Previously: Sarah Jane leaves her father’s funeral reception. She thinks she sees her long-lost sister Rachael arriving, but Sarah Jane doesn’t go back to see if it’s really Rachael. Instead, Sarah Jane returns to the cemetery and reflects on all the people in her life she’s lost. Rachael. Jesse. Her mom and dad. Then what her future might be in Rosedale. She leaves the graveyard and heads home.
THE BANDBOX HAT
The house was still empty when I barreled through the back door and into the kitchen. An urgency gripped me and my heart raced two steps ahead of my body on the stairs to my room.
The clothes from my closet were dumped on my bed. I pulled out the dresser drawers and tipped out their contents to join the growing mound of khaki, taupe, cream, and white fabrics.
I sank onto the rocking chair in my bay window and stared at the garments.
Funny-strange, not funny ha-ha.
I loved watching Stacy and Clinton on What Not to Wear. I could recite the rules for dressing well in my sleep. But I noticed that my own wardrobe was nearly colorless. I wore khaki slacks or skirts to school. My tops were all monochromatic tones of beige or cream.
Just like my life.
I’d been coasting through life. Content to let people I loved leave me behind in the brown dust of Rosedale.
I stood. No more coasting for Sarah Jane Richter.
Once I retrieved my suitcase from under the bed, I shoveled my clothes in, then tossed my toiletries on top.
The rolling bag made satisfactory bumps on my calves as I tugged it down the stairs behind me.
The phone rang, drowning out the thumping of my heart.
Who would be calling here? Everyone we knew was still at the church, eating potato salad and cold cut sandwiches.
It rang again.
I stared at it.
I snatched it up. “Hello?”
“Sarah Jane, where are you?” Of course, Anna wondering why I wasn’t at her beck and call, wiping up spilled punch, setting out platters of deviled eggs, and smiling and thanking people for coming and slipping some twenty dollar bills into Pastor’s hand.
“Obviously I’m at home, since you called me.” I tried to smother the waspish tone to my voice, but it crept out and I knew Anna heard it.
“We need you here, Sarah Jane. Your brothers need you. April needs you.” She must have sensed how close I was to exploding because her voice gentled to a non-Anna tone. Only I knew it was calculated to get me back there and pouring iced tea in 3.5 minutes.
“Tell them I love them, but I—”
“What? That you’re drowning in self-pity, with no regard for what they’re going through? Jake has just lost his father. He’s the head of the family now. Can you for minute forget about yourself and think about all the pressure he’s under? The pressure we’re under?” So much for the gentle Anna. The true one was back and I took comfort in knowing there was no longer a need for me to tolerate her condescension.
I hung up then stared at the kitchen.
My stomach growled, giving me a clue.
My cell phone sang from my purse, still on the dinette table where I’d dropped it earlier. I ignored it and looked for something to eat.
Inside the fridge I found platters of lunch meats and some macaroni salad, dropped off by solicitous church ladies so the family wouldn’t have to think about dinner. There was also a lasagna and tamale casserole in aluminum pans. Those Mennonite women, always thinking ahead so the mourners wouldn’t have to concern themselves with returning dishes or trying to remember who got the white Corningware or who the Anchor Hocking glass casserole belonged to.
I made two sandwiches and grabbed the lasagna.
It took two trips to load my suitcase and provisions into the car.
My cell phone had been ringing every three minutes while I fixed my moveable feast.
Once I was in the driver’s seat, I turned off the phone and stared down the drive, gripping the steering wheel.
Was this how Rachael felt, all those years ago?
Scared. Excited. Uncertain. But also sure I had to leave.
I could stay and move into the apartment over the garage. Jake had been promising to build it for three years and I was still a “guest” in the main house.
I could stay and continue to teach second grade until my class was composed of this year’s student’s children. I’d could be a multi-generational teacher.
I could stay and wonder what would have happened if I’d followed Jesse to college.
I could stay and wonder what kind of life I would have had if I hadn’t stayed to take care of Mom.
Or I could go and live my life and find out for myself.