Golden sunlight sparkled in the sapphire sky, raining sparkles on the sliding board and shiny chains of the swing as Elora pumped her legs into the air. It was exactly as she remembered it, from the freshly mown grass in the yard to the green and white and green playset that her father and grandfather built for her. How she missed this!
You can never go home.
“Says who?” she laughed, hearing her childish voice on the cool fall breeze.
A maroon sedan pulled up in the driveway next to the house. She recognized the tall woman who stepped out, the red dress and the red scarf on her head gently flowing in the breeze. Elora slowed the swing and jumped off, landing in a pile of colorful leaves. Her father and brother would be cross with her for disturbing the pile, but it was so much fun!
The woman laughed; her red lipstick bright against her white teeth. “Elora darling, how are you?”
She ran to embrace the woman. She looked forever up at that beautiful face.
What’s her name?
She knew the face, but not the name. She buried her face in a wide hug to the woman’s midsection, inhaling the woody fall perfume. “Mrs. Daniel canceled my piano lesson today. She has a cold.”
“Already, this early in the season? That’s not good.” The woman pulled back from the hug and kneeled in front of Elora. “How about taking a drive into town, since your afternoon is free? We can see if Mr. Mickels has any goodies in the nickel jar.”
“I love Mickels Market!” she looked at the house. Dad was at work and her brother was at band practice. “Let me tell Mom.” She should be inside cooking dinner, but the window over the kitchen sink showed an empty room.
The woman glanced at the house. “Your Mom knows that you’re with me. Come on, she’s busy cooking dinner. I’ll have you back in time for dinner.” She smiled and leaned close to whisper. “It’s not like there are many places to wander off in this town.”
Not since the developers took over.
That was strange. How did she hear Dad’s voice when he wasn’t here?
“Ok,” she said.
The woman stood and smiled as she walked to the driver’s side of the car. Elora opened the passenger side door and scooted in the seat, her legs sticking out straight in front of her.
I survived childhood before car seats, seatbelts, helmets, and all of the other ‘safety gear’ to keep you from being a kid.
Whose voice was that? It sounded like her own, but different.
Sunlight filtered through bright trees: gold, red, orange. She loved fall in this town best of all. The pumpkins on porches, scarecrows in yards, and piles of leaves. Crisp fall air blowing laundry in waves on the clotheslines. Friday night football games, carnivals, the church barbecue and fall festival. There was so much to see and do.
“What do you want to get Granddaddy for his birthday?” the woman asked.
And Granddaddy’s birthday! It was coming in October, followed by Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
“Mommy said we’d get him a new pipe. He loves pipes.”
“He shouldn’t smoke. He dies of lung cancer.”
Elora looked at the woman. The sunlight filtering through the driver’s side window cast a dark shadow on the face. It didn’t look as pretty as it did in her backyard. Lines and shadows creased against the bright red lipstick.
“What do you mean? He’s alive.”
The woman turned to Elora. “What’s that honey?”
“You asked what I wanted to get Granddaddy, and then said he dies of lung cancer. Granddaddy isn’t dead. I just saw him --”
“Look at all of the beautiful fall decorations. Aren’t the scarecrows funny?”
Who was this lady? She looked familiar, but Elora couldn’t remember her name. She was afraid to ask. Mommy and daddy said that was rude. She needed to try harder to remember names. She stared at the scarecrows and pumpkins festively dotting the colorful landscape of downtown. The woman parked the car and they got out in the cool air.
September isn’t as cool as it used to be. Remember when it was actually fall? Now it’s summer until Halloween with this ‘global warming.’
Was that her brother? She looked around but didn’t see him. A few people walked around, pushing strollers and carrying bags. She saw Miss Emilee bustling around the beauty shop, checking on women reading magazines while they sat under hair dryers. Down the way, she saw sparkling rings and necklaces in the jeweler’s window, fluffy loaves and cakes in the baker’s window, bright fall flowers at the florist, mannequins in yellow and orange dresses at the Department store, new releases in the library window. The church and Masonic lodge sat across the street from one another in the center of town. Dina’s Diner tempted tummies next to Hank’s Hardware store, with a wheelbarrow full of fall flowers sitting in the center of a line of lawnmowers for sale. Various businesses interspersed with the stores, their dignified wooden signs handing outside of glass doors welcoming them in. At the end of the block was the bank on the left, and Mickels Market on the right.
“Where would you like to go?” the lady asked.
It’s just like I remember it.
Elora smiled, looking at the tall shops lining the street. “Everywhere.”
The lady smiled, but it looked wrong. Stiff, like the mannequins. “I said the market, so let’s go there. We can work our way back to the car.” She reached for Elora’s hand. “Come on, it’s at the end of the street.”
Elora looked up at the woman. The shadows were back, and the face looked different. More yellow than the porcelain in the full sunlight of her backyard. Maybe it was the clouds rolling across the sky. Even the red of the dress, scarf, and lipstick looked faded on her shrunken frame. Elora reached up for the lady’s hand and jerked at the cold grip.
“Elora, what’s wrong? You have to hold my hand. I don’t want you to dart in the street and get hit by a car.”
“There aren’t any cars since everything is gone –”
Memories spun around the shadow lamp of her mind as she took the woman’s cold hand.
Walking out of the City Hall auditorium, waving her diploma.
Running down the steps of the church in her wedding gown, clutching Galen’s hand as family and friends rained rice on them.
Pushing a double stroller down this street with their children joyfully squealing at the sights and people passing by.
Events at the Masonic lodge with Galen and later, her son as he joined the lodge on his 18th birthday.
Christmas lights twinkled as Santa waved from his sleigh in the Department store window.
Town hall meetings with heated arguments over rezoning.
Struggles to get graduation and wedding pictures of her children without construction signs and equipment in the background.
Pushing strollers down the street past construction tents with her children.
Fliers posted in store windows that read “vote no to development!’
Angry commercials and arguments in city hall.
“Closed” signs as first the library, and then the other businesses moving to newly developed areas outside of downtown.
Moving vans and paving trucks as the roads were.
The lights turned off as the Christmas tree in the center of town was hauled off for the last time.
Tears as the wrecking ball knocked down the church, Masonic lodge, and surrounding businesses to make way for a convention center, hotel, and parking garage.
Long sighs as votes were taken to change locations and establish new neighborhoods, pushing the town even further out into the surrounding woods.
Bulldozers push down trees, exposing the sky to new buildings.
“For Sale” signs in her own neighborhood as her neighbors moved on and moved out.
Staring at faces on a computer screen, lamenting the darkness outside as the lights were shut out.
Chimes on phones as the test results came in.
Appointment reminders and prescription refills.
Driving out of town for treatment.
The ambulance carried her out of her own home in a flash of red lights.
Faces look down at her in the harsh overhead light.
A television droned an old game show in the corner of her cold, grey room.
“Where am I?”
The woman looked down at her, black clouds framing her pale face. “You’re home.”
The woman –
Elora looked up at the woman. “I read all of your books after you died, Aunt Myrtle.”
The woman knelt, took Elora by the shoulders, and smiled. “I’m glad. I wanted you to learn from them.”
“I never left this place,” Elora said as she looked at the downtown of her memory, “but this place left me.”
The wind blew the shadow memories away. They were standing now in the abandoned town. Elora was no longer a little girl, but a grown woman. Leaves blew through the empty streets.
“Things change,” Aunt Myrtle said. “Progress is a mixed blessing. Humanity has evolved faster than ever before, but you lost many meaningful things that fill out the periphery of life.”
“We did,” Elora turned to Aunt Myrtle. “Does it hurt to die?”
Aunt Myrtle smiled sadly. “It won’t hurt anymore. They’ve given you morphine. You’ll sleep until the light comes.”
“Cancer took you too soon,” Elora said as she looked at the deserted town. “It took us all too soon. Granddaddy, you,” she paused, “and now me.”
“It isn’t an ending, but a beginning,” Aunt Myrtle said. “Remember when you visited The Grand Canyon? You felt a peace that you never knew existed. That’s how this is. You don’t cease to be. You expand beyond the limits of life and embrace the joy of all creation.”
Elora studied her aunt’s perfect face. “I went there in my thirties. You had been gone a long time by then.”
Aunt Myrtle smiled. “Had I?”
The clouds passed, revealing shafts of golden sunlight. The town lit up as buildings once again flourished and people returned to the square.
You can never go home.
Not in that world, but here all things are possible.
The whining flat line faded in the golden sunshine embracing them in the diffusion of time and space beyond the confines of the periphery.