The yellow of Goddess Grove (Goddess Grove, Ch. 19)
The scent of the leather upholstery was was vomit-inducing. Nearly. But immobile as I was, I sat there in Dr. Lee’s parking lot, inhaling the smell of dead cow flesh. I couldn’t drive home, not when I could cry into my steering wheel. Dead flesh next to growing embryo. My drained and sore body collapsed into the backseat to lay down, knowing there would be no privacy at home.
I’ve never been an unwed mother before.
Laying there in my backseat, the fetal position I had found helped to stave off my responsibilities. Staring alternatively at my Escape’s roof and the sky, I deliberated on the next step. I did that too often, thought about difficult things more than actually doing them. As I focused on one particularly fluffy cloud, one that Meghan would have said looked like a snowman, I called Aaron to tell him. Straight to voicemail.
“It’s Muira. I don’t give a shit about how you’re doing, so don’t call me back. I just thought you should know I’m pregnant. I don’t want anything from you, I just thought you should know.”
I hung up angrily, disappointed that I wouldn’t get to yell at him. Yelling at him was the only way I convinced myself to do it in the first place. My attention shifted back to a bubble forming on the Escape’s roof upholstery. I imagined Glastonbury, serene and holy. I saw myself escaping to the top of it to have my baby in peace. No Aaron. No one at all.
After sitting there for half an hour, staring at the same cloud and the Glastonbury bubble, I reminded myself of the people at home waiting for lunch. Wrenching myself out of the backseat took all the willpower I could muster. There were people in the world suffering worse than this. There were also people at home waiting for their lunch.
A zombie in a human grocery store, I was unbothered by others. No one cared to tell me that I was doing the things of living people. No one came near me either. I went through the motions the whole way home, stopping mechanically at each stoplight, somehow ending up in my kitchen and unloading groceries. Zoraida put the veggie corn dogs and fries in the oven for me while I took a bath. For once, I was immensely grateful that she understood everything without me having to say it. Every unwed mother should have a psychic caregiver.
I heard everyone eating downstairs while I soaked in my lavender-filled bath. Could pregnant women sit in baths? Damn science, always changing. I closed my eyes and pictured the evergreen wool scarf that I would knit with Grandma and Zoraida. It would be dark, but still have the hue of a grass green in it.
I thought about anything except Aaron or his once-beloved picture on my phone. The kids needed their hair trimmed. Grandma wanted new walking shoes. I forgot to call the plumber about the garbage disposal. The thoughts flew by quickly, a breeze easily forgotten. I couldn’t focus, nor did I want to. The lavender bubble bath swallowed me up, like moist earth opening up to consume me. And I succumbed.
I shuffled back downstairs in time to hear the landline ring. Zoraida’s short arm reached for it without me asking, her stubby limbs holding down the fort while I fell apart.
“It’s Aaron,” she whispered.
“I’m not here,” I mouthed as I looked for a snack. I was just beginning to scribble a note to Zoraida– Stay with the kids for an hour?– when Tara wondered into the room. I was about to ask what happened to her plans with friends when I saw something new. It wasn’t her normal chill. But the warmth came from something sad, pathetic even. Maybe she never even had plans.
“Mom, you wanna go to the yarn shop with me?” Somewhere between cold cereal and veggie corn dogs, a small amount of kindness had surfaced. I was beginning to see her.
She agreed to come with me, unaware of the ketchup stain on her belly. I got no more from her than a simple nod. No nagging. Just knitting.
As we got in the car, I asked her how Larry was doing. I normally didn’t care to ask about her married boyfriend, but I was growing concerned. At the very least, there should have been a comment about my appearance.
Staring out the window allowed her to pretend she didn’t hear me. After a poke from me, she pointed an AC vent at her face then gave a heavy sigh.
“He and I have parted ways,” was all she said. I didn’t really care to hear the details, but I saw her eyes watering. Apparently dating married men didn’t agree with her.
“Are you doing okay?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to open that Pandora’s box.
“I’m just lonely,” she confessed finally. “No one has ever filled the hole your dad left.”
We finally began to speak the same language.
“I miss him too, Mom.” Watching her stare at the road, I wondered what their marriage was like, what he did to woo her, whether or not she made him happy. He must have seen something amazing in her, something I should work harder to see.
“He used to bring me flowers once a week. Yellow daisies every Friday night. I think he enjoyed spending a small bit of his paycheck on something I loved.”
“But you don’t like flowers! You told me opening my flower shop was a waste of time!” What kinds of mind games had she been playing all these years?
“I used to love them. When your father died… I think everything died.” Tara stared out the windshield blankly, her voice just a whisper.
“So you severed yourself from everything that reminded you of Dad. Like me.”
“You remind me of him in so many ways.” She paused, looking down at her interlocked fingers, gaudy nails and all. “His goodness, his love of nature, even his blue eyes. Every Brennan woman has green eyes, you know. Somehow you got your dad’s blue eyes.” More tears. More mascara-stained tears.
I probably just sat there, staring at her. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her cry. My mouth might have been gaping open. I have no idea. Then she really threw me for a loop.
“I’m so sorry, Muira. For everything.” Tara never stopped staring into her hands. She turned her head slowly then, watching the traffic as if it was foreign to her. “He wasn’t supposed to die.”
We returned home: Tara, the overpriced knitting supplies, and me. I poked my head in the back yard to see if the kids were okay. That was me, Mom of the Year, barely aware of what her kids were doing. It took a moment to soak in the scene, to see how much Shannon was enjoying her walk through my flowers and how Meghan was drawing intently with sidewalk chalk.
“Where’s Grandma?” I shouted from the back door.
Zoraida looked up, startled. The concern in her eyes was enough to make us drop everything and begin searching. A storm cloud was rolling into our lives, and we all felt it. It chilled our skin. My house became a maze, little mice running through any and every pathway. I called for her, checked every room, not remembering which rooms I had already been in. I found myself in her bedroom repeatedly.
“Mom, you’ll watch the kids?” I was too busy barking out orders to notice that she had already started their dinner.
Zoraida followed me to the car, both of us thinking the same thing: she’s at Cork’s. She would try to find her old house. The ride was filled with too much silence, too much fear. We both felt the void, the space where Grandma should have asking where she was. Silence must follow loss.
Zoraida pushed her way through the cedar doors like an army general. Heave was the word I was thinking of. She stormed toward the bathrooms to search while I talked to the owner. It was less Charlie’s Angel’s and more Golden Girls. Still, it was Zoraida. She got things done.
“What can I help you with?” he asked, still as despondent as when we had met a few months earlier.
“Have you seen an elderly lady around here? It’s my grandma. She’s missing and I thought she might try to come back here. She has dementia and… and I don’t know if she knows where she is.” I was starting to feel more frightened, wondering if we would find her before dark. Where would she sleep?
“We haven’t seen her. Leave your number and I’ll call if we hear anything.” There in his cheap suit, he seemed genuinely concerned. I handed him my business card with yellow asters lightly imprinted on the right. The yellow of Grandma’s vine, the yellow of the daisies Dad brought home to Mom, the yellow of Goddess Grove.
“Thank you. Please do call if you see her. Her name is Muira, just like mine on the card there.” Yellow asters blinked up at him, and even this dour bar owner saw the resemblance to Grandma’s golden tiara vine growing up his wall.
Deflated, Zoraida and I got back in the car. We stared dumbly at the cedar doors, crippled by disappointment and fear.
“Do you have any guesses where she might have gone?” I asked Zoraida, hoping she’d magically come up with the answer.
“Let’s call the nursing home, let them know she could be trying to get there.”
“Good idea.” Their number was still programmed in my phone, though the place was most likely nonexistent in Grandma’s memory. A panicked voice I barely recognized as my own related the situation to the nurse, who suggested we call the police and local hospital as well. While I made the phone calls, Zoraida stared out the windshield, frowning at nothing in particular.
“What is it Zoraida?” I asked impatiently. “Are you sensing something from her?”
“No, nothing. That’s what worries me,” she said softly. Her big brown eyes fell on me, full of pain for the first time since I’d known her. “More pairs of eyes would help.”
Aviva answered quickly in her quiet voice, ever calm. She and Ben agreed to help look, just as we knew they wood.
She was, after all, a grandma to us all.
Text to Nora, sour Nora. Who I knew would neither read the text nor care that Grandma was missing. There should be a flavor named after her, like a soda. Sour Nora. I’ll take a diet Sour Nora.
Then I made the call I swore I’d never make. “Aaron, it’s Muira.”
“How are you? I’ve been trying to call–”
“I know. Listen, I’m not calling for me, it’s about Grandma. She’s missing and we could really use some help looking for her.” My anger had vanished with thoughts of my sweet grandma wandering the suburbs alone, possibly making her way into Philadelphia or New York. No ID. No money.
“Muira, we really need to talk.”
“Can you just help us? We can talk later!”
“I’ll go look now,” he offered without hesitation.
I told him Aviva and Ben were looking up north around campus and that he could look on the east end of town. It never occurred to me to scream at him all those lines I had rehearsed, about how I hated him and how no woman would ever want such a milquetoast. I just wanted Grandma safe.
When I hung up, Zoraida suddenly looked up with that enlightened look she gets. The one where you would think angels were singing to her.
“Start driving west.”
“West? Why? We just came from the west.”
“Please trust me Dear. I feel her now.”
We drove west slowly, looking out the windows and calling her name. I saw out of the corner of my eye a splash of yellow. Zoraida had one hand wrapped around her green silk scarf, the other gripping a flower of golden tiara. Grandma’s yellow vine.
“Where did you get that?”
“I took it from Cork’s. It’s helping me sense her. Here, try it.” Stopped at a red light, I held the bit of vine and closed my eyes as Zoraida instructed me. Try explaining that to a cop, I told myself. I was trying to learn psychic abilities from a witch. That’s why I had my eyes closed while driving.
Zoraida’s voice continued. “Now think about her as you hold it: her scent, her appearance, her voice. Tell me what you see.”
Fresh air from outside filled my lungs, allowing me to breath in the heat of summer. I thought of Grandma and me knitting together when I was young, her sending me boxes of cookies, a scent of her vanilla perfume, the Irish cursing. The sun warmed my skin there at the corner of Fourth and Main, the same way it did all those summers she took me to the beach. Tears were dripping down my cheeks as I felt her hugs, her thick arms nearly crushing me from the love she couldn’t help but share. Then I saw her, with her mis-matched shoes, near the Zoraida oak and the four-shades-of-green maple.
Startled back to my driving by the honking horns, I gave Zoraida back the vine. “I saw her in Central Square. How could I see her?”
Zoraida just smiled and winked.
We found Grandma kneeling down in the grass, just as my vision showed, planting more of her yellow vines around the base of the trees. She worked attentively, gently humming as she planted. Martha Stewart, right there in Central Square.
“Grandma!” I shouted even before the Escape was parked. My feet hit the ground as I pulled the keys out. “We had no idea where you were!” The strong hug took her off guard as I interrupted her task.
“Zoraida, you old hag! What are you doing here?”
I sighed heavily, either relieved or frustrated. Her eyes looked cloudy, as if she was traveling back to us from another world.
“Why did you come here to plant your vines without telling anyone?”
“Muira, Dear, you’re in Dobron for the afternoon? Come by my place and we’ll share a Guinness.”
Zoraida watched her old friend, this infant that we couldn’t keep our eyes off of, while I called everyone. Aaron’s call was last, the one I had deliberately put off. Pure exhaustion, that feeling I had forgotten from other pregnancies, took over every muscle. It was the perfect excuse to text him instead of calling.
“Found Grandma. Thanks for the hlep.”
Shite! Why could’t I send the jerk a text without mistyping something?
Grandma and Zoraida, hunched over the yellow vines, chatted convivially, like it was any other day. Like we were all sitting down to tea. Zoraida was evidently helping Grandma finish what she’d started, taking up her own little trowel.
“Why plant these here, Grandma?”
She paused, looking up at me and recalling who I was. She took my hand, like the authority, like she had become the caregiver. “I want part of me to be here. This vine was a gift from your grandpa. He knew I loved flowers, and he planted these all around our house. Our walls were covered in yellow year-round. Zoraida and I used to joke that my house had become Goddess Grove.”
Sunshine popped through a few evening clouds, plastering itself all over our faces. The golden yellow filled Central Square, yellow everywhere. Grandpa’s flowers. Dad’s flowers. The men in our family gave flowers and died young. Aaron’s breakup speech stung especially hard as I stood there in the golden warmth, watching Grandma. Her yellow vines spiraled around the Zoraida oak, that yellow that kept loitering in my mind.
“Let’s get you home and cleaned up. And I think we should have a talk about Goddess Grove.”
- to be continued…