Fly Away Page 56


Dear Mommy, today is my 11th birthday.

How are you? I am fine. I bet you’re on your way to see me because you miss me as much as I miss you.

Love, your daughter, Tully

Dear Mommy,

Do you miss me? I miss you.

Love, your daughter, Tully

She turned the page and kept reading. More letters.

Dear Mommy,

Today at school we got to ride a pony. Do you like ponies? I do. Gran says maybe you’re lergic, but I hope not. When you come to get me maybe we can get a pony.

Love, your daughter, Tully

“You sign them all your daughter, Tully. Did you wonder if I even knew who you were?”

In bed, Tully made a sound. Her eyes fluttered open. Dorothy rose quickly. “Tully? Can you hear me?”

Tully made a sound, like a tired sigh, and closed her eyes again.

Dorothy stood there a long time, waiting for more. It wasn’t unusual, Tully opening her eyes, but it always felt meaningful. “I’ll keep reading,” Dorothy said, sitting down again, turning the page.

There were hundreds of letters, written at first in a wobbly child’s hand, and then, as the years went on, in a more confident young woman’s handwriting. Dorothy read them all.

I tried out for cheerleader today, to China Grove.

Do you know that song?

I know all of the presidents. Do you still want me to be president?

How come you never came back?

She longed to quit reading—each word of each letter was like a stab to the heart—but she couldn’t stop. Here was her child’s life, all laid out in letters. She read through her tears, each letter and postcard and piece from the school newspaper.

In about 1972, the letters stopped. They never turned angry or accusatory or blaming; they just ended.

Dorothy turned the last page. There, taped to the back page, she found a small blue envelope, sealed, that was addressed to Dorothy Jean.

She caught her breath. Only one person called her Dorothy Jean.

Slowly, she opened the envelope, saying in a nervous voice, “There’s a letter here from my mom. Did you know it was here, Tully? Or did she put it here after you’d given up on me?”

She pulled out a single sheet of stationery, as thin as parchment, and crinkled, as if maybe it had been wadded up once and then re-smoothed.

Dear Dorothy Jean,

I always thought you’d come home. For years I prayed. I begged God to send you back to me. I told Him that if He granted me just one more chance I would not be blind again.

But neither God nor you listened to an old woman’s prayers. I can’t say as I blame either one of you. Some wrongs can’t be forgiven, can they? The preachers are wrong about that. I must have made a million samplers for God. A single word to you would have served me better.

Sorry. It is so small. Just five letters and I was never strong enough to say it. I never even tried to stop your father. I couldn’t. I was too afraid. We both know how he liked his lit cigarettes, didn’t we?

I am dying now, fading despite my best intentions to wait for you. I was better for Tully. I want you to know that. I was a better grandmother than I ever was a mother. This is the sin I take with me.

I won’t dare to ask for your forgiveness, Dorothy Jean. But I am sorry. I want you to know that.

If only we could try again.

If only.

Dorothy stared down at the words; they danced and blurred in front of her. She’d always thought of herself as the only victim in that house. Maybe there had been two of them.

Three if you counted Tully, who had certainly been ruined by her grandfather’s evil, not directly, perhaps, but ruined just the same. Three generations of women broken by a single man.

She let out a deep breath and thought: Okay.

Just that, a simple, single word. Okay. This was her past.

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Her past.

She looked at her daughter, who looked like a sleeping princess, made young by her fuzzy new growth of hair. “No more secrets,” she said—whispered, really. She would tell Tully everything, including the regret in her mother’s letter. That would be her Christmas gift to her daughter. Dorothy would say the words at this bedside, begin from where she left off at the hospital. Then she would write it down, her entire story, so that Tully would have it all for her memoir, whatever she needed. There would be no more secret shame, no more running from the things that were her fault or the things that weren’t. Maybe then, someday, they could heal.

“Would you like that, Tully?” she asked quietly, praying hard for an answer.

Beside her, Tully breathed evenly, in and out.

Twenty-seven

That year, winter seemed to last forever. Gray days followed one another like dirty sheets on a line. Swollen clouds darkened the sky, releasing intermittent rain until the fields turned black and viscous and the cedar boughs drooped like wet sleeves. When the first sunny days of spring came, green swept across the fields in the Snohomish Valley, and the trees straightened again, straining toward the light, their tips lime-green with new growth. The birds returned overnight, squawking and diving for the fat pink worms that poked up from the damp earth.

By June, locals had forgotten all about the dismal winter and the disappointing spring. In July, when the farmers’ markets started up again, there were already complaints about how hot it had grown in the summer of 2011.

Like the flowers in her yard, Marah had spent the long gray months gathering strength, or finding that which had been in her all along.

Now, though, it was late August. Time to look forward instead of back.

“Are you sure you want to do this alone?” her dad asked, coming up behind her. She closed her eyes and leaned back against him. His arms curled around her, held her steady.

“Yeah,” she said, and it was the one thing in all of this about which she was sure. She had things to say to Tully, things she’d held back, waiting for a miracle; but there was not going to be a miracle. It had been almost a year since the accident, and Marah was preparing now to go off to college. Just last night, she’d helped her dad with his street kids documentary—and the images of those poor lost kids with their hollow cheeks and empty eyes and fake bravado had chilled her to the bone. She knew how lucky she was to be here, at home. Safe. And that was what she’d said when her dad filmed her. I’m glad to be back. But still, she had something left to do.

“I promised Mom something and I have to keep that promise,” she said.

He kissed the top of her head. “I’m really proud of you. Have I told you that lately?”

She smiled. “Every day since I got rid of the pink hair and the piercing in my eyebrow.”

“That’s not why.”

“I know.”

He took her hand and walked her out of the house and to the car parked in the driveway. “Drive safely.”

It was a sentence that meant a lot more to her these days. Nodding, she climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car.

It was a gorgeous late summer day. On the island, tourists thronged onto and off the ferry, filling the sidewalks of downtown Winslow. On the other side of the water, the traffic was typically bumper-to-bumper, and Marah followed the crowd north.

In Snohomish, she turned off the highway and drove out to Firefly Lane.

She sat in the driveway for a moment, staring at the gray Nordstrom bag beside her. Finally, she picked it up and went to the front door.

The air smelled fresh and crisp, of apples and peaches ripening in the sunshine. From here, she could see that Dorothy’s small vegetable garden was teeming with growth: bright red tomatoes, green beans, rows of leafy broccoli.

The door opened before she knocked. Dorothy stood there, wearing a flowery tunic and baggy cargo pants. “Marah! She’s been waiting for you,” she said, pulling Marah into a tight hug. It was what Dorothy had said to Marah every Thursday for nearly twelve months. “She opened her eyes twice this week. That’s a good sign, I think. Don’t you?”

“Sure,” Marah said in a tight voice. She had thought that a few months ago, back when it started to happen. The first time it happened, in fact, it had taken her breath away. She’d called for Dorothy and waited, leaning forward, saying, Come on, Tully, come back …

She lifted the gray bag. “I brought her something to read.”

“Great! Great! I could use some time in the garden. The weeds are bullying me around this month. You want some lemonade? It’s homemade.”

“Sure.” She followed Dorothy through the scrupulously clean rambler. Drying lavender hung from the rafters overhead, scented the air. Bouquets of fragrant roses displayed in cracked water pitchers and metal pans decorated the counters and tabletops.

Dorothy disappeared into the kitchen and came back with an icy glass of lemonade.

“Thanks.”

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Marah nodded and went down the long hallway to Tully’s room. Sunlight poured through the window, making the blue walls shimmer like seawater.

Tully lay in her hospital bed, angled up, her eyes closed, her brown hair dusted with gray threads and curled riotously around her pale, thin face. A creamy coverlet was tucked up to just below her collarbone. Her chest rose and fell in a steady, easy rhythm. She looked so peaceful. As always, for a split second, Marah thought Tully would just open her eyes and give her that wide, toothy smile and say, Hey.

Marah forced herself to move forward. The room smelled of the gardenia hand lotion Dorothy loved. On the bedside table was a worn paperback copy of Anna Karenina that Desmond had been reading to Tully for months.

“Hey,” Marah said to her godmother. “I’m going off to college. I know you know that, I’ve been talking about it for months. Loyola Marymount. In Los Angeles. Ironic, right? I think a smaller school will be good for me.” She wrung her hands together. This wasn’t what she’d come for. Not today.

For months and months, she’d believed in a miracle. Now, though, it was time to say goodbye.

And something else.

The ache in her chest was big and getting bigger. She reached for the chair by the bed and sat down, scooting close. “I’m the reason you crashed your car, aren’t I? Because I was a bitch and sold that story to the magazine. I told the world you were a drug addict.”

The silence after her statement dragged her down. Dr. Bloom had tried to convince her that Tully’s condition wasn’t her fault—everyone had—but it was one more thing Marah couldn’t make herself believe. She couldn’t help apologizing every time she visited.

“I wish we could start over, you and me. I miss you so much.” Marah’s voice was soft, uncertain.

In the quiet, she sighed and reached down for the gray bag on the floor beside her. She pulled out her most prized possession. Her mother’s journal.

Her hands shook a little as she opened the journal, saw Katie’s Story written in Tully’s bold, scrawling handwriting.

Marah stared down at those two words. How was it possible that she was still afraid to read what was written on these pages? She should want to read her mother’s last thoughts, but the idea of it made her queasy. “I promised her I’d read this with you when I was ready. I’m not really ready, and you’re not really you, but I’m leaving and Dr. Bloom tells me it’s time. And she’s right. It is time.”

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