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July 2014, vol 10, no 2

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Gary LeBel

Pearl


                     Always someone marches brave
                    Here beneath my skin
.
                         k.d. laing, “Constant Craving,” from her album Ingenue

Like a message appearing in the window of a child’s Magic 8-Ball, her face floats up before me as I drive. I haven’t thought of her in years and yet there she is, as clear as a photograph, the sunken cheeks, the long straight silver hair pulled tightly back, the keen eyes of a nonagenarian so terribly stricken with arthritis that she could barely move her limbs.

We’d been through a lot together on those nightly rounds and bed-checks, my after-school job in the care facility where she lived. One night I found her raging with fever and we had to run buckets of ice from the home’s kitchen to fill the tub, four of us lowering her heavy frame ever so gently into it despite her angry cries and the indignation of being stripped naked under the indifferent glare of those florescent lights.

And on other, less dramatic nights when she couldn’t sleep, I’d wander into her room, lower the bar and sit on the edge of her bed to talk, though at sixteen, I didn’t know much. She’d been a teacher for over sixty years and yet I never saw one of her former pupils come to visit her, nor anyone else.

At times when I began my shift, and I’d open her blinds to let in the afternoon sun, her eyes would mist over and sink away into what I vaguely thought was remembrance, and I’d leave for I didn’t dare intrude.

But I knew that she loved me, this woman whose name I can’t remember, whose face I see so clearly today, for whenever I’d lean in close to lift her into her wheelchair for dinner, she’d sweep my long cowlick aside with the knuckles of her in-curled fingers while shooting me a grin and a flirty glance,

     and I didn’t know it then but what she had given me was a gift, a glimpse of the girlhood that lives

     in every woman.

               Sealed in a breeze
                         the fragrance
               of a hidden pond




crane