Words will take us back
To that night I looked into your eyes
And fell in love with you
The refrain to Adele’s newly penned song played over and over in Ada’s mind, obliterating any of her own thoughts. She wrapped damp newspaper around a bouquet of lilacs and secured it with twine, then swept a loose tendril of hair away from her face and secured it with a bobby pin before slipping her arms into her cardigan, leaving it unbuttoned. The screen door whispered shut as she stepped outside. Today the new morning sun shone warmly on her, and she inhaled the sweet smells of spring as she began the two-mile trek along the familiar route to Wilmington cemetery. She unhooked the latch on the gate and proceeded along the well-tended path to the grave site of her son and husband.
She knelt in front of the grave markers, sinking into the warm grass. Plucking the twine loose, she unwrapped the soggy newspaper and separated the lilacs into two bunches, placing the larger one in the vase beside the headstone marked “Daniel Steven Carson, Jr. April 20, 1915-May 21, 1924.” She rested her hand on top of her little boy’s grave, oddly at peace for the first time in eighteen years.
She heard a car off in the distance, a bird chirp and rustle through the pine trees, and the skirring of a squirrel. Sunlight poured through the boughs and patterned the graves. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but the pain subsided quickly and she sighed, pushing herself to her feet, brushing her hands along her hem. She leaned down and picked up the newspaper, wringing it out as best she could before stuffing it along with the twine into her bag.
Scooping up the smaller bundle of lilacs, she bent and placed it in the vase next to her husband’s marked gravestone that read “Dr. Daniel Steven Carson.” Beneath the date, at his sister’s insistence, had been added “beloved husband, father, son and brother.”
Which was a lie. The love she had felt for Dan the first year dissipated with every sarcastic comment he made, implying with a small sneer that, whatever she did, it was never enough. On their first wedding anniversary party, in the midst of friends and relatives, his friend David had toasted her with “To the nurse who got her doctor,” and Dan had smiled in acknowledgement. As if she had pursued him! She had tried, Lord knows, to discuss issues with him, but he would dismiss her concerns with a comment about “monthly hormonal surges.” He would have nothing to do with family outings with her relatives—“They bore me”—only holidays with his sister, Stella, her husband and children.
What difficult times those were! Ada had tried to please, to make herself fit into the Carson structure, but she seemed always one step out off. But when Stella was diagnosed with brain cancer the year after she lost Stevie and Dan, it was Ada that had gone and tended to her those last months of illness. Out of sorrow though comes blessings; she had gotten to know and love her niece and nephew in those years before their father remarried and moved to Salina, California, with his new wife. Ada had been happy for Nick, but she missed Wyona and Gregory terribly. They still wrote to her, although less often now that both had their careers and family.
“Enough!” Ada reprimanded herself aloud. She had quite a nice life now, and why tango with those ghosts?
She lingered, shielding her eyes from the glare with a hand as she glanced from one side to the other, deciding which route to take back home. Again drifting along with the words to Adele’s song, Ada retraced her way home. Once inside her house, she threw away the sodden newspaper and rewound the twine onto its ball before she began the busy work of mending clothing to be given to the poor. The grandfather clock tolled noon when Adele tapped on the door.
“Come in!” Ada pulled the door wider for Adele and her five-string guitar. “I hope you have a melody for me today, Miss Songbird!”
“Oh, Ada,” Adele grumped, dropping into her favorite plump, green chair opposite Ada at the sewing machine. “It’s easier to think about how wonderful to have written this song as to have actually done it!”
Ada chuckled. “Like all my projects! Let me hear what you’ve got.” She flipped a shirt inside out and began to re-stitch the seam.
Adele’s mellifluous voice crooned the refrain,
When I look into your eyes,
I see my world anew,
When I look into your eyes
I fall in love with you.
Strumming the last notes on her guitar, she smiled shyly as Ada clapped.
“Oh, that is nice, Adele! It’s coming along perfectly. What did you title it?” She picked up a needle and threaded it.
“ ‘Baby Blues,’ ” she quipped, setting aside her guitar. “Heather and Rachel make me sing it to them every night at bedtime. I let them think it is about this one,” she patted her belly, “not Rodger.”
“Which reminds me, here’s the latest letter from him.” She took the three pages from the top sewing drawer and walked over to hand them to Adele.
“Rodger describes so well the paradox! On one hand he talks about how much he admires the Chinese people for their industry and courage, then how so many of the workers are hooked on opium and are starving to death.”
Adele slipped off her sensible pumps and wiggled her toes. “From his last letter he told me a lot about the country and customs of the Chinese people. I cannot image how awful it would be to hobble about on four inch feet like those poor Chinese women! I may never wear shoes that hurt my feet again.”
Adele took the letter. Ada returned to sit again at the machine and worked the material beneath the presser foot. Adele’s song played in her thoughts as the machine hummed along.
Ada felt Adele’s penetrating gaze. From the corner of her eye she saw Adele refold the blue airmail letter and set it atop her guitar.
“So, who the hell is this Dee?”
Ada, chafed by Adele’s questions, pushed aside the half‑sewn tweed jacket, turned off the machine’s light, and faced the pretty, very pregnant young woman. “She was Rodger’s first love.”
“And? Is there a tragic ending to this lover’s tale?”
“Has Rodger ever mentioned Big Red?”
Adele shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “The man who taught Rodger how to fight?”
“Box. He taught Rodger to box well enough to win the 1938 Golden Gloves in Chicago.” Ada held Adele’s probing gaze. “Katie Simmons, Dee’s mother, married Big Red and wanted to settle here—until someone in town found out he was a quarter black.”
“Rodger’s father, and Sam, the man who taught Rodger to fly, got Big Red out of town the night the KKK burned his house down. Katie and Dee had already left that morning.”
Adele tapped her front teeth with her index finger. “That explains some of the nightmares Rodger has. Voices…and fire.”
“I’m ashamed to admit it, but I don’t think any one of us ever took the time to explain it all to him.” Ada looked away from Adele, pulling down her eyeglasses and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Anyway, not enough to make it clear who did what to whom.”
“But Big Red got away safely? And Rodger still went on fighting.” Adele pursed her lips, sighing. “It just seems odd that Rodger ever started fighting.”
“He boxed.” Ada emphasized the word, knowing that only a whole explanation would satisfy Adele. “He was badly beaten by the two town bullies, so his father took him to see Big Red.”
“What in the world would have possessed him to take on two men?”
“He was only eleven and they were twelve. His mother had made him wear a diaper and play outside the day before.”
“Madeline wouldn’t have done that!” Adele sat straight up, her bulging stomach stretching taut the fabric of maternity dress. Her honey‑brown, bobbed hair swayed back and forth punctuating her disbelief. “The way she dotes on Heather and Rachel, you’d think she was the perfect mother.”
“Perhaps she understands them better than she did Rodger.” Ada stood up, tugging her housedress at the belt, as she stepped into the kitchen. “Want some tea?”
“Yes, please. With milk, no sugar. English habit I got from flying so long with the Women’s Transport Auxiliary. I can’t drink it black anymore.”
“Do you miss it the excitement of being in action?”
Ada’s question hung in the silence between them. She listened with all of her senses, relaxing only a little as Adele’s soft, modulated voice filled the space.
”I guess I miss the intensity of it all.” Adele entwined a strand of hair around a finger. “But being an American woman, I was so different from the English. Now,” her voice caught on a choked‑down sob as she crushed the letter tighter in her hand, “being pregnant is so different from anything else. A month’s honeymoon with Rodger was…was….” Her hand dangled, then dropped in her lap. She began to smooth out the crinkles in the envelope.
They had fallen into the habit of being without Rodger so easily that it embarrassed Ada to hear Adele speak of her longing. She brought her tea.
“It’s so unfair to have only lived together for a month. Didn’t you know each other for a year? But it’s not the same is it?”
She put the cup in Adele’s outstretched hands.
“This crazy war we’re not supposed to be fighting, well, it’s like time got all stirred up in a big pot and you just don’t know how the stew’s going to turn out.”
“Oh, yes, Ada. Waiting—it’s like a hundred razor nicks, just painful enough not to let you forget.”
Ada nodded and patted her on the knee as she spoke.
Adele slowly inhaled the fragrance of the mint tea. “Loving, too, has an edge to it.”
“Are you getting along all right with your in‑laws? It isn’t an easy situation for you, I imagine.”
“Oh, yes, we get along quite well. But thank God you’re next door!” Adele smiled at her confidentially. “John is so sweet, so mild‑tempered. I can’t figure out who Rodger takes after the most—Madeline or John.”
Ada smiled quickly. “Maybe he’s the blend of their hidden sides.”
“You don’t like Madeline very much, do you?”
“Maddie and I go way back to high school. We were never friends, so to speak, just speaking acquaintances.”
“And John? Did you know him in school?”
“No. Maddie met him while she was away in college. John was an engineer for Burlington, taking a few night courses in accounting. Madeline persuaded him to go on for a degree, instead of staying in college herself. She took a part‑time job as a secretary, and John gave up the railroad. It so upset her father that she didn’t go on for a teaching degree—even her brother Kyle thought she should have gone on for a degree, then married John.”
Adele brightened. “I fell in love with Uncle Kyle! But I’ll tell you this: I wouldn’t want to be married to him. Unugh.” Adele brushed away her bangs, smiling. “He’s a charmer, though. When I was in London with Rodger, Uncle Kyle spent hours with me. He even tried to talk Rodger out of going back to the Flying Tigers.”
Ada smiled back, though not too deeply. She searched vainly in her mind for a way to ask more questions about Rodger’s uncle Kyle whom she had never met, suddenly jealous of this snip of a girl who had so much more intimate knowledge of Rodger and his family than she.
“I should warn you that Kyle is a sore subject to broach with Madeline. She and her brother don’t get along.”
“Really?” Adele’s voice rose in surprised agitation. “John always speaks so highly of him.”
“Kyle and John are very good friends.”
Ada could see that family politics confounded Adele, and she was a woman who had to know. And know she would by constantly digging into a statement. But then she would give openly of herself, as if to barter a personal insight for an answer. The past few months had been filled with Adele and the baby. Grudgingly Ada began to love Adele, although the constant nagging for information wearied her.
“Ada, tell me what Rodger was like as a little boy.”
Ada looked into her hands. Kaleidoscopic images of Rodger as a small boy, with his electric blue‑green eyes, flitted through her thoughts. She longed to see him again, too. An ache of loving throbbed in her heart. He had been such a part of her life these last nine years, and his absence left a deep void within her.
“Rodger was quiet, yet watchful. I never knew him to run with the gang. He always held back or directed everyone to do what he wanted. He was a sweet kid, always looking after his two little sisters.” Ada shrugged, pained by the memories so real, so elusive. “He was good at whatever he wanted to do.”
Adele gave a little breathless laugh. “I believe that.” She shifted her knees to one side, leaning against the chair’s arm. “He’s so sure of himself in an odd way. So commanding. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t ever seem to blink.”
Ada looked away from Adele, noting the smudged front window pane. “I would be so exasperated with him when he gave me all the neighborhood gossip.” She flipped her hand in the air. “So‑and‑so did this. Saw him with her, her with him. Argued with this one. His big ears took it all in and he spat it all out.”
Shocked by her vehement statement, Ada jumped up from the footstool and scurried into the kitchen. She didn’t know who she was annoyed with: Adele or Rodger. Or herself. She had to admit finally that she felt displaced by Adele.
“I think sometimes I know him so well. But I really don’t know him at all,” she called out loudly from the sink as she dipped the tea ball several more times.
Adele got up from the chair and padded into the kitchen. “God, I hope this kid’s a boy. All the energy that went into making him ought to have a masculine form.”
Ada giggled. “You’ll rue the day you first thought that.”
The phone rang. Ada reached over Adele’s shoulder to answer it.
“Hello?” A second passed. “What can I do for you, Maddie?”
Ada smiled to see Adele waggle an eyebrow as Maddie’s words pealed out of the telephone receiver she held away from her ear.
“John just got a big promotion and there’s a dinner Saturday night at the lodge in his honor. I have a navy coat and dress ensemble, but a few spots need to be taken in.”
“Why don’t you bring it over? I could mark it right now.”
“Oh, Ada! That would work out perfectly. John’s going to be late for supper, and the girls are busy with homework.”
“Fine, Madeline.” Before she could say anything more, the other end went dead. Slowly, Ada replaced the receiver and shook her hands free of imaginary strings.
Adele watched her from the doorway with an amused smile. “We three women, the ‘Sweet Graces.’”
Ada looked at her quizzically. Adele had one hand across her belly, the other, resting against the doorjamb as she recited, “Around the child bend all the three Sweet Graces; Faith, Hope, Charity.”
Ada, intrigued, searched her memory. “I seem to recall that the other part of Landor’s poem was about men.”
“Yes. Let’s see if I remember it.” Adele sucked on a finger. “Ah! ‘Around the man bend other faces: Pride, Envy, Malice, are his Graces.’ ”
Ada and Adele stood in one another’s quietude until jarred back to the moment by a firm knock on the front door. Ada rushed past Adele, whipping open the door.
“Come in, Maddie. Come into the sewing room.”
As Madeline passed a large, foul‑smelling pile of strewn rags by the sewing basket, she involuntarily wrinkled her nose in disgust. Softening her face, she asked sweetly, “Are you still involved with that charity project in colored town?”
“Yes, I take care of the family I always have.”
With a brisk sigh, Madeline dismissed the pile. “They don’t change much, do they Ada?”
“Things change and stay the same, like all people and times, Maddie.”
Madeline shook the dress and matching coat on the hanger. “Just a simple matter of hemming, isn’t it? With a few alterations here and there.” Shoving the material into Ada’s hands, Madeline took a step back. “I’ve marked it all for you.”
“Why don’t you try it on again so I see for myself? I’ll put on a pot of tea for us.” Ada flung the dress and coat back into Madeline’s unprepared hands. The two garments separated, draping awkwardly over Madeline’s arms.
Speechless, Madeline turned and marched to the back of the house. Ada and Adele avoided one another’s eyes, waiting for Madeline to return in a few minutes in the ill-fitting clothes.
As Madeline stood in front of her, Ada readjusted the markings. With pins between her teeth, she could only mumble as Madeline chattered about the townspeople. Adele padded softly by them and reseated herself in the green brocade armchair in the living room.
“And Hettie— you remember her, Ada, a junior at Garland High? Well, she ran off with the minister of Rossville. Why, Vern and Abbie are heartsick about it! They always talked about sending her on to college.”
Ada removed the pins from her mouth in a bunch. “Maddie, Hettie did nothing but talk about eloping with that man. How could it be a surprise to anyone?”
“Why, I suspect she had to, that’s the heartbreak. If these young girls only knew there is more to life than all this nonsense of babies and housekeeping.” She looked to Adele. “You had the good sense to get a college education and my, goodness,” she exclaimed with pinched smile, “fly transports! Won’t that be something to tell your children? What kind of security will Hettie have if that man runs off again without her?”
“I suppose she grabbed her chance at the perfect home and family, the very thing she didn’t have in her own life. We may be only capable of repeating our mothers’ and fathers’ lives.”
“Oh, heavens! Ada, no! I’m in no way implying that! If that were the case, then we’d never evolve and humankind would be the same as it was in biblical times.”
“I’d say we differ greatly from our folks, each and every generation. We get more tolerant and compassionate. We—”
“Ada, I declare, are you redoing all my handiwork?”
“Turn.” Ada punched in the last of the pins. “No, just evening up the sides. When you make any adjustments in the bodice, you have to readjust the hemline.” She stood up, her ankle bones cracking. “Let’s have some tea.”
“I’ll change and have a quick cup.” Madeline whirled around to face the living room. “You’re as quiet as a mouse in there, Adele. I hardly know you’re around! I do hope that you’ll join me tonight with the ladies. We’re going to discuss the Romantic poets and how they predicted all this world upheaval.” She paused. “And the reverend’s wife will there. Jane so wants to meet you and perhaps,” Madeline cajoled, “persuade you to join the choir. It’s a shame not to share that beautiful voice of yours.”
“Hmm,” Adele murmured as she continued reading Ladies’ Home Journal.
As the steam wafted gently from the teapot, Ada inhaled the sweet, fragrant jasmine. Madeline sat at the kitchen table, ironing the edge of the tablecloth with her long fingertips, smiling too brightly, her voice edged with a trace of shrillness.
“Have you heard from Rodger?”
Ada dipped her head in quick assent. She had shared parts of her letter with Adele; and Adele had shown her two pages of her three-page letter. She prepared herself mentally for an angry onslaught from Madeline. She could understand how slighted Madeline must feel.
There was a long pause, a frozen pond in the conversation.
“Well, I suppose we’ll get a letter, too, this week. John gets dreadfully worried if he doesn’t hear from Rodger for a while. I just tell him that the boy is too busy to keep up his correspondence with everyone at home.”
Adele straightened up, speaking in a loud, yet oddly soft voice, “He’s flying two missions a day now.”
“He’ll certainly have some interesting stories to tell us then, won’t he?” Madeline finished her tea. “Ada, I can’t thank you enough for doing this for me on such short notice. I suppose I take you for granted, like all the rest of my family.”
Surprised, Ada shot back, “Oh, no! I don’t think that!”
“Oh, sweet Ada, always doing things for us! Why, just the time you spent with Rodger!” Madeline turned to look squarely at Ada. “And encouraging him in everything he wanted to do. Why, John just thinks the world of you, too!”
Adele, guitar in one hand and looking rather comical, had come to stand beside Madeline. “Perhaps there’s a medal for good people, like the Victoria Cross for bravery.” Ada saw her wink. “Madeline, we best be getting ourselves home if there’s to be entertaining tonight.”
“Oh, yes, dear! You’re so right!” Before she stepped into the living room, she called back, “Ada, do join us if you like. The ladies love to have you. You always say the most thought‑provoking things!”
Ada just nodded. As Madeline and Adele left through the front door, she remained seated, stirring her tea with the small, silver spoon, listening to the click‑tap, click‑tap of her anger.
Then, as the quiet of her house enveloped her, she reached inside her dress pocket and took out Rodger’s letter. Replacing her glasses, she reread the part where he talked about Sam’s arrival as the new mechanic.
Want to read more? Read online for free>> Or buy your own copy of Forcing the Hand of God: paperback or hardcover on Amazon.com or ebook (multiple formats available) on Smashwords.com.