At midnight, the house smells of vinegar. On the kitchen table dry eggs dyed red and green and lavender and a blue as bright as a sky in early spring. The cat licks a purple paw, and I puzzle how to mail eggs out to Ohio, and why.
The head of the household has gone to bed, shaking his head. Cards and calls are his way of keeping in touch with college-age children, who come and go as they always have, but in longer and longer leaps. For months at a time, we live here and they live there. They sound plaintive when they call, wistful when they write. We have become for them a thing to remember.
I am taken aback. Remembering home is what grown-ups do, not children. The old, not the young, bring to the surface shoots of memory, long lost in the layers of the past -- a few slips at first, then more and more until whole days fill with remembrance cropping up beneath a sky as blue as the hyacinths that bloom in early spring.
Twentysomething seems still too tender a time to till the present into the past and Easter weekend hardly the place to begin. The divide between faint promise and darkening passion is far too sharply drawn. In a shadowed chapel, heads bow in muted grief; the light that streams through leaded glass is stained the somber shades of age-old texts. But, just beyond the heavy doors and worn stone steps, the young are given leave to streak in new and gayest dress across pale green lawns in search of baskets, bunnies, robins, feathery chicks.
Tonight, the world is dark and wild and dawn a long way off. Inside, the cat and I wind down, our merriment now spent. Upstairs, my husband slumbers, mailing eggs as thick, to him, in implication as the emptying of the nest of the mother hen that laid them.
But I know, as I hold two purple paws under water splashing into the sink, that it isn't to assuage my anguish that I send the eggs. I know that childhood has to end, to gather dust like wicker baskets under attic eaves. I know that Easter cannot be ''the way it always is,'' but Easter need not yet become ''the way it used to be.'' As I spill a bag of jellybeans into a shoebox filled with clouds of filmy grass, the clock strikes a quarter-hour as fragile as the tinted eggs it yielded. Change is in the offing, but just now a pattern seems unbroken, a rite of spring intact.
Until this evening, I have not thought of grace. It is a gift of unequivocal extension. With grace, a moment still enfolds her memory. Not yet must they part, moment to die, memory to disappear deep into the past awaiting a day, far in the future, when someone, seeing wet paws on an old tiger cat or a bed or flowers as gay as eggs that warmed an Easter morn, joyfully recollects.
Barbara Mallonee teaches writing at Loyola.