Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 4

If you want to catch the beginning of Blanche’s story, you can read it on Kindle and Kindle Unlimted.  However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.
As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook. Also, sorry about the lack of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 4

I ushered Jackson upstairs to his bath on the eve of his Kindergarten debut, hoping playtime with his toy boats and submarines would be short and bedtime story time even shorter. It had been a long day and my body was screaming at me to lay down and cover it with a warm comforter and quilt.

Even on the days I was beyond tired, I looked forward to tucking Jackson into bed at night, snuggling next to him and reading Winnie the Pooh or Dr. Seuss.

“Read it again, Mommy,” he said as I finished Green Eggs and Ham for the second time.

“I think we’ve read it enough, sweetheart. You need to get some rest because tomorrow is your first day of Kindergarten.”

Jackson pushed out his bottom lip. “I don’t want to go to Kindergarden, Mommy. I want to stay here with you and Grandma.”

“We’re going to miss you, but you are going to love Kindergarten. You’re going to meet new friends and learn new things and –“

“But who is going to protect you and Grandma?”

“Protect us from what?”

“From the bears in the field.”

I laughed. “What bears in the field?”

“Grandpa said he saw a bear in the field on his way to work and what if it and its family comes to the house when I’m gone?”

“Well, what would you do if you were here?” I asked, enjoying listening to the way his mind worked.

“I would get grandpa’s gun and shoot them and make those bears into a bear rug for you and Grandma to sit on and drink hot cocoa on!”

I pulled him against me, laughing as I kissed his cheek. “And we would be so happy if you did that for us, but I don’t think any bears will come to our house. Bears are as afraid of us as we are of them.”

Jackson pushed against me and buried his face into my stomach.

“I still don’t want to go to Kindergarden, Mommy. It doesn’t sound like my type of garden at all.”

I rubbed his back and leaned back against the headboard, closing my eyes for a moment as he softly cried.

It seemed impossible to me he was already six and starting school in the morning. Stroking his soft, brown hair, I thought back to the first few days after I’d brought him home from the hospital. I’d been so lost and terrified as a first-time mother at the age of 19. Mama had stayed with me a few days, showing me how to change Jackson’s diapers, pat his back to bring out burps, and rock him to sleep.

“I know it seems scary, Blanche, but it’s going to be okay,” Mama said, stroking my hair as I clung to her the day she left.

“Oh, Mama,” I sobbed, sitting on the floor, my head in her lap. “How could I have been so stupid to have a baby already? I don’t know anything about babies. What if I can’t do this?!”

“You can do this, Blanche,” Mama said softly. “I know you can. You’ve never given up on anything you’ve set your mind to and I know you love this baby. You loved him even before he was born, didn’t you?”

I nodded, remembering how I’d talked to Jackson when he was in my womb, telling him about the book I was reading, or the meal I was cooking, or what the weather was like that day.

“All you have to do is love him and it will be just fine,” Mama said, rubbing my back as I cried. “Ask God to give you wisdom and strength for each moment as it comes and do your best not to let your mind race into the future, tangling itself up in the questions of ‘what if.’.”

Mama laughed. “I think two of the worst words for a mother are ‘what if.’ Or maybe the worst three words: “But what if . . .”

The day Mama left I never felt more alone in my life. I knew Hank wouldn’t be any help taking care of a baby he hadn’t even wanted.

Peering at Hannah Harrison through the crack in the front door of our apartment, the day after Mama left, I hesitated. She looked like a model on the front of a fashion magazine – soft blond curls, curves in all the right places filling out her pencil skirt and white, fluffy sweater. I closed the door, my hand on the bolt. I didn’t want someone as well put together as Hannah to know how little I knew about life; how incompetent I was as a mother and a wife. Still, I needed someone to tell me it was going to be okay now that Mama was back in Pennsylvania with Daddy and I decided to take a chance that Hannah might be that person.

“It’s going to be just fine,” she told me, taking a screaming Jackson into her arms, sitting on our couch and laying him across her lap while she rubbed the gas out of his belly. She made it look so easy.

Her words echoed Mama’s: “You just keep loving this baby, Blanche and you’re going to be okay.”

So many decisions in my life had hinged on my love for Jackson. Leaving Hank, coming back home, the jobs I had taken, the promise I’d made to keep us both from being hurt again. When Thomas Fairchild, the cub reporter at the paper, had asked me out on a date three years ago, I’d turned him down gently but quickly. Even if I had been interested in him, I had to think about Jackson and how my dating would affect him. I couldn’t risk him getting attached to someone I wasn’t sure about; his small heart broken if the relationship failed.

I looked down at my lap and saw that Jackson had cried himself to sleep. I lightly brushed an already drying tear from his soft, ruddy cheek with my finger and studied his perfectly shaped mouth and the comforting familiarity of his boyishly round face.

A rush of panic suddenly gripped me as I studied him. Though I had reassured my child only moments before that he would love his first day of school my mind began to race with fear. The heavy ball in the pit of my stomach that had been forming for weeks, months even, had clearly settled in to stay.

I didn’t want to let him go. I didn’t want him out of the safety of my or my Mama’s care. I wanted to hold him for as long as possible, keep him with me instead of sending him off into a world full of hurt, anger and dangers.

I curled myself around his body; the body of a boy who felt too fragile and small to send off into the unknown and closed my eyes, reveling in the feel of him warm against me, wishing we could stay this way forever.

My grandmother once told me that being a mother was like walking through life with your heart outside your body. Only after I’d had a child of my own did I understand what she meant.

So many times in the months after Jackson was born I’d wondered if my parents had felt the same about me and Edith when we were young – that unending, unconditional love that only seemed to magnify each day.

“Of course we did and still do,” Mama told me at 3 a.m. one morning when Jackson was 15 months old.

Jackson had fallen asleep only a few moments before after hours of crying from teeth trying to break through his lower gum. Mama rubbed clove oil on his gum, an old trick she’d learned from her mother. Within minutes he was asleep in her arms and she was standing in the kitchen, holding him in her arms, his head against her shoulder as we talked. Leaning back against the kitchen counter, her dark hair fell loose around her shoulders, her blue robe tied closed over her nightgown.

“Seeing you in pain, hearing you cry, it was like being hurt ourselves,” Mama said. “And when you made mistakes and faced the consequences, we never rejoiced. We always felt the pain with you and wished we could make it better. Watching you make mistakes — That was just as hard, sometimes even harder. We had to let you make them, we knew that, but it was so hard.”

“It must have been really hard to know what a mistake I’d made when I left with Hank.”

Mama smiled. “Yes, but there was also a hope that maybe I was wrong. I hoped it would all work out and Hank would turn out to be better than what others said he was. If I had known how bad he really was, I would have been beside myself with worry and would have been up there dragging you home.

She laughed softly. “Now, Daddy? He never doubted Hank’s lack of character.”

I laughed too. I could almost hear Daddy telling Mama Hank was hopeless.

I sipped tea, now cold in my mug. “Sometimes I worry about being a mom because we can do everything in our power and our children can still get hurt or break our hearts. It scares me. It scares me I won’t be as good as you were at having faith it will all work.”

Mama stroked the back of Jackson’s head and swayed a little in place. “You think your daddy and I always knew what we were doing? We definitely doubted ourselves throughout your childhood and yes, definitely after you left with Hank. We wondered what we had done wrong, what we hadn’t taught you that led to you leaving without speaking to us first. We felt we hadn’t been accessible enough for you to feel like you could talk to us and talked about how we could change that in the future, once your daddy dealt with the anger, of course.”

I felt tears in my eyes, and knew exhaustion was making my emotions even more raw. “You and Daddy did such a good job with us, Mama. Maybe you didn’t feel like it after I left, but it wasn’t anything you did. It was my own selfishness and pride.” I drew the back of my hand across my eyes to wipe away the tears. “I was so stupid. How could I have been so stupid? I’m so glad Grandpa and Grandma weren’t here to see me.”

Mama stood next to me and rubbed my back with her free hand as I cried.

“Life is made up of stupid decisions that we didn’t think were stupid when we made them,” she said. “But you took responsibility for your actions, you walked away from Hank when he became violent and you’re raising your son on your own — ”

“Well, with you and Daddy’s help,” I interjected.

“Yes,” Mama said. “But Blanche, you didn’t run away from Jackson when life got tough. You set your mind to being the best mother you could for him and you’re still doing it. I think those are all things your grandparents would have been very proud of you for.”

Jackson shifting in his sleep pulled me from my memories. I laid him back on his pillow, pulled the covers around him, kissed his forehead and stood to turn out the lights.

“Protect him tomorrow, Father and most of all, protect his tiny, innocent heart.”

***

A young Hank, maybe 11 or 12 stared back at me from the photo on Marjorie Hake’s wall. I’d seen it many times over the years since I’d been bringing Jackson to visit his grandmother and each time I studied I wondered what path Hank’s life had taken to transform him from innocent to broken. I’d brought Jackson to see his grandmother after his first day of Kindergarten. He’d been excited to tell her about his day and then darted outside to play with a homemade cookie in his hand.

A teacup clinked in a dish behind me. “It seems so long ago,” Marjorie said. “A lifetime ago, really.”

“Do you ever hear from him?”

“No. Never. And I’m never sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Eloise Carter told me last year her son had seen him in a bar in Syracuse maybe two years ago and he said he was moving out west. That’s all I know.” She looked at the photo as I sat down across from her. Still. After all these years. That’s all I know about him.”

“He wasn’t always so angry and selfish, you know. He was a good boy, always willing to help me around the house, take care of his little brother, protect me from Henry. He could never make his father happy, though. Never.”

Tears pooled in her eyes. “I truly think inside he’s a lost little boy who doesn’t know how to tame the emotions raging inside him. Not that any of this excuses how he acted, how he treated you. It never will. But it is a little insight into what transformed him into who he became, I suppose. If only I’d . . .”

She sipped her tea and shrugged. “Well, that’s in the past. Nothing can be done to change the past. I’m beginning to accept that life doesn’t always turn out the way we hoped or expected. And life is getting better now, brighter even, despite all the mistakes I made and all I’ve lost. Did I tell you I joined the garden club?”

“No, what does a garden club do?”

Marjorie laughed, and pushed a strand of her chin length hair behind her ear. “We talk about gardens and what we should do with our gardens and how to grow gardens. It’s very titillating conversation.”

I sat across from her and stirred cream into my tea. “Marjorie, I’ve never told Jackson about Hank.”

She looked at me, tea cup braced between her hands. “I know,” she said. “And I haven’t either. I can’t imagine what we’d say to him. He’s too young to understand. Maybe someday, but not now. I think it’s the right thing, keeping his father a topic to be discussed when he’s older.”

Sunlight poured across Marjorie’s dining room, wallpaper with pink roses she’d had installed the year after her husband died. She wanted to change everything about her life, she said, and after the bright wallpaper and hardwood floors, she’d had her hair cut short into a modern bob. When Edith spun the chair around so Marjorie could see herself in the mirror the reaction was visceral and sudden. Her head fell into her hands and she cried at the transformation. It was a visual representation of her internal revolution.

Out the dining room window in the backyard, Jackson drove his dump trucks through the mud, the front of his shirt and jeans stained brown.

Marjorie reached over and laid her hand over mine. “I know I’ve said it before, Blanche, but thank you so much for bringing Jackson to see me. Watching him grow up has been such a blessing and has filled so many empty places in my heart.”

“Actually, Marjorie,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Our visits have done the same for me.”

Written by Lisa R. Howeler

As a writer, photographer and former journalist, Lisa R. Howeler writes a little bit about everything on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She self-published her first novel, A Story to Tell, in September 2019 on Amazon. She's a wife and a mother and enjoys a good John Wayne movie and a cozy Jan Karon book. She's also a freelance writer and photographer who is a contributor to various stock agencies, including Lightstock and Alamy. Her photography work focuses on documentary and photojournalism.

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