Cheryl Leibovitz and
Indrina Kanth

Cheryl Leibovitz
Blue Flowers

Response

Untitled
By Indrina Kanth

Inspiration piece

Nia received the note in the mail. It was from her stepmother, and it was just that – a note inside a card imprinted with blue and white flowers. When Nia opened it she was struck, as she always was, by the perfection of Michelle’s script. Michelle had been an artist for a time in college – well really she had been an artist all her life, but she had studied for some time in school. She was gifted, even though she never finished her program. Michelle had been sending cards since Nia’s mother died, sending small updates which Nia had tried to answer when possible. Michelle never had other children. Nia’s father never wrote, though Nia knew she wouldn’t have written back even if he had, which was something she thought as she read the card.

Your father is dying. He wants to see you one more time. I know you might not wish to come. He doesn’t know I’ve written to you, and I will understand no matter what you choose. But I worry that if you don’t come, you might wonder what it would have been like. I don’t want you to live with regret. Call or write. Love always, Cory.

As soon as she finished, Nia headed to the bathroom drawer for an emergency cigarette which she breathed in deeply, closing her eyes. She could feel her stomach tighten and she needed to cough, which was always her reaction to a smoke. This time she knew it wasn’t just the cigarette.

* * *

She had been telling everyone her father was dead for years, since her mother had died before college. She told her friends, her coworkers, roommates, and boyfriends. Car crash, she had chosen – cancer would set off too many alarms she thought, she would have needed too many details. He was alone and a drunk driver was in the wrong lane coming right at him. He turned off the road and went head on into a tree, dying on impact. The drunk driver was unscathed. They never made her talk about her mother’s death, not after she told this first story. It was a clean story that never had many follow up questions, and no one would press an orphan.

The last person she told was her boyfriend Mark. It was a year ago when she told him the story, which she had told enough times by then that she began to believe it, got worked up when she told people, and was able to muster a glassy eye as she spoke her rehearsed sentences. She had two glasses of wine when he asked about her parents. She had mixed up the order and she told him about her mother first, that she had died of heart failure, which was the truth. And then she told him about her father. She felt like a movie star when she told someone for the first time. She envisioned herself giving a performance, making them believe she was strong but hurt, the exact combination she wanted herself to be. That night it must have been the wine, or the lighting, or that she hadn’t slept much the night before, but as she imagined the car coming toward her father – and yes, she saw him in the car as she told the story – it made her catch her breath and she thought she might start crying. It was just enough of a pause for her to realize what was happening, to compose herself when Mark came to her side, turning them into a couple who sat beside each other, and he kissed her on the cheek. And she cried, right in the middle of the restaurant. She calmed down quickly; she was not one for public scenes. She was embarrassed she had lost control of her performance. But why did that happen? She asked herself in the restroom as she put her face back on.

“Were you close to him?” He asked when she returned to the table.

“I don’t remember him much. My mother raised me,” she said. And that, too, was the truth.

* * *

Michelle was twenty-five when she married her father. She was lovely, not beautiful, and in such contrast to Nia’s mother that it was shocking her father had chosen both of them. Michelle was young, blonde, blue-eyed, with delicate bones. She smiled tightly, never showing teeth which were slightly crooked. Nia’s mother had a toothy grin, a flat face, and olive skin. Michelle kept her hair short, a bob that she blew out every morning. Nia knew this was very different from her own mother, who kept her hair long, rarely dried it and always wore it in a bun. Her mother spent little time getting ready. She wore long cotton dresses with large, colorful patterns on them. “They hide the stains,” her mother had told her once. Michelle wore elegant clothes, fitted and tailored to her small frame. Nia’s father had encouraged Michelle not to work anymore. So on nights she stayed with them Nia and Michelle would sit in the living room, Nia reading and Michelle drawing.

“How do you do that?” Nia had asked once when she saw that Michelle was making paper dolls. One was a princess and the other was a puppet with marionette strings. Michelle had been startled, looking up at Nia like she had forgotten she was in the room.

“Come here,” she said, making room on the couch and motioning for Nia to sit beside her. “You can help with the cutting.” Nia had clumsy fingers and within seconds she had cut across one of the strings on the puppet. She started to cry.

“No, no, it’s ok, it’s ok – we can fix it,” Michelle had said, lifting the paper from her hands and working magic with the scissors. She had delicate hands, long fingers and clear, clean nails. She was able to turn the paper around and around, furrowing her brow in deep concentration. “There, totally fine.” And she had fixed it, the puppet simply had an extra string on the other side. Michelle held the dolls side by side, moving them around like they were dancing. Nia had smiled, relieved she hadn’t ruined anything, and Michelle had given her a kiss on the head before getting up to answer the phone.

When she returned to her mother’s house, she brought the paper dolls with her, a gift from Cory. “Those are so lovely,” her mother said when she came in the door. “Did your father buy you these?”

“Michelle made them. Can I go over again tomorrow? Michelle said she’ll make me some more.”

Nia looked at her mother, so tired from her double shift as a phone operator for an airline. She held the dolls in her fingers. Nia noticed her mother’s hands, her short nails and graphite smears from the pencils she used at work, so different from Michelle’s. Her mother extended her finger to touch the doll’s face.

“No don’t!” Nia shouted, startling her mother. “You’ll get them dirty.”

Her mother nodded, quickly handing the dolls back to her. “I’ll call your father tomorrow to make sure it’s ok. You should go put those somewhere safe,” she said before walking back into her bedroom.

* * *

She looked at the card again when she finished her cigarette. As she looked closer she realized the flowers were hand cut and pasted onto the front, clearly Michelle’s work. She let her fingers trace the edges of the card. She would write her reply later, and she knew it would be her last.

.

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One Comment

  1. Christine Tapson
    Posted September 11, 2010 at 6:33 am | #

    How complicated is Love, especially within families… And the beautiful simplicity of the picture captures the complexities within… (I just wondered who “Cory” is.) I found this deep and meaningful.Thank you.

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