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Did You See…?
By Barbra Badger
Ethel reached for Paula’s hand while ducking her head to protect the flowers on her hat. Paula pulled her gently out of the car and Ethel emerged, hat unscathed.
“Ahhhhhh.” Ethel had a musical sigh most of her family enjoyed. Paula had never been to the ‘old farmhouse’ although the stories she had heard convinced her she would know it as soon as she saw it. Stories had been told from the memories of relatives who grew up in the house when everything was fresh and cared for. Their memories were so vivid, Paula could see the fresh curtains and smell the accumulated family dinners with herbs and spices mixed with the charcoal residue in the fireplace.
The sight before her now did not measure up. The porch awning was hanging by a row of nails that could be seen in the space between the eaves and the main support of the roof. Shingles had taken leave of their posts, and paint was down to only a few steadfast patches clinging in scattered array.
Ethel strode confidently on the warped boards which formed the platform of the porch. Paula noticed her aunt’s form was framed by the lace curtain in the window behind her and took a mental picture.
Paula dashed ahead and got the door.
“Wait, Auntie, it may be stuck. I will get it for you.”
Immediately Ethel’s memory replayed the day her beloved Vincent brought her home to ask her parents if he could marry her. Vince’s face was beaming as he leaned in to open the door. She squeezed his solid bicep as she stepped past him to give reassurance—she would stand with him. Their joy was palpable when they went inside, and the room lit up with it. A few years on, this house became their home.
Today the ear-splitting squeak the door made brought her back to the moment. Time had not stood still but had slowly ravaged and besmirched the very air that filled her nostrils.
A reflexive cough squeezed her eyes closed, but when she opened them there sat ‘his’ rocker facing the empty fireplace. Empty chair, empty fireplace, this empty house was a mirror for the emptiness she had not faced since Vince had died. She groped for the chair with tear-filled eyes, overcome.
Paula said nothing but helped her aunt sit in the beloved chair, then went exploring.
So many aunts, uncles, and cousins had passed since the house was built. Though few had passed in this house, the many did not choose to inhabit it in spirit. No ghosts here. The only floors that creaked were the ones she stepped on. The only moaning sounds were the wind slithering through a gap in the window frame.
Ethel sat in Vince’s rocker staring at the cold fireplace and rocked herself into a nap. His rocker was where they read to the children; comforted them after a fall or heartbreak; cradled them to a heavenly sleep.
Emerging from her reverie, he was plainly standing before her holding out his hand to help her rise as he had done when they played music and danced in the night while the children slept. A smile so warm and welcoming she could never resist. Even days when so much washing, cooking, tending animals and children made her bone tired, his smile and gentle hand drew her to her feet.
Paula entered the room just as Ethel let out a laugh and leapt to her feet. Ethel clapped her hands and danced in a circle with more vigor than Paula had at the moment.
“Did you see? Did you see him? He came and asked me to dance.”
Paula knew who she was speaking of and tossed it off to Ethel’s deep state of denial.
“No, Auntie. I didn’t see him. But I am sure he was here for you.”
Ethel’s face was lit up as though the fireplace was in full glow. She twirled around two more times, nearly fell, and Paula rushed to her side to help her into the chair again.
“We should go now, Auntie. Is there anything else here you wanted to see or do first?”
Still glowing, but perfectly calm now, Ethel sat silently rocking slowly.
“No, child. I have what I came for. Let’s stop by the cemetery on the way home. I haven’t been since he passed.”
On the way out the door, Paula was seriously tempted to take one of the glass knobs or the lace curtain as a memento, but instead she bent down and scooped up some earth with a paper cup.
Ethel smiled a warm, welcoming smile all the way to the cemetery and all the way home.
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