A Hope Chest of Light Keeping

A memory, a hope.

I wake up. The sun is coming through the sheer curtains on the window in the hall very brightly, and downstairs I hear the faint “beep” of the microwave. Outside it is already hot even though it’s nearly 9:00 in the morning. The cicada’s sing in even waves like the surf hitting the shoreline. A slow murmur that raises to the highest pitch and then gradually descends back into a silence to begin again momentarily.

I watch Mom’s hands on the wheel of the car, steady and thin, taking us the long way to the library. The day lilies are in full bloom. Vibrant orange in the deep green of the woods along the road. Wild violets and buttercups puncture the un-mowed grass. There is time, those tiny flowers seems to say. Another day to sheer the roadside patches, making them identical twins on either side of the black concrete. But right now, it’s just simply too hot. Oh yeah, another scorcher. Baltimore Summer’s are humid, sticky and wet. It makes everything saturated with dew and light.

The library is blessedly cool and quiet. Reverent—I walk through every aisle in the stack of books picking them up and reading the inside flap to see if it’s worthy of adding to my already growing pile. My flip flop makes the sound of bubble gum popping as I slowly inch my way through the fiction. Somewhere close-by I hear Mom’s keys jangling from around her neck and I know she is looking at books about gardening because I can see her tiny dark head bobbing around on the other side of the library.

On the way home we stop in the gathering heat to buy some tomatoes and cucumbers for dinner which are warm from sitting in the sun and the woman who takes our cash calls us “hon” and has a tan that is also somehow a burn.

I sit on the front porch, the expanse of my bounty of books beneath me as I swing and read. Swing and read. Swing. And read. When dinner comes the heat has not let up but somehow turned everything a glowing amber. Honey. Mustard. Dad smells like deodorant and air conditioning and the tomatoes taste of soil and sweet.

Sitting on the porch afterwards is a necessity with a cup of hot or cold tea. I don’t mind the heat as long as I don’t have to move. I try to stay as still as possible, allowing my one foot to push the swing slightly, rocking the afternoon into evening. Then the fireflies arrive quickly in the dark becoming more numerous as the sky grows darker. Beyond the tree line in the backfield the cars slowly move through the parking lot of Whole Foods. I imagine it is people picking up last minute things for dinners with friends, a bottle of wine for the upcoming weekend, a pound of coffee for the morning. Their headlights becoming less numerous as the crickets warm up their symphony for the evening.

Bull frogs, hot and sticky in the Jones Falls call out to one another. The great chorus of bugs in the evening cocoon the house in the ever-falling darkness. From the outside you would see the candle lit on the porch casting a semi-glow on the people sitting almost unmoving except to raise a glass to their lips. You would hear the back door slam, and see the ghost of a long ago loved dog running down the stairs. A single light lit in the living room can be noticed when your car pulls down the street to turn around.

I once saw my Mother water her flowers from the neighbors house across the street which was on a slight hill. She always watered them right before dinner. I thought she was elegant as she leaned down with the silver watering can, her long dark hair falling over one shoulder. I thought “This is what the rest of the world sees. Our house is smaller from up here, but Mom is somehow the same size.”

I ran home after that because I was sticky with a cherry popsicle and ready for real food. Besides I always liked to be home when Dad walked in the door.

My little sister is tanned and the bottom of her long curls are blonde from the pool. She is in the same pair of shorts she’s been wearing all week pulled up over her bathing suit bottoms which have a little net skirt around them. Her lips are slightly purple because she’s cold in the air-conditioning but doesn’t want to take a shower no matter how many times my mother squawks for her to go upstairs and get it done before she catches a cold.

My brother is collecting caterpillars and trying to make an ecosystem out of a cardboard box. We all stand around and pet the soft back of the brown/blue wiggly thing before dinner. We think we can watch it become a butterfly. We think we can keep it as a pet. We give it a name and find another one so he has a friend. We find baby birds and Mom makes a home for one out of a cake carrier. I let him stand on my arm which has a rainbow cast. He looks unsteady and bleary eyed. We later take him to the animal hospital.

I miss my Grandmother, MomMom.I miss my Great-Grandmother-Grandma. I miss both of my Grandfathers, Grandpa Max and Pop. I miss the parties my Mom use to throw for my birthday; Strawberry shortcake and swimming was the main event. Glasses of coke turning watery as the ice melts quickly. The laughter roaring up from the kitchen that could be heard out on the sidewalk while I played hopscotch. My Aunt Nini and Uncle Nick smoking on the back porch, a glass of something adult in their other hand. Soon the disco music is blaring and Aunt SheShe has jumped up on the couch swinging her long curly hair every which way.

I miss fourth of July fireworks and our simple week at the beach which we planned over months. Everything smelled like suntan lotion and iced tea and toast. One year we went out to dinner every night and I ordered a cheeseburger every time. It was decadent. These were the days before calories and weight worry. I just wanted a cheeseburger and I ate it happily every time. We went to bed early because it was too hot to do anything else.  We watched the sunrise with donuts. We collected shells and brought them home with the fudge which always was slightly melted and always for other people, much to the chagrin of Mackenzie and I.

I miss. I miss. I miss. I seem to be a constant state of longing. I have such longing my throat aches all the time. As if I hadn’t had water in months.

If I could invite you over into the past I think you would have a good time. I think you would listen to country music while eating UTZ potato chips. I think we would run to the bottom of the street to the playground where I broke my arm, and swing high as the sunset while making animal sounds. The ghost of us all, of my father’s strong hands pushing me up, up, up to the sky. Mackenzie in her little pink jacket kicking her baby legs next to me, Kyle climbing up the slide the wrong way. He has a dinosaur shirt on.

I think everyone would smile when we came in the room, the hoot and howl of happiness as we went around to kiss everyone gathered around the kitchen table. No one is missing anymore and school is weeks away from starting. Everything glows from the inside out. And the outside in. And we will always be here together.

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