I could not sleep at all last night. My mind was in an unending hyper-focus mode. It’s like those songs that have the algorithm that deliberately make it so you can’t get them out of your head. Mind worms. Plus, I kept thinking about the blood. It was so red, and then I couldn’t breathe, and consequently my mind would not shut off. The strange thing is when I woke up this morning, I felt refreshed, on a mission, as if a force field was pulling me.

Determined, I announce to myself. Today is the day. I don’t need a why, it just is. I glimpse outside. It looks like the weather agrees. A perfect summer day. A thin ray of yellowish light peeks through the window directly on my face. It, too, knows what I need to do. Magical thinking? Perhaps. I take a quick shower, make my habitual pot of tea, and ready myself. As I saunter over through the thick, humid air toward the garage, I see a deer and her fawn a few feet from me on the lawn. I stand silently gazing at mother and offspring as they demurely nibble on the grass. The deer know all about the danger that lives beyond the secure perimeter of my property. They know they are safe with me as they continue eating while gently lifting their heads up and down. Watching them, watching me, makes me feel safe too. A few minutes later, a truck noisily drives by and interrupts our peaceful reprieve, causing the deer to take flight off into the woods. I follow their lead and jump into my car.

As I drive through the bucolic rural landscape, I begin to question if this is a good idea after all. I vowed to never go back after Mom and Dad died and we sold the house. Everyone advised me to let that part of my life go because it would only bring back sad memories. I reach the highway entrance ramp and pull my car out into the busy traffic, heading toward my childhood home. It’s been ten years, and as I drive, I think back to my last day there with my parents. A rush of emotion sweeps over me. I feel a powerful sensation of butterflies in my stomach overcome me as I remember back. Mom was, as per her usual, more concerned about Dad than herself that morning. He was her priority. Her muffled voice echoes in my mind, and I didn’t understand what was happening. Come pick up Dad. I’ll be fine, but he can’t stay home alone. I worriedly questioned myself the entire drive there, and when I arrived, I was so distraught at the scene before me when I entered the house that morning. In one hand, Mom held a small, white towel-tinged bright red with blood pressed over her mouth. In the other hand, she held out a small suitcase that contained Dad’s clothes. When she lifted the towel, I was speechless as her tongue looked to be filled with blood and beginning to protrude outside her mouth. She put down the suitcase and motioned with her free hand for me to come close. I remained calm as I walked over to hug her, but I knew the situation was disastrous and that her blood disorder had returned. A few minutes later, the ambulance she summoned arrived. When the two ambulance attendants saw my mother walking over in her condition, they too looked shocked. She greeted them with a muffled whimper as they assisted her onto a stretcher.

That was the last day and my most vivid memory of my parents in my childhood home. The sad reality is they would never live in or even set foot again inside that house. Mom tragically died three weeks after that day. Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I soon understood what Mom meant about Dad not being able to live alone. His dementia was worse than any of us knew prior to her illness. And after her death, he drifted into a void. He lived with me for a while and then in a memory care center. His dementia progressed, but he never stopped longing for her. Dad passed sixteen months later. A Broken Heart.

I consider turning around, but both my mind and my car are on auto-drive as I continue onward toward my mission. I exit the highway just outside the city limits and turn onto my old street, Hanover Avenue. Rising like balloons, the faces of my neighbors come flooding back as I cruise the block of tiny post-WWII ranch-style houses. I call out each neighbor’s name as I slowly pass. Erardi, Briggs, O’Hearn, Gallagher, Duquette…As I pull up and park in front of number two-eleven, I announce out loud. Smith. This is it.

I walk up to the house and knock on the door. It makes sense to ask the couple who now live here if it’s okay if I hang out in front for a bit. Relieved, there is no answer. I walk back to the end of the driveway and look up and down the row of closely spaced homes. There’s not another soul in sight. I hear chirping and glance up and see a row of birds posing on the wires above my head. They look at me with suspicion. I grin and whisper to myself, I’m not alone after all. I walk over to the large tree in the tiny front yard of two-eleven. It dwarfs the small house below. Remarkably, it’s now one of the last remaining trees on the mostly barren block. I lovingly study the tree’s meandering limbs reaching upward. A feeling of calm overcomes me as I gaze skyward and daydream. Dad never let us climb this tree, and perhaps that’s the reason it survived. I examine the house; remarkably it looks unchanged. I envision the five small rooms and one bathroom for the six of us inside. My mood lifts when I recall how Dad always called it our castle. I can see him embracing Mom, arm in arm, slow dancing in our cozy living room inside. I look at the small window that is in the bedroom I shared with my sister Teresa. We fought over that tiny space, but it was in that room that we both dreamed big dreams together.

My favorite room is the attached one-car garage that never housed a car. Instead, it served as our summer hang out until cold weather arrived. Dad transformed it by first installing large vinyl tiles directly on the cement garage floor. Each tile had a unique pattern. Some checked, some striped. Muted earthen colors next to brightly colored ones. Dad said he bought them on sale. I remember how excited he was. I can see him holding one up proudly. Jokingly asking. Can you imagine? Rejects, they said. Then he chuckled. All us kids thought the garage looked like a ballroom when Dad finished installing the tiles. I would deliberately slip and slide across the tiles in my stocking feet. Dad also installed a drop ceiling overhead and voilà. The garage became a new room. Eventually, thin wood paneling covered the walls which were later adorned with small 8 x 10-inch framed paper copies of famous paintings. Dad clipped many of the pictures from art magazines he retrieved from the community college art department before they discarded them. He was a maintenance worker there. Over several years, he hung up over one hundred framed pictures on the garage walls. It was spectacular! Sadly, when we put the house on the market for sale, we removed the tile floor, and I carefully wrapped up each Dollar Store frame that contained those color copy prints for donation. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated how much work went into our very own art museum until I dismantled it. As I removed each picture, I immediately realized the care and love that drove Dad to create it. He strategically chose and hung each print with an eye for both art history and aesthetics. A muted Leonardo, next to a colorful Miró, next to a dark Pollock, on and on. There is no doubt it was a labor of love.

I break from my memories and open my car windows. The balmy, muggy outside air envelopes the car. The heavy air is warm and comforting, as I recall one late July afternoon, just like today, when making a surprise visit home only a few years before my parents died. As soon as I entered our garage museum, Mom and Dad were just coming out of the house. I visibly startled them. Their voices chimed together. We were just thinking of you. Come sit with us! Dad lifted the garage door, and we gathered inside the overhang, watching as a thin veil of rain floated on the light, breezy air. Mom and Dad sat down in unison. Merrily rocking back and forth in their creaky aluminum folding rockers, humming a tune only they knew. The melody of the rain coincided with the rhythm of their chairs. I took my place next to them on a padded lounge and listened. It was as if they choreographed everything together. I remember getting caught up in the mesmerizing sound of the rain and their rocking. It was a comforting, familiar occurrence.

Today, I try to stay in tune with those simple pleasures that still ground me. It starts to rain, and I lower the windows down and rest my arms halfway out. I delight in the feeling and look of the glistening raindrops on my skin as it refreshes and cools me off. The rain falls harder, and I put the windows back up as it teems straight down. I watch as it bounces off the blacktop driveway of two-eleven and steam rises, which conjures another cherished memory. Me, a child, barefoot, splashing in the warm clear puddles on this same asphalt driveway, hip-hopping in circles. I can almost feel the hot, wet pavement stinging the soles of my feet.

The melodic sound of rain on the car roof soothes me, and I become further tangled in thought. This block swarmed with dozens of kids back then. We had no notion of time. We played red rover, hide-and-seek, and tag. There were never parents hovering. We were free to roam the neighborhood and make forts in the nearby overgrown vacant lot with nary a care or worry. Dad always said we were all raised by wolves. Mom agreed and encouraged our curiosity. Neither one of them minded when we brought home all kinds of wild creatures. I remember my older brother George finding a pheasant egg tucked between a discarded ice cream wrapper and a small plastic bag. Dropped from its nest, he retrieved the lone beige egg and brought it home. I helped him build an incubator, placing the egg inside. I put a tiny doll cradle inside for the baby bird. We watched in anticipation, hoping we weren’t too late. Then it happened. Several days after its rescue, a baby pheasant broke free of its fragile shell, alive and well. We jumped for joy with elation. George was a natural with animals. He gently sprayed the awkward, newborn baby bird with a fine mist of water every few hours and kept her under the warm lights as she quickly became strong. The day soon came when he said she was ready to release back into the wild vacant lot where we found the egg. He bundled her up in a box, and I tagged along and admit I was sad to see her go. George did this multiple times with other animals that were injured or lost. He prevented a large turtle we named Herkimer from being run over by a car. Herkimer still lives in the middle school courtyard because my brother George saved him. Then there were the dozens of polliwogs inside the culvert nearby that we all watched become frogs. It was all about new life and freedom from the outside world. And it was all right here.

I feel frustrated. Perhaps there’s another generation doing something similar here now? Or are they? The rain continues pouring down harder. I plead. It’s Saturday. Are the kids all inside on their phones or watching television? Don’t they know their youth is fleeting? I try to cheer myself up and acknowledge. I guess I can’t blame them because, as a child, I too was never aware of time. Now my race against it is nearing the finish line as I’m closer to the end of my life than to the beginning.

I reach for my umbrella in the back seat and step out of the car, into the shower and take refuge beneath it as I amble to the top of the driveway. Examining the street, I look for any other sign of life. I look up at the wires above me. The birds have all flown away. It’s just me now. The rain drizzles down all around me and comes in close. I hold the umbrella tighter and stand erect underneath, trying not to get wet. An eerie feeling overcomes me as I hold fast, clinging to the umbrella. Inexplicably, I lower the umbrella and let the rain fall over me, soaking me in a transcendent, restorative warmth. I feel a kind of holiness overwhelm me as I stand there for what seems like a long time.

The rain stops, and a gust of wind blows over me and I’m draped in a misty veil of coolness as reality once again reveals itself. I feel a tinge of guilt for acknowledging time’s fleeting cruelty when three children exit the house across the street and chase each other barefoot in their wet driveway. I watch in mesmerized silence. One of them abruptly squeals, pointing up toward the sky. Bellowing gleefully. Look! A double rainbow!

I look skyward and stand spellbound, consumed in a childlike bliss. The two effervescent rainbows mirror each other. Like a watercolor painter’s brushstroke, brilliant scarlet blends into cadmium orange, frothing over lemon yellow light. All heightened by the radiance of glistening sapphire blue with translucent violet drifting underneath. All times two. Extraordinary!

As I continue gazing upward, a dreamlike aura engulfs me as time seems to stop on this enchanted July afternoon. My mother always said a rainbow is a promise. I can see her standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom of our castle. She has a lipstick in her hand, and just before leaning in to put it on, she giggles and turns toward me. Sometimes it’s not about how you feel. It’s about how you look. She spreads the satiny lipstick over her lips. In my eight-year-old eyes, she looks like a movie star. She blots her lips with a tissue afterward. Beautiful, blood-red lips. I breathe deep as the dense air cloaks me with a warm, uplifting sensation. I breathe in again and smell a stirring aroma. Inexplicable wafts of toasted brown sugar with traces of pineapple surround me. It provokes a powerful memory. My mother is taking her homemade pineapple upside-down cake out of the oven. Right here. Here, in our castle.

I step over to my car and get in. Attempting to savor the addictive fragrance, I lower the car windows and slowly drive up the street. My nostrils flare as I try hard to catch another hint of the intoxicating scent. I glance back up toward the double rainbow, barely visible now, and enter the highway, speeding up into traffic. Charmed, I beam. Yes. Today was the day. And it turned out to be my very own perfectly delicious serving of a rainbow day.

About the Author

Marianne Dalton

A fine artist in painting for much of my creative life, my inspired focus in recent years is writing and fine art photography. I describe myself as an ex-city-dweller gone feral as I spend a great deal of time trekking the landscape in and around my rural home in upstate New York. I am a published author of several creative nonfiction stories. In addition, my fine art photography is published in numerous literary journals. Please visit my website for more information.

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