The Shine Journal - The Light Left Behind

Journeys Through Grief and Beyond


Carol Smallwood

My exquisite crown was heavy and I walked slowly. When my shadow fell on bottles of extra pure virgin olive oil their labels blanched and passing purple grapes turned them green with envy. In the spring I wore a tiara of seed pearls and in the fall multi-faceted rubies. Some days my train was ermine, other days crackling taffeta. I wore diamonds the size of robin eggs on both hands, buttons the size of lima beans.

Samples were not Wisconsin cider but French champagne in thinnest long stem crystal handed out not by a gum chewing Babs with her slip showing, but a titled lady in flowing velvet. I imagined what they (my subjects) were saying about my beauty, how they bragged about me and would die for me. Tears filled my eyes imagining my funeral procession stretching as far as the eye could see, grief stricken subjects tossing rose petals.

Around a corner was a big display of stacked boxes of fortune cookies. Removing just one bottom box would probably bring them crashing down, but the urge was interrupted by an attractive man. I followed him until a low hanging banner of chickens wearing straw hats and hiking boots, turkeys in top hats and tails, obstructed my view. After a hysterectomy did they package your remains in a paper sack like the gizzard, heart, liver, neck, inside a roasting chicken?

Chives, cilantro leaves, cinnamon-a woman had been getting in my view so I talked to myself. I'd learned that if you mumbled to yourself, people would scatter like fleas on Maize's flea comb. It was good to see the Morton Salt girl under her umbrella still pouring salt. I'd used saltboxes with the top and bottom removed to hold gifts for the kids at Christmas. Wrapping paper tied at both ends turned them into giant firecrackers. I went to see if the SunMaid girl in her red bonnet with long ties was still effortlessly holding her large tray of green grapes.

The next day it snowed a lot and after shoveling I put some mail in the box even though I didn't think the mailman would come. When I listened to a radio program Caroline recommended, I shook my head when I heard "if God wanted women among the twelve apostles He would've had them," reminding me of J.B.S. Haldane's observation: "My suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

When driving to see Rebecca, I heard the song by Mr. Mister: "Take these broken wings and learn to fly again and learn to live so free."

I told Rebecca, "I feel much guilt because I destroyed a family for the kids."
"Think back. What would've happened it you'd stayed married?"

"I'd become a walking nothing. I just couldn't lose the fear after seeing the outline of Cal one night coming to bed that he was my uncle-it must've what Oedipus felt discovering he'd wed his mother."

"Does going to church help?"

"I've stopped. The church's reeling after Vatican II and I don't need more conflict right now," staring at the cover ofNewsweek on the coffee table with Rocky IV draped in an American flag before asking, "What do I want from men but don't seem able to get? It must be unrealistic. I need a man for my identity. I'm tired of seeing myself just reflected in dishes in some detergent ad. Nothing else works for me to tell me who I am," remembering Sydney Pollack saying the relationship between men and women was a metaphor for everything. "On one hand I want an equal partner in marriage, on the other to be taken cared of."

"Are you going to be able to handle Christmas?"

"I'll be relieved when it's over. I don't look around much when driving for fear of seeing a stray."

"You must take care of yourself because there are parts in your life you'll never recover." I didn't ask what those parts because what good would it do to know?

After I left Rebecca, I got more yarn for the quilt I'd almost finished--tying it to the backing gave a cheerful look of birds taking off. I sat in the restaurant listening to men talk about how rabbits made runways in the woods, women talk about how no one came to see you when you're old. When I wasn't watching a guy with Dirk's physique, I watched the steam rise from a coffee maker on the counter where the same men sat shoulder to shoulder on stools as the last time. On the way out I caught a tabloid: "Science Proves Moses Once Walked Miami Beach."

After Mark went back to college, Maize rested after having bits of scotch tape put on her feet, flour dusted on her tail, and chased "for exercise." As a kitten, she'd even purred even when the kids put her in bonnets with holes cut out for her ears. They'd wonder how she cleaned her feet without spearing her tongue on nails painted with my polish.

When I went to mail a book manuscript, Marilyn Verner asked if I got paid. "They'll pay me when copies are sold," but she looked at me like I'd said Nancy Reagan was making me a pair of slippers-I'd just heard that when President Reagan's dog was ill Nancy's slipper kept it company.
The dog looked like Uncle Walt's and recalled when Mary Elizabeth and her husband were leaving Uncle Walt's once it had humped Mary Elizabeth's leg and Uncle Walt chuckled when she tried getting away.

Aunt Hester had said with a red face said, "Walt just won't have him fixed."

Uncle Walt had grinned and said, "You can't deprive him like that," his hair falling over his eyes as he leaned over, "just look at him!" A flushed Aunt Hester struggled to pry the excited dog off.

Last summer Uncle Walt and Aunt Hester dropped by when I was watering the grass the dog began humping my leg and I turned the hose on him. "What the hell's wrong with you!" Uncle Walt yelled. "Chrisamighty! Poor Spotty, my poor Spotty." After drying his hands on a handkerchief he said, "Some man must've looked goo-goo eyes at you and you don't know how the hell to act."

"Jesus, Mary, Joseph!" Aunt Hester said, "get towels or he'll get the car all dirty," but before I could Uncle Walt stalked off swearing every time the dog shook himself with Aunt Hester following at a safe distance.

I'd go shopping and check out the cans of Clabber Girl Baking Powder. The girl carrying a plate of perfect biscuits was always there with her Mona Lisa smile; was she taking the biscuits to the table or was she going to eat them all herself? There was a woman in the background who seemed to be sewing: under a magnifying glass however, she appeared to be plucking a goose. I made up stories about them and wondered how many other women had too-and if they'd regretted that their biscuits never matched those on the label.

Carol Smallwood's books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, foreword by Molly Peacock (McFarland, 2012) on Poets& Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers; Divining the Prime Meridian (WordTech Editions, 2014); Bringing the Arts into the Library (American Library Association, 2013). Carol has founded, supports humane societies.
This work is an excerpt from Lily's Odyssey (print novel 2010) published with permission by All Things That Matter Press. Its first chapter was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in Best New Writing.

Contact Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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