by Rosemary Cacolice Brown.
Maggie stands in the doorway, wistfully watching as Sarah leaves. For a brief moment she envisions this day as painted with soft hues of gray, always her color of choice when conveying sadness on canvas. She smiles, but not with her eyes, her dubious expression strikingly similar to the one she graciously posed for funeral sympathizers after losing Bernie, her dear husband, in that terrible highway accident sixteen long years ago.
At the time, the catastrophic shift in the family dynamic left her with Mark, then eight, and Sarah, the youngest at age three. Mark is now in real estate, newly married and living one county over. Today Sarah is leaving the nest as well, about to embark on her coveted dream of a veterinary degree from Clemson State University.
Of course, if truth be told, Maggie’s journey through single motherhood while raising two fatherless children alone had its ups and downs. Her worthy vision and strength of purpose had sometimes been challenged by temporary lack of funds. But thank goodness for Jack Tobin’s successful and unpretentious art gallery in town. As bookkeeper there to this very day, along with their many requested commissions by her own hand, the Morgan family coffer had always recovered nicely.
Today, however, such a blessing was not on her plate. Feeling adrift, she struggles to hide the emotion consuming her soul to the bone. Lulu, the lovable mutt rescued from the pound by Sarah two years prior, sits beside her unnoticed as she ponders the tone and tenor of the home that love built, now evaporating like dew on a rose at sunup.
“Goodbye, Sarah, please be careful on the road,” she cautions as she waves, “and don’t forget to call when you’re settled in the dorm.” For an instance she’s pleased with the stoic façade she’s presenting now that her maternal undertaking has shifted to a place that leaves her utterly rudderless.
Unaware, Sarah tingles with anticipation as she nods, waves back and blows a sweet kiss, the gesture touching Maggie’s heart. “I will, Mom, and for sure I’ll call you when I get there—promise!”
And so it went. Swirling in a vortex of sentiment she cannot escape, Maggie longs to prolong this last moment, but knows she cannot and simply nods. All the cautionary words and reassurances between them have been said. Watching intently as Sarah revs the engine, pulls away and turns the corner, she then closes the front door gently and plods slowly to the kitchen, the very place that harbors sweet, vibrant memories she never once considered as ending.
So, what to do now? It’s only noon and the rest of the day is at hand. In the intrusive, brash silence she sighs deeply, settling into one of the spindle-back chairs. The consuming shroud of loneliness continues to hover unabated as her playbook unfolds, rushing forth like water from a tipped over jug: Christmas cookies for the annual school bake sale, Little League for Mark, piano lessons for Sarah, all those funny smiley faces on lunchtime sandwiches she created with the tip of a mustard jar…
For how long this unstoppable rolling reel continues she has no idea, only that it is gone forever, having flown by at Mach-speed, or so it seems.
Ticking, ticking… In the cloistering stillness she is drawn to the present as the old analog clock on the dining room hutch announces its presence. Funny that she never, in all these years, ever heard it declare time so loudly! She wonders. Was this to be the new norm, the only noise in the household that of a ticking clock now that it will surely be much quieter?
Minutes continue to pass, one by one, until Maggie finally turns the page, annoyed with her self-imposed heartache. Why had she never considered that it would all end with the passing of unforgiving time? Foolish indeed, for in this very moment of epilogue there is no tether to pull her from the searing emptiness that grips her. She remains in the spindle-back chair for some time, ruminating about the Once Was that would never be again until exhaustion washes over her, lessening her grip on reflection enough to face the obvious question.
Would she do it all over again?
Resoundingly, yes! Aside from her incredible talent with canvas, acrylics, oil pastels and fine, self-taught knowledge of art history, the unabashed truth was that she was also intrinsically endowed with the golden thread of motherhood, just like legions throughout millennia that willfully and gracefully carved the way through humanity’s history.
In the framework of that lofty backdrop she rises and maneuvers to the stove to brew some tea, gripped wholly by the notion that she is now leaving that sweet stage she so cherishes, her only option being to step back into the wings of life.
Suddenly, inexplicitly, only then does the full bloom of sweet reason finally come into play as Maggie finds her center at last, first by a limp and then a full-on stride. Such an option was ridiculous! There would be no wings for her! Not by a long shot! After all, she is still Maggie, is she not, determined and resolute enough to take on any circumstance just as she had done all those years ago? True, the tempo of her life may be morphing a bit, but by no means was it over. It was, quite simply, merely evolving.
With such final, firm affirmation, the ticking analog clock in the dining room reminds her that the day is still young, with plenty of time to spend as she wills. So, the first thing she’ll do is wash her face, comb her hair and put on some lipstick. Then she’ll find Lulu’s leash and take the little darling for a nice long walk.
And tomorrow? It’s back to Jack Tobin’s Art Gallery, the very place that always redeems her spirit.
Rosemary lives in Michigan and loves to write when the muse hits hard. For her, there’s no greater pleasure than bringing life to a blank page. Early on her work was published in small print publications. Since the Internet arrived, her many stories have been published at Long Story Short, Apollo’s Lyre, Green Silk Journal and The Houston Literary Review.