The rest of the afternoon crawled by. I helped Grandpa with the majority of the unpacking, but sisters handled their own belongings. My mother carried a box or two before she sat down on the side steps to cry, and my grandfather told her to go inside and take a nap. “I’ll take care of the rest,” he assured her. “You can rest for awhile.”
My mother was fond of Xanax naps lately. At home she would take two and zone out on the couch until they kicked in, then retreat to her bedroom to sleep for hours. That Saturday afternoon, she took her pills and went right to bed. She closed and locked the bedroom door behind her. When dinner time rolled around, my grandfather filled a bowl full of stew and took it to her room. He knocked twice, and slowly the door opened. My mother’s pale hands slipped outside, took the bowl and pulled it back inside. That was the last we saw of her that night.
My sisters took my grandmother’s advice and made themselves at home, in spite earlier protesting. June stacked her books on her dresser and opened her favorite ballet coffee table book to a black-and-white picture of Anna Pavlova. She sat her CD-player on the floor and began playing Swan Lake at a low volume. April, on the other hand, began unrolling and thumb-tacking her posters on the wall until Grandma came along to tell her not to put holes in the wall. After a whining fit, they compromised on four posters with three tacks each — April tried to hold out for four, but my grandmother didn’t budge.
I, on the other hand, having no room to put my things but no immediate need to go anywhere, sat my two largest boxes in the mezzanine.
“Do you want me to put anything in our room, dear?” my grandmother asked me.
“No, I’m fine. I can get to things easier this way.”
She nodded thoughtfully, hesitantly. “Well, if you need me to put anything up, let me know.”
“Can I hang my junior prom dress in your closet?” June asked.
“And my ladybug Halloween costume from last year?” April asked.
Dinner was quiet and calm. We hunched over our bowls of stew in the kitchen (“When your mother feels well enough to eat with us,” my grandfather said, “we’ll eat in the dining room.”) saying little besides “pass the salt” and “may I have some more milk.” My grandmother, never the world’s worst cook, had made a hearty, stick-to-your ribs meal and after two bowls I was full. April and June stopped after one, despite my grandmother’s urging for them to eat more. They asked to be excused to watch television. Reluctantly, my grandparents let them. I stayed behind.
“Did you get enough to eat, sweetie?” my grandmother asked.
“Yes. It was very good.”
“There is some more in the pot.”
“I’m fine. Thank you though.”
“All right dear. I’m just worried about you.”
“I get enough to eat, Grandma.” I patted my stomach and added, “Haven’t you noticed?”
She sat back, as though hurt. “That’s a horrible thing to say about yourself.”
“It’s true, Grandma. I’m fat. It’s ok, though. I know it.”
“You’re not fat,” she insisted. “That’s baby fat — you’ll grow out of it. Your mother had her baby fat well into her teens.”
“Daddy was portly.”
“He was a man.”
“He passed his fat on to me.”
“Stop it, now. You’re being unnecessarily cruel to yourself. I don’t want to hear that talk.”
My grandfather cleared his throat. “Honey, please.”
“There will be no more talk of you being fat,” she added stiffly. “I won’t hear of it.”
“You don’t have to hear it,” I murmured, “for it to be true.”
“Don’t talk back to your grandmother,” Grandpa scolded. “I won’t hear of that now.”
I got up from the table. “May I be excused?”
“Of course, dear.”
I passed through the dining room and into the living room, where my sisters were glumly in the non-matching recliners. “Did you remember this place has no cable?” April asked me as I walked by. “All we have to watch are old-people shows. Walker Texas Ranger. And something called Diagnosis Murder.”
“I never watched that much television anyway,” I replied. Before I could see her roll her eyes at me, I opened the front door. “I’ll be out here.”
They didn’t respond — or if they did, I did not hear them. I didn’t shut the door behind me, but I think June kicked it shut because it was in her way.
I stood on the front porch — the front porch that served as June’s stage, April’s gymnastics’ floor, and my horse ranch when we were younger. It was actually June’s stage more than anything, as she performed her recital solos, her ballet routines, and her soliloquies out there for the whole family. When April and I were little, we’d sit on the high cement banisters and lean against the stone columns and watch her arabesque her way across the cement, boring holes in her toe-shoes from stepping into the uneven slabs. One particular crack always reminded me of a slender torso in a short skirt; that crack became June’s center stage mark. She was so lovely, so graceful prancing across the porch — like a baby swan, newly feathered, trying to get itself off the ground and into a fresh Spring breeze.
That night, it was just a porch. I touched the toe of my slipper to the torso-shaped crack before moving off to the side, as far as I could from the front door.
The porch faced south with a view of the cleared property across the dirt road. The sky, alight with billions of white stars and a single, sleepy moon enveloped the flat landscape — right up to the darkened tree-line a mile away. High above the trees, aligned nearly perfectly with the center of the porch, stood a telephone or radio tower of some sort. I could only catch a faint outline of the tower in the darkness, but atop it blinked a ruby-red warning light. Off and on in blinked, never-ending.
From then on, that porch became my favorite spot.
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