Rose Painted Palms

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– For Dawn Serrano-Barker

When I first opened the newspaper and unfolded your smile stretched serenely above your name, I remembered how you first came to me; seemingly a death doula, a mother, to guide me through loss.

Their names were Jeremiah and Alexander, my first set of twins, you murmured, reaching for my hand across the comforter. Together, we looked at the reason why I came in the first place, in that pale pink house nestled on the curved corner of Colonial Cove, North Carolina. Every day that summer, I yanked my rusted powder-blue bike from my father’s garage and pedaled five miles along grassy stretches of Golfview road—the path that tethered my neighborhood to yours.

Chris sat at the other end of the room, a headset trapped over his head, buried in the computer with the privacy he’d promised. Don’t worry, he’d said, a shy smile meant to coax out my own. You know, you might have more in common with her than you think.

I was too choked up to really say it then, how it felt to know someone who understood without trying. Instead, you held tightly onto my trembling fists and told stories. I held onto Jeremiah and Alexander as long as I could, I put up a fight, and I know you did, too. Your little one knows, I’m sure of it, that love will always be there.

Something in your blue eyes softened, your raspy voice smoothing from pebbled laughter. You were lonely for some motherly chatting, one-on-one. Together that summer, we created the cure. The stories you told were laid with laughter embedded in gravel. There were always stones in your foundation; imperfect edges betraying the cracks. Still, your cobblestoned voice was a path that settled like home beneath my feet. Even the stones could remember me better, here.

Yet, as the stones remembered me, the more I remembered them, too. They were river-slicked with fresh tears, bearing the weight of memory freshly turning over in my palms. This stone was the first time I’d seen you, cigarette pursed between lips, jean cut-offs, dark blue tank-top in the heartbeat of summer. That stone was tasting your first batch of Shepherd’s Pie, showing me the family recipe. Another for the sweater you wrapped around my shoulders, told me to wear home. Another stone, chilled like ice-chips from Big T’s snow-cone stand, melting cherry-red. The heaviest stone tumbled when you asked: what was her name? As you heard Dawn spill out, choked, you clutched me tightly to you, leaving behind warmth ever since. Still, another stone, this time pressing rose-pink dye into my hands, gathering your blonde hair in your fists. It’s time to change it up a little, don’tcha think?

I wish I could tell you something had already changed in me the second I stepped onto your porch. What if I could tell you that, when I looked down at my palms, sometimes I could still see streaks of rose gold?

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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