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by Pamela Willis
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Her skin is no longer translucent in the late afternoon sun. She looks her age, maybe a few years older. Her hands work beside mine, but hers are more artistic. She makes design suggestions that I follow eagerly, because the sound of her voice is like a soothing balm on an open wound.

"Do you want the marigolds around the rock border?" she asks.

I contemplate the question. "Do you think the orange and scarlet will look all right together?"

She purses her lips. "Well, it's your flower bed, Mother, but I think I'd put the gold marigolds with the scarlet, and save the orange ones to put around the big palm out front."

I know our neighbors wonder why she has moved in. I can sense the whispering and the long looks, and it is disturbing that I cannot insist that her move home was not a failure. Her tapestries are hanging in two prestigious galleries in Chicago. She can discuss things like discontinuous brocade and Theo Moorman, and her work explodes with color and texture and intimidating beauty. Her father and I have been to two of her openings, gliding among a perfumed crowd, sipping champagne. The city did not cast her out...she simply fled.

A breeze lifts fine strands of her hair away from her cheeks, and I watch her close her eyes a moment, breathing in damp soil and sweet scents. She catches me watching and smiles sheepishly. "I still can't get over the fact that we are planting flowers––in November."

I'm hoping the Florida sun will put color into her pale cheeks, but I know that her ghostly color is not from Chicago's lack of proper winter sunshine. I sit back on my heels. "I should start dinner."

"I'll help you." She dusts her hands on her jeans and stands up, linking her arm in mine as we head for the kitchen. We line up our muddy shoes side by side on the porch. She is my shadow again, and I can almost see her as four years old, hanging onto my dress, learning "mommy things."

We cut vegetables; our silence filling up the kitchen. I wonder if I should ask her to talk about it, but I'm afraid the details will make me weep and I won't know how to stop the tears.

Flowers on Table
"Flowers on Table" by Anjali Arora

We both glance at the clock. Her father will be home soon. I wonder again if she knows he invents places to be. Her hands begin to tremble around the knife, and she hurries. He will hurry in also, with false bravado in his greeting, and they will smile but not look at each other. He thinks it is because he is a man, but she looks away because he cannot look at her without rage and helplessness ravaging his face.

Dinner is three quiet people, coming up with fragments of conversation.

"I saw Ed today." He spears a carrot with his fork.

"Really? How was he?"

"Looked all right––fatter maybe."

"Did you go by the Whitmore gallery?" I try not to sound too rehearsed, but his answer has so much false heartiness that I feel ridiculous.

"I looked in the windows––didn't go in. I could see part of the fiber exhibit. Pretty impressive!"

We are awarded with her attention, but her stricken expression sends an arrow of guilt into my heart. Her art belongs in the world she left behind, and the thick walls she is building leave no room for looms and galleries.

She is beside me, hands in dishwater, when I apologize.

"What? I don't know what you mean, Mother. I'll have to check out that gallery...soon." We both go on doing dishes, listening to pieces of television shows as her father exercises the remote in the den.

At bedtime, I think of how I used to read her stories and sing her favorite songs as I tucked her in. But now she sits awkwardly in the bedroom reading chair until her father opens drawers and gets the things he needs. He says goodnight and goes into the guest room. I think of the new flowered sheets I bought for the twin bed in that room, just for her.

But she never saw them. Her first night home she followed me into my bed and under my rose–covered comforter. "I can't sleep alone anymore," she whispered.

She watches me lock the window behind the bed. When the lights go out, I hold her close, no longer the four year old who fit so well against my side, but a woman who is taller than I am and trying hard to still the shivering that begins with the darkness. I ease her head gently onto my shoulder, knowing she is remembering the window she opened that warm night in Chicago. Remembering the strange voice that violated the darkness, the hands that used duct tape and violence to shatter her body, leaving broken and battered pieces that no one could put back together again.

I hold my daughter, and we are two women, forty and sixty, fighting off demons together, slipping finally into shadows of uneasy slumber.

Pamela Willis is the author of a Nancy Drew Mystery in the Simon and Schuster paperback series, and has published short stories and articles. She is presently collaborating with her twin sister on an adult suspense novel featuring identical twins.


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