Georgina saw the younger woman enter the shop and felt as if God had just blessed her with a gift. It seemed to the elderly lady that the whole store brightened, lit by the blond hair and pale skin and delicate frame of the woman; though Georgina thought she looked sad, with her solemn expression and downcast eyes.
The woman didn’t see Georgina, nor did she make eye contact with anyone in the shop. She went straight to the sales rack and riffled through until she pulled out a plain blue skirt, then wandered to the blouses, fingering the material and examining price tags, finally selecting a white short sleeved, button up blouse and a light blue cardigan. As if she knew exactly what she was looking for, and no need to look any further.
The elderly woman ducked behind a clothes rack as the blond one passed her on the way to the fitting room. She slipped out of the store as the other went to try on her clothes, then positioned herself so she could see the sales counter, yet not be seen herself.
Georgina fidgeted with her purse, fluffed her hair in nervous anticipation and found herself struggling with emotions she’d thought long laid to rest. Her heart beat erratically, feeling as if the dead had been raised to life and was even now heading straight towards her, full of life and energy and totally unaware of the chaos she’s wrought within the old lady’s memories.
Georgina had always been bold, not one to let opportunity slip by and so she moved quickly, following the girl just to the mall door, then called out, tremulously.
“Virginia?” Her pulse raised and her heart seemed to constrict when the other woman turned towards her. “Yes, it is you! Oh, Virginia! I would know you anywhere. Why, it’s like looking in a mirror at myself, forty years ago!”
“Nana?” It was said in the barest of whispers, the blue eyes widening in recognition, and for the barest of moments a glimmer of warmth shone from them, only to be replaced with steely ice and cold reserve.
“No!” She turned away from the elderly woman, her body ridged, tensed. “No! I’m sorry, but I have nothing to say to you. Excuse me.” Virginia turned away, but Georgina moved quickly, need propelling her forward, cutting off the exit the younger woman would have taken.
“Is that right?” Anger, and grief, strengthened Georgina’s voice. “You’ve nothing to say to your Grandmother, whom you haven’t seen or spoken to in twenty-five years? Why are you here?”
“That’s none of your business. I didn’t come to see you.”
“No. I’m sure you didn’t. But here we are. Could you not spare just ten minutes to sit and talk with me?” She hated that she felt the need to beg.
“And talk about what, Nana? How you drove my mother away and broke my father’s heart? How you… “ Her voice broke on a web of emotion, and she clutched the bag with her new clothes hard against her chest like a shield.
Two teenage girls brushed past them, chatting unconcernedly and letting a warm breeze filter in through the door as it opened and closed behind them.
Neither woman moved, as if frozen in time.
Georgina swallowed the lump in her throat, knowing that this may be her only chance to say the words and bridge the gulf that had separated them for so long. “I know that’s what you think. George must have thought it too, else why move so far away, so soon after Gloria left? But I was not to blame, Virginia. I only wanted your mother to get help, not to abandon her family.”
“I was there, Nana. I heard what you said to her. ‘You’re no good to them,’ you said, ‘you’re not a fit mother’ and ‘you’re not a fit wife’. I heard you!”
“Yes. God help me, I did say those things. And it was the truth. She was not a good mother…”
“But she was my mother!”
“And all I wanted was for her to get help. Twenty-eight days, Virginia, that’s what I suggested. As God is my witness. Twenty-eight days. She could have gotten the help she needed and come back to us.” The tears spilled over, the words caught in her throat. “I loved her too.”
“I don’t believe you. She would not have just left me.”
“I’ll not malign your memories of her. Either you don’t remember what it was like or you were unaware; which, given how young you were, seems more likely. But your father’ll remember. You ask him”
Her heart ached, and she could barely speak now through the tears that fell freely. She wiped at the tears with a finger, then reached out and stroked the younger woman’s face before turning away. “You ask him,” she said, opening the door, “and if it makes a difference in how he remembers, please have him call me.”
It was the hardest thing she’d ever done, Georgina thought, leaving her granddaughter behind.
“Virginia?” The voice on the other end of the line emanated concern, “What’s wrong, honey? Where are you”
“I’m in my hotel room. Remember? I told you I had to go to Walnut Creek for business. Daddy, I…. I saw Nana today.”
“Nana? You saw Nana? Where? Why?” Was that anger she heard in his voice?
“Oh, it’s a long story. I flew in this afternoon, but the airlines lost my luggage and I needed to find an outfit to wear to work tomorrow, and she was there, at the mall and she said…”
“You saw Nana at the mall?” He sounded puzzled, obviously not connecting the dots to the story she was telling.
“Yeah. She was there, and she recognized me and she stopped me and wanted to talk.”
“And what did she say?” It was definitely anger and it made her feel as if she had somehow betrayed him for even speaking to his mother. A woman he had disowned over twenty-five years ago. A woman she had loved, and desperately missed, especially after her own mother had disappeared from her life.
“I didn’t want to talk with her. I told her it was her fault that Mom split on us and she said that she was only trying to help.”
“To help!” He laughed with bitter sarcasm, “How was convincing my wife that she had screwed up our lives supposed to help?”
“She said she only meant for her to go away for twenty-eight days. She said I wouldn’t remember what it was like, but you would and that I should ask you. Dad? Did mom have a problem with drugs? Or alcohol?”
“Oh, honey. No!”
“She did, didn’t she? I remember coming home some days and the house would be a mess and she’d be sleeping on the couch and I couldn’t wake her up. I remember! You used to argue all the time and she’d leave and not come home until late at night. You were so angry with her, and so was Nana. That’s why Nana said what she said, isn’t it? ‘You’re not a fit mother.’ Well, maybe she wasn’t.”
Virginia fingered the ring on her finger, thinking of her boyfriend and the grief his brother had caused to so many people. “Why did we blame Nana all these years, Dad? It’s no different than Justin’s brother, David. Always lying and stealing so he could buy his drugs, then promising he wouldn’t do it any more once the drugs were gone and he was no longer high. But David got help, didn’t he? He went to one of those programs, a twenty-eight day program, if I remember rightly!”
“No,” her Dad’s voice had grown quiet, contemplative. “No. She was doing better, she didn’t need ‘help,’: as Nana liked to call it.”
“You know what, Dad? You sound just like Justin’s mother! I’m sorry, but you do. She never wanted to believe that David was to blame for his own problems, she was blind to his addiction and the trouble he caused.”
“Oh come on, sweetheart. You know that Nana never liked Gloria, and she never tried to hide it. She was always putting Gloria down, telling her how she should keep the house or learn to cook. It was Nana’s fault that Gloria left.”
“I don’t believe that, Dad. Not anymore. I think Nana truly loved Mom, at least for our sake. I can only imagine what it must have felt for her when we left too. At least we had each other. She had no one!”
“So what? Are you saying we abandoned her, like your mother abandoned us?”
“Yeah, Dad. It kind of seems that way. Maybe we needed someone to blame for our hurt and we took it out on Nana.”
“Hello?” Georgina answered the phone, her heart full of joy when the voice on the other end asked:
This story was written in response to a short story challenge, the prompt "Joy", 1500 word count exactly.