She is always very harsh. Stern. Quick.
Her voice carries over the voices of others'. In the park, in the supermarket. Her hair always in a tight bun perched painstakingly atop her head. High forehead, hardly lined. Thin lips. Beady blue eyes. Hidden smile.
"Here. Bring it here, Bella."
Not an overt type of love, but I knew. I always knew it was there. Somehow, I could tell.
Every weekend, we would visit my grandma. An exact replica, yet aged. Where my mother's hair is brown, there is grey. Blue eyes turned milky. High forehead, lined. Thin, pinched lips. Hidden smile.
She makes us chicken. It takes all day. I've never smelled anything so good.
Us, a trio of women, perched around a table so dank and dusty it is as though we sit amidst a crypt. Yet, still, it is alive. Alive with our voices and our smells, our ideas and quick laughs and gossiped stories.
She was 89 when she died on the second story bedroom of her home, my grandma. Sitting alone in the bed reading one of her usual magazines. Old age or fatigue or something related to something. She hadn't been to the doctor in a decade.
"If I'm broke, I'm too dang old to be fixed," she always said.
I remember listening as my mother sobbed openly in the living room, thin arms clutched around a flowery pillow, a layer of dust covering the table to her right.
I stood behind the kitchen doorway confused, yet knowing.
My hands, young and pliable, clutch the worn wood as the aids lift her from the house covered by a sheet drawn tight no air not breathing done.
"I know you don't understand," my mother said, callused hands cupping my cheeks, hair brushed from my forehead, blue eyes on my brown. "But you will."
I understood then and I understand now, while my own mother lays in a hospital bed, all wires and tubes.
Freak accident, they say.
Drunk driver, they whisper.
At seventeen, I am my mother in wits and personality and picture. My hair is brown as her hair is. My skin pale as ivory, nearing sallow, just as hers is. We are petite, yet firm. Not thin, not thick. Small nose. Small lips. Our only difference lies in eyes. Mine are brown while hers, blue. A gift from an unspoken father, a permanent reminder on my face of what once was, but has never truly been.
I take care of her. I bring her water and food, to no avail. I help her move around on the bed. I read to her. I tell her stories. I tell her jokes. I pretend that everything is normal, that her hand in my hand is not limp. That her eyes do not flutter anxiously beneath closed lids. That the sound of her heart beating slow is strong, not weak.
Mother becomes daughter, daughter to mother.
She never wakes. We never wake her.
So it goes.
I am shipped off to Washington State, a foreign land of rain and trees and fathers.
"Bella," he says, his voice gruff. He stands at security. I recognize him from hazy pictures kept in hidden drawers in my mother's now empty nightstand. He has aged tremendously. I see nothing of myself in him. He puts on a smile that is forced and pained, and offers to carry my luggage in his meaty hands.
"I know you've never been here before . . ." he trails off. I nod, staring out the window at the landscape.
It is tree after tree after tree, all pushed up on each other, straining for more room. I imagine getting lost only three feet in, surrounded on all sides by lumbering timber and heavy, pine-needled branches.
"Well, you're lucky that it's the beginning of the year. Forks High was more than willing to take you on for your senior year. You'll be starting a week late, of course, but that's not very much to catch up on."
"And well, you know, the town isn't very big, so I'm sure everyone will be very welcoming to you. I've told our neighbors that you're coming and all that, so they shouldn't be surprised . . ."
As he rambles I think of dark rooms in Arizona, where the sunlight only barely penetrates thick, age-encrusted blinds. I think of grandmas and mothers and generations of women, crowded in a room with piles of food. Tight buns atop heads, blue eyes, hidden smiles.
"Here we are," he says. We pull up to a house that is small, but quaint. A thin layer of green moss covers the roof, and two huge pine trees crowd in on either side. On both sides of the trees are mirror images of his own, though painted a few shades lighter or darker.
"Over there are the Stanley's," he says, motioning to the right as I pull my luggage from the back of the truck. "They have a daughter about your age. I see her sometimes with her boyfriend." His eyes turn stern and disapproving.
"And over there are Mr. Cullen and his wife, Angela. Edward and Angela are very nice people. They moved in a few years back from some town in California. I'm sure they'll be very welcoming."
I glance over to the house. All of the windows are closed. The driveway is empty.
We bring my stuff up to a small room on the second floor. The walls are tan. There is a twin bed in the corner with a off-white down comforter and two stacked pillows.
"It isn't much, I know. But we can decorate." He clears his throat. Shifts from one foot to the other. Looks uncomfortable.
"It's great," I offer.
He moves toward the door.
"If you need me . . ." he trails off, gestures downstairs.
I spend the rest of the day unpacking. Clothes neatly arranged according to size and color, pattern and type. Folded neatly in my dresser, hanging carefully in my closet. Everything has its place. Downstairs, I hear a knock on the door.
Pleasant voices filled with smiles.
"Bella! Come downstairs!"
I descend the stairs slowly. They creak beneath my feet. Turning the corner into the kitchen, I come upon the carefully smiling faces of what could only be Mr. and Mrs. Cullen.