is . . . Well, there's heaven, you know. Heaven is a wonderful place. My mother and father are there right now, matter of fact.”

I turned to look at him, inches from his whiskery chin. “How do you know?” I whispered.

“Well, faith, for one.”

Faith in some invisible, intangible place, to me, was as elusive as touching a rainbow. It was far, far out of my reach. Beyond my understanding. It hurt me to think about such things and I began to tear up, to breathe faster. Daddy knew it.

“Well, faith, and also . . . they sent me notes.”

“From heaven?”

“Yep.”

“Like postcards?”

“Sort of.”

“Well, where are they? What did they say?”

Daddy breathed in deep. “I don't have them anymore. They . . . they washed out into the river, accidentally, you see.”

“What'd they say? Grandma and Grandpa?”

“They said that they had made it safely to heaven. And that it was a beautiful place. Even better than they had imagined.”

I inhaled, picturing them, Grandma and Grandpa with suitcases at their sides, smiling and waving and dropping postcards into heaven's mailbox. It was the closest I'd ever been to having faith and I clung to it, trying not to let the image go.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, baby?”

“Who do you think will die first? You or me?”

“What kind of a thing to ask is that?” Daddy ruffled, shifted, and felt the pain in his back, then he said, “I suspect it will be me to go first. At the rate I'm going . . .”

“Will you write to me?”

“Write to you?”

“If you get to heaven first. Will you send me a postcard and let me know you made it? Tell me what it's like? If I go first, I'll send you one, all right?”

My father was quiet for nearly a full minute. Then he squeezed me tight and pulled my face to his lips. He kissed me, sandpaper on my forehead, and whispered, “Yes, Ally. I promise. I'll write to you if I get there first.”

Night has come. With a new bed in Daddy's room, I'm looking forward to sleeping so I can shake this day from me. Imagine, skirting my duties and letting Vesey and two strange men move all of Daddy's belongings out of his house. I hold his note to my chest:
Make yourself at home
.

Apparently I have, Daddy
. I'm feeling a little ashamed now. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I stare out the window toward the river, at indigo shifting up through the water and glassy chards of white on top. I watch as the birds all skitter to their nests and a chill runs through my body. For half a second I almost believe Daddy sent me this note from heaven, but I know it must have been from some other time, perhaps when I came back from Bali and he was out at the grocery store. That's it; he left me this note long ago—it's probably eight years old by now—and I simply don't remember it. It must have gotten stirred up while Vesey and the movers were changing things around in here. That's it.

I smile to myself and head to the bedroom slowly, tenderly for my hip.

I turn on the light. I scream, a far-off sort of scream that sounds as if someone else is doing it.

On my new red futon and littering the floor are little square pieces of paper from Daddy's old prescription pad, at least a dozen or so. I lift one up, shaking, and see these words:

Made it to heaven safely, Ally.
Better than I expected.

Dad

SEVEN
Sunshine All the Time

Ally

K
AT JUMPS OFF THE BED AND SCURRIES UNDER IT
. Someone's at the door, but I can't move. I haven't slept a wink, and I'm still hugging my knees, staring down at the papers on the bed. The sunlight is peeking in through the slats of my bamboo shades, drawing long lines across the floor. It may have been one of the longest nights of my life.

I hear the knock again, and this time, it breaks through my fog. I wince as I set my feet on the floor and pad to the bathroom to check my face. Oh, my face. I splash some cold water on my puffy eyes and pat them dry with a white towel. It's too scratchy. Too new. I need to do a load of wash.

Please be Vesey at the door
. I could use a friend right now. I need someone to see these notes from Daddy so I know I'm not losing my mind.

I hope I'm not losing my mind.

I walk through the golden dancing dust in the living room and run my hand along Daddy's green chair. There's a sliver of Vesey showing through the transom window, and my heart stirs at the sight of him.

I turn the lock and welcome in the warm morning air. Birds are chirping. His face is so kind, so familiar, it almost reminds me of my father. “Mornin'.” He nods and takes off his hat, holding it to his chest. He has a brown paper bag of fruit and pushes it to me. “Thought you might like some.”

“Thank you, I'm . . . I'm sorry I look this way.” I run my hand through my hair and wish I could go make up my face. “I didn't sleep.”

BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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