I could have been rid of it (Goddess Grove, Ch. 13)
Psychic Readings, the sign glowed. It was the bright pink neon that blinked just three blocks down from Brennan Blossoms. Sure, I ignored it as much as I could, as much as anyone could after dealing with it from Zoraida every day. But that day I looked up. There in my khaki and cardigan combo, I stared into the glaring, intrusive light.
It was pushy, forcing itself into my life. Neon. Witchcraft. It all flooded in.
What would she read in me? Would I ask about Grandma’s poem?
There was a bag of ribbon in my hand, ribbon I needed to run out for, to fill a couple orders that afternoon. I imagined the ribbon in my psychic reading, pictured it flowing around me like a romantic comedy, like there had never been anything so beautiful. Then I hated it. Even wind-blown ribbon couldn’t change how I felt about all this.
I’d have to get back. I couldn’t just keep leaving Aviva to watch the store alone.
The ribbon clung to me as I walked back to the shop, touching me inappropriately on the thigh. I could have thrown it in the trash, the wire basket that sat on the corner and had coffee cups spilling out of it. I could have been rid of it.
“Can you take this ribbon to the back please?”
Aviva obeyed. She always obeyed.
She would ask how things were going with Aaron and we would prepare for Mother’s Day orders until closing. I would even stay late. Aviva was lighthearted though, more than I’d expect since she changed majors. I watched cautiously as her new love interest distracted her from confronting her mom. The part-time apple didn’t fall far from the shop owner’s tree.
“Aaron?” I asked as if the topic was something I hadn’t considered in a while. “We’ve had lunch a few times recently, but there’s always something else going on. He’s probably losing interest.” I was determined not to blame Grandma for the added stress in my life, but the thought loitered anyway.
“I don’t think he’s losing interest, Muira. He calls here all the time, he stops by every day. I think he’s courting you!”
I laughed out loud. Of course I did. I was being wooed a la Jane Austen novel while answering how old are the girls thirty times a night.
Compliant Aviva finished the orders in back, touching the detestable ribbons that I wouldn’t go near. I would need to pick up sandwiches for Grandma and Zoraida that day. Those were the plans I was making– trying to recall if Zoraida liked rye or not– as the door swung open, the chilly morning gust filling the shop. The smile creeped onto my face just as slyly as the wind blowing in. It was maybe my first smile that day, the kind from knowing who it was before looking up. The wind always brought Aaron to me.
He was next to me in seconds.
“Come to dinner with me tonight,” he whispered as he kissed my ear. “The kids are with their dad, so I’m not taking no for an answer this time.” He nibbled my neck, a master at knee-weakening.
“Aviva and I are making lasagna for Grandma. Zoraida has some faculty dinner to attend. I don’t see how I can….” I was interrupted by Aviva, the blasted ribbon– a blue one nonetheless– dangling from her fingers.
“I’ll stay with Grandma tonight. Actually, Ben could come over and help me cook.” She lit up, that wind without source blowing around her in her own romantic trance. Grandma had become Grandma, as if she was everyone’s grandma, as if everyone remembered her taking them to the beach in the summer.
“It’s a date.” I smiled at Aaron, hiding my revulsion toward the ribbon, or toward whatever it was the ribbon represented.
“How’s Aaron?” Grandma asked it so innocently, so sweetly, as if she wouldn’t be asking where Wes was in five minutes.
“Here’s your turkey on rye.”
Zoraida raised an eyebrow at me, waiting for me to answer. She could do that, raise only one eyebrow and will a person to speak. I couldn’t just talk about how the weather was so lovely, perfect really. I couldn’t just remark on the bluebells growing all over the perimeter. It was, after all, my back yard. But I had no say in these things.
“He’s fine, Grandma. Thanks for asking. Actually, he’s taking me out tonight.”
“About time!” she shouted. The hollering had become her normal tone, that confidence that comes from never knowing of your own dementia.
“She’s happy that you have a date for Beltane,” Zoraida explained.
“We’re halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It was traditionally a fire festival in Europe.” It was lecture time again. Professor Del Rey. Mythology and Ritual 101.
“People who followed the old religions, particularly in rural areas, would dance around fires late into the night, followed by coupling.” She winked at me as she said the last part, as if this should mean something to me. “In Oaxaca, my mother used to cut from the ahuacatl tree and give each of her daughters a fertility blessing for the equinox.”
A sadness rested just below the surface as Zoraida spoke, a darkness from her past that none of us fully understood.
“I’ll call Aviva and see if she can bring something with avocados for Grandma to eat tonight.”
“I think she’d like that,” Zoraida mentioned, beginning to snap back from her glimpse into the shadows. But you never fully come back, not really. The dead never really die.
But I couldn’t think about that. Not when I had people to feed.
“Your faculty dinner tonight, is that a real faculty dinner or a Beltane party?”
“It’s for my Grove friends.”
“Grove friends, huh? Goddess Grove?”
Of course that’s when Grandma piped up. “I’m going too! You can’t do it without me.”
Zoraida put an arm around her, reached for the fruit plate, and explained something in her ear. When they finished, Zoraida patted Grandma’s arm and smiled kindly at her, the way caretakers do. Their secrecy never alarmed me at the time. Grandma nodded and went back to eating some strawberries, eyeing the house as if it was holding her hostage.
“Our group used to be called Goddess Grove back when your Grandma was one of the members. Someday we hope to find it you know, the grove, the golden maples. They say that when you look up, all you see is sunlight pouring through curtains of yellow foliage, a room made out of gold.” She hesitated for a moment, staring into me just like the pink neon light. Psyching Readings. Ride at your own risk.
“Is that where the Goddess Grove in Grandma’s poem comes from?”
“Exactly,” Grandma responded.
“Do you need to shop for a new dress tonight? And where is he taking you?” Grandma’s mind was as disjointed as her non-matching socks.
But she raised a good point. They always do, dementia patients. They make you think, to not take so much for granted. I had to justify my route to work, my reasons for choosing my children’s names. Now I had to account for the poor collection of thrift store clearance items smashed into my closet.
Unless I wanted to wear khakis with cotton V-necks, I had only a dozen beautiful scarves that I never had the occasion to use.
“Who’s up for a shopping trip?”
It wasn’t that I never owned any nice clothing; I had given away every nice thing Wes ever bought me, every cashmere and négligée. Well, threw out on the lawn might be a more accurate description.
“Muira, really, you don’t need to give back all these things I gave you. They’re yours,” Wes had pleaded.
“Oh really?” I shouted, throwing more dresses out on his grass. “So you’re allowing me to keep this shit? How thoughtful of you, you asshole!”
Négligée indeed. Given little thought, little attention. Neglected.
It was not my best moment.
My mind wandered back to my closet, and I thought of my beautiful scarves. Most of the scarves I had bought for myself; a few had been gifts from Grandma before the dementia had worsened. None of us expected the dementia to affect gift-giving. The used candle with no wick was my favorite.
“Do you remember that gorgeous blue scarf you gave me several years ago, Grandma?” She nodded, sipping her iced tea and most likely not even aware of where she was. Since she wasn’t running off into the street or asking where she was, her nodding was a good sign.
It was decided that I would wear that, with a nice black cocktail dress. “Should we try the mall?” They both shrugged in agreement, probably equally happy to go or stay.
It was difficult to leave the backyard, when the garden was in full bloom, when these spring days would turn to unbearable heat before we knew it. Zoraida helped Grandma find two matching shoes while I called Aviva.
I’ll be a couple more hours.
You mean Aaron deserves something more attractive than Mom clothes?
This was how I imagined the phone conversation, where Aviva was assertive and told me the blunt truth.
As we got into the car, buckling Grandma just like we did with Meghan, Zoraida remembered a message she was supposed to give me.
“I forgot to tell you, your mother called the house this morning. She’s flying in for a visit next month.” Just when I thought Dobron couldn’t get more depressing.
“Did she say why?”
“I imagine it’s for the solstice.” And I thought I had eradicated the ribbon. I could have tossed it there with the lattes and the cappuccinos and the dog crap. I could have been rid of it.
- to be continued…