In a flash, in a breath, on one tactile whoosh of heart.
I am adjusting a newspaper photograph taken at a children's Christmas party. The computer screen is lit up with squealing children dressed in their dime store best, sateen dresses with tube socks and scuffed running shoes; daddys' ties hanging crookedly under grinning freckled, dimpled chins; cheap, borrowed Santa suit, velvet rubbed off the elbows and knees, stomach pillow protruding beneath matted fake fur.
A woman in the background catches my eye. Smiling, middle-aged, with loose bleached blonde curls and dark roots, big-bosomed, blue frosty eyeshadow gleaming in the mid-audience gloom.
Big laugh, terrible cook, huge heart.
Scrappy. Punched out my uncle's first wife at the side of a highway one day.
Grew up hard but knew the meaning of love. Survived a first husband that beat her and a fire that destroyed everything in her house but hope.
Forearms ringed with deep, ropey scars.
Had a thing for angels.
Never anything but wonderful to me.
Dead for five years; cancer. I went to see her on her deathbed. She was conscious, eyes sharp-lit with pain. Her children and grandchildren waited outside. I held her hand and remembered the time she made lemon meringue pie from scratch, only she forgot to add sugar and our mouths puckered up like they'd been slapped then turned inside out.
"I can't talk," she had said. So I talked for both of us, stupidly.
I am at the fall fair watching the horse pull. Surrounded by old farmers in suspenders and young bucks in John Deere ball caps, air redolent with manure, chewing tobacco and cotton candy. Sun too hot for autumn sweaters, tied carelessly around women's waists. Kids whine, kids puke, kids are kids. A swift breeze riffs through my son's still-10-year-old hair.
I see him in the crowd. Plaid long-sleeved shirt tight over a round Molson muscled belly. Black vinyl eyeglass case in his front pocket. Blue work pants, filthy cuffs. Silver hair, barely thinning.
Five years gone.
The blood thins through my heart in a fractured sigh.