This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
May Angels Guide You Home
She is always losing birth control pills. On planes they shoot out of their little tin-foil cupcake tins into the dirty crevice at the back of the seat. Over empty stretches of carpet they bounce and disappear like mice under dressers, beds, and piles of laundry. She has put her hands down the back of bus seats, car seats, plane seats. Into pretzel crumbs and gum wrappers, bits of receipts and other people’s dead skin. She has always found it – that little pink pill– and managed to swallow it, tasting for a second someone else’s foot, or her own dust, and she has never missed a dose. On these dirty searches she thinks about babies, babies in the back of buses and babies under piles of laundry and babies behind the dresser, and she keeps looking. Her phone vibrated in her pocket. It was probably her birth control alarm saying “5:30” but the only other timepiece in the room had been forgotten for no one knows how many daylight savings times. If it was not birth control time it was Michelle saying either “slut, where are you?” or “call me!” Michelle is her best friend and likes to receive text messages. There was a pool party, somewhere, and Michelle was probably already there, or on her way there, or deciding what to wear, and had forgotten again that on Thursdays Louise visits her grandfather’s house until Francine his Filipina caretaker comes back from Safeway.
Maringal, Francine says each time, beautiful, straightening Grandpa’s shirt collar, “you are lucky to spend your afternoon with such a beautiful girl.” Francine wears floral dresses and floral pants and floral headscarves. She is beautiful like a tropical island wrapped in wallpaper. “Hot day, today,” Grandpa said. There is a fan on a small brown table that purrs and clicks and blows warm stale air around the front room. Farther away there is a lawnmower and children and even further away there is a pool party, somewhere. “Sure is,” he answered himself, looking past the screen door to the porch outside and the man across the street mowing his lawn. “Do you want some water?” He didn’t answer, and she edged her phone out of her pocket to read “new message” and “4:43.”
On the front porch there are two wicker chairs and a hanging plant that keeps dying. Every few weeks he points this out to Francine and it is replaced. It is alive today. He can see the leaves, lush and green. When they first moved into the house there was a swinging chair on the front porch, a big one, one that fit two people or three children. It had belonged to the previous owners and been left behind.
The night they arrived, he and his wife, they hadn’t unpacked, because they were happy, and they had gone outside, because it was hot. He had taken off her dress, pink, and the moisture of her skin had begun to dry, free from polyester, where he kissed her neck and her nipples, the sides of her waist. Blankets and sheets hadn’t been unpacked and after they made love he had covered her breasts with his white cotton shirt and they slept there on the swinging chair until the birds came. It was too hot for the birds today, but he could see that Mr. Sawyer’s son across the street has braved the heat in order to mow the lawn.
She has already said her weekly bit about school and her brother, and they have been sitting together listening to the fan since then. Sometimes when she tries to make conversation they chat and time passes. Sometimes it feels like throwing breadcrumbs at stuffed ducks. Her eyes lingered on the bookshelf, wishing she could pull one out to amuse herself. They are all pristine except the few rescued favorites from the old lake house, which are worn with the sand and sun and love that only favorite books belonging to the summertime receive. She considered pulling something down, just to flip through it, to pass the time, but didn’t, because she loved her grandfather. Her eyes moved past the bookshelf without a destination. She has looked at the things in the room so many times that she barely
sees them anymore. Nothing gets added, moved, or changed. When the memorial card from her grandmother’s funeral was placed on the mantle it stuck out like litter asking to be picked up, and everyone stared at it for a long time. It leans against a framed horizontal photograph of the grandchildren: Louise, her brother, Eddie, and the cousins Shelia, Donnie, and Jackson. The memorial card is vertical, and if you look close enough you can see bits of child flanking the sides of the stiff, cream-colored card. Louise’s mother had spent almost every minute before the funeral trying to decide on the perfect verse, poring over a bible she had not looked at for fifteen years. Louise had heard her father mutter into the phone that it was “as if the right verse was supposed bring the woman back to life.” The words on the card are framed by an embossed gold border. During the service Louise had traced this square with her left hand while her boyfriend, Trevor, dutifully held the right. Trevor was dressed in a scratchy borrowed suit. It was the first funeral for both of them. The movement of her fingers, left, down, right, up, and the cadence of the pastor’s slow, deep words, and the distant organ, and the occasional squeeze of Trevor’s palm, formed a rhythmic, secret funeral march that guided her through the unfamiliar hour.
“Lou, would you mind getting me a glass of water?” he asked, as the fan clicked and oscillated in his direction. It was hot. “Of course.” As his granddaughter pushed herself out of the deeply sunk armchair towards the kitchen, he felt even older. He hated to ask her to do such mundane tasks for him, but the heat seemed to make his muscles static and immovable. The fan whirred back towards his face. Lou was a good girl. It scared him, to see her move like a woman now. She was looking more and more like her mother had, and on a bad day he sometimes slipped and called her Georgia. His daughter looked different now, but if you were to take Lou’s school photograph and put it next to his favorite picture of his children as teenagers it could almost be the same girl. Or at least he thought so. There were so many photographs cluttered around the house that he would not know where to look for the particular vacation snapshot in his mind. There were no photographs of the first child, unnamed and unseen.
As Louise opened the fridge door she felt another vibration in her pocket. This time it was Trevor, asking when she was getting to the party. He had ended the text message with a smiley face. She sent back not sure yet! and savored the cold air escaping from the wideopen refrigerator, leaning her sweaty forehead against the knobby
white plastic of the freezer and closing her eyes. Louise liked Trevor, and was happy to be one half of her group’s perfect couple, but could not shake the feeling that it was not the kind of love people wrote about. Michelle had been the first to lose her virginity. Tell us, tell us! The girls had pleaded, huddled next to Louise’s bed on the floor. The stories were well-known among them now. Michelle, at Trophy Lakes, with a friend of an older brother of a friend. Ashley, with then boyfriend, the first night of last summer. Lynn, two weeks ago at Michelle’s seventeenth birthday party. Louise, five months ago, the night of her grandmother’s funeral. Michelle was always going to be first. Since their first real crushes at the age of thirteen, she had turned their talk from princess weddings to what it would be like to lose it, poring over Seventeen magazine. They had promised to share every detail, every French kiss and blow job, and had, for the most part, kept their word. Michelle returned from spring break with stories of spiked lime coolers and Jake and how it had hurt like hell but been just like she imagined. She was an expert on the sexual positions and techniques from Cosmo and was always there to offer sexual tips to her shyer friends. Since the experience with Jake, she had slept with no one. Louise sometimes wanted to ask why, but never did.
The body has a memory of its own, separate from the mind, and secret from the mind, and crueler than the mind. When you sleep next to someone night after night you do not notice the shapes you form, how your body curves around your wife’s as instinctually as breathing. You could not have described, in words, how your hand fits into hers and how it knew what to do, and yet it this, and it did know, in the same way, over and over again.
Louise’s favorite armchair had been Savannah’s favorite armchair. Louise was in the kitchen, and when he looked at the empty chair he momentarily forgot that it was his granddaughter and not his wife that he was waiting for. This had been happening a lot. When Francine sung in the kitchen sometimes he could swear it was his wife, singing hymns and cooking as she had so many nights for so many years. If you get there before I do, coming for to carry me home, tell all my friends I’m coming, too, coming for to carry me home. Each time Francine emerged from the kitchen instead of Savannah, he remembered. The first night they spent apart as husband and wife was November 4, 1958. He remembered this because it was the day his friend Ernest Hollings had been elected the Governor of South Carolina, and it was the day she had gotten rid of the baby.
He had come home after a long evening of congratulatory telephone calls and celebrations at the municipal office. She had been standing in the kitchen when he came in, facing the fridge. Only the countertop lights had been on, and she had not looked up in the semidarkness. “What is it?” “Troy,” she said, and turned to face him. “What did you do?” “The baby,” she said. He had reached the kitchen now and there were tears on her face. “What did you do to the baby?” She was crying and he already knew. “We weren’t ready, I wasn’t ready.” And then he had hit her and she had screamed and fell to the floor. “Savannah.” He was crying now too and was kneeling on the cold linoleum. “Don’t touch me.” “Savannah.” “Troy.” He knew the second it happened that he had done a terrible thing but it was not until he was lying in the stiff sheets of the motel bed that he felt the weight of her absence, his limbs aching for their home in hers, and it was then he felt punished.
Louise returned to the sitting room with two glasses of cold water. She put one down on the small table beside her Grandpa’s armchair, leaving her handprint in the grey condensation of the glass. She wondered if he could see details still. His vision had been going for a long time, and his hearing, and his muscles, but nothing had really affected the way he lived until grandma died. Since her grandmother’s funeral it had been like his batteries were running out. Her mom was worried about how often he fell asleep during the day now, and everyone was concerned when he called someone by the wrong name, but Francine was wonderful, everyone agreed on that. She sang and cooked and cleaned and brought noise where there had been only silence and loss. She always spoke and sung just a little louder than the house needed, so he could hear her, singing in the kitchen as she made dinner, and he liked that. “Thanks, sweetheart,” he said now. “No problem, Grandpa.” She thought he seemed sad today, sadder than he usually was in her company. When she thought about it too much she felt sad too. What was it like to lose someone you loved like that? The emotion seemed out of her reach and it scared her to think about it, so she didn’t.
She settled deeper into her chair and felt her phone vibrate again. The party was probably in full swing now. She slid her phone out of her pocket again and saw that it was past 5 now. When had Francine left for Safeway? It’s not that I don’t want to be here, she thought, but she still felt guilty. These visits meant a lot to him and it was not his fault that he wasn’t a much of a conversationalist anymore.
The cold water made him feel a little clearer. In the heat it sometimes felt like the edges between his sense were breaking down, like the things he heard were getting confused with what he could see, or the things he could see would impede his hearing from understanding a noise farther away. It made him slower, trying to figure it all out. “Thanks for the water Lou, it really hit the spot,” he said. “You’re welcome, Grandpa, let me know if you want some more.” She was a good girl. He could barely keep up with all her stories, she seemed to run from school to soccer to her friend’s houses and whatever else she did all the time without stopping. She had always been like that. When she was smaller she ha always run around the house with Eddie as if stopping for a minute would also make the world stop turning. She was almost a woman now, but she still fidgeted in her chair like a child. It must be hard, he thought, for her to sit still this whole time. He wondered when Francine would be coming back with
the groceries, Louise must have all sorts of things she could be doing right now besides sitting in a hot room with her grandfather. She was a good girl, staying here with him.
“Thanks for coming by today, sweetheart.” “Of course, Grandpa.” Louise immediately felt guilty for spending so much time on her phone. He must be so lonely. “I wonder what Francine is making for dinner tonight,” she asked, knowing that his meals with Francine made him happy. “Are you going to stay for dinner tonight, Lou?” “Oh,” she hadn’t anticipated that, “no, Grandpa, I have to go to my friend’s party this evening.” She felt even worse about it now, and wished she hadn’t said anything. “A party?” He chuckled softly to himself. “Still go, go go, all the time, just like my little girl.” He smiled at her in a sad way that made her feel young. “Your grandmother was the same way,” he continued, “always something on the go.” “Yeah,” Louise responded, but he had gone quiet again and was looking past the front porch to something she couldn’t see. Maybe he couldn’t see anything at all.
Louise didn’t know why she had decided to sleep with Trevor the night after the funeral, but it had felt like the right thing to do. Her parents were still gone dealing with death things, and Eddie had left to see his girlfriend, and Trevor and her had been lying on her bed with the house to themselves. He was fiddling with the collar of his stiff black shirt, and to ease his discomfort she had reached out to unbutton it. He had taken her hand in his and kissed it with a look of complete concentration, and she felt closer to him than she had before. Afterwards, he had held her in his clumsy way and whispered I love you Louise, and even though it had hurt much more than she had expected, it was a good experience overall. Trevor was good to her. After he had left, she lay on her bed, listening to the sprinklers outside, thinking she didn’t really feel different at all.
The family had known that Grandma was going to pass away for a while before it happened. He had known this, and had tried to prepare for it. He had said goodbye to her and told her that he loved her. They had lived a very long life together, and he was thankful for this. His body did not feel the same way. Lying in their bed the night she passed, his muscles had become painful immovable things that would not form comfortable shapes. He felt then, that he would never hold her again. The memory within his skin seemed to die with her, and it was then that he mourned. He mourned the feeling of her tiny
wrists and hands, her arms and her breasts, and they way it all fit together for him. He mourned as if something had been taken from him by force, ripped from his body, with violence.
Louise brought the water to her lips and felt her phone vibrate in her pocket again. Crap, she had never replied to Michelle. Swallowing deeply, she wondered how the party was going, what the cool water was going to feel like, and when she was going to get there. “It’s a scorcher,” her Grandpa said, and the fan blew some warm air in her direction. She hated herself for wanting to leave him here with the noise of the fan. Her phone vibrated again: birth control. “Be back in a second.” She picked up her purse and walked to the bathroom, bringing the glass of water with her. She felt uncomfortable taking her pill in front of him, even though he would never inquire about what it is. In the bathroom there was a framed photograph of her Grandparents on their wedding day, young strangers to her, frozen in love. The black and white looks rosy in the pink-tinted bathroom light. She carefully pops her pink pill into her pink palm, looking at the photograph, dreaming about big love.