Rufus has just lost his mother to lung cancer and pours out his emotions to Heidi.
At last he toppled over on to Beaver and me, sobbing and saying, “Oh, Ma, Ma, Ma…”
My lights were all sorts of bruised pink and purple colors when at last he subsided into sleep. And of course I went with him. How could I not be concerned about where he went with his dreams in such a condition?
He brought us to West Virginia. We were in one of those sloping hayfields hugging the hillsides that he associates with his growing up. He was drifting through the alfalfa with a breeze in his hair and I was trailing along behind when I heard a hssst!– of someone calling for my attention.
It was his mom. She wasn’t the huge monument size she sometimes is, only about as big as me, and oh so very scrawny. When I turned to her, she smiled and shimmied her shoulders, and the flesh fell off her as though it had gotten too large. I came closer, intrigued to see her mottled and smoked skeleton enclosing the flattened tarry balloons that used to be her lungs.
But she was friendly, not ghoulish. She beckoned me closer and said in a hoarse whisper, “Boy’s about got me as dry as a raisin from all that sucking. Thought he outgrew that. Here.” With a creak her ribcage swung open as if her spine were made of hinges. Inside was a wrinkled dark red globular mass of something meaty that looked as if it used to beat. It looked a lot like an old apple did once that was in the bottom of Steen’s refrigerator.
She put her fingers into it and pulled it apart. Inside it was a solid mass of seeds. “Take ‘em and water ‘em, woman,” she said.
I put out my white and pink mitten-like hands and took the mass, compressing it a bit so that not too many of them would spill out. It was very flattering to me to be called ‘woman’, because back then I wasn’t so sure about being one as I became later.
And then she crumbled. Even her long gray hair just fell into dust and blew away over the tall grass.
So here stood Heidi Wasabi, the inflatable comfort item, bobbing gently up and down in the middle of a hayfield in the sunshine with a wrinkled heart in my hands. Now what? And where had Rufus got to? After all, this was his dream!
I looked all around and finally spied something that could be him off in the distance. At the crest of a rise was a silhouette of him sitting down, under a tree with extremely pendulous branches that swayed, just like long hair. Since then I’ve found out that this is a tree associated with sorrow in folk songs, which is why he’d chosen it.
As I drifted closer I saw that it was Rufus, only he’d turned himself into a fixture. He was like a statue of himself made of metal pipes, and from his closed eyes the tears continued to flow steadily into a puddle that ran gently off downhill.
That solved the problem of how to wet the seeds, at any rate. How to get Rufus to abandon being a standpipe was a whole other problem that I sincerely hoped wouldn’t be up to me to fix. He’s a lot more forceful than I am in general, and I was still pretty new in the universe.Carefully I shook out a few of the seeds into the trickle. Then, growing bolder about the business, I followed the stream of tears downhill to where it finally was absorbed into the grass, scattering the seeds alongside.
I’d barely made a dent in the supply of them. As I turned to look back up toward Rufus, they were already sprouting into yard-high green shoots.The first one nearest to him began to develop a swelling bud until it had opened out at its top into an incredibly fragrant white flower.
When he smelled it, Rufus finally opened his eyes, his sky blue eyes.He looked at me and his mouth smiled, and the smile cracked the metal skin away from him and turned him back into the pink and gold freckled hunk of human man he is supposed to be.
He saw the dark wrinkled purse of seeds in my hands which I held so gingerly before me and said, “Jasmine.”Since I looked puzzled, he got up and came to help me carry the seeds with his much larger and less clumsy fingers.
“Naw, I know these aren’t real jasmine plants; jasmine’s a vine; but that was my ma’s name, honey. Jasmine. And she did good in this world. None of my business why she wanted to turn her insides black, because she did good.”