The Traveling Shoebox – chapter 2

Someone in a comment said they couldn’t wait to read chapter 2, which thrilled me 🙂  So here it is

That night, Josephina had a strange dream.  The leaning waitress had all of Gladys’ sketches from the shoebox in frames.  She was talking to the stocky hostess. “Yes, these belong to my stepdaughter.  Isn’t she sweet?  Her father is such a nice man…Here he is now.”  The leaning waitress sat on the couch next to Josephina’s father and put her head on his shoulder. 

            Josephina sat up in bed.  Her face was wet again.  She walked across the guest room and closed the door.  She took her backpack, went into the guest bathroom, and closed that door as well.  Then she got into the tub and turned on the tub light that was set in the ceiling.  Carefully, Josephina spread her mother’s sketches in rows on the bottom of the tub.  The pagoda came first, then theEiffelTower, then Stonehenge, then theGrand Canyon.  She remembered her mother circling each location on the world map.  After filling the tub with sketches, Josephina place the framed photos along the ledge of the tub.  Cathedrals, bridges, The House of Parliament, and a herd of sheep standing on the side of an Alp.  Then Josephina lay down in the tub.  She fell asleep.

            The next morning, Josephina woke to the sound of knocking.  “Yosie-phina, Yosie-phina,” her grandmother called.  “Are you there?  Are you sick?”

            “I’m in here.  I’m fine.  I’ll be out in a minute.”  Josephina climbed out of the bathtub and packed her shoebox.  She hid it under the towels in the cabinet.  After brushing her teeth and putting on her robe, she walked down the hall and into the kitchen.  There was a large pitcher of juice on the table and a plate of muffins with nuts in them.  Josephina looked at her grandmother in surprise.  “I thought you hated cooking.”

            “Your father is in big trouble for saying that.  I can do muffins.  They came from a box.”  She tapped Josephina on the head and began washing the muffin tin.  “Josephina Marguerite Higginbotham.  That is a lot of name for a small person.  I guess you will grow into it.  Of course, maybe you won’t grow as much as me,” her grandmother laughed.  Her grandmother was tall, almost as tall as her son.  And, though she wasn’t fat at all, she was not thin.  Her hair was short and stylish and almost completely silver.  Apparently, her father did color his hair.  Her grandmother also had the family nose, but her eyes were very dark.  Her hands were long and thin, and she wore a diamond wedding band.  She finished washing the tin, dried her hands, and sat down beside her granddaughter.  “Alright, Josephina Marguerite, what should we do now?”

            “Where’s, I mean, where’s….my father?”  It felt strange to say “my father” out loud.

            “Oh, he had to go to his office this morning.  But he cancelled his afternoon classes, and he has promised to take us to lunch.  Did you unpack last night?”

            “I just put my suitcase on the dresser.”

            “Well, you might as well unpack a few things.  After all, you will be here a week.”

            Josephina was puzzled.  “But I thought my room was already painted.”

            “Painted?  Well, yes, that is part of it.  You room used to be the study in Robert’s apartment, where he did his schoolwork.  He is having the large room divided into a den and a study.  It won’t be finished until next week.”

            He’s building a whole room because of me.  I wonder if he wanted to give up his study.  I wonder how big the large room is, if it can be made into two rooms.  Josephina didn’t feel like finishing her muffin, so she took a sip of juice.  “I think I’ll go unpack then.”  She left the juice and went back to the bedroom.

            It didn’t take long for Josephina to unpack.  She placed her socks and underwear in a top drawer.  She placed her gown and shirts in a middle drawer.  Her jeans and pants went into a bottom drawer.  She tossed the shoes into the closet.  Then she closed the bedroom door and retrieved her shoebox from under the towels.  She wasn’t sure why she was hiding it, but she didn’t want anyone asking about it.  She put it in the middle drawer under her shirts.  Then, she took it back out of the drawer and opened it.  She took out the photograph of her mother.  Gladys was wearing a white shirt and a vest, and she was sitting on a green bench in the park where she and Josephina had seen the Shakespeare play.  She was smiling, and she seemed to be looking at something far away.  It was Josephina’s favorite picture of her mother.  She placed it on the dresser beside her father’s family picture.

            “Yosie-phina,” her grandmother called, “I need to talk with you for a minute.  Could you come to the kitchen?”

            Josephina walked down the hall slowly, thinking that her grandmother spent an awful lot of time in the kitchen for someone who hated to cook.

            “There you are.  I have to walk down the street a bit to help a neighbor.  She is old, and she needs help getting ready for an appointment.  Will you be alright few a little while here by yourself?”  Josephina nodded.  “Good girl.  I won’t be long.  Help yourself to anything in the fridge.  You can also watch the television, although I don’t have cable.  The cable channels are full of garbage.”

            Josephina went back to the bedroom and sat on the bed.  She decided it was time to put on real clothing, and she wanted a bath.  In the top drawer of the bathroom counter, she found a small bottle of lavender bath gel.  She poured some of it into the tub while it filled with water.  It was not exactly like a bubble bath, but it was close enough.  Josephina took off her clothes and sank into the tub.  It was so full, water spilled over the side.  She jumped out, mopped up the water with a big towel, and climbed back in.  She moved her feet back and forth just enough to make small waves as she rested her head against the tile wall.  She didn’t know how long her grandmother would be gone, but she hoped to stay in the tub until her toes and fingers were sufficiently pruned.

            After approximately twenty minutes of soaking, Josephina got out of the tub and dried off with a different towel.  She put on jeans and a flowered sweatshirt.  Her hair, as usual, was all over her head.   She ran her fingers through it a few times and pulled it back with a rubber band.  She was brushing her teeth again when she heard her grandmother close the front door and throw her keys on the end table in the living room.  A few seconds later, there was a soft knock at the guest room door.

            “I just wanted to let you know I am back home.  Do you need anything?”

            “No, I’m okay.  I took a bath.”

            “Good, good.  That should make you feel better.  Let me know if you need anything.”

            Strange as it seemed, Josephina was sleepy, though she had only been awake for a couple of hours.  She lay across the striped bedspread and fell asleep.

            “Josephina, Josephina…Where are you?”

            “I’m here, Mama.  I’m right here.”

            “I can’t get out of bed, Jo.  Please go get me some water.”

            “What’s wrong, Mama?  Do you have a fever?”

            “No, I just can’t get up today.  I feel so tired.  I need some water, and I need to sleep.  Could you close the blinds, please?”

            “What’s wrong?  Are you crying?  You never cry, Mama.”

            “Yes I do.  I cry at movies all the time, Jo.”

            “I mean really cry.  Please tell me what’s wrong.”

            “Jo, I am so tired. Please bring me some water.”

            Josephine was cold.  She climbed under the covers and curled up with her back to the window.

            “Mama, it’s time to go…Mama, wake up.  Mama…Please wake up.  Please wake up, Mama!  What are these?  Did you take these?  Mama, please wake up…”

            “Josephine, are you okay?  You’re so quiet in there.  Your father will be home soon.  Are you dressed yet?”

            Josephine sat on the bed and rubbed the sides of her head.  She was groggy from her nap, and she felt heavy all over.  She went into the bathroom and washed her face.  She had to take her hair down and pull it up again.  Little curls were wet with sweat against the back of her neck, so she rubbed some cold water on her neck.  She smoothed the covers and walked into the living room, where her grandmother was reading.

            “Ah, there you are.  You have been sleeping since you got here.  You must have been tired.  Maybe you can get some good rest before you begin school.”

            Instead of sitting on the couch, Josephine walked into the kitchen and looked at the photos on the wall.  “You have a lot of pictures,” she said.

            Ylenia joined her.  “Yes, I love to have these pictures in the kitchen.  I can look at them all the time.  This one,” she pointed to a black and white photograph, “is your grandfather and I when we were married.”  She reached over to another photograph.  “And this is your father on his first birthday.”

            The photograph was in a brown frame.  A little boy with his hair sticking up was sitting at the head of a picnic table.  He was wearing a pointed hat, and there was a large, round cake in front of him.  His cheeks were puffed out, and his mouth formed a small “o,” as if he was about to blow out the candles.

            “I remember that day so well.  Robert’s sister, Julia, was five years old, and she helped your great aunt make the cake.  Julia died last year.”

            “I’m sorry,” Josephina said softly.  She would like to have met her aunt. 

            Ylenia looked at the picture for a moment.  “Yes, well…I think your father will be here soon.  Where would you like to eat lunch?  McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza?”

            “It doesn’t matter, wherever you like to eat is fine.”

            “How about if we let your father decide?” 

            Josephina nodded and smiled.  She noticed a picture in a new silver frame.  It was blurry, but she could make out two people.  They both looked very familiar, but it was hard to tell because they were so blurred.  “Who are those people?”

            Ylenia looked surprised.  “Why, those are your parents before you were born.”

            Josephina stood and looked closely at the picture.  It was her parents.  Her mother’s hair was very long, and she was wearing a dress with a pattern that was hard to see.  Her father was wearing a dark suit, and his hair was curlier.  She realized as she looked closer that they were standing on the small porch of her grandmother’s house.

            “My mother came here?”

            “Yes, about twelve years ago, for your grandfather’s funeral.  She was a charming girl.  That was about three months before Robert got the teaching job and moved back.  It was about a year before you were born, I guess.”

            Josephina wanted to ask more, but her father came through the front door and asked, “Who’s hungry?”  He jingled his keys.  “I have had a long morning.  I am ready to eat.  How about you two?”

            “We’ve been talking and waiting, “ Ylenia answered.  “In fact, we were just admiring my photo gallery.  Josephina has been asking about the family.”

            Robert walked over and looked at the photos on the wall.  He smiled slightly as he scanned over some of his childhood pictures, shaking his head and pointing to the birthday photograph.  Then the new silver frame caught his eye.  He leaned in closer, squinting to make out the blurry images.  “When did you take this picture?”

            “I took the day of your father’s funeral, remember?”

            “Yes, I remember the trip very well,” he gave his mother a look that Josephina didn’t understand.  “I’m surprised you put up a picture.”

            Ylenia looked at the picture and then looked at Josephina.  “Yes, well, I thought it might be a good addition to the wall now.  I know it’s blurry.”  She turned to Josephina.  “Maybe Josephina has a better picture of her mother that she would like to put in a frame.  How about that?”

            Josephina didn’t know what to say.  It was obvious that the blurred picture had sparked some kind of unhappy memory in her father.  Maybe it was because of his dad’s funeral.  Fortunately, Robert saved Josephina from answering.

            “Well ladies, looking at pictures isn’t filling my stomach.  Let’s go to lunch.”

            They ate at a small restaurant with tablecloths and lots of different salads.  It had been Josephina’s grandmother’s idea.  There was soft music playing, and all the waiters were dressed alike.  Most of the people there had on business clothing, and Josephina felt a little self-conscious in her wild hair and blue jeans.  The waiter came to take their order while she was thinking about this.  Robert ordered a soup and salad, Ylenia ordered a Greek salad, and Josephina finally decided on a bowl of potato soup.  It was a little chilly in the restaurant.

            “Now Robert,” Josephina’s grandmother began.  “Josephina is looking forward to spending time with you.  So here is what I thought.  After lunch, you can take me back to the house, and you and Josephina can go out, maybe to a movie or to the park.  When you get home, we’ll make supper plans.”

            “Actually,” said Josephina’s father, “I have some tentative plans.”  He turned to Josephina.  “How would you both like to go to the art museum after lunch?”

            “That would be really nice,” Josephina replied.  She wondered, however, how her father knew that she liked art.  Of course, he and her mother had obviously talked recently, making arrangements for Josephina to come live with him.  She wondered what else her mother had told him.  She wondered if he liked art museums.

            Art museums had been one of Gladys’ favorite places.  Many of Josephina’s earliest memories were of holding her mother’s hand, hearing names like Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali.  Her mother would sit, holding Josephina, and stare at the paintings.  Sometimes Josephina would fall asleep on the narrow bench, and her mother would sketch.  As Josephina walked with her father and grandmother, she saw works by many of the same artists she had heard her mother talk about.

            After strolling through the gallery for some time, they came to a painting by Vincent van Gough.  It was a painting of a large wheat field, with dozens of small crows flying up from the tall grassy wheat.  The title underneath said “Wheatfield with Crows.”  Josephina had seen the painting before in one of her mother’s calendars, and she had always wondered about the place in the painting.  In her mind, she pictured an old farmer with a beard and a straw hat, and an old woman with a flowered apron.

            “Your mother liked Van Gough?” Ylenia’s voice interrupted Josephina’s thoughts.

            “She likes paintings.  She loves to draw,” Josephina answered absently, still thinking about the old farmer and his wife.

            “Your mother seemed like a creative, artistic person.  I am so sorry I only met her once.”

            At that remark, Josephina’s father, who had been standing silently, sighed and walked away abruptly.  Josephina had almost forgotten he was there, and his clipped footsteps on the hard floor brought her mind back into focus.  She wondered why he had walked away.

            “He’s angry with me, dear,” Ylenia answered Josephina’s unspoken question.  “And I suppose he has a right to be.”

            “Why is my father angry with you?”

            Ylenia looked toward her son, then at the floor, then at the painting.  “Sometimes mothers are so protective of their children, or maybe so selfish, that they hurt them without meaning to.”

            “My mother has never hurt me,” Josephina said softly.

            Her grandmother looked at her sadly and fiddled with a strand of her curly hair.  “I’m sure she hasn’t, Josephina.”  Ylenia looked at the painting for another moment.  “Let’s go home.  It’s almost time for supper.”

 

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