When Friday afternoon comes around, I’m ready to play a little. Lately that means hopping over to JD Mader’s website and “posting my two” as we’ve started calling it. Grab a timer – mine’s been failing me lately – write for two minutes (usually) and post it in the comments. Even if you’re not into writing exercises, check out all the great writers who are just killing this thing week after week. Anyway, I’m not sure what caught me by the tail this time—a little nostalgia, or wondering what happened to Aunt Sylvie and her cats, perhaps?—but when I started, these three pieces popped out. [Edited just a tad for spelling and eye-rolling grammar errors.]
Bobby came around the corner into the kitchen, wearing one of Aunt Sylvie’s black cats like a scarf. Rudolph, that was his name. If the cat cared about being used as a neck warmer, he didn’t show it. Still, it seemed disrespectful. Rudolph was one of Sylvie’s usual protectors. He took her right flank when she had one of her “spells.” The big tom stood watch on the left. This time, Aunt Sylvie lay unresponsive safely in her own bed, the tom’s big body stretched over her as if claiming a fresh kill.
“Bobby, honey, put the cat down.”
He sniffed and deposited the feline on the small, padded chair near the telephone. Rudolph shook himself, sat on the cushion and began grooming his front paws, oblivious to the intruders in his home.
“Mom?” he asked, casting a glance toward the back bedroom. “Where does Aunt Sylvie go? I mean…when she disappears?”
Nancy shrugged and gave the soup another stir. Good thing Sylvie had a well-stocked pantry. “I wish I knew. She doesn’t even know.”
Bobby’s eyes widened. “Serious? Or does she just not want to tell?”
She’d asked her aunt that. The first time. At the doctor’s office, waiting for the test results, which showed nothing abnormal. But what’s normal about suddenly losing all of one’s senses…for hours at a time? “All I remember is sitting down,” Aunt Sylvie had said. “I woke up with three cats in my lap and the man from the ambulance shining a light in my eyes. I wish I did remember.” She’d sighed. “I promise to tell you if I ever do. At least I hope it’s somewhere nice.”
The road still humped in the center like she remembered from a thousand trips up and back, for school buses, for dentist appointments, for walks to the fallen log over the stream. Instead of mailbox numbers, she counted houses in her head by former occupants. Page…Miller…Albertson…Wilcox…her family. No longer the sky blue of her childhood, getting smaller as they left it behind one humid August day, too close to her birthday to feel like anything but a trick, it was now an ugly shade of brown like thousand-year-old chocolate. But the crabapple was in bloom and somehow that made it okay, like the continuity had been kept, like the memories had been real. She pulled into the driveway, walked the familiar path banked with rose bushes. Tentatively she raised a soft fist to the door and tapped.
She wasn’t expected to live. The first one didn’t. Something wrong with her heart, some deformity, and after blaming each other, God, fate, crazy doctor’s diets, her girlfriend’s wacky ideas about pregnancy, they uneasily wrote it off to bad luck and had another child. Each night she stood in the doorway, watching the tiny chest rise and fall, each night he took her by the shoulders and made her come to bed. But the baby made it through each milestone. First week. First month. First three months. And that all-important, held-breath, anxiety-caged first year. Her hands shook as she walked the chocolate cake to the table, the cartoon wax giant “One” candle, adorned with Disney heroines, to the table. The rest of the family, the friends, didn’t realize, or weren’t showing, how crazy this was, how crazy she was, what a year it had been. Perhaps for fear of upsetting her, of driving her back to the afternoons when she couldn’t get off the sofa. Her hands shook as she lit the match and kissed it to the fuse. It felt like a fuse. Every day felt like a fuse, like if she bent the wrong way or held her too tightly to her breast or did not let her sleep in the right position, the bomb would blow up all over again. The little flame caught and flickered, and seventeen voices rose to sing “Happy Birthday.”