Pearl of the Ocean

My mother Pearl had started putting bottles on the window rails to keep the cat from knocking them over. They were her treasures. When she was a girl, she’d scavenge for them at yard sales and antique stores. The way the light shone through the glass, casting brightly colored shadows on the floor, reminded her of mermaids.

Little Pearl had dreamt of living in the ocean. But little Pearl had grown up in the same house as her father, and grandfather, and great grandfather, miles and miles from any sparking shores. There were no beaches. There was no ocean. Only trees and, more often than not, snow. So she collected as many bottles as she could. She’s sit them on the window sills and the light would shine through, and it abated the pining.

Little Pearl grew up into a great beauty. Daddy said she took his breath away.  They waited as long as was acceptable before they married, but my grandfather was dying, so Mother and Daddy had a very short engagement. Papa lived just long enough to walk his Little Pearl down the aisle and eat some wedding cake. But, Imaw had died the summer before, and Papa was lost without her. He just faded. 

Papa left my mother the house. At first, Mother and Daddy liked the emptiness of the house. They could do as they pleased. But after a year, they craved more. So they went about the great task of filling an empty house. Kendra, then Leland and Lily, and then me.

Then, Mother was eager to fill the house with as much warmth and light as she could. She seemed to stand as an opponent to the elements outside her door. She couldn’t beat them, but she could at least combat them. There was always music and laughter. And there were pets. So many pets. Dogs and cats and birds. She’d even let the chickens stay in doors during the winter.

It was Lily’s cat, Knox, that took a liking to batting the bottles to the floor.

The wood floors were old and bottles broke with a crash that made you jump in your seat. But the light that reflected from the shards was a sight to be seen. Devastating and beautiful.

So Mother, having vainly and lightly boxed the ears of the culprit, bought rugs. She bought any and every rug she could find. Cheap ones from department stores. Old, once-beautiful Persians from consignment stores. She hoped that if they were strategically placed, she could prevent further destruction.

She was wrong.

More bottles fell, and some of those broke. More ears were boxed, but it wouldn’t do.

It was Leland, always so observant in his quiet, bookish way, that suggested the rails.

“Knox wouldn’t be able reach them there,” he reckoned.

Leland was of course correct. No more bottles were lost. And something more was gained. The bottles, now much higher in the window, transformed the walls. The old white walls, that had seen far better days, were positively vibrant when the sun shone through. The old rooms had transfigured into underwater caves.

And so we put the bottles on the rails of all of the rooms.

Even during those long weeks in February, when the snow grew so high you’d have to dig out the lane, and the grayness made you feel such lonely, sad thoughts, the bottles shined, and the colors on the walls made you feel full again on the inside.

We’d spend hours playing games and singing songs in the parlor room during those winters when the indigo light shined on the walls. We’d forget we were in an old house, and outside was only cold and wind so strong it hurt your face and chapped your lips.

We felt more like mermaids, swimming in the ocean.

After Mother died, the house went to Kendra first, but she had moved far away to Cincinnati. Leland had died in the war, and Lily, well Lily was nowhere in particular to be found. She’d up and left after school, and we only heard from her sporadically. Postcards and letters arrived to tell us the sights of Morocco and Bali.

So the house was mine to keep or sell. I did neither. I gave it to a cousin, Jamie. She and her kids could use it. Her husband had died in the war, too, like Leland. But, before I gave her the keys and the deed, I had to go through the house and take stock.

I sent photo albums and such to Kendra; sent old things of Leland’s to his widow, Kathryn, in Baltimore; saved things for Lily, if she ever felt like settling in one place. Old clothes of ours I put aside for my kids.

I kept but a precious few things for myself. Daddy’s pipe. Grandmother Helen’s cast iron pans. Great-grandma Erin’s wedding dress. And Mother’s bottles. I wrapped all of those indigo bottles that had survived on the rails in old newspaper, each one feeling so precious in my hands. I brought them home, unwrapped them, and put them on the window rails that night. One by one, I placed them ever so carefully. And then I went to sleep.

In the morning, I walked out into the living room and my husband Jeff was just standing there, wide-eyed, looking at the bottles, and then to the walls, and back again.

“I feel like I’m underwater,” he said, looking awestruck at the walls.

“I know.” I replied, walking up to him, and wrapping my arms around his middle. “Isn’t it like magic?”

“Mmmhm.” he said.

“Just wait until winter.”