The wind commanded the leaves to perform a ritualistic dance. They whirled and twirled as it lifted and carried them across the autumn sky. When it died down, the dance stopped, and they gracefully fell to the ground; adding to the blanket of reds, greens and golds that littered the yard and covered the steps. Marion sat wrapped in a blanket enjoying the show. She held her face up to the wind, remembering the girl who skipped along with the leaves. She dropped the blanket and ran into the yard. She let the wind twist her around and around until she almost felt airborne. Breathless, she stooped down and carefully selected four leaves, all with different color variations. She gripped them tightly, defending them from the sudden burst of wind threatening to pull them out of her hand. She clutched them to her chest and grabbed the blanket just as a strong burst practically blew her back inside. Closing the door, she shivered. She gently placed the leaves on the table next to the fire. Warming her hands, she glanced through the French doors at the dancing leaves and fought the urge to rejoin them. She loved the fall. The warm days. The crisp night air. The beauty of the changing trees. When she decorated this room, she’d tried to capture the fire of the reds, golds and greens of those trees; a fire that did not burn, instead, it infused them with light and life. She’d taken leaves with her to the paint store in a vain attempt to capture their light and soul. She kept trying until the clerk behind the paint counter saw her coming and mysteriously disappeared until she left the store.
Marion plopped down into her favorite chair, a brown leather rocker and picked up a green leaf with streaks of red and gold running into its veins. She named it Jessica. The purely red leaf with the strong color darkening the veins could be none other than Pip. Marion sighed, and ran her finger over a leaf with colors mingled together in a random pattern. Its restlessness frightened her. It seemed to be searching for meaning; a purpose. This one was Ronnie. She lifted the smallest leaf, a shock of pure gold, and twirled it in her fingers. It captured the light; glowing in its warmth. How could the smallest one shine so brightly? Yet, Alicia, the “baby” outshone them all.
Marion rose from her chair, scooped up the blanket and headed back outside. The wind died down, and the evening chill now replaced the midday warmth. Marion cuddled up in the blanket, watching the sun sink below the horizon. The scripture in Matthew says that God takes notice when even a bird falls to the ground. Did he also know intimately each leaf that fell to the ground? She wondered. Did he worry that they might feel forgotten, or less important than the birds? The sins of the father, she mused. A father can leave; forget and come back and beg for forgiveness. He can have his sins absolved. But the sins of the mother, those sins were unforgivable. Nature held mothers to a higher standard; the privilege to bear children exacting a high price for forgiveness.
“Mom,” Pip’s voice interrupted Marion’s musing.
“Out here,” Marion called.
“What are you doing out here? It’s freezing.”
“It’s not so bad,” Marion rose and passed through the door Pip held open for her. “I love the crisp fall air. Helps clear the mind.”
“Helps give you pneumonia; is what it does.” Pip scolded. “I’m making meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinner,” her voice trailed off as she headed for the kitchen.
Marion laughed. A mother isn’t supposed to have a favorite, but she loved Pip more than the other three. She even toyed with naming Pip after herself, but in the end, she just switched her first and middle names and named her Marie Marion. Pip looked like her. Thought like her. Acted like her. In fact, Pip bore the nickname no one in the family had the guts to call Marion to her face. Doors didn’t open so easy for Pip. As a child, she fought for what came so easy to the others – grades, friends, and her place in the family. Pip needed to be protected.
“Mom, phone.” Pip shoved it into Marion’s hand. “It’s Baby,” she said through slightly clenched teeth.
Marion stared at the phone. She knew why Baby was calling. She’d been letting her calls go to voicemail, that’s probably why she called on the house phone. Marion silently cursed the house phone. They’d decided to keep it until Pip’s daughter, Andie, started high school next year. “Baby,” she said.
“Mom,” Baby’s soft voice floated through the receiver. “Where were you today? I’ve been calling all day.”
“I guess the ringer was off,” Marion lied.
“Anyway, we need to talk about selling the house. I’ve been in touch with a realtor friend of mine, and he says we should be able to get at least $500,000 for it. If you come down here with me and Avery, you can get a cute little condo and still have plenty of money left from the sale. Or you can rent an apartment. There are some nice senior communities down here. Either way, you’ve got to get out of Jersey. It’s way too expensive to live there.”
“I’m not sure about selling,” Marion said. “I’ve lived in Jersey my whole life. I like it here. Your father bought this house with his VA benefits and renovated it. We put a lot of work into it over the years. You kids grew up here. This is my home. Anyway, I can go into New York to see a show with my friends, and there’s my job at the library. I’m 70 next month, and I’m not sure I want to make any changes at this point in my life. My memories, everything I know is here.”
“Broadway and a part-time job are not reasons to keep rattling around in a four-bedroom house. It’s way too much for you to keep up. Besides, you’re the perfect age to make this change. You’re a vibrant, active woman. There are a lot of things for you to do down here.”
“Here’s a thought, why don’t you move back to Jersey with your family.” Marion knew there was little chance of that, but she said it because it got to Baby. She knew Baby felt guilty about moving away after her father’s death. But she had to follow her new husband, Dorsey Avery Winston, to his hometown and his family; all the while abandoning hers.
“Mom you know I can’t do that. Avery and I have businesses here. Besides, Avery would never leave his family. North Carolina is his home. And now it’s mine.” Baby’s voice went down a few octaves. “Think about it Mom, ok,” she cooed. “I know it’s a little scary, but Avery and I are here for you. It’ll be ok.”
Marion sighed. “I’ll think about it,” she said and hung up. Baby was like a dog with a bone. She’d have to come up with more than memories to get her off her back.
“Hey,” Jessica answered, maneuvering her cart through the produce aisle.
“What’s going on with mom? Suddenly, she’s making excuses about selling the house. Talking about us growing up there and memories. Mom is the least sentimental person I know. What the hell is going on?” Baby droned on. “What’s that music? Where are you?”
“Shop-Rite,” Jessica answered. “Hold on.” She finished weighing the bag of grapes and put them in the cart. “Ok. I’m back. Why would mom sell the house now that Pip’s living there?”
“Pip!” Baby screamed. “Pip’s living there! Since when?”
“She, Walter and the kids moved in two months ago, around the end of August. Mom didn’t tell you? I thought you knew.”
“How would I know Jessie. Nobody in this family tells me anything,” Baby said. “What about Ronnie? Isn’t he staying there? He was supposed to be helping mom.”
“Ronnie lives in Pennsylvania with his new girlfriend. He’s touring with a new band. He’s been gone since June,” Jessica said curtly. “And don’t get mad with me. Mom needed help and Pip was there.”
“I have to go,” Jessica said. She was in no mood today for the Baby-Pip feud. Perhaps her greatest failure was her inability to bring her two sisters together. As the oldest, she felt it her duty. But the feelings ran too deep; Pip’s lack of self-esteem, and Baby’s sense of entitlement.
Jessica loaded her groceries into the trunk and climbed into the driver’s seat. She dug into her purse for her phone and froze. Who was she calling? Definitely not Pip. And something was up with Mom. She’d talked of nothing but selling, and then Pip moved in. She laid her head back and closed her eyes. This was going to be one hell of a Thanksgiving.
To be continued…