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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

FALLING UP
by Sandra Gould Ford

 

 

 

I wandered the hillside park scented with hotdogs, pretzels with mustard, buttery grilled corn and cotton candy. Peppers and collard greens, apples, peaches and pears filled bushel baskets on that bright August evening. A burly, blond farmer in coveralls called, “Snap beans and zucchini are half price.” Men wearing serapes played wooden flutes. Calliope music mingled with children’s shouts and giggles.

I bought peanut butter cookies and a plump loaf of honey-whole-wheat bread from a woman and girl wearing tie-dye dresses. Breezes tugged my skirt and scarf as I strolled to the overlook. Below, a mountain stream flowed into a larger river where people paddled canoes and kayaks. I wished that I could float away with them. I wanted to ride the swings like the playground children. I wanted to bright sky beyond my toes, not trampled earth. I wanted ­­­­Dale Xavier’s phone call to vanish, especially his words, “This isn’t working, Kay.” 

I wondered, What isn’t working?  Not the wedding I’ve been planning, despite the bickering with my bridesmaids?

I set aside thoughts of telling my parents the wedding was off and canceling the bridal registry, the catering, the banquet hall. I heard him mumble, “Sorry.”

Sorry?

I asked, “Why?”

Dale said, “Like I was just saying, Kay:  There’s too much baggage. You need to let some stuff go.”

What baggage? What stuff?

A shadow crossed me. A woman said, “Kay? Kay Abbott? I thought I’d never find you.” 

That honeyed hot sauce voice yanked me back to a time when happiness was picnics with cold ham sandwiches and potato salad, when my joys were birthday parties, Easter dresses and allowances. At ten – like the children scrambling over monkey bars, swooshing down sliding boards and riding swings – I believed how The Ugly Duckling fairy tale ended.

Nonplussed, I looked up into Genevieve Bonney’s heart-shaped face, thinking, Find me?

Genevieve asked, “Where can I buy us some iced tea or lemonade or –”

I stood and blurted, “Nowhere!  I mean, nowhere right now. I’ve got to, um –“

“Maybe tomorrow?” Genevieve fluttered her eyelashes.

“Not then, either.”  I itched. I needed to go somewhere and scratch away the red-headed, puffball ogress who zapped me with rubber bands. The green-eyed, taffy-colored pygmy harpy arrived in my fourth grade class on a freezing, February morning. While gripping her father’s hand, she’d declared, “You all need to pronounce my name right. It’s zhon-vee-EV. Got it?  Zhon-vee-EV. Repeat that.” 

Twenty-four years later, she handed me a silver-embossed business card. Genevieve then uncapped a gold and silver fountain pen. “Let me call you. What’s your phone number?” 

I answered, with two digits transposed.

She beamed. “I’ll phone tonight.” 

“Sure. Gotta run.”  I rushed away and tossed the card.

At nine-thirty, Genevieve gushed, “Good news, Kay. I got reservations at Angel’s Wings. You’ll be my guest, won’t you?” 

I wondered, How did you find me?  I thought, Absolutely not. I also thought, Angel’s Wings. I always wanted to … getting reservations is like winning the lottery … reviews say that the service and food is divine.

I’d just seen the chef on television. Dale never wanted to wear a jacket and travel that far. He called the place, “pretentious,” “elitist” and “a waste of money.” 

Genevieve said,” Monday is the only evening I could get a reservation. ”

I asked, “What time?”   

Three days later, I took special care with my eye shadow, lipstick and nail polish. I wore my navy suit with cloth buttons, a faux silk blouse and genuine-imitation pearls. Then, I caught the northbound trolley.

Angel’s Wings’ windows glowed. Inside the chalet-style hotel, etched glass separated the five-table restaurant from the lounge and registration desk. Chandeliers glittered. Melodies from a string trio filled air scented with flowers and savory food. Silver and brass, stained glass, crystal and paper-mâché angels hovered everywhere.

Genevieve sat at a round table above a glass-domed garden. She rose when I arrived. Her beautifully tailored suit matched her green eyes. Genevieve’s heels were so high that she almost reached my nose. She clasped my hands.  “I’m so glad you came, Kay.” 

I nodded.

Genevieve sat and cupped her fingers. Her gold bracelet glinted. Diamond earrings twinkled. She said, “I would have understood if you didn’t come.” 

She should. Especially after The Spring Display. When I arrived, Genevieve’s father was studying my Japanese diorama. The Popsicle sticks pagoda was flattened. The arched bridge over a blue tissue stream was crushed. Paper flowers were gone.  

Mr. Bonney was a square-built man with the reddest hair I’d ever seen. His voice made me think of a cello. He said, “Even though there’s been a mishap here, I can see why you got the blue ribbon. You made something marvelous.”  He patted my hand. “I’m glad you’re Genevieve’s friend.” 

I winced. Any second, I expected a pin poke. I did sit on gum the next day.

A thousand weeks later, Genevieve said, “You never left that town?” 

“I’m not a rolling stone.” 

“Rolling stone.” Genevieve tasted the words.

A waiter offered drinks. I ordered white wine. Genevieve chose iced water with lemon and raw sugar. She asked, “Are you happy, Kay?”   

Happy?  Until fourth grade, making Honor Roll and splashing through puddles in galoshes brought joy. Chocolate icing on yellow-batter icebox cakes and silver dollars with my birthday cards made me smile. I loved riding swings and pointing my toes toward the sky. I blinked, coughed and asked, “Are you happy?” 

“Happiness is like success.” Genevieve shrugged. “It’s a journey.” 

“Journey.” That word spun like the chrome wheels on a top-down Corvette. While admiring mist green the car, I noticed glittering toes and gold sandals resting on the passenger door. The girl with frothy, red hair and sunglasses on her heart-shaped face nestled against the handsomest man I’d ever seen. I stood in shadow gripping a bench as I asked, Why herWhy is everything so easy for her?   

After ordering dinner, I said, “Speaking of journeys, what brought your family here, halfway through the school year?  Why did you leave that summer?” 

“Daddy thought moving could help. My mother was … difficult. She could be calm as a garden then erupt like a bomb.” Genevieve gazed at the garden. “Daddy tolerated how she threw dishes and lamps. Then he realized that little things about me set her off. Maybe, the way I walked or smiled or said her name. Who knew why.”  Genevieve sighed. “My mother was so beautiful. I wanted her to love me.  Later, Daddy said she wasn’t always that way.”

I straightened my napkin and silverware. I thought of the man with kind eyes and comforting voice. As I tried to picture his wife, Genevieve’s twin. with horns and brimstone eyes, she asked, “How are your parents?” 

I answered, “They’re okay.” 

“I always wished I had a mother like yours.” 

“Like mine?” After turning fifty, my mother mastered thaw-and-bake meals, consignment store bargains and Bingo. My father read the morning newspaper in the bathroom. He had gout and weak eyes and loved making French fries with lemon pepper.

Genevieve said, “That first day in your class, your mother was handing out cupcakes. You could tell she made them herself, with those colored sprinkles and gumdrops on top.”

“You didn’t take one.” I remembered because Genevieve had crossed her arms when offered and targeted my mother, then me with glares like heat-seeking missiles.

Genevieve said, “To me, those cupcakes showed that your mother cared.” 

“As much as she could. I have two brothers and two sisters.“

“I was an only child, and my mother never did anything like that.”

Ice clinked as the waiter refilled our glasses. When he left, Genevieve said, “I treated you pretty bad in school.”
 
“Is that what this dinner is about?  You’re sorry?” I thought of my ex-fiance’s last word. Sorry. I stiffened.

Genevieve shrugged. “I once heard Daddy tell my mother that ‘sorry’ is just a sound. The meaning comes from what we do. Nothing I can say could change the past, Kay. I just wish some things never happened.”

My filet mignon arrived. Genevieve’s marinated tofu, lacy onion rings and spinach ravioli looked better than I expected. We ate in silence until Genevieve said, “Daddy died a month ago. He got hit by a drunk driver.” 

My heart hurt. I chocked on the word ‘sorry’ and said, “He was a lovely man.”

Across the room, people sang, “Happy Birthday.” When they quieted, Genevieve sighed, “Daddy always came to the parent-teacher meetings and school programs, like that spring display. He praised your Japanese garden project. Do you remember?” 

I mumbled, “Yes.” 

“I smashed it.”

“I know.” I grimaced.

Genevieve said, “You were always better than everyone else.” 

“No, I wasn’t. But I tried hard.”

Genevieve twirled her delicate onion rings. “Daddy moved me near his mother’s people.” 

I nodded.

“That’s where I met Gaylen.” 

Silent, I mouthed his name.

Genevieve said, “I was thirteen. Gaylen was fifteen. For a long time, he was just my friend. When he got a motorcycle, he’d leave pennies with my birth year in the mailbox. Gaylen taught me to ski and skydive and bungee jump. I loved everything we did.”  She lowered her head. “People shouldn’t say, ‘falling in love.’”   

I mumbled, “What else can we do?” 

“Falling sounds painful, doesn’t it?” 

“But you fell out of planes and off mountains.” 

“With Gaylen, I wasn’t falling. Life was rushing up to us.” 

I imagined plunging toward earth and asked, “Where is Gaylen?” 

“There was a car accident. I know Gaylen fought hard to live, but –“ Genevieve closed her eyes. After a moment, she said, “Daddy made me promise to find you. Even if he hadn’t, I knew I had to explain things. Do you remember the time you couldn’t find your coat when you won that big science award?” 
I winced. I’d spent weeks researching, drawing pictures and making charts. I almost missed the school board ceremony because I couldn’t find my jacket. As I sat beneath the pretty angels and absorbed Genevieve’s words, I didn’t want any more confessions.

She said, “You know that my mother hated yours.”
 
While I tried to figure how those women knew each other, Genevieve added, “My mother thought Daddy was involved with your mother.” 

“My mother? An affair?” I pictured Mom’s home-done hair, orthopedic shoes and bifocals. I could allow that she might not have been as frumpy twenty years ago, but a side romance was as likely as her wearing stilettos and push-up bras.

Genevieve said, “After my mother’s funeral, I asked Daddy about those accusations. Remember the candy-store lady, the bouffant blonde? That’s who Daddy visited when my mother got … strange.” Genevieve pursed her lips. “Anyway, no one knew where my mother got her notions. And I believed her, including things about me.” 

Our waiter returned. He grinned and said, “Ladies, for desert, we have peach pound cake with Southern Comfort, candied raspberries over citrus sorbet, a white and black chocolate torte and angel food cake with brandied cherries.” 

We declined. After the waiter took Genevieve’s black American Express, she said, “The morning my mother died, the clouds looked like a prairie full of buffalo, and they were on fire. Eventually, the sun rose. The clouds went away. In time, I’m hoping there’ll be no trace of all that hurt, not even ash.” Genevieve studied me. “You’re a good person, Kay. You deserve good things.” 

“Thank you.” I grasped my purse and stood. “Thank you for the dinner. Thank you for … for the conversation.”

Genevieve rose. “Where did you park? I’ll pay.” 

“I don’t  have a –. I rode the trolley.” 

“I’ll drive you home.” 

I backed a step, thinking of the rubber band and paper clip zingers, the bubble gum and tacks. My heart pattered, just like when I found my destroyed Japanese garden. When I looked toward the entrance, I saw Genevieve’s father holding her hand. I heard him say, “Some kid probably tripped. I’m sure it was an accident.” After a moment, he added, “I’m glad you’re Genevieve’s friend.”

As we rode south, I watched the sun’s last rays inflame the clouds so that they did look like blazing buffalo. Gazing out of Genevieve’s big Benz, I thought how, before she invaded my fourth grade, my life was okay, even if I was the gap-toothed girl with overbite, bulgy eyes, big feet and skinny legs. Sure, my clothes came from cousins and thrift shops. I didn’t have splurge money or a bicycle. But I made the honor roll. I got picked early for racing teams. I flew.

“This was a good night.”  Genevieve sat straight and leaned forward, her small hands gripping the wheel. Her gaze followed the headlights that lit the lonely road. She said, “It was better than talking about being sorry.”

That word hammered my thoughts:  Sorry.

Sorry.                                                             
Sorry.

Like when Dale said, “You need to let some stuff go.”

I told Genevieve, “I make great lemonade, with rose hips.”

I gushed, “Really?”

“And I just bought paint. My living room’s going to be tangerine and high-gloss white. The bedroom will be sky blue and cobalt.”

“They sound vibrant, Kay. Perfect for you.”

“And we can see the elementary school from my fire escape.”  

“Can we go out there and write any sorry thoughts on bits of paper and give them to the wind.”

“We could.”

A crescent moon gleamed. Geese crossed the sky. I sank into soft leather, closed my eyes and let go of … of whatever. I tasted gumdrops in gooey frosting. I heard a pipsqueak voice say, “You all need to pronounce my name right.” I saw children on swings pumping toward the sky. Vast blue glowed beyond our toes.

 

 

About the Author:

Sandra Gould Ford is an author, educator and former steelworker who presents arts experiences to encourage, refresh, enrich creative thinking and inspire. She belongs to the Author’s Guild and Science Fiction Writers of America. Sandra established a writing program at a mega-jail and published an international literary journal. Website: http://www.SandraGouldFord.com.

 

 

 

 

 

     
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