“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” ~Robert Frost
After Susan and Lara’s move to Maddie’s . . .
Susan stood at the kitchen window watching the birds congregate at the birdfeeder. She wanted to scream when the pesky blue jays chased away the less aggressive birds. Eventually, only the greedy blue jays remained. The scene was a reminder that humans weren’t the only species that bullied, and neither were they the only species that liked to sing.
Many of her favorite quotes were about birds. One that had special meaning to her was an old Chinese saying: You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair. The ridiculous image had chased away the blues many a day following Charles’ disappearance. When bitterness threatened to take over her thoughts, she envisioned a bird’s nest in her hair.
When she woke the morning after the move to Maddie’s, she was disoriented. She disliked change, and she’d been forced to make too many changes during the past months. It would have been so easy to let depression creep in, but she steadfastly refused to dwell on the past, or things that she couldn’t change. Now, two days later, she was able to appreciate the positive aspects of the move. She made a decision, and it was up to her to make the arrangement work.
Bittersweet memories of her life with Charles were Susan’s constant companions. She hoped that in time the rawness would heal, but that the sweetness of the memories would remain. She’d been blessed to find a soulmate, and blessed to have twenty years with him. She could almost hear him whisper in her ear, I love you Susan, and I always will. Remembering his love would get her through the tough times.
The physical move into Maddie’s home had actually gone more smoothly than she had anticipated. There had been minor irritations, but no major calamities. Most of the furniture from her home with Charles and Lara was stored, but both she and her daughter didn’t want to give up all of the accessories and pieces of furniture that were familiar to them. Lara’s drawing board was a necessity, as was Susan’s piano. The emotional impact of the move would have been far greater if they had given up everything. Walking away from a treasured home, left scars.
Lara chose her dad’s childhood bedroom. She immediately transformed the room into a combination studio/bedroom. The bookshelves that previously contained Charles’ adventure, science, history and business books, were now overflowing with children’s books. She kept two of her dad’s old aviation posters, but chose to display family photos on the wall behind her drawing board.
Maddie appeared to be pleased with the changes Lara made. When Lara finally permitted Susan and Maddie to view her efforts, Maddie’s eyes twinkled. “My mama would have loved this room. She was an artist you know.”
Lara’s eyes widened. “No, I didn’t know, Aunt Maddie. I’ve never seen any of her paintings. Where are they?”
“She didn’t paint. She sketched. After the depression, there was no money for paints, so she used charcoal or pencils. I have no idea what happened to her work. When Miriam, my sister and your grandma, and I cleaned out our parent’s home we couldn’t find her sketches.”
“What was her subject matter?”
“Any and everything. Books were scarce at our house, but I remember one book of nursery rhymes and fairy-tales that Miriam and I had. There weren’t any illustrations, so Mom made sketches for us. My favorite was her illustration of Little Jack Horner. Miriam’s favorite was Little Red Riding Hood. I haven’t thought about those sketches for years.”
“She sounds like a woman after my own heart. Maybe I’ll dedicate A Home for Tina to her memory.”
Tears welled in Maddie’s eyes. “What a lovely idea.”
For the first time in months, Lara’s smiles did not look forced, and Maddie’s sense of humor wasn’t feigned. Maddie and Lara’s relationship continued to blossom. Several days after Susan and Lara settled into Maddie’s house, Susan overheard a conversation between the two. Maddie was groaning about her inability to write the way she had in the past.
Lara snapped, “Aunt Maddie, nobody likes a whiner. If you want to write, why don’t you write a children’s book. You can surely focus long enough to write a twenty-five-page book.”
“I don’t think kids want to read about skunks, vultures or rattlesnakes.”
“I don’t know about that. I think it would be fun to illustrate a book about a surly rattlesnake who becomes a gentle mother.”
Maddie burst out laughing.
Susan found their exchange heartwarming. It was such a relief to see the changes in Lara and Maddie. Credit was due Reverend Brian Rafferty for bringing about a positive change in Lara’s attitude, and Travis had a lot to do with Maddie’s growing self-confidence and improved sense of humor.
Much of her own contentment stemmed from the success of her piano performance. The concert had been a challenge, but one that brought a sense of confidence that she desperately needed. She planned to use the experience to become a more compassionate teacher.
In the past, she rarely spoke to her students about their fears of performing. Going forward, discussing her students’ fears would become an integral part of her teaching. Strong performances required countless hours of practice, hours that young performers found tedious. They needed encouragement and assurance that a performance was worth the effort.
When Maddie informed Susan that the bedroom she’d chosen as her own was the room that Donovan slept in when he visited, she moved to a smaller, less convenient room. Silly or not, she didn’t want to sleep in his room.
The happy spot in the house was the music room. With Maddie’s approval, the large, airy room that Leah had used as an upstairs sitting room worked beautifully as a music room. It was at the back of the house, away from the other bedrooms and Maddie’s office. Perfect for privacy. She had a feeling that the music room would become her personal hideaway.
One day recently, when Maddie was out with a friend, Susan spent two hours reviewing a piece of sheet music that the director at The School of the Arts had sent over. One of the dance instructors wanted to use the music in the Christmas dance recital, but the original arrangement wasn’t working. Creating new arrangements was one of the most enjoyable aspects of Susan’s job. She found great joy and a sense of accomplishment when a piece of music was transformed.
One of Susan’s concerns about the move was time alone with Lara, but it proved to be a non-issue. During the years Maddie was writing, she never rose before ten. Her research and community activities were restricted to the hours between noon and six pm, and her writing after nine p.m. It wasn’t unusual for her to work until two am. Her habit of sleeping late, remained the same.
The schedule worked well for Susan and Lara. They were able to spend mother/daughter time before Lara headed off to school. After Lara’s departure, Susan was able to enjoy a second cup of coffee and read the newspaper before Maddie came downstairs.
One fall morning in mid-October, she woke to a slight chill in the air. She adored fall and all of that it brought; brightly colored foliage, apples and pumpkins, hot dogs at the fair and the roar of football crowds. She retrieved the newspaper from the front steps, located a pencil to use for the crossword puzzle and strolled out to the back patio. Before she could unfold the paper, her phone vibrated. Travis.
“Hey. You’re interrupting my quiet time. What can I do for you?”
“Have you read the headlines?”
“Read the frontpage article and get back to me.”
“Hold on. I have the paper in front of me.” Her eyes brimmed with tears when she read the headline. Indicted Mayor Found Dead in Cell. Suicide Suspected. She took a deep breath before responding. “I kept hoping that we were wrong. Even though the odds were against it. I wanted Donovan to be innocent. I suppose his suicide is an admission of guilt.” She quickly scanned the short article. The police think it was cyanide. How on earth did he manage to smuggle a cyanide pill into the city jail?”
“It’s a mystery, but I’m sure that heads are going to roll. They’ve placed his time of death at one a.m. I’m on my way over to your house. Don’t let Maddie see the paper until I get there.”
“Take your time. She won’t be down for another half hour.”
“How do you think she’ll react to Donovan’s death?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Travis. Donovan’s name doesn’t come up in our conversations.”
“Surely she knows about the criminal charges that were lodged against him.”
“She reads the papers faithfully, so I assume she does.”