The hospital called in the middle of the night to let me know Mama was gone. Although she had been near death for months, I hadn’t expected she would really die. I flew home the next day. No one would be there to greet me, we were solitary people. I opened the door and crossed the threshold but by the time the door closed behind me, I was lost to the memories of the summer of my eleventh year.
The screen door slammed just as Mama said, “You come home when the town clock chimes seven!” Even if I had answered her, which I didn’t, we both knew I would be late and she wouldn’t do a thing about it. It was the year my Daddy had moved his dresser out of the house and she didn’t mean a thing she said. For most of the summer I had come and gone as I wanted. She never said anything about it being dark when I returned home at odd hours and I never questioned why she only served me cereal for supper.
I ignored the clock chiming seven. I heard eight as I sat at the top of the slide, but the slow setting July sun warming the back of my neck begged me to stay a bit longer. From my perch, I watched as the park began to empty. I was invisible and even if I had been noticed, most people don’t look up to check on a girl they normally looked down on. As the last car was leaving the park, the first glimpse of the moon was peeking through the trees. I was finally alone in my corner of the world and the first tear softly fell and immediately evaporated on the hot metal slide. The gentle weeping had become my nightly ritual. My tears, like a brief rain shower, would pass and everything would smell fresh and new.
I saw her appear from under the bridge as the town clock chimed nine. I hadn’t seen her before. She walked to the edge of the river, knelt in the shallow water and gazed into it as if it was a mirror. Her clothes were as out of place as she was. Her long flowing skirt and lace covered blouse looked like something I had seen on an old movie. After a few minutes she left the river’s edge, turned and walked in my direction.
As she stood at the bottom of the slide, I realized she was not much older than me. She appeared to be looking at me with as much curiosity as I looked at her. It seemed as if she spoke, but the words were lost to the night. I was mesmerized by a soft glow of light that seemed to follow her movements. As she had with the water, she knelt and gazed at her reflection in the bottom of the slide. As the light of day faded with each passing second, she slowly traced her features with her long opaque index finger. When she was done, she smirked and met my gaze once again. She reached for the neck of her blouse and removed a piece of jewelry and placed it on the end of the slide. She then retrieved a yellowed piece of paper from her skirt pocket, which she gently laid next to the jewelry. After one final glance in my direction, she disappeared and along with her, any remaining light of the day.
I wasn’t sure if I had been sleeping, maybe she was just a dream. The slide’s cool metal was soothing as I slid to the bottom. Once there, I found the items and realized, indeed she had been real. I gathered the paper and jewelry and stuffed them in the front pocket of my shorts. I arrived home to find Mama sleeping on the couch by an ashtray full of lipstick covered cigarette butts. I retreated to my room, removed the items from my pocket and placed them on the worn quilt covering my bed. The jewelry was an intricate cameo of a mother and a child. The paper was yellowed and the ink was faded but legible. Simply written it said, “You are not alone.”
Thirty years had passed since that night. Now, standing in Mama’s empty house I reached into my pocket and felt the cold, smooth cameo between my fingers. The brittle, yellowed paper was safely tucked away in my back pocket. Knowing what I had learned so many years before, I was not alone. As for my Mama, I gave her the benefit of doubt for a life lived her way and the rest, I just let it slide.