By Jessica Evans
Now they are decades older, inches taller, still uneasy, still unloved. Tucked deep inside Autumn’s jacket, the only photograph she has left of her and Martha, their girlhood on full display. Matching plaid dresses, Martha’s hair in braids, Autumn’s cut close and short, above her ears. The photograph reflecting the loss, the longing, but absent the abortions, the abuse. Only now there’s no one to help bind them, no one to bring them together. The photograph, Martha’s only request of Autumn to bring to their grandmother’s funeral. Autumn who managed to get out, Autumn who found new life in a dying city two rivers up the road. Martha knew it too, nothing left for them here except derivative lives and looped loss. But Martha stayed, her presence the counterweight to her own mama’s madness and grief. Autumn inhales sharply. The air is tinted with rotting basil, vaguely masculine and foreboding.
The air is tinted with rotting basil, vaguely masculine and foreboding. Autumn measures her footsteps, a favorite game from girlhood, to draw out what she knows is coming. Soft love always gets crushed inside captive vices, and Oneida is the strongest vice of all. Inside Bessie’s bar, Autumn’s aunts and other women cousins have assembled, their own honeycomb of loss. Granny has been dead an entire moon, and this is their fourth and final mourning. Four times Autumn has made the trip down, the miles stretching her out more and more every time.
Four times Autumn has made the trip down, the miles stretching her out more and more every time. Aunt Bessie has plucked time from its threads for this final mourning session. On her mahogany bar next to Granny’s urn, she’s arranged the portraits and paintings of all the women who went before her. Autumn’s cousins dressed in lavender and lilac, mournful mauve and wishful periwinkle. Plum, violet, the amaranthine of loss on display. Her aunts wear red, scarlet and vermilion, the ruby of decisions, cardinal and carmine, claret and cerise. The colors of mourning, veiled against modernity, their collective loss looped together with colored knots, Granny’s binding spells. Family is only as strong as our magic, Granny told them.
Family is only as strong as our magic, Granny told them. Autumn places the image of her and Martha next to the others on the bar. She sits down in Granny’s favorite chair, quietly repeating her granny’s given name, a mantra to the loss. These actions are rote, this fourth funeral in, repetitive, condensed. There is no wailing here, there is no abject loss. A group of women grown and mourning, wondering how to become whole again. Autumn’s eyes lock on the floral wallpaper, mesmerized by a butterfly suspended between branches. She stares at the pattern, the din of conversation flattening out around her. Granny’s face emerges like a balloon from the sidewalk, buoyant and gossamer. There is a honeycomb of grief building inside Autumn, present from the first days of her life when she realized there would never be anyone who loved her like Granny, no one into whose arms she could dance, skip, stumble, whose enveloping scents would be at once grounding and rejuvenating. An olfactory memory, Granny tending to her herb garden, secret witchery grown right in the heart of the holler, old jars embossed with the names of companies no longer in existence spaced evenly on her back porch to collect the storm water and capture moon magic.
Jessica Evans writes from Arlington, VA. Home is where she lays her head. She is the EIC for Twin Pies, the poetry editor for Dress Blues, and a mentor for Veteran’s Writing Project. Other works are forthcoming in The Louisville Review, Burnt Toast, Outlook Springs, LEON Literary Review, The Wild Hunt and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter @jesssica__evans