chapter ten

Frankie was tired until he remembered the red licorice and two apples, still in his backpack. Leaving school, he stopped near the small park where their neighbor fed peanuts to squirrels and talked to herself. She was old and all of her skin was wrinkly. Frankie ate his red licorice and one apple. The old lady saw him and waved him over. He walked his bike to her and she asked how his mother was doing. Frankie told her. She seemed sad or mad, he couldn't tell because of her wrinkles, but then she smiled and said, "Your mother once painted so beautifully, going from place to place--on a bicycle, like you. Your father added a special basket for her to carry her water color pads, her easel, and her paints and brushes. She once painted me on a lovely afternoon--the sun was just right, your mother said--me, wearing one of my silly hats. The painting is in my living room if you'd like to see it some time."

Frankie was surprised. He thought his mother taught art, not that she was an artist herself. He would ask her about it when he got home. "I have an extra apple, if you would like it, Miss Southwood," Frankie offered.

"Very sweet of you, dear," she declined, "but I have a small apple tree that's fine for me and my squirrel friends. Please come by and pick some apples and see your mother's painting, though."

Frankie thanked her, then headed home, trying to remember what church-lady-casseroles were left, or if he would be making slumgullion stew. His mother loved soup. She said it was better than the medicine Dr. Thomas told her to take. Frankie thought both soup and stew were weird. He also thought casseroles were weird, but if you were hungry enough, all were better than nothing.

Approaching the house, he saw Dr. Thomas by the front door talking with another man who had a beard, but was more of a blur. Frankie needed glasses but was afraid to tell his mother ever since she had gotten so tired. Frankie rode his bike around back to the shed and parked it. Dr. Thomas walked up to him looking very serious. "Hi, Dr. Thomas," Frankie said and the doctor put a hand on Frankie's shoulder. "Frankie, you know your Mom has been sick, and um...the medicine didn't help her and...."

"NO!" yelled Frankie, "No!!" He ran past the doctor, in the back door, through the kitchen and up the stairs to her room, as if he were flying. His mother was exactly as he had left her in the morning when he brought up her tea, but something wasn't right about the color of her face. "Mom?"

His mother's teapot was still full but cold. His mother was cold too, and Frankie couldn't wake her up. He remembered two of his street cats who got sick and slept until they were cold too. He could hear Dr. Thomas talking downstairs with other people, but the words were not clear, like a radio on two stations. Frankie sat there looking at the photograph next to the teapot of his Mom and Dad... how happy his Dad looked in his uniform, his arms around his Mom with her hair blowing from a sudden wind, her hand resting on her belly, where she told Frankie he was growing before he was born.

Frankie sat there until it was dark enough to turn on a light in her room. His mother still did not move. He remembered part of what she said about when she "was gone", but she had said not to worry about it, so he hadn't. Frankie ate two of her arrowroot biscuits, then covered her with her favorite quilt with yellow edges, even though it was almost summer. He went downstairs, holding the photograph. His Dad would know what to do, but Frankie had no idea where he was.

He turned on a light in the kitchen and there was his father, sitting in the living room, looking older--with a beard and long black and silver at-the-edges hair--talking with Dr. Thomas and the Martins. Mrs. Martin got up and Frankie saw she had been crying. She hugged him and it felt good. She smelled like Ivory soap and just kept saying, "oh, Frankie," over and over. The photograph slipped from his hands and fell, but didn't break, landing right side-up on a worn blue rug.