The decline into dishevelment lands me in a soft place, surrounded by discarded jackets, scarves, and woolen hats. Under the coffee table lies the computer bag which served me well trudging through both forest and cityscape on my NorCAL adventure. All the lampshades have gone cock-eyed and I don’t recall watering the three plants which survived a winter indoors since before I left town.
I’ve pulled the Easter baskets from a top shelf and run my fingers around the edges of the name tag. In faded writing, my first name reminds me of the patience that my mother showed to her scrapping kids arguing over who owned each Chocolate sugar-coated haul. I don’t have to close my eyes to see the olive tone of her worn face or the faded edges of Revlon lipstick drifting from the curve of her smile. She gently slips the coconut egg from Frank’s loot and trades it for something of mine. Every time I avoid coconut these days, I remember the struggles of the penultimate Corley child with asthma, fifty years ago, fifty revolutions of the Earth around the sun in hour upon hour of love and life and laughter.
Now my small self makes a row of the orbs which we’ve dubbed blah eggs. They wobble but stay relatively straight. I sort them by color. The banana curls of my long mud-red hair hang in coils down my back. One spills forward as I focus on my counting. Ten blah eggs, two bon-bons (one pink, one green), a half-dozen marshmallow bunnies, twenty-five jelly beans of assorted colors. Two of my favorite: Black. At the head of the candy parade stands my bunny, still clad in her foil attire and fully possessed of both ears.
An arm swipes across the lot and my head snaps to attention. Mark runs into the sunroom, his laughter trailing behind his darting heels. I begin the patient count all over as the little boys, Frank and Steve, squabble over claims that each makes of promises to trade one find for another. A bowl of colored hard-boiled eggs stands in the middle of the table. From the kitchen, my mother’s voice admonishes us not to eat any more candy. The baskets will be taken from us soon.
Ten blah eggs, two bon-bons (one pink, one green), a half-dozen marshmallow bunnies, twenty-five jelly beans of assorted colors. Two black. I hold one of the black jelly beans with the tips of two fingers and put it carefully between my lips. My fingers turn grey as I suck the flavor — licorice over something vaguely tasting of vanilla.
Mother tells us, Okay now, set the table, as she carries platters of fried eggs and bacon into the breakfast room. I’m the only one who obliges her. I line the knives with their flat edge facing outward, towards the spoon. The forks sit alone on the left with a triangle of paper napkin underneath them. We save the cloth ones for Easter dinner, when I will have the job of tucking the folded squares inside our sterling silver napkin holders, each with an engraved name.
The eight Corley children flank the table. Mother sits at one end. My father comes from the living room, smelling of Camel Straights and stale beer. He never goes to church with us, and he could shower twenty times and the stink of last night’s bar would still seep from his pores. He sits next to me and says, Get your elbows off the table, Mark.
We know that voice. Mark hurries to comply. Then we bow our heads, and Dad says grace. Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive through thy bounty, through Jesus Christ amen. We cross ourselves, top, middle, left, right. Then someone says, Pass the salt, please.
The plate of eggs makes a single round. We run out of bacon before it gets to me but I don’t mind. The boys need it more than I do. Still, my father splits one of his pieces in half and winks at me as he places a piece on my plate. I smear grape jelly on toast and press the crisp meat into the purple glaze. When I fold the bread, a little bit of jelly oozes out. I close my eyes and take the smallest imaginable bite. I want the treat to last. Each nibble tingles the tip of my tongue and blends the sweetness with the yoke of the egg lingering there.
After breakfast, the boys argue about whose turn it is to wash or dry the dishes. Dryer puts away silverware, so we all prefer to wash. Nobody likes to lay the silverware on a towel and dry each one, then haul them over to the drawer where they live. I volunteer for that task. Mark, Kevin, and I begin the job of getting breakfast dishes done, so Mom can start making the Easter dinner. My father goes into the living room to read the paper. Frank and Steve retreat to the sunroom to count their candy all over again and heckle each other about who has more jelly beans. My older sisters vanish somewhere, to lie on a bed and read, or sit on the porch talking.
Five decades later, sitting with the heating pad on my healing back, I glance around the house for signs of Easter. Dust dulls the wooden surfaces. The old rattan blinds hang crooked over dirty windows. Other than the aloe plant, nothing green thrives here — no cellophane sheaf of daffodils, no paper-whites springing from bowls of pebbles and clear water.
Outside, the red-tinged edges of the Japanese maple peak above the window sill. Buds sprang from the awkward, rangy umbrella maple this week. I keep praying the weather will hold so maybe, just maybe, Hazel’s irises will bloom full this year. I sip my coffee, but its cold bitterness tells me that I have waited too long. A ragged sigh courses through me. Oh Mom, I say, outloud, to no one. Happy Easter, happy spring, Happy, Happy Everything.