Short Story: Morning Glories

I kicked and pounded my legs, landing softly and rebounding off of the mattress. I am on my back, breathing hard onto my stucco ceiling. I could almost see the air from my lungs come back at me and then move off my dusty green walls and out the porch door to my left. My sixth childhood bedroom was a self contained entity that had everything I needed to lock myself in. Bathroom, tiled white, with a too-short toilet that had a pull string instead of a handle to flush. It took at least three tugs to get the swirl going, and then it sputtered. I had learned to shave my legs in the bathtub there. “Mom,” I tapped on your bedroom door, legs sopping, blood running from my knee. “Help,” I whispered to to you. I always insisted that you teach me things, even when you knew I could figure them out by myself. I hated how independent you thought I was.

From my bed, the dry, smell of the cedar closet edged itself to my nose, reminiscent of the neglected sweaters which insulated its edges. They were hollow with moth holes. You once told me that the cedar was supposed to keep those away. I breathed again. I craned my neck back so far that my forehead grazed the speckled wall behind me. I heard the birds outside from the oak trees. My body contorted in my anger. This was the only time I remember being mad at the birds. I breathe like this because anger is my most secret sacred thing. I’ve only been caught angry twice, but never at you. Not that I’m afraid of being angry at you or anything.

The breath was deliberate and strong, stronger than my straw legs and doughy belly. I watched it travel through the room to the spider plant which I had given a stand, drilled into the concrete walls by Jesus. Jesus fixed the house, built in the 1890’s, with scraps and skill. And when he wasn’t occupied trying to sleep with you, he helped about the place. He built me a rabbit hutch for Oles, the dutch bunny your second husband got me when he was trying to sleep with you, even though Oles prefered to roam free throughout our house. I bet that would have been problematic if I hadn’t trained him to use a litter box with tender celery leaflets and my leftover copies of the New Yorker. Besides the hutch, Jesus hammered in shelves and pedestals into the wall, even hooks, so that I could display whichever collections I was working on at the time. Thats where the spider plant was.

Calendars were the most recent collection of the time. I think I read a book somewhere about a girl who collected calendars and I thought that was just the quirkiest damn thing I’d ever heard of. As I looked at the two calendars on my own wall, displaying two different months, I resented the word quirky. I never got the badge of being pretty enough where ‘weird’ became ‘quirky.’ You hated the word quirky too, but by all definitions of the word, you were very, very quirky. Not cute though.

I flipped over three times on my bed, to shake out the mad, you know. I heard a couple cars pull into the driveway and the creak of a branch in rhythm. The birds voices had gotten lower since I’d gotten home from school. It must be five thirty, I thought, waiting for a bang on piano keys.

Sure enough, some kid tried to play Für Elise too fast on the piano and I wanted to throw up. You were finished with the art class you taught after school in our basement, and just beginning the piano lessons you taught after that. You were always known for drinking a goblet of wine and yelling “Wrong NOTE!” from the kitchen during your lessons. One student even wrote that on a thank you card to you after his graduation.

The familiar chaotic sounds of recess made me get up and walk to the door. That bedroom had one of those doors that just went nowhere; it opened to a small balcony which conjoined to your master bedroom, where my sister was napping. I wasn’t supposed to open that door, for dirt reasons, you said, but mostly because in those days you tried to hide your smoking. You and me, big ole secret keepers.

I stepped out into the wet mountain air after tugging on the door to budge and looked down at my world from our shared balcony. There were two kids on the massive swing in our yard, the rhythmic creaking came back, along with the dry threat of that ancient tree wanting to set those kids down. I watched the moms talk to you, them in their running clothes and sunglasses.

The cars wheeled from our driveway, spewing gravel, I returned to the bed, bruising my hip in the process of slamming the door shut, and sending papers flying from the surprising gust of warm wind in my room. I plopped on the bed, feeling and hearing every single spring take and push against my weight. I kicked the bed right back.

“I’m not that heavy,” I reprimanded. Minuet in G Major echoed, with only three stumbles and fudges, and a semi-even tempo. It was Jax who was playing. I liked Jax because his mom picked him up after half an hour. So I scratched on my homework and waited, habitually splashing water on my face, drying, and deep breathing. Every trace of anger scrubbed off with patience and practice.

The front door opened and closed; it was Jax’s mom. She paid in cash, and for the first time in what felt like months, you dismissed a conversation. No wine, no letting the mom stay for 45 minutes to counsel them on their spiritual or sex life, not even complimenting her kids or anything. Damn, you knew I was mad and I loved that you knew.

I heard your even steps on the stairs, just as every member of our changing menagerie seemed to fly out. You made it to the landing where the sun room was and waited for longer than your patience usually permitted. Two steps, then I anticipated a squeak from the third one up from the landing, but you must have skipped it. My error let you float into my room bringing the usual gust of wind, traced with cigarettes and oil paint, and rustled the leaves of the spider plant and the stillness of the dim space. Your smell and your energy seeped through the cracks in the hardwood floor until they had infected every fiber of my room.

You sat next to me on the bed. It never groaned or sprung when you perched there, and your cargo pants left little smudges on my flannel sheets. Your warm hands touched my bare criss crossed feet and your blonde hair, highlighted now, which was new, fell onto my lap as you kissed me warmly.

“I’ve been painting morning glories.” You whispered this like a kid, bad at secrets. You never asked me why I was upset; I try not to mistake that for not caring anymore.

“They bloomed already you know? Like, two days ago, actually.” My arms folded over my fleece in defense.

“Oh I saw them this morning, dear one, but I was waiting for you to get home. They’ve been coming up for weeks.” I wouldn’t know, apparently.

I started to curl into your lap, and you moved further onto the bed to let it happen. I was bigger than you since I reached middle school, but you still held me at those rare times when you weren’t too busy for empathy.

“Could you tell me about the dream again?”

“Meditation,” You said, but I always said dream on purpose. “It’s not some story, it’s just that I know there’s something in this house for us to find. We’ve lived here for too long to have not found it yet and I’m thinking it’s in the morning glories.”

“Is it like a time capsule or something?” I wasn’t about to call it a treasure box, but I hoped it was. I fought my cheeks from smiling all rosy.

“It’s not like it’s a fucking coffin or something, just some box and we need to find it.” I hated when you swore, cause I knew most people weren’t allowed. I bragged about it when I got to high school though; you were always the cool mom. And when you dismissed what we’d find if we searched; that was the worst.

“Why don’t we just go look now?”

“They’re not open yet.”

My sister padded into the room on her cat feet. She grew up to be a dancer, and an anxious one, but right now she just used broken sentences to break your attention for me. My whole body clenched when you left me to get Amelia some dinner. The house phone rang and I could almost see you stretch its curled cord too far, Amelia on your hip, phone wedged between your shoulder and ear, and soup pot in hand.

I slunk down the stairs, knowing to skip the third from the landing as well, and made it all the way to the basement, desperately trying not to overhear her conversation with him or the other him or whichever him you were on now that you wanted me to move in with. When I reached the bottom I saw the newest painting, and it was the  morning glories. Your watercolors were alive then and the flowers in this one spilled across the paper, taller than me, rooted in some trunk. A treasure chest. Figures that’s why you bought this crumbling house. That, and the iron cast railing and colorful walls. Their roots wrapped around its keyhole and their blooms exploded.

Kneeling in front of this page, you called me for dinner. Then I showered and then I slept. I slept in bed with you and Amelia that night, latched still and silent in the center dip, my privileged position next to you, yet with the responsibility of keeping the kid from falling off.

The next morning I woke for school without alarm and crossed the balcony back into my dusty green stucco room, where you waited for me. You sat in your bathrobe on my bed. And you whispered, “It’s morning; let’s go see.”

You whispered this like taking an oath and giggling from excitement at once standing and pulling me down the stairs. We hopped over that damn third step, making more noise as our feet hit the landing in unison. Pause, Amelia turned but didn’t wake. We scampered down the second flight out the side door and around the house and the light poured in streams around us when we got to the dew crusted spot.

We plunged our hands into the dirt together, soft and damp from the moist mountain air. My knees sunk in as my sleeves got pushed up by you who saw dirt digging as a full body experience. Dirt tarnished your bright mane and we nuzzled like lions roaring into the air, and the birds began to sing back at us.

You flung one of the fresh blue flowers at me, barely opening for the morning, roots in tact. Your robe opened too much, loose and dirty now. We made eye contact, getting closer, further into the earth. Our collection of torn up flowers were now strewn about us in a circle, along with tiny mounds of soft ground.

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