It was the land of milk and honey—dreamt of often in the still of dark wintry nights. Sunshine, palm trees and movie stars. No need for galoshes or woolen caps. Where gardens thrived and lemons grew in your backyard.
“When I grow up, I’m living in California,” Jill told her mother.
“But what about Christmas?” her mother asked.
Jill shrugged. “Santa will wear his summer suit then.” Her pudgy fingers swiped at the remains of brownie batter in the bowl. The chocolatey goodness exploded on her tongue with each scoop.
“But you won’t be able to make a snow man,” her mother reminded her.
“I don’t care, I’ll go swimming instead,” Jill’s smile was chocolate covered and it made her mother laugh…
The low roar of the surf roused Jill from sleep. She turned over on her back, lest her tan be uneven but the sun blazed and she sat up, hot in the noon day dazzle. The dream or memory of she and her mother in the kitchen hugged her conscious thoughts. “When I grow up…” she said barely audible.
“Are you talking to me?” Joe asked and nestled closer to her on the sandy towels.
“Go back to sleep,” Jill hushed and looked out at the vastness of the Pacific ocean. Endless blue and sparkling. Dolphin fins sliced through the water and played tag with the sailboats bobbing and swaying against the horizon.
California was the land of summer she’d always dreamed about. Sunshine. Palm trees. And even an occasional movie star siting. Maybe not movie stars but definitely familiar faces that she’d seen on television. And the homeless who happily pushed carts and panhandled for ‘spare change’ as they hovered outside Starbuck’s. High taxes and strange politics. Lifestyles from benign to bizarre. Something for everyone. But her heart longed for home.
Today, Jill missed the crisp air and swirling leaves. And the smell of her mother’s kitchen swathed in the aroma of home-baked goods. Brightly colored scarves flapping in the wind. Corner diners serving bad coffee and good soup. Neighbors who all knew your business before you did. But more than anything her mom. The best person she knew and would ever know. A woman of infinite patience and profound kindness. Jill was missing her mom more than usual she guessed because they had missed their weekly call. In fact, now that she thought of it, her mother hadn’t returned any of the several calls Jill had made to her.
Jill fished her cell phone out of the crimson beach bag and and flipped it open. No signal. She sighed, lay down on her back, resolving to try mom later and she fell into a beachy daytime nap.
“Jill?” Mom whispered in her ear.
Jill cracked open one eye against the brightly beaming sun. “What are you doing?” Jill sat up and scooted over to make room on the towell. Her mother sat down and burrowed her pale toes into the warm sand. “I missed you, darling. I always miss you.”
Jill hugged her mother. “I miss you too, Mom. But where’s Dad? Did he come with you? And how the heck did you find me on a beach with hundreds of people?”
Jill’s mother smiled and patted Jill’s hand. “I’ve always been able to find you, no matter where you hid, now haven’t I?”
Jill heard beeping coming from somewhere and looked around. “What is that sound?”
“Honey, I have something to tell you.”
The beeping continued and with each issuance unnerved Jill. “What the…?”
Jill’s mother squeezed her hand. “Jill, you need to listen.”
The beeping grew more rapid and urgent and Jill felt frantic to discover its source. “I know Mom, but that beeping is driving me crazy. Can’t you hear that?”
“Not any more,” her mother said.
“What?” Jill turned back to her mother but could barely see her in the bright light. “God the glare coming off the ocean is unbelievably. I can hardly see you. It must be that blasted beeping, it’s so distracting.”
Jill’s mother leaned in closer and whispered. “I love you darling girl, never forget.”
“Hey wake up,”Joe shook Jill a little to bring her around.
Jill opened her eyes and saw concerned brown eyes staring into hers. “Where’s my mom?”
Joe handed her some water. “Drink this, you’re dehydrated. Your mom isn’t here, honey. You were dreaming. And pretty loudly too.”
Jill jumped to her feet and looked in every direction for her mother but she was nowhere to be seen. Her heart sank a little. “It was so real. I could swear she was right here. I can still smell her perfume. I was trying to talk to her but there was this beeping sound…”
Jill’s cell phone rang then and she jumped. “Hello?”
“It’s Dad, honey…”
“This is so funny I was just dreaming about Mom…let me talk to her. She won’t believe this…it was like she was just here” The silence from her father was eerie and profound. “Dad? What’s wrong? Dad?” Jill heard that beeping again but it was coming from the phone and then it stopped suddenly.
“Oh no!” Jill cried suddenly realizing that it was the last time she would see her mother.