Living Life #12 “Can You Hear It?”

( a collection of independent vignettes)

Can you hear it?

At first, it sounds like the release of a long held breath. The kind where there are no bills in the mail, all of the work is done for the day, and everyone is home where they belong. Relief. The feeling floods you and makes the world safe. Then, when it breathes in, you turn your attention to it. Though not always because you wanted to. Sometimes it pulls at your mind so much it gives you no choice. Don’t be alarmed… all within a certain radius sense its pull. The air it carries is infused with its own special magic.

And the sight itself is beautiful.

The water has a pattern that plays over and over. It’s hypnotizing… and endless. Breathing out and coming forward, and breathing in and pulling back. It will play this game forever… and after it captures your eyes for longer than a glance you will want to play too.

It helps if it’s hot outside but that isn’t always necessary for some. On occasion even when the wind blows frost, I’ve witnessed the most steadfast soul become drowned in just the allure of the waves.

With each step closer the sand molds to your feet and again that safe feeling returns. Each grain wants you there, and each step sinks your heels deeper and deeper into the warmth of the ground.

It doesn’t matter that by the time you reach the end of the path your arches are burning because the water is right there kissing the fire away. A reward for making the long trek across the desert to say hello.

Back and forth, teasing you and bringing that relief again and again. Why bother with the game, when the ocean whispers to you just come a little closer and we never have to part.

Can you hear it?

Just a few more steps and now the water has a hold on your ankles. It feels like ice cream on a parched throat, a shower after playing in the mud, a fan blowing in your face. Safe. Oh so safe.

It isn’t until it’s caressing your waist that you hesitate. Some don’t even realize that they have gone that far out. It’s from feeling the pulse of the wind across the water, it’s from the crushing blue color of the sky and the sea meeting, it’s from dodging the waves that never stop coming.

Maybe this is too far.

The ocean is at its strongest by the time you reach this point. Everywhere you turn there’s water and the last time you checked there was no oxygen down there. Something rough scrapes against your heel and you jump moving a little bit deeper to get away. It was probably a sea shell.

I’m sure it was.

But the last part to this play is when the ocean’s breath no longer sounds like a sigh. Listen.

Now, it’s screaming. The realization hits you fast. The water moves by itself. It has no alligience to me. Or you. It does what it wants, and right now it is holding you in its hand. The feeling of safety drains from your body like sand down a hourglass as the next wave smashes into your mouth. A bitter taste of salt and seaweed. It’s this moment that you realize you could die.

Just come a little closer and we never have to part…

The tune never changes. Even though your feelings have. So you stand stuck trapped in what was once such a beautiful thing and, though your pounding heart will now say otherwise, it still is…

Can you hear the breath of the ocean? And if you do…

Are you strong enough to beat its game?

Living Life #11 “Solid Land”

(a collection of vignettes)

I bet I could catch him if I tried.

Like a goldfish in a mass of sharks I was trapped. With one arm pinned behind me and my other thrust forward with the paper in my hand I had to find a way to swim through. To my detriment though this wasn’t an ocean of water, but of concrete and business suits.

“Excuse meeeee.” I tried, squirming from under one elbow to another. The heat wasn’t helping anything. Beads of sweat were collecting at my temples and no matter how many times I ducked or swiveled I couldn’t escape the throng. There wasn’t time for this. I would need a different approach. “MOVE.” Well. That was more effective. “Please.”

A gangly guy with slipping glasses and a goatee moved immediately and the bald headed man in the pinstripe suit raised an eyebrow but to his credit knew when to follow an order. Even when it came from the mouth of a short girl with a ponytail of frizz. Couldn’t be helped.

A car horn blew by and between one breath and the next the mad dash of traffic running parallel to me dwindled to a trickle. No. Not yet. Just as my feet reached the corner of the street the crosswalk signal turned red.

“No.” I said out loud. Stretching in my sneakers, my eyes scanned ahead. Past the skyscrapers and coffee cups there was an endless sea of people, but there was just one fish I needed to catch… there. Just past the hot dog stand, right in front of the entrance to the park was the navy blue baseball cap.

I took a step forward. That’s when the horn hit me loud and clear. Right in front of my face the blur of a taxi rushed past, and I teetered back to the curb. That was close. The rest of the traffic stampeded past in front of me and the herd behind pushed like hammerheads testing the confines of the cage, but I kept my eyes locked on that cap just until it rounded the corner of the next block. The breath left my lungs.

The crosswalk light lit up. Deep breath in. I bolted, as did the rest of them. Being at the front of the pack was easier than being trapped in the middle. In no time at all, I distanced myself and took up the next challenge of weaving through the others floating along the street. The elderly couple I swung around shouted at my back, but I just crushed the paper tighter in my hand. The mother of three I was sure didn’t even see me breeze by, but her kid in the stroller giggled when I jumped over his fallen toy. After some awkward eye contact with the hot dog guy, his white shirt stained in unflattering spats of red and yellow, I whipped to the next corner and turned right. I stopped short.

The avenue was near empty. There was no sign of the cap.

With my heart pounding in my chest, my hand crunched to a fist at my side and my face wearing a defeated expression… I had lost him.

The paper crinkled. In my pursuit it had turned into a mess of wrinkles and creases. The once pretty note, no longer looked as pristine as it did when it had accidentally fallen out of his backpack and then against my ankle, blown back by the wind.

Do you ever feel alone
even when the whole world
is pressing against your sides?
(The water pressure
pulling you down.)

Why hadn’t I opened my mouth sooner? As soon as the damned thing had touched my skin, why didn’t I open my mouth when you were only a few yards away? Because… as soon as my eyes caught the words on the page I had to finish reading it.

Do you know
how the words you say
no one seems to understand?
(Speaking goldfish
in a tank full of sharks.)

The edges unfurled in my hands, the pen lines running slick with my own sweat and disappointment. The letters, all loose and flowing like water down a stream, trailed into marks on my fingers.

To what end
would you go
to find the answer
you need?
(How far down
into the sea
would you swim?)

This poem wasn’t mine to keep. But nor could I throw it away. That would just seem wrong. If I hadn’t read the whole thing would I have even gone this far to give it back to you? Probably not… but it didn’t matter now.

And what if
when you arrived…

I looked down the avenue once again.

you were still left dumb.

Every new face that appeared around the corners, and hopping out of cars looked the same to me…because none of them were wearing navy blue baseball caps. To no one I muttered, “You didn’t even finish it.”

It was easy to move when there wasn’t a crowd around you, and I got to the concrete wall easily enough but an unsettled feeling tugged at my stomach. After all the trouble, I had come up short. Pulling a pen from my purse I flattened the paper against the building then paused. Then I put the pen down, letting my own curving scrawl drift onto the page.

I don’t now how long I was standing there after I finished, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. After being so focused before, my head felt dazed when I looked up into a pair of navy blue eyes. He gave a nervous smile, and gestured to the paper still flat against my palms.

“Excuse me but…” and he let the sentence hang. But that was probably my fault. Saucer wide, my eyes zeroed in on the cap and I’m sure I must have looked like an idiot but…

“This is yours!” I whipped the paper toward him, quick and self conscious. “Here, thank God. I wanted to give this back. You dropped it.” I took a deep breath and a step back. His eyes roved over the sheet and now I was feeling embarrassed. Maybe best just to go. Another step back, but then my mouth got the better of me. “Sorry, I thought I lost you so I…”

“You finished it.”

To the surface
you’d float
spitting water from your chest.
And think maybe this won’t
turn out for the best.

“Well… I…” Cue the nervous laughter. “You can just cross it out.”

Until the air flows back
into your lungs
and out reaches a hand
to haul you back to solid land.

His eyes scanned the page again and with a quick shake of his head he said, “No. No.” I watched the cap shake side to side, it was too embarrassing to look at his eyes. It had been stupid of me in the first place. It was uncalled for to finish his work, rash to chase after a stranger, and luckless that I had decided to walk home today.

Realizing the answer
wasn’t going to come
when you called.

“It works.” he finished, dumbfounded. Wait, what? Did I hear that correctly? Rewind. His eyes met mine. They were a tad more noticeable, up close, than his hat. “Thanks.”

It needed
to find
you.

“Oh… you’re welcome.”

Living Life #8 (a collection of vignettes)

“Starved”

Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. If your slumped shoulders are falling to the ground, if your empty head is spinning in aching circles, if your heavy heart is painting the world in black and white that means you have already waited too long.

If only I had a will to take my own advice!

Walking through those double wide doors, my senses exploded. Everywhere in sight was the nourishment that my body was so desperately craving. Out front were the staples, basic necessities to every health conscious person. My feet flew to them as if wearing winged sandals, not my ratty black sneakers with the frayed laces, and picked up the first to touch my hand. Of course, immediately going for heavy stuff.

Hardy and filled to the brim with adventure, The Odyssey I quickly tucked to my chest. Whenever my shoulders slumped too far I could heft it up to remember that a long and difficult journey is made with the ending in mind. It would be the perfect breakfast to get me through the rest of the day.

From there it wasn’t hard to spot lunch. Moving further into the stomach of the store I found just the right thing to feed my head with twists and turns, and break it out of its mindless rut. I plucked Descendant of the Crane between my fingers. That would distract me to help keep down all the bad thoughts and still the hunger pains.

Now the last. Dinner would be the most challenging meal. It would have to be nutritious and well balanced, something with good flavor and peppered with light to get me through the night. I wandered, I searched and so many things looked quite good but not quite right.

Until… with a off handed glance what did catch my eye was Howl’s Moving Castle and I picked it up with a cry. Finally, finally one to turn all those blacks and whites to green and blue and a red so bright. Something to give the world color again and help my heart sleep through the night!

I took my food to the counter and as the cashier rung up my order I realized with a start, I only had $2 on me and no debit card. In my haste to feel better I overlooked that important thing. Learn from my mistake, so you don’t stray from your diet. You have to be well fed to keep your spirit up, your head clear and your heart shining bright. Otherwise you’ll overlook things then need to run home burning more calories in two trips instead of one. Ugh.

Living Life #7 (a collection of vignettes)

“Color”

It was a menagerie of colors.

Orange in flashes, the first lights of fire at night in the brittleness of the woods. Green everywhere, like vomit oozing from the same spot on the carpet that never would be the same again. Purple, the color of bruises that would show up after the fight the next day. Yellow, dead center, just like the perfect ring of a bullseye waiting to be stabbed. Pink, darting in-between and screaming for attention like the anger on a face of a manipulative man. Red… just like the trace of blood dripping down her arms from the thorns.

And white, the innocence lost and fading in the mess of it.

Her hold tightened on the bouquet. There was a note.

I’ll see you tonight.

She smiled. Yes, she could hardly wait. “Blue, the color you’ll be when I am through with you.”

Living Life # 6 (a collection of vignettes)

“Everywhere”

At first, I didn’t mean to meet him. It had been an accident that was the exact opposite of my intentions. The mini mart hadn’t even opened yet since Bob was late, though that wasn’t unusual. It happened from time to time. On a few occasions, he never came at all depending upon his mood. So I leaned against the front door and crossed my arms. Before my shift I always stopped at the gas station and bought my bagel. I had a bit of extra time and since it was nice out I figured I would give Bob a chance to show up. Only he wasn’t the one who did.

It couldn’t have been more than two minutes, when a big white monster of a car rolled off the interstate. Actually car was the wrong word, but it wasn’t a 16 wheeler either. Some sort of van in-between painted in off white with blue stripes down the sides. The exterior was desperate for a wash and the engine was louder than a lawn mower. I didn’t think that this was Bob. Just probably someone else passing through. After it parked in front of the pump, the absence of the engine made the air feel unnaturally quiet. I shifted uneasily on my feet. Waiting alone was okay, but two was a crowd.

Flicking my wrist up at my watch I meandered away from the door, and down the walk just as the driver’s side door slid open and closed. I decided suddenly to give Bob only three more minutes, putting off the notion that I might be eating from the vending machine later . Flicking my eyes down to my shadow I tapped my fingers against my thigh, ignoring the footsteps approaching. At least I was trying too. I heard him try the doors, and then the words “When does it open?”

Obviously he must have been talking to me. His voice was rough like sandpaper and his shadow was big enough to eat mine. It was with effort I pulled my eyes up to his red polo shirt. “Seven, supposedly.” I added the supposedly because it was 7:12 now, and his shadow gave me the impression I should be polite. The shadow crossed its arms, but as he turned I realized part of the reason it was so big was because of a backpack slung over one shoulder. I looked away and walked a few paces then stopped. So not to make it seem like it was his presence that was making me uneasy I took two steps back. One more minute Bob.

“You feel okay kid?” My shoulders jumped to my ears and in my surprise I met his eyes. Gray hair, black baseball cap, and skin that looked like it had never seen a day out of the sun. He must have been around 60 and he stood stock straight like a pole was running through his spine. With my skinny arms and wire frame I must have seemed much more cowardly looking.

“I’m fine.” I straightened my back to match his and dropped my arms to my sides. It was time to go.That would put an end to the small talk. But I would be sure to save a few words for Bob the next time I saw him.

I made to leave but that hard voice latched out again, and stopped me in my tracks. “You live around here kid?”

“Not far.” I answered, now stuck in the ropes of small talk. It would be the polite thing to ask him a question next, I knew. And I was nothing if not polite. That was the only thing really I had to my name. “Are you visiting?” There was no way he was from around here with that accent.

“I’ll be here for a week. Then I’ll be off again.”

“Vacation?”

“You could say that.” He smiled. With that vehicle and that shadow I didn’t think that was possible. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and offered me one. I shook my head. Smoking was an expensive habit, one that I couldn’t afford. Not if I wanted to eat breakfast every day. The gesture though was enough to relax me. “I’m retired. Every day is a vacation.”

With work looming in my mind, the notion seemed exotic to me. “Well, I do admit I’m jealous.”

“You’ll get there.” he said, like it was inevitable. A fact, a rule. I admired his confidence. It made me forget, for a moment, my last paycheck.

“Maybe.” I sighed.

He pulled the cigarette from his mouth. “You won’t with that attitude.” He said loudly, but not unkindly. His laugh was abrupt and clipped. “Life is out there for the picking. You only have to be strong enough to grab it.” He pointed to his head. “It all starts here. Right or wrong?”

His tone warranted no other answer. “Right.”

He took another drag on his cigarette and gestured to me. “Stand up straight, hold your head high, and remember the only things that can hurt you are the things you let.” He gave another of his brusque laughs. “Life is good.”

I laughed too, only half ironically, and straightened my shoulders. “Life is good.” There was nothing wrong in his words, they were true. But I couldn’t help but say, “But what about when bad things happen?”

“Bad things will always happen, that’s life. But so will the good. Every day you get up is another day that can be good. Remember that.” He flattened his cigarette against the trash can and tossed it in. “The world is a big place. That’s why I’m traveling. I’m going to go out there and grab it.”

I liked his attitude, his confidence. Maybe that was another reason why his shadow seemed so impressive to me. “Where are you from?”

“That’s no easy answer.” he put his hands on his hips and glanced up to the blue sky before looking back to me. “You see that’s my house, right there.” He pointed to the van. “I’ve been all over.” He paused for a moment and then added, “I picked up a little bit of myself wherever I went. So, if you wanna know where I’m from the most honest answer would have to be… everywhere.”

I inclined my head to him. I had never heard an answer like that before, not to that simple question. “That sounds like a mighty nice way to live.”

“If you think about it, it’s the only way to live. Why be from one place when you could be from all of them.”

“I’ve only ever known this town.” I said quietly.

He smiled once again and I noticed one of his front teeth was chipped. Nonetheless assurance shone from him like light from the sun. I would give anything for even just half his confidence. Would I ever be able to live like he did? I didn’t know the answer.

He reached into his backpack and pulled out a brown paper bag. Reaching inside he pulled out two wrapped oval shapes, and handed one to me. Underneath the paper was a bagel. I swallowed and spluttered my gratitude. I had nothing to give him in return, and I said as much.

As I sit thinking about him now I still hold close the last thing he said to me. It was this. “You drive your destiny. Everywhere is just that, everywhere. And most important, remember, life is good.”

Living Life #5 (a collection of vignettes)

The Pancake Lady

Every Sunday at 11:00 AM when Ms. Kerry would open her kitchen window, there would always be a line. It was an ordinary window, nothing special, in an ordinary yellow house, in an ordinary neighborhood with daisies in the garden and a little porch out front. Yet, it was still the most popular place on Flour Lane. Today when I arrived, with fifteen minutes to spare, I was second and Waff, of all people, was ahead of me. Needless to say I was peeved.

“How’d ya beat me?”

He curled his lip. Waff liked to curl his lip when he was feeling good. “I never went to bed.” To that even I allowed my eyes to widen, but then shrugged it off and scuffed my sneaker in the dirt. I didn’t feel peeved anymore. A little impressed even, but I couldn’t let Waff of all people know that.

Instead I let my habits get the better of me, and the snark, that Mama said I needed to stop letting out, slipped. “Your eyes are real puffy, Waff.”

“I’m a little tired.”

“Ya know, ya should have just woken up early.” I wasn’t very good at containing it though.

Waff’s lip uncurled. He pushed a hand to his head making all the blond hairs ruffle, and he reminded me of the old dog that wandered around the gas station looking for the scraps, his fur always mussed and his stare always droopy. Easy was what everyone called him because of the way he would bite all the hands that tried to feed him. Waff got bit twice before he learned, and I quickly learned to give Waff any bits I had for Easy.

Waff’s mouth hung open like he was looking for the right words and those were hard to come by for him, despite the fact that he loved to talk. He could go on and on about anything.

“I didn’t think of that.” he said finally. “For an eight year old, you’re pretty smart Frenchie.”

“Mama says that too, but she adds another word after smart.” I said and then added, “And she only says it when she’s mad at me.”

Waff laughed and bumped his shoulder into mine. “It’ll be worth it. How much longer?”

“Ya don’t have a watch?” In Waff defense, I don’t think many eight year olds did. Mama only gave it to me though so I would always be home on time for dinner.

Waff shook his head. “I asked but my Pa said I’d only lose it.”

I felt a bit bad so I told Waff the time, my snark on a tight leash. Only ten minutes left. Ten minutes though felt like a long time. “How long have you been out here Waff?”

He threw his hands in front of him. “Dunno.” He scratched his head. “But sometime before the rooster.” Miss Kerry had five chickens and one rooster, I could hear them clucking from behind the house.

“That’s a long time.” I swung my arms out and crossed them against my chest. Then put them down again because it was too hot. I leaned my head back against the house instead with a thump. Waff thumped too. But we both jumped when the window opened. It was Maple, Miss Kerry’s daughter.

“Will you two stop making a racket.” Maple took after her papa, which was why her hair was brown and longish. Miss Kerry had yellow hair that only reached far enough down to tickle her ears. Though if Gold wasn’t both of their last names, I wasn’t sure I would have thought they were related. Ya see I had never seen Maple’s papa. Or Mr. Kerry for that matter.

Maple was ten and therefore her words meant more than mine or Waff’s, at least that was what Mama said. Respect your olders. So, “Sorry!” is what I said. But Waff…

“Are the pancakes done yet?”

“Hush.” Maple scolded. “They’ll be ready at 11, like always.”

“How much longer?” Waff could keep the whine out of his voice as easily as I could keep the snark out of mine. Maple took a deep breath, and snapped the window shut.

“Ya made her mad.” I said, point blank.

To which Waff answered, “I always make her mad.” It was true. He did. It was part of the Sunday routine. The line behind me was getting even longer as well. Om had gotten behind me, and behind him was Cere, and behind her was old man Oats. He never missed Miss Kerry’s Sunday pancakes. You see Fast Break was so small a town, everyone knew everyone else, and everyone knew Miss Kerry made the finest pancakes in town. So, after receiving so many compliments she decided to share. Every Sunday she promised to make enough pancakes to feed whomever wanted. Even Easy was lingering near the end of the line that was now starting to wrap around the back to the chicken coop.

Waff thumped his head again. Probably because he was bored. I wondered what he had been doing before I had come. Again, he thumped his head.

“Ya’ll only give yourself a headache.” I whispered. “And then ya’ll give Maple a headache.” Waff looked at me, stock still leaning against the house. “And then… ya won’t get any pancakes.”

Waff’s mouth dropped open like the broken door hinge on my back porch. I tried to keep my smile in but it was hard. Until the window snapped open again. Then I lost that smile quick.

“Someone’s hungry. I never thought I’d see the day when you were first Waffle, son.” came Ms. Kerry’s sweet voice. Both of us jumped and turned around.

“Is it time?” I asked. I was hungry too ya know.

In answer Ms. Kerry brought out the first plate of pancakes and Waff took them into his open arms.

“I dreamed of this moment.” he said, because Waff said dramatic stuff like this even when it didn’t make any sense.

“Ya didn’t get any sleep last night.” I broke in, taking my dish next. I didn’t wait a moment longer to sink my fork in.

Living Life #4 (a collection of vignettes)

“The Red Bird”

She wasn’t sure if she saw the red bird first or if it saw her. It was one of those questions she would never have the answer to. Unless of course birds miraculously learned to speak English or she learned to tweet in bird. Since both circumstances seemed unlikely she left it at that. In the end it really didn’t matter. What mattered was that the red bird was there.

The first time she had seen it, she had barely acknowledged its existence. Instead she was more apt to sit and read than look out from the window next to her. Headaches didn’t cure themselves, only distraction and relaxation. So, the red bird had only got a passing glance.

The second time had been a few days later. It was raining profusely and the world outside was bathed in the dark stormy gray of the clouds and the vibrant green of the grass. She noted that the grass only looked that deep a color when it rained and some part of her wished she could see it more often. Then she remembered she really wasn’t fond of rain.

It was then that she had spotted the red bird again. It was huddled on the lawn, directly below her window. It’s contrast was so bright compared to the rest of the world. Autumn apple red wings, smudged dark shadow of a face and candy corn orange peak. It was looking right up at her.

“I’ve seen you before.” she had said.

And in answer the bird had flown away. It had been his turn to leave first after all.

This was the third time, a week from the last meeting. It wasn’t raining but it was cloudy. Her headache had eased but never left. There wasn’t much she could do. A different book was clutched in her hand, but it wasn’t open. Instead all she wanted to do was stare out the window, because she hadn’t tried that yet and she was too tired to do anything else.

The red bird didn’t take long to show up. It sat on the edge of her window sill just like the first time. “What took you so long?” she asked.

The bird bowed its head at her.

“I see. Well, I appreciate the company but if you’re busy I understand.” The red bird fluffed its wings and perched more snuggly onto the sill. It wasn’t going anywhere. She crinkled her eyes and smiled, the first in quite a bit. “Okay, then. If you’re keen on staying… I’ll tell you a story.” So she did and the more she spoke the better her head felt. So you see, it really didn’t matter who saw the other first.