Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1,000 Words For Charity - Sue

Title: River's Grace
Three words provided: river, grace, marigold
Word count: 1,000
Fun fact: And so ends this year's 1,000 Words For Charity project. It was a lot of fun and I think I'll do it again.

Grace gazed out of the small kitchen window at the grey clouds looming overhead while scrubbing her tea cup in hot soapy water. Another miserable spring day in Vancouver, she thought, her shoulders slumping and her eyes falling to the sink full of dirty dishes. There had been far too many of those since her River had died. It was like the clouds had been mourning with her those last two months, their shared tears attempting to replace the strong waters that had stood by her side for nearly sixty years.

River was the man she had married, but that was not the name he was given at birth. He had immigrated with his parents to Canada from rural China when he was only four years old; they brought only the clothes on their back, an inheritance cheque from one of his father’s distant uncles, and about ten words of English between the three of them. The communication difficulties had been great, but not insurmountable.

“I can’t make any sense of these scribbles – it’s like finger paint or something,” the young man behind the desk had told his partner with a laugh before looking up at River’s father. “What’s the boy’s name?”

“Yes,” came the reply, accompanied by a quick dip of the head.

“Oh brother,” the man said with a look of disgust. “Not another one of these. Where was he born? Can you tell me that much at least?”

“River!” His father had been very excited, both to recognize one of the words directed at him and to know the answer. His son had been born on a muddy river bank in late summer, a month before he was expected. It had been an ordeal for several weeks afterward, but he had pulled through to become a solemn but feisty young boy.

“It’s quitting time, so that’s good enough for me,” the man said as he typed River, China in the birthplace field on his form and then, with a snorted laugh, River into the name field. He printed a copy for the new arrivals and said, “Welcome to Canada folks – now get out of my sight.”

River had never been bitter about the experience; he liked to think that the immigration officer had simply been helping him to fit in. Grace thought that was a very generous interpretation of events, but she kept that to herself.

Now, seven weeks, four days, eight hours, and forty-three minutes after a heart attack had stolen him from her life, Grace moved from the sink to the stove and turned on the element underneath the bright red ceramic teapot. With trembling, emaciated fingers she pulled open the cupboard next to the fridge and extracted the final box of tea that River had imported from home. She had always liked the misty, swirling artwork on the packages and the mysterious characters that described their contents. After two failed attempts she managed to get the cardboard top to separate from its sides but her hand paused above the opening as she sucked in a ragged breath.

There was only one tea bag remaining.

“Now you’re just being silly,” she muttered, taking it by its string and placing it in her cup. “This doesn’t mean anything… in fact, you should stop worrying about the end of his tea and start being concerned that you’re talking to yourself again.”

Once the tea pot whistled at her, something River had been too polite to do, Grace poured the steaming water into her cup and took a seat in the cushion-laden breakfast nook. She closed her eyes briefly, inhaling the earthy scent she had grown to love, before looking out to the tangled mess that was their flower garden. The snow had just set it free the week before her husband had passed away and he had spent most of that week sorting through his seeds, trying to decide what he would plant first that year. Grace had never understood why it mattered which seed went into the ground first but she still found the yearly ritual endearing.

As she put the cup to her cracked lips the sun’s rays found a hole in the clouds to slip through, landing softly on the east end of the flower bed. That was his favourite corner, she thought with a sad smile, where he always planted the marigolds.

The memory remained floating in her mind as she finished the cup, mingling with thoughts of cleaning, grocery shopping, and needlework. As she placed her cup into the now lukewarm sink water she turned and looked out the breakfast nook window again.

The decision was made so quickly she would later be uncertain that it had truly been her own. She moved into the front hallway and collected her wide-brimmed straw hat and the shoebox filled with flower seeds. On a whim she left her gardening gloves and trowel behind as she stepped out into the cool morning air.

Arriving at the eastern edge of the flower bed Grace kneeled stiffly, placing the shoebox on the damp grass to her right. The dew soaked its way through the knees of her jeans almost immediately but she paid it no mind, focusing instead on the neatly arranged packets of seeds resting in the container.

It would have been intimidating had they not been in alphabetical order – River always took care of the flowers while Grace had been happy to take a small patch of earth for her herbs. She plucked out all the varieties of marigold with a smile, knowing that he would never plant them all together like this. But she wanted all of those reminders together in one spot; she needed them there.

She pulled away a few weeds before digging her fingers into the loam, where she was stilled by a warming thought. Working this soil, the way River did year after year, she thought with an unnoticed tear slipping down her cheek, it’s almost like holding hands again.