Aftermath of a Dream

girl-having-nightmare

Here is the latest snippet from my novel-in-progress, THE ROCKY ORCHARD.

“Lula,” Mazie said.   Lula held her hands on Mazie’s upper arms and squeezed.  A shudder ran through Mazie’s body and left her trembling.  Her lip quivered and she said “Lula” again, as if testing the sound of her own voice.  “What just happened?  What in the world just happened to me?”

“You were telling me about your dream.  It must have been very powerful, especially for such a young child,” Lula said.

“But I was really there.  I felt the same exact things that I felt at the time.  When I had that dream in the first place,” Mazie’s breathing became uneven again.

Lula ran a gentle hand down the length of Mazie’s hair and brushed Mazie’s cheek with her fingers.  Mazie felt the tension drain from her body, and she inhaled a great breath, feeling the mountain air rush into her lungs.  “Your memories are quite vivid, dear.  And that particular dream was so frightening. You must have been so scared, so confused.”  Lula squeezed Mazie’s hand and asked, “Did you ever tell anyone about it?”

Mazie let out a small chuckle and said, “No.  No way.”  She thought for a moment and added, “I might have gone into my parents’ room.  I used to do that when I was still little.  If I was really scared about something, I would get up and wander into their bedroom and crawl under the covers beside my mother.  They would never wake up or anything, but I would lie there for a while.  I used to watch the little patterns and swirls that your eyeballs see sometimes when it’s dark and still.  They were strangely comforting; in fact, I would crawl into their bed and wait for the patterns to show up.  After a while my mother would stir and say, ‘OK, Mazie, that’s long enough.  Go back to your own room now.’  But that was OK, really. My parents’ bed always smelled really strongly of the two of them, all intermingled, and between the smell and their heavy breathing and the little floating dots, I felt OK again.”

Lula smiled but said nothing.

“You must think I was the strangest little kid, Lula.  Well, I told you I was.  Now you can see for yourself.”

“Not so far, dear.  Not so far.”

cabin

 

Canyon (flash fiction)

Then there was the whole Grand Canyon thing.

On the way back from California, the long, dust-bitten journey slouching toward Pennsylvania, my parents decided we should stop at some natural wonders along the way. Death Valley.  Joshua Tree.  The Painted Desert. My mother maintained a hawk-like vigilance as she continually scanned the landmark scenery through the car window.  She wore sunglasses, very dark green ones. Wearing glasses always caused her to hold her mouth funny, as if that were completely essential to keeping the glasses in place.  Every so often her hand shot out and grazed my father’s arm. “Stop the car!”

The words came out with palpable enthusiasm; but it was, nonetheless, a command. The second the car came to a full stop – amid a great spray of gravel and dust – my mother leapt out the door. She stood by the car, with her hands planted on her hips and her feet wide apart, surveying the scene. Around her neck hung her still camera; wrapped tightly around her wrist was the thin, worn shoelace cord of her wind-up 8mm movie camera.

It seemed to take her a minute to remember that the other three of us were there. She swung the top half of her body around and looked at my brother and me still sitting in the back seat as if our folly could not be grasped. We shuffled along behind her dutifully, slowly, willful in our disinterest.

My father stayed by the car. He lit a cigarette, and smoked it as if it was a great chore, but one that must be done.

My mother knew a lot about a lot, which of course made me suspicious. How can you go to all these different places, and the same one person knows so much stuff about all the trees, and the flowers, and the cactuseses, and the birds, and on and on, every single place you go.  Plus, my father staying by the car and not even coming along to see these great sights added considerably to my suspicion.  If this stuff was so wondrous and important, why would he want to stay by the car and miss it!

Way before we got to the Grand Canyon, I was pretty sure my mother was just making stuff up. So by the time she was making exuberant wide gestures while talking about time, and a river, and layers of rock, and millions of years, millions and millions of years — I just felt sad and confused.  My neighbor Patsy had already told me about the whole world being made in just seven short days, well six really, cause God took

closeup photo of person s foot near mountain
Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

one day off to rest. She had learned this at church, and this story was from God himself.  They said so at church, a Presbyterian one, but my other neighbor Carrie was an actual Catholic; and Carrie confirmed

man standing on green mini van
Photo by Nicholas James Singh on Pexels.com

this was, without question, the truth.

I felt a little better when my brother and I were allowed to feed some peanuts to the chipmunks that were running around everywhere. I was scared they would bite me, but they didn’t, and their teeny little claws felt creepy and good all at the same time when they crawled into my hand to get the nut.  I had to keep very, very still.  I felt like there were my personal friends.

But back in the car, as we drove away from the Grand Canyon, there was a whirl going on inside of me.  Kind of like when you make those whirly paintings at carnivals, the ones where you squirt bright, beautiful colors from ketchup bottles, and then the whole thing spins around, and you think it’s going to be so so pretty; but it’s a mess. An ugly, dark mess.

Why would my own mother tell such whoppers?

 

 

 

Ice: A flash fiction homage to pneumonia and the unreliable narrator

yves trevedy

I’m not really sure if I’m here.

Every so often, someone comes into the room.  The person always says, “how are you doing, Mr. ______.”  I usually say, “I’m not really sure if I’m here.” Not once have I gotten a reasonable response to this.  Sometimes the other person seems to ignore the question altogether, so you can see where this would be extremely unhelpful in determining whether I’m really here, or not.  Sometimes the other person gives a faint, indecipherable smile while they go about their business.  They examine the machines that surround me.  They make notes – sometimes on a computer they roll in and out of the room with them, sometimes on a little scrap of paper, once in a while on their wrist or hand or some other part of their own body.

Frequently the other person says, “I’d say you’re getting better.”  I used to ask: “Better than what?”  I had no idea what standard of comparison the person was using, and the statement confused me a great deal.  Once again, I never got a response that I could make any use of, so I thought it best to stop asking.  The people seemed quite well-meaning, and very dedicated to their various tasks as they moved around my room.  Sometimes I wondered if it was the tasks themselves, or the movements associated with those tasks, that were supposed to be helpful to me.  Perhaps it was a carefully choreographed dance, an incantation, perhaps designed to allow for my return, if I was, in fact, gone somewhere in the first place.

laurits Tuxen

Before the person leaves my room, they invariably grab a device that looks like an exceptionally outdated remote control and place it directly in my hand.  “Press the button if you need anything.”  I nod.  I am pretty sure that I nod.  “The button,” the person says, pointing to a bright red circle in the middle of the outdated remote.  I lay the remote right next to my hand and contemplate what I might need, in the future, so I could push the button and summon the people.  I’m not sure if they’re disappointed in me for not thinking of something.  I’ll try to work on this.

I’m very high up.  In a bed.  I am so high up that the floor seems miles away.  I can have as many pillows as I want, and they are the fluffy but firm ones that are just the way I like them.  They blankets are laughably thin, but I can have as many of these as I want, also.  I think this is a memory: I was shaking with chills, shaking way up high in my bed miles above the floor, and some people brought me blankets that had been warmed up.  They wrapped one entire blanket around my feet, and a second one around my torso, and a third they used to wrap me all the way up to my chin, making me into a mummy.

There are always two pitchers of ice cold water within my reach.  They are always completely full to the top, and the ice never melts.  The ice is the very best part.  People come and go from the room.  I don’t know where they go, because I don’t know what’s on the other side of the door to my room.  I don’t know for sure that they continue to exist.  But there are always the perfectly-formed, small, rectangular ice cubes.  They are immensely satisfying to crunch.  My hand gets colder and colder with each handful of ice that I take from the pitcher, and my mouth gets colder and colder as I crunch.  It is at these times that I most believe that I may be real.

rembrandt

Paintings, top to bottom: Yves Trevedy, Laurits Tuxen, Rembrandt

Little Burro – FLASH fiction*

66hotel

I was pretty sure my parents were tricksters.  From an early age, I was watching them out of the corners of my eyes.

Like when we took a road trip all the way across the country when I was four years old, driving west across old Route 66 from Pennsylvania to California, where my aunt and uncle lived.  Days and days of endless barren landscapes, our brand new station wagon throwing up a dust storm that followed in our wake.  No air conditioning.  The windows were wide open, making any kind of talking sort of impossible.  It was dry, and dusty, with a hot wind blowing in your face all day long.  My brother and I bounced and blew around in the back seat in a woozy stupor.  Every so often, one of us would come out of our haze long enough to let out a plaintive whine of “How much longer?” or, even more important, “Are you sure there’s a POOL?”

I got to eat pancakes every morning.

At one of the pancake places, I got a little stuffed burro with a bell in his ear for my souvenir of the trip.  Except I wasn’t allowed to make the bell ring because it drove everyone nuts, so mostly I just held him in my lap and stared at him.

My aunt and uncle had a new baby.  I’d pretty much never seen a baby before, and I wasn’t at all sure she was real.  She just sat there doing absolutely nothing most of the time.  Every so often I would pinch her, to see if she was real after all.  She would scream or cry or something, but somehow I still wasn’t entirely convinced.

I was pretty sure the people next store were really, really bad and would snatch me up or hurt me if I got too close to them.  They were always trying to get me to come over to their gate to talk to them, or to show me something.  They didn’t speak English, and they wore clothes that covered them all up from head to toe, and they were older than even my grandparents.  I made sure never to get too close to that gate, even if I didn’t see them in their yard.  But that meant that I had to stay in my aunt and uncle’s garage, and that was terrifying, too, as my aunt had shown me a bottle that she swore had a genie inside.  It was hard to find a place that was far enough from the gate and from the bottle, both.  But at least I could stand there and shake my burro’s bell.

My parents seemed to think that everything was funny.  They laughed all the time in California, and I was pretty sure they were laughing at me.  But I was watching them.  They just seemed like people with a lot of secrets.  Mean people.  With secrets.

roadtrip

 

*The blog has been silent for a spell, while I have labored over the re-re-re-writes of my upcoming novel Pushing the River.  In the interim, I have become fascinated with the concept of the unreliable narrator. And I continue to be taken with the idea of flash fiction.  Hence, a little piece that utilizes both.