#14 – The Trees

Hegelstraße - planet

Papa says my problem is I think too big.

Space is boring. The universe, repetitious. You can wander forever, as we have, and not see anything new. Stars are stars. They are born and die and the universe forgets them, if it ever noticed. Nothing is fresh in eternity. Nothing changes in a closed loop.

We float, looking for the perfect spot for a new world. He points to planets I’m allowed to practice on, and I build on them.

I’m fascinated by trees. Of all the things to put in a world, I find trees the most interesting. They reach for more than life allows, always straining for a little extra room. I plant them down and watch them grow, and imagine that they must miss me, terribly, to pull at the air the way they do.

So yes, I build my planets improperly, the trees so oversized that they curve around the earth and tangle in one another. I can’t help it. A branch grows and sprouts a smaller branch that sprouts a twig, and always, in every iteration—big and small—they reach.

I have a problem with scale, but so do the trees. That’s what I tell Papa. We want more than we should.

#13 – The Umbrellas

How silly this place is. I think I’m rather tired of it.

People laugh and dance all day. We eat chocolates for dinner. Birthdays are celebrated hourly. The children wear only the brightest colors, ask only the most darling questions, and never, ever cry.

Small birds sit on the windowsill in the morning, waiting until you’re ready to get out of bed. And then they actually help you dress. They whistle a crude tune, vaguely identifiable but slightly off— flat or sharp I’m not sure—and lift your clothes with their little talons to help you. My God, sometimes I’d like to dress myself, you know? God forbid I dressed myself.

It never just rains. It rains confetti (which, by the way, is an absolute mess to clean), or soap bubbles, or warm chamomile tea. Do you know it rained red umbrellas once? They floated down from the sky, handles swinging back and forth, carapaces settling in licorice branches. I felt like I was being mocked.

Our fountain spurts candy. Real candy. We have gumdrop streets and taffy houses. Our windows are made of sugar, which is terribly annoying. They break constantly. The children suck on the shards.

The sun smiles. In the morning he bounces (bounces!) up into the sky, turns around, and opens a big, flaming grin.

I want to have a bad day. I so desperately want to have a bad day. A day without singing and dancing and laughing.

My red umbrella sits by the door, waiting for the rain.

#12 – The Dog

I failed miserably with this one. 334 words. And I’m still not particularly happy with it. Oh well.

©Ying Photography

©Ying Photography

I’m waiting for the day the dog doesn’t come anymore.

The first night he arrived at my back door I assumed he was hungry and wanted food, but instinct told me not to let him in. He set off my reptilian brain—the panic button of the amygdala. By morning he was gone.

The next night I decided to leave out a little plate of hamburger meat. I wasn’t certain he’d be back, but I imagined if he were hungry it might be nice to find a small meal. I stood behind the door and waited. The sun sank and splintered behind the trees, and I heard crickets tune their raspy stridulations, setting the pace of the night—an organic metronome. Darkness bloomed in my backyard. I waited.

An hour went by, maybe more. I didn’t see him walk up. The eyes do funny things in the dark. He was standing at the door, staring at me, the untouched plate of meat directly beneath his feet.

This went on for weeks.

I’ve never owned a dog, but I know dogs pant. They don’t stand fixed for hours without shifting their feet, or sitting. He doesn’t sit, never opens his mouth. I haven’t seen him blink. He simply waits at the door, presumably for hours, then leaves at a certain point—daylight? Who knows. I don’t wait to see him go.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being silly, and should let him in. Maybe if he scratched at the door, or barked. But he only stares. His eyes are black obsidian, two stones rooted and immovable, terrifyingly stubborn. When I first looked into them it was like peering into the forest at night, out beyond the glow of my warm home, where the light ebbs on the shore of darkness and dies.

Something is coming. I wish he would tell me.

I wait for him every night now. He comes and stares at me and I stare back at him until I’m too tired, my eyes spotty with night-blindness, and I have to go to sleep.

#11 – The Lake

I failed my word count challenge again—this is 284 words. 
I may cut it up later.

ice on water

She drowned when she was only three. I wasn’t watching. She went down so fast and the spot where she was standing smoothed so quickly, I was left staring at a giant lake with infinite places where she could have been. She never broke the surface. It was like something just pulled her under.

Mama blamed me. She was right to. One minute Anna was stamping her red sandaled feet in an inch of water, the next she had disappeared. I was so young at the time, and my imagination filled in the gaps strangely—in my mind I saw her walking into the lake, each step a bite to sate the water’s appetite. Chomp, there go her shoulders. Chomp, her neck. Chomp, she’s gone.

That was the summer that lasted forever. The sun was a blinding, accusatory eye glaring down from the heavens. The lake was empty that season. Anna had poisoned the water and no one wanted to go near it. The lake was dredged, but nothing came up. She was just gone. Everyone thought I’d lied.

I never told anybody what happened on the first day of winter after she died. How the lake froze over with the thinnest layer of ice and how that layer sprouted crystal blossoms of perfectly formed ice flowers—they looked like the King Protea I had seen once at the Botanical Gardens, bulbous at the base with rays of petals bursting from the center. A sea of tiny suns.

They disappeared shortly after, melted down by the morning light. But I saw something before they were gone—a tiny red sandal cradled in an ice flower out in the middle of the lake. A little gold buckle glinted in the dawn.

#10 – Le Violon d’Ingres

Le Violon d'Ingres, by Man Ray

Le Violon d’Ingres, by Man Ray

When I was young, I told everyone I met that my Mother was a violin. Of course no one believed me, but it was true. Little girls can say what they want without much repercussion—the blessing and curse of a gendered age.

My Father was a reserved man. He never spoke of my Mother, but that was not surprising—he barely spoke.

Father found chatter offensive. He loudly clucked his tongue and sucked his teeth at people talking on the street, and tugged my hand to rush me past their noise. We rarely went out so as to avoid the cacophony of life that set his teeth on edge, though it wasn’t the sole reason for our isolation.

The only sounds my Father could bear were the lilting, dulcet tones of Fritz Kreisler. He loved his music. There is nothing that so soothes me like the gentle keening of Kreisler’s violin, he would say. He especially loved Massenet’s Thaïs Meditation;  he listened to it every night before bed. I’m certain he always cried at the end.

As I said, my Mother was a violin. I know this because of the soft, silk-like strings that slip down my spine, and the delicate, mirrored f-notes that stand sentinel astride them. Father’s back is unremarkable, so it must be a gift from my Mother.

I have never played a note. He keeps me covered always. I think he’s ashamed. I think Mother must have played beautifully.

I wonder at her song, and what it sounded like.

#8 – The Woman

Nature forging a baby, 1490-1500

Nature forging a baby, 1490-1500

I’ve looked my whole life and never found it. It’s like it never existed. But I know it did. I only need look at my sister to know I’m not crazy.

Mother was too pregnant then to entertain me, and I was too young to comprehend. I remember the upset when she couldn’t help me load the loom—my fingers too stubby to do it alone, and she too big to bend over and bother with it. I resigned myself to running away, folded some small bits of bread into cloth, and quietly left the house at twilight.

Even then I knew our forest as well as a willow warbler, so when I came upon that strange tree with crimson limbs and gilded leaves, I knew something had happened. Perhaps I’d been looking at my feet too long, but I was not in the forest of my home.

Behind the tree lay a stone house, squat to the ground and roughly hewn. I could see light crackling against the window panes, and crept forward to peer inside. I’ll never forget what I saw. A tall, flaxen-haired woman held a smithy hammer high above her head. A baby lay on the anvil before her, almost shapeless. With each crack from the hammer, another detail emerged—a tiny pinky, the curve of an ear, a cupped palm.

I ran. I ran until the light from home began to wink through the trees.

The next day, my sister was born. Her face stopped the breath in my throat.

Friday Fictioneers 02.08.13 (100-word limit)

copyright-Rich Voza

copyright-Rich Voza

The hallways were long, dark, slanted. When you ran it echoed loudly and your body felt askew. It was a donut, impossible to get lost in. Impossible to go anywhere new.

We crawled out the office window and sat on the eaves of the building. From that vantage, you could watch the planes roar in overhead. Dad let us sit out there often.

We ate Planter’s Cheezballs, played with model airplanes, sneaked down a cylindrical staircase that opened into the ticketing area. We were airline kids—a rare breed. The airport was our playground.

Those kids don’t exist anymore. Airports have changed.

#7 – The Button

EARTHQUAKE button, Sheraton, Seattle, WA, USA

EARTHQUAKE button, Sheraton, Seattle, WA, USA

I don’t know why I pushed it. I thought it was a joke.

It was a strange invitation. Come to where the world falls at your feet. It was mixed in with the rest of my mail—all junk mail, by the way. Who am I to pass up a free massage at a 4-star parlor? I’ve never even had a massage.

I should have known something was strange when the doorman opened the door for me, tipped his hat, and left the building. When I turned to look at him, he was running down the street at full speed.

I swear, I thought it was a joke. There was no one else in the building. The hallway was perfectly quiet. All I could hear was the electric stutter of the florescent lighting and the echo of my feet hitting the linoleum.

The invitation clearly stated PENTHOUSE. And the elevator only had the two buttons: PENTHOUSE and EARTHQUAKE.

Something inside me sort of did a headstand. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. No wonder that doorman took off so quickly. He could see it in me.

I wonder how many people just hit PENTHOUSE. And then what? Got a free massage? I should have hit PENTHOUSE. I could have had a free massage.

But no. I had to press the other button.

Now, everything’s gone. Or almost gone. And they’re all looking for the one who pushed the button.

I wonder why. It seems I took some kind of test.

I wonder if I failed.

#6 – The Leftovers

Where's grandpa in grandma's loft

Where’s grandpa in grandma’s loft

“She’s still here.”

My father was whining. Hunched over in a chair, his feet tapped a soft staccato against the floor. One hand continuously passed over the other—an effort at self-comforting. I could hear the susurrus of old skin; it sounded like a faucet was on in another room—a distant, muffled frequency.

“She’s not here, Dad. She’s gone.” I said the words, and they immediately sounded silly. We were surrounded by her—wicker baskets of yarn stacked to the ceiling, spools of thread on the floor, raw fleece billowing from plastic wrappings, spinning wheels, buckets of knitting needles, bags and bags of clothes. It smelled distinctly of her: wooden, warm, wooly, like a sweater in a cedar drawer.

“No no no. She’s still here.” He was pleading with me. He didn’t want me to empty the room. All those memories that I was planning to cart to the Goodwill. I might as well dissect her on the floor and remove her limb by limb.

“She’s always going to be here, Dad, even if all this stuff isn’t.” I turned away from him and walked to a stack of straw suitcases piled on a chair. In my mind I was already opening them to see what was inside.

NO.” The muffled faucet stopped, and two feet snapped resolutely to the floor. I turned to look at him, and saw it. Or maybe felt it.

“She’s still here.”

Fear. He was afraid. But it wasn’t her absence.

She was here. I could feel it. And he was right to be afraid.

#5 – The Darkness

Cutting a Sunbeam, by Adam Diston, 1886

It is a lengthy, exhaustive process, but a necessary one. The Sun is an infrequent visitor in our town, and we must be at the ready for his oft-abrupt and unannounced visits.

I keep a very sharp pair of scissors in the pocket of my dress. They were Grandmother’s scissors, and she housed them in a beautiful, engraved leather sheath. I carry them always.

Darkness is a scary thing. It does funny things to the mind. We spend so much of our time trapped indoors, the darkness outside  buffeting against our windows like a petulant wind, I don’t wonder why some go mad. We’ve lost a lot of people to madness, doors flung open and bodies running screaming into the black. They never come back.

The Sun is our only weapon, meager though it is. The scissors, our only tool. I am The Shear of our household. Charged with  carefully snipping away pieces of the Sun for safekeeping, I store the light in tall, glass jars with sides of white velvet—never in a dark box, for the shards would grow dull and extinguish.

It is with these pieces that we grow our food inside. A tiny snippet goes in the baby’s milk to ensure good health. And when someone falls ill, as Father did at last Lightening, it is with the Sun that they are cured.

Before she died, Grandmother said the Darkness was lengthening. Every Lightening, I fill fewer jars.

Outside the Darkness howls, his voice, triumphant.