Indigo. A dream of the color, and the sound of soft rain. Bathing birds babbled among pines beyond her window, and morning light was warm on her closed face. An ache in the spine. Creaking knees. Shoulders cold cliff-rock. Complaining muscles knotted tight as wood. The wooden house around her also creaked in the wind. Smelled wet. And somewhere echoing through her fields Edgar barked three times, then once more in playful affirmation. Today maybe the last today. In her mind’s eye, falling almost back into dream, Nora surveyed the long acres surrounding her cold home: untended wheat, alfalfa, cattle-corn, all woven through untold ecosystems of weeds. Stray indigo flowers and violets. Scattered dust-filled barns. What the place might look like after all this time. With her right hand she sought the frame of the bed, found it, rough chips of paint flaking. Slowly exhaling at once Nora lifted her iron legs over the edge, thin-socked feet found the bedroom’s planks. Cold air. November hopelessness. With spider-sensitive fingers she plucked her way around the room, imagining violet dawn spilling through her screen window. Stood before the poker-faced mirror out of habit, ran her brush through hair that must now be silver. She felt the satisfying tug on her scalp and loudly past her ears. If her dresser was in front of her, to her right was the window and the pine-scented boxes where she kept his clothes, behind was her rumpled bed, and to her left then was the bathroom. She felt along the door-frame, the sink, the toilet, and sighingly she settled onto its seat. Relief.
Rain drops on her roof were like the “shh” breathed to an infant. Warm blanket of rain over the cold farm. The breathy wind was driving the rain towards her house, cranky knees told of a storm to come. The boisterous wind had the sound of laughter and strife, of voices: the twins arguing somewhere, Edgar probably with them over-enthusiasticly ******* their footsteps. The bellowing wind made the house creak more than usual, but there was something else. A distinctive groan from the foundation up the east wall to the roof-tiles. Someone was in the kitchen. Constance, just like it used to be. Connie was here and the twins were outside: they had arrived closer to dawn than Nora expected. Heavy truck’s tires in mud, headlights had pioneered dawn darkness. Smell of soil. Massaged her own back, kneaded the the flesh on either side of her spine, then wiped and stood from the seat letting her nightgown fall all down around her knotted ankles. Washed herself, and a short shower before the water turned cold. Dried her wrinkles feelingly, smelling soap, and pulled her soft nightgown back on. Socks.
Always a joy whenever Constance came to call — less frequently these days it seemed — always a joy to be with her grandchildren though little Bastian was still mistrustful of her. Always a joy to see her daughter’s family… but she never got to see Matt’s. An image of her son’s face, a red haired ghost of the past, flickered in Nora’s memory. He couldn’t stand this place since he was young, hated his full name “Matthias,” maybe hated Nora too. No reason to stay after his father died. He fled to the city. Must have a wife, several children by now. Well. At least Constance kept coming by. The rain grew heavier, played on the roof like the roll of a snare drum.
Out of the bathroom and bedroom, feeling the planks of floorboard with her soles, hand by hand and foot by foot she traced her steps down the rickety stairs. Uneven. Nora knew the chandelier she once hung here was red; she pictured the color as hard as she could to envision its reflection on each surface of the stairwell. Smell of pine. Like the smell of his clothes safely preserved in the boxes by the window. Jagged nostalgia. Nora had met dear Rowan back in another world: a world of whirling sights and colors and beautiful ugliness and ugliest beauty all. To America when she was nineteen, leaving behind all Germany and studying her new tongue. Had still devoured books then, was able to become a school teacher. When twenty-three, met in a chance cafe Rowan who worked the docks. Red hair. Scottish but of many American generations. Nora grabbed blindly at a face just out of memory’s reach. Her hold on the bannister revealed the places where varnish had been rubbed away by her wringing hands. From the kitchen, acrid cigarette stench and shuffling. Inflamed knees hating her meticulous descent, but better this ordeal each day than to abandon the bedroom they had shared. When the two met, Rowan still sent money to his agricultural folks in New York (“Upstate,” he protested more than once, “Not that awful city, but in the countryside!” and he’d pantomime a deep breath) because of the expenses of running their farm. Nora’s now. From the cafe he had bought her an almond pastry, triangular, smaller than a palm, its sweet crisp flakes made her think of Mediterranean forests, and when the two were married they worked this hereditary farm. Nora knew all the animals, when they still kept livestock. Now Nora’s farm, whose after? When her little Matthias was born they had praised him as the farm’s inheritor. Unwise.
Last step. Sound from the kitchen of Connie shifting in her seat, rustling papers. Smell of strong coffee. Strong cigarettes. Composed herself, quietly cleared throat. Sauntered down the hallway, monitoring expression and tone. Nora said, “Hello Constance. When did you three get here?”
“Hey ma,” said the woman’s voice when the elder crossed into the kitchen. “For christ’s sake don’t call me that.”
“For christ’s sake, don’t take his name,” Ma scolded, but then traced her way past the table to the countertop and felt about for utensils. “I’ll make you something Connie.” The counter was in front of her, bathroom to the left, stove to her right and along that same wall was the back door. ”How about some nice eggs and toast like how you like.”
“No ma, I handled it already.”
“And what color is that hair of yours this time?” Ma asked, carefully inserting slices of bread into the toaster. “Seems like months you haven’t been by.”
A patronising, sarcastic chuckle. “…it’s orange, ma.
“That is so nice. Your father’s hair was just that shade of orange.” Felt around inside the refrigerator. The styrofoam carton. Small and cold and round, her fingers seized four of them. “Do you remember?”
Pause. “I remember, ma.”
“What I don’t understand,” said Ma swallowing a cough, expertly igniting one gas burner as practiced and putting on hot water for tea, “is why you don’t fix to keep it natural. I love our nice fair hair, very blonde, very pretty.” Back home in Germany Nora had been the favorite of two men, but many years since engaging in the frivolous antics she in those days entertained. “Best to flaunt your natural hair color while it’s still there: orange like Matt and dear Rowan, or fair like you and Lorelai got.” Memories of her own face as she remembered it. Relatively young the last time she had seen. What wrinkles there must be. What a mask to wear. No wonder Bastian. Nora ignited another burner. Tick tick tick fwoosh. Smelled gas. Sound of the almost boiling water complaining against its kettle. Phantom taste of anticipated tea. Regret. The contents of the vial hidden on the top shelf. Today maybe the. Sound of heavy rain. “And how are your bundles of mischief?”
Connie sighed. “I told Lorelai to get her little **** inside the house, as if she hears a word. She’s playing with Ed somewhere in the fields I don’t wonder, rain be ******. That girl is such a little — well she’d better not be down by the creek anyhow. Could get flooded in a downpour like this. Bastian was out with her, but he’s playing in his room now. You know we don’t have time to stay long today, it’s just that you and I got to finally square this business away. No more deliberating, ok?”
Swallowed. “Course, Constance. Just nice to hear your voice. You’re taking care?”
“Care enough. Last time I was — oh! Jesus, ma!”
Ma’s egg missed the pan’s edge. She felt herself shatter the shell into the stove top, in her mind’s eye saw the bright orange yolk squeezed into the albumen. The burner hissed against liquid intrusion. Connie made a strained noise and scooped her mother into a seat at the table. Movement. Crisply, the sound of two fresh eggs being broken and sizzling on the pan. Scrambled as orange as Connie’s guarded temper. The table’s cool surface. Phantom smell of pine wood polish and recollections of Rowan at his woodworking tools building this table once. Other breakfasts. Young Constance, young Matthias. Young self. Her left hand massaged her aching right shoulder, then she switched. The sound of plates being readjusted with unnecessary force.
“You know,” said her daughter, “living in one of them places might even be fun. Might be good for you instead of moping about this place. But like I’ve been saying, we got to make our decision today: sell this place or pass it on. I know you don’t take no walk, cause where would you go? What’s the point in keeping all this **** land if you’re not gonna do nothing with it? You can’t even ******* see it!”
“Come on ma, just cut it out! This is great property, and you’ve let it get so it’s bleeding money.”
“…But Constance I can’t sell it, not like your brother wants me to do. He’s always trying to get rid of this place and turn a profit, but someone needs to take care of it! You know that this is the house that your f—“
“‘That your grandparents lived in where your father and I raised you…’ Yeah I know, ma. And I get it. Believe me. But what you’re doing is just plain impractical, why don’t you think about it? All you’re doing is haunting this place like a ghost. Wouldn’t you rather live somewhere where you can make friends? Things can’t go on like this.” A plate was placed softly on the table and it slid in front of Ma. Can’t go on like this. Egg smell. Salted. Toast, margarine. A cup of tea appeared nearby. “Anything else you want? Here’s a fork.”
“What will you eat, Constance?”
“I ate, ma, I ate already. Have your breakfast, then we can talking about this for real. Ok?” Then, the sound of her daughter’s body shifting in surprise, a pleasant unexpected, “Oh,” before Connie said low and matronly, “Hi baby, how you doing? Are you hungry?” But only the sound of the downpour. Orange eggs still softly sizzled. The wind pushed the creaking house. “Sweetie, you don’t have to hide behind the door, it’s ok. Come say hi to grandma… don’t you want some scrambled eggs?” Refrigerator’s hum. Barking echoed, coming over the hill. But not even the little boy’s breathing. Grandma had met the twins two years ago, following the **** of Constance’s rebellious years and independence. Nora was reminded of her german gentlemen and her own amply tumultuous adolescence. She could forgive. Two years ago Lorelai and Bastian had already been too big to cradle and fawn over, but they were discovered to be just starting school and already bright pupils. Grandma hung her head. Warm steam from where the uneaten eggs waited patiently. Edgar’s approaching yapping. And, fleeing from the doorway, a scampering of feet so light they might have been moth wings. Down the hallway back into his room. “Sorry ma,” said Constance.
Shrugged. A nerve flared in pain up her neck but she didn’t react. Only fork scrape. Ate eggs. On introduction, poor little Bastian had burst into tears and refused to go near her. Connie had consoled: “It’s ok baby, she’s just Grandma Nora! She’s my mother.” But poor little Bastian inconsolable: “No, no, no! She’s not!” What a wrinkled mask it must be. How hideous unkempt with silver hair. How horrible unflinching eyes. “She’s not,” would sob the quiet boy in earnest, “she’s a witch! Don’t you see?” And he never would let Grandma hold him. Lorelai was always polite, hugged warmly, looked after her pitiable brother, but her mind too was far elsewhere. Edgar alone loved them all unconditionally and was equally beloved. Barking. Yowling. Scratches at the door. Downpour. Door and screen door opened, wet dog happy dog entered, shook, and droplets on her cheek.
And there appeared Lorelai, a star out of sight. “Hey mom. Hi grandma!”
Grandma swiveled for cosmetic reasons to face where the door. Grinned, “Hello Lorelai. Wet?” Envisioned yellow sunlight entering with the excitable girl in spite of the deluge.
“Oh it’s so rainy out there grandma, I found little streams through your fields and big mud puddles and Edgar showed me where your secret treasure was, we found it!”
“Stop right there, missy!” commanded Constance. “For christ’s sake you look like you took a bath in the mud and the **** dog with you. Come on, your filthy coat needs to be on the rack, right? Now your boots.”
Warm nose found Nora’s palm, excited lapping. Slimy fur, smelly fur. A cold piece of egg dangled in her fingers, then dog breath came hot and licked it up. Satisfied, he trotted off elsewhere, collar jingling out of the kitchen and down the hall.
Little Lorelai lamented, “I couldn’t help it mom, the mud was all over the place! When we got past the motor barn and the one alfalfa field that looks like a big marsh frogs went ‘croak croak croak’ but Edgar growled and chased them and then we made it all the way in the rain to the creek and it’s so much—”
“Now you just hold on. Hold still!” Sounds of wrestling. Grunts of a struggle. “That creek must have been overflowing! Didn’t I tell you not to? You didn’t take your new phone out there did you, Lori?”
“**** right you didn’t, cause I sure ain’t buying you a new one. Didn’t I tell you not to go all the way out there? Didn’t I? Now you get into that bathroom and wash your **** hands!”
“But I’m telling Grandma a story!” huffed little yellow haired Lorelai.
“Well wash your hands first and then we’ll hear it, Grandma don’t listen to misbehaving girls who are all muddy and gross. Not a squeak from you till you look like you come from heaven instead of that nasty creek.”
A profound sigh, a condescending, “Fine,” a door closing and a squeaky faucet running. Muffled hands splashed, dampened off-key ‘la la la’s.
“Who knows what the hell that one is ever talking about,” said Connie. “It’s everything I can do to get her to shut up for five ******* minutes. You done with your eggs?”
Ma fidgeted. The plate was scraped away, and a clunk by the sink. Licked her lips, mouthed a syllable, about to speak. But then her house creaked three strong along the east wall. From deeper within bubbled a suppressed sob: “Mom,” little Bastian wailed, “Mom, come quick!” Constance sighed, Constance cursed, and Constance swept off down the hallway struggling to refrain from stomping.
Sound of washing. Wind. Rain. Alone. Cold. Picking out the paint for this room, listed in gloss as ‘golden straw yellow.’ Rowan hadn’t liked it and chose himself the bedroom’s color in retaliation. The loss of the home they had built together. The contents of the vial hidden on the top shelf: do they see it? Bathroom sink stopped flowing, door wrenched open. Smell of soap, clean smell. Grandma said to her, “Your mother went to check on Bastian,” Taste of eggs still yellow on her tongue.
“What a *****!”
Stunned. “Lorelai!” she snapped. “Don’t you dare take that language!”
“But mom does it all the time.”
“Then Lorelai, it’s up to you to be better than your mother. When I’m not around any more, and your mother neither, you’ll be the one who keeps us alive.”
“But as long as you’re alive you’ll always be around, you’re not a ***** like mom. And remember? I got all the mud off so can I finally tell you can I what we found? Well actually it was Edgar found it. Oh and I’ll describe it real good for you grandma just like you could see it: when we pulled up we were just wandering in the blue rain, Bastian and me, and silly Edgar joined us but Mom tried to make us come back of course but I told Bastian to stay with us at first, but later I changed my mind on it. It was he and me and Edgar were hiding in the old motor barn where it smells like a gas station remember grandma and he was so excited to see the sun when it rose and made the morning violet sky he started clapping and Edgar got excited too and was barking ‘bark bark’ and howling so I told Bastian to go back even