by Elizabeth Bruce
I ask, you waver. The questions linger there behind the lace curtains passed down from mother to mother to you, Daughter.
Your teacup trembles, its lilac flowers basking in the timidity of your embrace.
I press my fingers into the grains of sugar loosed upon the saucer and touch them to my tongue.
Sweetie, I say, I want you to start at the beginning.
You rest your teacup on your lips and raise your eyes to mine, calibrating the velocity of candor.
OK, Mama, you say, but first, we need some pie.
“Let us make a house,” she flicked open the inkwell of Aegean Blue. “A small house covered in fog for our days of mourning the catastrophes to come.”
Tenuous and pale, a cottage appeared beneath her pen. A small house with thatch for roof and a shuttered door.
“Give us a fire, luv,” he said, and she drew a chimney puffing smoke.
“Now,” she said, dipping her pen, “let us speckle the ground with flat dry stones so we do not trample the primroses triumphant there after the plague of snow.”
A breeze murmured through the open window. He held the parchment still and her hands leapt across it.
A pond appeared, plumped with frogs and cherubs and Neptune there awaiting the robins’ wings.
“Give us a spot of tea too, luv.” He brushed a strand of hair from off her brow.
She drew two stumps beside a fallen tree. Two branches, curved and cozy, offered up their arms.
“Let us set our teacups here.” She drew two teacups nestled in the dead tree’s limbs.
“And a bite of sweets, darlin’,” he said.
And beside their cups a plate of fruit and ginger snaps sprang up.
“Ah,” she sighed. “And now the scent of orange and ginger will anoint our every deed.”
And “Yes, luv,” he agreed.
The Old Porch
The old porch rests, waiting for the morning song of neighbor greeting neighbor. A cacophony of chatter you played out in shouts and hollers down the block.
The old gray primer breaks through fissures of that jolly red you once lacquered on.
Your weekend folly long fussed about in passing grumbles, elder mutters of eyes sores and lost decorum. A scapegoat for we newcomers, your crimson porch, crossing boundaries never known.
Mottled now, a thousand patterns mixed with shadow, the old porch sports a new arrival come to care for us. Younger still than we were and drifting here from some emerald sphere burning in the twilight far away.
In the winds of early morning, she sweeps, as you once swept.
Flecks of red and crumbs of seeds fly across the cement slab. Debris cresting, she leans and fills the dustpan. Her fingers linger on the cool expanse.
Does her mind’s eye wander as yours did beyond oceans, rivulets, and streams? Does she see, there, in the heat between downpours, men laboring, clawing at the earth?
Does she see, as you did, their backs—lean and dark—heaving shale and clay up ragged paths to make this porch from powder soft as your aging skin to a slab of porch hard and flat as the wills of men?
There, near where the river bends and the flotsam of the city tangles in the roots of the cypress trees, a young boy rocks in an old blue dingy, one hand holding fast to a drooping bough. He watches the water churning past. Here and there a log appears, bobbing like a boxer going down. An errant duck floats past, dipping its translucence beneath the murky brown. A hawk coasts above, and the boy longs for its eyes to peer at the river’s depths.
“Go to the river, son,” his mother had said at daybreak after the men had gone, her face still as prayer. “Go to the river, and when you find your father, bring his body home.”