“No one else remembers her anymore.”
“Oh, I’m sure somebody does, Papa,” Rosalinda flicked on her blinker, looking much too little both ways before turning.
“Yah? Who?” Frank grunted, staring over the Sternberg’s old fields. Great-grandmother Sternberg used to grow the largest pumpkins and win the fair every year. Him and Joey would get to carve them afterwards. Ginseng in row after shaded row, planted by Jung Co., grew there now.
Rosalinda shrugged. “Oh, maybe an old friend that you forgot about, or somebody who just passed her on the street, you know? Sometimes I still think about a lady I saw who had the prettiest hat. I think I’ll always remember her, even though I never knew her.”
Frank kept his mouth shut. “Those used to be the Sternbergs’ fields,” he pointed them out, seeing his father’s livered hand instead of his own firm one. “They had ten children.”
Rosalinda hummed. “Really? Well, they always had more children back then.”
Six of the Sternberg children were still alive. All had borne at least three children, excluding Jimmy, forever the black sheep. Frank and Melinda had only two. They would’ve had more.
“The houses never used to come up this far.”
Rosalinda gave a light laugh. Frank was old enough to pretend not to hear the exasperation in it. “Of course, they only went up to eighteenth street. Now there are at least fifteen more roads after it,” Rosalinda finished.
A small bit of satisfaction came to him. “And that apartment monstrosity-“
“Complex, Papa, most people call it a complex, and that wasn’t built until Momma was pregnant with Charlie. I know.”
“Your brother Charles always made her sick right around here. I had to pull over to the side by the old C and J’s Storage at least half a dozen times.”
“Just like I always made Momma pee right after we passed the old Ron and Lloyd’s.”
The satisfaction grew. “That you did. Momma put up with a lot for you children. She always said she was born here and lived here and was going to raise her children here.”
On the right, the new non-denominational church with its literally open doors trundled past. To the left, the new bussing company the school had hired only twenty years ago stretched. They were still looking for more drivers.
“She did,” Rosalinda remarked. “Raise us, that is.”
His daughter jerked, her Impala slightly swerving with the movement. She glanced at him, slowing down at the next stoplight already. There had never been so many. “She raised us still, Papa, not in person, sure, but we learned through her stories, through you.” She gave him a tentative smile, not waiting for his response before refocusing on the road, waving and smiling politely at two skateboarders crossing. She drove forward again.
“Hmph,” he grunted. Her eyes flicked to his face, but she didn’t respond. Soon, they’d be relying on strangers to remember him, too.
She drove him around the town – city, they called it now, though those government officials could never name nothing right. She drove him around twice more. It took a half hour, what she must have deemed an appropriate time limit. “Papa, there used to be trees blocking the front of the elementary school, remember?” she had said.
“Yah,” he had replied, “but before this school, it was only the Boulevard building.”
“A one-room school house.”
“Two rooms. It had two rooms, and half was for the youngers, and half was for the older ones.”
She gave him a half hour. Then they were back in her driveway at her boxed house along a road with straight-planted maples. He told her about the elm that had twisted its way upward and grown outwards towards the drive that led to his childhood home. That was suburbs now, too. He didn’t like driving there.
“Hey,” Logan called out from the dining room table, eyes still fixed on his screen.
Rosalinda didn’t falter, walking straight up to her son and pecking him on the head, glancing at his computer as she asked, “Good day?”
Logan shrugged. “School. You?”
“Eh,” Rosalinda shrugged. Logan tore himself away from whatever video was playing, smile at the corners of his mouth. Rosalinda returned it, “Work.”
As Rosalinda moved into the kitchen, Logan turned to Frank, smile growing even as his small bit of excitement left. “Hi, Grandpa!”
“Good evening,” Frank rested his hand on the chair next to Logan and pulled, noting that even as they made things cheaper and weaker, they sure made them even heavier.
Logan jumped up, an earbud dangling from him. “I got it.” He easily slid the chair out, positioning it so Frank could sit and see the room without moving it again. Logan returned to his seat, putting the earbud back in his ear. Rosalinda clanked a few dishes in the kitchen, just like Melinda used to. Melinda would wake up before dawn to get bread started, and no matter how hard she tried, she woke up him and then later Charles as well. Frank looked again to Logan, to Rosalinda.
He sat. It was something he supposed, and he supposed it was easier that way.
Dumping noodles into a pot, Rosalinda spoke over the sound of the clicking stovetop, “So, how’s Lydia?”
Logan immediately raised his eyes, face heating if Frank wasn’t wrong. He pulled an earbud out again, but Frank could see that his video was still playing. “I don’t know. Fine, I guess.”
“You don’t know!? Perfect, wonderful Lydia and you don’t know how she’s doing?!”
“Mom,” Logan whined, definitely flushed. His eyes never strayed to his video as he watched her turn and smirk at him. “It’s not like we’re dating or anything.”
“Yet,” Rosalinda pointed a finger at Logan, smirk growing as she began putting away dishes.
“You know, for the longest time your grandmother and I weren’t dating.”
“Yeah,” Logan stopped himself just as he began rolling his eyes, “I didn’t think you dated as babies, or was that a thing? Betrothal from birth or whatever?”
Frank continued anyway. “She wanted so badly to be in a relationship, let me tell you, but I thought that I needed a job first, something steady for a family.”
“So you began working at the mill,” Logan finished, eyes back on his video.
“No,” Frank folded his arms, face stern. He leaned back after a moment though he kept his arms crossed. He had forgotten that didn’t work anymore. “I worked at the Rosebald Farm first. Spent a good eight or nine years there before they went belly-up. Then I went to the mill. Should’ve went there first and retired sooner.”
“Right.” Logan crinkled his nose, face lit by both the houselights and the screen. “Rosebald is such a funny name. Lydia would draw an awesome picture for it.”
“So you did see her today!”
Frank’s eyes drifted to the cupboards, the piles of paper and projects on the table, the magnets covering the entire upper half of the refrigerator. The newness of it all jarred him, just like it always did when the familiarity was forgotten. Him and Melinda had started to collect magnets on the refrigerator of the states they had been to. She had always wanted to see the West Coast, but they only got as far as Montana before turning around.
His own momma used to make spaghetti often. She’d fry up a package of beef and make the tomato sauce herself. With their whole family, they’d go through a whole stick of butter and a pound of parmesan before the night was out. His father would always remind each and every one of them that they eaten the meal naked as young children after staining so many shirts red. The church ladies had asked if they were lumberjacks.
Elizabeth, his last living sibling and the one who could’ve been a red head, had taken to wearing red clothes so often afterwards that to see her in any other color warranted a remark. She had been the most talkative at the table, just like Rosalinda now was as she dished Logan up a heaping bowlful and chatted about when Bill would be back from his work trip. Rosalinda had Elizabeth’s eyes, too, gibbous moons Frank’s momma used to say.
Logan had Gerald’s impatience. Impatient to eat. Impatient to clean the dishes. Impatient to lock himself up in his room after supper. Gerald had been the eldest and for Frank the hardest to love. The ten-year difference between the two of them had not helped.
Frank’s father had always been home nights. Momma would tuck them in, just like Rosalinda had once done for Logan. Frank would always sleep with Matthew, the two of them squeezing into a bed with the two other brothers sleeping on the other side of the room. Before they had those two beds, the girls getting theirs first of course, the four of them would sleep together on the floor. It was always overly hot and hard to breathe and warm and incredibly peaceful.
Frank could barely hear the sound of Rosalinda cleaning up in the restroom, the tinny voices of another video Logan was watching struggling to make it out of Logan’s own room. The blankets were cold. Heavy. Frank pulled them up to his chin, then past his ears. He had been afraid of witches when he was a boy. He remembered that now. He had been afraid of witches and would cover his head until one of the other boys would wrap an arm around him or squish him between two of them. It was always warm.
The running water in the bathroom stopped. The door to the bedroom opened.
“. . . yah?”
Rosalinda came fully into the room, the mattress slumping towards her as she sat near to his torso, her hand pulling away the covers from his face. She pecked him on the cheek. He reminded her in a low rumble, “I’m no child.”
“I never said you were, Papa.”
The silence sat as it ever did. Final.
Her voice was soft. “Things don’t stop changing. They never do. I know you want us to remember everything, to keep it the same there at least, but we can’t. We truly can’t.” She leaned over again, gently turning his head to give him a kiss on the other cheek. He was old enough to let her. “I can’t promise that we’ll remember everything, about this town and your stories and you, but, Papa, we will always love you, no matter how many years have passed.”
When she left, the quiet returned. Frank lifted the blanket back up to cover his cheeks, just as when he was a child. He would tell her that tomorrow. Her and Logan, they would know that he used to be terrified of the witches even more than Logan had been when he was young, and he had always slept with the blankets covering him completely. He’d tell the story.
He fell asleep at peace.