The Warm Spot on the Frosty Lawn by Paula Ray

Aunt Charlotte waltzed across the room – every step she took was in three quarter time. I remember her costume jewelry casting kaleidoscope reflections on the wall, as I hid in the cornered shadows behind the band’s sound technician, who pulled levers and turned knobs like an air-traffic controller. The band played the kind of canned music sprayed on your head as you go down the aisle of a supermarket. Everything about the reception was stale, except Charlotte.

Earlier that day, Dad married his live-in girlfriend, four years after shacking up. I tried to look happy, seated next to two bratty step-brothers, who once stole my bra when we went camping and used it for show and tell. They were in elementary school; I was in junior high. They lived with Dad; I lived with my grandparents – two blocks down the road.

These little monsters had officially become my family and I secretly wanted to make action figure voodoo dolls of them both and torture them from the privacy of my own room. Charlotte would never have had such dark thoughts; deep down, I wanted to be like her, even then.

Forest was the cutest boy in seventh grade. He had black hair and freckles, one blue eye and one brown. I had a dog with eyes like that, before Mama died. Maybe that’s why I found myself drawn to Forest, but I can’t speak for the other fifty or so girls who drooled over him. I watched a cluster of such girls bat their eyes and flash tinsel smiles at him from across the room of the reception. I was glad he didn’t seem interested, even though he didn’t notice me either, but no one did; I certainly couldn‘t hold that against Forest.

Grandmother pulled her usual stunt, claiming to have diarrhea to get out of going to the wedding. Dad was accustomed to such excuses, we all were. They got her out of doctor’s appointments, dinner engagements, even Easter Sunday church service.

Granddaddy pissed her off last Christmas, when he wrapped a package of adult diapers and put them under the tree with a card attached: Darling, wear these with pride the next time you get invited somewhere special. She was expecting the snake-skin shoes she’d put on lay away at her favorite shoe store. She didn’t speak to Granddaddy again ‘til New Years, when his resolutions included showing her more respect and kindness.

Granddaddy had to stay home and tend to Miss Poopy Britches, so there I was, alone, with my camera, wearing a pink and lavender ruffled dress my new mother made me wear. It looked like a Barbie dress, the one that matched the plastic dream house. Come to think of it, it did match the curtains in the double-wide Dad’s bride picked out. I was hideous, nothing like Charlotte.

All the good-looking single guys (even the not-so-good-looking single guys, and the fat ugly married old men) flirted with Charlotte, who‘d just graduated with a teaching degree. She was not only gorgeous; she had a lot of patience, which she needed to be able to gently turn away starry-eyed suitors. She’d dance with one guy and before the song was over, another would cut in and attempt to steal her away. Grandmother said she was a slut, but she said I was one too and I knew for a fact that was a lie; I hadn’t even kissed a boy, yet. I figured Charlotte was the kind of slut I’d be proud to become. I used up half a roll of film photographing my favorite aunt that day; I only took two pictures of my Dad and Bride-Bitch and zero pictures of my two slimy step-siblings.

I walked outside to the back patio, behind the fellowship hall, and sat in a metal folding chair covered with white toile and adorned with a tacky pink and lavender gossamer bow. Even at my age, I knew those decorations were atrocious and a massive waste of money. And to think, Dad told me he couldn’t afford to give me any money to go skating the weekend prior. I guess those stupid chairs were more important to him than I was, but that didn’t come as a shock.

Bundled in my wool coat, I blew breath-fog-smoke-signals in the air: S-o-m-e-o-n-e R-e-s-c-u-e M-e. No one noticed. That’s when I saw Charlotte, on the frosty lawn. She was holding hands with a man I didn‘t recognize, but I could tell by the way they were looking at each other – Charlotte was holding his hand just as much as he held hers. I’d never seen her grasp onto anyone quite like that and I’d been watching her all my life, she was my role model, certainly not Grandmother. I took their picture, tried to capture their expression – the emotion. It was as if she had a kite-heart attached to his pulse and being close to him was all it took to lift her off the ground. Vicariously, I felt myself soaring.

I was so engrossed in watching the couple on the lawn; I didn’t hear Forest come up behind me. He didn’t say a word, he just handed me his green knit gloves with a smile. I put my fingers in the warm mossy gloves and felt his heartbeat still throbbing in the fibers. It was a feeling I never felt again, until much later in life, when I came to bed one cold evening and my husband, who’d been in bed reading for quite a while, slid over and offered me the warm spot his body heat had created, then pulled the blanket up around me. He didn’t say a word, but he had the same smile Forest gave me the evening of my father’s wedding – the evening I’d photographed a similar smile Charlotte had given the mystery man she married the following spring on the church lawn, after it had thawed and filled with blooms.

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