Making Words

by Heather Babcock

“They blossom every 2 years,” the florist tells me.  “It’s not blossoming now but it is growing leaves.”

I cradle the orchid in my arms and step out onto the busy street.  The dust clouds my vision, softening my anger.

An elderly man plays a mandolin and I give him the last of my coins.  I walk slowly, leaning into his music.

People don’t let me talk about you but I do anyway.  I open my mouth and the words fall out onto the pavement, melting on contact like wet snowflakes.

When Dad came home from the war, his mother wouldn’t let him talk about it.  She gathered up all of the remnants – uniform, badges, medals, photographs – and put them in a big box to grow dust.  Dad wanted to make what he had seen into words but nobody wanted to let him.  Years went by, you and I were born and we asked Dad how it had been in the war.  Dad told us a story about a pet monkey named Simms.  Simms would jump up on the back of an unsuspecting sailor and steal his rum.  “Go get him, Simms!” the sailor’s friends would laugh.  It was the only story from the war that Dad ever told us.  It was the only one that he could make words with.

babcockdad

The author’s father shortly after he joined the Navy

I was the one who had to make it into words for Mom.  You know that.  You were there, sitting on top of her stereo, hiding behind her cat and thinking that I couldn’t see you.

You were the one scratching the needle over the record; the song was Daydream Believer and it started skipping.  The Monkees stopped dancing.  Mom’s heart opened up and swallowed the words and I couldn’t reach her anymore.

I look down at the orchid and it is in your hands – so small and strong, with brown dirt wedged under naked fingernails.

Fragmented images make up a sudden memory:

The two of us are standing together, your hand clutching mine.  You are 4 and I am 6 and we both have those terrible bowl haircuts that Dad used to give us with the kitchen scissors.  I remember the raised velvet of the white daisies printed on the starch material of our yellow dresses.  I remember wooden pews, scuffed Mary Janes, Jesus’ protruding ribs.  Everlasting life – is that what the pastor had been talking about that day?  I don’t remember water but there must have been water.  Did they hold us under water?

I don’t need a photo to see my daughter’s face.”

I know what Mom means – I don’t need a photo to see your face either.

I close my eyes and there you are: big floppy hat, wide legged jeans – looking like you just stepped out of sunshine and 1975. Your mouth is open and pink, stretched into a smile big enough to hide the scars on your wrists.

Or was that me, hidden behind the camera, wrapping your scars up in smiles?

I am not allowed to talk about you but today you will not shut up.

Orange is beginning to break through the baby blue of the sky.  Across the street, a crowd is gathering outside a church.  A proud, puffed up groom.  A peach skinned bride.  The bride smiles out into the sun, her eyes briefly resting on me before bouncing away.

She thinks that she is different.

About the author

Heather Babcock is a secretary by day, writer by night.  She has had short fiction published in The Toronto Quarterly (TTQ), Front & Centre Magazine, The Annex Echo newspaper and in the Steel Bananas Anthology Gulch- An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose.  She has fiction forthcoming in Descant magazine.

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