All gone to oranges now once flamed with pink on spring green tendrils that climbed our matching dresses to touch the shocking white of our lacy bib collars accented at the throat with plum satin bows. My sister smiles a broad white that reflects my broken child’s hair. I smile with my teeth out a touch. Light bounces from the lenses of my half-transitioned Coke bottles, near permanently dim, to one of my sister’s neatly arranged auburn Botticelli curls—one twist of many about her I envy.
We each have one hand on a taxidermy-stiff, red eyed plush bunny the photographer shoved between us to encourage something shared and quiet. The closest he got us to sisterhood that day was leaned-away touching at the shoulder— the furthest torso point from our hearts.
All gone to adulthood now and Valentine’s Day vacuum cleaners received with kisses like hand cut doilies, my sister and I have become pre-midlife reawakened to something like crystal-sucking New Agers without the liberalism, too much nature stuff, or any urgent concerns about the patriarchy.
I step off the train on a wet, sky-spitting Saturday night to celebrate my sister’s 29th-again birthday. There is streaked silver in the puddles through which the train runs, upside down, loping on to LA. My sister wears a demure sweater as accent to a royal purple petticoat that flounces in the whoosh of the train. I wear an oversized silver lotus petal with seven fake stones masking a magnifying glass behind. We hug.
When my grandmother knew she was dying she picked out an opal for me, had a ring designed and sized it, for the short time being, for her own hand. I was an infant then, recently diagnosed lifelong colorless and could-be blind.
My grandmother was a force— a farm girl who took beatings for sneaking away to read, a young woman who left her family to work among foul mouthed boys at the Pentagon during WWII, a single mother, a stone wall, razor tongue, acid wit, first female management at the FAA.
She held me at the hospital in a hallway while the final diagnosis was pronounced to my parents in a tiny, sterile room. Her breast was warm, though the breathing behind it was labored. Her embrace was soothing though her hands were not soft from folding crust-cut sandwiches in wax paper for her children or grandchildren’s outings of uncomplicated youth.
She explored my hot face and closed eyelids with her wise yet diminishing fingers, the opal slipping forward and upside down under her nearly exposed knuckle, resting against my forehead, cooling a spot just above my eyes. She leaned forward and blessed me, “My dear little Michelle-y, I do hope you can see.”
I hope this is the last time my Tired ass leaves the seat of This gray vinyl hospital chair Turned forty-five degrees to My mother’s gray blanketed Hospital bed. She’s being Discharged today to better things I hope.
Today—leaving day— Is the first day I noticed there is Color in this room. I have nothing Poetry profound to say about This presence—the coral and blue. Nothing you can carry in your pocket when Your mom attempts slow suicide too by Refusing to eat—to comfort you. To Reckon the anger. All the anger.
Except to say the color is there. The color is there, aloof Of whether you see it or not.
But do see it. See the color. It’s there.
-M. Ashley photo taken at Kaiser Ontario Hospital, Ontario, CA
Says she was a willful child— the little girl who chopped a row of her mother’s tall flowers down for looking at her funny when she came home from school. She planted snapdragons where the mocking birds of paradise had been. Snapdragons’ faces are fierce too, but sweeter. They don’t speak unless spoken to. They only laugh when a hand is applied to their delicate jaws.