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Friday, June 7, 2013

Widow Woman by Julie Tagliere (Excerpt)

“Where is she going?” Peter muttered, hunching over the steering wheel. “Can you even see a road?” Catherine stopped completely before easing the car onto a narrow dirt road dug deep with the ruts of generations of wagon wheels.

James, our neighbor, had generously lent us his ‘baby’ for the trip; I winced as brambles scraped the car at the turn. I desperately did not want to return her to him battered and scratched up.

Another unexpected flash of memory fluttered through my head and I saw myself wandering this road, a bucket of raspberries dangling from one of my hands and my mother’s warm, callused palm tightly clasping the other. Looking at the monstrously overgrown bushes scratching at the car windows, I wondered if the berries would still taste as sweet as they did in my memory.

At last, Catherine’s car jounced to a stop at the crest of a hill; from there, I could see the battered remains of what must have been my grandparents’ farmhouse. So much time had passed I could no longer remember.

Peter turned off the car and reached over the seat to grab our coats. I knew Minnesota’s bright blue skies of early spring were deceptive, fooling you just long enough to cost you a frostbitten finger or toe. Peter waited for me to get out, but I hesitated, my eyes fixed on the urn at my feet.

I don’t want to do this. Please don’t make me do this.

“Are you ready?” Peter asked.

No. I will never be ready.

I sat still, reminding myself how to breathe.

“Take whatever time you need.” Peter squeezed my arm then climbed out and walked over to greet Catherine and Pastor Alan, who were getting out of Catherine’s car.

To hell with M&Ms; I need a cigarette.

Catherine greeted Peter politely enough, but she quickly turned, waved and smiled, and headed straight for me. She’d covered her long, silver hair in a bright blue scarf. Catherine’s prominent cheekbones, wide mouth, and spunky elegance always reminded me of Claudette Colbert, the actress from the original Cleopatra movie—not the remake currently under way with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Finally, the urn’s spell was broken. Happy to see her, I flung open the door and threw myself clumsily into her arms, almost knocking her to the ground. Those arms may have appeared delicate, but they were strong, enfolding me like two great wings. She’d been Mom’s best friend most of my life and now she was mine, too.

After a few moments, I pulled away, touching her scarf lightly. “This is pretty,” I said, furtively attempting to smooth my own tangle of dark curls.

A small smile curved her lips. “It was your mom’s. Well, I gave it to her, but she never wore it. I thought she’d appreciate my wearing color today. She always hated black.”

Nodding, I gulped the bracing air. I reached down and lifted the urn from the car floor, fortified by Catherine’s presence. I can do this now, I thought. When I turned, Pastor Alan and Peter were standing behind me.

“It’s beautiful here, Audrey,” Alan said and stepped in to hug me. He was a bear of a man, dwarfing even my lanky frame by comparison.

Brushing my hair away from my face with my free hand, I saw what Alan meant. Up here, away from the blank grayness of the road, broad strokes of unexpected color competed with the brilliant sky for my attention: verdant evergreens, impossibly white snow, and the black stream winding through the trees. Mom and I had never returned here together, but as I drank in the still beauty of her parents’ home I began to understand better the full extent of her loss.

Peter cleared his throat. I turned in time to see Catherine arch one perfectly groomed eyebrow at him. That arch was about as aggressive as she ever became, but signaled loud and clear that Catherine was not inclined to forgive Peter’s betrayal of me. She was deeply displeased but, as she would say, too well bred to show more.

“Are you ready, Audrey?” she asked.

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Genre – Women’s Fiction

Rating – PG13

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