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Monday, 5/26/14 – Making Angels

Beverly lifts the still-warm bath towel from the basket and in a few clumsy moves has it more-or-less folded. She stacks it on top of other towels and reaches back into the basket for the next piece of laundry which happens to be Jessie’s favorite shirt. The faded, olive colored tee with the word “ARMY” printed on the front is getting a little threadbare.

There was a new one in Jess’ drawer but Beverly could not convince her daughter to part with the older one which had been given to her by her father only a few weeks before he was killed in Afghanistan. She places the folded shirt on the pile that will be carried to Jessie’s room and before reaching for another piece of clothing risks a glance at the picture on the table.

Adam and Jessie, father and daughter dressed in identical ARMY shirts, smile at her from inside the shining black frame. Adam holds Jess in his lap, his arms wrapped protectively around her, his cheek resting on the top of her head. Jess’ cornsilk hair hangs down over her shoulders and spills over Adam’s forearms.

Tucked into the corner of the frame is a wallet-sized picture of Adam. Jess had drawn wings on him and sometime in the haze following his death, Jess had given it to Beverly with a hug and the reassurance, “Daddy is an angel, now”.

The pictures begin to swim as tears fill Bev’s eyes.

It has been less than a year and there are still times when Beverly expects the door to open and Adam to walk through. She still wakes in the night, his touch fading and his scent dissipating like morning fog. As much as she wishes and dreams, she knows that Adam is not coming back. Jessie is her life, her whole life. She needs to be strong.

Strong. The word makes her smile. If anyone is strong, it is Jessie. Soon to be six years old, she is faster and tougher than most of the boys her age. With her now close-cropped hair and preference for military attire, Jess is often mistaken for a boy. Beverly is not concerned about her daughter’s tomboy attitude or appearance and believes that Jess’ choice to not be the stereotypical six-year-old girl is a good thing. It will help Jessie to be more independent.

Growing up without a father will be difficult. A little toughness would be a good thing.

Never one for dolls, it had surprised Beverly when her daughter asked for a GI-Joe for her fifth birthday. Looking up from the laundry she watches Jessie crawls the doll across the floor in short, jerky motions on its belly.

Unaware that she is being watched, Jessie puts words into the doll’s mouth that Beverly cannot hear.

Jess moves the doll closer to the couch. The fantasy playing out in Jessie’s head is getting more excited. The doll is no longer being made to crawl across the floor, Jess has it up and, holding its waist between her thumb and forefinger, moves it in running motions toward the couch. As the doll nears the leg of the couch Jess’ young voice deepens, her words coming faster.

Beverly never told her daughter how her father had died, only that he was a hero.

In a voice that could have been Adam’s, Beverly hears Jess exclaim, “Oh, fuck!”

Too stunned to move or to speak, Beverly watches in horror as her living room is transformed and Adam, not GI-Joe, runs across a rock strewn battlefield. To his left, a blinding flash and searing heat accompany a roar that leaves her ears ringing. The doll-turned-Adam curses again, changes direction in mid-stride, and races to the place where the explosion had occurred. Unable to move, Beverly watches as Adam, in slow motion, comes undone.

“Mommy!” Jessie’s scream brings Beverly back from the battlefield to her own living room and into the arms of her daughter, both shaking and crying.

As their sobs subside, Beverly looks over Jess’ shoulder at the doll lying in piece on the floor.

“Jess, Honey,” she asks, “What were you doing?”

“Making angels,” was the young girl’s reply.

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