By Brenna Lemieux
On the morning of Christmas Eve, Adele wakes to see a handwriting in front of the clock: Myra and Rob home, it tells: Yes! But when did they? She chews her knuckle: Myra in Chicago (and Rob). She foots to the ground and walks across. A handwriting on the sink-top mirror: Christmas tomorrow—yes! The Christmas come-and-stay. This is the because. Smile and another handwriting (Joe, yes, this is Joe’s lettering): Take a shower, put pajamas away. If you’re dressed, you’re already clean. Not dressed. Joe and his clean handkerchief smell. Deep breath (Dr. Folsom says). He wrote these, yes, (warm shower water, shampoo), towel and the closet door tells: It’s winter. Pants and long sleeves to stay warm! So she sweaters and turtlenecks and slacks and downs the stairs.
Myra(!) at the kitchen table-slab, with a book. Chicago, yes, and likes calendars. A smile from her and what way did you sleep?
“On my back,” Adele speaks. And to the icebox for the ingredients. “You want me to burn you some bread?” she speaks. And what is the sweet red sauce? “We have this too.” Glass cold in her palm.
“No thanks,” speaks Myra. “Just had a smoothie.” The book closes.
Ice cream shows itself, not in the world, in her mind—smoothie. The mornings before vacations, and Adele up and down the stairs with Sunscreen? Umbrella? Towels? while Joe and Myra eat at the table-slab, giggling at her hurry. But never a beach stay without the must-haves, the sheets and shampoo and camera.
“Rob’s out running before the snow starts,” speaks Myra. “Wants to get a few miles in.” Stretches her arms and walks across to the flat-glass.
What is this in Adele’s hands? For burning, yes, and she walks across and puts two sheets in the burner, beside the coffee maker, and she scoops the brown coffee crumbs and pours the water. Fill to line five, the handwriting says.
“How much you think we’ll get?” speaks Myra.
“Four cups,” she speaks, waterfalling. But if Myra wants to drink? “You want some?” But she prays for the no because where is the note?
“What?” speaks Myra.
The red button presses.
“Oh,” speaks Myra.
The speech is broken—Adele faces toward her daughter, Myra has the something-isn’t-going look and what has missed her? Coffee, Rob in snow, ocean driving—what? A recipe book on the table-slab, all the bananas freckled: her mother, her mother’s end. The last months, at Adele’s, Myra a child, and every day something: burners on at night, the bath spilling over—she won’t shower and she’s wet herself and Myra wants to go to friends’ houses, never stays and if there aren’t bananas for the milkshake, her mother throws a ladle, a fork, the knife one time and what to do, it is her mother. (And Joe carries her to the car, carries her down the stairs, doesn’t ever yell even when Adele does.) She doesn’t remember breakfast, wants another milkshake and another and Adele’s whole life is buying bananas and Myra’s scared to eat them and when she dies everyone breathes relief—no. The bananas here. Myra grown. But Adele won’t let herself.
Myra walks across and takes a paper from the note-making pile. “We should make a grocery list,” she speaks. “It’ll be a zoo in there.”
Adele heads “yes.” Turns to the cabinet for a handle-cup. Deep breath (Dr. Folsom). Does Myra always speech so fast? The zoo, something?
“…the usual, I’m guessing?” Myra speaks. She unsits the stool and walks across to the big cupboard. “Mom, I think you can stop buying coffee for a while,” she speaks, shelf-pushing.
The big cupboard. No. She hurries across and door-pushes—almost bare-shelf—too much telling in there, and Myra will just upset. She doesn’t want to care her. “We drink it,” she speaks, door-closing, Myra-pushing toward the table-slab. “Just buy everything.” Food store has hardened so much: color, sounds. But she still does it. She still foods them.
The burner pops the two breads and her heart fastens. “Shit,” she speaks.
Myra hands her shoulder. “Gets me every time, too,” she speaks.
Lines and crowdeds and all the carts and wheels. She steers to the baking and Myra speaks whether the list tells all-purpose flour or whole wheat. Adele eyes the ingredients: yeast, two sticks butter (unsalted), sugar.
“Have a holly-jolly Christmas,” tins the air (she understands, yes, but how to speak that?).
“Whole wheat’s on sale,” speaks Myra, frog standing for the down shelf (women pushing by). “Two for five—that’s good.” She sacks one, stands. “I’ll get some anyway, even if we don’t need it for the waffles.” Into the cart.
The list, now. Yes. Yeast—cell phone talker bumps her. Focalize. The flowers (the Mariott’s foliage icebox—no. Powder.). Deep breath (Dr.—
“There’s this great bread I can make with the whole wheat, too, with ginger and sesame. You’ll love it,” Myra speaks. She’s folded into the cart, pushing the packages into new places. “What does it say for the waffles? Do we need regular too?”
“Give me a second!” speaks Adele. The g.d. list.
Myra offers to check. “My handwriting’s terrible,” she speaks, leaning in. NO. Adele can do. She twists to hide the list but too much and knuckles a redhair shelf-setting sugar bags.
“You don’t have to sorry for me,” Adele speaks and where is her breath? So many shopping bags and carts and why add more sugar bags when it’s so full inside?
“I need to breathe,” she speaks and pushes toward the green EXIT and the back-and-forth doors. Clean, bright air to her nose and Myra’s fingers to her arm and the apron without his sugar hurries to them with “Can I hold that at the checkout for you,” his words steaming. He hands the cart. Snow bits twist from upstairs.
“I’m so sorry,” Myra speaks to the apron, and pushes the cart to him.
“It’s just breathing!” Adele speaks. “There’s no space in there! I can’t even—” where was the damn thing to speak? “I can’t—” her hands flap but nothing sticks on her tongue.
Myra shoulder touches her but she shakes it off.
“I wouldn’t take it for free!” she speaks. There is a better thing to speak, she knows, but it is uncoming. “I know to use money. I needed to breathe.” The cart rolls away inside with the redhair apron and she looks it (all the ingredients!) and something bumps her and her hip hits the ground, cold—a woman with a full cart and big, sorry-saying eyes, handing her mouth, the cart metal-tall above Adele.
“Is she going to be all right?” the woman speaks (hip bone fire).
Myra speeches the woman, leans to lift Adele (where is her balance?).
“You let them get away,” Adele speaks, hip-rubbing, looking the ingredients. The redhair has them inside.
“Let’s go,” Myra speaks. They walk across (tugging) to the Volvo and seat. Myra stares at the wheel.
“The key,” speaks Adele (the starting confuses, yes).
Myra eyes at her. “I know, Mom.” She key turns. “You can’t do things like that,” she speaks. “I can shop alone if it’s too much but that could have gotten us arrested.”
Too quick. Speeching too quick.
“I do the shopping,” Adele speaks. “I can do the little things, it’s not always so full inside.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Myra speaks. She road-turns and the blacktop hums beneath and, yes, this relaxes. This is the summer-trip, too, the down-the-coast and Joe singing Beach songs and Myra behind and licorice: teeth-stuck always, in the car. And Joe’s hand on her knee, his one-eye-shut when he sings God only knows what I’d be, and later, the first night in the beach house. She opens and the garage, the driveway. They stop.
“I’m sorry, Myra,” Adele speaks. “I don’t feel all the way today.”
Myra nods, leans and pushes the unbuckle. “I should have realized,” she speaks. “With a snowstorm coming. And Christmas. But I can help you from now on.” She door-slams and walks across for Adele—but no. Chicago. This is Maryland (yes).
“But when you go home,” Adele speaks. Myra lifts Adele’s arm to help (hip fire).
“We’re moving here, remember?” Myra speaks. She door-shuts and they walk across. “Rob got hired with Dr. Gladstone. He can clean your teeth now.”
No. This is new. Inside, her coat hangs on the coat tree and she ups the stairs for a nap.
Upstairs, after the nap, on her dressing desk, a notebook. She opens. Myra coming home to live (& Rob)! it tells. Her handwriting. She walks across to the bed and seats. Other pages: she knuckle bites. One percent milk, it tells on one page, check dials on stove, shower? (hip fire). Has showering been? She walks across to the bathroom and sees a handwriting: If you’re dressed, you’ve already showered. Joe’s letters. Yes. She looks: turtleneck, sweater, khakis. But when did the shower?
Downstairs: front door sound—Joe? What time? She walks across to the hall and Myra speaks from down. She downs two stairs: Joe at the coat tree.
“How’s she doing today?” he speaks to Myra. Red-cold face.
Myra head-shakes and speaks a whisper.
“I know, honey,” he speaks. He hugs her. “I know.”
Myra little-girl hugs, hair under his chin. He pats. Yes. Her family.
“I’m glad you came home,” he speaks.
Myra coming home to live, she knows. Not Chicago. Something with coffee in the kitchen, something with teeth. Teeth cleaning.
“I didn’t realize how bad it was,” Myra speaks. “She seems okay on the phone.”
The phone—no. It has hardened too much. She tries not to.
“She doesn’t want you to worry,” he speaks.
“Look who’s up from her nap,” speaks Rob, from the living room door. Myra looks, Joe looks.
“You’re home soon,” Adele speaks. She downs more stairs, with the railing.
“Snow’s getting serious,” Joe speaks, patting Myra. “I told everyone to go home.” He slides an arm around Adele’s back, kisses her head.
And here: yes. The collar of Joe’s button-shirt up close, frayed. The kiss after work: yes. His coffee takes straight, his shirts hang in the closet to face the window. A chain of yeses: one leads to the rest. The refrigerator sound: Myra in the kitchen, opening the door: orca whale song, yes, and egg prices always climbing and the bread-burner has a crumb drawer that’s full whenever she looks. Yes. And now: Joe’s collar and smell and Myra at the fridge, with dinner talk plans—what if the others came, too, collar, fridge, coffee-crumbs smell, hot air blast from a sealed summer car? Everything would be yes. Everything together again.
Joe steps her to the kitchen table-slab and kisses again and seats her on a no-back chair. He speaks he will build a fire and Rob speaks he will help. Myra speaks she will make tea.
“Mom,” she speaks, “can you chop these for the casserole?” She tables a slicing board and three greens, hands Adele a blade.
“What are we making?” Adele speaks. She blades the waxy green skin, blades out its insides.
Myra unskins potatoes into the sink. She slips—the blade bites her hand. She mouth-holds. “Same as always,” she speaks, around the hand. “Waffles, egg casserole, home fries—Christmas Eve special.” She hand-shakes over the sink.
Christmas Eve—Yes. Joe home early. The snow. (Hip fire)—the ingredients. She blades the insides more, blades the green into small chops, scrapes the insides to the corner.
“Here,” speaks Myra. “I’ll get that for you.” She carries the board to the dump, scrapes the insides. She tables it in front of Adele. “The recipe says finely chopped,” she speaks. “So hack those babies as small as you can.”
Adele heads “yes.” The recipe—her recipe. Christmas Eve casserole—tomorrow Christmas is. Presents. But nothing is bought, she knows, nothing has wrapped, and it’s the dream from the Marriott: reception about to start but nothing ordered, nothing cooked, no flowers to spread. She head-shakes: no. The blade here. The greens.
“Going for a second,” she speaks to Myra and ups the stairs, walks across into the bedroom. Snow sifts outside the window. She eyes the mirror: a handwriting: Gifts for Myra & Rob in Joe’s closet. And she handles the door and they are squares, red-wrapped. She seats on the bed.
But what from her? What for Myra? Myra, she wants to show Myra how much she. How the sight of her. A thing for Myra to open—to gift Myra a thing. But where to get it? The notebook seats beside her and she pages it. Myra coming home to live! and Directions to grocery and coffee: water to line 5 + three scoops. She pages it back more. Joe likes orange juice, no more wine, Directions to Walgreens. Yes: Walgreens. She can lip balm and socks and chocolate. Walgreens. Yes.
She downs the stairs and takes her coat from the tree, quiet. Myra lids pots in the kitchen, smells lift out. Adele hats and gloves and boots from the closet. She walks across, quiet, and on the door a handwriting: Tell Joe where you’re going. Do you have your phone? But she is goning for just a quicken, just to glove and candy Myra.
Outside, it winds sharper than she thought and she cries (but not a real cry, no). She will Walgreens. She boots the snow (hip fire) and arm-swings for the blood warmth. Her back wind-presses and the snow giddies in the neighbors’ light-strings. How pretty is winter, yes. Pretty (the whole thought, neat)—she holds the word. Night soons around her and she boots down the sidewalk and thinks Walgreens, yes. Walgreens. She speaks it to herself so she can hold it. It stretches her cheeks into a smile—Walgreens.
After a while, her sweat starts under the layers. She boots over a snow street and eyes a brick house with a blue door—but no. Where? She boots to the street market—the street marker—but the name stranges her tongue and she head-shakes to remember. Walgreens. She pockets her hand for—what? The notebook, yes. And she pages with her gloves (hard), but the night is almosting and the snow blocks. The pages wind together and she shuts the notebook. Walgreens, she repeats but it hollows, it losts. Her face winds (deep breath, like Dr. Folsom). She boots away from the sign, turns out of the wind.
The roadlamps brighten and the snow frenzies in them. Walgreens, she wonders, where? Her hip fires and her legs brick. Snow heaps up to her shins and her neck sweats from effort. She unhats herself for air. She slows and her eyes flake when she opens them—the flakes eye her when she opens them. She boots, one boot at a time, her lungs tight. She looks: blue door house. No. She hats again, tries to remember—Walgreens, yes, but where? Candy and socks for Myra, and lip balm, but where did the right roads?
She boots to the curb and seats, bottoms the snow (wet through her pants). She hand-holds her head. (I want to hold your head, her head sings.) To her fork-hand, lights grow and she sees a car. It parks in front of. The window downs. A man inside, church clothes and a wife beside.
“Are you all right?” he speaks.
“Just sleeping a minute,” she speaks—no need to panic.
He finger-rubs his mouth. The woman speaks something and the man speaks, “Can we offer you a ride home?”
She unseats and speaks she’ll be fine and she feels the tear-cloud behind her eyes—how to get home? She couldn’t even direction them.
“Would you like to get warm at least, sit in the back for a minute?” the man speaks, a gold around his finger.
Yes. Warmth. Then maybe she could direction them, but what if she asleeps and never homes again? What about Myra and Joe? She heads “yes” and reaches for the handle and behind another car lights. She turns to eye it. Joe outs the passenger door and Myra outs the back and they boot to her and speak all together.
“What were you thinking?” Myra speaks. She arm-wraps Adele. “How long have you been out here? Are you crazy? You could walk on the treadmill!”
But no—Walgreens. Adele tries to speak this.
Joe hands Myra’s arm. He arm-wraps Adele and speaks if she okays. His collar, his smell. She thinks of straight coffee and window-facing shirts.
Myra speaks to the car man and he offs.
“Let’s get you home, sweetheart,” speaks Joe.
“This isn’t okay, Mom,” Myra speaks, tear-voiced. “You could have—you really scared us.” They boot to the car. “Why didn’t you tell someone?”
They help her boot. Joe helps her seat behind with him.
Rob wheels the car and speaks, “I think we could all use some hot cider.”
Joe hands her through her glove and she thinks of his handwritings on the walls and mirrors. Joe knows: Joe understands.
“You have to let us help you, Adele,” he speaks. “We’re all here to help.”
She heads no. “I’m fine,” she speaks. She unpockets her notebook and pen and pages to the end. Casserole ingredients, it tells.
“You’re not fine,” speaks Myra. “You could have frozen to death.”
“I don’t want to care you,” she speaks. She can’t find the right thing. She can never find the right thing.
“Mom,” speaks Myra, turning to the behind. “Of course I care. We all care.”
Adele sees in her eyes that she knows. “Everybody knows?” she speaks.
Myra nods. Joe nods.
She eyes her notebook. She pens, Everybody knows. Now what?
“And it’s okay,” speaks Joe, fingering the page. “Write and it’s okay.”
Adele eyes the page, neat-lined. Where will this be tomorrow? Joe hands her shoulder and she eyes the window. The glass fogs and the car stops. The blinker clicks loudly in the quiet—summer, daylong car trips to the beach, and Myra little. The last hours, cranky and stale-aired and too many candies in the teeth and dozing and then the click: Joe turning off the highway. The click a current in them, Myra sitting up in the backseat, leaning forward, all of them eyeing the windshield and breath-holding, almost, because the clicks and then the turns and then the house, a whole beach week, blank—a ring in the sand, maybe, an ear infection. And the car hot, heavy with bags, and the smell of luggage from the attic and the excitement fringed by the chest-hummed worry that no matter how much she’s packed (sunscreen, towels, camera), no matter how many notes she made, Joe and Myra will need something she has forgotten.
About the Author:
Brenna Lemieux is the author of two poetry collections, The Gospel of Household Plants and Blankness, Melancholy, and Other Ways of Dying. She lives and writes in Chicago.