Meme - a short story
It was the first time I had ever been in a limo. While most girls took limos to their sweet sixteen parties or to prom, I didn’t. My first limo ride wasn’t until today, years after my days in high school. Today, we were going to a funeral.
Even though I was a foster child, I had always been close to Meme. She was John’s grandmother and for some reason, she was always fond of me.
“Molly, dahlin’,” she’d say, her voice raspy but sweet, like a heavy smoking Betty White. “Molly, dahlin’, I’m quite fond of you, deah. You’re such a blessing to this family. You’re family, deah. Don’t you eva think utterwise, sweet Molly.” And with a pinch to my cheeks, she’d go on her way, singing to herself.
John and Beth Anne sat side by side on the leather seat, their knees touching, hands clasped together. Christian, sitting across from them, shifted in his seat now and then, twisting to look out of the window. I took a toy car out of my clutch, which he took eagerly, and began pushing it across the seat with his fingers, up the side wall, and across the window, crashing down onto my shoulder. I clutched my shoulder in mock agony then bent down to plant a kiss on his head.
Christian was the child John and Beth Anne never thought they could have. When he came into their lives, our lives, six years ago, it was what these very Christian people considered to be a miracle, much like baby Jesus was to Mary. Beth Anne was told she could never have kids, and after years of trying, it seemed to be true. Her and John had discussed adoption, I’m sure, but decided they wanted to do good and foster a broken child, like me. That’s how I arrived into their family – broken and fostered.
I was fourteen when they brought me to their home. I had lived with my grandparents before, but one developed Alzheimer’s and the other died. It didn’t take long for social services to find out I was living on my own and taking care of my sick grandmother. It also didn’t help that she often thought I was a burglar and would attempt to beat me with a broom. I always left before she called the cops, but the one time she did, there was no more hiding the fact that I was fourteen and supporting the two of us.
John and Beth Anne, though very kind to me, were always very cautious around me. They never spoke of my parents, never asked about my life prior to being fostered by them. They knew, of course, but never pried. So I didn’t speak to them. What was I supposed to say? Where’s Dad? Is he in jail? Will he stay there forever? Will he ever find me? I was fourteen, not four. I knew the answer to these questions, I didn’t need some stranger to try to comfort me. Dad would eventually finish his sentence and would be a free man, free to beat and kill once again. Everything else was unknown, but I was fully prepared for anything, should he ever try to find me.
Being with John and Beth Anne was supposed to make me feel safe. They’re a kind, loving family, I was told. I believed it. I didn’t doubt for a second that they weren’t. But, it didn’t matter. They could have showered me with love and ponies and all the money in the world, but they weren’t my family. How could I ever have a family after mine was dramatically torn apart in an instant? How could any woman replace the mother I lost? Just the thought of that turned my face red from anger and frustration. They wouldn’t let me live alone, though, so when I got in the car with John and Beth Anne that day, I said nothing. I followed them to their home and let them take me around their home, introducing it as mine.
They were too friendly, that day. I knew they were just trying to be kind and compassionate. I could tell they wanted me to be happy with them, but I knew I would never really be able to call this place home. Not the warm living room with the big, brown couch and brick fireplace. Not the classy dining room set against the big bay window. Not the bright, sweet smelling kitchen nor the luxurious bathroom. And certainly not the bedroom dedicated to me.
It was painted pink with a floral border stretching around the room. In the corner of the room, near one window, was a small, wooden desk, and next to that, a bureau with a mirror. A brand new four post bed sat across the room against another window which looked over the many acres of land behind their home.
It reminded me of my other bedroom. It, too, was painted pink and had floral decorations. My mother had painted the walls herself while she was pregnant with me; that’s what she told me, at least. I remembered hiding behind my bed like Mom told me to do every time Dad came home. I remembered hearing her screams from the room just below and hearing things crash and bang.
The last time I was in that bedroom, Mom was upstairs, cradling me in her arms, hiding behind the bed. “I love you, Molly girl,” she whispered in my ear as we rocked. “Mommy loves you, don’t ever forget that. I love you, Molly.”
That was the night Dad grabbed me and threw me against the wall. I could hear Mom yelling and threatening him. I saw her pick up my pink lamp and try to hit him with it. He was too strong, though, and he grabbed it from her and hit her instead.
Daddy, stop it Daddy! Don’t hurt Mommy. Mommy! Stop!
Stop, please, don’t hurt Molly. Leave us alone! I’ll call the cops!
Shut the fuck up you stupid bitch.
Molly, close your eyes, Hunny. Close your eyes and everything will be okay.
She was on the floor when I opened them, a large gash on her forehead and blood on her white blouse. Dad was gone.
Mommy, wake up, Mommy. Mommy, Daddy’s gone, Mommy. Mommy…
“We can repaint the room however you’d like,” they informed me as I took in my surroundings.
“It was meant to be for – “ Beth Anne hesitated.
“We thought we were going to have a daughter,” John finished for her. “Make yourself at home and let us know what you’d like. We can pick up some new paint this weekend.”
They never had their daughter, and now I was intruding on the bedroom that was meant to be for her. I tried to imagine what she would have looked like. Perhaps she’d have Beth Anne’s curly red locks and John’s vivid green eyes. She would have been beautiful.
“I like pink,” I lied. I couldn’t bear to see them change this bedroom, but I didn’t think I could bear to live in it, either. But, it was the only thing they had of a child they could never have, and I was just a replacement.
Christian was their child. Created from John’s seed and born from Beth Anne’s womb. It was a miracle, doctor’s said. The man who’s seed I came from was a murderer. The womb I was born from has been dead for years. I was not their child. I was the broken child they took in an attempt to fill a void in their lives and to fix my life, a life that was never broken in the first place.
The four of us bounced inside the limo as it went over a faded yellow speed bump and through the large iron gates, navigating its way through the sea of headstones, before stopping a few yards away from a dirt mound.
“Let’s put the car in my bag, okay, Christian?” Christian nodded and I took the car from him, placing it safely in my clutch. I took his hand as we climbed out of the limo, the driver closing the door behind us.
It was too cold for a funeral. I had hoped that the pantyhose would help protect what my dress wouldn’t, but my legs still shook when the cold wind blew. I held my jacket tight, as if my cold fingers would close up any extra holes the zipper didn’t. But, the wind found ways in, chilling me to the bone.
I held Christian’s gloved hand tightly as we followed John and Beth Anne to the grave. Meme was one hundred and four when she died. Since she outlived all of her friends and most of her family, we were the only ones around to celebrate her life. John never had any siblings and his parents died long before Meme did. He only had one family member still alive, an aunt – his mother’s sister. His mother’s family disowned him when he married Beth Anne, believe that she was no good for him due to her hippyish nature. Despite their unapproval, he married her anyways. Since then, he no longer had contacted with anyone on his mother’s side, including his aunt, his last remaining relative. And now, the last member of his father’s side was dead. The four of us were the only ones to say goodbye to Meme.
The priest spoke with lively emotions about the life Meme lived and how she was a joy to everyone in her family. How could I be such a blessing when John and Beth Anne had their own child, a child from their own flesh and blood? Meme had been wrong about me. Christian was their blessing. Meme was just an old woman who felt that I needed extra love and attention. She was old and senile and didn’t know what she was talking about.
Meme loved spending time with me and I had always assumed it was just to win my affection and an attempt to fix broken me. However, I didn’t mind it so much. We often baked cookies and pies and she taught me how to roll the dough and how to whisk the batter perfectly. She always amused me with her cooking traditions and beliefs – like a certain egg would really make a difference in the cookie.
Maybe it did. Mine never turned out half as good as hers. They would be flat and crumbly when we removed them from the oven, but Meme always preferred to eat mine. She said that they tasted better because I made them. Even though I knew she was full of it, it made me feel proud and important, and even though they weren’t perfect and plumb like hers, they tasted wonderful.
When the priest finished, he handed out single roses to place on her casket. John and Beth Anne went up first, placed their roses, and stood in silence for a moment, then took each other’s hand and walked back to their places. I took Christian’s hand in mind and lead him to the casket. He stood on his tip toes and placed the rose carefully on top, smiling as if he approved his work. I squeezed his hand in approval and placed my rose next to his.
“Will she get our flowers in heaven?” he asked me, his big green eyes searching mine for an answer.
“I bet she will. She will love them.”
“How do you know?”
“She just told me. She said, Molly, those flowers are simply beautiful. She said she likes yours the best.”
“I hope it’s warmer in heaven than it is down here. Tell Meme to put them in a vase with water. Does she have a vase in heaven? We should have brought her a vase, too. Can we bring her a vase, Molly?”
“Of course. She’ll need that to put the flowers in.”
“Yes, she will.”
I lead Christian back to his parents, where we stood as the priest said some final words. When he finished, we headed back to the limo, where the driver waited by the back door. I gave John a hug before climbing in.
“Meme needs a vase for her roses. I don’t think she has one in heaven, so she won’t have anywhere to put her flowers we gave her.”
“How about we give her one of her vases at home?” Beth Anne said. “I think she would love to have one of her vases.”
“Let’s give her the white one.”
After returning home and changing into warmer clothing, we climbed into John’s car and drove to Meme’s so he and Beth Anne could pack up her things. Christian searched boxes and cabinets until he found the vase he wanted and showed it to Beth Anne.
“We have to hurry and bring this to her.”
“I don’t have time to take you right now,” Beth Anne said. “I have to help Dad pack up her things.”
“But what if it’s too late? I have to give it to her now, she needs it for the flowers.”
“Molly, will you drive him? We’re going to be a while, here. John has the keys.”
“Come on, Christian, I’ll take you. Mom and Dad have some things to do here for Meme, things she couldn’t do before.”
During the drive to the cemetery, Christian talked excitedly about the vase he held onto so closely and carefully. He thought Meme would be very happy with it and knew she would take good care of the flowers, she always did.
I held his hand as we approached the grave. The casket was underground and a mound of dirt lay on top.
“Are you sure she will get it? Where should I put it?”
I surveyed the surrounding area and decided right next to the headstone would do. Christian placed the vase, carefully, in the spot I suggested, then stood back to admire his work.
“I think that’s a perfect spot. Meme will get that, right?”
“Yup. You ready to go home, now? It’s getting dark out here.”
“One sec. I want to see who her neighbors are. I hope she has nice neighbors. Do you think she has friends in heaven?”
“I bet she has tons of friends in heaven.” But, Christian was already off, examining the neighboring headstones and explaining to them how nice Meme was and that he was sure they would be best friends.
I never knew where my mother was buried, or if she was even buried. I always wished I could have visited her like we could visit Meme. I had nothing left of my mother, not even a stone with her name on it. But, at least Meme did.
Meme was the nicest person I’ve ever met. She was an old fashioned lady who was strongly opinionated. I often wondered how she reacted to the news that John and Beth Anne were going to foster a child. All she ever said to me was that she was fond of me. She was always fond, if not with me, fond of something.
When Christian was born, naturally everyone was ecstatic. Beth Anne and Meme played with the bouncy little boy and laughed as his expressions changed with each new thing he encountered. Christian’s enthusiastic energy tired Meme out quickly and she often remained on her rocking chair, smiling as she watched his play. After a while, she’d get up and make herself a cup of tea in the kitchen as I watched behind the counter. Her kitchen always smelled strongly of tea and it was comforting to me.
“Isn’t he a beautiful little boy?” she asked me while the water boiled. I shrugged.
“Aren’t you excited? You have a new little brother.” She poured the water into her teacup and let the teabag bob up and down inside.
“He’s not my brother,” I mumbled.
“Molly!” she hissed at me. “He’s jest as much your brother as he would be anyone else’s. And dontchu think John and Beth Anne will think any differently of you.”
“I’m not their child.”
Meme grabbed my chin in her hands. “Molly, we’re all quite fond of you, dontchu eva think utterwise.” She planted a kiss on my forehead and returned to her rocking chair. I saw on the floor beside her as she sipped her tea and braided my hair.
Christian was a beautiful baby. It was impossible for anyone to not enjoy his company. It wasn’t long before I grew to love the child, and he grew to love me. I praised and cheered with he learned to walk and congratulated when he bubbled out his first “Dada.” However, I never told them that I secretly taught him to say Molly before he developed Dada. Of course, his Molly sounded more like Molla, but I knew he meant me.
When he could walk on his own, he often followed me to the barn while I fed the animals. He always sat in the chicken coop, laughing and throwing corn in the air as they all gathered around him to peck at his overalls. When he had had enough, he would shout “Molla, Molla” until I grabbed him and put him with the sheep. He would chase them around outside, squishing his face in their curly fur and laughing when it tickled his nose. When I finished feeding, he stretched his arms in the air, opening and closing his fingers until I lifted him up. He wrapped his arms around my neck and rested his head against my shoulder as we walked back towards the house.
“Dinna,” he said to me.
“Yes, Christina, dinner time.”
When Christian finished introducing Meme to her new neighbors, I took his hand and headed back to the car. On the drive home, he explained to me who all her neighbors are and how they all want to be her friend. He said he thought she would have a nice time in heaven and he was glad she was there with such friendly people.
“Do you think she’ll ever visit from heaven?”
“I bet she’s visiting right now. She’s making sure we get home safe.”
“Will I ever get to visit her in heaven?”
“Yeah. Someday. I want to visit someday. But she can visit us, for now.”
Back at Meme’s, I helped John and Beth Anne pack some boxes and move things into the car. Christian busied himself with the car he found in my bag, pushing it along the floors around the house. In her bedroom, I packed some loose paper around her desk into a box, when something caught my eye. Between the pages was a small, black book, worn at the edges from years of use. I flipped through the pages and noticed each page was dated. I found the date May 25, 2004 and read the writing on that page.
I met Molly today. She’s been with John for about a week now. She’s a beautiful girl. Only fourteen. John told me a little about her past – how awful the things she’s been through! John already loves her. She’s a dear. Very kind and polite. She’s really a sweet girl. Beth Anne could use a daughter in her life. She’s all they talk about when I called on the phone. They’re afraid she won’t love them, but I know she does. They’re a wonderfully family. They’re a family, now. That’s what they all needed. They need each other. Molly couldn’t be with a better, more loving family. I hope they visit more. I’m quite fond of Molly.
I flipped to another date: August 14, 2005, just after Christian was born.
John and Beth Anne had a child! A little boy named Christian. He is truly a miracle. Doctors told Beth Anne she wouldn’t be able to have kids, but now they have little Christian. He is such a joyful baby! They’re as happy as the day they brought dear Molly home. I see the same happiness I saw just last year. Molly seems to love the little baby, too. I hope she continues to love him. I’m afraid she’ll grow to resent him. They’re such a beautiful family, and it’s all because of Molly. They wouldn’t have had Christian if it weren’t for Molly coming into their lives. She brought the family together, made them complete. I don’t think she realizes what a blessing she is to them. I’m quite fond of Molly. Everyone is fond of her. She’s the best great-grand daughter I could ever ask for, and the best daughter to John and Beth Anne they could ever ask her. I’m so fond of her.
A faded yellow envelope slipped from between the back page and the back cover. I closed the book and peered inside. There was a picture of me when I was fourteen with John and Beth Anne, and another picture with Christian now in the family.
Beth Anne kneeled by my side, looking at the two pictures I now held in my hand. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and kissed my head. I let my head rest against her shoulder.
“You ready to head home?” Beth Anne asked. I nodded and wrapped my arms around her.
“I love you, Molly,” she said, stroking my hair.
“I love you, too.”
“We’ll meet you outside. We just have to put away a couple more boxes.” I nodded, and she turned to finish packing. I closed picked up the journal and placed it inside the box I packed with loose papers. I returned the pictures to their envelope and slipped it into my purse. I closed up the box and brought it into the kitchen, turning for a moment just outside of her bedroom door.
“I’m fond of you too, Meme.”