“The Photograph”: Part 4

The final installment.

© Sarah Parro

All Rights Reserved

The rest of the day went by in a quiet haze, full of shuffling from room to room, the sound of items scraping the inside of cardboard boxes, and the occasional consultation with my father to decide whether something should be packed, stored, or tossed out. We seemed to silently and collectively decide to not worry about anymore big, family meals. People would just wander in and out of the kitchen when they were hungry. Strangely, this ritual made it feel more like we were a family in our home. The kitchen had always been a congregating place growing up, and it wasn’t unusual for me to come in for a sandwich or a soda and find one of my sisters already in there having a snack, or to see my father reading the paper at the table.

After packing up some more things in my old bedroom, I headed downstairs for something to eat and found Cara making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the boys, who had just run out to the yard. I didn’t say anything as I opened the refrigerator, but with her back still to me Cara said,

“Want a sandwich? I’m making one for myself, too.” I closed the fridge.

“Sure,” I said, “thanks.” Now with nothing to do, I sat down at the table, uncertain of whether to try and cultivate a conversation. I watched my younger sister spread jam over slices of white bread, neatly cutting the crusts off as she had done for the boys’ sandwiches. I was three years older than Cara, but I felt young around her. She had always been more motherly than me, and getting married and having kids right after college just seemed natural for her. I was thankful that at least one of us could take on that role; even though I was the oldest, I had never felt very good at nurturing.

Cara finished making the sandwiches, and piled them all on a plate.

“Mind if we eat outside? I just let the boys out, and I want to give them time to blow off some energy.” I made a motion that was half shrug, half nod, and I followed her out the back door. “David! George! Come play out front for a while! We’re going to eat on the porch.” We walked around the side of the house to the front porch as the boys raced past us, demonstrating their seemingly endless energy. It was almost noon, but the sky was still gray and mostly cloudy, providing cool relief from the Clovis heat. I couldn’t tell if it was going to rain; it was always so hard to tell in New Mexico. It might threaten for hours and never let out a drop, or you might find yourself caught in a crashing thunderstorm when it had been sunny and warm minutes earlier.

Since the porch swing was broken, Cara and I sat down on the front steps. David and George grabbed their sandwiches and stuffed them in their mouths as they ran to play the games of boys by the big tree: digging in the dirt, tossing rocks, and having contests to see who could spin in a circle the longest without falling down. Cara handed me my crust-less sandwich, and we ate in silence. After I finished mine, I pulled out my cigarettes. I had dug them out of my purse on my way to the kitchen earlier, planning on finding some food and then eating and smoking in solitude.

No one else in my family smoked, except for my mother. I knew it made me look uncaring, after we had just buried our mother due to cancer, but I had managed on refraining all day at the funeral and I couldn’t hold out any longer. I stuck a cigarette in my mouth and lit it.

“I think I’m going to be staying for a few extra days,” Cara said.

“Yeah?” I replied.

“Yeah,” she said, fidgeting with the last bit of sandwich in her fingers. “I just can’t leave Dad alone yet, not when he’s got this whole house to pack up. Henry’s got to get back for work, but I can stay with the boys for a while.” Silence again. She fidgeted, I smoked. The boys had started plucking blades of grass.

“You should stay, too.” Cara finally said, looking over at me. “I think it would mean a lot to Dad.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I feel like all I do is cause trouble.” Cara’s eyes softened.

“The truth is, we all cause trouble. You’re right you know…all those things you said about Mom.” She didn’t go on. I was surprised, and touched.

“I usually feel like the one who causes all of the problems,” I said, drawing a long breath on my cigarette.

“Well, you and Mom had a lot in common in that way,” Cara said, smiling. “What I mean is, you were always so stubborn like her, but that’s what made you strong. I never felt strong enough to stand up to Mom, even when she was hurting herself, or hurting us.” I looked at Cara. She wasn’t getting emotional, but she hadn’t opened up to me like this for a long time. I kept quiet, not wanting to ruin anything.

“I wish I had said something, though,” she continued. “We all should have said more. Not just to Mom, but to each other. Maybe things would have been different. Maybe Dad wouldn’t be selling the house.” I thought back to what my father had said about how important it was to my mother that the farm stay in the family. I wondered if I would have acted differently if she had been more honest about her feelings. I realized then that maybe my mother had hidden her feelings from us because she didn’t want us to be pressured into a life we didn’t want. Like Dad said, the farm, in spite of all of its sentimental value, just wouldn’t fit into our family now. My mother was the only piece holding it together. Maybe, in her own misguided way, she was trying to help us, and herself, let go.

I looked around at the front yard, at the old tree I knew so well, and I thought about being young and happy here. I remembered the family portrait in the dining room, and the beautiful photo of my mother that had been forgotten in my old bedroom, just as I had forgotten so much about what it meant for us to be a family and to be whole. But maybe we didn’t need the farm to have that again.

“I think part of me will still miss this place,” I said, more to myself than to Cara. But she replied, simply,

“Me too.” We sank into silence as I finished my cigarette and the boys chased each other. The sky was beginning to clear up, and the birds were singing.

Grace emerged suddenly from the front door behind us, followed by my father.

“There you are,” Grace said, sitting on the step next to me. She was eating a sandwich of her own. My father didn’t say anything, but leaned on the railing, looking out on the yard and the road and the now brighter sky. I tossed my cigarette butt on a lower step and ground it with the toe of my shoe. We all remained there for several minutes, not saying anything. For the first time since coming home, I was enjoying being around my family. Then Cara stood up, brushing crumbs off of her lap.

“I’m going to go find Henry. I think he’s still packing up the guest room. Dad, can you watch the boys? You can bring them in whenever you want.” She went inside.

I stood up and leaned on the railing next to my father.

“I’d like to stay a bit longer,” I said, looking out at nothing in particular: dusty driveway, trees, sky. “To help out. If we can’t hold on to this place, I at least want to be here to make sure everything’s taken care of.” I paused, and then said, “I think it would mean a lot to Mom.”

My father turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “I think you’re right, Tamara. I think it would.”

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