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Authors: Viola Shipman

The Charm Bracelet (10 page)

BOOK: The Charm Bracelet
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Web set Mary's sewing machine up in the front window of the new log cabin, which was built with pine logs Web had felled and split, cured and carved. White mortar held the logs in place, and it was filled with windows.

“You can work here and always have a view of Lost Land,” Web said.

The autumn vista inspired Mary, and—though the newlyweds had little money—she journeyed to the local feed store and picked out pretty patterned feed sacks, and to fabric shops where she fished out scraps, remains, and leftover material. Mary began to make quilts and curtains for the cabin. She began to make a name for herself in town, sewing for the locals. And when Mary found out she was pregnant a few months later, she ordered layette set patterns from McCall's and—inspired by the world outside her cabin window—sewed a yellow baby blanket, with intricate designs of floating swans, lake loons, tall pines, and tender tulips.

As winter turned to spring, and magical May breezes melted the winter's snow, Mary had to inch her stool back from her Singer, to give needed airspace between her belly and the bobbin. She became obsessed with hand-making items for her new baby, from socks and swaddling blankets, booties, beanies, and burp cloths, to onesies and a going-home-from-the-hospital outfit. Web made a tiny bassinette by hand, and Mary stacked it with their baby's clothes.

“The charms were right,” Web told Mary one evening as they sipped iced tea on the screened porch. “We are blessed in America.”

During the last month of her pregnancy in July, Mary felt something change in her body. One day, after months of internal kicks, she could no longer feel anything, and when she went to visit her doctor, his face went blank as he held a stethoscope to her stomach.

“What's wrong?” Mary asked. “Is something wrong with my baby?”

Mary was rushed to the operating room.

Her baby—a girl—was stillborn.

Mary could hear Web's sobs echo down the hospital's hallways.

“We can try again,” Web said to Mary, as she recovered. “Doctor says you're fine. Just happens sometimes.”

But Mary didn't respond, even after she had been released from the hospital a week later. Along with her baby, she had lost hope. She refused to talk, or eat.

The first thing Mary did as soon as she returned from the hospital was take a seat in front of her Singer and begin to sew. In the middle of the night, Web woke to find his young wife was not beside him. He could hear the soft whir of the Singer sing throughout the cabin.

“Mary, what are you doing?” he whispered in the night.

She simply looked up at her husband and continued to sew.

“Mary, what are you doing?” he asked again.

“Making our child's burial dress.”

Web's heart shattered, and though he wanted to run away and cry, he said instead, “I'll keep you company while you sew.”

The funeral dress was long and white, with full arms and pink stitching and little pink bows. The hem featured floating swans, lake loons, tall pines, and tender tulips.

A few days after the funeral, after Web had returned to work and the cabin was maddeningly quiet, Mary gathered every ounce of strength she had and carried her sewing machine to the lake. When she finally reached the shoreline, drenched in sweat, Mary edged into the water, up to her waist. Her clothes were heavy and wet. Step by step, Mary walked into the lake, still holding her Singer.

Suddenly, a swallow dove over her, flitting back and forth as if to draw her attention. Mary noticed the light on its wings. In the near distance, a loon moaned, as if commiserating with her. Mary stopped walking. She could feel the sun on her back. She swore she could hear Web's laugh echo off the water, as it did when he hooked a fish. Children were swimming, laughing, in the distance.

Slowly, Mary turned and walked out of the lake.

As she did, her bracelet jangled in the breeze even as her arms struggled to hold the sewing machine, which made her charms dance even louder. She looked at the sewing machine and then the charms of the sewing machine and the four-leaf clover, their images reflected back to her from the lake.

This simple charm has much meaning, my child,
Mary remembered Rima telling her when she first gave her the charm.
This is to a life bound by family … no matter how far away they may be. As long as you wear this, they will always be near.

Suddenly, Mary screamed, a scream so loud the swans took flight and the loons quieted. And slowly, one step at a time, Mary trudged back to the cabin, carrying her sewing machine. She returned it to the window facing the lake, and never told her husband of her intentions.

A year later, Mary gave birth to a daughter. She would have four more children before she died at the age of eighty-seven.

“Bound by family” were the last words Mary uttered.

 

Nine

“One of her children, of course, was my mother,” said Lolly.

“None of us would be here without that charm,” Lauren said, her own bracelet jangling with excitement.

“That's quite a story, Mom,” Arden said slightly less enthusiastically than her daughter.

“I'm glad you wear yours,” Lolly whispered to Lauren, touching her granddaughter's wrist. “You'll never know how much that means to me. I wish your mother would wear her bracelet.”

Lauren reached out and grabbed her grandmother's hand, their bracelets resting against one another.

“Can you teach me to sew again, Grandma?” Lauren asked. “I remember trying to learn when I was younger, but I've forgotten everything.”

“I'd love to, my dear,” Lolly said, dragging her feet to slow the glider. “I still make all of my own aprons I wear to work …
and
I used to make all of your mother's school clothes.”

Arden winced.

“I finally get it,” Lauren said. “That's why you don't like color, Mom. That's why you dress the way you do. You were scarred by Grandma's wild designs.”

“That's not true,” Arden said, sitting up suddenly, a group of finches on a nearby bird feeder taking flight at the sudden commotion.

“Oh, it is, too,” Lolly said. “I liked a lot of color.”

“You dressed me like a hooker, Mother,” Arden said. “Little girls aren't supposed to wear fire engine red dresses and purple bloomers.”

“You were adorable,” Lolly said. “I can't help that no one appreciated my fashion sense back then.”

Arden shot her mother a look, so Lolly took her granddaughter's hands in hers and asked, “You want to help me get ready for work in a few minutes?”

“Really?” Lauren said. “Yeah. Let me clean up some of these dishes, and go take a shower first, okay?”

“Okay,” Lolly said, patting her granddaughter's knees.

Arden watched her daughter pad away barefoot. When she was out of earshot, Arden said, “How do you know all of that, Mom? About Mary?”

“I asked,” Lolly said simply. “Let me tell you something, my dear. My grandma sat at that sewing machine every single day, mending clothes, making wedding dresses for happy brides, tailoring suits for the town's businessmen, making all of my clothes. I loved the sound of that Singer. The whir of the machine sounded like a million hummingbirds, and it would lull me to sleep out here on the screened porch. She could take a feed sack and make me the most beautiful dress from a pattern. She could take the scraps of rich people's clothes and make us a quilt to keep us warm during long Michigan winters. My mom always tried to give her more charms, but my grandma always refused. ‘I have the only two I ever need,' she'd say. My grandma had terrible arthritis in her later years, and it was hard for her to sew. Her knuckles looked like gumballs, her fingers like bent limbs on a sassafras tree. But she wouldn't stop sewing. One day, I brought her a cup of hot tea while she worked. She patted her lap, and I jumped in it. ‘Let me show you how to do a running stitch,' she said, teaching me the magic of her Singer. When we finished, I looked up at her as she sipped the tea from her favorite desert rose teacup. ‘Tell me about your charms, Grandma,' I said. And she did. Before she died, she gave me that sewing machine charm, and she was buried with her four-leaf clover, right next to her beloved husband. The quilt on our laps was made by your great-grandmother,” Lolly finished, running her hand lovingly over the quilt.

Arden picked at her coffeecake. She stared out onto the lake, embarrassed by the fact she had never known this.

“Well, I need to go get ready for work,” Lolly said, standing up.

“Work?” Arden asked, looking back at her mother. “Mom, you need to rest.”

“No, I need to go to work. I need routine. Isn't that what you and the doctor said?”

“What about us? We're here and want to spend time with you.”

Lolly gave Arden a look that a parent would give a child who just doesn't understand. She walked over and lifted her daughter's chin with her hand. “And I couldn't be happier that you're here. I
need
you so much right now.”

Lolly hesitated, but continued, “I just wish it hadn't taken you so long to come.”

When everyone had left, Arden took a seat on the glider. She felt chilled, from the inside out, and covered herself with the quilt. She fidgeted nervously with an errant thread on the edge, and pulled and tugged until a large seam split, and stuffing began to spill forth.

After a while, Arden fell asleep under the quilt, dreaming that she was drowning in Lost Land. But the lake wasn't filled with water, it was filled with charms. Arden tried to claw her way to the surface, but she slowly sunk to the bottom, until the only things visible at the surface were the charm of a sewing machine and letters on a wave that spelled out:
GUILT
.

 

part four

The Kite Charm

To a Life Filled with High-Flying Fun

 

Ten

Arden jolted awake after a fitful night of sleep, to the sounds of loud music and giggling, rather than the moan of loons and the gentle lapping of the lake.

She tilted her head, like the RCA dog, to listen.

She felt for her glasses on the bedside table made of old birch bark and twigs, kicked the quilt off her body, and groggily shuffled to the window of her childhood bedroom. It was cracked slightly, and Arden gave it a sleepy tug to open it fully.

The ancient window—still the original, wavy glass in a peeling wooden frame balanced on fraying rope pulleys—refused to budge.

Arden crouched, leveraging her palms under the bottom of the frame, and gave it a mighty push. The window went flying all the way up, like a strongman's bell at a carnival attraction.

A cool, morning breeze rushed into the upstairs room, and Arden was transported back to the days of her childhood. This room had been her refuge. Books had been her life raft. And they still lined her room—stacked haphazardly on shelves and on the floor—a sort of literary insulation from her bigger-than-life mother and the too small town where she felt trapped.

Arden scanned the room, and her neck suddenly popped from the stress of opening the stubborn window. She yelped, and reached for the ceiling, hoping a quick yoga stretch would relieve her suddenly screaming vertebrae.

Sun salutation.

The sun was rising over the lake, and Arden smiled at the beauty. She reached high yet again, her body mimicking the tall pines just out her window, whose sky-high tops were towering toward the light and gently swaying in the wind. The sun glinted through the pines and off Arden's glasses.

And that's when she heard—at an excruciatingly loud decibel—the screech of bubblegum pop music.

Katy Perry? “California Gurls”?
she wondered.

Arden leaned out the window, studying the lake, and turned her head left and right to study the lawns and beaches of the surrounding cabins for the source of the music.

Okay, who's making all the noise? It's a tad early in the morning and the week for college kids to kick off Memorial Day with loud music,
she thought.

That's when the floors beneath Arden began to shake violently, and for a second she believed she might actually
be
in California in the midst of an earthquake. The world outside her window, however, was serene. An off-key voice began to sing again.

Mother!
she realized.

Arden tossed on a Northwestern University “Parents” sweatshirt, the static electricity causing her dark hair to stand on end, and carefully navigated the suffocatingly narrow stairwell that led from her tiny bedroom to the downstairs. She tiptoed down the stairs and stopped at the end of the landing.

Lolly and Lauren were dancing in the living room and singing into ladles. “California Gurls” blasted from Lauren's iPad.

Grandmother and granddaughter shimmied across the floor, before turning to kick in unison like Rockettes, their charm bracelets dancing along with them. Lolly was adorned in a platinum blond wig, while Lauren was sporting one of her grandmother's red beehives. Both—
both!
—were wearing bikinis. Lauren was teaching her grandmother “the sprinkler” and how to twerk, while Lolly was showing Lauren how to lindy and twist. They were having a blast.

BOOK: The Charm Bracelet
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