“Orange Horizon Line” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic, oil on board, 2014.
Jackie’s present to Brooke from two weeks before, Richard Scarry’s Mother Goose, was going for two dollars. The baby shoes she bought Brooke were on offer for a pittance as well. “Yard sale! Moving today! Last chance!” clamored the sign.
The screen door hung off its hinge. “Deirdre!” Jackie called softly to her daughter. The only sound was the baby crying. Deirdre’s baby, and Tonio’s. Not yours, Deirdre said last time. Jackie’s ideas about child-rearing were antiquated, Deirdre complained, her gifts well-meaning but off. The pink baby shoes were kidskin — but they were raising Brooke vegan. Mother Goose was sexist.
When she heard they were moving to Tempe, Arizona, to be near Tonio’s people, Jackie said, “I’ll never get to see Brooke.”
Deirdre said she could come visit. She didn’t mention how hard it was for Jackie to travel – how she’d forget her tickets, or her house keys, or even where she was going. Jackie had gone to the library and looked up the city they were moving to, tried to figure out exactly how far it was from Clifton, New Jersey, but couldn’t even find it on the map. An hour later she realized she was looking for Temple, Arizona – a place that didn’t even exist – when the place they were moving was Tempe. She was too embarrassed to tell Deirdre about her mistake, or even what she had learned from her research, which was that Tempe, Arizona was named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece, where in ancient times there was a temple to Apollo. Somehow she knew Deirdre wouldn’t be interested, or at least not interested in hearing this from her.
But she wasn’t there for that. She came to say good-bye to them, and to the baby.
Minutes passed. Then Tonio appeared. He was small and wiry and no match for her Deirdre, who was 5’9” with large, jutting hip bones. “Brooke dozed off before I could feed her,” he said wearily. “At least she stopped crying.”
“Isn’t Deirdre home?” Jackie asked.
“At the gym.” Then he left, too, to gas-up the U-Haul.
Brooke lay on her back in her crib, awake, violet eyes blinking, forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. Jackie wanted to say “I’ll make it up to you,” but knew it was a lie. Your parents are your destiny, not your brain-addled Grandma.
Instead Jackie chanted the one rhyme she could remember by heart: “Pussycat, pussycat where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen. Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.”
The baby watched her. She kicked her bare feet and moved her small hands like birds, as if she recognized Jackie was her grandmother, as if she knew this was special, like a visitation from an angel.
Little mouse, Jackie crooned, lifting her in her arms.
In the taxi Jackie called to speed her and Brooke to the station, she untied the shoes’ ribbon laces, stroked the soft pink kidskin, and fitted them on.
Nancy Ludmerer‘s fiction and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Hospital Drive, Litro, Amsterdam Quarterly, Green Mountains Review, Cimarron Review, and Literal Latte, among other fine journals. Her flash fiction has been published in Vestal Review, North American Review, KYSO Flash, Grain, Night Train, and Blue Monday Review and her flash “First Night” (a prizewinner in River Styx) also appeared in Best Small Fictions 2016. She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and their cat Sandy, a brave survivor of Superstorm Sandy.
A very touching story that resonates powerfully.
A grandmother spurned acts out. Given the times, this idea of rage acted on, uncontrolled, on both sides of the coin, without thought to the consequences, is very relevant. As always, Nancy Ludmerer is a master at raising some poignant questions in just a few short words.