I returned to Phoebe immediately armed with a bottle of water which I urged on her and which she took, thanking me for showing some sense. Wannabe heroines spend more time wondering how they'd behave in emergencies. Real girl scouts learn the basics of first aid: how to take a pulse, administer CPR, where to put the cold compress. My mother, when I once had the pleasure of nursing her, called me Cratchett and said if she ever wanted to die before her time, she'd move in with me. Like she'd ever get the chance.
In the surprisingly short time we had to wait Phoebe and I did not talk. I thought we should and complimented her on the plantings in her plot: bulbs—daffodils just passing out as the iris emerged. The plot is bordered by white stones of assorted sizes that might have been culled from the marble and granite pieces of broken graves, and perennial shrubs: two gardenias, a native azalea and four peonies in early budding stage. Dozens of bulbs.
In a plot close by Veronica’s family rested in a space rendered both cheap and cheerful by two folding lawn chairs (one pointing in this direction) and a plastic bunny she'd placed there at Easter. "I wonder why," I said. "Is there a baby's grave?"
“No." said Phoebe. “She just buys whatever strikes her and plants it anywhere. She'd always been a little…" did she say cheap? It's what I thought I heard. I don't think Phoebe thinks much of Veronica. But they're attuned to each other. They depend on each other. Like family.
I was proud of Juniper. She snuggled down into the wedge of Phoebe's arm and rested. It was, if you looked at them, as if Phoebe was her guardian. Yet I could see that Juniper provided the warm comfort, while Phoebe provided the shade. My dog is so simple in her selfishness she is a joy to be with. And Phoebe used her to calm herself. She stroked Juniper's fur endlessly as we waited for the ambulance.
“Whose grave is this?” I asked.
“Mine,” she said. Wistfully, I thought. We sat in silence, until the light caught on the bracelet I’ve been wearing, the one with the charm of the baby’s head. She asked to see it and try it on.
“Is this the bracelet you found in your garden?” she asked.
I’d had the chain cleaned and added some charms of my own that I’d collected or been given over the years: a high school graduation charm from an aunt who didn’t realize charm bracelets were out of style. A little mushroom I’d worn as a pendant during the psychotropic years.
This baby’s head with the now legible March 10, 1960 I cherished as a gift, dispensed by the gods as a symbol. The date was a mildly significant to me; I wouldn’t have remembered it, specifically but I certainly remembered the weeks after the pregnancy test and a warm day in March when I allowed myself to walk among the hobbity houses off East Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead and feel desire without envy. Little houses with round doors that basked in the sun like sleeping safe children. When I re-read the journal I kept then, a fragmentary thing that illustrated the state of my mind, I saw it was on March 10 when I took that little stroll, admitted my desires and ran from them.
When I look at the flat gold charm I see the baby’s head and associate the gold wafer thinness of the charm itself with currency, but when I rub it I remember that street so tightly it’s as if I can smell the honey suckle and must be brought back to earth with some acidic reminder about cliches.
Phoebe fondles the charm also and I wonder what incantations she’s pulling out of it. Her strength doesn’t seem sufficient to the act and so she brings it to her lips. “It’s real gold,” I said, afraid she was going to bite into it. This stops her and she grins. A grin from an old woman is a wicked thing. So little meat. So much bone. “I know,” she whispered and handed the bracelet back to me.
“I have my own plot,” I said, changing the subject.
“In New York?”
“Comforting, isn't it?” She spoke in what I now realize was an ironic tone. She was after all, stretched across her own grave. But I missed it then
“I won’t be here forever. Someday I’ll go home.”
And then I don’t know what happened, but I started to cry. The sweet thing was that she was silent and returned my dog to me. No matter how indifferent I seem towards Juniper, whenever I’m feeling bad, she will come to me.
“You wanted it after all, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know what I wanted.”
“In a way,” said Phoebe. “That’s worse.
“Look,” she said, raising herself up, as if she was not in pain after all. “Look. You’re going to have to figure out a way to get on with it.”
She drew a melodramatic breath and seemed to emphasize her point by jabbing at the daffodil leaves. She had not been able to braid all of them. “Fix these, please,” she ordered. I complied and, as if rewarding me, she continued.
“These events…these crimes we make against ourselves…it’s not them, you have to worry about, but the punishment of letting them fester so that takes up your life. What was your sin? You’ve got one or you wouldn’t be so confused. Figure it out. Figure out how to forgive yourself and do it.”
The sound of the ambulance’s siren, which I’d been hearing as an effect against the intensity of her words suddenly turned real and hot. 911 had arrived.
I promised to drive over later with Mrs. Moth, but when I got back to Monnish Court, Mrs. M. was not home. Veronica was and promised she would go over, which she did and was still there later when I finally delivered Mrs. M. and, by the way, met that doctor Veronica has been dating.
The diagnosis could have been worse: Phoebe's ankle was not just twisted but had fractured. This was bad enough in someone my age, but frightening for a frail stalk of a woman in her seventies.
P.S. Returned to Evergreen later for Phoebe’s basket. Note stone with inscription Robert Dowling. Interesting feature: He died on his birthday. Also, instead of simple dates his stone had been carved with a star before April 12, 1928 and a cross before April 12, 1960. How do you die at 32 on your birthday? I wondered. Find out.