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The memory keeper, p.19
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       The Memory Keeper, p.19

           Lisa Stowe

  Chapter 19

  Cody parked her car in the tiny pull off behind Rachel’s Jeep. She looked up at the house still resting on its perch, just like the old woman still resting secure in its heart. Warm light from the windows fell down some of the steep stairs, but the rest were hidden in darkness. Cody climbed them hanging tightly to the wet railing with one hand and her bag with the other. Standing under the eaves at the door, she listened to water falling around her as she waited for someone to hear her knock.

  Rachel opened the door and light, heat, and the smells of baking pulled Cody in. She felt the ice inside begin to thaw as she followed Rachel into the main room.

  “Matt called and said you were on your way. I’m glad you decided to come here instead of finding another motel.”

  Rachel was barefoot, in low rider gray sweats and a cropped pink tee shirt that said ‘Climb Naked, Dance the Rock’. A pearl glowed in the belly button of her flat stomach, and Cody averted her eyes, embarrassed by the exposure. And then embarrassed by her lack of the same ease within her own body.

  “Did that hurt?” she asked, pointing to the pearl in an attempt to keep her self-consciousness from being obvious.

  “Piercing? Not as much as my tattoo." Rachel lifted the tee shirt further, and turned so Cody could see something like a Celtic knot tattooed in the small of Rachel’s back.

  “What is that?”

  “A rappel knot climbers use. Knot’s that are bullet proof, really secure, are called Bombers. A friend used to call me Bomber Butt, so that’s why I got the tattoo. There’s nothing like climbing. You hang around long enough I’m going to turn you into a rock rat.”

  Cody seriously doubted that would ever happen.

  “Did anyone tell you my mother showed up?”

  “Well,” Rachel said, hesitating. “Matt said I wasn’t to bring her up. Said you were pissed.”

  “Just a little,” Cody said, feeling the thaw spread even more as they entered the kitchen.

  “Oh my dear,” Florence said, looking up from the table as she lifted chocolate chip cookies onto a cloth to cool. “Your jaw! What happened to you?”

  Without warning, the anger was extinguished by tears. Mortified, Cody couldn’t stop them. Her hands flew to her mouth, fingers squeezing to deaden grief.

  Florence was there, wrapping her arms around Cody, pulling her into a soft, sweet smelling embrace. Cody sank into the unconditional acceptance and was washed away from death, from self-loathing, from shame. She had no idea how long she sobbed there, but the tiny elderly woman wasn’t so frail she couldn’t hang on for the duration. At some point Rachel’s arms came around Florence and Cody, and the three stood in the middle of the kitchen floor like a trinity of tears.

  Cody finally straightened, her eyes burning.

  “There now,” Florence said. “We all need a good cry once in a while. You’re all wet, dear. Go get changed and when you come out I’ll have tea on. You’d best eat some of these cookies, too, while they’re warm and soft. I imagine that bruise makes it painful to chew." She reached up and patted Cody’s shoulder. “Go on now, dear. Crying helps, but tea and cookies are even better.”

  Florence’s common sense voice and lack of questions about the tears allowed Cody to regain some composure. She followed Rachel to a tiny spare room and dropped her bag on a twin bed with a heavy quilt and wrought iron frame.

  “Come on out when you’re done,” Rachel said, and gave Cody privacy.

  Cody pulled her tee shirt off and shivered as she rummaged for a dry one. She sniffled the remains of tears and wondered if she had ever let loose and cried like that before. She wasn’t sure why she had this time, but it felt oddly like release, in spite of the burning eyes and stuffy nose.

  Changed and back out in the kitchen, Cody pulled out a chair and sat at the table with the other two women, not sure what to say, feeling like she needed to apologize for losing control. But as she debated what to say, Florence poured tea and passed over a plate of cookies, then settled back and pointed the spatula at Cody’s jaw.

  “That would never have happened if the bordellos had been allowed to stay open.”

  Rachel, reaching for a cookie, barely smothered a laugh.

  “Why is that?” Cody asked, wondering if Florence’s thoughts were as confused as hers.

  “During the time bordellos were open, we had law enforcement that knew how to do their job,” Florence said. “None of this pussy footin’ around reading people their rights. What do you think those old lead lined billy clubs were for?”

  “You had me worried there for a second,” Rachel said. “I thought you were saying men could work off their frustrations knocking fallen angels around.”

  “No, no Rachel. You know me better than that. It was the time. The way of life, the way people were. We were treated like ladies, and men took care of their women. If something like this had happened then I’m sure the next day would have found the guilty person dropped down some unused mine shaft. You think any miners around here would have put up with their women being hurt?”

  “Granny, you still believe in heroes and myths,” Rachel said, pushing her mug back abruptly. “It doesn’t work like that anymore.”

  “More’s the pity,” Florence said. “Have another cookie, dear. My husband was a real man. Not many of them left anymore. The closest things you’ll find these days are the miners. Tough men.”

  “Not forest rangers?” Matt asked from the doorway.

  All three women jumped. Cody twisted in the chair to see him leaning against the doorjamb.

  “I came to apologize again, and to see what I needed to do to atone.”

  “Eat cookies,” Florence said, waving the spatula again. “Pull up a chair, dear.”

  “So you don’t think forest rangers are as tough as miners?" Matt asked, sitting down.

  “Bunch of wood violets, the lot of them,” Florence said.

  Matt handed the cookie plate to Cody. “If you can’t manage these we’re going to have to get you baby food.”

  “Ha, ha,” Cody said. The light banter felt welcoming and all encompassing, like she sat with family, and the feeling was a balm on her weepy spirits.

  Rachel reached across Cody and slapped Matt lightly on the side of the head. “Matt dear,” she said, sounding like her grandmother. “If you don’t stop picking on Cody, I’m going to get one of granny’s miners to belt you.”

  “Children, children,” Florence said as she reached into an apron pocket and pulled out an old book.

  “What is that?” Rachel asked.

  “This is an old journal of mine,” Florence said. “I’ve kept them since I was nine or so.”

  “I never knew that,” Rachel said.

  “Of course not, dear. You would have read them. I wasn’t always old you know. There are some escapades I’m not sure I want you knowing about.”

  “I’m going to wait for one of the days when you’re out of it and then I’m going to find them and read them all,” Rachel said, licking chocolate off her fingers. “I hate secrets.”

  “No you won’t,” Florence said calmly. “I’ve hidden them.”

  “Well you better tell me where before your mind is completely gone,” Rachel said, leaning over to kiss her grandmother on the cheek.

  “You’re distracting me, dear. Fill the tea kettle again and listen instead of talking.”

  Matt scooped up another cookie. “No one bakes like you, Florence. Will you marry me?”

  “My husband will have something to say about that." Florence’s voice was prim but she smiled as she placed the book on the table and rested her gnarled hands on its cover. “You don’t know what it’s like not being able to remember things anymore. Sometimes it makes me so furious, and sometimes so sad. So many things that shouldn’t be forgotten. People now gone that shouldn’t be allowed to leave memory. No one is truly dead if there’s someone left who remembers them. You understand that, Cody.”

  No one spoke, and the quiet wa
s filled with crackling flames, an aged house settling, the moaning of wind sent from winter fields on mountains. How long before Kelly and Nate were forgotten? Was Cody the only one who would keep her grandfather alive? She rubbed her fingernails, watching the soothing movement and wondering if memories were worth the pain attached to them.

  “And the journal, granny?” Rachel said, her voice a gentle thread pulling Cody back to the present.

  “Cody’s questions about her grandfather started me wondering if I’d written about him or Ethel when I was young. So I’ve been reading and it’s been quite the journey. I found many stories I’d forgotten. I’m very grateful Cody, that you helped me remember these books, and I’m very grateful I wrote things down.”

  “Like what?” Rachel asked, drawing her mug close again and taking a sip of tea.

  “Oh, let’s see. I must have been in my late teens. I had a job at the bakery, and was making my first money. My father had taken up a partnership in the Honey Do. There was talk that she was going to be a good silver producer, maybe even on par with Sunshine or Hecla. She hadn’t started producing yet but the owners were selling shares. I thought she sounded worth investing in.”

  “What happened?” Matt asked. “She obviously didn’t pan out like Sunshine or we’d all know about it.”

  “That’s the question, isn’t it?” Florence shrugged. “When I went to the assay office, the mine had been closed down. My father never spoke of it again, but I do remember how angry he was. I wrote in my journal because I ended up going to the Sunshine offices to see about buying a share, and met the man I married. Your grandfather, Rachel. He was just coming up from his shift.” Florence’s eyes filmed with reminiscence.

  “Gramps,” Rachel said.

  “Oh, he was hell bent for leather, that one,” Florence laughed and the sound was sweet, like the girl she had once been. “Him and his brothers are always up to one thing or another. My folks don’t like him one bit. But oh my, you should see his muscles. He can pick me up like I was nothing. He should be coming off shift any minute, and he’ll be happy to see these cookies, I can tell you.”

  Rachel patted her grandmother’s hand. “A Sunshine miner.”

  “Real men,” Florence agreed, with pride in her eyes. “And a mine like no other.”

  “Definitely no comparison to the Honey Do,” Matt said. He watched Florence with an expression of sadness that reflected the sympathy Cody felt. How hard this slip into dementia must be for Florence. And Rachel.

  “I read about that mine,” Cody said, glancing guiltily at Matt. “I made copies of the page on Honey Do. I think…well, it was some of the papers missing from my room. Sorry, I should have told you earlier.”

  “Hey,” Matt said, raising his hands. “I’m saying nothing here. I’ve had my ass chewed enough.”

  “What did the article say?” Rachel asked. Her expression eased, as if relieved by the change in subject, but her eyes never left her grandmother’s face.

  “Only that the mine was closed because of the difficulty in getting ore out. I think it also said something about someone trying to reopen it.”

  “I’ve heard Rivers complaining about a new mining venture,” Matt said. He finished the cookie he held and licked his fingers. “And I think Jim Russell is the engineer.”

  “Probably Keith Naylor opening it,” Florence said, as cheerful back in the present as she had been moments ago in the past. “He was the major shareholder and I believe my father and the others relinquished shares to him when the mine closed down.”

  “He probably kept it,” Matt said. “And it wouldn’t surprise me that he’s trying to reopen it. The way the market and technologies have improved he could make some profit off mineral rights or extraction.”

  “Is the mine what you were looking for in the journal?” Cody asked, gathering cookie crumbs with her fingertip.

  “No, dear. I read the entry about my son’s birth, and got to thinking about your questions about Ethel and Charles. I’m wondering what you might find out from the Health Department. You know, that place down by the train museum. Isn’t that where you can go nowadays and get copies of old birth certificates?”

  “You’re right,” Rachel said. “But you can get them online, too.”

  “Would a birth certificate show a biological mother if she didn’t want to be known?" Cody asked.

  “You don’t know that she didn’t,” Matt said. “You’re making an assumption because she didn’t keep him or ever tell him she was his mother. That’s a good idea, Florence. You could head down there Monday, Cody. Get a copy. Might be something concrete for you.”

  Cody glanced at Matt, raising an eyebrow. It was a good idea, but she didn’t plan on being here by Monday, and he knew that. She would use Rachel’s suggestion and look for the birth certificate online, when she ended up wherever she was going. Exhaustion moved through her and she covered a yawn with her hand, wincing as pain flared.

  “Alright then, off you go,” Florence said, seeing the yawn. “It’s almost midnight. Rachel dear, you can spend the night as well. But you, Matt, need to find your own bed.”

  “Damn." Matt stood. “Fine then. I’ll head home all by myself.”

  “You do that,” Rachel said. “Tomorrow’s Sunday. If you’re lucky we’ll invite you over for a late breakfast.”

  Cody hugged Florence goodnight and stumbled her way to the tiny spare room. She undressed and pulled back the quilt, barely registering what she did. The soft mattress rose around her and she sank into it, burrowing under the covers. Was her mother as comfortable in her hotel room? May would be so furious. Cody closed her burning eyes against the worry, against the vision of May’s face, and against her inevitable future.

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