I am an ornament upon their pristine lawn. They gather in my honor. Dutiful lips offer dry kisses. They come bearing gifts: large boxes with colorful ribbons which they set at my bunioned feet.
A little boy in a cowboy hat is placed before me. “Help Great-Grandma,” a woman says.
“I don’t want to.” The boy frowns. Perhaps he fears me.
His arm is shaken. His eyes fill with tears. He selects a gift from the pile.
“Open it,” the woman says.
The boy unwraps the package and holds something out for everyone to see.
“Lotion!” The woman says, too enthusiastically. “Lavender.” She makes a production over opening it and holds it to her nose. “Oh, how nice! Here, Gram.” She takes my hand and squeezes out a great quantity and rubs it into my weary, protesting skin.
I want to tell her how much I’ve always hated lavender. It’s roses that I like. But my mouth cannot find words among dusty memories.
Another child approaches—a girl with chubby legs and an uncertain gait. She sits before the presents and bangs upon them.
“Oh, would you look at that?” Thin devices emerge from pockets. Lights flash. The girl’s image is trapped inside a box and I am, for a time, forgotten.
I am grateful for this break.
I sense they are as well.
One by one, they open the gifts and set them at my feet. When they are done they gather behind me and smile for another flash; another image trapped.
The gifts unwrapped, they turn to the food. Hamburgers and hotdogs and bags of potato chips. Fruit salad and pasta salad and green beans.
Someone sets a plate upon my lap. “You like hot dogs, Mom. Eat.”
The sun is high and bright. There is no shade. They tore down all the trees to make room for this place. Here and there, new ornamentals have been planted. But they’re more toothpicks than anything.
Among those thin trees, birds whose names I’ve forgotten gather to sing. I lift my hand, index finger extended. Age and time have left irreparable gaps in my brain where bits and pieces used to reside.
“What’s she pointing at?”
“Those birds there.”
“What kind of birds are those, do you think?”
They fall silent and study the birds, scratching their heads.
“Look it up, Justin.”
A boy pulls another one of those flashing devices from his pocket.
They look at me with astonishment.
The knowledge from that box is superficial and dull. It cannot give me the sensation of tiny feet wrapped around my index finger. It cannot pick up an injured bird and place it in a shoebox, watching over it until it recovers and flies away.
Facts and figures unmixed with emotion are meaningless indeed.
Someone turns on a hose and begins filling balloons with water. Children run around the yard squealing and slipping in the wet grass. A man takes a long drink. “There’s nothing more refreshing than drinking from a hose.”
How the young forget.
The wind claws at the surface of the water. The setting sun fills the water with ripples of orange and pink. Overhead, great oaks and pines sway, arthritic branches crying in protest. A blue jay flies across the river and lands upon the rocks. Herons and egrets and Canadian geese gather at the water’s edge to sip and dine. A dead leaf hitches a ride downriver to its grave. Wild roses bloom along the shore. I kneel at water’s edge and drink.
“Grandma?” Someone passes a hand in front of my face. I blink. The moment is gone and I’m brought back to the present.
They begin cleaning up. The food is put away. Broken bits of balloons are gathered up and jammed in plastic bags. They’ll pack me away, too, until Christmas.
They’ll bury themselves in meaningless work and playgroups and activities for the children.
They’ll chop down more trees.
They’ll make more devices.
A young man stands before me. “Sorry I’m late, Grandma. The plane…”
I smile. Tim.
He eyes the pile of gifts on the grass. “Tell me what you want for your birthday.”
“Take me to the river tomorrow.”
I want to remember the names of the birds and the trees. I want tall trees and dappled shade. I want broken waves reflecting sunlight. I want wild roses along the shore. I want my body—and my memory—to be made whole again. I want to be a leaf carried upon the current.
I want to be refreshed.
This post resulted from a challenge issued to me by Greg at Indie Ink: His prompt was: "Nothing is as refreshing as a cold drink of water from a hose on a hot day."
Labels: Community, Consumption, Country life, Environmentalism, Fiction, IndieInk