Excerpt from "What Fruit She Bears"
(A memoir on growing up in foster care)
by Judith A. Lawrence
My sister Mary and I were placed in a temporary foster home at least until school recessed for the summer. We would then be transferred to a more permanent home, depending on whether we fit the newly selected foster parents' expectations and approval.
Rose Murphy was a plain dressed, plain spoken widow, in her late fifties. After a brief introduction she showed us to our room, and handed us a typed list of duties in reference to our stay in the house.
Her home was sparsely furnished and spotless. There were no family photos on the furniture or walls. The living room and dining room each held one large print copy painting on a wall of wooded scenes set in walnut frames. I couldn't make out the artist's scribbled signature.
She walked us through the house with the exception of her bedroom, showing more than telling us where things were. She said we would be required to make our breakfast and prepare our school lunches. She would cook dinners at least three times a week, and the rest of the week we would eat leftovers. We were having pork chops for dinner that night. She handed Mary a house key on a chain.
The next morning, Rose went off to work precisely at six o’clock. We washed and dressed, made oatmeal for breakfast, packed our lunch, and locked the door on our way out to catch the bus for school.
After school we came home to an empty house, and chatted in our usual conspirative way while we did our homework at the kitchen table, until Rose returned from work. As soon as she turned the key in the door we stopped talking. She went about heating up dinner while we sat waiting in the living room. We three ate together silently, and later watched TV. We watched sitcoms although there was rarely a laugh coming from Rose, and when she erupted with one, it was so startling as to render us speechless. At bedtime, in our room, Mary and I whispered to each other as if we were in church.
Once we learned Rose's routine, Mary and I sneaked inside her bedroom one day, hoping to find photos or even a diary. To our disappointment we found her room to be just as unremarkable as the rest of her house. A large cross with Jesus in his cap of thorns hung above the bed. A framed print copy of the Virgin Mary and child hung on one wall. A clothes tree stood in the corner with a well-worn sweater, and a flowered flannel brown robe draped on the hooks. Slippers were lined up on the floor near the head of the bed. A small perfume bottle containing a pleasant light scent, a boars hair brush, ivory comb, and hand mirror on a flowered tray were centered on her bureau. Her clothes were color coordinated on wood hangers inside her small faintly mothballed closet with three pairs of flat shoes, and one pair of two inch heels on the closet floor. I tried on her heels, although Mary thought them ugly. They were a full size too large for me, but I stepped out of my penny loafers, slipped into them and hobbled around the room as we searched. Seeing myself in the oblong closet mirror, the heels looked comical with my Catholic school uniform and thick white socks. Rose's bureau drawers were piled with neatly folded clothes. We returned everything to exactly as it was, and stole out of the room quietly closing the door as if the room would scold us otherwise.
Each weekday was exactly the same as the day before. Weekends were also unremarkable. Mary and I stayed in our room, or took walks around the neighborhood. While Rose puttered around the house she never stopped to say a word, or ask a question.
In those few weeks I never saw a friend or relative stop by. She never received or placed a call on her Western Electric black dial phone which was placed perfectly in the center of a doily on her polished end table as if standing at attention.
It was a relatively restful time for me. I lay in the dark at night counting heartbeats, slowly breathing in and out, watching the lamp post street light below our bedroom window flicker on the window shade.
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