As the quartet was preparing to go,
Rose called from Portland, barely audible . . .
not Rose but a whisper saying, This is Mona.
Before Dave drove her to the bus tonight,
Rose had called Melindra to get Bobby
to take her place. Rose had the right number.
The one Bobby gave her. He hated phones.
Melindra needed one, she was a nurse.
Rose took the phone to say she was in a hotel
on Burnside. If something happens, here is
where I am. Can I come see you? Dave asked.
Tonight? If that’s okay. Sure, come ahead, Rose said.
Dave and Bobby drove her car. Melindra
had a day off coming and slept in the back seat.
In Portland they found Rose in the hotel
on Burnside. Though she seemed to slur her speech,
she was not drunk. A woman was with her.
Dave, this is Mona, my sister. Then Rose
began telling the story of their life
together. Dave wanted them to come home.
Mona wanted to stay. This was where her people were, the pushers, the hustlers, and the whores who were her sisters even if Rose was her only one by blood. She didn’t sing a lick but she lived in Rose’s voice, who was always knowing and fearing what Mona was living and wanting to bring her home with her, wherever home would be, she would have to dry out and Rose take care of her. She would move away from Madison when she had the money and she could learn to make good money with her voice and rent a place somewhere close enough to downtown to find work in one of the clubs but far enough away to keep Mona from going back to her old ways. Rose, the long-limbed, tall, older sister would take care of her frail, delicate, smaller, more beautiful sister, Mona, who hardly had a voice at all now, whispering more than talking. Bobby, standing there, was remembering the day Clark found him awash in his tears streaking the grimy skin of his face, unable to speak louder than a whisper, and if not for that day, would never have found this brave woman whose name Melindra belied the strength and power that resided in her heart or wherever the soul could be found, if that was what it was kept her with him in spite of all his errant urges.
The cast of Dave’s drawn face was all you needed to know why there would be no marriage now, perhaps never if Mona could not live without Rose worrying about her. Dave knew so little he may as well know nothing. Rose never talked of where she came from or from whom, nor did she want to, saying, That’s all behind me, the more I know the less I will have to go on now: They drained me and I was a little girl hoping my folks would change so I could smile more and laugh a little like the other kids on the street but when they were not sleeping they were fighting and I left before Mona was old enough to go. I should have taken her with me. Why didn’t I have the power to follow what I knew had to be done to save her as well as myself?
Melindra told Bobby they had to go back and get Mona some help before she stole away to make the bread to use again. Bobby told Dave, and Rose had to think about it, she said. Dave let her alone. He had enough to think about. He had to see about his mother, she was stronger these days but he didn’t like her going out when he was gone, walking in the dark, even if she didn’t go farther than next door to the neighbor’s house and back. They were Lu Ann’s oldest friends and yet he didn’t want them thinking he couldn’t care for his own flesh and blood. Lu Ann might be "family," like her friends would say, but Dave was her only child, he had his own to care for, so how did he ever get it in his head he could marry Rose and do the "live-happily-ever-after" waltz?
They stayed the night, the sisters sleeping on the floor of the room where Mona had a bare mattress for a bed in one corner big enough for Rose to sleep next to her. Dave, Bobby, and Melindra drove to the closest motel, telling Rose they would return early in the morning and get on the road back to Seattle. Rose turned away and muttered, I’ll have her ready . . .
(30-31 March, 7 April 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander