Mom’s Legacy

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My back ached and I was exhausted. After almost two days, my husband and I had managed to clean out 50 years of clutter in my parent’s home. One room remained, and I had purposely left it for last.

“You take the kids and go home,” I told my  husband. “I’ll finish up.”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded. “Go. You’ve all worked hard. I won’t be but an hour.”

With the house now empty I walked up the two flights of stairs, past the fading wallpaper, ghost frames etched into the once vibrant paper, and past closed doors and empty rooms that held the faint echo of childish voices raised in laughter and happiness. The door to the tower was open, and the lights were on. I gripped the familiar, worn railing and ascended the curving staircase.

In the latter years of her life, mom hadn’t been able to walk up the stairs to her room. After dad had died, she had even less energy to go to her room and had asked me to help her move everything downstairs so she didn’t have to make the climb.

Yet another promise I hadn’t kept.

I sighed and opened the door at the top of the stairs, the air still stale and close from years of inactivity. Dust motes floated in the fading sunlight which streamed through the round window and for a moment, I could almost smell mom’s lavender perfume. Grief gripped my chest and squeezed, but I pushed it aside. I wasn’t ready to mourn. There was work yet to be done.

Boxes already littered the floor, and I sent a silent thanks to my husband for bringing them up before he left. I was tired and after two days of unearthing forgotten memories, my emotions were frayed and too close to the surface. They were even closer here in my mother’s retreat.

Bolts of fabric, thread, pins, scissors–anything I could donate went in one set of boxes. The rest was designated for the trash. I had not shared my mom’s passion for sewing, despite her numerous attempts to interest me.

“This is boring,” I said. At ten years old, I had no wish to spend my Saturday afternoon in a dusty old attic learning to sew. 

“Quit sulking,” mom said, her blue eyes patient and kind. “It’s a useful skill to have.”

“But we can just go to the store and buy a skirt. Why do I have to make one?”

“Because once you’ve learned, the only limit to what you can do is your imagination. Now, enough stalling Mary Katherine. What’s next?”

I took the scissors and cut the fabric, being careful to follow the dotted lines we had marked on the pink fabric patterned with smiling cat faces.

Mom gathered the fabric and draped it around my waist. The ends didn’t meet.

“It’s too small!” I said. 

“Did you measure twice before you cut?”

She knew I hadn’t. She had watched me cut and had said nothing. “I hate this. I don’t want to do it anymore!”

“Go,” she sighed. “We’ll try again later.”

But later had never come. Mom had brought it up only once more and after I had refused, she didn’t ask me again.

And now it was too late. Mom was gone and I was boxing up her legacy, preparing to trash most of her life’s work.

The sky had darkened without my knowledge and the room cooled from the lack of light. I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and moved around the room, rejuvenated and eager to be done, sorting and packing as I went. Only mom’s sewing table remained. I emptied all drawers but one. It was stuck and took some time to wiggle loose. The sight within knocked the breath from my lungs and I was once again ten years old.

Smiling cat faces on bright pink fabric stared back at me. On the neatly folded pile of cloth, there was a faded note in my mother’s handwriting pinned to the top. “For Mary Katherine–to finish when you are ready.”

The skirt pattern I had failed to complete almost forty years ago was enveloped within the fabric’s folds as was a receipt. She had bought another length, so I could try again.   But I had never returned.

Regrets hung heavy in the small room, and the finality of mom’s death brought me to my knees. Tears leaked down my cheeks and the pain I had refused to acknowledge swelled into a terrible crescendo of loss and grief. I was a little girl again, crying for her mother. But there was no one left to comfort me.

When at last the storm subsided, I got up off the floor and wiped my eyes, lost and a little unsure, but like the remnants of her familiar perfume, mom’s voice returned to whisper in my ear, giving me purpose.  “Enough stalling, Mary Katherine. What’s next?”

I cleared boxes off her cutting table and dug through the donation boxes, looking for pins, a scissors and the measuring tape.

Placing the fabric on the table, my hands ceased shaking and a relaxed calm enfolded me in familiar warmth. I measured, marked and pinned as though my mother’s hands guided mine across the fabric. When I reached for the scissors, I hesitated, closed my eyes, and listened.

Mary Katherine, remember-“

“Measure twice-” I said.

 -and cut once.”

via Daily Prompt: Measure

(C) Sara Ackerman 2017

A Day to Fly

Gooseflesh broke out on bare arms and I rubbed them, only somewhat aware the sky had darkened. The sun’s fire blazed on the horizon while dusk’s purple fingers embraced the fading, fiery ball. A salty breeze stirred across the water and the restless waves lapped at my bare toes. Golden strands of hair, gilded by the sun’s dying light, flew about my head like a flock of birds taking flight.

“Hey lady,” a deep voice said, interrupting my thoughts. “Are you alright?”

Tearing my eyes away from the dance of colors on the distant horizon, I stared blindly at the intruder.

“I’m fine,” I replied, the phrase so automatic I didn’t realize I had lied until I shivered.

A soft weight landed about my shoulders; I sank into its warmth. “Where are your clothes?” he asked, crouching to my level.

I had a vague remembrance of ripping the constricting top and skirt from my body in a frantic attempt to rid myself of their oppressive rigidity. Gesturing behind me to the nebulous area between the formal concrete walk and the untamed sandy terrain of the beach, I said, “I took them off back there.”

He waited, his gaze steady and solid as the rock ledge jutting into the water. Hours earlier, I had stood on the ledge’s uneven heated surface, the lure of the fierce and wild sea singing its song of temptation and promising blessed oblivion. Even then, though, the solid earth beneath my feet rooted me into immobility, and I only watched as the waves crested higher and higher, the loud roar pounding its age-old rhythm in my ears.

“I wanted to fly,” I said, and rested my head on my folded knees.

Alarm replaced his earlier concern, but I didn’t care. I pointed down the wide expanse of empty beach where a squalling flock of gulls swooped and dove, their aerial acrobatics an intricate dance as structured as it was free.

“Just for a couple of hours,” I said. “I wanted to feel the unrestrained joy of being.”

“Why don’t you get dressed?” he suggested. “I’ll take you home.”

Home. Like the ancient rock which had withstood the water’s relentless battering for eons,  home kept me tethered. Home kept me grounded.

“Thank you but no,” I said. “My car is parked in the lot. I can drive myself home.”

I turned my head and dismissed him, anger swift to rise at his inopportune reminder of my awaiting responsibilities. Nails dug into the soft flesh of my palms and I had to resist the urge to weep. My chance to fly was over.

“Here are your clothes,” he said, dropping the soft pile into my lap. “You can keep the jacket until you get home.”

I examined the navy-blue pencil skirt and creamy silken top as if seeing them for the first time. Their presence was as unwelcome as this man’s, and though I was still naked except for the coat, I felt their constrictive fabric wrapping me in responsible conformity.

“I hate you,” I whispered, my mouth twisting around the unfamiliar words.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, “I’m sorry.”

Several minutes went by as we stared at each other. He stood stalwart and reassuring as a lighthouse in a storm and did not flinch under my angry, unforgiving glare.

As tides ebb and flow, so too did my anger rise and swell then fade to nothingness. I was the first to look away.

“Be careful on your way home,” he said.

I waited until he was gone, and then I dressed. I turned my back on the beach and walked to the concrete path. My high heels, which I had thrown off earlier that day, waited for me underneath a bench. I slipped them on and walked to my car, the precise, measured clip of my heels on concrete drowning out the lonely cry of a circling gull.

(C) Sara Ackerman, 2017

Daily Prompt: Blindly