issue thirty-three
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(1060 words)
Molly Gillcrist
Taken by the Hand
       On Sundays Ally and her father usually see one or both of her grandmothers who live in small towns about forty miles apart. If it's her mother's family they're visiting, Ally brings a music book to get ready for her next lesson on Tuesday. She's been taking piano lessons for three years, since she was seven. That's what girls in the family do, even though they might prefer the trumpet or the piccolo.

Upstairs in a spare bedroom is the piano her mother once used. If Ally closes the door, she hopes the sound doesn't bother her grandmother -- the memories, not the notes. She wants someday to play the piano as well as her mother and soon take up the violin so she can be in the school orchestra, blend with other instruments. She knows she'll have to give up something to play the violin, but it won't be roller skating.

The Murray family next door has an enormous driveway and has given her permission to use it on Wednesdays and Thursdays between ten and four-thirty when one of them might drive in. That's wonderful with Ally. So far she's taught herself to skate backwards, skate on one foot, and to twirl. The twirling causes knee scrapes, but Ally doesn't mind. She skates into the kitchen, washes the sore the way her mother showed her, puts a band-aid over it and goes back out.        

Her mother died in a car accident a year ago, but when Ally goes to bed, waits for sleep to come, she always thinks of her -- her freckled face, red hair, blue eyes, how she took the stairs two at a time unless she was carrying laundry, how she'd sometimes pull Ally onto her lap while she played the piano and put Ally's hands over her own, how she'd kiss the bare spot on top of her father's head before she sat down at the table. And then she remembers the last time she saw her mother. She wasn't dressed up -- just a t-shirt and jeans with a pen and notebook in her left hand. They'd been by the car and Ally reached for the backseat door handle. "No," she heard her mother say, "you need to stay here to answer the phone. I may be getting an important call. Be sure to write down the number. I won't be long."

Ally hates to think of her sealed in a coffin under the ground, and if her mother had taken her along that might be where she would be too.

She still doesn't know where her mother was going, if she got there, whether the accident happened on the way home. Maybe her father knows. He hasn't said. He sits in his study in front of the computer, coming out occasionally to tousle her hair, join her in front of the tv set. Then he goes back to his study.

       She's glad school is out for the summer. Teachers embarrass her by being overly kind, causing her to think of her mother. Classmates sometimes whisper about her, except Nell. She's the one person at school who makes her feel comfortable because she's not especially nice, just everyday. Nell lives two blocks closer to school than Ally and when they get to her street, she says only, "Well, here I go. Have a good night. See you tomorrow." That's the one thing Ally wishes Nell wouldn't say because you don't know tomorrow will come until you're actually there.        

After the accident her father's unmarried older cousin, Miranda, came to live with them in the cedar-shingled house. Alley and Miranda get along fine if Ally remembers to make her bed and empty the dishwasher. She's tall enough now to reach the second cupboard shelf where the plates are stored.

Her father and Miranda seldom talk except about what might be needed in the house. The person he talks to is Priscilla, the woman in the bungalow next door. Ally doesn't understand why her father likes her. When Ally's in the tire swing suspended from the maple tree she often sees them talking over the fence as if the two of them were apart from the world. They've each planted gladiolas next to the fence -- red on her side, yellow on his. But Ally doesn't think they're talking about gladiolas.

She hopes they're not falling in love. Priscilla is older than her father and mean. If Ally throws a ball against the side of the garage, Priscilla says the sound gives her a headache, or if Ally's ball happens to bounce into Priscilla's vegetable garden, she says Ally is knocking off her tomatoes. Sometimes if she waves toward Priscilla when she's out in the yard, Priscilla may nod but doesn't wave back. So unlike the warmth of her mother.

Ally understands her father tries to help her know him but he can't show her much about what he does because his work is with numbers -- stacks of them entered on forms. He's told her they're numbers about companies, what they buy and for how much, what they sell like cars or air compressors or bushels of corn.

She knows he tries to fill the space left by her mother. He often brings her a treat when he comes home from the office -- usually a Tootsie Roll -- hiding it behind his back and having her choose which hand to bring forward. She looks at his eyes when he does this. The eye on the side where the treat is seems to sparkle more than the other, and almost always she chooses the correct hand. He tells her she has Wonder Vision.

       Once after dark they turned off the house lights and went outside to look up at the stars. He showed her the Big Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia and told her their stories. She hopes he'll give her a small telescope for her birthday next month. Then they could find other gods and goddesses shining in the night sky. She'd also like to get a book about them with pictures like the one she leafed through in the library. Philophrosyne, one goddess in the book, was wearing a blue robe and had a kind smiling face. She was bending down from the sky with her arms stretched wide, like a mother cradling the ends of the earth.


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This work is copyrighted by the author, Molly Gillcrist. All rights reserved.