Writer’s Note: I wrote (this story) during the peak of the Covid epidemic. Everyone was baking bread. At the same time, I read two newspaper articles which intrigued me. One was about a “starter” museum that housed old sourdough starters. Another article suggested that some of these starters contained the DNA of the original bakers. I spent a few days researching the Gold Rush, Theodore Roosevelt, and the history of women’s rights in Wyoming. Then I was off and running…
A Convocation of Eagles
AWAKE AND ASLEEP HAD NO DISTINCTION. Her days passed in a blur; the stuff of nightmares come true. An Intensive Care Unit teetering toward disaster. Tangled tubes. Gasping patients. Tate could barely hear herself over the beeps.
“Mr. Kowalski. The one in bed five. His oxygen’s at 77. He should be dead. Why isn’t he dead?”
Chicago hospitals were short of staff and long on prayer. Desperate. Trained as a dermatologist, Tate was learning on the fly. There were no cures. No easy fixes. Instead, she spent every spare moment studying intravascular coagulation and cytokine storms.
This bug was a beast. People showed up for work terrified, their eyes darting above their masks, their gloved hands shaking. Twelve hours later, they’d finish their shifts numb with fear, dawdling in the parking lot, sleeping in their cars, convinced they’d bring the monster home with them.
But Tate was strangely happy. Thirty-seven years old, she had no husband and no kids. No one to live for and nothing to lose. The job was a perfect fit.
They say you can divide your life into two phases: before and after the virus. Her Before Life had all the trappings. Men spun their heads when she walked down the sidewalk. She owned a condo with a Great Lake view. But she wanted little and needed less. A comforter on the bed. A tea kettle on the stove. Each night she slurped a bowl of cereal. Then she’d stare at the light blinking on her machine.
That night, the night that changed her life, the light blinked one, two, three times.
Tate, It’s Harvey. The office is a shitstorm. Call me, will you?
Her finger hovered over his number. There were three dermatologists in the office, three cosmeticians, a handful of rotating P.A.s. Harvey owned the entire building and was savvy enough to include a dietician, a hair salon, and a day spa. Basically, they were a one-stop shop. Cleanse and exfoliate. Purge and peel.
Thanks to the virus, business had taken a big hit. But Harvey treated his tenants like indentured servants. Constrained by the law and chained by their contracts. If she even considered quitting, he’d think of a hundred ways to sue. The rest of the messages were from her mother. She called maybe three or four times a year. Looking back, it was the first clue.
Tate, it’s me. Mom.
Call me, Sweetie. Will you?
She replayed the messages over and over, and each time her mother sounded worse. Short of breath. Raspy. Evelyn just had turned seventy-five. That age alone made her high risk. With her pulse pounding, Tate punched her number.
Then Tate heard the telltale sputter. Like an engine that won’t turn over. Put. Put Put. Put. Tate closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her whole body clenched.
“Jesus, Mom. How long have you had that cough?”
The voice that answered was her mother’s default mode. Professional. Composed. Before she retired, Evelyn had spent nearly forty years as an ER nurse. Tate watched her deliver babies. Sew up dangling fingers. A pro at calming crazy people down.
“I won’t have the results for another week,” said Evelyn. “But MaryAnn’s in the hospital. We all four got it, Sweetie.”
Tate’s mind switched channels. And suddenly, a black-and- white movie scrolled across the screen. She’d grown up in a small town in Colorado called Glenwood Springs. Instead of a father and siblings, a coven of crusty women had raised her. They lived in separate homes but were inseparable. Closer than sisters, they’d swap recipes and advice. Trade gossip. Share heartache. Night after night, they’d drown their sorrows at the kitchen table, laughing and crying, whispering and wailing. A finger would slowly trace a jaw. A hand would rest upon a knee. The table littered with coffee cups, the cups discreetly filled with gin. The scope of the disaster took a minute to sink in.
“All of you?”
For as long as she could remember, they were family. There were no other children. No husbands. No mention of Tate’s father. No treacly histories littered with romance. Tate had few memories of arguments or dissention. Their oddball household suited the four of them fine.
“I suppose that makes me backup,” she heard herself saying. “I’ll be there in two days’ time.”
First thing in the morning she’d run to the hospital and get tested for antibodies. Then she’d pack up her car and aim west. She set her alarm for four in the morning. Then she got ready to leave.
The antibody results came back by the time she hit Kansas. If she could trust the test, it was good news. She’d been exposed to the virus and was hopefully immune. A few hours in a motel outside of Wichita, then she barreled straight through. Soon the terrain started to change. Towering mountains. Rushing waters. Soaring eagles. Her car careened through one valley after another while she rolled down the windows and sucked in the clean air. It had been years since she’d traveled back to Colorado. First college. Then work. She always had an excuse.
Dawn was breaking as her car rolled through town. She passed the Hotel Colorado, built in 1893 as a spa for the rich. The Hot Springs where tourists dragged their kids. Her old elementary school. Then, finally, she pulled up beside her mother’s house. Tulips and petunias lined the walkway. It was too early in the season to plant vegetables. Still, her mother’s garden was easy to picture. Tomatoes. Peppers. Cucumbers. Plus herbs for all the neighbors’ aches and pains.
The key was swinging from her keychain. Tate opened the door and was slammed by familiar sights. The kitchen cabinets her mother had painted. The dining room chairs her mother had upholstered. Each of Evelyn’s projects marked another year of her childhood. The bedroom door was opened. Summoning her courage, Tate peeked inside.
Her first impression was shock. Evelyn was sleeping. Her color was sallow, her lips pale. She had covered herself with a nest of blankets. A hand tatted with veins lay splayed on top. Tate grabbed her mother’s wrist and felt her pulse. The beats were fast, too fast. Then, all at once Tate realized that her own heart was beating in tandem. She grabbed an oximeter from her bag and slipped it on the mother’s finger. Her oxygen was at 96. No need to panic yet. Next, she took out a thermometer and a blood pressure cuff. Soon, a plan unfolded. Tate would start her on an inhaler for the cough. Then some antibiotics to ward off pneumonia.
Then suddenly, like a gust of wind busting down a door, The Mother Before made an appearance. Evelyn opened her eyes, sat up straight, and snarled.
“For Pete’s sake, Tate. Stop fussing. Hand me my list, will you?”
Some mothers are known for warm hugs and tender embraces. Tate’s mother was known for her lists. A piece of notebook paper sat next to her clock. And numbered from one to twenty-three was a list of chores. Water the tulips. Trim the petunias. Feed the starter.
“Your starter?” asked Tate.
“It’s been a full week,” said Evelyn. Then slowly her eyes began to close. “Some fresh sourdough bread would be mighty fine.”
Again, that black-and-white movie played. Her mother’s hand dipping into the mason jar. The starter waking like a newborn, bubbling as it took its first breath. Then overnight, the doubling. Like a creature rising from the swamp, the mixture would come alive, the starter throb, the jar ooze. Tate knew enough not to argue. Instead, she headed for the kitchen. The starter, as always, was in the refrigerator. Evelyn claimed it had been in the family for over one hundred years.
Tate opened the seal and breathed in the musty odor. A pinch of DNA, a dollop of drama, a cup of the past defined each batch. Legends abounded. Tucked in her bed, Tate was both recipient and receptacle. Her mother’s hand on the quilt, the shutters thwacking, the shadows looming on the wall. They were the kind of stories that kept her up at night, the stories and the starter inexorably intertwined, passed from one generation to the next.
She took out the Mason jar, scooped half of the mixture into the sink, then added fresh water and flour. Like her mother, she counted to thirty as she stirred. Soon life surged through her fingertips. The past merged with the present. Electricity filled the air.
Sure enough, the dreams started that first night. Tate saw an icebox and a steaming stove. An aproned woman sweating as she worked. The woman looked vaguely familiar. Long hair down to her waist. Her face grooved. Her mouth grim. Her hands worked mechanically. First, she cut an onion and boiled it. Then she took a mortar and pestle and mashed it up. When she was through, she wrapped the concoction in cheesecloth and tied it with string.
Meanwhile, a man hovered in the shadows. Watching. Waiting. Worrying. An opened door and then a child. The bed was tousled. The child crying. The woman held the poultice to the girl’s ear. Then she started humming.
Tate woke up with the sun slicing through her window. And for a moment, she was utterly confused. The dream was so real she felt like she was still in it. And that song. That humming. In the distance, her mother was shuffling in her bedroom. She could swear she was humming the same tune. She tiptoed down the hall and laid her ear against her mother’s door. She heard drawers opening and closing. A toilet flushing. A faucet running. And beneath it all, like an underground spring, was that song.
She knocked on the door, and seconds later, Evelyn barked come in. Though her mother was back in bed, she had taken a shower, changed her nightgown, and looked one hundred percent better. Sometimes, thought Tate, you get lucky.
She offered Tate a sly grin. “So, how’s the list coming?” Then, once again, her mother started humming.
“That tune,” said Tate.
“The Irish lullaby?” Her mother answered. “You remember. My mother. My mother’s mother. One generation to another. We’ve always loved our lullabies.”
Tate ran downstairs. She must have walked past the picture a million times. And there, in her mother’s parlor, on a wall above the fireplace, was a sepia-colored photograph. A teenage girl dressed in a graduation gown standing next to a woman who looked remarkably like her. Tate’s grandmother and great- grandmother immortalized.
It was another bedtime story. Against all odds, her grandmother had attended a university for the deaf and then nursing school. Though she passed away years earlier, Tate never forgot her visits. The grandmother’s hands fluttering as she mouthed soundless words. Her mother signing along. The two of them communicating in their own private language. Of her great- grandmother Tate recalled very little. In the photo, her long hair is swept in a fashionable updo. Her face is shiny, smiling, even beatific. She’s anything but grim.
WITH HER MOTHER ON THE MEND, the next stop was the local hospital. Valley View had been around for as long as Tate could remember. Her mother’s long-time employer, Tate’s home away from home. How many times had she been parked in the visitor’s lounge with a lap filled with homework and a bag filled with snacks? Armed in her N95 mask, a visor, and gloves, Tate’s feet found their way to the information desk.
“I’m looking for a MaryAnn Whitmore.”
The clerk’s fingers danced on the keyboard. “I’m sorry to say Mrs. Whitmore’s in the Covid ICU,” he replied. “No visitors allowed.”
No one called MaryAnn Mrs. Whitmore. The clerk, this stranger with his smug smile and fake concern, knew nothing about her. Tate stood taller and straighter. Something like courage coursed through her.
“Which floor?” she asked.
“But, but, but…” he replied.
Tate grabbed the credentials from her wallet and pressed the elevator button. A half hour later, further fortified with a gown, she stood in front of MaryAnn’s bed.
Sometimes bad news only gets worse.
“We’re about to put her on a ventilator,” said the nurse. “Take a look at her stats.”
Her oxygen was low, her pulse fast. But MaryAnn’s kidneys were holding. And the films of her lungs showed minimal damage. Tate looked around the room. Valley View had seen just a handful of cases. The room was half empty, the equipment brand-new. And all at once, it occurred to Tate that she had seen a lot more of this disease than MaryAnn’s doctors. She glanced once more at her mother’s friend. Her eyes were closed, her hair a startling white.
Stubborn. Resilient. MaryAnn was the kind woman who never flinched from a man’s job. A fixture on Main Street, she owned the town’s repair shop. Nothing broken or in need of refurbishing was beyond her grasp. Kitchen appliances. Sewing machines. Toys of every shape and size. Tate’s favorite babysitter MaryAnn would show up at our house with her toolbox, and together they’d take things apart. Her pet name for Tate was Squirrel.
“Squirrel,” she’d say. “A bit of spit and a lick of luck can fix anything. You can do it, Squirrel! Trying is halfway there.”
A breast cancer survivor, MaryAnn had beaten the odds more than once.
The nurse was waiting for Tate’s cue. “You gotta plan?”
She doesn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds, thought Tate. They need to flip her on her stomach. Between the tube and the wires, it took five of them to maneuver her body. Within minutes MaryAnn’s eyes opened. Then she gasped.
“For fuck’s sake, I finally can breathe.”
Tate felt a smile crease the corners of her face. Then she delivered more instructions. Two milligrams of dexamethasone. Some exercises and inhalation therapy. Acetaminophen for the fever.
The nurse scurried. Machines groaned. Meanwhile Tate bent down and gently rubbed MaryAnn’s hand. After a few long seconds, she saw her eyes flutter. First a hint of recognition then a wash of relief. Tate’s smile grew wider.
“It’s me,” she said. “Squirrel.”
THAT NIGHT, Tate came home to find her mother remarkably improved. Evelyn asked about her friend. The chaos at the hospital. The morale of the staff. Finally, Evelyn asked about her starter. “Drop a pinch into a glass of water. If it floats, you know you’re ready.”
Tate had forgotten about the damn dough. She took a half cup of starter and mixed it with more flour and water. Then she left it again on the counter to settle. Meanwhile, her mother handed her the key to MaryAnn’s house along with another list.
Ten minutes later, she was there. She turned on the lights and found a scrawny cat huddled under the couch. Watered the plants. Took in the mail. But exhaustion soon took over. Her eyes were heavy and her back ached. She was halfway out the door when she remembered. There was yet another starter to attend.
They say that starters tell a history. Each one has a distinct fingerprint: an odor and texture that sets it apart. Like the cat, MaryAnn’s starter was badly in need of reviving. Tate added and mixed and added and mixed. Soon the air was tangy, and her fingers tingled. And, sure enough, that night she had another dream.
She was climbing a mountain over a staircase of ice. The wind was howling while the cold was burning her ears. On her back was a satchel that must have weighed forty pounds. She looked ahead and put one foot after another. A frozen horse lay on its side, its legs straight out. A man sat on the hard snow, crying. Each step was torture, and each breath was agony. Despite the frostbite, in spite of hunger, all everyone talked about was gold.
A friendly face pulled her aside. Red cheeks. A grizzled beard. “Squirrel,” he said. “You gotta plan?”
“Sure, I’ve got a plan,” she replied. “Trying is halfway there.” Inside her head, the route was laid out like a map. The Mounties would weigh her provisions. Then she’d head over the pass to Lake Bennett. If the weather held, she’d buy a kayak. Then she’d land in Dawson City.
When you’re in a dream, there’s no distinguishing what’s real and what’s not. Instead, the scene played in Technicolor with Dolby Sound. When she reached the peak, she collapsed by a makeshift fire. The wood was wet. The kerosene thick like gravy. She was too tired to eat. Too tired to sleep. Instead, she groped inside her bag with a desperation that made no sense. Her mittened fingers dug and tore and scratched their way around. At last, she found what she was looking for: a sack of flour and a small clay crock.
She took the crock and buried it inside her jacket. She could swear she felt it beating against her chest. To survive, that starter needed her, and she needed the starter. First thing in the morning, she’d fortify herself with flapjacks. Then she’d take her provisions and head toward the open waters. Her pockets were already itching. Buried treasure was screaming her name.
THE NEXT MORNING, Tate woke up hot and cold at the same time. Half of her was in Colorado while the other half was stampeding the Klondike. She checked on her mother, took a shower, then drove straight to the hospital. MaryAnn was stable. If her progress continued, they planned on moving her out of the ICU. So far, so good. With both her mother and MaryAnn responding nicely, she decided to head to her next patient. Pinky Hayburn lived on a ranch ten miles out of town.
The car meandered across wood bridges and over dirt roads. Chipmunks scurried and eagles swooped. Soon the path was canopied with trees. While she had a few minutes to spare, Tate prepared herself for what she’d find. Pinky had always been larger than life, a goddess disguised as mortal. Tate never knew anyone as fearless. She dyed her hair pink. Ran a weekly poker game at the Elks Lodge. Lived in a large log cabin deep in the Colorado woods. She always remembered her kindness. During the summers, when Tate and her friends were desperate for jobs, Pinky let them work at her ranch. Of course, they were nearly useless. But they needed the cash, and their mothers needed a break. When MaryAnn got cancer, Pinky shaved her head, too.
Nothing daunted her. She always had a long line of suitors knocking on her door. But Pinky considered a man one more mouth to feed, a beau just a feather in her cap. Tate pulled up to her front porch, took out her mother’s spare key, and walked into the house. Then she stomped her feet and announced herself. Within seconds, her cellphone buzzed.
“I’m in the sunroom,” said Pinky. “Awaiting my callers.”
One small room in the rear of the cabin boasted floor-to- ceiling windows and a valley view. Tate headed east and found the older woman completely unchanged. Her hair was still pink, her color good. She was dressed in designer sweatshirt and pants. The words FILA FILA FILA ran down her leg.
“You sure you’re sick?” asked Tate. Then she took out the pulse oximeter and cuff.
“You know I always eat like a horse,” she answered. “But lately I’ve no appetite.”
Tate quickly decided Pinky was more neglected than ill. Together they explored her kitchen. Tate looked inside her refrigerator and was shocked. It was nearly empty. A Mason jar with her starter. Some butter. A few eggs. When Tate offered to make an omelet, Pinky ate two.
Three hours later, Tate had completed another list. She had refreshed Pinky’s starter, changed her bedding, run a load of wash. Meanwhile, Pinky fell into an old familiar groove, pelting Tate with questions about her life.
You like your job? You got a beau? You wanna have kids?
Pinky was always a sure shot. Suddenly, Tate found herself confessing what had long been bottled up. She hated being a dermatologist. She was lonely. And if she ever wanted kids, she’d have to act soon. Meet a man? Freeze her eggs? Her life was as empty as those pantry shelves.
When she got home, she found her mother restless. Evelyn had spent all afternoon stretching and folding her sourdough and waiting to hear about her friends. Inside the refrigerator, two proofing baskets stood halfway filled. By the next morning, the dough would be doubled and ready to bake. Tate straightened the house. Then, once again, she spent a restless night, her dreams so real she could touch them.
The world was sepia colored, the air parched, the scene shot through a dusty lens. A woman was wearing a double-barreled skirt and a pair of cowboy boots. Beautiful boots, custom made, and hand etched up and down with vines. A town square with a drug store. A mercantile. A post office. A sign saying: “Welcome to Jackson Hole Wyoming, population 1347!” Men tipped their hats as she rode by. Howdy Sheriff! It’s a fine morning! On her hip was a pearl-handled pistol. Pinned on her blouse was a silver star.
SINCE TATE’S THREE PATIENTS were holding their own, she spent the next afternoon visiting the fourth Musketeer: Sally Sidwell. The wealthiest woman in town, Sally was encumbered with a full-time staff who anticipated her every need. This house was markedly different from the others. A private entrance lined with spruce trees. A bridge that cleared a moat. Like the Hotel Colorado, the mansion was old-style Italian, a replica of another time and place.
Every old-timer in town knew the stories. Sally’s grandfather first came to Glenwood Springs hoping to cure his tuberculosis. Instead, he made a fortune mining silver. Met Theodore Roosevelt. Lived and died in the hotel. When Tate knocked on the door, the housekeeper greeted her. If Tate’s mother and her friends were in their seventies, the housekeeper had to be pushing eighty. Her hand swept the air.
“We’re all under the weather, Ms. Tate. The rest went home to stay with family. The two of us are taking care of each other.”
The housekeeper walked slowly down a long corridor and then pointed the way upstairs. Tate had never been invited into Sally’s bedroom before. On the wall was a large gilt mirror. She glanced to make sure her hair was combed.
The hallway was eerily quiet. First Tate knocked. Then she
opened the door. Her initial impression was awe. Silk curtains. Mountains of pillows. But buried in bed underneath the finery were the remnants of the woman she remembered.
But the old woman waved her aside. “Take care of yourself,” Sally whispered. “Take care of your mother. We Sidwells know when it’s time.”
The beast took many forms. Some people hallucinated; others had personality changes. Tate assumed that Sally was out of her mind.
“This is a tricky disease,” said Tate. “It plays havoc with your heart, your lungs, your kidneys. I’ve seen people go from bad to worse in minutes.”
Sally barely had the breath to speak. “I’ve called my lawyer,” she said. “My friends will all be remembered. They’re all I ever loved.” Then she coughed so hard the windows rattled.
Tate drove home unsure and unsteady, taking one wrong turn after another. The farther she traveled, the more lost she became. It was close to dusk by the time she pulled into her mother’s driveway. The Dutch oven was on the counter. Two loaves of bread were cooling.
“I’m not sure whether to call a priest or an ambulance or the cops,” Tate confessed.
She reached once more into her bag and extracted Sally’s Mason jar. Then she held it, shook it, watched a few measly flakes fall like snow. When she sat down, her body crumbled. Then she started to cry.
But if Tate were seeking compassion, she was looking in the wrong quarters. Her mother only doled out comfort in small and measured amounts. Evelyn grabbed the jar, set her jaw, and began to work.
“I don’t think Sally’s crazy, and I don’t think she’s depressed,” said Evelyn. “Sometimes enough is enough.” A bowl of water and a cup of flour sat on the counter. Like birds, her hands swooped in and out. “Every day we’ll tend to it.” said Evelyn. “Feed it. Talk to it. Make sure it knows we care. One way or another…we go on.”
Tate glanced out the window. The sky was slate gray, the clouds stacked like plates. Evelyn was right. Sometimes enough was enough. Tate was tired and tired of being tired. She’d had enough of her mother’s bromides and homilies. Enough of her mother skirting the truth. Thoughts that had been incubating surged to the surface. Something like rage poured out.
“I must have looked at the photos above your fireplace a million times,” she blurted. “Did you notice there are no men in those pictures? My great-grandfather. My grandfather. My father. What’s wrong with us? What happened to the men?”
Her mother took her long serrated knife and sawed through the first sourdough loaf. The crust was a golden brown. Hard. Just the way she liked it.
“Grandmama’s husband was an alcoholic,” she said. “He smacked her, and she stayed. He gambled all their money, and she stayed. He caroused with other women, and she stayed. But the day he took a fist to their daughter, she left.”
Then Tate remembered the dream. A poultice. A crying child. All at once, the pieces of the puzzle came together.
“Grandma wasn’t born deaf?” she asked.
Her mother nodded her head. “An ear infection damaged one ear,” she replied. “A beating took the other.”
That night, Tate had trouble falling asleep. She circled the hallways. Then she peeked inside the refrigerator and checked Sally’s starter. If they were lucky, a few bubbles would soon be breaking, the starter crackling with the alchemy of life. But so far, nothing. Tate held the jar inches from her face. Then she glared at the listless lumps. Finally, she opened the seal, took a deep breath, and let the magic course through her. Her hands tied and her options few, she turned off the lights and went to bed.
She woke to daylight. In the distance, music was playing. She walked onto a dirt street, passed barrels of water, dodged horses tied to a post. Then she glanced both ways and headed toward a pair of swinging doors. Men were playing cards, and women were sitting on their laps. She walked up to the bar, ordered a whiskey, and drank it in one swoop. When she was through, she thanked the bartender, threw some coins on the counter, and left.
She was tired and tired of being tired. Most of all, she was tired of this cough. A cough that came from deep within her belly. When she covered her mouth, she found her handkerchief spattered with blood.
If only she could find her way back. If only she could make it to her room. If only she could make it to her bed. And all at once, there it was. A stone fortress in all its glory. The Hotel Colorado.
Like all of Tate’s dreams, there was no telling what was real and what was not. But when she woke up the next morning, two things were certain. She knew she was safe in her mother’s home. And she knew that Sally was dead.
A MONTH PASSED. Sally was given a small but proper memorial service. MaryAnn moved into Evelyn’s house to recuperate. Pinky wasted no time haranguing Tate about her life choices. The old woman was right. It was time for Tate to move on.
But first the threesome insisted on a big send-off. The parlor was strewn with balloons and banners. A homemade cake. Evelyn’s finest china. A coffee urn they all politely ignored.
“Here’s to friendship!” said Pinky.
A pile of presents sat on the dining table while her mother and friends perched on their chairs. Tate opened each gift slowly, savoring the moment, remembering the moment, never knowing when another like moment would come to pass.
The first gift was a small box. Tucked inside was a man’s gold ring topped with a large emerald.
“It was my grandfather’s,” said MaryAnn. “The one who struck gold in Alaska.”
The next box was bigger. Tate scrambled through the tissue paper. Then she extracted a weathered pair of cowboy boots. They were exactly like the ones in her dream, down to the etched vines. She blinked.
“They were my grandmother’s,” said Pinky. “Now they belong to you.”
It was hard to open the third gift. Like a phantom limb or a missing tooth, Sally’s absence was palpable.
“She had set it aside for you ages ago,” said Evelyn. “We figured now was the right time.”
Inside was a ratty teddy bear. It looked handmade. Ancient. From its velvet coat to its moveable arms and legs, Tate had never seen anything like it.
“The ladies at the Colorado made two,” said her mother. “One for Mr. Roosevelt and one for Grandpa Sidwell. I believe Mr. Roosevelt’s in the Smithsonian. This one’s the other.”
A ring. A pair of boots. A stuffed bear. But sometimes the most important gifts slip through your fingers. And sometimes the most important words go unsaid. So, they gorged on cake. They sipped their gin. They swapped gossip and talked about the news. And when everything they could say or do was all used up, they walked Tate to her car.
The sun was setting. Tate got in the driver’s seat and started the ignition. The horizon was endless, the moon a suggestion, the stars still waiting to shine. Tate took one last glance at the three faces glowing with the day’s last light. It was hard to leave. Hard to put her foot on the gas pedal. Hard to clear the misgivings from her head. Why was everything so damned hard? But the three old women just stood there, demanding little but expecting more. Their legacy? A lifetime of wisdom, a litany of lessons, their stories, like their starters, waiting to be savored in the years to come.
Finally, her mother rapped on the window. I love you, she signed. Come back soon.
Marlene Olin was born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan. Her short stories and essays have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Catapult, PANK, The Baltimore Review, and other literary publications. She is the recipient of the 2015 Rick Demarinis Fiction Award and the 2018 So To Speak Fiction Prize. She occasionally tweets at @writestuffmiami.
Delmarva Review publishes evocative new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry selected annually from thousands of submissions. Designed to encourage outstanding writing, the review is an independent, nonprofit literary publication. Financial support comes from tax-deductible contributions, sales, and a grant from the Talbot Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.