Aside

For over a year, I have been writing short pieces of fiction, little drops from my imagination with others who share my passion for reading and witnessing moments, or embracing their own imagination. I thank anyone who had read a story and helped support my creativity. Raindrop-fiction will be undergoing a slight adjustment in the near future, expanding its boundaries into non-fiction and inviting new writers to add their ‘drops’. More to come…

 

Arms Or Branches

Dedicated to anyone who searches for improving themselves, and to anyone who finds comfort in strange places. -SHP
 
 

Something unusual happened to Grace on day eighty-seven.

The buckeye tree was in the same place, waiting, which had been the routine for eighty-six days. It had been in the same place then and hadn’t decided to pick up its roots and leave her alone now. But Grace was later than usual today and was worried, yet early or late, either way, it remained.

You’re there.

As usual, Grace noticed that it became more silent the closer she got to it, save the soft rushing from her purse as it brushed against her winter coat. This sort of silence was part of the magic, Grace decided. No where else in the day was there this kind of quiet; from the foaming sound the passing cars made outside her apartment that awoke her daily to the sizzle of electric failure in the outdoor porch light, there was noise all around her.

Thank you.

As a rule, Grace never threw salt over her shoulder if she tipped the jar over on the table. She didn’t hold her breath in a tunnel and make a wish. And she didn’t put any stock into the idea that colors held significance. She was never particularly well with her judgement as her astrological sign predicted, nor was she great about setting about with any particular purpose in the new year.

Except for this. In this, all her rules were broken. Step on a crack and you’ll break your…blah blah, foolishness. This was real. If she didn’t walk down this path, didn’t lay eyes on this buckeye tree, (which she had been to everyday for eighty-seven days), well…something along the equivalent of missing her train and being stuck far from home would happen. The buckeye seemed to smile at her as she thought of that comparison.

You understand. 

Of course it didn’t start this way. On the first day, she nearly walked right past the buckeye tree, muttering to herself what utter nonsense it was to put stock into something so singular. Belief was something you weren’t ever supposed to see. That was a requirement. Someone had mentioned to Grace, in childish whispers and forgotten memories that in order to find wisdom, find someplace still. That when you surrender to not knowing the answers, you understand the remedies. As Grace passed the buckeye tree that first day, she found herself tripping over the pavement getting lost in the branches above her.

By the end of the second week, thirteen days straight of visiting the buckeye, (for she was now, through vigorous google searches, fairly certain that was what the tree was), she had reinvented her idea of belief in the tangible objects. But on day eighty-seven, something different happened, something that hadn’t happened before. Someone else was at the tree first.

Grace approached cautiously, thinking that she was better off just passing straight by and circling back. That way she could prolong the enchantment, like waiting until the end of the day to read the next chapter in a good book.

Please go away. 

The man, wearing a tan trench coat and reminding her of Carmen San Diego, showed no signs of retreat. He stood reviewing the branches and making slight movements, representing his own form of intrigue. He wasn’t exactly still, but something about the slight change of foot or the shifting of his neck made it clear he was paying homage to her tree. Her tree. Grace decided to slow her pace and wait him out.

Any moment now, she told herself, he would realize that if this stranger wanted to collect his thoughts or meet up with someone, he could damn well find a different tree because this one was taken. She would find her peace she so loyally was here to collect, it was day eighty seven after all.

Any moment now.

“Not going to happen,” the man stated gruffly.

At first, Grace wondered if he was even talking to her, he wasn’t looking in her direction but he had responded to her as if he could read her thoughts. She frowned and looked around, making sure there was no one else around. No one was there except a small brown and white terrier in the distance, whose little paws appeared to be doing a better job of jogging than its owner.

“I mean it,” he reiterated.

“Excuse me?” Grace asked hesitantly, wondering why she already felt so defensive.

“I’m not going to leave, so you can just find another place to stop to check your Facebook or whatever it is you were wanting to do,” he said, turning his head only slightly. Grace noticed his hands were in his pockets but he still continued to gesticulate with them making his jacket wave at her like an Italian mother agreeing with her son.

“I’m not here for that,” Grace replied meekly.

“Well I look forward to this time everyday and there are other trees.”

Grace choked quietly at this unexpected disservice, feeling warmth spread out in her cheeks despite the wind. As she tried to think of a response, he turned and looked at her straight on. She noticed his eyes, which were – to be fair – not anywhere near as hostile as his words; such a bright blue they made his hair, which was brown, look gray in comparison. When she failed to comment, he raised in eyebrows in silent question?

What should I say?

“I can’t just find another tree,” Grace confessed, surprising herself at her choice of honest retort.

The eyebrows lowered on Grace’s intruder, his lips tightened as if trying not to smile and turned back to look at the branches of the buckeye tree. He seemed to focus, to her annoyance, on the long black branch that twisted and curved down so low it reminded Grace of an arm outstretched over a lake, dipping its fingertips down to brush the surface of the water.

“I see,” he said to the branch. “Well I can’t either.”

Grace almost stomped her foot in indignation. What was this person doing here of all places?! He clearly didn’t have something to find, not like she did. At least, this person didn’t look like someone seeking wisdom or refuge.

Do I?

Certainly it started out feeling foolish, but this moment in her day was anything but flighty. Deciding to make one thing a daily occurrence is easily understood when it’s drinking more water or learning a new word because it’s your health, your mind. But what if its your spirit that needs repetition? Eighty seven days ago Grace passed through this street and stopped by this tree. She found herself peering first at the lovely teal veins running through each shiny leaf or the chapped black bark, then later the yellow nuts that hung like Christmas tree bulbs or the rough like tiny scissor cuts. Most trees sounded like rain, not unpleasant but this one seemed to put a finger to its mouth and hush those nearby so all that was left was a stillness inside of her. She was downright renewed.

I’m seeking something.

To Grace’s utter astonishment, she found it completely logical to find a place once a day where she could be untroubled; for her, the buckeye tree succored this. Everything else was achievable if this moment happened. She was addicted. And there was no way Grace was going to back down to someone.

I’ve found something.

“I’ll wait,” Grace decided.

“Well I don’t want you too,” he shot back. But he seemed to be disappointed with himself and grumbled, “I mean, I’m just not in the mood for company.”

Grace took a step forward. Very shyly she said, “look, I’m here for a reason. I know how it sounds, but it needs to be here.”

The man turned and scrutinized her differently. He brought a hand over his face and paused it over his wide mouth and said something into his palm. As if something had occurred to him, he asked, “is this about someone?”

“Excuse me?”

“You know, who’s passed?”

“No!” Grace announced, horrified at the thought and embarrassed at the prospect of it being this strange person’s reason.

He shrugged it off, dropping his hands to his sides, signaling that whatever his reasons were, that wasn’t it for him either.He appeared to make up his mind about something and moved forward toward her, making Grace swallow involuntarily and squeeze her hands into balls. He approached slowly enough, sensing her apprehension.

“Justin,” he announced. His hand was cold from the wind, but dry and soft like flour on a marble cutting board. He smiled at her quick eagerness. The blue crinkled in the corners, he must’ve smiled so often it made it difficult to approximate his age.

After recognizing their mutual attachment, an hour passed quietly, evaporating as quickly as each smokey tailed breath. The spell prevailed, releasing Grace with a promise to be there again for her tomorrow. Justin left before her, having gotten to the tree earlier. As he walked away he recognized the familiar blinking of his wristwatch. The repetitive clicking sounded like it had suddenly walked nearer, both sound and comfort joining him like a friend as he walked further from the buckeye tree.

Running and Seeking

There is no such thing as silence. Turn off everything in your house, sit there alone and you can still hear the wind outside and the buzz of electricity haunting your walls. Put a pillow over your head and you hear your blood thrumming in your ears. No fairy tale villain could ever command silence, no matter how hard they stomped down their cane or cut their fingers through the air bindingly as if to underline the word. Silence!

And forget about the wilderness. Sound is never more alive than in seclusion. Be alone long enough, try it! and the sound of your own breath will be like ocean waves crashing on the beach and your thoughts will become a clamoring restaurant with forks scraping plates and conversations all trying to out shriek one another.

No, that’s a lie. And I take it all back. Silence is real, but only exceptionally. It happens when you’re not noticing, so that the return from it back into sound apprises you that a heartbeat ago, you forgot to pay attention.

Usually, a hush is the most you can hope for and I am far from it. Specialty food stores were developed to bring exotic ingredients to your everyday meals, to elevate your mashed potatoes with truffle oil or your organically fed pork tenderloin with leaks and saffron. As I continued to glance among the culinary outlandish, choosing was becoming increasingly impossible. A simple task of finding something to make for my recently diagnosed neighbor left me an hour in with nothing in my basket but a half pound of seafood salad and water crackers for myself. But my family recipe of  perfectly warmed lean cuisines seem lacking when something like illness is involved. Between my debating mind and the lady in her black tweed coat who is on her bluetooth so it looks like she’s talking to the sun dried tomatoes, I am certain that quiet lives no where near aisle four.

Should I redirect toward the olives? The international cheeses? What would Black Tweed buy, I wonder. She seems to know what she is looking for. Somehow the olive oils seem more decipherable. I think to myself, what process makes olive oil more virginal? Something to do with pressing?

It had been nineteen years since I’d heard the deep voice, and still I knew whose it belonged to at once. “It’s you,” he said. The sound made my lungs expand without air. I took my time turning to see him.

“Hi,” I said to Runner Kane.

As far as first kisses were concerned, mine was innocent enough but pressed enough oils from my skin to make me shine just from the memory of it like a well used iron skillet.

Runner Kane was always a different kind of perfect. Beautiful and cut sharp on every angle, irresistible. There’s always a house in a nice neighborhood that’s trying to create a new level of perfection with diagonal lines in the daily cut grass or identically shingling their dog house. But there is also a house that seems more vibrant, not based on their holiday banners or heavy garden barrels. Just eye catching in its structure, perfect as it is. That was Runner, the first boy to kiss me.

That anomalous house, the beautiful one, never appears to be realisitcally occupied. We all called him Runner Kane but his real name was Paul or something that didn’t fit him at all. Sounded like an attorney you might need if you didn’t pay your taxes. He was always tan on his forearms and neck and face no matter the season, probably because he never wore a jacket which was odd since I hardly ever saw him inside. Outside and always running; everyone understood it about him. I was no different in this.

So I knew he wasn’t interested in me. Not really. But there he was, sneaking into the dark squeaking summer grass in my backyard one night. I don’t even remember why I was alone out there. I do remember what he first said to me.
“Been looking for you.” He had something tucked in his pocket, white and delicate. And alive. “Shhh, come on,” he whispered to me.

“What is it?” I breathed.

He found a good spot and laid down in the moonlit grass, stretched out and tucked his fingers toward him, waiting for me to get near enough. Only after he was certain I was did he present the little kitten. So small, mewing and happy enough just to be near Runner’s warmth.

I knew he was there to kiss me. Knew like an open scratch must know that it will scab over and heal itself. I stretched out next to him on the grass and that surprised him. I thought that if I flirted more with my hair like my best friend Samantha did with Jacob Morrison then it would all just belong to someone else and not to me. I couldn’t be shy because I wanted that moment with him, even knowing that once he had had it, he would be running again. I hated what it was that would come next for him. Hated it and loved it at the same time, because whatever it was, we would have him in common.

Something about the improbability of it, the sheer surreal aspect of having Runner Kane there in my backyard where my Dad tossed the ball to our dog Brooks meant that it wasn’t like real life where moments are awkward and you say the wrong thing and stew over it for weeks. This wasn’t a reality that he or I would be talking about with anyone ever again. Maybe I felt more bold because I guessed he would forget it the next day.

He was looking at me play with the kitten. Easy enough, he must have thought. But I wasn’t the least bit interested in the squirmy cotton fluff he brought me. I remember smiling, it might have only been with one side of my mouth.

And then I lifted my face to his. He wasn’t expecting that either, me kissing him first. Nothing to coerce from me, my lips were willing. Someone finally searching for him. He laid his warm palm on the hallow of my throat and his fingers tapped lightly over my voice. He turned his head, investigated each lip. I was just as eager. I took what I wanted while I could, grazing my mouth over his closed eyes and tasting the taught section on his neck.

Then his mouth faded from my memory as the present shouted a sale on pine nuts blared over the grocery speaker and the moonlight of my backyard brightened into the florescent lighting of aisle four.

He wasn’t looking away, or being bashful. His feet were still on the ground, wide spread and planted in front of me. Not running. “It’s you,” he repeated. 

“Hey! Watch it!” the lady with the black tweed coat yelled from behind me. I had dropped the bottle of olive oil I was examining on the floor at my feet. The yellow liquid pool was expanding, looking like honey melting on a summer sidewalk.

I hadn’t even heard the glass from the bottle break.

A Distinct Approach

Memories approach like sneaky thieves, stealing your thoughts and leaving different ones. Some are pleasant like walking past a roasting nut cart, filling your senses with cinnamon and buttery nutmeg and others unexpectedly sting you like picking up the wrong end of a toothpick.

Full of memoir potential, a single table with an umbrella zealously sits. The table is weaved steel and the umbrella is two shades of blue, a deep azure and a light faded teal. The table does not tend to wobble like every table of this type tends to do when placed on flag stones; it is not even supported by stacked sugar packets to achieve this rare anomaly. There are only two chairs and no other companion tables nearby; a vibrant pistil on a flower without any surrounding petals. It is a particularly prime spot, encouraging any to stop here.

At first, Kylie walks by this table without so much as glancing at it. She has a song stuck in her head and its a good song. She is swaying her hips a little more than usual to her own tune, unaware of little else. Music was often like a defiant curl in her hair that bounces away its own style without being held back by an ear or a pin. Kylie sings often. She sings, she dances with her fingers on the steering wheel when she drives. If she has a drink with a straw, she always puts the straw in the side of her mouth instead of in the conventional front. She hates wearing shoes that don’t have the click of a heel.

Kylie passes the table, the color of the umbrella catches her eye and she pauses, takes a picture with her smart phone and continues forward, swaying a little more awkwardly as she texts the picture to her own email so she could update her wallpaper on her laptop later. Kylie is a second late in moving out of Walt’s way, who is heading in the opposite direction. Their proximity to one another cause shy glances and smiles and Kylie giggles an apology to Walt, saying something about how strange that the flow of pedestrian traffic could become so confusing, and her not even being English. Walt chuckles politely at her wit and stares a little too long at her mouth as she makes her excuses.

After Walt passed the sweet girl with the phone, he reaches for another potato chip in the bag he’s carrying. The sandwich is long gone, but traces of mayo remain at the corner of his mouth. Walt had found a bench for the sandwich but the chips got to come along on his walk since he only had a quick break before he had to get back to work.

Walt likes his tech job but hates the place he works at, anyplace that mades him repeatedly wear khaki pants and a name tag he finds unappealing. In negotiation with himself when he took the job, which he was too old and too qualified to take, he had pledged to take a walk everyday when he got a break. Those that work nearby are used to seeing him walking and eating at this time of day.

The khaki’s, now slightly worse for wear from the greasy, potato chip finger smears, are sagging slightly. Walt looks to his right to see if the coast is clear, the lady with the phone is now far enough behind him and the two guys ahead aren’t looking in his direction. Walt grabs his belt loops and lifts. This move, done frequently and by many, is qualifiedly private – somewhere between underwear shifting and arm pit smelling, inevitably your embarrassed to be seen doing it. Walt realizes he had forgotten to look to his left where the table with the blue umbrella was while performing this task. Too late, he looks now, flushes slightly at what he sees, and continues walking, reaching for another chip. His step quickens and he moves farther away from the table and closer to his place of work, thinking as he goes of the nice surprise run in he got on his walk today.

Noah is with his brother Brandon, both are enjoying the sibling silence that normally walks with them. They were the same height, have the same color of light brown hair and are in the habit of causing strangers to become fed up when guessing which is the oldest. Noah elbows his brother to look up at the table with the umbrella, and as Brandon does, they mutually decide to stop and linger.

Noticing hesitancy, a sense of protection coming from that direction, the brothers slow down their pace and come forward, innocently looking at what lies propped against the steel chairs and sprayed across the flagstones like a garland on a banister.

Brandon tilts his head to the left, revealing a wide birthmark on his cheek. He lifts his finger, points for Noah to see the drawing of the young woman, oblivious to her surroundings, bashfully tucking her hair behind her ear next to a guy wearing dockers and wiping his hand on his saggy pants and smiling at her. Brandon grunts slightly, communicating to Noah that he’d already noticed it. In that small interaction, it becomes clear that Noah is the oldest brother.

Later at her computer, Kylie adds the picture of the beautiful blue umbrella she had seen today, reminding her of the guy she almost walked into with the bits of lunch still on his mouth and the charming smile on his lips. She has successfully cropped out the man sitting at the steel table with the sketchbook and pencils.

 

Learning To Swim

“Mama, can I go to the pool?” I ask.

Without even looking up she says, “No, baby. I told you the pool at this hotel isn’t working.”

I know the pool isn’t full of water because it is the first question I ask whenever we are about to choose another hotel. Still, I say “I mean, can I go to the big empty hole in the ground? I’ll be careful.”

Mama is putting pieces of dirty clothing into a white plastic bag to be laundered, smelling each one and still folding it before stuffing it in. She’ll be finding things to do all day, things that would normally take her a few minutes to do, she will make last to keep her mind busy. I wonder if I’ll learn how to do that when I become a woman. Mama sits up and eyes me for a moment and I know she is wondering why I’m wearing my white bathing suit if I am not going swimming. I’d been wearing it since breakfast, I got dressed in it. She noticed then, somehow she was noticing for the first time again as if it could tell me something.

“Where’s Sam?” she asks.

“Helping Papa,” I say, she already knows where Sam is. Since my brother is helping my Papa, I suppose I should be offering to help her. But my brother is older than I am. “Pleeeaasse?” I ask reminding her I’m still a kid. I remind her whenever I can, whenever I remind myself.

“Fine, be safe,” she concedes and I’m out the door.

Since I’ve already scoped it out along with the vending machine, ice machine, and brochures, I know the pool is through the outside plaza and a ways behind the hotel. It’s not shaded, there is no canopy or trees. There is a rectangular chain link fence but with the exception of one maroon Mazda on the outside, the area is vacant. On a day like today, where just the walk from my room to the fence is making my scalp tingle with freshly hatched eggs made of sweat, this place should be full to the brim with squeals from kids and damp beach towels. The only thing I hear is the mute sizzle of the sun heating the concrete and the whisper scratches of my bare feet on it. It was criminal to have a non-working pool in summer time, no matter where you come from I decided.

I squeeze through the fence no one is watching and move straight to the stacked up lounge chairs and climb up on top like I’m the princess in “The Princess and the Pea” on a stack of mattresses. The plastic strips are burning my skin but I ignore it like I do my smoking feet. My friend Anna would make a fuss, would wear her shoes and wrap a skirt around her legs and tell me I’m nuts. But I feel brave when she says that.

I start singing Bob Marley. Mama was singing the same thing earlier, it must be in my mind. She sings all the time, doesn’t even know she does it. I want to be like her but I always know when I’m singing.

“Do I look worried?” a voice says. I drop a squeak into the empty pool, it echoes back along with my embarrassment. I see a boy with dark hair on his head, it curls around his ears. He is squatting over a crack in the ground, a stick is next to him like he’s been using it. Using it on what, I wonder?

“Huh?”

“You where telling me not to worry about a thing,” he says. His voice is deep but I can tell it just changed. When that happened to my brother, Mama cried for a week and Papa let him have a beer.

“Oh.” I don’t answer him. I swing my feet back and forth on my tower, trying not to look at him even though I want to stare.

“Come over,” he says. I do.

“What are you doing?” I ask. He is squatting but only his bare feet are touching the ground.

“Pool is empty,” he says.

“I know,” I say, bunching up my nose like I do when Sam teases me.

“Why are you in your swim suit?”

Because I love it, I want to say. The white makes me feel beautiful but the cut makes me feel comfortable since it is one piece and low in the back. There used to be writing on the front but it faded so much I can’t even remember what it said. But I don’t tell him that I would wear the swim suit everyday and at school if I could. Instead I joke, “I dunno. I was thinking that if I got dressed for a party, I might find some balloons.”

He laughed, looking at the crack. I move closer. Then I see it, the light helped me see the piece of gold metal like it winked at me. I want to pick the piece up but it’s right by him. Instead, I ask him if it’s his and he says yeah, he was trying to fix his watch and a piece of it fell off and into the crack. He picks up the stick again and pokes at the parched dirt like he’s grilling a hot dog over a campfire.

“That won’t help you, silly,” I say, “here.” I crouch over the spot, he makes room for me. My toes feel slimy. The backs of my knees start dripping right away from being pressed up on the backs of my calves but I don’t want to sit down no matter how nuts Anna might say that I am.

Its just a small gold disk and I can see it clearly and know its a snap to get out. He offered me the stick but I shook my head, it was too big anyway. It was going to be like trying to dig a coin out of the sides of the chairs in our Nissan. I could always get them, Sam’s fingers were too big and he gets too impatient wanting to beat me to them so this would be a cinch.

“It’s my grandfather’s watch. Or, it was my grandfathers. I never met him or anything. He just gave it to my Dad to give to me when I got old enough.” He didn’t say so, but I understand that he just became old enough. I feel a river break loose across my temple. It itches but I can’t feel it as much as I feel him watching me.

“Almost gotcha. You got any money? There’s two cream sodas left in the machine we could go get next. I know because I counted them.” I say proudly. Without even pausing for him to answer I ask, “How long are you staying here?”

“In the hotel?” I nod. “Uhm, not sure. I guess we’ll find a place to live after my Dad gets a new job and that will be soon. That’s what he says. How long you staying?”

“Not sure either,” I say but Mama says Papa will fix the car by tomorrow and we can leave then. “Bingo!” I say lifting out the piece. I shine it on my suit and give it back to him and he says thanks without looking at me.

I’m about to leave since he never said he wanted the sodas but he takes my hand and shakes it. He shakes it like he’s meeting me but I haven’t told him my name and he hasn’t told me his. And he shakes my left hand with his right. So I guess its something different than a handshake, something I don’t know about. Still he isn’t looking at me, still he doesn’t let go of my hand and I don’t argue any of it. I’m looking at the dark hairs on his arms. I didn’t know boys had dark hair on their arms.

“What room are you in?” he asks. I tell him. He nods and lets go of my hand and says thanks again before leaving. I sit by the pool for a long time after that, singing but not noticing what song. The whole time the skin on my legs feels smoother to my fingers and I also feel taller. My hair feels smoother too so I take the rubber band out of it.

When I get back to my room, Mama asks me where I’ve been as though she didn’t know. I shrug as if I never told her. The room isn’t much cooler but it’s better than outside and I soon fall asleep on my bed and only wake up when there is a knock at the door. Mama answers it, says something I can’t hear, then comes over and drops something on the bed. “Why don’t you get dressed, baby,” she says when she sees I’m awake. “You can help me find a place for dinner.”

As soon as I roll over, it rolls over too and hits my skin, a freezing kiss on my ankle and I gasp.

An ice cold can of cream soda.