by Lois Sockol
For a few moments Barbara Anne remains staring into the gray thin light of early dawn. Upon waking, she’s not always sure where she is. Perhaps, she’s still caught in her night dream. A likeness of her own tired eyes stares back at her from the mirror atop her dresser, and she knows she’s awake.
On the dresser’s unpolished surface rest several treasured photographs, the minute details of each etched deeply into her mind: her younger, smiling self in a blue shirtwaist dress with her only child held snugly in her arms. In a silver frame, Rachel, tall and slim, stands on the steps of Caltech, her hair held back from her smiling face by a beaded headband they bought together at the Institute’s bookstore. Another snapshot…a grinning Nathan holds tightly to Rachel’s plump hand, Rachel’s free hand seeming to flutter as if caught in the wind, an image snapped by Barbara Anne as they watched the Rose Parade.
Lying beside her, tented under the nubby wool tweed blanket, is Nathan, her husband of thirty-seven years. The sun will move twenty degrees higher before Nathan stirs. He’s resigned to burrowing. Most days he neglects to run a comb through his hair, his face remains unshaven and stubbled. Lately, a stale smell wafts about him.
She remembers the years before his lethargy, before the violence and rage, when her husband’s back stood straight, not bent over like a windblown willow. In those days he rose early, gulped his breakfast and dashed for the office, moving confidently to meet whatever came his way. And when he came home after work, he settled into his chair, and reach for a law magazine or Dershowitz’s latest book.
It’s three years now since he closed his office on South Lake Avenue, since he walked into a courtroom or law library, three years of inertia. But she remembers, and still searches for a glimpse of his previous self, still waits and hopes. Nothing lasts forever, she tells herself. Nothing.
Sometimes Barbara Anne aches with her need to touch Rachel. Sometimes the ache is so sharp it sucks the air from her lungs and she forgets for a moment how to breathe. Sometimes that happens only once or twice a day. She could swallow the green pills Doctor Graham prescribed, and in a little while drift away, all pain and feeling vanquished, but such solace is only temporary. Barbara Anne’s need is permanent and insatiable.
For weeks after Rachel’s murder, Barbara Anne stopped talking. Words frightened her, choked like stones in her throat. How could she speak of what had happened? How could she make it so real? But now she has forged another path back to Rachel. Each morning and evening, after she wakes and again just before going to bed, Barbara Anne goes into her small study and shuts the door. She sits on the carpeted floor, her back braced against the wall, and closes her eyes; her hands lie idly in her lap. She concentrates, focusing deeply inward with thoughts only of her daughter. The present is suspended, they are back to a time before the murder. Five minutes, ten, maybe more pass. Always Rachel leaves her with a smile, a gleam that beams a light into her heart.
And Rachel will always be there, always come to her, and when they are together nothing can touch them. Rachel is forever free from harm, she’ll never grow sickly or old, never older than thirty. When Barbara Anne tries to explain Rachel’s comings to Nathan a hardness darkens his eyes. He puts his hand out in a gesture of pushing away.
“But Nathan…” her voice quivers.
“Don’t you understand? Rachel can’t come back. You live, you die…you rot and sink into the nothingness! For God’s sake, spare me your craziness!”
Nathan’s vacuity is like a disease, and when she stays too long with him she feels herself sinking into his misery. How easy then to turn hysterical, to scream in the hallway, run into the bedroom, and bolt the door.
As she lay in their bed, tears gather in her eyes and she blinks them away. She wonders what day it is. She volunteers at the women’s shelter in Los Angeles on Tuesdays and Thursdays and must make Nathan’s lunch before she goes. After all, she won’t be home again until after four. She’ll prepare his sandwich with last night’s left over chicken in the refrigerator, and then take the bus to Los Angeles.
When she started, her idea was that Nathan would volunteer with her, that together they would lose themselves for awhile. Even now she tries to make him understand that brushing against such hurt and violence numbs her own pain, yet makes her feel alive. It’s a paradox, she knows. More powerful than pills, more absorbing than television, but Nathan won’t listen.
Through the walls of the apartment above—she hadn’t noticed how long it was playing—came a familiar tune. Mrs. Schultz is playing her stereo—Fiddler on the Roof. The song dances through her mind: To Life, To Life, L’Chaim…L’Chaim, L’Chaim to Life.
Yes, she is sure, this is Tuesday. She glances down at her watch on the nightstand. Seven-fifteen. It is time. With a steady hand she carefully pulls back the blanket, lifts her legs over the edge of the bed, and plants her feet firmly on the floor. She walks to the window and gently draws back the corner of the sheer curtain. Spring is near, on the bush below her window sill fat new buds are pushing outward. The sky through the window looks solid blue.
© Copyright 2009 Lois Sockol. All rights reserved.
Lois Sockol lives in Massachusetts where she and her husband raised four sons. A former teacher, Lois writes short stories conjuring up ordinary people living their lives in search of justice, truth and meaning. Her first full length novel had its roots in a family tragedy. Several of her stories have been published online or in print. She continues to work on the craft of writing.