After mass, Johnny and I wandered through the Crazy Teepee, confessions dissolving in our mouths. The priest had told us that Christ was everywhere so we began searching through the rows of old bicycles, the racks of heavy coats. In the pocket of a woman’s suit jacket, I found a holy card of St. Francis with a funeral announcement printed on it.
St. Francis was so lucky to have all the animals come to him.
I always wanted to be a guy like that.
Johnny bent over a glass case examining old political buttons. Come here, he said. You gotta see this.
Right there, Johnny said. Between Reagan and Nixon badges rested a palm-sized picture inside a circle of glass. Doesn’t that look like your mother?
It must have been 1945 or 1946. I recognized her teeth, the tell-tale dimples.
I’d never seen the picture before.
Where did this come from? I asked.
The clerk shrugged. Some box full of Christmas stuff.
Had an old flame stored her image in the attic among the glitter balls and tangled lights?
I turned the picture over.
Twelve dollars? I asked, digging in my pocket for the cash.
No, the clerk said. Twelve hundred.
Why so much? I asked.
It’s rare, the clerk said. I’ve never seen one like it.
But it’s my mother, I said.
He shrugged. I’m sure you’d agree that she was one of a kind.
My ears burned. I stared at the tiny image.
The clerk extended his hand. If you’re not going to buy the picture it needs to go back in the case. I have work to do. I can’t stand here all day.
I’d last seen her somewhere in the wilds of 1979. Still snow on the ground. The sun shone through the window of the hospice. A good send off. A cloud of morphine. Hymns playing.
As Johnny and I left the Crazy Teepee, I pictured my mother’s face floating in a box of anonymous tinsel and contemplated her eventual home between the faded presidents.
You’ll never know, Johnny said, so you might as well not wonder.
I was thinking of Saint Francis with his soft halo in the pocket of the woman’s jacket. How long did he wait balancing those birds on his fingertips, for someone to liberate him?
I was remembering the hospice, the long icicles dripping in the sun, how when it was all over the nurse opened the window. For the soul, she explained.
We’re going back, Johnny said. Once my check clears, we’re going to go back to the Teepee and talk him down.
My mother trapped under glass. My mother escaping through the window.
I took a deep breath of the spiky December air.
It doesn’t matter Johnny, I said.
I smiled but I felt that I was my mother smiling. The world looked harsh and beautiful, as if I’d been gone a long, long time.