A House on Sand

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Jim Walke

I woke to the sound of a sinking house. The wind off the lake crushed the foundation deeper into the sand as the whitecaps chewed the beach. You built on rock where you could—basalt poked through the thin soil like bones—but our land was dune.

I threw back the blankets and stuck my feet into moccasins. A spray of frost clouded the window. March is still fiercely winter here.

The house settled as the wind drew a breath. My mother had preceded the sun for all of her sixty years, but I heard no kitchen murmurings. The clocks weren’t ticking. My aunt had stilled them when she draped the mirrors in black. Traditions die hard.

In the short hall, I shied away from the walls, filled with family photos in rough frames. Her bed was made.

There was silence and wind, until the stairs creaked under my weight.

The unfamiliar casseroles in her refrigerator were a sign of trouble, the required offerings of Midwestern grief.

Her car hunched in the driveway. Dad’s truck was still in the parking lot at the restaurant where he died. He fled to the bathroom to avoid a scene when he choked on a piece of gristle. He was found twisted on the tile floor.

I arrived yesterday in time for his funeral, exchanging the desert’s fire for the silver and pine emptiness of northern Michigan. The rest of the family lived within forty miles of where I stood.

Plastic sheeting sealing the sun porch off for the winter had been torn aside. It hung in the doorway like a broken wing. The floor was covered with stacks of paper. Clippings, letters, favorite books: all of my mother’s mementos covered the rug. She must have been up all night.

The first pile consisted of a primer from grade school and a card from her fifth birthday, addressed to ‘my dearest Ginny’. I counted the piles of paper. There were fifty-five.

I moved down the line. She grew older in the pictures of each stack. The sun broke through the windows, washing her youth in gold. The thin girl sitting on horseback became a beauty accepting an elocution prize. Society columns whispered her maiden name. The dance cards had no blanks. A third of the way across the floor he appeared. My father was a rough young fellow, looking like he had stolen his tuxedo.

Nineteen held dried flowers, live-forevers in a faded pink. Letters swore the young man was in love. He used her full name: my Ginger. In one many-folded scrap he described her body, completely. The wedding was in the next pile.

I shuffled faster, blurring the neat stacks together. My sister appeared, then me. The stacks were tall with childish paintings and report cards, but also held love notes from my father. Some were romantic, some racy. The best were both.

Two decades passed as I crawled, and although I could see my mother before me I could not hear her in the house. I pawed faster.

The papers thinned into an empty nest. They were alone together again. Still, he courted her.

The final stack was by the front door. It was a single piece of paper: the program from his funeral. I looked back. The sun had reached the wedding. My passage through her life had caused a disturbance but had not changed the overall shape. She was a girl, and then she was with him. The rest of us were beloved spectators.

A scattering of snow had blown in when she opened the front door. It hadn’t melted, but would when the sun reached it.

I left my coat on the rack, as she had done, and followed her outside. The wind was dying.

The drifts held traces of her footprints. The trees shed their coat of ice in the sunshine, flicking me with droplets. I broke through the crust in spots where she had floated over the top.

Under a white pine that had grown in a clear-cut the ground was bare, yet if I turned over a rock I would find ice. A woman sat beneath the tree, leaning against the trunk in a silk gown. She was no longer my mother, but had returned to being a young lady in love somewhere in a warm springtime.

J. Walke is an actor, writer and cubicle monkey in the mountains of Virginia. In his copious spare time he enjoys lying in a hammock and lying. E-mail: jimwalke[at]jimwalke.com.

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