by Nick Young
black coffee sweetened with sugar
She couldn't know -- how could she?
She was but five, so she couldn't know that the ancient figure across the room was anything but stooped by the weight of time. She couldn't know that once that woman with brittle skin etched by life's toil was as full of joy as she, reveling in the summer sun as she ran, laughing, through the dazzling wildflowers sprinkled up the slope of the low hillside that rose toward a patch of thick timber behind the faded brick farmhouse. How could she know that as a schoolgirl the old one was bright, full of curiosity about the world and thirsty as a sponge for knowledge? Or that in her teenage years, she kept a secret diary, confiding in its deckled pages the thrill of kissing a boy for the first time and her dreams of going to a college in the ivied East and living in a city with soaring buildings of dizzying heights. She couldn't know how those yearnings were crushed away to dust by parents who put no stock in a girl having "them notions," prodding her relentlessly so that she finally surrendered, exhausted, abandoned her books and fell in with a fast crowd, living loose, for the thrill of the moment, roiling convention, flouting rectitude. How could she know that the woman before her with lank gray hair and a stolid thickness about her once had a pin-up's face and a body that was all tightness and curves, driving men to frenzies of passion and jealousy sometimes settled with fists or a knife. She could not know about the barroom nights that ended, panting, in a back seat or a shabby room in a rundown motel on the far side of the railroad tracks. And she could not know how the people of the town whispered cruelly behind the woman's back, even as she strove to pull free of wantonness, refashion her life and let the past slip into the distance of memory.
No, she didn't know -- how could she?
What she knew was that this is old soul in the faded cornflower-blue shift who shuffled so slowly, hardly lifting her worn slippers as she moved, would never fail to bring her favorite teddy, to see them both safely tucked within the cocoon of blankets infused with the faint scent of cedar as the evening drew down. And she knew this woman would bend low to stroke her hair with tremulous hand, place a gentle kiss upon her forehead, smile and whisper that the night would hold no terrors, and the morning would come with warm sunshine and bright birdsong.
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