Communion [Rosalie Smoot]

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Communion [Rosalie Smoot]

Postby Kinto » October 30th, 2015, 2:19 pm

com·mu·nion \kə-ˈmyü-nyən\ noun
1: an act or instance of sharing
2 capitalized : a Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed as memorials of Christ's death or as symbols for the realization of a spiritual union between Christ and communicant or as the body and blood of Christ
3: intimate fellowship or rapport


May 23, 2015
Biloxi, Mississippi


“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Bart asked uncertainly from the passenger seat.

Behind the shiny silver Toyota sedan’s steering wheel, Rosalie Smoot grimaced as another muddy pothole juddered through the suspension, the horns on the tall bison’s swaying head bumping into the window glass. The pavement had ended about a mile back; on either side of the narrow dirt track they now followed the ground disappeared into a claustrophobic forest of anorexic pine trees.

In the back seat and dressed her best, Eleanor had her blunt bison muzzle pressed to the car window, staring into the impenetrable green gloom with every sign of enjoyment.

Just when Rosalie was sure she had made a mistake despite having followed the handwritten directions to the letter – this road didn’t even appear on Gaggle Maps – the road turned sharply left and dead-ended in a cul-de-sac parking lot on the banks of a blackwater bayou. Most of the cars were rust-riddled pickups; all of them were more than a decade old. A Cutlass sedan older than Rosalie sat on four flat tires, a healthy layer of moss growing on every horizontal surface. The cars were outnumbered by the flat-bottom boats lined up on the shore.

Clustered amongst the pines and live oaks beside the bayou and, in some cases, perched on stilts over the bayou, were about two dozen lopsided and ramshackle houses. Discarded appliances lurked in the weedy undergrowth along with rusted crayfish traps and other debris. As the Smoot family stepped out of their car, Rosalie automatically pulled Eleanor close to her side in protective instinct.

As they began their walk into the disorderly warren though, Rosalie began to recognize the signs of care and maintenance. The houses leaned unsteadily, but they were for the most part clean and tidy. Old tires repurposed as flower planters decorated the dirt paths that ran between the homes and homemade wind chimes hung from tree limbs amid the Spanish moss. The bison had lived in poverty herself too long to ever judge the residents of this sad little corner of Mississippi too harshly.

Beside one house, a cracked patch of amateurishly-laid concrete, the only pavement in sight, had been laid next to a tree. Nailed to the tree was a metal hoop and a warped plywood backboard.

The community appeared deserted but it quickly became apparent where everyone was. At the far end of the main path white streamers had been hung from the trees. The strains of music and conversation could be heard and smoke from a cooker mingled with that from citronella candles and drifted into the overhanging canopy.

When they were a few yards away, Eleanor pulled away from her mother and ran forward. “Ruth!” she called out happily, and was soon hugging with a tiger salamander girl her own age dressed in an immaculate white dress of satin and lace. Strung across the screened-in front porch of a quaint blue two-story home was a banner:

CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR FIRST COMMUNION RUTH

Rosalie and Bart hung back, the bison and hyena following at a slower pace. It looked like the entire neighborhood was here. Every single one of them was an amphibian, and every single one of them was staring at the exotic interlopers.

Rosalie had expected this, and as a starter on the FBA’s Biloxi Voodoo, she was no stranger to the spotlight, but it was still unnerving. It was no secret that this part of the world was home to a huge population of amphibians, but in two years living here Rosalie had hardly seen any. By the stares they were receiving, it seemed they had likewise hardly ever seen a mammal.

The tension broke when Eleanor hurried back, positively beaming, dragging Ruth with her with one hand and an older salamander woman with the other.

“Mom! Dad! This is Mrs. Wisplight! Mrs. Wisplight, these are my parents!” More than a month after the wedding and the novelty of calling Bart ‘Dad’ had not worn off yet for Eleanor, and the pride in her voice when she said it was plainly evident.

The salamander woman greeted them. “Mrs. Smoot! I’m so glad you could make it!” And she genuinely appeared to mean it as she shook the bison’s hand; her hand was cool and dry, not slimy at all.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Wisplight. And please, call me Rosalie. And this is my husband, Bart.” Likewise evident was the pride in the bison’s voice when she said ‘husband.’

“How do you do?” the hyena smiled congenially.

“Of course, we heard about the wedding. Congratulations. Call me Judy, please. Ruth insisted we invite you, having Eleanor here means a lot to her.”

“We wouldn’t miss it.” The Smoots were not regular churchgoers; as a Catholic school second-grader Eleanor attended service once a week with her class, but today had been Rosalie’s first time inside a church outside of major holidays in years.

Eleanor whispered something into Ruth’s ear; the salamander girl grinned silently and made a quick complicated hand motion. Eleanor, to Rosalie’s surprise, responded with a hand motion of her own. Whatever if meant was evidently quite hilarious as both girls descended into silent giggles.

Rosalie was still absorbing the fact that Eleanor had apparently learned sign language without telling her when Judy spoke up again. “I hope you enjoy yourselves. I’m afraid it’s not every day we have a celebrity come to visit.”

Bart spoke up on Rosalie’s behalf. “Please, Judy. We’re only here as Eleanor’s parents today. Don’t go to any trouble on our behalf.”

Judy Wisplight seemed relieved that her daughter’s friend’s famous parents were so amicable. “Well, don’t just stand there. Come on over and get something to eat. We have alligator tail, mudbugs…”

--

The dinner progressed swimmingly. The food was unending and so good it was probably outlawed in most jurisdictions; nearly everything came from the bayou itself – no hot dogs or burgers here. Music was provided by a band of frogs; towards the end a bullfrog provided a baritone rendition of “Amazing Grace” so soulful it moved Bart to tears.

As the supply of food began to finally dwindle, the guests began to grow restless. Ruth and Eleanor ran off to go play along with many of the other amphibian children. Meanwhile, growing weary of the constant stares, Rosalie leapt at the opportunity to help Mrs. Wisplight clear the tables and carry the dishes inside.

In the small dining room beside the kitchen there was a small shrine of sorts on top of a bureau; several pictures of a handsome male salamander, some with Judy, some with Judy and young Ruth. Tucked beside the central photograph was a funeral program dated 2011.

Through the kitchen window above the sink, they were able to watch the children at play in the backyard.

“So… you play basketball?” Judy struck up a conversation as the two of them began cleaning dishes; the house had no dishwasher.

“Pretty much all my life. Only two years professionally, though.” Rosalie scrubbed at a cooking pan; though Bart was by far the more domestically inclined half of their relationship, the bison still found the honest labor oddly relaxing.

“It must be hard keeping your family together traveling so much.”

Rosalie nodded. “I’ve never done anything the easy way. But everything I do, I do for her. Still, I’m worried I’m missing a lot. I never even knew she knew sign language until today.”

“Really?” Judy seemed surprised. “Ruth’s been teaching her. It’s a bit more private than her notepad, and the other girls can’t take it away from her…”

“Yes, Eleanor told me about that.”

“Ruth told me what Eleanor did. I… I wanted to thank you for that. Ruth’s never had many friends.”

“I’m glad she could help. Eleanor is very protective of her friends. Honestly, McCormic’s just lucky I wasn’t there myself.”

“You should be proud of her. Eleanor is a very strong girl.”

“I am. I’m glad the lessons I’ve tried to teach, the example I try to set… It’s good to see her taking it to heart. It was so much easier to watch over her when she was younger… I used to be able to bring her to practice. We still work out together a lot…”

“Do you expect her to be a basketball player, too?”

“Heh. Eleanor will be whatever she wants to be. I’m not going to force her. This summer, she wants to play soccer, and more swim lessons.”

“Ruth told me Eleanor was a good swimmer.”

“Really? Eleanor told me Ruth was a great swimmer. Has she ever thought about joining a swim team? I’m sure she’d be a natural.”

“Oh no, she can’t.”

“Can’t swim?”

“No, I mean on a team… we absorb everything through our skin, everything that’s in the water… and, well, all the chemicals they put in pool water… Ruth’s especially sensitive.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about that.”

“It’s alright.”

They lapsed into silence for a few moments before Judy spoke up again. “I was surprised to hear Eleanor wasn’t taking Communion with the rest of the class.”

“She can’t. She’s never been baptized.”

“But you send her to a Catholic school?”

“When we moved here, every review I read, every study, said St. Gertrude was the best school in the area. I wouldn’t settle for anything less, especially now that I can finally afford it—“ Rosalie stopped abruptly. She risked a sideways glance at Judy.

The salamander sighed. “I know what you want to ask. I promise, I won’t be offended.”

“No, it’s none of my business.”

“You should know. I want you to know. Your daughter is my daughter’s best friend. Her only friend her own age, really. I want you to understand how much she means.”

Rosalie looked down into Mrs. Wisplight’s protuberant eyes; the salamander was fully two feet shorter than the bison. Rosalie wasn’t sure when Judy said ‘she’ whether the salamander meant Ruth, or Eleanor.

“You know much about amphibians, Rosalie? Probably not, most people don’t. The water is our home, just as much as the air, and that’s especially true when we’re young, before we outgrow our gills. When Ruth was a tad, we kept her in a- well, we call them cradles, maybe you’d call it a tub, that we filled with water from the bayou. Too many gators to let a tad swim unsupervised, of course. She loved it. It was the same way we had been raised.” Judy took a deep breath. “What we didn’t know… Well, there was a- they called it a spill, never could prove it wasn’t an accident, upriver, and there we were filling Ruth’s cradle with that, every day. She came close – so close – to dying, her gills were atrophying, that’s normal, but her lungs weren’t growing, we had no idea what was wrong, and we just kept filling her cradle…”

“Judy…” Rosalie started.

“Well, the doctors figured it out, eventually. She’s got her lungs, but they’re not quite right, and her vocal chords, I’m sure you’ve noticed… Upriver, they never admitted it was their fault, and, well, we couldn’t take them to the court, it would’ve taken years, and meanwhile the bills… so we took the settlement they gave us. Our lawyer – pro bono, thank God, says with careful management it would be enough to get Ruth through college.”

“I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”

“I send her to St. Gertrude because she’s worth it. You understand, don’t you?”

Rosalie looked out the window above the sink into the backyard. Ruth and Eleanor were side-by-side on a decorative bench, laughing. Bart had his camera out.

“I’m not telling you so you’ll pity us. I just… need someone to understand…”

“Judy, I do. I’ve been there. We lived on the streets for a while. I swore that I would do everything in my power to give Eleanor the life she deserved.”

“You?” Judy was genuinely surprised; apparently she did not know this detail, “But you’re a pro athlete, the whole city knows who you are…”

“Now, yes. But… I ran away from home when I was 18. Eleanor and Bart are all the family I have.”

“Well, we can’t allow that. You – all three of you – I would be honored if you thought of as family.”

“That’s—that’s very kind of you, Judy.”

“I know we don’t have much to offer, but after everything you’ve done for Ruth… Look at her. It hasn’t been easy. For any of us. And now… I haven’t seen her this happy since Herbert…” Judy choked up.

Rosalie placed her hand on the salamander’s. “Eleanor’s never had a friend like Ruth, either.”

The pair lapsed into silence. Dishes clinked in the sudsy sink, until Judy spoke up. “I don’t know what we did to deserve you, but I thank God he brought you here. I want you to think of Biloxi as your home, always.”

“That’s kind of you to say, but…” Rosalie felt compelled to be honest with this stranger who had been brave enough to open up to her, “Judy, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in Biloxi.”

Judy looked back at her. “What do you mean?”

“My contract is up. Next year, I could be anywhere.”

“You… you would leave?”

“I like Biloxi. I do. But the Voodoo… I want to be on a winning team.”

“I see.” Judy’s expression was inscrutable in that special way of mothers everywhere.

“For the right offer, I would leap at the chance.”

“You would run away.”

“That’s not the same—“

“You were the one who said you never took the easy way. Which is easier? Packing up and going somewhere where they’ve already got a good team and just riding to victory? Leaving behind everything you have here? ”

“Judy—“

“Or staying, and building something out of nothing? Where your family is, where your home is, where your fans are? You’re— This city loves you. You’re needed here.”

Rosalie was taken aback; she had never taken Judy for a sports fan. And yet, the inflection in Judy’s last sentence suggested the amphibian wasn’t just talking about the Voodoo.

Judy relaxed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scold…”

“No, it’s alright. I understand. I know how much your daughter means to Eleanor… If we left, I know she would get through it. But… Judy, it was never my intention to set down roots here. So much has changed in the last couple years… I guess they started growing when I wasn’t looking.”

“Roots are funny like that.”

The bison sighed. “I can’t make any promises, but… Eleanor is happy here. Seeing her happy makes me happy. Maybe… maybe that’s all I need. I can’t promise I’ll never leave, but I promise we’ll always keep in touch. And you and Ruth will always be welcome, wherever we are.”

“That means a lot to us, Rosalie.” Judy toweled dry the last of the dishes. “I know I can’t force you to do anything, but… I hope you stay. Ruth would be heartbroken.”

“I know. I would never want to hurt Ruth.”

Judy took Rosalie’s hand, a silent thanks.

Rosalie chuckled, “Life was a lot easier when all I wanted to do was play basketball.”

Judy smiled as she put away the final plate. “And I never knew being a high and mighty pro athlete was so complicated.”

“Missus Wisplight?” interrupted a timid voice.

A young bullfrog was standing in the kitchen door; two younger frogs, still with their finned tadpole tails, were trying to hide behind him.

“What can I do for you, Charlie?” Judy asked.

“Missus Smoot, um, we were, um, wondering… wouldyousignthisforus?” he thrust forward a Rosalie Smoot trading card.

“I’d be happy to.” With a bemused smile, Rosalie pulled a fine tip Sharpei from her pocket – a constant necessity for a pro athlete – and signed the card.

“Do you know Toby Macklin?” one of the younger frogs blurted out.

“I do. He’s a teammate of mine, and a very good one.” Toby Macklin was one of only two amphibians in the FBA.

“Wow.” All three frogs stared awestruck, their eyes wide – though this was the natural state of frogs’ eyes.

Rosalie was hit with a sudden inspiration. “Was that your basketball court I saw out there?”

The oldest frog nodded, “Uh-huh.”

“Get some of your friends together. What d’you say we have a little shoot-around? I can give you a few pointers.”

Charlie looked like all his wildest dreams had just come true at once. Struck as mute as Ruth, he could only nod.

Rosalie started out the back door, herding her new fan club. “Duty calls, Judy. Thank you. For everything. If you ever need anything. Anything…”

Judy nodded. “Thank you, Rosalie. For your help.” She watched them go, her eyes shining. In the back yard, Ruth and Eleanor ran to join Rosalie. The salamander mother lifted her gaze to the dining room wall where a crucifix hung above the bureau, and whispered, “Thank you.”


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Other recommended reading:
Family Bonds: viewtopic.php?f=10&t=1186
Incidental Contact: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1320

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