I believe that artists are crazy because we... a certain subsection of us are...
The idea: self-help book from the future.
Four missed calls, each spaced less than a minute apart. It would be bad... Or with any luck, maybe Echo was finally calling to ask me to come over. Maybe I should start packing a bag, while I redial... I could pick up groceries on the way, cook a stew, feed her a healthy healing meal. Maybe I could just hold her, like I did when she was a baby. Maybe if I did everything just right this time, she could wake up with a smile on her face again, ready to take on the world once more.
When I heard her voice, I knew better than to offer to come over, but it was the first question that escaped my lips.
"No, Mom. Don't come!"
I had heard this frantic phone call too many times. "Okay, okay, Echo. I won't. I won't. Just talk to me. It's okay."
It was 4:32 AM when we hung up. She sounded like she was falling asleep, crying. How I wish I could have wiped away her tears. This dull ache... God, is this her pain? Please, let me take it away from her.
I toss and turn in bed for twenty minutes before getting up and taking the Bible to the kitchen table. I might as well start the coffee now. Dad will be up to go to work in an hour or so. I can cut him fresh home fries with this much time on my hands.
I throw the Bible open to a random page and put my finger down on a random verse. "So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.' -John 10:24." Alright, Lord. You do speak "in mysterious ways".
The coffee is ready. I start to pour a cup.
Echo is thirty. She was born when I was thirty. The third child, the youngest child. Maybe I waited too long to have her. Maybe I was selfish wanting one more child, a daughter. Maybe we would have been able to help her brothers more through college if we hadn't been paying for her lessons and sending her to Korea. I just... wanted to give her opportunities. She was so open to the world. She could handle anything. What happened? What did I do wrong?
My hand slips and touches the heat of the carafe. In shock, my fingers go limp and the glass vessel falls to the floor, shattering. Brown water splatters on the white floral tiles. So different from glass hitting that old linoleum floor, no bounce whatsoever. I take a moment to inventory the situation. Don't move, I tell myself, broken glass. Leaving my feet flat on the ground, I reach for the light switches to illuminate where the shards may have landed. I grab a rag from the sink and begin the tedious process of cleaning my mess.
A memory flashes. ---Echo is about her niece, Rose's age, about thirteen. Echo's brother, Rose's father was driving me to the store on an icy winter evening. I am trying my best to not berate him for tuning the radio while he is driving. But I can feel the wheels sliding on the wet road. I wish he would just turn the damn thing off altogether. "Pay attention-"
I heard the words slip out before I could realize I was saying them... Now he is exploding. I hit his defensive button. They are all his defensive button. There will be no way to calm him down. Don't yell back. A deep exhale. I am using the calmest tone I can muster, "I just want you to keep your hands on the wheel. It's icy..."
Then we both feel it. There is no control of the steering to catch, two hands or none. A sharp icy patch throws the car into a tree.
We assess the damage. I hear myself yelling at him, but I can't catch all the words. I am calculating whether the mad money savings account stowed away in my bookcase will cover the dent to his father's vehicle. If only there was some way to repair it without telling Dad. No, I will have to have this argument again... and again... and his older brother will add this to his list of belittling statements when the two of them argue now.
Another few years and Echo will be driving. What? Wait... my baby.
The arguing continues into the front door of the house. Forget going anywhere tonight. Can I just send him to his room? Does that still work? He can't go anywhere at this hour, unless one of his friends picks him up. Is the phone working? Maybe some lines fell with the weather. It isn't unusual.
Echo is sitting on the staircase, in the dark. She is watching us. Don't want her to see... There is a look on her face. Her eyes are full of tears. Damnit. Another fire to put out?
She walks up slowly to me and caresses her arms around my shoulders. She is so tall. I am glad. I hope she will be tall and strong and confident. I feel my body collapsing into hers. Is she upset for me? Don't ask me to be calm. Who is the mother here?
"Mommy. I got my period." She whimpers quietly into my ear, as if ashamed.
I feel something divine touch me. My pain is extinguished and ignites into strength. I am still her pillar. I am holding her, although I am in her arms. I hold her. We ransack the house for feminine products to no avail. She has been bleeding for several months in silence, taking what she needed from my supplies. Now they are depleted. She had no choice but to tell me. Why wouldn't she tell me?
I try to tell her there is nothing shameful about menstration... I try---
The kitchen is clean. I am more tired but restless. My thirst for coffee is worse now. Somewhere in the cellar my mother in law had a spare carafe. I saw it sometime...
Fumbling through boxes of candlesticks and ceramic figurines, I question why I am holding onto so many things... her grandchildren say they want these things, but they never come to claim them. Maybe taking them home is admitting she is gone. No one has room. I guess we still have room. Would they really notice if I gave it all to Goodwill? What could I do with this space? What if I made it a proper gym for Dad to work out in? He is trying so hard to stay in shape... If only he would eat the healthier dishes I would like to share with him... What will life as a widow be like?
Something scurries. A mouse? A bug? My imagination? I swear I saw it crawl into the space between the wall and the hutch. Is there an opening? I kneel down and put my hand into the space to feel for a breeze, some indication of hole to the outside. My hand touches something. I fight the urge to recoil. It isn't alive. It isn't animate. It's soft, unexpected. I hook its texture between two fingers and pull... pages... It's a book.
Weathered and dog-eared, it bears dried brown water stains. It has lost its cover and the side title has worn away. Attempting to adjust my eyes in the dim cellar light, my gaze moves from near to distance without the ability to focus. I need my glasses. That is when I see the carafe, sitting atop a box of other kitchen conveniences. I grab it and head upstairs.
Wash the replacement carafe, brew a fresh pot of coffee, pour a cup and take the book out onto the porch... The sun will rise soon. I can see the horizon turning pink.