I can’t remember how old I was when it was slapped into me that there was no man on the moon. I’d gotten so used to cuddling with momma on that big oak rocking chair granddaddy had made for us, or on the patchwork quilt with momma and daddy, and we’d talk about the man on the moon.
All the seasons were beautiful, but Fall had always been the most wonderful time of the year for us. Everything was so vibrant, the color of the leaves; the oranges, reds, yellows, browns and purples fascinated me. As for the scents of Fall, I couldn’t really have described them I just knew that they all came together in a wonderful, magical way. The first thing I smelled when the windows or front door were opened was the last of the apples that had finally fallen off the trees in the yard and lay on soft beds of cool, moist leaves. While the beauty of the trees and scents always caught my attention, it was the moon that sent me on wonderful adventures.
As soon as the leaves started to turn colors momma, daddy and I would go out on a wonderful leaf seeking adventure to see which of the leaves was the most perfect in color and what stories they would tell. They always had wonderful stories to tell and somehow, someway daddy could hear their voices.
Before raking the leaves we’d go through them carefully and pick the best and most colorful and with these we’d make a great big wreathe to hang on our front door and with the rest we’d make so many different things; a tiny village with pipe cleaners and tissue paper and leaves glued to the sides for walls; we’d make leaf people with toilet paper rolls to walk the streets of that village and finally we’d put leaves all over the house; under candles, in glass bowls with pinecones and every breath we took said Fall was here and Christmas was on the way.
Daddy would rake the rest of the leaves into a great big pile and on that, he’d lay the patchwork quilt that momma had worked so hard on. While momma prepared the apple cider over the fire pit and added cinnamon sticks, daddy and I would cuddle and we’d feel each leaf and he’d explain why the trees were taking off their clothes. Since God was their Daddy, He would tell them when it was time to go to sleep and He’d wake them up when the cold was over and buy them brand new clothes.
My favorite time was then we’d all lay on that quilt; I always felt so safe between them, like nothing could ever hurt me and I’d put my hand out and touch the moon and I’d ask, “Momma what is the moon made out of?”
“Why my love, the moon is made out of sweet apples and rice krispie treats,” she’d reply.
“Momma, will I ever be able to visit the moon?” I would ask excitedly.
“Someday my love, I believe we all will,” she would answer patiently.
Momma went to heaven when I was six years old and everything changed. Papa didn’t talk to me anymore and when he wasn’t working, he’d sit and hold momma’s quilt. I felt like I was invisible.
Several months later Grandma and Grandpa moved in with us. I heard daddy telling them I was getting unmanageable. I missed momma so much and I just wanted to feel safe again and one night I made the mistake of trying to climb into grandma’s lap; she glared and pushed me off. I didn’t do it again. I tried one more to connect with her and leaning against her I asked the same questions I’d asked my momma about the man in the moon. Daddy had gotten up quickly and left; grandma slapped me and sternly said, “It’s time for you to grow up. There is no man in the moon.” Pretty soon, we stopped celebrating everything. There was no Easter, no Christmas, no nothing; holidays were too painful for daddy, because they reminded him that momma was gone.
I learned to pretend that I didn’t need birthday parties and how to smile through the tears. The dreams I used to have about being a princess with a momma and daddy that would love me forever disappeared like snow on a summer’s day. Life had intruded in a harsh way and I went from being an innocent child who was her momma and daddy’s precious treasure to a quiet shadow living on the outer fringes of my daddy’s life.
Graduation was sad and lonely; another celebration no one shared with me. I left for college and never looked back. I met the love of my life there and finally I came to understand how much my daddy loved my momma. I can’t imagine my life without Charles or our children.
I always missed my momma and spoke to the kids constantly about her, but I never mentioned my daddy or my grandparents. Daddy had all but forgotten me and I didn't want him to hurt my kids the way he'd hurt me, so I shoved him into a corner and tried to forget about him.
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The day had been a comedy of errors and my cheeks were sore from laughing so much. Working with kindergartners had its ups and downs and today had been a particularly hilarious day; I was so glad this was a four-day weekend.
There were several errands to run after picking up the boys, Christian and Anthony, from school. I was laughing hysterically as I walked in the back door; apparently Christian thought his teacher had killed the class pet, Homer the rabbit and had served him for lunch. He wasn't upset so much at the idea of rabbit for lunch, but he said it had just tasted like regular hamburger to him.
Charles came around the corner from the living room carrying Beth, our 10-month old, “Sweetheart, I need to talk to you.” After getting the kids settled Charles sat and pulled me down on his lap, “Honey, your Aunt Elise called. Your dad’s dying and he’s asking for you.”
My chest felt tight, I had a lump in my throat and my face felt funny. He held me for a while, then me settled me with the baby while he packed everything for both the kids and us.
I can’t remember the drive down there, but I do remember walking off the elevator at the hospital. The return of the feelings I had when momma died almost made me turn and run and only Charles’ arm around my waist kept me there.
Aunt Elise came up to me and hugged me, “Baby, he’s calling for you. You don’t have to talk, just listen, okay?”
It felt like lead weights had been attached to my legs and I looked over my shoulder at my husband. I didn’t want to have to do this alone.
“It’s okay love, we’re all coming with you,” he said.
The room was dark, the blinds drawn and all I could hear was the “beep, beep, beep,” of the heart monitor, the slow dripping of the IV and the hiss of the oxygen machine. A bony hand slowly lifted from the bed towards me.
“Baby, is that you?” came a guttural whisper.
“Yes daddy, I’m here.” I could feel my chin start to tremble and tears started to fall.
He wouldn’t rest no matter what I said; he needed to talk. He’d lost himself after momma died and then he’d lost me. He’d been so ashamed of what he and his parents had put me through that he’d never contacted me. Could I forgive him? Did I still love him? All I could do was nod my head.
“You know what I miss so much baby?” he asked gruffly.
“The man in the moon,” he replied breathing with difficulty.
With tears running down my face, I asked, “Daddy what’s the moon made out of?” In a hoarse whisper he replied, “Out of sweet apples and rice krispie treats, my love.”
“Daddy, will I ever be able to visit the moon?” I asked through a throat made husky with sobs, my entire body shuddering.
“Yes baby, but I’ll go first and see your momma.”
The next several hours I spent with my head on his pillow. I opened the blinds and described the colors of the Autumn leaves to him and the smells that make Autumn so special and he got to know Charles and his grandchildren. He finally slipped away in the early hours of the morning and I cried for what might have been and for what would never be.
The boys took me for a walk the night after we arrived home. We searched for leaves and when we got home Charles had put my mother’s patchwork quilt on the leaves he’d raked. The five of us sat on that quilt and reaching up to touch my face Christian asked, “Mommy what’s the moon made out of?”
With a tears rolling down my face I smiled, “Sweet apples and rice krispie treats, my love.”
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Written for: Blue Bell Books Twitter Club: Thursday Flash Fiction Week 28: Innocence and Dreams