The Poet – Spring
Helena has invited Kiki for brunch Easter Sunday. At the market Helena gathers the ingredients for blueberry blintzes and a bouquet of tulips.
The bag boy at the checkout asks her, “paper or plastic?”
“P..p..paint. No, no…” Damn it! What’s the word? He just said it!
The bag boy stares wide-eyed, then looks vaguely amused. “Paper or plastic?”
“Paper!” she shouts, relieved to shake the word out. The bag boy is smirking like she is some kind of punchline.
Helena spreads a white tablecloth over the dining table. She arranges the tulips in the center and tells herself to forget the bag boy. She will send Simon to buy groceries from now on.
Kiki comes bearing champagne and for some reason, Helena has to swallow back her tears when they embrace.
Simon appears from the kitchen, greets Kiki with a kiss on her cheek. “Lena, call for you,” he says, holding out his cell phone. She’s been avoiding calls the last few weeks; it seems someone is trying to reach her through his phone. She takes his cell to the kitchen.
When she enters the dining room, Kiki and Simon are waiting for her at the table. Simon is pouring the champagne.
“Before you take a sip- let me say,” Helena gathers her words. “The man says, I am the new Poet Laureate of Boston!”
Simon and Kiki jump out of their seats. “Oh!” Kiki exclaims. “Helena, this is wonderful! Long overdue!”
Simon holds her cheeks in his hands. “But who else could they choose? That’s my girl!”
Kiki raises her glass. “To our Poetess! We couldn’t be prouder of you!”
Poetess! But Sappho was a master of language. She cannot answer a question as simple as “paper or plastic?” Who is she to accept such a title? Who is she?
“Oh! No, no.” Helena’s voice wavers.
“What is it dear?” Kiki asks, her face clouding.
“No, I can’t. I can’t do it.”
“But love, you deserve this. We’ve talked about this for years,” says Simon.
“No. No, I won’t.” Her expression tells Simon and Kiki this is the end of the discussion. But Kiki refuses to let it go.
“Helena, please. We’ve been like sisters since college.” Kiki says. “What is it?”
After brunch, Helena excuses herself, citing a headache, leaving Simon and Kiki to wash the dishes. She climbs the stairs, slumps into bed and pulls the covers over her head.
Light footsteps pad up the stairs. Kiki sits like a feather at the edge of the bed. She folds the blankets down, strokes Helena’s hair and Helena holds on to Kiki’s other hand.
“When I lost Dahlia the first thing I did was organize; I organized the paperwork, called the school, erased her essential snacks from my grocery list. Sounds cold maybe, but for some reason, I found it helpful working through those final maternal duties.” Kiki never talks about her only daughter, who had died of leukemia almost thirty years ago, so Helena sits up, still grasping Kiki’s hand. “After that, there was nothing to do. And do you know the question I couldn’t get out of my head?”
“What question?” Helena asks.
“Am I still a mother?” Kiki’s mouth involuntarily pulls down at the edges. “I lived for that child. Quit my career to focus on her. Then, she was gone. Gone.” The word sticks in Kikis throat. She coughs and swallows hard before she’s able to continue. “ Am I a mother? And if not, who am I?”
Helena nods. Thank God for Kiki. “So- are you?”
“I still don’t know.”
Helena studies Kiki’s face, holds her breath as long as she can, then erupts with laughter. She is horrified with herself. “Sorry. Sorry. Not funny. But, Kiki, that’s not helpful.” Kiki laughs too. They laugh and laugh, tears catching in their wrinkles.
When their laughter dies, Kiki says, “Here’s one thing I decided: Life’s not about our resume.”
“Please,” Helena smiles from the side of her mouth. “What’s it about?”
“Honesty about who we are. Especially in the face of a loss that strips away our supposed identity, leaves us naked and vulnerable. And you know, Lena, who wants to see us naked at this age! But there’s our humanity.”
About the Author
Gretchen Gossett a practicing speech language pathologist. Gretchen has taken writing courses at Gotham Writers, including Intro to Fiction, Plot, Character, and Publication. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.