no place like home

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SUN

 

 

I finally settled comfortably in my seat, gingerly pulled the bookmark from “Solomon’s Papers” and easily picked up where I had left off yesterday. 

The scenery outside the window changed ever rapidly as the train gained speed.

A shrill steam whistle announced that we were well on our way and before long the gray cityscape was left behind and green suburbia came into view….such a stark transformation as though an artist had purposely drawn a line between the two.

I was relieved to be leaving the choking city-air and at last on my way to the country.

Aunt Bell was probably putting the finishing touches on my room right this very minute.  White ruffled curtains and lavender floral printed wallpaper, pink chenille bedspread and of course lying at the bottom of the four-poster bed would be Clancy, my fluffy orange tabby all waiting to welcome me back home.

I was pleasantly distracted by visions of Auntie’s old farmhouse and the fragrance of her gardens and the Wisteria that dripped from arching trellises along the brick walkway that led up to the porch steps.  Memory of the meadow waving with green grass where the big red barn was situated near giant oaks was especially pleasing to me.  I had spent many lazy afternoons under those trees and many more tending to the horses and cows she housed in the barn.   Brown chickens always underfoot had free range in the shady yard that surrounded the house.  The rustling music of leaves as I sipped iced tea on the porch echoed in my head and my book fell unattended onto my lap. 

The conductor had been patiently standing over me for a few moments while I was lost in my reverie.  He touched my shoulder and I snapped to a little embarrassed.  He punched my ticket and moved on smiling as he approached the next passenger. 

 

I took a deep breath and succumbed to the lulling motion of the train.  The rhymic clickety-clack of the wheels against the track eventually became the back and forth creaks of Aunt Bell’s rocking chair on the front porch.  Cicadas buzzed somewhere in the trees and Bluebirds gathered on the picket fence to gossip.  The sun was high in the sky and it flashed through the trees as they swayed in a warm breeze.  Clancy flapped his bushy tail to the rhythm of the rocking chair and he seemed to fight sleep as his oval eyes opened and closed. 
Nothing pressing here to think about and the world beyond my view from this shaded porch has no affect on us….it exists all on its own….it has no jurisdiction here.  Mine is the world that will someday encroach upon the sadness and blight outside of here.  The brilliance that radiates from this place is more powerful than the dreariness that pervades the lives of victims and executioners on the other side of the sun.   

 

The train chugged on and the sun slipped below the horizon.  Far off treetops and rolling hills silhouetted against the violet aftermath of the day.

Dinner was surprisingly delicious and satisfying.  I held the last of my wine with one hand and my book with the other and tried to finally settle in for a good read.  But, even a spellbinding thriller couldn’t keep me from the excitement I felt.  I was so anxious to be going home at last after five years of imprisonment that seemed more a bad dream than an actual event.  Five painful years paid out for an act I did not perpetrate….an act which anyone who knows me would never have attribute to me.

It was a hit and run of a seven-year-old boy child and those in charge immediately labeled me as “mindlessly cold hearted”.  They claimed to have studied my demeanor and concluded I was “lacking in expected emotions” and therefore “sociopathic by nature”.  They needed me to be a monster to justify what had happened.

 

It wasn’t me though in the car.  It was my twin sister, Beth.  My younger sister who had always faulted me for her shortcomings resulting from a difficult birth was the one driving illegally that stormy morning.  She’d lost control of the car when a dog jutted into the street.  She swerved speeding into the last child to board the school bus on the corner.

He had just kissed his mother goodbye when Beth ended his life in an instant that probably felt more like an eternity.  She didn’t stop there.  With the dead child hoisted onto the hood of the car she proceeded up onto the front lawn of the house on the corner and it finally came to rest with a thunderous collision with concrete front steps.  Out of her mind with panic she put the car into reverse leaving the lifeless body sprawling and managed the driveway for her getaway.

With only the mother of the boy, a bus load of screaming children and the driver as witnesses her escape was quick and easy.
Beth never had a driver’s license.  Beth was handicapped from birth.  Although she was seventeen she had the wits and emotions of a five year old.  She was just a child herself.  In the days before the accident she had pestered me repeatedly to let her drive the car down the driveway, “just for fun”.  Beth was always pushing her boundaries in life and naturally used me to help her. 

But, this was one thing I could not let her guilt me into doing for her.  I told her over and over, “No, Bethy, its too dangerous.  Even for people who have learned to drive it’s a very dangerous thing.”

I was relieved when she’d given the subject up and moved on to something relatively benign like walking the dog by herself.

 

I loved Beth deeply.  She was of course part of me and I probably suffered undeniably from the guilt she imposed on me for having been born first and healthier.  Enduring her unkind accusations was my sentence and I accepted it willingly.  I often questioned why indeed it was not me who was given the fallible genes instead of Beth.

I used to cry with frustration that I could not change what fate had inflicted on this person who was probably my better half.

 

She woke earlier than me that morning.  Her child-like mind was surprisingly able to concoct a simple by successful plan to steal my car keys and slip away undetected with the car.  The only time she’d ever been behind the wheel was to “pretend steer” as she called it.  She was observant though and had watched me many times turn the key and shift the gear to D with one foot on the brake then roll slowly down the driveway to the road.    Today, her motivation was simplistic….to take something that had been denied with no plan beyond the driveway.  My little Beth rarely honored the word ‘no’.

 

Somehow she’d managed to bring the limping car back home before my alarm clock sounded off.

Hysterical and soaking she threw herself on top of me still in bed.

Through tears and terror she stammered out what had happened at the bus stop.  As she struggled to explain she pleaded for me to save her…to make everything all right….she was “so sorry”….so stricken…such a frail, precious child. 

 

Her frantic voice trailed off as I imagined taking full blame in her place.  Planning what reason I would formulate for being on the road at such an early hour when high school classes didn’t start for more than two more hours. 

Realizing I needed to calm Beth down and get her cleaned up before Aunt Bell and Uncle Josh woke I took on the challenge.  The urgency of the situation called for quick thinking and only raw will would carry me though.   To this day I can’t remember all the details of that morning or what I did next.  I reacted as though on autopilot.

With the grace of God I’d convinced Beth that everything would be all right if she could be a big girl and follow all my instructions carefully.  My strength seemed to run down my arms and into her as I held her tight against my chest stroking her dampened hair.  We rocked for a few moments that seemed more like an hour and I sang her favorite lullaby…”lul-i-lul-i-baby, ah-a-ah-a-baby”.  Soothed the tension in her seemed to drain and in turn gave me the courage I needed to work this problem out and protect her. 

 

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Months later, when the trial was over I was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident.   I was sentenced to five years with no time served applied. It was not enough for the parents of the little boy of course.  They wanted me executed.  I felt their pain but that was all I could do for them.  If they only knew how much I was really sacrificing. But, it was ok.  I’d have done anything; even give up a part of my life to save Beth from a far worse fate than mine. 

Aunt Bell knew of course, without being told that it wasn’t me that morning who’d driven so recklessly and slammed into that innocent child.  Beth had gone a little deeper into her psychosis, which could well have been brought on by having her routine disrupted suddenly.  But, Auntie was too bonded with us to accept that was the reason. It was the duty of knowing that what she had done had caused this upheaval in her life.  We were two years old when our parents were killed in a plane crash while returning from a vacation in Europe and we came to live with her and Uncle Josh.

 

Beth broke down the morning I was scheduled to turn myself in and gushed as though a dike had finally been broken in her.   She understood that I was leaving her for a “long time”….although she didn’t comprehend how long five years was she felt it was going to be longer than the summer. 

 

We peeled away from each other the day I left.  My heart shattered into a million pieces as I watched from the rear window as she ran behind the car as we drove off down the shady lane of home.  I saw Aunt Bell rush to her and hold her up as she wailed helplessly.  My little Beth….what will I do without you?  What will you do without me?

 

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And now the time has come to see Bethy and Aunt Bell again…to return home….to the most beautiful place on Earth.  Uncle Josh had passed away in his sleep during the first year I was gone.  For the gentle man he had been it was a fitting exit.

Aunt Bell brought Beth to visit with me in the city jail only on our birthday.  It was an ordeal for her to get in the car and travel that road even when it meant seeing me. 

She kept up the lie even though Auntie had talked with her about it and let her know that she knew what had actually transpired. But, all in all Beth had changed during our time apart.  She had to make her own way without help from big sis.  It could have moved her in the wrong direction and befuddled her but we found that she was a much stronger person than anyone had given her credit for being.  She blossomed like a heady rose.

 

Maybe it was fate that was playing out and all the events that have occurred up to this very moment were meant to happen for a specific result.  A whole host of “what” questions epiphanized for me.  For instance, as cruel as it seemed what would Beth’s life have been had she not been forced to think for herself and take care of her own needs without the help of her stronger twin?   What advancements would she have been able to make and under what circumstances?  What state would my own life be in had I continued to placate Beth out of guilt for being different than she?   What would the toll on me have been for constantly meeting the demands of an enabled dependant twin?

 

I had many questions, the answers to which were really not important in the end.  The fact was that things worked as they did for good reasons and they were good because I recognized them as such.  Beth and I each, through suffering had grown stronger benefiting our own individual weaknesses.  She through necessity and I through the giving of myself for the sake of another had each met our destinies perfectly up to now.  

My heart ached to see her again.  It had been a year since her last visit and that one didn’t last long enough.  A mere fifteen minutes to hug and exchange a few stories wasn’t nearly enough time.  But, today we would have dinner together for the first time in five years and we would talk and talk until we fell asleep.  The past will remain in the past.  It need not be drudged up or be justified endlessly.  We would carry on as though nothing notable had occurred between us.  Even the memory of the little boy would be put to rest.  What was done was done.  Everything was all right now.

 

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The proud locomotive hissed and squealed as it ground to a halt at the Roseville Station.

I had spent a day and a half traveling home and the stiffness of my muscles was well worth the discomfort.  All at once I couldn’t remember where my book was or what I had done with my satchel or the figurine of a tabby cat that I had picked out for Beth at the last stop.

My mind raced about the train car like a ping-pong ball gone wild.
The sudden lurch of the train stopping left me unsteady…and then I saw her.  She was wearing a white eyelet dress and her long, dark hair was pulled back and held with a blue satin ribbon that rested loosely on her right shoulder.  She had an expression of worry as she searched the faces of the people who exited the train.  Aunt Bell off stood in the shade smiling that wonderful smile of hers. 

I snapped into action and grabbed the box with the tabby cat and my baggage and mindlessly pushed my way up the isle to the exit door.   Beth spotted me instantly and her arms flew up and she shrieked with jubilation, “Bonnie! Here I am, Bonnie! Here!!!”  The kind, smiling conductor helped me with my bags and I dove into Beth’s waiting arms.  She had grown quite a bit since I’d seen her and she lifted me off my feet in a bear hug.  Oh it so was good to be home again!  Home again with my little Beth and my sweet Auntie Bell !

After much chatter and hugging Aunt Bell shuffled us into the car and off we went.

I had come full circle.  I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  There truly was no place like home!

”Clancy seemed to know something was up today”, Aunt Bell said as we turned into the driveway.  Everything looked the same.  Even the flowers had kept their places.  The same cows, Daisy and her calf that had grown into a fine heffer waited, chewing at the fence.  Uncle Josh’s beloved horses looked up from their grazing to see who had come by.  And there was Clancy…..still looking handsome as ever….prancing along the porch railing butting his head on the posts.  I called to him and he sprang onto the ground chattering as he tippy-toed toward me.  He hadn’t forgotten me.  I never felt so safe and so loved.
The exhilaration of seeing home unchanged right down to the welcoming wisteria was like finding out that Heaven really did exist.  Nothing could ever hurt me again. 

 

Later that evening we three sat on the front porch and talked about Uncle Josh and how pleased he must be that we were all together again.  Beth and I sat clinging on the porch swing, not saying much…just enjoying the moment we’d both waited so long to share.  There was plenty of time to talk so for right then it was sweet just to sit and enjoy the sunset. Clancy curled himself up between us insisting on a belly scratch and as I looked out at the pink, fading sky I thought for the very last time about that dreary world on the other side of the sun.

 

 

The End

(c)2013/squires

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