Your Mama, Alice
By Lorraine Anderson
Do not open until January 25, 1999
My dear daughter,
And you are my dear daughter, whom I love very much. I look into your crib and see the smile of the beautiful woman you will become. And I wish I could stay around to enjoy you longer. But I must leave, and someday you'll know why.
I must seal this. If someone else finds this... particularly your father, whom I love with all my heart but has very little imagination... he will think this to be the raving of my illness. He will think the cancer has spread to my brain, and what I'm about to tell you is my imagination going wild. But you'll know it isn't, and I know my mind has never been clearer. My body may be failing, but I am in God's hands.
I know that now, more than ever.
I hope you know the power of prayer. That's what happened to me today. I witnessed God's power first hand. Oh, I know what you say. That man you work for is no God; he drives you crazy, but he's just a man trying to do good. But God's working through him, my darling. I know.
Where to start? I was in my bedroom, lying on the bed, weak as a butterfly, looking through my lace curtains at the day. The sun was shining, and I could see the clouds skittering across the sky like cotton puff angels, always in a hurry. I sat up in order to see better and looked around the neighborhood. I was weak, and the movement made me clutch the bed convulsively. I must've made a small noise, because your grandmama was startled out of a sound sleep in the old rocking chair.
"Something wrong, honey?" she said, fussing around me, tucking the blanket around my legs.
"No, Mama. It's just such a nice day, I wanted to see it better."
She smiled, and her fussing increased. "You'll see a lot more nice days, Alice. You need to conserve your strength so that you can get better."
I looked at her sharply, then smiled. She didn't mean anything by it; she actually believed I would get better. "I'm dying, Mama," I said gently. "I know it and Charles knows it. Please accept it."
Tears filled her eyes, but she shook her head. "You are not dying, darling. You just need a little rest."
I smiled. She knew the truth. She just didn't want to admit it to herself. "Yes, Mama."
Just then, you let out a bellow the whole neighborhood must have heard. Mama turned toward the sound, then looked at me. "Go ahead, Mama. I'll be all right." Normally, your daddy would've taken care of you, but he was at work. I insisted. He would've lost his job if he didn't go. You probably know I used to work before my illness. Money was tight. Money was always tight, but imagination makes it stretch. That, and the little garden your daddy put out back and creative recipes and using and reusing and not throwing away scraps.
I sat back on the bed. I heard Mama coo at you, and you settled down. You were always a good baby. A happy baby. A knowing baby, as if you could look right into my eyes and see my soul. "What was wrong, Mama?"
"Nothing that a diaper change and a bottle can't cure," came the cheery reply.
"I'd like to feed her, Mama." She popped her head in on the way to the kitchen, her eyes questioning. "With the bottle, Mama, of course." I was sad I had no milk for you, but cow's milk seemed to make you just as happy. "And I'll hold her."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm strong today, Mama." I was. I felt stronger that day than I had in a long time. The Lord's blessing, I think. He know what I was going to ask, and he knew I had to be strong to handle what was to come.
She laid the baby in my arms, and you cooed up at me. I smiled at you, and then smiled at Mama. "I'll get the bottle ready."
"Don't hurry," I said. Then I said, "Watch the stove, Mama. Charles says it's acting up. Won't light the first thing."
"Your Mama can handle those gas stoves," she said defiantly, and I smiled. Mama was tough, but she grew up with wood stoves, and modern technology sometimes scared her. Mama left the room, and I looked down at your wonderful face. At times like that, I had a hard time that you had come out of me, had been part of my body and part of my soul.
You smiled up at me. I smiled back, then felt the tears start. They dripped down from my face onto your nose, and you sneezed a tiny baby sneeze and looked so surprised that I giggled. I sat up in bed, looked down at you, then the old bitterness started up. I wouldn't see you growing up. I wouldn't see you with children of your own. You wouldn't even know me or remember me. I had Charles promise that he would find another wife, and you would call that woman "mama," not me. I wouldn't even be a distant memory. And I'm so young, only thirty-four.
I closed my eyes, tears leaking out, and wished I could get down on my knees. But the Lord would understand. "Lord Jesus, savior of us all, I do wish I could see my child grown up..."
I don't know what I expected to happen. Nothing I could see, I suppose. The Lord usually doesn't work that way. Oh, he works miracles, I know that with all of my heart, but miracles have never happened with me before. But as I sat there, hunched over you, I found myself surrounded by a bright light. I had time to gasp, then I found myself lying down, staring up at a bright blue ceiling, weak as an unstarched bedsheet.
"Is this heaven?" I whispered.
Now, my body might be failing, but my eyes and my nose and my ears are as good as they ever were. I heard a noise and turned my head. A door. A metalic door, just as odd as those odd sci-fi movies your Uncle James used to drag me to every other afternoon when I was babysitting him. But the door wasn't quite closed.
"Sam's Leapt, Admiral," said a woman's voice.
"Do you know who he is this time, Doctor?" came a weary voice, all gravelled.
"I haven't had a chance to go in. The Leapee came in unconscious, and I'd like Dr. Rambadt to go in with me before I disturb our guest."
I saw two dark eyes peeking in. They seemed so concerned and so kind, that I smiled. I should have been scared, I supposed, but I was in the Lord's arms, I knew, and He comforted me. "Come in, Admiral," I said. I tried to raise my head, but couldn't.
The eyes became alarmed, and the Admiral came in. Admiral of what, I didn't know, because he was wearing a purple shirt, a yellow tie, and black trousers with silver piping down the side. I couldn't help it. I giggled.
He kept going until he leaned over me, and I could see him sniff my breath. At that moment, I knew I wasn't in heaven. I smelled cigar smoke on his clothes, and I don't know what kind of aftershave that was, but it smelled so good that it had to be outlawed.
I smiled slowly. "I'm not drunk, Admiral, and I can save your Doctor his time."
"Her time, actually," the Admiral said.
"I have Cancer, Admiral." There. The word was out. Although I knew I was dying, this was the first time I had said the word. "I'm dying."
I saw his eyes look at me, although his face became blank. They are kind eyes, you know, darling, even though I saw behind them a quick temper, a mercurial nature, and a weariness beyond knowing.
"Among other things," he said. "This place is a hospital. Maybe we can help."
I was already shaking my head. "I'm beyond human help, Admiral. The Cancer is all through me."
"At least we can get you off this hard table."
"That would be nice." I said. I looked around, but couldn't see much more than a door and a blue ceiling and blue walls. "How did I get here?"
The Admiral snorted. "We'll discuss that later. 'Bena," he yelled out the door. "We need the hospital bed in here."
I felt a shock go through my body, and I stared at the Admiral's back. Did he say what I thought he said? I wondered, but didn't dare hope. It was just a coincidence.
Yet, didn't this change come after I was praying?
The Admiral turned back to me. "I hope you won't mind if we ask you a few questions to test your memory?"
The Lord has blessed me with an talent to tell when people were lieing, while, at the same time, insured that I couldn't tell a lie to safe my life. I stutter, I stammer and when young, I never could understand when Mama could tell I was lieing. Anyway, that's how I could tell the Admiral wasn't quite telling the truth. He didn't want to test my memory, he had no idea who I was. And I didn't want to tell him, not yet.
"Who are you?" I countered.
"Admiral Al... what? And what is your Christian name?"
He smiled, raising an eyebrow. "Albert."
"That's not telling me your last name. And I won't tell you mine until you tell me yours."
"Rather childish, isn't it?"
I sighed and closed my eyes, then looked at the door. "I have a reason. Ask me another question."
"What's the date?"
"November 16, 1954."
"Good. And where..."
"Do I live? Chicago, Illinois." I told him the address, too, the current stats of the Chicago Cubs, the Mayor, the President, and our representatives and senators.
He raised his eyebrows, then scrunched them together. "I don't believe there's anything wrong with your memory."
"And you expected me to have a problem?" I smiled. "You did, didn't you?"
"I can't tell you."
I was about to press it when the door opened, and in came a hospital bed, with a couple of big strong fellows and... you. You looked so much like my Mama, tears came to my eyes.
"What's wrong?" Albert asked.
I couldn't take my eyes off you. "Verbena Alicia Beeks?"
You stood stock still. I knew I was right. Then you came over to look into my face. I know now why you didn't recognize me; I didn't know then.
I think you saw something in my eyes, though, because you said, "Yes. I'm Verbena Beeks."
I looked at the ceiling, felt my face get wet, then looked at you again. "'bena, I'm your Mama," I said gently. "I'm Alice." I looked up at the ceiling again, I couldn't forget to thank the arranger of this meeting. "Thank you, Lord, for answering my prayer."
"I'm Alice. I'm your real Mama." I looked at her avert her eyes. "Did Charles re-marry? I told him to."
She nodded tightly.
I smiled, but I was a bit sad. "Then his wife is your Mama. But I love you just as much as your Mama." I shifted on the bench. "Can we move to the bed? And you better talk to your Admiral. I think he's about ready to burst his bladder."
They moved off, and while the men were moving me, I listened to you. The Admiral was terribly worried about a man named Sam, who he said was in my place, and he didn't know whether there was any bleedover from my physical condition, and Ziggy still wasn't sure what Sam was supposed to do there. You said, no, I think the Leap is for Alice. She died shortly after this. Which I knew was coming, don't feel bad that I heard.
I wondered about how a man could take my place in my house, then I caught a glimpse of myself from the underside of the table. I looked at my hands, which looked just the same, then at my reflection again, then I understood how he could take my place. I may not have had a college education, darling, but I know what's what, and I figured that your Sam was in my place, in my time, probably looking like me to others, and I knew that I was in yours.
You really shouldn't put a mirrored table in that room, darling. I knew I was in the arms of the Lord. Others aren't as certain. You must scare a lot of people to death.
You told the Admiral to tell Sam the situation. You also said to watch her Grandmama... you weren't sure, but you thought Grandmama got hurt around this time, trying to re-light that stove that she apparently forgot and left the gas on, and got burns on her face and a badly broken leg which got infected and had to be taken off. That stove. I knew that stove isn't any good, but we can't afford much better.
I prayed to the Lord to take care of Mama, then laid back and felt a little better. The Admiral came over and said, "Mrs. Beeks, I have to go now. Take care of yourself."
I smiled. "And you take care of your Sam. If you have to make Mama believe that I'm getting better, go ahead, but don't let Mama near that stove."
He looked startled, and I pointed at my ears. "My body is failing, but I have good hearing, Admiral Al."
He chuckled, then pointed thumbs up. Laying a hand on my arm, "I'm glad I met you."
"Take care of Verbena."
He rolled his eyes, and from that I gather you got my willpower. "She takes care of herself."
"Good. So long, Admiral."
He smiled. "So long." Grabbing something out of his pocket, something bright and flashing, he left the room.
Then you came over, and we talked. I don't need to tell you what we talked about, you know that as much as I do. I am so happy you're a psychologist. You must be the first in our family to be college educated, and I'm so proud of you.
But then it was time to go. I felt it in my heart, then the Admiral came in to say that Sam prevented Mama from lighting the stove, and Mama didn't have so much as a scratch. Much as I wanted to stay with you, I didn't want to die there, I wanted to be back with the baby you, and Charles, and Mama one last time.
We hugged, you stepped back, and I relaxed back on the bed, and when I opened my eyes, I was in my own room, and the lace curtains were moving with the warm night breeze. Charles was snoring next to me, and I gave him a little kiss and got out of bed. I looked in at you next, then Mama. Then I sat at the little table in our room to write you a letter.
I think I may die tonight or tomorrow; the Lord doesn't pass out that information. But I die with peace, knowing that you turn out wonderful.
Verbena, I will look over you always - I know that now - and I look forward to our reunion in the next world. I love you.
Your Mama Alice.