To Carry You Home
Time is a confusing thing she thought. It seemed that the further forward it ran from her the more easily her brain refused to stay there.
Her thoughts often encapsulated her so completely that she lost all sense of the cold blasting air of the a/c and the antiseptic smell of the hallway that they moved her to each day. At one moment, she would be right there among the clattering noise and the smell of unwashed linens. She’d be caught in the endless daily cycle of the opening and shutting whoosh of the glass of the automatic doors, but then somewhere in the middle of that grounding point she would find herself pulled back.
She faded away from the brittle coldness and found herself instead inhabiting the slow, thick molasses of an old familiar Georgia heat. She would just tilt her head, and suddenly she would be there again drowning in the usual punch drunken dizzying scent of the magnolia and jasmine. She could feel the denim rub where her the bib of her coveralls covered up the thin brown chest without t-shirt back then and she moved with the soft, sure swinging arms and loose-jointed rolling hips as her worn soled shoes kicked up the red clay dust of the trail. The excitement of finding herself moving so easily down that old trail home to mamma’s house tingled up against her skin. Oh, she could follow it still like the back of her own hand.
Suddenly she would feel herself lifting a frail looking hand with paper-thin aged skin and she would marvel at the chill against it in the forced cold air. She had traveled again seamlessly between those two places again.
Once upon a time, these sudden back and forth shifts would upset her, and she would blink under the harsh fluorescent glare wondering fearfully how it was that she bounced back and forth. Now she just sighed and dropped her hand gently and curled against her chest feeling the comforting beat of her own heart as she closed her eyes again.
Within moments and with barely a ripple in wake of her leaving picking up where one place had left off she retreated again. She did it as easily as a sighing breeze and without any fuss. It did not frighten her at all anymore.
Reality, what was that to an old woman anyway? And, this thing of time was a very tricky thing. Did it move forward or did it roll back? If she had inhabited one space once, was it then to be any less real than this moment now? If one place comforted her and one place only chilled her, wasn’t it the only sane thing to do? Why then would anybody try to stop her from going back to the warmth of what was familiar and what had soothed? Who were they to insist on these things?
Behind her closed eyes, there lived the young girl she had once been. That young girl still lived in the old woman’s skin. She beat with her heart and carried every hope and dream and every restless wish that had ever been. She was as real as any other part of the old woman that she had become. She embraced the child now.
She inhabited that spirit and headed down that long ago dirt road. Of all the places and things she’d done in her life, all those interesting and wonderful grown up things, it was this simple space of red Georgia clay that she found herself drawn back to.
Life had always been funny like that. In her mind, all time and all thought returned to a circle of destiny. Where once she moved only forward now, she found herself having turned some invisible corner suddenly facing back the way she had come. All of her steps now led her both forward and faced her back overlooking the way she had come. Everything about her and all that had come between these beginning and the ending points had blurred. The distance she had left to travel was much shorter than it had ever been. Soon she’d be at the door. Today, she thought, today will be the day I get there, and I won’t ever come back! She lost herself in the warmth again.
Oh, the goodness and the sweet grace of youth in the swinging of her arms was interrupted in a sudden whoosh of coldly pressed air and the whisper shift of soft soled shoes that stepped up to her. She fought for a moment to stay where she was, but she felt her hand being lifted from warmth of her chest. “Hello, there Mrs. Jennings. Having a sweet dream I see, it’s time for your vitals and medicine.”
Cool young fingers probed the woman’s wrist, not unkindly at all just brisk and business-like and moving almost tactilely at the rate of some invisible fast ticking clock. Then her wrist was released, and she pulled it gently to the warmth of her lap as she waited for the arrival of a small white paper cup.
She looked up with still fiercely blue eyes suddenly present, and she blinked hard for a moment. She tried to connect. She wanted to say goodbye. She tried furiously for a few moments but then the opportunity was lost. She found herself obediently swallowing down her pills instead. The pills were the ones that made it even easier to lose track of time.
The brisk and busy young man on the other end of the cup only smiled patronizingly in that hurried way that the woman had come to recognize. He arranged his face in a careful way that did not let anything in beyond the dirt trails of his own travels. He still had only forward to go, and all steps led onward to the next very important thing. His manner and the importance with which he moved said that he never circled back or ever got lost at all.
Then for a moment, unexpectedly his eyes did connect with hers. It was if the veil between their two journey’s had been pierced for a few beats. He patted her shoulder in a gesture that was not normally in the routine. She appreciated the contact even as she let her eyes begin to drift closed. “There’s bingo in the great room, don’t you have any interest at all?” the voice asked even as his eyes slid away back to their forward direction and just before the young man and his body moved away.
No, she had no interest at all. Slowly her head nodded down; she did not resist, and it was not long before she was once again walking in that easy way. Suddenly at her side she became aware of the little mongrel dog that she had simply named “dog.” She had felt his presence before she saw him. It was as if he’d always been there when he joined her and came ambling to heel at her side. There he was with his customary impish little clown face and lolling tongue. That dog never could seem to roll that thing in! Her fingers stretched through the warm fur at the nape of his neck.
In the time before she had left that long dirt track down and her mama’s house all those many years ago, this silly starving good-natured dog had appeared while she had hung the laundry. At first she’d resisted liking it but that dog had a way of slinking in. And, although the woman had pretended she had no need of that ‘flea bitten bag of bones and farts,’ she secretly had come to love him very much.
When she had been at her most alone, the dog had been a companion. When she could not see up from down, and a velvety thick layer depression had descended over her, this dog had comforted her. She would retreat to the ramshackle porch and drag her fingers through dog’s fur and look deep into those clown eyes, only then would she find a way to gather herself together. Her fingers even now itched with the memory of that dingy brown bristly ruff of his fur, and they stretched from their place in her lap and moved of their own accords to the beat of that long ago feel.
That dog had died in some long ago past. Now, she suddenly felt buffeted again by the howling sorrow that had haunted her then. She easily remembered how she had cried tears that she never showed. Oh, but she remembered how hotly they scalded her cheeks when she cried them after everyone slept. She had bawled in the private and deep dark of the night on the suddenly empty porch. The wound of that dog’s passing scarred so deep that she never dropped her guard again. She cast strays away! That dog had held a part in her heart that she had shut away and never opened again.
Nevertheless closing that part off never did erase that she had loved that goofy lolling tongued dog. To see him now was a wonderful thing. It was the most fitting thing that he had somehow joined her again.
They meandered easily down that road together with the dust drifting up, and now the scent of jasmine tickled in. Twilight began its gentle fall, or as mamma always told it, ‘the gloaming began to rise.’ It came up from the dark, dusky earth and a cool cast by the sudden loosening of blues and purples collided with the thick low hanging scorched out dregs of the burnt out day. It was simply magnificent. She had never been on a dirt path this long!
The cicadas stopped their calling, and the cool of the purple evening rushed her skin. It was different from the forced blast chill of the a/c air. Some part of the woman wanted to compare the two, but a sudden turn of the dog’s face stilled her. She paused unsurely for a moment. The dog padded up to her and thrust his face against her dangling hand. She soaked in the feel of his cold nose and the velvet of his thrusting muzzle against her skin. She pulled her mind inward and on that road she decided to stay. She drew in a deep breath as one by one the stars began to twinkle out, and she and the dog wandered on. Up ahead through the curve she could see the little shanty shack. Her steps picked up speed, and the dog naturally kept pace.
She knew that in there her mamma would stand at the big wood burning stove the same red clay of the road under her bare feet, no floor in those days. The paper tacked windows would be grease-stained, and she would not see her coming, but the woman knew Mamma would be in there singing ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain,’ or ‘Oh, Hosanna’ in a voice nearly as thin as the cooled night air. There would be a baby or a kid hanging by her foot and mamma would be drifting between the stove and the big hewn table laying out the simple things of bread and stew ladled into thick earthenware bowls. The butter she churned by hand would be thick and waiting for the warmth of the fresh bread and the creamy milk would be in the pail. Later, when all the chores were done, and nobody sassed off, there would be popcorn to go with that milk! The old woman, and the girl she was felt her mouth begin to water.
She stopped with her head turned back, and the dog paused too. Then it began to circle around her, and as it did, her mother’s voice drifted out and caressed every part of her soul. She heard her mamma calling her gently, but she also heard the familiar whoosh of something just behind her. This whoosh had followed her, and it was almost as real as her mamma’s voice. She hesitated, for a moment completely torn between the two.
The silly mongrel dog looked up at her with vast and deep velvety chocolate eyes and seemed to ask what it was she wanted to do. His clown face suddenly had a serious cast and the tongue that would not roll in lolled there, and she could feel the questioning in his quiet stance. She reached out and touched the wiry hair. The dog did a happy quivering little jump and nuzzled deeply into her stroking hand; she could feel joy rippling through his skin and she could feel the heart of the dog gentle her in.
She had made her choice. Together she and the dog made the last of the journey to Mamma’s door. As the frame of the splintery wood creaked open and the light flooded the old woman’s eyes. They slowly adjusted and she could begin to pick out the shape of the woman at the stove, she heard the familiar old time hymns end as her mamma said “Oh, Lorena May! How nice of that mongrel dog to come on and carry you home, I sent him on to wait for you. You come on in girl, and you sit and rest yourself and tell me all about your travels. Where have you been? Lord God above, I’ve missed you girl!”