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Excerpt from Meet Me By The Gate:

July 7

Item # 30 – Painting of Mom and Dad

Allie,

I’ve painted a portrait of Mom and Dad. I want you to have it. Perhaps if you can hang where you can see it every day you’ll never find yourself unable to remember what they looked like.

Love,

Jo

***

I woke up last night, crying. I dreamt I was in heaven. It was bright and shiny. Everyone was happy, just as you’d expect. But I was surrounded by strangers, alone. I couldn’t find my parents. It’s been over twenty years since I last saw them, spoke to them, hugged them, since I became no one’s daughter. I wondered through the crowd, looking in every face. But I couldn’t remember what they looked like. I couldn’t find them. I woke up sobbing.

What kind of person can’t remember their parents’ faces? The people who spent most of their lives taking care of me and I can’t remember them.

I lay in the dark, trying to remember. Dad had dark wavy hair, a large nose I think, but I could only see bits and pieces, like a puzzle you’ve lost most of the pieces to. I tried to concentrate on his face, but it’s just a vague blur.

REMEMBER HIM, concentrate. Remember his face the last time you saw him, at his funeral.

Brown suit, one button, small lapel, white shirt, but I can’t get above his collar. Just when his face starts to become clear, it slips away again. I can’t see him. Why didn’t I commit him to memory? Surely I realized it was the last time I’d see him.

What about Mom? The last time I saw her, she was sick in bed with cancer. I didn’t want to remember her like that. I thought of the picture I have of her, with that red hair and green eyes, surely I can remember.  I concentrate on the picture – blue background, white blouse, red hair waving done over her shoulders. I could almost see her face. Her eyes, I couldn’t get hold of her eyes. I had her nose and the shape of her face, but it was just individual pieces. I couldn’t assemble them. I couldn’t see her.

How will I find my parents in heaven when I can’t remember them? Will they remember me? How long before my son forgets me? I’m afraid I won’t find my parents in heaven. I’m afraid in the dark. I am afraid.

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02 (5)

April

Uncertainty

April 1

I was cleaning off my desk. I wanted everything to be ready, just in case. There was a pile of self help books. All designed to help you figure out what you really want to do. I keep starting them, then tossing them aside. I’m not sure I ever really performed the exercises or answered the profound questions. Why do you need so many books to answer one simple question – “what should you do with your life”? I set them aside. Possible lymphoma the doctor had said. Perhaps, if she were right, I’d go through them during chemo.

I boxed up all my paints – oils, watercolors, pastels, stabilizers, thickeners, and brushes. I doubt I’ll be using them any time soon. Perhaps I should give them to some young artist, maybe the Allen boy. Art supplies are expensive and he’s in college. He’d appreciate them.

I found the paint set I got for my tenth birthday, tubes of acrylics in a little wooden box. There were plastic inserts used to mix the paints with just the right amount of water. I used these to create my first masterpiece of a horse, Old Billy, eating grass in front of the barn. The brushes are gone, the paints dried up and the plastic inserts have disintegrated, but I think I’ll keep them just the same.

I keep thinking about my mother, diagnosed with cancer at my age, dead two years later. But I don’t have to worry, I don’t have cancer.

I sorted through some old files and found sketches I’d made in high school. When I was young, I thought I’d be an artist, a painter. I’ve been painting and drawing for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what I’ll do with these old pictures, but I can’t throw them away.

When should I tell my family? My younger sister, Allie has depended on me since our parents died. I don’t want to worry her if it turns out to be nothing, but I don’t want to wait too long either. I just don’t want to worry anyone if I don’t have to.

For more in this story, select the Meet Me By the Gate tab at the top of the page.

 

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Please help me decide which cover to use. Vote here (This vote is open to the public. You do not have to be a supporter to participate. You do have to scroll down.)

I wrote Meet Me by the Gate several years ago after an illness. Thanks to all of your encouragement, I have decided to self publish this book. I have created three possible book covers and posted them on my Patreon account.

Thank you for your support.

P.S. The next book I’m working on is called Blood Guardian.

P.S. 2.0 It has come to my attention that you must have an account to vote on my patron page. Sorry I didn’t realize that. I am posting the covers below and you can vote on them by number via a comment. Any thoughts you have on the design, fonts or anything els would also be appreciated. Thank you.

Number 1

Meet Me by the Gate (1)

Number 2

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Number 3

Meet Me By the Gate

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(To start from the beginning, check out the Meet Me by the Gate tab.)

July 11

Item # 40 – Pink floral china

Logan, my darling boy,

I hope you aren’t reading this until you are an old man with children and grandchildren, ready to retire with a wonderful wife. But if things don’t turn out the way I hope, I want you to have the pink floral china my mother and I brought back from Europe. And when you are married, I want you to use them often. Those dishes were never used enough.

***

 Charlie has been scarce most of the day. I guess he took my suggestion to get back to work to heart. It’s good for him. He needed to think about something else for a while. It wasn’t long before Allie stopped by. Without Ladies’ Guild, I guess she has time on her hands.

The painting in front of me was of Allie, not today’s Allie, the seven-year-old Allie. The dark lawn in the painting was forested with trees. Evening had set and fireflies flickered among the trees. At the edge of the canvas, just in the corner was the face of a little girl with red pig tails peering over the edge of the canvas. You could only see the top half of her head and her eyes. But those eyes told you a hundred stories of mischief.

“Remember when you left for college, it was just me and Grandma?” she was saying, peering over my shoulder much like the girl in my picture.

Allie picked up a bottle of water and sprayed herself in the face. How could someone look so glamorous and be so clumsy?

“I remember. You missed me so much you never wrote me.”

“Grandma was so sad. I hadn’t really noticed it until you left. When we lost our Mom, she lost her baby, her only child,” said Allie.

I hadn’t thought of what it must have been like for Grandma to watch her daughter get sick and die.

“I became her distraction,” Allie continued. “We’d grab copies of the latest fashion magazines and sit around in the evenings trying to decide which outfit to make next. She’d get out brown paper grocery bags and we piece together a pattern. It was amazing what she could do. Her creations looked like they came from the magazines. I’d try them on and she’d take pictures. I still have those pictures.”

She paused for a moment, staring out the window.

“I never knew.”

“That’s when I found my talent, my appearance. It’s all I really am. I know it deep down inside. I’ve made the best of what I had because I had nothing else,” she said.

“Allie, you’re more than looks.”

I wanted to tell her as long as she believed that, it would be true. The minute she realized she was more, she would be.  It sounded like something your mother or sister would say.

But Logan came bounding in as only a ten-year-old boy can.

“Hey Logan,” Allie called, “Are you going to visit your Dad or are you stuck with Granny Liv all summer?”

“Allie.”

Livia’s eyes narrowed. I’m sure Liv was not a nickname she wanted to encourage, let alone Granny.

“I didn’t realize you were here,” Livia continued.

“Cami says if she wanted a little bastard around, she would have had one of her own.”

I was shocked to hear that kind of language coming out of Logan’s mouth. I knew his new stepmom didn’t like children, but she needed to watch her language.

“Who’s Cami?” Livia asked, suddenly perking up.

“The latest replacement unit,” Allie explained. “She’s a socialite wanna be. You know her, she just joined the Guild.”

“Did she? And she called Logan a little bastard, did she?”

Livia’s eyebrow rose at a dangerous level while she drummed her finger nails on the table.

“I think Cami’s about to find Ladies Guild more difficult than she ever imagined,” Livia said, smiling at Allie.

The two of them conspiring together was a bit scary, but I was a happy to learn that Cami’s life was going to get more difficult.

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(To start from the beginning, check out the Meet Me By the Gate tab)

July 10

Item # 37 – Honeymoon photos

Charlie,

I want you to keep the picture of you and me on our honeymoon in New Orleans. I remember a jazz band playing while we danced in a square at sunset. I was dancing on clouds. It would make me happy to think that you will look at it every now and then and remember me.

 *** 

Charlie received a letter today from a little girl, Yamile in Sihisbamyo in the wilds of Peru. She was only five when he last saw her and her younger brother. Now her brother was sick. She wrote to Charlie for help. She begged him to hurry and come save her brother.

He folded the letter, tucked it in his pocket and went back to making my soup. Outwardly he acted as if nothing had happened, but his face had frozen in an odd look of hardened serenity as if it was taking all his will to appear peaceful. Periodically, he would stop what he was doing to grip the granite counter, staring at it, tracing the veins as if they were roads on a map.

He brought me my soup, patted me on the shoulder and asked how I was feeling. When had I stopped being his wife and become his patient? That’s how it was with Charlie and Allie to a lesser degree. I was becoming the sum of my illness. They were both so concerned I might break they were seeing less of me and more of my cancer.

So it was not out of pure selflessness that I told Charlie I was feeling better and didn’t really need him hovering over me. In truth my appetite had returned and my strength with it. I insisted he work on his project, check in with the engineers and students working with him and generally keep things moving. However, I didn’t expect not to see him for the rest of the day, but perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing either. Maybe we both needed a break.

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(To start from the beginning, check out the Meet Me By the Gate tab)

July 9

Item # 36 – Christmas card from Grandma

Bryan,

I found this Christmas card in some of Mom’s old papers. She kept it all those years. I think she would want you to have it. I keep it in my purse hoping for a good time to give it to you, but I’m not sure that time will ever come. So if I haven’t given it to you yet, take it. They would want you to have – Grandma and Mom.

Remember I love you. We all love you.

Jo

 ***

 Bryan hadn’t answered any questions. In fact, he just added to them sending the table. I was going to make one more attempt to find the brother I was missing, the brother of my childhood.

When I pushed the door open and stepped into his world, I felt a pang of envy. He wasn’t in the main studio. Instead I found myself alone with a completed bronze horse and rider.

I heard the sound of steel hitting steel in the courtyard beyond the studio. I picked my way through saw horses holding plaster molds. Large chunks of granite and marble, their half hidden inhabitants waiting to be revealed. A woman roughed in bronze was reaching for the sky. Her face seemed sad almost pitiful.

In the courtyard, I found Bryan with a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other working to free a sleek modern form swirling in and around itself from the tan granite. Dust had settled on his head and clothes mingling with his sweat, so that he almost looked like a sculpture come to life.

He saw me and paused mid-swing. It was hard to tell if he was expecting me or was shocked to see me.

“Back so soon. I was giving you a little more time.”

His hammer continued rhythmically slamming against his chisel.

“Why did you send that table?”

“Direct and to the point, you’ve changed since we were kids.”

“Why did you send a table from Olla Podrida?”

“I wanted you to know it’s not too late. You have a gift and it’s not too late to put it to use. It might take some time, but you can still be an artist. You have real talent,” he replied.

Bryan spoke in rhythm to his hammer.

“I’m afraid I’m past that now.”

My mind raced ahead to what my last days would be like if I went down the same path as Mom.

“You talk like you’re an old woman. You have plenty of time.”

Metal against metal rang clear.

“I’ve come to a point in my life I’m afraid I can’t turn back from.”

“You sound like Mom. She never had what it takes to make it,” he continued.

“She got sick. She didn’t give up.”

I knew she didn’t give up because, like me she never really started. I felt the need to defend myself through her.

“I know more about Mom’s illness than you ever will,” Bryan yelled.

He slammed his hammer into the granite, cracking the statue in half. The pieces fell to the ground with a heavy thud. His face was twisted with anger.

“What do you want Jo?” he asked.

“Some explanation of why.”

“There’s only pain back there. I’ve finally got my life together and I’m not going to let you drag me back.”

“I just want to know why? What happened? What did we do?”

“There’s no explanations, no answers. Why are you here? After all this time, what do you really want?” Bryan asked.

His voice sounded like his hammer, slamming each word.

“I don’t want anything. I just wanted to see how you were.”

“Is it money? Do you need money for drugs?”

“Drugs?”

Until starting the chemo and radiation, I’d never done drugs in my life and now only for nausea. I didn’t even smoke or drink.

“God, Jo,” his voice softened. “You look like hell. What are you on, meth?”

“Meth?”

He thought I was an addict. I looked at the window behind him. I wouldn’t have recognized the woman there. I’d lost at least forty pounds. My cheeks were hollow, my eyes dark, I looked tired.

“I have connections. I can get you into rehab,” he offered.

I remember how he looked when Mom was sick. He didn’t look that different from me now. He’d lost weight and looked tired all the time. He lost the look of a child, looking more and more beaten. I didn’t want to see him look like that again. Not when he looked at me anyway. He was right. I did want something from him. I wanted to use him as a crutch and he didn’t owe me that. I hadn’t bothered to find him until I was sick, until I needed him. I didn’t need to drag him back there.

I took the card he offered me, from some rehab center nearby. I left letting him think I was a meth addict rather than his worst nightmare.

God, let him have some peace. He seems to have been a long time coming to it. I’d rather he think I’m a drug addict than to know I have cancer.

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(To start from the beginning, check out the Meet Me By the Gate tab)

July 8

Item # 32 – Picture of Cowboy

In the hallway, there is one of Mom’s paintings. It’s of an old cowboy. His face is weathered and worn from decades of sun and wind. But, if you look into his eye, you can still see the sparkle of a young man.

Bryan I want you to have this. When I look in your eyes, I hope to see the young boy again. I know a lot has happened, but I don’t think you could have changed that much. Somewhere the old Bryan still exists.

 ***

 I’ve been thinking about Bryan and Allie and when we were kids.

I remember the time Mrs. Martin accused us of breaking her window. We were nowhere near her house, but Mom made us pay for it out of our own money.

A few days later, we were walking by Mrs. Martin’s house; she was watering her grass with a sprinkler, the old fashioned kind that sprayed water like a fan back and forth across the lawn.

Tick, tick, tick,

As we walked by Bryan noticed the garage door opened.

Tick, tick, tick.

He looked at Allie and me and back to the garage door.

Tick, tick, tick.

Wordlessly, we picked up the sprinkler.

Tick, tick, tick.

And slid it into the middle of the garage.

Tick, tick, tick.

We pulled the garage door shut.

Tick, tick, tick.

Water sprayed the window.

Tick, tick, tick.

The ceiling.

Tick, tick, tick.

The walls.

Tick, tick, tick.

We never talked about it, never said a word, but Mrs. Martin never accused us of breaking another window or much of anything else after that.

That had been the Bryan of my childhood, full of snappy quips. The Bryan who could make everyone laugh. He was a lot like Logan, carefree and funny.

After Mom got sick, he lost that. He stopped laughing. He looked tired, older, like he was wearing an old man’s troubles. Is that what happened? Mom’s illness had been too much for him. Maybe being younger had protected us from a reality that scarred him.

What did that table mean so tied to our childhood, to our Mother? Maybe sending the table was his way of trying to come home again, an apology of sorts.

I’m going to visit him again. Maybe this time I’ll find Bryan, my brother, the one who put sprinklers in garages and shuts the door.

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