Sweet Thyme Baby – 15


Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.


(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 14 first)


Dee remembered two things about her mother. One was that she cried. All the time.


Until she was six, Dee lived with her mother and father in Sacramento on a street with a letter name where in summer the trees grew together overhead like a tunnel and made a deep shade that was almost black. The little house had two bedrooms, one at the front and a second at the back which was not much larger than a walk-in closet and had only one window, too high for Dee to see out unless she climbed the brown dresser. There was nothing to see. Just iron grill work – for security, her father told her, because they practically lived downtown – and a weedy backyard with a bony clothesline in the middle of it.


Wash hung on the line most days because Dee’s mother forgot to bring it in. Sometimes she walked out back with a basket of laundry wetting her hip and when she saw the pegged up, stiff, dry sheets and shirts and towels forgotten from a day or a week earlier, dusty now and spotted with bird white, she put the basket down and sat in the weeds and cried.


Her name was Lourdes. Her sister, Victor’s mother, was Bernadette.  Dee’s grandmother had thought that naming her daughters after holy shrines would bring them good luck.


Dee remembered two things about her mother. She cried all the time and she was beautiful. Later, the reporters who wrote in the Sunday Section said her beauty was ironic. It was years before Dee learned for herself what that meant.


A six year old cannot imagine that her parents will only be with her a short time and that she needs to store up happy memories so that later on, when she needs them, they are in her head somewhere, and she can pull them out and study them like photos from an album. Memories. The picnic by the river when her parents drank wine and Lourdes laughed. Shopping at Sears for a tricycle and Lourdes letting her ride it through the store and out to the parking lot. The heavy scent she wore. Years later, Dee was in a shop on Rodeo Drive and she smelled the same fragrance. The girl at the cosmetic counter told her it was called “Shalimar.”


There must have been other good times but Delight had not known to save them and now it was as if they had never happened. Instead she remembered the musty smell of her tiny bedroom and the bars on the window and the click of the bedroom door locking. Lourdes knew no babysitters. When she went out she gave Delight a coffee can to pee in and told her to hold back number two until she got home. On a little table beside her bed, she had a lamp with Cinderella in her pumpkin coach painted on the base; and when she heard that “ka-thik” sound of the lock, she lay on her side on the bed and stared at the lamp base until her eyes burned. Someday she would marry her cousin, Victor, and he would take her to live in a palace and she would have her own key to every room. She would open a door every day and there would be no room she was forbidden to enter or leave.


Delight’s father was so big he had to duck his head when he came into her room; and if he forgot and hit his forehead on the top of the door, he yelled and said bad words. But his voice purred when he read to her from a fat book with a red cover, stories about Cinderella and mermaids and swans and princesses who danced until their shoes wore out and their feet bled. He could make her laugh or feel sad or sleepy depending on the way he said the words in the book. His name was Alec and once Aunt Bernadette told her that he was the best looking man in the world and there oughta be a law.


When Delight was six, she awoke one morning in the empty house in Sacramento, and her bedroom door was not locked. The bed in her parent’s room was empty. She slipped her hand under the covers on Lourdes’ side, and the sheets felt cold. Her nightgown was on the floor in the bathroom. She had spilled talcum, the special expensive kind that matched her perfume. Delight looked down and saw her mother’s footprints going around in circles.


Delight walked back to the hall and into the living room and then into the kitchen. The room smelled fishy. Delight cleared the table and scraped the dirty plates from the night before into the trash and then stood on the stool to lay them carefully in the sink so the edges wouldn’t chip. She ran tap water over them so they would be easy for Lourdes to wash when she came home. Her mother loved those dishes. Delight pushed the stool up to the refrigerator to reach the Wheaties on top. She made milk – measured the white powder to the special line Lourdes had marked on the glass cup, filled it the rest of the way with ice water and then stirred it with a fork until it foamed. She tucked a paper towel into the top of her Brady Bunch pajamas and knelt on the chair at the table to eat her cereal. While she was eating the phone on the wall rang, but she didn’t pick up. Lourdes said she was too young to answer the phone. The jangling stopped, then started up again. Delight stared at it, told it to stop with her mind and finally it did.


After breakfast she watched television. Cartoons. Road Runner. After a while she fell asleep with her face on the rug.


When the policeman came to the house, Grandma was with him. Grandma was in such a hurry she wouldn’t even look at Delight when she talked to her. Delight did what she was told. She took off her pajamas and rolled them into a towel along with her toothbrush and her hairbrush and some clean underpants. Grandma found a fat rubber band on the kitchen doorknob and stretched it around the towel like she did in the summertime when they went to swim in the irrigation canal in Lodi.


“Are you ready? Is there anything else you want to bring?”


Delight didn’t play with dolls. She didn’t have a dog or cat or anything she prized particularly. There was the Cinderella lamp but that belonged in her bedroom. Her mother would be angry if she took it away. She looked around the living room of the little house and her glance hit upon the picture on the television of her mother and father at the California State Fair. Her mother was wearing a black and white spotted dress that showed her knees.


“Not that,” Grandma said and snatched the top of Delight’s arm so tightly it hurt and she wondered why her grandmother was mad at her; and then she remembered that she had not rinsed her cereal bowl and spoon the way she had been taught and she had forgotten to wipe the table top. She had left it sticky and sugary. Ants would come and then she would be in big trouble.


Delight squirmed and pulled to get away from her grandmother. She made a sound like a cat with its tail caught in the door. If she didn’t clean the table her mother would come home and yell and then she would cry. Delight couldn’t stand for Lourdes to cry.


“What’s the matter with you?” Grandma asked.


Delight wailed about the table.


“You want to take the table? You can’t take the table.” Grandma’s face looked awful then, like melting ice cream. She let go of Delight and turned away. The policeman picked Delight up in his arms and took her out of the house.


The papers said that Lourdes Larue, who had a history of mental instability, had shot her husband, Alec, and her sister, Bernadette Detroit, when she found them in bed together. Then she’d turned the gun on herself. She had been despondent for some time, the articles said.


Lourdes had cried all the time. But Dee never did. Years later, standing in Maggie’s kitchen with the letter from the City Treasurer in her hand, even then when she had plenty of good reason to bawl her eyes out, they stayed dry.


“There’s almost fifty thousand dollars in back taxes owing,” she told Maggie as matter-of-factly as a news reporter. “If we don’t pay, the city will take the garden.”


Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.


Click here to read Part 16 of Sweet Thyme Baby

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