CRACK IN THE WORLD
Emily woke early that first Sunday in the new bedroom she shared with her two younger sisters, Lily and Katie in East Providence, RI. She thought she heard voices downstairs, so she got up, went to the top of the stairs, and listened. She heard her mother, Sarah, saying goodbye to her father, Joe. She then heard a door close, so she walked over to the window which faced the front of the house. She could see the driveway from the window as she watched Sarah help her maternal grandmother, Bertie into the front seat of their car. Emily recalled that the previous evening she overheard her mom tell her dad she and Bertie were going to the 8 a.m. Mass the following morning. That meant her father was downstairs . . . alone. A feeling of fear told Emily to be very quiet. She didn’t want her dad to know she was up. God, don’t let him hear me. I don’t want him to bother me this morning, she thought.
As she watched their car disappear over the crest of the hill, something caught Emily’s eye. She squinted as she looked across the street to a meadow that sat in the back of the brown house directly across the street. At the edge of the meadow, she saw what appeared to be a strange tree. From her window, the tree looked as if it was growing sideways. She had never seen a tree so intriguing or inviting, so she slipped out of her pajamas and slid on her jeans, and a sweatshirt. She then held her tennis shoes close to her chest and tip-toed back over to the door of the bedroom, stepped out into the hall, and listened. Hearing nothing, she tip-toed halfway down the stairs, cocked her head, and listened harder. She was sure she could hear the bathroom shower. Believing her dad was in the shower, she quietly walked down the remaining stairs making sure she avoided the creak in the second stair from the bottom, said another prayer, and slipped out of the house.
It was beautiful outside! The sky was blue, the air was crisp and the smell of spring filled her nostrils. She took a huge breath as she thanked the heavens for not giving her away, sat down on the front stoop, and slipped on her tennis shoes. She then stood up and took in another deep breath as she walked across the street and through the yard of the brown house to the tree. She was right. It was a very unusual tree that was indeed growing sideways.
Wow, what a cool tree; better be careful though. That’s all I need, to go back home all scraped up, she thought. So she put her right foot on the tree trunk, hoisted herself up, and stood for just a few seconds making sure the tree could support her. Once she felt confident that she wouldn’t fall off, she walked up the tree trunk to the first large branch that jutted upward toward the sky, grabbed the branch, and sat down. Dad would never think to look for me here. I’m safe up here. I’m going to wait till Mom and Grandma come home before going back in.
With her legs dangling as she happily swung them back and forth, she looked out over the meadow and thought, it’s so pretty up here. I love this tree! This can become my secret hiding place. She then crossed her arms, hugged herself, and thought, it’s cozy and I feel extra safe as her eyes darted over the green field. She spotted a rabbit and two little babies. She hugged herself again and took in yet another big breath of air.
The boy in the brown house had just gotten up. He was in the upstairs bathroom when he parted the window curtains, looked out the back window of the house, and saw Emily. Captivated by her image, he was curious to know who she was. Could she be from the family that moved in across the street? He wondered.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was tiny yet, with the sun now framing her body, she seemed larger than life. Her long hair, flame red, caught the early morning sun and a light breeze tossed it to and fro. He blushed to himself as he watched her. But, he didn’t want to miss this opportunity; so, he tore himself from the window, threw on his jeans, shirt, and tennis shoes, and grabbed a light jacket. It was April in Rhode Island so he knew he’d be chilled without the jacket.
He ran down the stairs as Martha, his grandmother called out to him, “Where are you going, Sean?”
“To say hi to the new girl who just moved in. I’ll be at the slant tree. I won’t be long.”
“Don’t forget your mom will pick you up at 8:30. I don’t want to send you home without breakfast; your mom will think I’m neglectful.”
“Ok, Grandma. Call me when breakfast is ready. Bye. Gotta go before she’s gone.”
He stood at the base of the tree when the little girl turned to see him staring.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Am I trespassing?”
“No. The tree isn’t ours. I saw you from the upstairs window and was curious. Are you my grandma’s new neighbor?”
“Yes, we moved on Friday. It’s so pretty here. I saw the tree from my bedroom window and couldn’t help myself. I had to come to see it. I’ve never seen a tree like this!”
“Do you mind if I come up?”
“Come on up! My name’s Emily. What’s yours?”
“Sean Mahoney. Pleased to meet you, Emily. What’s your last name?”
She brushed her hair back with her hand. “Callaway.”
He smiled as he sat down. “Emily Callaway. I like that.”
“Thanks, Sean,” Emily said as she turned beet red.
Sean couldn’t help blushing as well. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He’d never seen such a pretty girl as he noticed her milk-white skin with tiny brownish freckles, full cherry red lips, and flame-red, curly hair.
She pointed to the brown house, “Is that your house?”
“No. It’s my grandma’s house. I’m here for the weekend. I live just outside Boston with my mom. It’s far, but not too far. I’m going home today. Grandma will probably call me for breakfast soon,”
“I’ve never seen a tree like this,” repeated Emily as she moved over giving him more room to sit. “How did it get like this?”
Sean scratched his head and squinted from the sun. “I’m not totally sure; but when my gramps was alive he used to tell me about a hurricane that came through and knocked the tree over. Bay View convent owns this land but no one ever removed the tree so it just grew sideways like this. The kids call it the slant tree.”
She stretched her body looking for the convent. “Slant tree. I like that. Where’s the convent?”
He raised his arm and pointed. “Oh, it’s up there. You can’t see it from here. There’s a grapevine grove up there too. Sometimes you can see the sisters picking grapes. I think they make wine with them.”
He then smiled and asked, “Are you an only child?”
“God, no. I have an older brother and two younger sisters. My grandmother lives with us too. She’s not well though. She has a hard time walking and can’t remember much of anything; but I love her. I remember when she was well. She used to be a lot of fun. Now she’s just sad.”
“What happened to her?”
“She had something called a stroke. I don’t understand it but it made her act like a child. It makes me sad. I love my grandma with all my heart. She used to be my best friend; but, now she hardly ever remembers my name.” Her tone was sad as it trailed off.
Looking puzzled he asked, “What about your parents?”
“Well, my mom doesn’t work and my dad’s in the Navy. That’s why we’re here. He was transferred to a base here.”
Emily then asked Sean, “What about your parents?”
Sean answered. “My mom works for a lawyer’s office.” Then his voice sounded crestfallen. “I don’t have a dad. He died several years ago.”
“I’m sorry, Sean. What….”
Her question was cut short when they heard someone calling Sean’s name.
“Sean!” yelled Martha. “Breakfast is ready and you only have 20 minutes to eat it. Hurry up boy!”
Sean looked over his shoulder to see his grandmother standing on the stoop holding the screen door open. He waved at his grandma then extended his hand to Emily.
She extended hers and they shook which made Emily again blush.
“When will you be back?” she asked.
“I’ll be back the weekend after next. Can I visit with you again?”
“I’d love that. I need to go in too. Mom just pulled into the driveway. She went to early Mass this morning with Grandma. I’m sure she’ll be wondering where I am.”
They both jumped down off the tree, smiled and waved good bye.
Standing at the door, Sean waited a little while as he watched Emily run across the yard, then street. She turned as she reached her door and smiled.
She was surprised he was still watching; so she waved again and went in.
Sean ran in through the screen door slamming it shut as Martha called out, “What’s the matter with you, boy. You’re going to break that door one of these days. Now hurry up and eat. I left a plate on the table for you.”
Soon, Martha walked back into the kitchen. She was putting the last pin in her hair as she rounded the corner. Sean had already finished eating and was cleaning his plate and utensils as she entered.
“That’s a good boy. You’ll make someone a wonderful husband one day. You’re so considerate.”
“Grandma, what’s a stroke? Emily’s grandma had one. Emily said her grandma is sad now.”
“Well, Sean, a stroke is when someone has a blood clot that travels to the brain and either bursts or blocks off the blood supply which causes the brain to suffer from lack of oxygen. It’s what killed your grandpa. He had what’s called a massive stroke.”
Sean stared off into space wondering about his grandpa and Emily’s grandma’s sadness. He remembered how alive and full of energy his grandpa was just months before he died. It made Sean sad to think about his grandpa and now Emily’s grandma.
“So, Sean, what’s Emily like? You did say her name is Emily, right?”
“Yea, Emily. Well, she’s really sweet and seems very smart. Oh (he blushed), she’s also cute. I think I’m going to enjoy my visits more now. Uh, uh…I mean I already enjoy my visits. I just….” Sean turned even redder.
Martha laughed in a girlish manner, “I get it, Sean. I wasn’t this old forever you know. I remember the first time I met your grandpa. Now he was a looker. Are you all packed and ready to go? I think I just heard your mom’s car drive up.”
“I just have to throw a few things into my bag. I’ll go do that now. Love you, Grandma!”
“I love you too, Sean.”
As Sean flew up the stairs, his mom, Beth walked in the door looking worn out.
Beth’s voice reflected how tired she was. “Hi, Martha. Has Sean been good for you?”
“Sean is always good, Beth; he reminds me so much of Davie when he was Sean’s age. Plus, I think he has a crush on the little girl who just moved in across the street. Her family moved in a few days ago. Looks like a brood of kids. I counted four,” laughed Martha.
“You look tired, Beth. Have you been having a hard time sleeping again?”
Beth dropped to one of the wooden kitchen chairs, “I’ve been working a lot. I worked till about nine last night and then a little when I got home. I take the bar next week and I’ve been studying like a dog. I just hope I pass it. My boss told me he’d ask the partners to give me a shot at practicing with them. That would mean a pretty sizeable raise which we sure could use.”
Martha patted Beth’s hand. “I’m proud of you, Beth. I know your dad would’ve been proud of you as well. So would Davie. I know he’s looking down and smiling at everything you’ve accomplished these past five years. He’d be proud of how you’re raising his son. I sure am. Sean’s such a good, sweet boy.”
Martha changed the subject. “How’s your mom doing?”
“She’s doing ok. My youngest sister finally got her degree in medicine and has moved back in with Mom. Sal’s going to do her internship at the hospital a few miles from Mom’s house. That should work out well for both of them. I worry about Mom sometimes though. She never knows when to slow down.”
Martha chuckled. “Your mom’s a go getter, that’s for sure. Is she still selling real estate?”
Beth nodded her head. “Yes. That’s what I mean about never slowing down. She just pushes herself.”
Martha tilted her head slightly and grinned. “Well, I guess that’s where you get your drive.”
Beth chuckled. “Well, I guess I can’t argue with that one now, can I.”
They both laughed as Sean popped back into the room.
Beth got up from the kitchen table and patted him on the head. “Thanks for being ready on time, Sean. Now, kiss your grandma and go load up the car, we need to get going. We don’t want to be the ones late for my boss’ party.”
He pecked Martha on the cheek. “Ok. Love you, Grandma. I’ll see you two Fridays from now. Say hi to Emily if you see her, ok?”
"I wil, Sean." Martha smiled. "Now be a good boy for your mom. I love you too."