The Wisdom of the Honeysuckle

It was late afternoon. Sassy was dressed in her blue striped cotton pajamas, lying on her mama’s couch, trolling through TV stations. She landed on a cooking show. The chef was making crepes.

For a second, she forgot. Crepes sound good. Maybe Dan could make them for her, wearing only the flowered apron. She giggled at the thought, but stopped as she remembered. Dan was dead. He’d never cook or make love to her again. She shut her eyes, trying not to cry.

Someone pushed her shoulder. She opened her eyes. Tommy, her six-year-old son, was watching her. “What’s wrong, Mama? Are you sick? Where’s Daddy?”

“I don’t know.” It was the only answer she had. With his blue eyes, bushy brows and inky black hair, Tommy looked just like his daddy. It hurt her to look at him. Big fat tears finally fell down her cheeks.

“Don’t cry, Mama.” Tommy tried to hug her, but his small pudgy hands were muddy. She pushed him away. Hurt filled his eyes. Ignoring it, she said, “Go outside, Tommy. Mama needs rest.” She shut her eyes, willing sleep to take her again.

But he stayed, begging with a wavering voice, “Mama, please get up.” He tugged on her hand; Sassy resisted. Tommy fell back, landing hard on his butt. He cried. She made no move to comfort him.

She looked up. Her mama stood in the doorway, glaring at her. “That’s enough, Sassy! Get dressed and come to the garden. Tommy, you come with me.” She and Tommy left. Neither of them looked back at Sassy.

She wanted to disobey, but knew better. Mama Jo’s tone said she meant business. Sassy pulled on dirty jeans and a stained t-shirt. A glance in the mirror, showed her tear-bloated face, matted and greasy hair, but she didn’t care. Nothing mattered without Dan.

Once outside, she leaned against the porch railing, watching Tommy and Mama Jo talk near the fence covered in climbing roses and honeysuckle.

Tommy’s high pitched voice floated up to her. “Mama Jo, how can those soft white flowers grow among the sharp thorns of that rose bush?”

Mama Jo’s eyes looked up at Sassy. She spoke in her teacher’s voice. “Thorns are part of life, Tommy. That honeysuckle embraces them; it doesn’t fight them. That’s how its tender flowers survive. It’s a good lesson for all of us. Don’t you agree, Sassy Girl?”

Sassy felt the slap of her mother’s words. Tommy looked up; his blue eyes troubled. For the first time since Dan’s death, Sassy really saw her scared little boy. Mama Jo was right. She’d been so selfish. In battling her own pain, she’d forgotten about her son’s grief, but no more.

She walked down the steps following the scent of the honeysuckle to Tommy. Nervous, he edged closer to Mama Jo. Sassy’s heart ached, but she bent down and said, “Tommy, Daddy’s not coming home, but you and I are going to be just fine.”

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Write at the Merge gave us this quote by Emily Brontë from Wuthering Heights: “It was not the thorn bending to the honeysuckles, but the honeysuckles embracing the thorn.”

My story is based on words in the quote:~)

Fiction Friday: Ben’s Voice

Bertie shuffled into the kitchen in her pink furry slippers. A peacock blue silk robe covered stained gray sweat pants and a faded U2 T-shirt. Her choppy brown hair stuck up in places.

Rubbing her eyes, she scraped sleep crust from the corners. Her stomach growled. She couldn’t remember when she’d last eaten. All she did was sleep, like she was hibernating.

She nibbled her bottom lip, exhausted by the messy kitchen. Where was the pan? She always kept it on the stove. Then, it hit her; it was packed with everything else. She rummaged around the cardboard boxes until she found the cast iron frying pan.

It felt like fifty pounds as she lifted it to the stove and turned on the burner. When she opened the refrigerator, she gagged and jerked her head back. Holding her breath, she grabbed the milk, two eggs, and slammed the door shut.

She did the water test to see if the eggs were good; they passed. Adding some oil to the pan, she cracked one egg open and listened to it sizzle and pop. When she saw it whiten, the second egg was added. This egg got a shot of Tabasco sauce and a shake of pepper.

When the eggs were done, she removed the pan and froze, looking at them. They stared back at her with their yellow eyes. Shit. She’d made Ben’s egg. She’d forgotten again. Tears pooled, but didn’t fall.

Throat tight with unshed tears, she dumped the eggs into the trash. She stood there in the dingy kitchen and considered going back to bed. Ben’s voice made her spin around. “Aw, Bertie, why’d you toss the eggs? What a waste! You should’ve eaten them. You’re getting thin.”

With her heartbeat thumping, Bertie whirled around the kitchen. No one was there, except her. But it was definitely Ben’s voice! He was back.

She’d been hearing him off and on for two days; his voice constantly pestering her. How and why he was talking to her was a mystery, but she was too tired to figure it out right now. She licked her dry lips and her stomach gurgled another reminder. Ben was right about one thing: she needed to eat.

She sniffed the milk. It was iffy, but would have to do. Grabbing a bag of Oreos, she sat at the breakfast table and pulled out a cookie. She dunked it into the milk and stuck the whole thing in her mouth, chewing quickly. Half the bag was gone before she stopped. She sat back in the chair, feeling slightly sick.

Behind her, Ben’s voice scolded. “It’s not healthy to stuff your face with cookies. The sugar’s just going to make you sleepier. You’re definitely not handling this well. Get a grip!”

She waved away the voice with her hand. “Yeah, right, like you’d handle this better. You’d fall apart in a minute. Remember how you blubbered like a baby when Alexander died? And he was MY cat.”

“At least I cried. You slept for a week and never talked about him again. You’ve got to learn to face things; not hide away.”

“Leave me alone. Sleeping helps me forget. Why are you being so bossy anyway?” Bertie snatched the cookie bag up to put it away, but she’d grabbed the wrong end and the remaining cookies and crumbs spilled over the table. She looked at the mess and felt sleepy. She started to put her head down on the table.

“Bertie, wake up!” Ben yelled. “What’s wrong with you? Clean up this mess, right now.”

Bertie jerked up, her body tightening as she snapped. “How are you going to make me?”

Ben gave no reply and the chilly silence pissed Bertie off even more. Out of spite, she poured the last of her leftover milk into the crumbs and with great purpose, finger-painted it all over the white wood table.

Ben didn’t disappoint. “Bertie, stop it! You’re being childish.”

Angry heat flashed through Bertie’s body. She’d had enough guff from her dead husband. “No, Ben! I’m not being childish. I like the mess; it’s my mess. I’m a messy person. I can make all the messes I want and you can’t stop me. You know why? Because you’re dead! DEAD! DEAD! DEAD!

The words bounced off the empty walls, smashing back into Bertie’s ears. She put her hand up to her mouth, horrified; then she said, “I didn’t mean it, Ben.”

Air tickled Bertie’s ear as Ben’s voice whispered, “I know that. I had to wake you up, Bertie. It’s time to let me go. I’ll always love you.”

Bertie let her breath out in a raspy rush of air. Her body sagged. With the certainty of leftover living, Bertie knew Ben was really gone.

It started slowly. Her body began to shake and her lips trembled. Then, like a soft summer rain, the tears began to fall. One toppled down and another joined it. It wasn’t long before they flooded her hot face with coolness. With her fingers, she touched her wet cheeks. A sigh escaped her mouth as she put her head on the cookie-crumbed table and sobbed.

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This is a story I submitted for a contest over a year ago. It didn’t win, place or anything else, but I always liked the story. I’ve updated it slightly:~)

Fiction Friday: Mundane Tasks

The doorbell’s insistent ring woke me. I heard someone walking to the foyer to get the door. At first I thought it was Charles, but quickly recognized the sound of Clara’s walk.

For a second, my sleepy brain questioned why Clara was answering the door and not Charles. Then, it came rushing back to me, like a sudden punch in my stomach. Charles was dead.

That’s why Clara was answering the door; she was staying with me to help me cope with visitors and, more importantly, to comfort me as I grieved my husband.

Clara and I had been friends for over sixty years. We met when she moved to town in the sixth grade and became fast friends after she pulled Agatha’s pigtails when she made fun of my new braces. Now, it was hard to remember when she wasn’t in my life.

From the foyer, I heard the mumbling of voices. Standing up and straightening my black crepe suit, I glanced in the mirror over the fireplace. My short gray hair was slightly mussed and my face was pale, but otherwise I still looked like me. I thought, “How could I feel so ravaged inside and it not be reflected in my face?”

I turned away from the mirror quickly just as Clara led a couple into the room saying, “Neela, you remember the Bensons, right?” She watched me carefully; waiting to be sure this visit was okay.

I gave her a tiny nod and walked to the couple saying, “Shirley and John! It’s nice of you to stop by.”

John and Charles had worked together, but I didn’t know Shirley well. For a second, they stood silently, uncertain what to do. Then Shirley reached out and hugged me, as she whispered, “We’re so sorry for your loss.”

John stood back, hesitating, his eyes meeting mine and then sliding away. I understood how he felt. In the last few day, I’d learned how witnessing grief is uncomfortable and scary; it’s not so different from living it. I touched his arm and said, “It’s okay, John.”

They sat together on the edge of my too small couch. After realizing I wasn’t talking much, they spoke mostly with Clara. Occasionally, their eyes shifted in my direction, trying to include me in the conversation. They meant well, but all I wanted was for them to leave so I could sleep and forget again.

In a pause in the conversation, Clara looked over at me with a slight smile and said, “I think we need some coffee. Neela, is it okay if I fix some?”

I said immediately, “No, let me do it. Who takes sugar and cream?” After the orders were sorted, I headed for the kitchen, smiling at how adeptly Clara had allowed me to escape and given me a task I loved to do.

Letting the swinging door close behind me, I stood for a second breathing in the familiar smells of the kitchen. It was here that I felt Charles’ presence, more than any other room.

Both of us loved to cook and so, the kitchen was our place. Everywhere I looked, a memory peeked out at me. The ceramic flour container reminded me of a crazy flour fight we’d had that ended with us in bed. Who knew flour could be so sexy. I shook off the memories and focused on my task. There was coffee to be made!

I got the coffee beans from the freezer and carefully measured them into the old coffee grinder. It was one of our wedding gifts and a favorite of mine, even though it made a terrible racket when it ground the beans.

Filling the coffee maker, I savored the smell of the dark, nutty coffee and remembered how making coffee always seemed the right thing to do, whether the moment was one of laughter, joy, confession or even sorrow.

I poured the brewed coffee into the warming pot and added some ginger snaps. Then the pot and cookies went on the old coffee tray my mom had given to me. Its cheerful blue and white flowers always reminded me of spring, my favorite time of year.

Pots for sugar and cream, some nice napkins, and my favorite cups and saucers completed the coffee tray. My task was done and I felt better for doing it.

My mom used to say, “There’s always a task to be done. Even in the most difficult times, somebody’s got to cook and someone’s got to make the coffee.”

Laughing softly, I thought, “Maybe these mundane tasks – like making coffee – are what keeps us going, step by step, until we get through a day, then a week and finally realize we’re going to be okay.”

Picking up the tray, I pushed the kitchen door open and said, “The coffee is ready. I hope you like ginger snaps.”

© Sara B. Healy

Photo by diane39

Feeling the Holiday Blues

oval-candle-brightphotograph by Sara B. Healy

The Gift of Grieving

Holidays are not always happy and merry. When I was sixteen I lost my father to cancer at Christmas time. That was a difficult and painful holiday season, and it continued to be for quite a few years. This confused me because I felt I should be joyful and happy like my friends.

The holidays seemed to make my grief worse and it scared me sometimes; I wondered if I would ever recover from my father’s death. While I did recover eventually, 41 years later I still feel twinges of sadness during the holidays.

I’ve had many years to sort this out and understand these moments of sadness. I no longer fight them or pretend they don’t exist. Instead, I allow and accept them. I know they are reminders of the love I had for someone I lost.

When I was young no one explained how grief works, or that holidays like Christmas might bring back memories of that difficult time. I continued to feel like the odd person out because I wasn’t always happy during the holidays.

Today, I know there are people around the world who are experiencing a trauma during this time. Perhaps they’ve lost someone they love, an important relationship has ended, or they fear for someone who is ill. Whatever it is, this may not be an especially happy time for them. Their fear or sadness may conflict with the expectations of joy during the holidays.

I’ve been inspired to write this poem for anyone who is experiencing pain or sadness during this holiday season. I hope it reminds them to not deny or fight their feelings, but to allow them without guilt.

A Poem for the Holiday Blues

I see you. I know you are there.
You hide from the bright lights this holiday.
And the constant cheer is really hard for you to bear.

You turn away from the store man wishing all a happy holiday.
You turn off the radio because every station plays holiday music.
You turn from the jolly smiling faces as they create more dismay.

It’s not that you are a Scrooge, saying “Bah, humbug.”
It’s not that you don’t want to share the joy this time of year.
It’s not that the happy people don’t give your heartstrings a tug.

It’s just that it’s hard for you to put on a happy holiday mask.
When your sadness, loneliness and grief
Make getting out of bed a momentous task.

So, if you don’t want to celebrate the holidays like everyone else,
It’s okay. Don’t be afraid to let your feelings flow.
By acknowledging them, you allow yourself to let them go.

These holidays celebrate the birth of hope and healing.
Those of us who’ve walked your path know that this sadness
Will make way for hope if you accept what you’re feeling.

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While I wish you all a wonderful holiday and a happy new year, I also hope you’ll  keep in your heart the people who may not be having a happy holiday this year. They need your compassion and prayers. I ask you to stop, take a moment and send them your warm thoughts of hope this season.

p.s. I want to thank Davina of Shades of Crimson for encouraging me to write and share this poem. For a month, she has been sharing her beautiful, thoughtful and sometimes humorous poetry. Davina’s gift for poetry, as well as her courage and persistence, have challenged and inspired me:~)

Due to the holidays, I will not have a post this coming Monday, but do plan one for Thursday.