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Thank you to Stephanie of BeKindRewrite for her prompts. Again, they were all so good. I chose Children’s Prayers with a slight adaptation. This story deals with something many children have had to face. It is true to life and needs to be told for all those young children who deal with things we adults sometimes forget.

A CHILD’S PRAYER

The sobs were coming from a bedroom down the hall, heart wrenching sobs, then gasps for air, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow.

Gina lifted her head from the pillow, and, listening intently, she turned slowly.  She pulled herself up and swung her feet around to the edge of the bed. This was something she never expected to hear.

Swallowing hard, she thought of the many reasons a mother can never get used to the sounds of heartbreak coming from the heart of her child, especially a five-year old, so innocent and loveable.  Her eyes glanced down and saw the brown teddy bear laying next to her feet. She bent, picked it up and hugged it to her chest.

As Gina entered Evan’s bedroom he looked over at her, tears brimming, spilling from his blue eyes and rolling down his cheeks. He pulled the covers over his head.

“Evan, sweetie, can I sit down on your bed next to you?”

“O.K.”

“Can you tell me why you are crying, why you feel so badly now.”

“No.”

Slowly, a blond head with tousled hair peeked up from under the blankets.

“Is it because Daddy isn’t living here any more?”

Her sweet boy’s head disappeared again and the howls of his heart breaking into a million pieces were almost more than she could stand. She lifted his blanket just a bit and put his teddy bear next to his arm and then lifted his arm over his stuffed friend to hug tight. She listened to more of his sobs and his gasping while he tried to catch his breath.

“You know, Evan, Daddy loves you very, very much. He has always told me how special you are to him.  What is the special name he calls you?”.

Evan lifted the blanket and pulled himself up still hugging his little friend.

”His buddy”.

“That’s right. And, I know for a fact,  he doesn’t call anyone else his buddy. That shows how important you are to him and you will always be his buddy, too”.

“But, Mommy, why did Daddy leave me?”

“Remember the other day when you and I went to the beach.  I told you that Daddy is always going to be a part of your life. You will always be able to visit with him and he will come here to visit you. Daddy will always love you.  He hasn’t stopped loving you. He never will.

“But he isn’t here anymore. He left me.”

“Sometimes grown-ups make decisions that are very hard for children to understand. Remember, sweetie, even though he isn’t here anymore you will still see him often. You can call him anytime and when you start kindergarten soon Daddy will be there, too. He can go to your school just like I can. He will never stop seeing you. Never ever stop.”

“Mommy, can I say a prayer for my Daddy?”

“Of course. Let me hold you and Teddy tight.”

“Dear God – Please help my Daddy to come back home. I like it when he tickles me awake and when he cooks I sit on the counter and watch him. I miss him, God. Please, please bring my Daddy back home to me. Amen

As Gina struggled to hold back her tears, she kissed his tear-stained cheek and give him a huge, tight hug.

“Let me tuck you in with Teddy Bear. You know when you feel very sad you can hold him close and kiss him. And when you cry for Daddy, it is ok. Everyone gets sad sometime. There is nothing wrong with that. The important thing to remember is both Daddy and I are your family and we will always love you THIS MUCH, both of us. I will turn off the light now and when you wake up tomorrow morning you can call Daddy to say hi, o.k?”

“I love you Mommy. I feel better. But I still want Daddy to come home again.”

Gina sat on the edge of Evan’s bed caressing his cheeks, those plump cheeks she loved to kiss, and waited until he fell asleep. She watched as his breathing became slow and regular. Then she made her way back to her bedroom, alone.

She shut the door quietly, threw herself on the bed and wept uncontrollably.

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Thank you to BeKindRewrite for this weeks prompts. I have chosen ” What they Wanted me to Be’ as my prompt. Again, thank you, Stephanie!

WHAT THEY WANTED ME TO BE

The cocktail glass reflected the deep claret color of wine Mother was drinking. Her perfectly French manicured fingernails enhanced the thin elegant stem while her dainty protruding pinkie gave proof of her status in life.

“I mention this, darling, because we want the very best for you. After all, your great-grandfather worked extremely hard to establish his legacy.  His trust is not one to be mocked. Your life would have been significantly different had he not been diligent.”

I glanced down at my t-shirt with the large chartreuse fluorescent letters and the blaring motto “Teabaggers gave America a Boehner”, then looked up at my mother and wondered if we were truly related.

“Don’t worry about it, Mom. I am not doing anything great-grandfather would have been upset with, okay?”

“Sweetie, the fact that you didn’t attend the fund-raiser I sent you a ticket for, well, darling, it sends a message that can’t be ignored.”

“Thanks for the visit, Mom. I am NOT getting into another political/philosophical discussion with you. The semester ends in just a few weeks, and, I will be back soon..”  A quick touch of a kiss on her own index finger and then a touch of her finger to Mom’s lips and she was gone, out the door, off to bigger and better things.

After a significant sigh, Dianah, climbed the massive granite staircase and entered her bedroom suite. Walking over to a dresser in the far corner, she pulled the large drawer open. Gently, she unfolded a t-shirt and looked at the message…”Haight-Ashbury…Summer of Love – 1967″. Her mind wandered back to what her life had been while she had attended the University of California, Berkeley.

Dianah’s lips smiled while her long fingernails helped her fold this t-shirt she had never been able to let go. She reflected on ‘what they wanted me to be’ back then, long ago in 1967,  to what she was now.

Her tongue wet her lips, those same lips her daughter recently kissed by proxy finger, and she thought “Ah, yes, what goes around, comes around!”

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Thank you to Indigo Spider of Sunday Picture Press for three amazing pictures, visual prompts for the week. I have chosen the second picture. Head over to her blog and join in the fun!

Visual Prompt 2 — Title and Artist Unknown

BRIDGE OF SMILES

Standing at the top of the curved bridge, Jeanne stopped short. Where was she? What was she doing here?  In the water below she saw the reflection of an old woman, someone she didn’t know. Panic spread to her soul. How could it be? She stared at the still water, hardly a movement, except for the blinking eyes on that barely moving old woman. The dark tree branches from the water’s edge gave the air a misty feel. The gray bricks of the bridge and the high round shape of the walkway made a perfect circle for her to peer down under and look through. Maybe, just maybe, if she peered hard enough…

Jeanne squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them and continued to let the water soothe her until she remembered. Him. His laughter. His touch. His warmth. Ahhh, yes, yes. Her tense wrinkled forehead softened. Her mouth curved up into a smile. Yes, there had been good times. Even when there had been hardly enough to eat, and no work during the depression, they still had each other to hold. And children, a house full of busy, noisy children. A passing memory, a whiff of baby lotion, of clean, air-dried laundry and bread baking caused her to look even deeper into the water. What were their names?

Debbie sat on the edge of the bank watching her grandmother, seeing the smile on her face, the smile which had, of late, become so elusive. She looked beyond the bridge, to the other side. All those white granite stones had names on them, family names, and dates. Everyone there, lying deep in earth’s dust had been loved by someone, even if it had only been the woman who birthed them.

She thought of her Grandfather John, his name carved there, too, in the small plot beyond the bridge. He had been a gentle man, a hard worker who never tired of providing for his six children. She had heard stories from her mother about his kindness to others. Debbie had felt his kindness, too. She remembered the times he took her fishing in the river below his house. Each time she insisted on a new hand-made fishing pole from an alder. He always winked at her, saying no, then off they would go, hand-in-hand, to look for the best one to cut. That was such a long time ago.

Coming here, to this bridge had become a family ritual, a place to come to catch a glimpse of a passing smile on a face that had once worn a perpetual smile.  After Grandfather John was gone, no one knew how to ease Grandmother’s grief. It was so hard watching her mind move inward, forgetting things and forgetting people. She often didn’t remember her own children’s names, and none of the grandchildren.

As Debbie looked up her heart swelled with love. This woman she no longer knew well, who had always been so special in her life but was now almost a stranger, this woman deserved the kind of love she had given out all her life. Visits here would continue as long as possible. There was something about the bridge that allowed  her to go back in time, to remember. She saw Grandmother lift her head and look toward the white granite posts.

Looking beyond the water, at the grassy area, Jeanne’s eyes caught the white markers. She stopped smiling. She lifted her head, sadness in her dull blue eyes. Where was she? She looked down at the water again, puzzled, then turned to see a young woman coming forward. She looked so familiar. She didn’t remember where she had seen her, but when she looked at her, she saw her own blue eyes, smiling back.

“Let’s get your sweater, Grandmother, and then we will head home for dinner. We’ll come back again, soon.”

Debbie put her arm through her grandmother’s, touching fondly her paper-thin, see-through skin, and slowly they walked, arm-in-arm toward the car.

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Thank you to Indigo Spider for the picture prompts this week. It is difficult to choose. I am looking forward to reading all the stories. I have chosen to write for Sunday Picture Press visual prompt #3.

Visual Prompt 3 — A Window on the Past by Marilyn Elmore Bragg (from chessiesphotos.wordpress.com/)
Window To My Soul
A replica of the long ago window was etched in Elizabeth’s mind. Every aspect of it was alive, a vivid capture, imprinted and engraved with indelible brain cells. This wasn’t a mere snapshot of a window, taken in haste, but a full album, which, when pulled from the mind’s memory shelves allowed for  different perspectives, lighting and composition. Often, when an especially hard decision had to be made, the window was a light to her soul, helping her see all angles, to better analyze and debate. The outcome was always a decision made from the vantage point of a balanced view.

Elizabeth sucked in deeply, eager to see her inanimate guide again, this window that had given her a view into her soul twenty-nine years ago. That decision had set her course in life. Now, she was in need of such help again.

Her mind flashed back to what once was. She had never lacked in the dating department. Men were naturally drawn to her. Her curves talked to them. When she walked, her bounce teased the eye. Her long, thick, soft brown hair followed the tilt of her head. Men, and women, too, couldn’t help notice her face, sensuous yet innocent. She never gave much weight to her outer appearance, though. She was what she was. After all, she had nothing to do with it. Genes, passed down through the generations, decided who this part of her was. She just happened to get some of the best from both sides.

What mattered most was the person she was inside, what her heart was, and her accomplishments. She worked hard at being fair and kind, respecting others, and helping when there was a need. Yet she needed to be her own person, one who could take care of herself, independent enough to always survive.This followed her throughout life, and in her career she was known for her fairness and good decision-making skills.

She thought back to the summer of her inner turmoil. Her closest college friend was spending a couple of months at an exclusive resort in the Catskills and had begged her to come. It would be a gift. Money was no object to her friend’s family. She had finally said yes and packed.

Then she thought of Don. She wouldn’t see him for two months. Don, who had her heart, loved her and gave all of himself to her. He could be described as everyone’s best friend, happy-go-lucky, and average in everything. He definitely was not a mover and shaker. She knew they would never be rich but felt she could live a comfortable middle class life with him.

Elizabeth still remembered the first time she had seen Thomas that long-ago summer. Her heart quickened. He was a looker, aristocratic nose, angular chin, easy-going, confident in every move he made. She knew his type. Whatever he wanted, he got. He could make anything happen. She saw him watching her. It excited her, an excitement she had never felt with Don. Such a pull. This was not part of her plan, not part of her being-fair code. But things happened. And they happened to Thomas, too. There were two full months of living the good life, fun, laughter, sunny days and sultry moon-filled nights with beach sand stuck to everything.

The road curved and Elizabeth turned when she saw the Catskill Resort sign. She was so close. She pulled in and saw ahead the dirt road that led to the old fort and her window. She parked. The knots in her stomach grew.

Half running  through the woods, she stopped short. There it was, in front of her, thick scored cement block walls. She had to stop. The memories were too powerful, overwhelming her. She needed to catch her breath. She bent over, with a hand on each knee and waited. Finally, able to look up, she saw, there, in front of her, her window, still faded gray wood, parched from the sun with peeling paint. Shivers ran the length of her spine. She walked up to it, slowly put her arm out and let her fingers gently caress the wood and glass, those same ones she had once touched and now were in her memory from all those years ago.

She remembered that last night long ago,  sitting alone, near the window letting it reflect back to her. She had cried and reasoned, said everything to justify letting go of Don. But she couldn’t. Don was in her soul. Her heart felt sick at the thought of saying goodby to Thomas, of letting go of how he made her feel, of the endless possibilities and easy life she could lead. But, let go she did.

Sometimes she would read in the newspaper about a new business Thomas was starting up, or the new cottage he and his wife were renovating in Newport. Once, many years later, he had called her. It was probably the Lagavulin scotch talking. He told her she had been the only one to break his heart. But he had moved on as she had.

Elizabeth knew she had made the right decision. Don was good to her, a hard worker and a great father to their three grown children. With her career, they had been able to make it work. Things had been going great until last year.

Her computer broke down and she had logged on to Don’s laptop. There, in front of her were messages from someone named Lisa, explicit reminders of many rendezvous. After sitting there frozen for hours, Elizabeth copied them, emailed them to herself and then printed each of them.

That night when Dan came home from work, he walked into packed bags sitting in the hallway. The emails were hung up with clothespins on a piece of wire that was strung from the kitchen window by the sink all the way into the dining room.

The last year was rough, then four months ago Elizabeth met Rick. She still had it, that same curvy body and the same tilt of the head. At age fifty-four her face was beautifully seasoned, not so innocent anymore but still sensuous. Rick was kind and funny. He had time to enjoy her company since he was coming to the end of his career, a good career that had allowed him the finer things in life. They laughed often, enjoyed each others families and looking forward to traveling. With Rick she would have the luxury of retiring early and enjoying a soft relaxed pace.

Don’s letters of apology, cards and phone calls never stopped. Sometimes, it was a single rose with a ribbon left on her doorstep while she was at work. Other times it was a quick email to make sure she was alright. When the kids told him she had the flu, he had her favorite restaurant deliver chicken soup. He never saw Lisa again, told her it meant nothing to him, that he had lost his head and would make it up to her for the rest of their lives if she would give him another chance. Even after he knew about Rick, he didn’t stop.

Elizabeth sat on the ground looking up at this window, the window to her soul. She thought of Don, and their long life together, and the lives of their children and grandchildren. She touched her hurt heart thinking of what she had learned last year. She remembered back to her long ago summer with Thomas. Don had never known about Thomas. She had always felt guilty for not telling him. Was she really any better than he was?

Now, with Rick in her life, there was excitement again. He was like a fire that never stopped burning, had a love for anything old and all that is new. He kept things positive for his family, kept them close together, even after the tragedy of losing his wife.  She knew she could enjoy every day with him, for the rest of their life, knew he would spoil her with whatever she wanted and then give her more.

Sitting alone, staring into the panes of glass, Elizabeth thought about her many life decisions. Just after dusk, she saw the reflection of a young girl, just twenty-five years old, walk slowly away from the window, wiping her tears. She, too, stood up, following in the footsteps of that young girl, knowing what she must do, the answer etched clearly in her mind.

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Thank you to Stephanie, of BeKindRewrite for her wonderful prompts. I haven’t written for these prompts for quite some time and am thrilled I had the time to write this week.

Please listen to this song Painted Desert Serenade at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liZ_lXUvikI. It it one of my favorites and is part of the inspiration for this story, too.

80-YEAR-OLD RUNAWAY

“Do you love me, Lady Jane?”

His throaty whisper stirs even the cilia in her ears and the vibrations carry waves that reach deep in her heart.

Jane, eighty-two years young, whisks away a strand of sliver gray from her forehead, looks into his hazel eyes, tilts her head ever so slightly, teases with an almost wink, then goes back to business at hand, pouring each of them a glass of fine wine.

“They call me a cougar, you know, going after a younger man. After all, you are barely eighty.”

Douglas chuckles as his imagination goes wild. Cougar, prowl, hunt, corner, pounce. He likes it!

“I borrowed Doug’s ’67 390 V8 today. Rides smooth. Maybe we can take it for a spin around the block later. No bucket seats. You know what that means!”

Jane hands Douglas the half-filled glass of wine, her fingers brushing briefly on his, savoring the feel.

“Do I know what that means? Hmm, one hand driving, and one hand…well, not on the steering wheel.”

The cuckoo clock sings. Four times. Douglas calculates quickly. At six chimes, Doug will be home from work, check the garages, know which car he ‘borrowed’ this time, and make his customary phone call. As tolerant as Doug always is, Douglas wonders if it was a mistake selling the home he and Edith lived in for almost fifty-five years and moving in with his son and family. His eyes crease a bit, remembering Edith’s pain as she fought to the end.  Nostalgia aside, he wonders what she would think of Jane?

“Penny for those deep thoughts.” Jane pats and rubs the couch and Douglas sits down, close enough to feel the warmth of her thigh.

“Just thoughts of how empty life would be if Lady Jane hadn’t run into me.”

Jane’s eyes flicker as she remembers how bittersweet that day was over two years ago.  Jim, the love of her life, who didn’t know her face anymore, was ready to let go. They had called her back into the nursing facility, just an hour after she had visited and fed him his dinner. She was running around the corner, wanting to hold his hand one last time, to say good-bye and thank him for all those years, for his love, for their family, for giving all of himself to her. She wasn’t looking, just running. She ran right into Douglas almost knocking both of them down.  She didn’t have time to stop, but yelled out an apology as she continued down the corridor.

Douglas turns to Jane and looks at the beauty old age has given her. Wrinkles, some deep-set and some fine, show the richness of a life well lived. Her beautiful hands, the hands he loves to hold, paper mâché hands he calls them, have shown love to many and now are showing love to him.

Jane cuddles up close, puts her head on his shoulder and Douglas moves closer, too, just in time to hear a soft growl in his ear.

Just then the phone rings. No one gets up and the answering machine clicks on. “This is Doug, looking for my 80-year-old runaway. Please give me a call back.”

Neither of them hear the phone click off.

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Thank you to Indigo Spider and Sunday Picture Press for her inspiring picture prompts. Here is my submission.

Visual Prompt 1 — Bridge by Marilyn Elmore Bragg (from chessiesphotos.wordpress.com/)

THE BRIDGE TO QUIET

As I step on the weathered walking bridge, I feel a gentle sway, a rhythm set by the wind and my body movement. My feet respond to the tempo, like a dance, a cadence dance. Such music to my soul! The soft mellow flow persuades me to move on, and the healing effect is already part of me. I can feel it infuse my very being. I love the tenderness the bridge shows me as my body feels its light soothing breeze caress and wrap around me in waves of warm-air rhyme. The well-worn bridge boards, seasoned and discolored, hold me close as I walk from the middle to the sides breathing in its welcome. Falling isn’t a worry. Life has already felled me and I now hope to be lifted. The motion beckons me as we step forward, the old stained-by-rain bridge and I, melded as one.

Looking up, I see, ahead, the cottage, my home for the next month, my hoped for Shangri-la, a place surrounded by lush green forest trees and overgrown spreading bushes. The time alone will be my elixir, my time to become whole again. The rocking chair on the covered porch is moving slightly to and fro, hardly noticeable, but I know it is the kindly wind once more welcoming me and whispering to me, hoping to mollify me, to release and then mend my deep hurts, bind my wounds and renew my broken spirit.

I look behind me, back at John, standing alone on the other side of the bridge, his kind sad eyes following me as I become smaller to him, moving farther away from his touch, from his life. Tender-hearted tolerant John, who took the time to find this haven for me. Never a better husband has there been. Eleven years of deep intimate love he has given me, and I, him.

The day we met, our hearts knew, our eyes spoke to each other with bashful blinks. What fun we had exploring and  learning together. Our first kiss, so shy and awkward, young lips, hardly touching, and then laughing together about it later on. Holding hands has never grown old.  I still love to weave my fingers in his, to squeeze his hand, embrace the sensual feel it gives, and then smile at his crinkled eyes, knowing he is smiling back. Soul mates. That is what we are, what nothing can take from us, not time, not disappointment, not life hurts…not even miscarriage.

My brow furrows as I think of the word miscarriage. Once, I looked up the definition. It said ‘failure’.  Does that word convey the pain of seeing your much-wanted first baby born blue and without breath, the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. NO. Does that word explain how you feel when a year later your second cannot make it to term and is born on the bathroom floor three months too early, and dies before the ambulance arrives. NO. What about the third, fourth, fifth and just three months ago, the sixth. NO. NO. NO.NO. That word does no justice to the emotional pain. None.

There is a movement at a distance. It stops my thoughts and I see John waving goodbye, hugging his chest, then pointing to me, a motion to show his love, that he understands and knows I need to heal. My John needs resuscitation, too, and badly wants a child. He will miss me as much as I will miss him. John, also broken, is putting himself aside for me, giving me this time alone, to take what is withered and broken inside, to pull it out of me, painful like a stillbirth, to cry and scream and moan even more than I have, and to work at healing – going from in to out.  My compassionate John.

As he turns to walk away, John holds up his phone. I smile, pull mine from my pocket and wave it to him. After giving me the thumbs up, he turns, shoulders a bit sloped, and walks a distance back to our car. Panic sets in. I have not spent a day without him in such a long time. I miss him already.

I look down at my phone, a reminder of why I am here. A new medical procedure we learned about last week sounds hopeful.  Can I make peace with what has already been so I can move forward and try something new? Can I endure more disappointment? Do I dare hope once more?

I turn back looking toward the trees and bushes as I hold the sides of the bridge, touching the railing, like I would an old friend I know very well. The sway and rhythm again appease my spirit and take away my restlessness as I make my way to the nestled cottage, across this bridge to the land of quiet, alone.

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Thank you to Indigo Spider for Sunday Picture Press and the inspiring photos posted weekly as visual prompts.  I have chosen the picture below but wish I had time to write for all of them. Please visit her blog and join in the fun!

Visual Prompt 1 — Old School by Trevor Litchfield (from Trev’s Teleautograph)

SCHOOLHOUSE

I did try. Honest. I did. I told her once. Actually, twice. She didn’t listen. Or, maybe it was that she couldn’t at that time. Her mind couldn’t handle the possibilities or consequences back then. I understand now it would have complicated our lives.

But, what about ME, my mind, my life?

I know she grew up in a rigid environment, in a poor family, with twelve brothers and sisters, and a strict Catholic background. The priest was akin to God and could do no wrong. When he told families they should go to church every morning, 7:00 A.M. mass, they went.  When he said no meat on Friday, fish it was. When he handed out small white donation envelopes, they took them and didn’t question the number stamped on the left side to track the amount given.

Her Mom worked herself to the bone at home. Her Dad worked when he could but liked his drink more. She never talked much about her younger years but I remember once, in passing, she said there was never enough food in the cupboards.  She was often pushed aside at the dinner table by those with longer arms.

Things were different later, after she left home, when she married and had children of her own. She lived in a comfortable middle class home in a tight-knit community with neighbors who shared her values as they watched each others children. LIfe was good and the memories made there were sweet. I cherish many of those memories, too.

But why didn’t she believe my other ‘memories’?

The old parochial school has forever unnerved me, and now that it’s closed and empty, it’s even worse. Each time I head across town, I swear I’m not going to drive by, but I know I will. I always do. All these years later it still has me in its grasp, even though weeds have replaced children on the pavement and bushes are growing where the basketball hoop once stood.

My eyes glance at the small window and door of the protruding attached office. I remember when it was built, new, in front of the right  L wing by the playground. Now, rotting plywood is boarding the framework, keeping wandering animals at bay.  A shiver ripples through me as my mind recalls. I pull my sweater tighter and button it to my neck. The tightness and warmth feel good.

I startle…the time. I’m late. Time always escapes me here. 2:30. Mom will worry.  I told her I would stop by around 2:15. She sounded so strange on the phone earlier, insisting I visit today even though, like clockwork, it is shopping on Tuesday, BINGO on Thursday and Mass in the small stone cathedral on Sunday.

“Please, Linda, come in, come in.”

“Do you have a cold Mom? Your voice is so hoarse.”

No, Linda, not a cold. Please, sit here beside me.”

From the pocket of her worn sweater she pulls out a fresh newspaper clipping. Her trembling hands pass it to me. I look down at the blaring headline “ARCHDIOCESE ADMITS AND APOLOGIZES FOR ABUSE AND SEX CRIMES AGAINST STUDENTS FORTY YEARS AGO.

I can feel Mom’s eyes watching me as I look up. Our eyes lock and I follow her single tear as it caresses the crevices of her wrinkled cheek and stops by her now-thin lips. I tenderly wipe that lonely salty tear away thinking how salt is used as a preservative, how salty tears can preserve our spirit, our soul, can help us to survive.

“All I ever wanted was for you to say ‘I know’.”

As she gently grabs my hand, she whispers “I do know now, Linda. I do know.”

Floodgates thirty-nine years strong open as I give her my full heart. I am her little girl again feeling the warmth of her bosom as she rocks me back and forth. I hear her soft voice, balm-rich,  murmuring again and again “I know, I know, I know, I know….”

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