Set over a Memorial Day weekend in a Michigan coastal town, an aging grandmother battling dementia shares the meaning of the charms on her heirloom bracelet with her daughter and granddaughter to remind them of what is important in life.
Arden didn’t need GPS to find her way home again. She simply followed the dragonflies.
Every year, as the cold, spring rains ended and summer — ever so slowly — began to crawl onto the shores of northern Michigan like a forgotten castaway, the dragonflies arrived to signal summer had begun.
Arden navigated her car toward little Lost Land Lake away from downtown Scoops and the sprawling, historic cottages that lined Lake Michigan. Hidden in the woods, pirated away amongst the pines, Lost Land Lake is where she’d grown up. …
“It’s so beautiful, mom!” Arden looked over at her daughter, the wind from the open window blowing her long, blonde hair.
“It is,” Arden said, slowing her car.
She had forgotten how stunning Lost Land Lake was: The sandy-bottomed lake, loons floating, swallows swooping, birch trees bending in the soft wind like a Midwestern version of On Golden Pond.
Arden eased the car over the many potholes that pocked the old dirt road, around an ancient pine trunk, an old birch stump and across a swinging bridge that sat over a creek winding its way to the lake, and, finally, alongside seven old log cabins with lake stone fireplaces, stoops filled with fishing poles, wet swimming suits and inner tubes, screen porches that faced Lost Land Lake.
Home. Lucky #7. The last log cabin on the lake.
Arden parked in a little area outlined by a fence of stacked logs. Before she could even stop the car, Lauren bounded out.
“I forgot how cute it is! It’s so Walden Pond!” Lauren exclaimed, with more enthusiasm for the setting and little log cabin than Arden could muster. “I used to think grandma’s house was made of Lincoln Logs, remember?”
Arden smiled, yanking their suitcases from the trunk.
“Lauren, I need some help,” Arden said. “Can you grab the groceries and wine?”
Too late. Her daughter had already kicked off her shoes and raced down the warped wood dock that jutted over the sandy shore, reeds and blue-green water of Lost Land Lake.
“Thanks! Appreciate it!” Arden laughed. …
Arden stopped and inhaled deeply. It was a habit every time she came home. Green.
If Arden could describe the scent of Michigan in spring and summer, it wouldn’t be a particular smell — blooming wildflowers or boat exhaust from the lake — it would be a color: green.
Everything — after a long winter’s hibernation — came alive, and it was that essence of life that permeated the state, like Mother Nature’s perfume.
I’m alive, it screamed, in every petal, leaf, reed! I’m green!
As Arden came to the porch, she suddenly realized she had no key, but then remembered: Her mother never locked a door in her life. She gave the screen door a tug: It was open.
She swung the creaking door open and dropped the luggage. The smell of wood and smoke — from decades of fires in the old stone fireplace — greeted her. Nothing had changed: Same old barn red glider, rocking softly in the breeze, same quilt over the white wicker couch, an odd array of jigsaw puzzles — shellacked, yellowed and poorly framed — lined the walls, patchwork rugs and painted floor coverings — of pines, ferns, trillium — scattered across the slatted wood floor of the porch.
It’s nice to be home again, Arden thought, even with so much on my mind.
Some of the screens were in need of repair: A couple had come loose from the frame, a couple had tiny holes.
The makeshift coffee tables on the screen porch — old milk crates, blueberry boxes and shelves from neighbors’ bee houses — were stacked with magazines. Arden kicked off her sandals, instantly feeling sand on her feet just like she had as a girl.
Growing up, her mother had read National Geographic, Life and Newsweek religiously. When Arden had told her mother she had gotten a job at Paparazzi, she had stated, “I never knew celebrities interested you. I hope you’re also writing about something that is deeply meaningful to you?”
Arden picked up a copy and did a double take. She stooped with some effort and began rifling through the issues.
These aren’t just any magazines, these are my magazines. Paparazzi. Seemingly every issue. Even though I don’t have a byline on any of the articles.
Arden’s lip quivered, and she clutched the magazines to her as if they were her mom.
A breeze through the screen door ruffled Arden’s hair, and she heard a fluttering. She tilted her head, trying to determine the noise.
She walked into the cabin and that’s when she noticed a myriad of Post-Its fluttering in the wind. They were stuck to nearly every surface: The log walls, the refrigerator, the microwave, the pantry, the phone, even the floors. Arden followed the trail, plucking and reading the jagged handwriting aloud: “Eat breakfast!” “Get milk!” “Do laundry!” “Pay the phone company!” “Vacuum!” “Make dinner!” “Be at work by noon!” “Always put keys in basket by fridge!”
Arden drew her arms around herself. She turned and walked into her mother’s bedroom, a little log-filled nook that overlooked the lake, the long shadow of a pine falling across the middle of the worn mattress. More Post-It’s were stuck to the mirrors.
Arden took a seat on her mother’s bed and turned to face the window looking out at Lost Land Lake. The glass was cracked open, and the smell of water and pine filled the air. In the distance, kids screamed as they jumped into the still-cold lake. A dragonfly flitted onto the old, wood windowsill.
Arden grabbed a pillow from her mother’s bed and began to hug it. Another scent overwhelmed her: Her mother’s perfume. Shalimar.
Arden noticed Lauren standing in the doorframe. In the shafts of light splaying off the lake and through the pines, her daughter looked so young.
“Mom?” Lauren asked, walking over to take a seat on the bed. “Are you OK? What’s going on with all the Post-Its?”
“No, I’m not OK,” Arden said, her voice shaky. “And I don’t know.”
Suddenly, the screen door banged shut.
Lolly appeared in the door, smiling. It was then she noticed Lauren fidgeting with a Post-It and the look on Arden’s face. Her smile began to fade.
“I didn’t want you to see this, I didn’t want you to see the cabin this way,” Lolly began to mutter. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
The above is an excerpt from “The Charm Bracelet” by Viola Shipman, a pseudonym for author Wade Rouse. It is reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. All rights reserved.