Everything in Magnolia Hall is perfect on the surface. Eliza Emmit and her sisters were raised in this house struggling to fit their parent's ideas of perfect, and through adulthood they strive for a material flawlessness in a world where, under the surface, everything is far from perfect. As their mother is dying, avoiding the ugly they've hidden away all their lives is becoming harder and harder to mask.
I returned home just as the magnolia blossoms were falling, thick white petals fluttering like a winter’s first snow. They covered the sweeping drive with a soft pearly veil, reminding me of weddings - pure, white innocence, a blank canvas of opportunity to paint your life upon. I thought of my own wedding, the promise of a happy, secure marriage my parents had wished for me. The promises were empty, filled with unsatisfied happiness and disappointed love.
I brushed those thoughts aside. It was easy to think of such things when you were lying in bed, enveloped by lonely darkness, or driving alone. They were thoughts I wasn’t supposed to think. I was happy, settled, well-off for the rest of my days. At least that’s what I told myself each morning.
The magnolias opened up as I neared the end of the tree-lined driveway, revealing the grand old house that was my childhood home. Elegant antebellum pillars, wide balconies, and the great big door stood as testaments to the passing years. It was our family’s museum, handed from generation to generation, and still as pristine as it was the day it was built, more so now then ever.
The old hound howled, a loud, rusty sound. He stood slowly from his relaxed position on the front porch, not bothering to even attempt the stairs before him. I turned the car off, briefly pausing to check my make-up and hair before I stepped out into the fresh, floral air.
“Miz Uh’liza,” came the call, the familiar voice, the long drawl. She stood in the doorway, a small dark silhouette, fraying white hair against her charcoal face. “Been ‘pecting you. Your Ma’s been ‘pecting you.”
“Well, I’m here now, Miss. Ada,” I answered, shouldering my purse and making my way before her, up the steps and across the porch, patting the elderly dog as I passed. Miss Ada’s face cracked in a smile as I approached her. The old woman had been at my mother’s side before I was born, before any of my siblings were born. There was never a time when she was not around; a quick, scolding eye for the each of us. Nowadays, she was nearly blind and a little slow to get around.
Miss. Ada stepped aside, offering a crooked hand to take my purse. “Ya known where to go, Sugar,” she said. “Your room’s all ‘rranged and your Ma’s right where ya left here. Mary’s with her r’now.”
I nodded, and she then muttered an excuse, something about soup, scuffling off in the direction of the kitchen. She left me alone, stagnant, in the wide entryway, staring up at the sweeping staircase before me.
Unmoving, I absorbed my surroundings - the smell, the taste of the air so much the same, the furniture as it was the last I visited some odd months ago, same as it was when I was a child. Everything was perfectly in place, even the flowers in the vase were choreographed in an arrangement of neat beauty. Being in this room, in this house, on this land, brought me back, opened the floodgates of my memories.