(Joseph And Marie Angel) by Paulette C Turcotte copyright. first published in Quarry in Kingston, Ont. and Split Quotation/La Cita Trunca, Ottawa
And Mama screamed from her bed, Joseph take your sister, screamed until the earth split in a dozen pieces, swallowing first me and then Marie Angel in its swollen belly and we clung together there until we were vomited up by some element that opened the world again.
And Grandma wiped her floured hands on her apron, said she guessed it’d reach 90 today, and pushed her hair back under her scarf, pushed open the window that turned around the world, and singing, “you’re the only star in my blue heaven,” over and over until the sun came up like it was morning all over again instead of three o’clock in the afternoon and almost hot enough for a thunderstorm -- Marie Angel, bring in your doll, if it rains the face will crack -- and I looked out the window and saw the panther in the tree, but it was only the dream and I remembered Mama screaming.
Papa came in that day and took us, first Marie Angel and then me, all the way to the place of his heart beating through and beyond, into the world of Mama, took us up the long stretch of stairs, took us up to say good-bye to Mama, to the place of no more tomorrows, because Mama didn’t remember to say, Joseph, you’re a fine big boy and I thank you for taking your sister into the oh so bright morning and out behind the garden where the dandelion fuzz blows in the breeze. But, Mama only sighed, and then Papa took us by the hand, me, and Marie Angel was swooped up again into his big arms, with her thumb in her mouth.
Mama didn’t scream again, but went to the going place and that was when Marie Angel tore the new flowered wallpaper, picked it with her finger first and then tore it in strips beside Mama’s chair in the front room and Papa cried.
That was the morning that the rain fell and the thunder made the house shake, especially upstairs where Marie Angel sat in her crib calling her very last words, Mem, Mem, Mem. And the sky trembled as it opened like torn paper, like God shouting down on all of us, shouting at the top of his voice that there were no tomorrows, only todays that followed each other like the toy train cars that went around and around on the front-room rug. And the toy people that stood on the platform, never stopped waving, even when the train stopped.
I hoped that God would smile and say it was okay if Mama waved to us, that even that Christmas when Papa took us to Aunt Rose and said, “ here are two more children,” and Aunt Rose sighed and pulled us in the door and unwrapped the blue scarf that Papa had wound around Marie Angel’s head, said it was more like the cold had seized her by the shoulders instead of Papa’s arms that were already hugging Aunt Rose, but Mama would be watching and it would be okay with me.
After that, after Aunt Rose’s husband Charlie came home from the war and after Little Barbara was born, Papa didn’t come anymore, with his big smile and big arms, and Aunt Rose shook her head every time she saw Marie Angel’s silent face, and said “that one’ll be the death of me.” And Marie Angel kept staring with her big eyes like she never heard her say the words, looked right through Aunt Rose, right through the wall, the whole time, standing there in her red cotton dress like she knew Aunt Rose’s secrets, knew Uncle Charlie’s too, even sometimes God’s. And when she opened her eyes like that and stared right through Aunt Rose, I saw Mama waving.
But Papa didn’t come and Marie Angel was only five and sometimes I wasn’t sure, I mean, about Mama waving.
Then the old man went door to door asking for the children to come and sit on his pony, only for three you could get a bargain and Aunt Rose said the three youngest. And not anyone was scared, no not even Little Barbara and Marie Angel all dressed up in her red dress and her brown boots clung tight like she was carried along with the old man to the land of his dreams, like he was offering the golden mare instead of the seedy pony and he took her hand as he walked the pony around the clumsy circle he had made with his wishes and mine too. Marie Angel looked into the dream with her big eyes, and her lips clenched shut. And the whole time I knew, that not for any excuse would Marie Angel say, Joseph, let us ride to 490 Cross Street to find Papa. She just sat there glued to the silence of dull hopes that clung to the grass beneath the pony’s feet that made paper walls around all of us.
Then one day when the sun was streaming through the smudged glass in Aunt Rose’s kitchen, a voice squeezed through the tiny opening that came from the end of the world and emerged through the tiny branches of the tree that was Marie Angel. And even Little Barbara looked puzzled because all the time Marie Angel had sat there like wood, silent like petrified wood, silent like a tree born to die. But not now, not today with the sun streaming through the kitchen window, not today, the day Marie Angel got her new voice.
“Oh, thank you,” says Marie Angel in her new voice and sticks her finger into the piece of dough that Aunt Rose has been pushing and prodding into a a pie shape. “Oh thank you,” says Marie Angel, and Aunt Rose looks at her like she has seen a ghost.
And that was the day Papa came like a 4 o’clock shadow, long and lean and opened the door, the beginning of the going back to the beginning. Where have you been Papa, so long in the night when my sister cried and I heard her all the way from the back and Aunt Rose shouted, shut-up, not to wake Little Barbara, and I counted the bongs that sorted out the night into numbers like sounds that circled 3, 4, 5, and Marie Angel dreamed she was riding a horse that went round and round to the music and up and down to the voice of Papa at the door saying you have a new Mama. And I ran into the parlour to see if Mama was still waving.
And I heard Grandma singing, “you’re the only star in my blue heaven.”