فصل 26

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CHAPTER 26

May Crandall

PRESENT DAY

Our story begins on a sweltering August night, in a sterile white room where a single fateful decision is made amid the mindless ravages of grief. But our story does not end there. It has not ended yet.

Would I change the course of our lives if I could? Would I have spent my years plucking out tunes on a showboat, or turning the soil as a farmer’s wife, or waiting for a riverman to come home from work and settle in beside me at a cozy little fire?

Would I trade the son I bore for a different son, for more children, for a daughter to comfort me in my old age? Would I give up the husbands I loved and buried, the music, the symphonies, the lights of Hollywood, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live far distant but have my eyes?

I ponder this as I sit on the wooden bench, Judy’s hand in mine, the two of us quietly sharing yet another Sisters’ Day. Here in the gardens at Magnolia Manor, we’re able to have Sisters’ Day anytime we like. It is as easy as leaving my room, and walking to the next hall, and telling the attendant, “I believe I’ll take my dear friend Judy out for a little stroll. Oh yes, of course, I’ll be certain she’s delivered safely back to the Memory Care Unit. You know I always do.”

Sometimes, my sister and I laugh over our clever ruse. “We’re really sisters, not friends,” I remind her. “But don’t tell them. It’s our secret.”

“I won’t tell.” She smiles in her sweet way. “But sisters are friends as well. Sisters are special friends.”

We recall our many Sisters’ Day adventures from years past, and she begs me to share what I remember of Queenie and Briny and our life on the river. I tell her of days and seasons with Camellia, and Lark, and Fern, and Gabion, and Silas, and Old Zede. I speak of quiet backwaters and rushing currents, the midsummer ballet of dragonflies and winter ice floes that allowed men to walk over water. Together, we travel the living river. We turn our faces to the sunlight and fly time and time again home to Kingdom Arcadia.

Other days, my sister knows me not at all other than as a neighbor here in this old manor house. But the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever present as a pulse.

“Aren’t they so very sweet?” Judy points to the young couple strolling the garden paths near Manor Lake, hand in hand. They make a lovely picture together.

I pat Judy’s arm gently. “That is your granddaughter. I imagine she’s come here to visit with you. And she’s brought her beau along. He’s a looker, that one. I told her the first time I saw them together, he was a keeper. I recognize a spark when I see it.”

“Oh, of course, my granddaughter.” Judy pretends to have known it all along. Some days she would have, but not on this particular day. “And her beau.” She squints toward the garden path. “I’m having trouble calling up the names just now. My silly mind, you know.”

“Avery.”

“Oh yes…Avery.”

“And Trent.”

“We knew a Trent Turner once, didn’t we? He was a dear man. He sold the cottage lots adjacent to the Edisto place, I think.”

“Yes, he did. That is his grandson coming up the walk with Avery.”

“Well, do tell.” Judy waves enthusiastically, and Avery waves in response. Then she and her beau disappear momentarily behind the arbor. They don’t come out as quickly as they might.

Judy presses a hand over her mouth, chuckling. “Oh my.”

“Indeed.” I remember lost loves and loves that never were. “We Fosses have always been an impassioned lot. I don’t suppose that will ever change.”

“I don’t believe it ever should,” Judy agrees, and we fall together in the sweet embrace of sisters, laughing at our own secrets.

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