Umber (72)

October 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

She was soon finished.  She seemed so invigorated that I stared at her, amazed.  She laughed.  “I feel better already, ” she told me.  And indeed, she seemed much more robust than she’d been an hour earlier.

“Now, Marla, please hand me some of those envelopes.”  She stuffed each envelope with a pile of papers.

“All we need to do now is to place these envelopes in the collection box at the back of Saint Anthony’s Church–do you know where that is?”

I didn’t know why she wanted me to put the envelopes in the collection box, but I nodded, and she placed the bundle of envelopes in my handbag, saying, “The collection box is right next to the statue of Joan of Arc.”

I finished my tea and we talked a bit more, mostly about the weather.  Finally I said, “I guess I’d better get over to the church.”

“Oh, yes, the sooner the better!  And thank you so much, dear Marla.”  She placed her gnarled hands over mine, and I noticed that they were no longer shaking.


Umber (71)

October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

I wondered what she would do.  She examined the ephemera spread across her room for a while.  Then she pushed a call button on the wall.  Maybe she would ask Benny to escort me out of the building, along with all the stuff I’d brought in my handbag.  But when he appeared, she cried, “Benny!  Bring glue!  Scissors!  Envelopes, felt pens and glitter!”

Benny obeyed.  I watched as the old lady’s hands, steadier now, darted about, reaching for photos, snipping some in two, some in quarters, taping others together.  She laughed aloud at times, saying “Oh, I know!” and “What if we do this…” and “No, wait, this is better!”  I wondered at the change in her demeanor.  This was no longer an old, decrepit woman–this was a magician, a whirling dervish, a small tornado, so fast was she moving, clipping, gluing, drawing, glittering.

Umber (70)

October 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Oleander sat perfectly still for a long moment, staring into my face but not really seeing me, as if she had just heard a secret from a voice that reached her from a great distance.  She sat there for so long that I started to worry.  Maybe I had upset her.  Maybe she was having a stroke?  Maybe this was too much for her.  What if, by coming here and reminding her of her childhood, I was causing her so much stress that she was going to keel over, dead!

“Oh, saints preserve us,” I whispered to myself.

I considered calling Benny.  Just as I was about to reach over and shake her arm to see if she was alright, Oleander’s eyes refocused.  Slowly she regained an alert expression.  Then moving so abruptly that I flinched, she lifted the bag of photos.

“Well, let me look,” she said.  She scattered the photos, cards and paper dolls on her table, the dresser and the bed.

Umber (69)

October 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Remembering my last conversation with Saint Sebastian, I told the old lady, “Oleander, I’ve…I’ve been sent here to tell you that anything you do in that regard will cause only good things to happen.  No harm will come to anyone.”

“Oh, no, now…how could that be?”

“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”

“No.  It’s too risky.”

“No, it’s true.  That’s why I came to see you.  That’s why I brought these photos.  Oleander, you can make your mother’s life so much better.  She was such a lovely woman.  She didn’t have to have such a difficult life.  You can change things.”

I watched  her face as my words sank in.  Her eyes widened a bit; the shadow of a frown passed quickly, followed by a look of doubt.  Her hand gripped the edge of the table.

“And who told you this?”

“Saint Sebastian.  Speaking from a holy card.”

I was glad Benny and the receptionist were not listening to this conversation.



Umber (68)

October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Well, Marla, I’ve changed a bit since we last conversed,” Oleander said in a creaking voice.  “But you look just the same.”  She frowned as she puzzled over the fact that I had been a good forty years older than her when we first met, but now she was at least twenty years my senior.

“Funny,” she continued, “I’ve been thinking about those days, so very long ago they were, yet sometimes I still feel like that little girl who liked to play with paper dolls.  I stopped playing with them, you know, because I unintentionally kept making unfortunate things happen.  I believe I made a mess of a lot of things.   My poor mother… I often lie awake at night, wondering if I dare to try to fix things, to make things right, but I’ve been too afraid of muddling things up even worse.  I’d hate to alter the future in a bad way.  What if I made everybody disappear?”

Umber (67)

October 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Oleander motioned unsteadily toward the table.  We sat, and Benny reappeared with coconut macaroons and a basket of herbal tea bags, saying, “Just ring if you need anything else.”  Then he vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

I looked across the table at Oleander.  She pushed the plate of cookies toward me.

I reached into my handbag and retrieved the photo of her as a young girl with her arms around Silvertip’s neck.  I placed the faded photograph into the old lady’s twitching hand.

Umber (66)

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Apparently Benny was used to doing the old woman’s bidding, for he patted her arm indulgently and strode down the hallway toward the kitchen.  Relieved, I triumphantly scrawled my name on the receptionist’s notepad and slowly followed Miss Tibbs down the hall.  She moved at a turtle’s pace.  When we got to the door of her room, I read the name plate next to the door.  It said, “Oleander Tibbs.”

Oleander’s room was tiny and rather sterile-looking.  It smelled of pork and beans, disinfectant, and carnation-scented bath salts.  It contained a hospital bed, a microwave and a small refrigerator with a basket of yellow silk flowers on top.  A round white plastic table by the window looked out on the junipers and the parking lot.