Friday, January 21, 2011

Fiction Friday (continued...)


Once a month, Sophie's mother organized a community recital at the Home for the Elderly, and anyone could perform who wanted to.  Sophie's mother always signed her up to play the piano.  First she'd play, and then she'd recite the poem she memorized that month.  The applause were never very loud, and there were never enough cookies and punch afterwards and it was so long before everyone had finished their recitals.  Sophie's mother would sit and visit with the old men and women for what seemed like hours, and smile and laugh with them and hold their hand--listening to their stories and their jokes until they got tired and needed to take a rest.

When it was time to go, Sophie took her mother's hand and they walked down the street together.  Father was at work and her other brothers were in school, so it was just the two of them, the ladies of the house.  Down the street, two blocks right, and one to the left, past the big yellow house, through the park (and all those lovely trees), and up the steps of the large building.

Today, instead of letting her play in the courtyard after the recital, Sophie's mother brought her into the hall and introduced her to one of the old ladies.  

"Sophie, this is Meema.  She just moved in here." she said.  Meema had white hair and her face was pale, like the parchment pictures in Mother's bedroom.  She had thin lips and watery blue eyes, but she was smiling.  Sophie liked her smile--it reminded her of Jake.  

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," Sophie replied with a little curtsy, but she hung back a little behind her mother. 

"Meema is Jake's grandmother." Sophie's mother told her.  "After his parents died, Jake lived with Meema and she took care of him."  

Sophie stared with wide eyes.  The more she looked, the more she saw Jake's face in the old woman.  Meema smile even wider.  "What a lovely little girl you are, Sophie!  I loved the poem you recited today.  Where did you learn it?"  

"Well, Jake wrote it down for me before he left, ma'am, and I've been memorizing it for the past few months.  He used to tell me all sorts of stories and poems and songs... b-before."  

"Ah, it sounded like something Jake would like.  Will you tell me again, dear, slowly.  I'm going to close my eyes, but I'll be listening.  Can I hold your hand while you say it?  You have such lovely little hands."  

Sophie put her hand in the old lady's.  It was warm and soft and dry--like old paper, like the old face, but it was strong.  Meema squeezed Sophie's hand, and Sophie began:

In Winterland there is a song that Apple Blossoms sing
though all around the Swirling Wind would blow and tear and sting. 

The Apple Blossoms sing a song of Spring and Summer scenes,
Of cherry trees and golden skies and twilight caught between. 

A wanderer in Winterland will seldom hear the song
for Swirling Wind in jealousy is blowing all day long.  

An evil prince, in ages past, 'fore Winterland was young
had loved to watch the Blossoms bud and hear the song they sung. 

He longed to pluck them, every one, and keep them for his own
to make them love him, make them sing for him, and him alone. 

But Apple Blossoms are not meant for princes tall and fair,
These Apple Buds were made and grown to grace a maiden's hair. 

He could not pluck them, could not tear the Blossoms from their Stem.
Though strong he was and powerful, he could not loosen them. 

The prince in furious, fuming rage, uprooted Apple Tree
and planted it in Winter's land, amid an icy sea. 

Those Apple Blossoms, singing still, cared naught what Prince would do
their song, still strong, kept close to them the warmth of Sun and Dew. 

Sophie stopped reciting because she saw Meema was crying.  Her eyes were closed, but big, shiny tears were trickling down her cheeks, and the tip of her nose and her cheeks were flushed pink.  Sophie looked at her mother, but her eyes were closed too.  Meema squeezed Sophie's hand and began the poem right where Sophie had left off.  Her voice sounded to Sophie like all the old women she'd ever read about--the wise old women who always know the way out of the tangles in the stories Jake told her.  

One wand'rer though, long years ago, through that cold land would roam
to see The Apple Blossoms grow and hear their songs of home. 

Old woman she in seeming be was yet a maid of Spring
But Winterland, so aged he, old age will quickly bring.

She labored on, up to the hill where Apple Blossoms dwell
and there she stood, she rested there, and heard the song they tell.

Though hardly minutes spent she there long years it washed away.
The Blossoms' song brought to her heart bright rays of Summer's Day. 

Young woman now, deep breath she drew, and cast her cloak aside
and danced beneath the apple tree while Blossoms fell in tides. 

At last she stopped, held out her hands, and falling Blossoms caught. 
She took the buds, and donned her cloak, refreshed in limb and thought. 

Old Winterland could blow and bite but her did not dissuade. 
She'd wander oft to Apple Tree to dance upon the glade. 

She'd bear the blossoms back with her and weave them in her hair
to ever keep the memory of places far and fair.  

In Winterland the song remains that Apple Blossoms sing. 
And Jealous Wind will always blow and bite and rage and sting. 

But maidens fair can wander there to seek for memory
and dance beneath the Blossom Rain amid a Summer Sea. 

Meema finished and smiled, which pushed the tears over her eyelids and sent them cascading down her cheeks.  She sighed and squeezed Sophie's hand again.

"What does it mean, Meema?" Sophie asked.  She no longer felt awkward with this old woman.  She wanted to know more about Jake, and about Jake and Meema.  She wanted to hear stories again, stories like Jake would tell.

"Why--didn't you know, Sophie?  Jake wrote that poem himself," answered Meema.  "He wrote it for me, when he was younger--when I was younger--to make me feel better about leaving my home."

"Where was your Home, Meema?"

"Far away, my dear.  So very far away..."  Meema's eyes got watery again and Sophie quickly looked at her mother.  Her eyes were open now and she was smiling at Sophie.

"When I was sad," Meema continued, "Jake would ask me why, and I would tell him, 'I miss my friends, my sisters, and my home.'  'Why did you leave, Meema?' he would ask me.  'Your grandfather and I had to, Jake,' I would say, 'or we would have died.'  And so, Jake wrote this poem and he told me, 'Can't you go visit your friends and your sisters and your home in your thoughts, Meema?  Like visiting the apple tree?'"

Sophie was quiet the whole walk home from the church.  She didn't even look at the trees in the park and didn't realize they were close to home until they turned left onto her street. Three houses in, the blue house on the right.

"Mother?"  Sophie finally said.

"Yes, dear?"

"Will Meema be there next month?"

"I think so, Sophie.  Do you want to see her again?"

"Yes. I liked her.  She was like Jake."

"Well, we'll have to start working on another poem, then, won't we?"

Sophie smiled.  When they got to the house, she went right to her bedroom and carefully opened the little notebook Jake had given her.  There were dozens of pages of notes and stories and poems and little drawings.  She flipped through and thought of the last time she saw him.

"You be good to your mama, Soph, ok?  She'll need you as you get bigger, and I'm counting on you to take good care of everyone."  He smiled wide, but Sophie saw tears on his cheek.

"I've got something for you," he said, and took his heavy back off his shoulder.  From the very top, he pulled out a lovely little notebook--the kind Sophie's brothers used for their writing class--and handed it to her.  "It's a little something to remember me by.  It's the best I have to give you."

Sophie closed the book and held it close to her chest--she never realized how much of Jake was in it.

She couldn't wait to see Meema again.  

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