Tracking Liz: Coda
Liv replayed her cemetery confession, and Ms. Hart’s attempt to connect. “I get it,” she had said. “Believe me, I get it.” Suddenly Liv returned in full color to the conversation from hours before.
“Ever wonder what brought you here?” Ms. Hart asked as she folded herself to a cross legged seat looking like a gangly guru, her purple pants parachuting around her. She set the paper bag on its side and a patter of clanks signaled the obvious. Ms. Hart had been there long enough to collect the debris.
“Why would I ask that? It wouldn’t change anything.” Liv moved from a sunny spot into the shade of the oak.
“But do you ever wonder how you REALLY got here?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Say your great-grandmother suffered an unspeakable loss. Say she left her dreams to scoundrels and traveled to a distant land. Say she lost a husband before she was thirty, left with three children to feed. Say one of the children was your grandmother. Wouldn’t you want to know something like that?”
“Where did you hear such a story?”
“It’s not an uncommon one. Women have borne much. But let’s get back to the original question. What brought you here?”
Eyes toward the ground, Liv moved toward Ms. Hart. She stopped at a tall headstone and sat to lean against its back, facing her teacher. “A sense of responsibility, I guess. I had to clean up the mess I made yesterday.”
Ms. Hart laughed. “Well, I beat you to it.” She jangled the bag for proof.
Liv smiled. “Thank you. And I’m sorry for the trouble.”
“”What happens in the cemetery stays in the cemetery.” Ms. Hart popped up to attention, raising her right hand in the Girl Scout Promise, then plopped down again.
Liv smiled again. Who was this nimble soul who lent her mercy? And how had she known about Grandy? “You mentioned my grandmother?”
“I’m a librarian. I put 2 and 2 together, connect dots, find stories, proctor the past.” Ms. Hart paused until they made eye contact. “You were saying. . . . how you got here?”
“Oh. Well, my dad got transferred as a replacement for some guy who died in a car accident. We were supposed to move to Houston but we ended up here. No bright lights, big city for me.
Ms. Hart winced at the words car accident, but she didn’t break their gaze. She did wring her ebony hands in a practiced motion and intensified her tone. “You don’t always get what you want.” They both smiled at the song lyric and the way she had mimicked the beat. “Do you remember the first time you learned that?”
Of course she did. Wasn’t it when she had to leave her best friend behind with the first move, or was it when she wished she had a mother who could walk without braces, or was it when she saw her sweet Grandy take her final breath in the hospital room where Daddy had rushed her and Dave so they could say their goodbyes. But it was too late. Grandy’s eyes were closed, her skin already cool, the final sound from her something between a sob and a hiccup. Liv had cried, “Grandy, go to the light! Go to the light!”
Liv had been obsessed with tales of near death experiences a few years before, had even been brave enough to mention it to Grandy, who had taken her to a bookstore and bought her a book , one Liv’s parents would never have approved. Liv and Grandy discussed the similarities in the survival stories, and from that time, Grandy had made a point to remind Liv whenever she was down or discouraged to “Go toward the light!”
Liv hugged her knees to her chest and finally answered. “I’m not sure I even know what I want. I don’t have any control over what happens. I guess I’d just like that not to hurt so bad.”
“Would you like to make a stab at it?”
“What? Not having it hurt so bad?”
The conversation had become easy. Gentle. Liv lightened up. “Um, is that a trick question?”
“A trick question? No. A riddle? Maybe. Look, Liv, I can’t make any guarantees, but I can give you some tips and introduce you to some tools. The puzzle may not be solvable, but it can be more fun than it feels like right now.” Another pause, adding not tension to the air, but SPACE. Eventually Ms. Hart continued. “Did your Grandy look on the bright side?”
Liv’s senses filled with Grandy’s laughter, her smiles, her painted nails, her perfume. Go toward the light, she had coached Liv in the dark times. Go toward the light!
A sigh rose from Liv before she spoke. “You could say that. Yes.” She nodded. “Grandy lived on the sunny side of the street.”
“That’s good to know. Here.” And Ms. Hart patted her own chest. Then she raised up from the ground and Liv followed suit.
“Let’s catch a few more rays and get back to the living.” Ms. Hart picked up the bag by its creases. “All the pieces are here, Liv. You get to choose what to do with them.”
A reflex came alive as Liv reached, as if to span generations, and received the bag like a grail.