It was a little after eight when I got back to Madison Street. Aunt Glenda had a dinner plate looming in the fridge. Oh joy, tortellini, only with faux meat sauce that threatened to put my stomach through a cheese grater. I slid it into the trash and covered it with a paper towel, grabbed a bowl of cereal and headed to my room.
That night I set my playlist and opened up the window, hoping to let the fresh air and reggae bring a little breeze of Mom to me.
Mom and I loved Reggae music. I grew up singing along with Bob Marley by the time I was crawling. And not just Legend. We rocked Peter Tosh, Greggory Isaacs, Jimmy Cliff, Half Pint. Mom had worked on a cruise ship after high school. She’d been all over the Caribbean before her exile in Jamaica, where I’d been conceived. From birth, every Sunday, especially in the spring, we’d open the windows, and sit under the shade out on the patio with Toots and the Maytals going strong.
People who think reggae music is just stoner music are wrong. Sure, there’s some of that but there’s also a fight in its bones. The revolution and rights, rising tide of freeing one’s mind and soul and body from bondage. It was about living on the earth and of the earth, and it filled me with such righteousness that I almost want to don those stupid little white girl cornrows and stick it to the man. Move to Jamaica like Mom and get lost on an island.
The breeze came, but brought with it thoughts of Grandpa and the funeral. I saw his hair dislodged in the wind. His gripes about the most petty shit as he buried his daughter.
I was still pissed they’d even shown up and sat beside me. Of course they hadn’t stayed long—not after good old Grandpa caused a scene with the wind and the color of the wreaths—but it was all I could do to keep myself together.
They didn’t deserve to be there or anywhere near Mom. With their big house out in East Dunham—a shrinking estate being sold off in chunks because Grandpa had little business sense and a hankering for Maker’s Mark. All he had now was that esteemed Vanderbrooke name. To hear Grandpa say it, you could almost hear the fanning of money between the syllables.
Mom had broken down one day and told me how he’d always considered her an embarrassment, how he’d even laughed in her face when she got accepted to art school. He disowned her completely when she took off to Jamaica with the guy formally known as my dad.
Grandpa called her a whore. His very own daughter. And in some twist of logic, he and Grandma Millie used religion to defend their decisions but never for the strength to find compassion. They never considered me anything but a reminder of their daughter’s supposed bad decisions.
Imagine being ten and running in to your biological grandparents at the grocery store, your grandmother staring at you in the frozen section with trembling lips and pleading eyes like she never really thought you were real. Your grandfather turning around and heading the other way. So yeah, I took issue with being used as a prop at the funeral.
They’d spent years pretending we didn’t exist, and it wasn’t until Mom’s desk job at Dunham Episcopal a few years ago that they’d started reaching out to us, if you could call it that. But that was too late for me. Because I’m not so good at forgiveness either, like Papa Vanderbrooke, I’m good at grudges. And so I carry on, proud to serve as a burden to them—a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, dead-ringer reminder as to what they wasted with their self-righteous judgement.
I studied the picture of Mom on my dresser, at the beach pier, her arms on the railing, her hair swept back by the ocean mist in the breeze. Sometimes I spoke to her or kissed her pretty face before I went to sleep. Sometimes I heard her soft, gentle words in the crashing waves.
The mist in my eyes. I fell onto the bed, plunging deep into the soft down comforter.
This new life of mine was bizarre, almost fake, while the memories with Mom were frayed and strained. The result was this. Now.
Breathing but not feeling.
The music, the sun, the ocean waves and Mom at the beach. I leaped up and went to the closet. I took my new dress out and put it on again. I danced around in my room, Dennis Brown’s Here I come filling me with hope and light.
I became dizzy with happiness, at least for a moment, feeling that everything was a show and I was just a character on stage. Mom sat in the audience, and after the curtain closed she’d come running up and take me in her arms. We’d go home and laugh about my strange dream.
I took a selfie in the mirror, of me in the dress. Of my misty eyes and the strap that had fallen off my shoulder. I kept twirling around like a little girl, reversing time and pain until the music and the breeze and the dress was perfect.
Although nothing was perfect. Not even close.
*An excerpt of this post appears over at Carrot Ranch Flash Ficion Challenge…June 29, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something frayed. It could be fabric, like a flag or garment. It could also be nerves or temper. What is it to be frayed?