Epiphany. Kyrie dangled the word between tongue and teeth, enunciating with a dramatic flourish. Her word wall was growing. Save for peeling edges or an occasional flash of red, she had all but erased the faded rose garden that once encroached upon her new bedroom, her mother’s old bedroom. How bizarre to picture her mother inhabiting such a cramped space. Everything about Ashley had been larger than life. Including her life.
“You’ll come to think of this place as home’, the social worker had promised, ‘just give it some time.”
For years, child protective services threatened to remove Kyrie. Ashley drank too much. Ashley dated too much. Ashley insisted that her daughter call her Ashley. In the end, a fatal car accident forced their hand. Now Kyrie found herself in a new city with an old relative. Apparently, ‘almost’ sixteen was not close enough for legal emancipation.
There was a faint rap at the door, more of a question than a statement. The digital clock read 5:05. Dinner time. Although Lois had surely prepared a mountain of food, she would never enter the bedroom unless invited. That was just her grandmother’s way.
“Come in.” called Kyrie, although she would have preferred to be left alone instead of making conversation with a stranger. That was her way.
Lois entered with a steaming hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs. She quickly set it down on the bedside table and then motioned to the foot of the bed.
Kyrie adjusted to an upright position before leaning back against the pillows. Her grandmother was not a small woman, and the additional weight shifted the mattress, elevating Kyrie like a child on a teeter-totter. She recalled the old playground chant with fondness: Monkey, monkey let me down! But what will you give me?
Lois eyed the walls and then smiled up at Kyrie before speaking.
“You’ve been busy…I love your handwriting. It reminds me of calligraphy. I thought they weren’t teaching cursive in schools anymore.”
“They’re not. I bought a book and taught myself to do it.”
“You’re very artistic. Do you draw or paint?”
“No…I just write words, new words that I like the sound of, that kind of thing.”
Colour rose in Kyrie’s cheeks. Her neck and face grew hot, and she raised the dictionary in her hand by way of explanation. Kyrie felt terribly awkward. While other kids her age were texting on their cell phones or posting pictures on social media, she was learning cursive and reading the dictionary.
It dawned on Kyrie that her mother was right around this age when she became pregnant and ran away from home. Kyrie had never even kissed a boy. The idea of having a baby was inconceivable.
What must Lois think of her? And why should it matter, anyways? What kind of person waited fifteen years to finally step up and become a grandmother? Yet again, Ashley’s death had proven to be the sole catalyst for change. Nobody had cared enough until it was too late.
“It’s funny,’ Lois said, ‘When I was growing up, I would write in my journal every night and use a dictionary to find the exact right word to describe how I was feeling. I never thought of making a word wall, though…and I certainly didn’t have your artistic ability. Not like your mother.” Here Lois paused.
Time swallowed the dead air in tiny morsels – a feast of uncomfortable silence. Adults loved to play this game, noted Kyrie. They would leak just enough information to arouse curiosity and then wait for the inevitable response, no matter how long it took.
“My mother? I didn’t know she was artistic.” said Kyrie, obeying the script.
“Oh, yes…very much so. She called it doodling but I know better. I only wish that I’d been able to afford art lessons. I still have all her sketches. Would you like to see them?”
The bottom of the mattress sprang up as Kyrie nodded her ascent. Despite her size and gentle disposition, Lois could move with alarming speed. She ventured a short distance to the hallway and returned a moment later clutching a pink leather scrapbook.
At first glance, the pictures appeared quite ordinary, the sort of thing that any teenage girl might scribble in boredom during class. To call them art was a bit of a stretch. After all, random curlicues did not necessarily scream artiste.
“Look closer.” Lois pointed.
For a long while, nothing materialized. Kyrie stared down at the page and knitted her brows in what she hoped was a look of deep concentration. All at once, recognition electrified Kyrie. Hidden amongst the sloping arches and maze-like perambulations, words and images appeared as though suddenly placed beneath a microscope: kismet, bequeath, ampersand. Images within images were woven into language, like a set of Russian dolls or nesting eggs. A rabbit became a violin became a snowflake.
Somehow, Ashley had conveyed her meaning with just a few simple strokes of the pen. In contrast to the rich language, her subjects were captured with sparse symbols rather than articulated in full detail. Kyrie quickly began flipping through the scrapbook, searching for new words and pictures in a virtual treasure hunt.
“You know, Kyrie…you and your mother were more alike than you think.”
Lois squeezed Kyrie’s hand before standing up and leaving the room. As always, Lois shut the door softly to allow her granddaughter some privacy.
Kyrie blinked back fresh tears and exhaled. Tonight, she would try to eat spaghetti and get a decent rest. But first, there was much to discover. Kyrie grabbed her dictionary. With any luck, she could finish her word wall by tomorrow morning. For the first time since coming to live with Lois, she felt grateful to be this close to her mother, eager to hold onto even a small piece of the woman who raised her.
“I miss you.” she mouthed.
And then, Kyrie set about finding the words that her mother left behind.