Posted by: patti | March 13, 2009

Poetry (Fiction Friday)

Margaret disliked visiting her brother.  She loved him, as she should, but as she aged she found him troublesome and his family too large.  The four children, two of whom were her godchildren, reminded her that she would remain childless.  Her choices, which she regretted rarely, nagged at her in John’s loud home.

The train slowed and entered another station.  The yellow green-brown blur outside her window separated itself into individual trees, and Margaret sighed at the dingy platform and its single pot of sun-bleached geraniums.  She smoothed her skirt and folded her hands in her lap.  The silver band on her left hand caught her eye, and she turned it around and around her finger.  She sighed again and opened her book.  The pages, worn and soft, were a comfort to her, but the poetry swam before her eyes.

As the train gathered speed out of the station, Margaret closed her book and her eyes.  Clasping her hands over the book, she prayed.  She prayed for strength and for forgiveness, and as she did, she reflected that old doubts were very much with her lately.  Like most nuns, she had been a teacher, but now that she was retired from the classroom, she had begun to feel she should have done something else with her life.  She had not been an effective or good teacher, she knew, because she preferred to keep her thoughts to herself and did not see the point of explaining things.   She was impatient with people who did not already know the things she knew.

“What are you reading?”

A small voice, beside her.  Margaret opened her eyes and turned to face the girl on the seat next to her.  She had climbed over so quietly, Margaret hadn’t even felt her presence in prayer.  Margaret took in the shining gold hair, the enormous eyes, and the tiny nose pointing at her.

“Nothing, at the moment,” Margaret said. “But my book is a collection of D.H. Lawrence’s poetry.”

The girl reached over to touch the cover, and Margaret flinched.

“You’ve read it a lot.”

“Yes.”

“Why?” She titled her head at Margaret, interested.

Margaret did not know how to answer.  After a moment, the girl asked, “Would I like it?”

Surprised by the question, Margaret laughed.  “I don’t know!  It depends.  Do you like poetry?  Have you ever read poetry?”  She frowned at the girl.  “Can you read?”

The girl shrugged and said she could not.  “But Grandma reads to me all the time.  She reads poetry.  We like Frosty.” Then, shyly, she added, “You remind me of Grandma.”

“I’m not surprised.  I am probably your grandmother’s age.  Do I look like her, too?”

“No.  She died.  We are going to get her now, because she’s going to be interrupted tomorrow.”

“Interrupted?”

“Yeah.  Granda said it was a fancy word for buried.”

Margaret suppressed a smile.  “My name is Margaret,” she said, holding out her hand.

“I’m Miranda.  Same as Grandma.”  The girl’s hand, shockingly smooth and small, slipped quickly in and out of Margaret’s.  Margaret was disappointed the touch was so brief, and was surprised at her disappointment.

“That is a lovely name.  Tell me about the poetry you read with Grandma Miranda.”  Margaret pressed her lips together, irritated with herself for slipping into a kind of baby talk.

“She gets these little magazines and she reads me the poetry from it.  I like the ones that tell stories the best, but Grandma says that the poems with no stories are better.  The ones about people and what they are scared of.”

“It sounds like Grandma was very smart.”

“Oh, she is.  Frosty tells stories, but even so, Grandma says he is the best.”

“And who is Frosty?  Frosty the Snowman?”

“No.  Frosty.  Everyone knows Frosty. Grandma says he is famous. You know, Frosty.”  Miranda was now clutching the armrest, desperate for Margaret to know Frosty.  She pulled herself up and stood on the seat, swaying with the train and catching herself on the seat in front of her.  Steadier, Miranda started reciting, fast and loud:  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked–”

The man across the aisle looked from his magazine; the woman in front of him craned her neck around the seat.

Margaret grabbed the child’s arm and pulled her down roughly.

“Don’t!” she hissed.  “I know Frosty.  Robert Frost.”

Miranda let out a noise, an “Oh!” of surprise and pain, and Margaret released her arm.  She could see red marks where her fingers had been.  Miranda’s lower lip quivered.

Margaret rolled her eyes at her own insensitivity.  She found a crumpled tissue in her skirt pocket and held it out.

“Please don’t cry.  I just didn’t want you to fall and get hurt.”

The girl snuffled into Margaret’s tissue.  Margaret did not know what to say.  She wondered now where this girl had come from, where her family was.  She thought of her nieces and nephews, in dark dresses and suits, someday taking this train to attend her own funeral.

Margaret held up D.H. Lawrence.  “Would you like me to read you a poem?”

Sniffling, Miranda unfolded her legs and wiggled herself up straight, arranged her dress neatly, to listen properly.  Her shiny black shoes came just to the end of her seat.  Folding her little hands in her lap, she nodded at Margaret, the tears gone.  “I’m ready.”

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