Wish you were here!
First Three Pages
Center Lovell 1957
Elizabeth’s summer, five years ago, ended on a bad note. Her clothes thrown in the trunk of a car, her uncle’s booming voice. “Dammit, Elizabeth, you’re done here.”
Elizabeth gripped the steering wheel. The two-mile route from her uncle’s boat marina to grandmother’s farmhouse not busy enough to distract her from remembering the incident. Her face drenched in sweat, her heart pounding, she pulled over.
Early morning, a desolate lakefront road to her cleaning job at the lodge, grandmother, behind the wheel, yelled, you lazy good-for-nothin’ kid, slammed on the brakes, punched her, gunned the motor, and chased her running away. Granted she slacked off doing chores. But, did that and her tearful, why don’t you like me, justify abuse?
She shook the images out of her head, drove the last mile and parked in the driveway. No surprise, the Colonial house and the adjacent two-story hen house had weathered. Her grandmother fell on hard times after she sold the beachfront resort, Sunset Inn. Maybe her mental health took a dive too.
Earlier, when she called Elizabeth, she sounded her usual old self. “Heard you’re here for the summer before nursing school. Stop by, I’m home.”
Elizabeth managed a brief, “Sure, grandma.” She held back for goodness’ sake, why now after so many years?
She stepped out of the car and took in the scent of pine trees. Thankful that hadn’t changed. She smoothed long brown hair away from her face, set Cat-Eye sunglasses on top of her head, and walked to the front door.
Gray-haired, plump, grandmother greeted her as if nothing had ever happened between them. “Look at you all grown up. Been a long time.”
No hug or hand shake, she turned and walked through the living room. Elizabeth followed. A stark contrast to the sun-filled day, dark, overstuffed Victorian furniture and embroidered pillows cluttered the room. Knickknacks and books filled the side tables. A Hammond organ took up the far wall.
Grandmother’s voice trailed behind her. “I want you to know sometimes when people get old they do things they’re sorry for.”
Elizabeth paused mid-step. She held her tongue. If she made a remark the visit would not end well. Grandmother’s off-hand sorry (for punching, chasing, and scaring you to hell) had to be enough.
She made her way to the dining room and stood in front of grandmother seated on a velvet-cushioned chair at the oak table. She cleared her throat, “Nice to see you too.”
Grandmother pulled up her flowered housedress to the knees. “Now, take a look at my legs. Tell me what you think.”
Elizabeth bent down and slid a hand over her swollen legs. “How long have they been like this?”
“A few months.” She pointed to The 1951 Family Physician book on the table. “It’s the way my heart pumps.”
“We could ask Dad. He takes a water pill for blood pressure.”
“I don’t want anyone, especially family, to know. You find out for me, seeing as you’re going to be a nurse.”
Elizabeth smiled, amazed she asked for help, which never happened before.
She put her hand on grandmother’s shoulder. “Okay, I’ll find out for you.”
Grandmother didn’t resist the touch. She looked up at Elizabeth. “Well, good! Now, I’ve got more to say, Elizabeth. First, I’ll make some tea, and I baked those brownies you liked so much. Never know though, maybe you don’t eat them anymore since you’re a model. Karl sent me the picture of you on a billboard. You were always a pretty girl.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. The compliment and warm welcome a first. She followed grandmother into the kitchen. “Thanks. Nice you and Dad keep in touch.”
“Sit down. I’ve got to get something.” She turned on the stove burner under the teakettle, and disappeared into a small office off the dining room.
Grandmother came back with a folded in white lace handkerchief in her hand.
“I remember that in your jewelry box years ago. You grabbed it from me.”
“Ah ha, now you’re older. I’m not living much longer. I’m giving you your grandfather’s gold pocket watch. Don’t tell anyone in the family. Keep what you find out a secret.” Grandmother put the watch into Elizabeth’s outstretched hand.
She unwrapped it, and put the attached note on the table. “How beautiful.” She ran a finger over the floral engraved case, opened the latch, and stared at the sepia photo of a young woman. “Who is this?
“That’s what you’re going to find out. Your grandfather died, and I got his belongings from the hospital, the watch among his clothes. I don’t know why, we were divorced two years.
Grandmother picked up the note. “Look what your grandfather wrote. Tell no one about this. I dedicated each solo performance to this woman.