Thursday, May 01, 2008
Aaron knew the rule, but he couldn't help himself. It was as if the little angel dared him to touch it. Maybe she won’t be angry this time, he thought, maybe it would help.
He stood in front of the bookcase, facing what had become his familiar dilemma. The angel sparkled, seeming to soak up the light of the room. He peeked in the doorways of the adjacent rooms. Seeing no sign of his mother, he stood on his tip toes and carefully pulled the angel off the shelf, studying its face for divine inhabitation. His mother used to tell him all people have a guardian angel looking over them, protecting them. There must be something wrong with this one, Aaron thought, since Lily died. His small fingers ran over the white porcelain figure slowly, feeling every bump, every crevice. He remembered his little hand was just the right size and turned the angel over, placing his thumb on the tip of one wing, his pinky on the tip of the other, causing the heel of his hand to rest on the small, gold crank.
Mama never sings the song anymore, he thought. Aaron turned the crank hoping this time would be different.
Emily was busy scrubbing the tub when she heard a faint noise that caused her back to stiffen immediately. Her heart started beating faster, her breathing became heavier and the sick feeling in her stomach returned.
Not again, she thought. She stood slowly, quietly, hoping it would go away. She tried to ignore it by washing her hands, but once the water was off, the distant tinkling was still there.
"Stop," she whispered, closing her eyes. She took several deep breaths, trying to calm down, but each one intensified her emotion instead, until she bounded for the living room like a locomotive.
"What are you doing?" she screamed at Aaron, snatching the angel out of his hands.
"I'm sorry, Mama," Aaron squeaked, his lip quivering slightly.
"Why can't you leave this alone? You know how I feel about this. What is the matter with you?"
Aaron didn't speak. He shrugged his shoulders and fell in a heap on the floor. His mother's shouting brought him to attention again.
"Mama, I just..."
"You just what? Spit it out, boy!"
"I wanted to hear the song. You never sing it anymore." The small boy stared at the ground.
Emily grabbed his chin, forcing Aaron to look her in the eye. "Get this into your head. I cannot, will not, sing that song ever again. Do you understand?" She felt heat rising in her chest.
He squirmed in her grasp and looked around the room.
"I said, do you understand," she asked, shaking him back to her gaze.
He nodded slowly and she released him. Though her hands were trembling, she felt her emotions subside. She peered into the angel's face as her son had done, searching for her own answers. When she placed it back on the shelf, tears filled her eyes.
"Why don't you go play outside?" she suggested, exhaling slowly. Aaron stood very still, his breathing very shallow, biting his fingernails.
"Well, go on," she urged.
He stood frozen, causing her frustration to rise again. "What's the matter with you? Go!"
Aaron took a deep breath. "Why, Mama?"
"What do you mean, why? Because I said so," The flush returned.
"No, I mean...why..." Aaron shuffled his feet and put his hands in his pockets. "Why won't you ever sing the song again?"
Emily felt an imaginary punch to the gut, forcing her to retaliate with fury. She clutched his arms in her hands and began shaking him, screaming into his pale face, "How can I sing 'Jesus Loves Me' after he took Lily away?"
Her grip on her son became tighter and her eyes reminded him of the stray dog his daddy had to shoot.
"Do not say another word about this. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, Mama, please. You're hurting me."
"This is nothing compared to what you'll get if you touch that angel again," she said, puffing with rage.
"Okay, Mama. I won't, I promise." Aaron started to cry. "Please Mama, please let go."
"What's going on?" came a voice from the doorway.
Aaron pleaded with his father, "I'm sorry, Daddy. I touched the angel. I'm sorry. Help me, Daddy."
John rushed across the room to his wife. "Emmy, what are you doing? Emmy, let go." He pulled her away from the boy and stared into her face. Her frozen, expression and rapid breathing frightened even him. She glared past both he and Aaron.
"He touched that angel again. I told him never to do that. He does not listen to me. He..."
"He's a boy," John interrupted, "Get a hold of yourself." He held her tightly causing her body to release its tension in uncontrollable weeping. His own eyes misted in frustration. He missed his old wife, the one unafraid to kill a snake with a hoe or butcher a chicken. The woman he held now was a fragile stranger, reduced to tears in a moment. He longed to see the fiery spirit that once occupied her eyes and wondered how long it would be before the sorrow that lived there now moved on.
"Emmy, Emmy," John said softly, stroking his wife's hair with one hand and her back with the other as she cried on his shoulder. "It's been almost a year since Lily died. You've got to move on."
"Why did he do it, John? What have I done wrong?" Emily hung desperately to her husband.
"What are you talking about? It was not your fault."
"I must have done something for God to take away our beautiful baby girl."
"You're out of your head," John lifted Emily's chin, looked deep in her eyes and spoke very deliberately. "You've got to stop dwelling on this, Emmy. There's nothing you can do for Lily now, but Aaron and I need you."
Emily scanned the room for Aaron, finding him in the doorway, eyes wide. On seeing him her own eyes widened and she covered them with her hands before escaping to the bathroom.
"Why is Mama sad?"
"Your Mama is missing Lily," John answered, his brow wrinkled.
"She misses her a lot, huh?"
John nodded soberly. They listened to water running in the bathroom, a welcome noise breaking the awkward silence. Aaron studied his father's worn face and started biting the inside of his cheek. John sat down and ran a hand through his hair, releasing a heavy sigh. They boy ambled up next to him, leaning into his body slightly, tapping his fingers on his father's leg.
"Hmmm?" John stared out the window.
"Daddy, did God kill Lily?"
"Aaron, why do you say such a thing?" He urgently searched his young son's face.
"Whenever Mama is sad, she talks about how God took our baby away."
"God did not kill your sister. She just died. She was sick. That's all there is to it."
"You should tell Mama that. Then she might like God again."
"That's ridiculous. Your mama loves God. How can you think that?"
"She won't sing the song. She said never again."
"That's enough of this talk," John decided, feeling uncomfortable. "Go play outside for awhile. The fresh air will be good for you."
"But, Daddy, I don't..."
Aaron walked outside and sulked on the front step. Now everybody is mad at me, he thought. He rested his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands, discovering an ant hill between his feet. Could Mama be right, he wondered. Could it be that Jesus doesn't really care? Does He look down on us like these ants? He wrinkled his nose, squinted his eyes and lifted his right foot slowly. With a grunt, he brought his foot down hard, smashing the hill. Then he stood and jumped up and down on it. As he did so, the chickens began making noise which gave him a new idea.
"What d'ya think of this?" Aaron mumbled. He threw a rock at a hen who moved just in time to get out of its way.
"Aw, man." Aaron slapped his leg, picked up another rock and heaved it. This time he missed the pen entirely. Breathing heavier, he picked up a handful of rocks and hurled them with all his might. The squawks assured him he made contact. As he was picking up another handful, a car pulled into the driveway.
"Whoa, give them a break, Bucko," the woman called out as she got out of her car. "What are you doing?"
"Stupid chickens," Aaron grumbled.
"Come here, give me a hug." The woman stepped in front of him, blocking his shot, and opened her arms wide.
"Hi, Aunt Jean." He dropped his ammunition and snuggled into her body. She held him long enough for a tear to spill onto his cheek.
"What did the chickens do to you?" Jean stooped down to look him in the face and noticed the new streak there. "Are you having a bad day, honey?"
The boy nodded slowly and pursed his lips tight, trying to stop the imminent flood.
"It's okay, that happens to all of us sometimes." She patted the front step. "Come sit down. I brought you something."
Aaron's eyes brightened as Jean pulled a chocolate bar out of her purse. She put an arm around his body and handed him the candy as he sat next to her on the step. He quickly tore off the wrapper and took a big bite.
"What's your mom doing today?" Jean asked.
"She's having a bad day too," he muttered as he chewed.
"She is? How can you tell?"
"First she yelled at me and when Daddy came home she started crying."
"Why did she yell at you?"
"I turned the angel music on," he started.
"The angel Grandma gave your mommy when Lily was born?"
"I thought you weren't supposed to play with that."
"I know, but I just wanted to hear the music. Mama hasn't played it for a long, long time. When Lily was still here, we used to wind it up and Mama would sing and dance with me. I wanted to make her happy again."
"But she got mad. Daddy said she's missing Lily."
"Where are your mom and dad now?"
"They're inside," the small boy said, licking the last of the chocolate off his fingers. "I need a drink!"
Jean managed a smile and tousled Aaron's hair. "C'mon. I'll help you."
She held the door for Aaron and they walked in. John was at the kitchen sink, chugging a glass of water.
"I'll have what you're having," Aaron said, making his father turn around and notice them.
"Jean, I'm glad you're here. Emmy's having rough day." John filled his glass and handed it to Aaron.
"That's what I hear," Jean responded.
"I've got to get some work done, but I hate to leave her alone. Can you stay for awhile? At least until she gets calmed down?"
"Sure. I came to see how she was."
"Great, thank you." John went to the bathroom briefly, then kissed Aaron and left.
Emily emerged. "Hello, Jean. It's so good to see you, I'm glad you stopped." She gave her sister a big hug and forced a smile. "Sit down. Do you want something to drink?"
"No, I'm fine, but I hear you're not so good."
"I'm okay." Emily sat across the table from Jean and stared at her fingers. "I can't seem to get over this. What's the matter with me?" She looked into Jean's eyes.
"Everyone handles grief differently. It takes time."
"How much time? When will little things stop reminding me of her?" Aaron swallowed hard, remembering what had reminded her this day. "When will I stop feeling angry? Will I ever be happy again?"
Aaron slipped into the living room and stood once more in front of the bookcase. The women continued talking and he knew they were not paying attention to him. He reached for the angel, this time putting the thumb and pinky on the wings with his palm over its face. You didn't help us, he thought. Then he heard the all too familiar weeping of his mother again in the kitchen and decided he would never sing the song again either. He placed the figure face down on the shelf and covered it with his handkerchief. At the same time, his eyes exchanged their boyhood sparkle for an intense, serious glare. He walked slowly into the kitchen, straight to the spot where Emily laid her head down on the table crying.
"It's okay, Mama. I won't make you sad anymore." Aaron put one arm around her back, the other on her arm and whispered in her ear. "I'm a big boy now. I'll make sure God doesn't hurt you again."
Emily turned and clutched the boy's waist, burying her head in his small chest.
"You're a good boy, honey," she said between sobs.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: PentaxFanatiK