Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ms. Douglas

A piece I wrote for consideration for an anthology that never took off the ground.  Enjoy!

I was six the spring my training wheels came off. Daddy took me to the old church parking lot every evening until I proudly rode home with him running beside me. I was given the privilege of fetching the Sunday paper from then on.

After church the following day, I hurried into play clothes as Daddy pulled my bicycle from the garage. A basket was acquired for the handlebars and a dollar for the paper. Hopping onto my bike, I waved and took off down the sidewalk. Four houses later I toppled over.

“You okay there, darlin’?”

The voice belonged to old Ms. Douglas. She sat in a white wicker rocker on her porch with a glass of sweet tea on the matching table and a porcelain vase holding thorny stems. The lady had skin like chocolate, hair grey as smoke, and teeth white as baking soda.

“Yes, ma’am,” I exclaimed and hastily got back on my bike, cheeks burning.

Every week after church, Ms. Douglas sat out in her rocker. Sometimes she had sweet tea, sometimes lemonade, but those thorny stems were always there. The fourth week she called out when I pedaled by.

“Fine day, ain’t it?”

I replied, “Yes, ma’am” and pedaled on.

Week five she invited me up for a glass of lemonade. I declined. Mommy would worry if I was late. She told me to ask if I could stop next week for tea and cookies. I said I would and thanked her.

“She must get lonely there all by herself.” Mommy said. “You should go and cheer her up for a bit.”

Therefore, on week six, I found myself sitting in Ms. Douglas’ second rocker snacking on gingersnaps and lemonade. After a few moments of silence, I risked a glance at her. Her eyes roved in my direction, causing me to avert my own. When I dared peek again, I saw they were vacantly gazing above my head. She was blind.

“Is Wilbert in that tree over yonder?”


“The whippoorwill living in that there tree.” Ms. Douglas raised her cane and gestured behind me. “Got himself a pretty little lady named Wilma.”

I wiggled in my seat. “I don’t... Oh! I see him!”

“That’s Wilma.”

I whirled back in surprise. “How can you tell if you can’t see?” I blurted.

She wasn’t offended, but laughed heartily. I liked how it rumbled in her belly and sent warm prickles from my toes to my ears.

“Why, darlin’, jus’ cuz I can’t see don’t mean I’m dumb!” She thumped her cane on the porch. “Wilma! You be quiet a piece an’ let Wilbert sing a few notes, you hear?”  Immediately one hushed and another started its mournful tune.

“Now listen real good,” Ms. Douglas said.  I obeyed, straining my ears so hard they started hurting.

“Wilma, you give it a go now.”

“I don’t hear a difference.”

“You lookin’ at them?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s your problem! You’re getting distracted. Close your eyes, concentrate, and we’ll do it again.”

The second time was more successful and on the third, I could tell them apart.

“You’re catching on right quick,” Ms. Douglas beamed at me. I beamed back.

Ms. Douglas and I swiftly became friends. I stopped by every Sunday on the way to get the paper and every Sunday I learned something new about her, myself, and the world around us.

“Guess how old my eyes are,” she said one day.

“Um…” I was keenly aware how impolite an answer would be.

“You’re blushing, ain’t you?” she asked with an earthy chuckle.

“How do you know?” I demanded before sipping sweet tea.

“I don’t give all my secrets away!” Her pearly whites glinted. “My eyes are eight years old. Lost ‘em to a bad fever.”

“Don’t you miss seeing?”

“Some days, but when this old body goes, I’ll see for all eternity.” Her eyes moistened. “The first face I’ll see will be my dear Saviour.”

“Aren’t you mad at him for not making you better?”

“Mad? Why no, child! He gave me new, spiritual eyes and He done walked with me every day since.”

I figured her spiritual eyes must be the ones that let her know things about people, like my blushing. I wanted eyes like that.

One Sunday in early June Ms. Douglas wasn’t quite herself. Her eyes were dimmer and she had a bad cough.

“Let me tell you about these here thorns,” she said after a hacking fit passed. She waved her hand until they rested on the thorny stems.

“I come out trimming these stems every Sunday. They remind me I’m ugly with sin right now. Anything good I do on my own is nothing better than these thorns. Only thing I got worth anything is Jesus. He’s the only one who can make a thorny stem pretty. When I leave this here body and go to Heaven, we won’t be ugly no more.”

The next Sunday, Ms. Douglas was in the hospital and wanted to see me.

“Remember those stems?” she asked in a breathy voice as I crawled onto her bed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I want you to have them.”

I promised her I would take care of them.

The Sunday following we buried her. After the service I hopped on my bike and pedaled to her place. People were coming and going with boxes. I sneaked up the front steps to claim my stems, but someone replaced them with roses! I crept closer. The vase was the same. The leaves looked the same. I closed my eyes and ran my fingers over the thorny stems. They were the same, too. Opening my eyes again, I saw a sticky note with my name. The stems were pretty now, like Ms. Douglas. I took them home to plant in Mommy’s garden.

Years later, I still have those roses. When I grow old I plan to take a few stems, trim them every Sunday, and teach another little girl about birds, thorns, and friendship.