For my prompt this week I opened up a book of quotations at random, closed my eyes, and point. The quotation I landed on was this:
The "kingdom of Heaven" is a condition of the heart - not something that comes "upon the earth" or "after death." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Houses in Heaven
Cindy was dry eyed as she stood outside her mother's house, her house now. It looked exactly the same as always. Loreen's death didn't seem to touch it at all. Unlocking the side door she smiled faintly. Even now she didn't use the front door, the door reserved for special occasions and guests. She couldn't even be sure the lock on it would still turn.
The kitchen still smelled faintly of fresh bread and cinnamon. On baking days the entire house would be redolent with fresh scents - apple and spice, bread and pastry. Cindy hesitated on the threshold, half-expecting Mama to be busy at the stove wearing one of her enormous, white, frilly aprons. Instead, the door burst open behind her and her three boisterous children tumbled into the kitchen.
"Mama, Pauly won't push me on the swing!"
"I'm tired of pushing her!"
"Mama, can we go to heaven?"
"Quiet, all of you," Cindy's voice rose above theirs. "First of all, shoes off in the house, you know better than that."
"But Grandma isn't here, why do we have to take our shoes off?"
"Because I said so! Paul, you three came with me because you promised not to get under foot."
"But Mom ..."
"You three play in the backyard for a bit, then I'll fix lunch."
"What about heaven?"
"After lunch we’ll see."
Cindy smiled as the three raced back out the door. Her smile faded as she looked around the kitchen. Everything was in its proper place, but coated with a thin layer of dust. Mama would have had kittens. Dust was her personal enemy, her nemesis.
"A house never looks unkept if you keep it dusted," she'd say. "It doesn't matter how many newspapers are left on the table or whose toys are lying around. It's dust that makes a house unclean."
Cindy shook off the memory and went back to the car for the boxes. She was only taking a few things, mostly pictures and mementoes. Everything else was to be sold at public auction, for which she would not be staying.
The first thing that greeted her in the living room was her graduation picture on the mantel. Next to it was her wedding portrait.
"You're a woman now," Mama told her that day. "You'll have children of your own someday."
Mama had never doubted, even when it took five years for Cindy to conceive. Loreen told her to have faith, God would know when the time was right for a baby. She was there for the birth of her grandson, laughing and crying right along with Cindy.
A shout from outside had her glancing out the window. Paul had the twins both in the tire swing. He pushed until he could run under the swing, laughing as the girls screamed with delight. He was such a blessing.
Cindy's smile faltered. And to think she'd almost lost him to the carelessness of a drunk driver.
It was a day she'd never forget, the day she opened her door to a white-faced neighbour who told her Paul had been hit by a car. Cindy couldn't remember the frantic race to Paul, but she'd never forget the sight of the still little body, his life leaking slowly out onto the road.
She thought the tears she shed then would never end. She cried at the scene of the accident, she cried in the ambulance, she cried in the waiting room of the hospital. Then Loreen arrived, a tower of strength, and told Cindy to stop crying. Pauly was going to be all right. And Mama never lied, not even when it was what you needed to hear.
Paul Junior recovered but their joy was short-lived. Just after that Paul Senior died. Cindy shed her widow's tears in private, but the floodgates opened wide just after the funeral when she found out she was pregnant again.
Again Loreen came to salve the hurts, to comfort and console. But after the twins were born and Cindy was on her feet she left, saying it was time Cindy learned to walk alone.
Mama had always been a tower of strength, even in the face of Death. She had been diagnosed with cancer three years ago. The best the doctors could offer was a chance of prolonging her life, a cure was out of the question.
Loreen had drawn herself up proudly and said it was God's will and she wasn't going to let some doctor stick her in the geriatric ward in the hospital, just so he could make her last days miserable. She'd die as God willed it, and in her own bed, surrounded by her family.
Though the doctors and even some of the family tried arguing with her, she'd gotten her way in the end. Just as it should be.
She was right of course.
Cindy sighed as she realized she was curled up in her favourite wing chair, clutching her wedding picture. She glanced at her watch. Almost time for lunch and so little had been accomplished.
A light summer breeze wafted in the window as she stood at the counter in the kitchen making sandwiches. Cindy closed her eyes. She could smell freshly cut grass, and a mixed perfume from the garden. Summer beckoned.
She wrapped up the sandwiches and dug around under the counter for the old plastic picnic bag. Sandwiches, apples, paper plates, an old blanket ... what else? Opening the fridge she discovered a tetra pack of apple flavoured drink boxes.
Hefting the bag over her shoulder, she stepped outside.
"Come on, kids, lunch is ready," she called.
"What're you doing with that old bag?" Paul asked, first to reach her.
"I thought we'd have a picnic."
"In heaven?" Merry asked, ever hopeful.
"In heaven," her mother agreed, smiling.
Heaven was located just up the street. The day after they'd moved into this house, Cindy and her mother went on an exploring walk together. They followed a path just down the street from the house, up a wooded hillside. At the top stretched a broad, flat meadow, covered with sweet peas in full bloom.
They had spun around and around until they were dizzy, and laughing fell into a cloud of blossoms.
"This is heaven!" Cindy declared, and heaven it remained.
Cindy felt her mood lift. Countless bad poems had been composed amidst the flowers of heaven during the angst of her teenaged years. Hundreds of bouquets had been picked, until her mother had pleaded, laughing, for her to stop before people mistook their house for a florist shop.
The children skipped on ahead. The woods were cool and peaceful, filled with the scent of cedar and pine. Cindy started up the hill slowly, savouring the anticipation of the meadow.
"Mama, mama! There's houses in heaven!"
Cindy was just about bowled over by the twins as they raced down the path towards her.
"What are you talking about?"
They began tugging her up the path. "Come see!"
She did indeed see when she got to the top of the hill. All life's pleasure seemed to drain away as she stared at the churned up earth and the framework of several houses.
The fledgling subdivision spread out over the entire meadow. Heaven was pushed back to a small strip of land at the edge of the wooded hill. A large sign in the centre of a bare patch of earth declared: "Welcome to Vistaview Estates".
Debbie tugged at Cindy's sleeve. "Is grandma going to live in one of those houses?"
"What?" Cindy asked, startled.
"You said grandma went to heaven, which house is hers?"
"Oh, baby," Cindy knelt and drew her daughter close.
Small fingers touched her face. "Mama," Merry whispered, "Why are you crying?"
Cindy pulled her other daughter close too. They were still young enough to hold in the security of her arms.
"It's because they're digging up heaven, isn't it?" ten-year-old Paul wisely declared.
"It's because I love you all so much," Cindy said softly.
The girls wriggled in her arms and she let them go. One day, she'd have to let them go for good, just as her mother let her go. But that day was still in the future. Today they had each other, and the sun, and a picnic to devour in what was left of heaven.
"Can we pick flowers after lunch?" Debbie asked.
"Yes," Cindy agreed, "We can. We can go put them on grandma's grave. She'd like that."
"Can we come back again?" Merry asked.
Cindy started to shake her head in denial, then hesitated. Not all changes in life had to be bad, or abrupt.
"We'll come back again in the fall to collect some seeds," she said. "Then in the spring we'll find a spot at home to plant them and make our own heaven."
"Would grandma like that?"
"Yes," Cindy said, smiling. "I think she would."