It hung there like a branch on a tree.
It was more of a brown,
Like shoe leather and cream with orbs of splattered sunlight.
The timeworn camera had captured a split second of special.
We would call it a black and white photo today, but to suggest it had a quality of such would be illogical.
The little girl in the picture was very colorful, indeed.
Her eyes were sorrow-filled holes that bored into your soul.
Her hair was ringlet curls that hung draped in perfection, adorning her oval face.
No one could have noticed anything else in the photo—not the trees or the rose bushes or the sailor dress that draped her thin body.
Her eyes were too potent,
They pled for love, solace, or some form of healing.
They drank you in, mesmerizingly, till one could scarcely pull themselves away.
They held you
Concealed in black and taupe were irises speckled in a blue of the palest sky.
Eyes of wonder.
The picture hung on the refrigerator,
A constant reminder that the white-haired woman with Parkinson’s disease,
The one who could empty a whole coffee cup within seconds by sloshing it on the floor was the same child in the photo.
A child who would later hold the title of my mother.
“There’s always a time to shine,” she said, curling her bottom lip. “You need to let the light shoot out of your hair like cracked eggshells covered in glistening white yolks.”
I pictured her hair standing up all over her head, illuminated and glistened like the moon draped over an armchair or a starfish on fire. She looked up at me compellingly.
“What are you thinking?”
But before I can answer her, she continues . . .
“I like to take out my pastel pink shirts on these occasions when I feel shiny. It reminds me of cotton candy and the summer of 1972— or a breezy blouse that’s indigo blue.
She twirled around, showing me her new outfit.
I frown and reflect on the dozen black shirts hanging in a row on one side of my closet. Even the hangers looked tired and exhausted from holding them up. The other side has a smaller colorful section that used to hang off my thinner, more active body.
She looks up again with a glazed expression. “Sometimes on rare occasions, I braid my hair like a fishtail and sit on a rock by the river.”
“Over there . . .”
She points down the hill past the briars and the thorns and the medicine. “It’s best to go just before the Sun begins to bursts forth like Samson stretching and yawning his head full of fire. The fish move their mouths above the glassy waters. Do you like water?” She said it as if I might be thirsty.
I’m always thirsty.
I try and answer her.
“Yes, sometimes the sea calls my name and the ocean crashes into my bed and pulls me upstream.” I look down at my black shirt and notice a butterfly light on my shoe–just the corner of my flip-flop. Its vibrant blue and the palest yellow. “Did you see it?” “See what?” “Never mind.” I sigh long and hard and stare at her ginger brown hair woven into the sun. I cut my hair with a paring knife and a dull pair of scissors. Choppy. Suddenly, I feel gloomy despite her pink shirt and the trace of Dianthus on the wind, and I try and think of a song or something cool to say, but nothing comes to me. I force it. “Remember when we were nineteen? And you used to walk to the corner store with me to play Pac-Man. We’d eat ice cream and go to your house and play your Grease, Zeppelin, and Meatloaf albums until dark . . .” It was 1982. I wait for the spark and the engine to fire. And then her hair lit up her smile, and the butterfly lit on my arm, just as she motioned with glee. “I see it,” she says finally. “You need a butterfly.” “You need to shine.” Suddenly I feel duller than the scissors I’d used the night before, like a sparkler that goes out on the 4th of July. Her perfect white teeth look like choir boys rehearsing for an audition. She was forever telling me what “I needed.” As if she held all the answers. “You need a black shirt,” I say rather curt with my nose crinkled up.” “Just a hint of sorrow would be refreshing.” Now the light coming from her had sizzled. Her hair turned mossy brown, and her eyes faded. Was I to blame? I fold up my lips and tell her that the earth has eaten the trees, and we’ve killed the honeybees, and the oil has spilled into the Sea. “Aren’t you starving for something tangible?”
She laughs hysterically.
“Darling you’ve always been gloomy and extreme.”
I cup my hands that are now suddenly full of oil and swath my hair in it. I pick up my shoes and then barefoot run through the thorns licking up the straw-like grass, and throw myself into the river. It’s alive, and suddenly I can breathe.
I am the sea.
“Oh Abba, Mikvah me!” The moon gleams from the now darkened heavens. The waters tremble, and then the fish light up like light bulbs in the dark. They’re as green as a cucumber salad. I come shooting up out of the river like a sea creature. I’m covered in gold dust, and the waters turn pastel pink like cotton candy. It tastes good on my skin. I drink it in like pomegranate juice.
She yells something incoherent and then runs down the hill past the briars and the weeds. Her pastel shirt snagging on a shrub. Out of breath, she dips her foot in the pink waters that match her blouse. “Are you thirsty?” I ask. Her fishtail braid falls to one side of her shoulders, and with a just hint of candidness, she whispers. “Parched” And then she jumped into the deep.”