Here is Grace, a fluff of dandelion, waiting to be plucked up like an unfulfilled wish. She is poised to blow away on the breeze; her wire spectacles balanced on a snub nose. Her face is a landscape of porcelain blue veins.
She is escaping. Earlier today than before. This morning, perhaps it will make the difference.
Grace is escaping the solemn eyes of a tired woman, escaping the gentle pressing forward of the woman who walks with her and never leaves her side. The one who uses a patient grip on her elbow, and under her breath, sighs over Grace’s questions.
Concentration pinches her as she leans on a plastic cane to approach the stairs’ edge. Her breath comes in husky chuffs, and she wonders if Anna picked out this cane. It twinkles with flecks of pink glitter.
The void space of the stairs frightens her, but her baby needs her, so Grace edges forward. One toe dabs in blind taps on the carpet. Her nightdress puddles at her feet; quick-slipped over her head earlier after a sink bath, by deft hands covering wrinkled flesh.
Flannel brushes against her shins. It reminds Grace of thick pink and green flamingo towels piled on the floor of the bathroom. It reminds her of Anna, aged two, after a mud puddle day, standing naked in the tub as bubbled water sluiced off her limbs. She inhales the crisp tart scent of Anna, munching fall apples, when she lost her first tooth, so startled as the green flesh came away bloodied. Straw headed Anna; summer lips stained with blueberry juice. In winter, sipping hot cocoa with a whipped cream mustache, laughing through barley baby teeth.
Grace hears a door closing, somewhere else. A house, she knows. My house?
Find her. This fills her up with something raw and guttural, makes her feet feel fretful again.
Those ugly flamingoes, she thinks.
She gets lost in wrestling her girl into pajamas after a bath. Anna’s favorites had tiny ribbons on the sleeves and she had cried when her mother finally cut the ribbons loose; they had become so tattered, straggling by threads. She had sewn new ribbons on after that, never able to stand her girl’s tears. After the pajama crisis was solved, next came hair.
To complete their ritual, she must always brush her hair with a silver handled brush that her own Yaya had gifted her when she was little. Anna would perch in her lap like a songbird, humming a childish lullaby, and let Grace coax blonde snarls into ringlets with her finger, keeping the prickly horsehair bristles from digging at the tender scalp. Tales of Yaya and her magical brush ended with tinkles of giggles and yawns.
The two would end up a jumble beneath Anna’s canopy, pulling the spiderweb lace curtains tight against the night. Grace would make-up stories. The best ones she had never spoken aloud to anyone else, the ones about misunderstood witches covered in lumpy green warts or stumbling into a fairy ring and dancing to enchanted violins. She wove magic until Anna breathed in little burbling snores and her limbs slackened.
Finally, Grace would tuck Anna beneath a quilt made from bits of old baby blankets and whisper a magic spell to keep bad dreams away. She never forgot to whisper the spell. Always at the end. Always out loud.
Snug as a bug in a rug.
She would kiss Anna’s forehead, smoothing her hair, and close the door.
Now, Grace rests against cool strips of wallpaper and tries to catch her breath. She never meant to linger in this place.
Anna must be frightened.
If she strains, turns her head just so, she can unravel the sound of a baby crying, in the distance. Or perhaps… perhaps that is birdsong skimming the breeze that snakes through a cracked open window at the end of the hall?
Her heart rustles against her breastbone, picturing Anna curled in a ball beneath the patchwork quilt; afraid of the dark. When? Afraid last night? No. Afraid now.
Quiet footfalls, behind her. Approaching in the hallway. Warm fingers clasp Grace’s elbow, gentle sparrow’s wings, their pressure loose, familiar. Kind hands shore her up as her derelict legs begin to wobble.
Grace searches the face smiling down at her.
“Hello.” Her gnarled fingers pat the woman’s hand.
A flame of recognition flickers behind the washed-out ocean of her eyes, flaring white hot before sputtering out. She blinks once, twice. Smiles politely as her Yaya taught her to do.
Grace allows this woman with kind eyes and tumbling blonde hair to lead her. They travel together on a deliberate circuit, back to the sunny room at the end of the corridor she has been walking alone. It occurs to her that her bedroom has a blue bathroom with silver handrails and lavender soaps shaped like seashells but there is no tub for little girls.
The woman carries her cane tucked in the bend of her elbow. It sways, scattering rosy prisms as the sun catches it. Grace squints at faded pictures hanging in the hallway, like of clusters of petals unfurling from a blossom, waiting for her to inspect as they pass. She slows to peer at an elfin Anna grinning with scabbed knees and braids zooming on her bicycle, of Anna in an electric blue cap and gown, her hair pressed flat, and a smile pasted on. She stands at one frame heartbeats longer than the rest. This one tugs at her insides, the one of Anna in a white flowing dress, lace like the canopy, on the arm of a man she misses so much it burns her throat and makes her chest ache. Her companion does not hurry her, only pauses, and waits at each station.
Inside the bedroom at the end of the corridor, this woman with brown eyes, practiced and measured, eases her down on the edge of the bed. Then uses kind hands to smooth the edges of the quilt folded over the foot of the bed.
Scraps sewn by hand, Grace thinks.
Then this woman produces Yaya’s brush, and it untethers her from this moment.
The one Anna used, with the silver handle.
The woman strokes her hair, settling it into a white halo. Gentle fingers untangle her hair, and the pressure on her skin casts a snare; the warmth of them winds out a slender strand of awareness, slipping it into a crevice inside her soul, calling Grace back. Anna whispers in her mother’s ear as she kisses one papery, vellum cheek.
“Snug as a bug in a rug.”
Becca Saul lives and works in South Carolina. She spends every spare moment tucking seeds into the earth, scribbling words down, trying to breathe life into imaginary worlds, and chasing shiny objects to figure out how stuff works. She is privileged to be a wife, mother, grandmother (the cool kind) and pet parent. Finally comfortable in the skin she’s in, regretting nothing.