Wednesday’s Words/Flash Fiction: Changing Colors

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

So she thought better of it when she joined the art class that was free and online. It was to pass the time; time was like sludge, it built up into a gloppy mass: you got up, faced another bothersome, even gruesome day on the job and crawled back home. That about covered it. Escapism–television, streaming movies, music faves, books teetering in three piles– had become a thing she was so intimate with that it grated on her like a slow toothache. So when she saw the ad for five free lessons–why not only one, why not a half dozen, she wondered–it was a knee jerk reaction. A new way to pass the minutes and hours in the resoundingly empty studio apartment. Let her not be thought unadventurous; it used to be her middle name. Now it was “blech” or whatever mononsyllabic noise she managed upon awakening.

She ordered the few items needed and noted it on the calendar like she was soon going to a real class and meeting fascinating people, having fun. She knew that was silly but still nursed the illusion for all it was worth. The shiny new things looked like delicate tools for somebody singularly important. To feel a tiny bit important in her slumbering life–a nice perk. The unecessary expenditure for those tools hung over her, but swallowed the niggling fear as she opened a window partway. There was such sunshine on the morning of class. A bright blue jay flew past her. It seemed an omen. But one never knew these days–good omen or bad?

That first class Dylan Dennison greeted all as if there was an overflowing classroom, such a big smile. He had longish curly hair with glasses atop his head which he was always putting on and taking off. But he got right into the tool box of brushes, sponges, paints and paper types– who knew there was so many necessities to daub and splash paint about? And water use, big or small useage: it made a difference. She got to place color on different papers, squeezing a few tidy watercolor and acrylic tubes–from ends only. The paints looked like little mounds of stage makeup sitting there. Lifeless until slathered on. And then the class was over.

She imagined the next class might be somewhat more exciting, but it didn’t matter. She had nothing else to do on Friday at 5:30 pm. Meanwhile, her small and large papers with rich color splotches glowed a bit as she lay them to dry on her table. She left them there to look at off and on. The evening seemed to slip into darkness and that felt good. She ran a steamy bath scented with eucalytus, soaked awhile thinking of paint color names. When she got out she felt her body humming as she setttled in bed, so closed her eyes. Slept in an instant.

The next Friday class was, in fact, more exciting: there were techniques to learn. They were not easy to grasp and when she clutched the brushes they were cumbersome implements. The simple free-style scenario she coinjured and painted turned into muddied rises and gulleys. That’s what they were–rain-flooded mud sinkholes trying to be rainbows of beauty. Fat chance. She tossed them immediately as cheery Dylan applauded them all. The twenty students were faceless, barely named and far away from his contemporary, light-drenched studio where he painted profitable pictures; it supported his life in paradise. Or so she imagined. His luminous watercolor paintings hung everyhwere. To intimidate? To trick her into paying for the next set of classes? To show off? To illustrate, perhaps, what might happen if they were unrelanting in their pursuit of art, plus had loads of talent? She thought him a good teacher if she no longer appreciated his cheeriness. But that was not a requirement. She had a few more classes for free, to pass the time, to have a memo on her calendar.

She soon enough reconsidered and thought about quitting near the end of the second class. Controlling the effect of paint splotches on paper was like trying to control hamsters with messy feet let loose all over a clean floor. Impact looked terrible. But who’d know or care if she disappeared? Shut her comuter and done. Yet she hung on, watched, mimiced.

By the middle of the third class she was letting go of expectations. When pigments suddenly bloomed on a page she became, dab by dab, attuned to an interior stillness. Strokes of a brush, soft or bold, filled a welcome blankness as it began to change the space. Dylan talked about fine details, about the tempermental properties of watercolor and fast-drying acrylic tendencies. His reedy voice skimmed over her as the idea of painting began to plant a tentative root in her center. The fourth class she forgot the time, utilized lots of paper and paint, and had to replenish water every few minutes. She was alert, almost fully alive. At bedtime she stared into the soft darkness, painting with ghost brushes upon the popcorn ceiling, a carnival of bright forms.

The rest of the week she kept looking at the calendar, waiting for the last class. When it arrived she was at the table twenty minutes ahead of time, having cancelled a dinner date at Telly’s Tacos food cart with Hank. Of course, Hank didn’t know of her class; no one did. She kept it a secret as she kept al tender happiness secret, anymore–so many were apt to stick a pin into any delights she scavenged. This time it was a deliberate thing, a self-made pleasure. He’d never understand the allure of a painbrush; she barely understood its function or her interest.

At the end of the fifth class when Dylan asked to hold their paintings up to be shared. Though it felt like kindergarten show and tell, she did so, slowly.

“Delilah?” Dylan said.

She frowned from behind her painting, wishing she hadn’t revealed it at all. “Yeah?”

“Wonderful start. You’ve probably painted before, yes?”

“No…”

“Well, then, I hope everyone can see what you’ve discovered in 5 weeks. It’s a matter of taking a chance, being surprised…and it’s also a matter of practice.”

He went on in his verbose fashion, switching to salesman-speak to persuade students to pay for more classes. But she had stopped listening. She studied her uneven but flowing painting–at the very least basic and awkward to a trained eye. And yet Dylan had been encouraging. Kindly so. The colors and shapes that she’d created hyponotized, then she lifted hands up in the air and let out a very quiet, “Whoop!”

When Delilah logged off, she hung up her last class painting with clothespins next to the others on a taut twine she’d strung across a sunny corner. She didn’t study the picture; it was done. She sat down once more at the table and situated a white sheet of paper, got a huge glass of rinse water, uncapped herself an icy ginger ale that tingled on her tongue. And she soon swept across glowing blankness with a new spectrum of colors–vermilion, lemon, cerulean. Her life lit up.

Wednesday’s Words/Short Short Story: Ardis and the Feathered One

(Photo by Jack Bulmer on Pexels.com)

It had come to this absurd situation. One wrong footfall and boom!–her ankle puffed up like it was packed with dense stuffing. Except it had nerves, too, and persistent pain. Swelling that made the skin ugly, tighter. So much for the fearless, iron-legged hiker that Ardis had always been. An easy trail through the woods brought her to her hip, now bruised and sore. But the ankle twisted on the way down a rutted, rocky slope.

Slouched in her cushioned and creaky rocker, she stared out the picture window. Books she’d piled at the side table were hardly touched. The TV in the corner was blank, meaningless. Her pitiful right foot, encased in a rigid plastic and padded therapeutic “boot”, made her angry and at times tearful. It lay there like a forgotten thing, a useless thing that taunted her from the old leather ottoman. Until she reached for the crutches, forced herself out of inertia to hobble to the kitchen for sustenance or down the hall to answer nature’s call. She hated to drink too much or she’d be often compelled to make that miserable trip.

If only the sun would shine. Ardis then might see past the low grey clouds, be able to envision an end to 6 weeks, make plans for resumption of her life. At first her buddies Harry and Joanie stopped by after work; Aunt Ellie brought scones and steaming cappuccinos; her co-worker brought magazines– as if Ardis was in the hospital and could only handle cheesy reading material, but at least she came by. Now, almost no one came. Except birds and squirrels, but there were far more birds in her yard–which she had only half-seen before.

So, by default, Ardis had become a bird watcher. Not that she knew much about birds. They came and went, pecking at the soil or berries in bushes, hiding in potted plants on the deck, snagging a spot in a makeshift bird bath created by rain in a cereal bowl used and forgotten. Their chirruping and singing were pleasant, and before long she was trying to figure out who was partnered with whom, where they were flying off to, and if they’d scatter or fight when crows–birds, sure, but lately seen as titans of trouble by Ardis– descended. Where did they all go when it rained hard? Did they have family to help them find food?

She thought the same handful returned every day and so began to name them: Johnny Red, Angel, Big Talker, Ivan, Little Mo. It was entirely unlikely she could identify them well–she couldn’t even tell what species they all were–but it didn’t stop the naming. She’d attempted wrestling with her crutches–which conspired to topple her between Point A to Point B–to go outdoors. Once at the back door she’d opened it with difficulty, then only listened and watched from there. The early fall air smelled and felt sharply soothing. But after ten minutes of leaning against a hard door jamb, crutches cumbersome and her ankle beaming at her with pain–that was the end of it.

One afternoon she kept trying to read a book Aunt Ellie had generously brought her about Pacific Northwest birds. (Though no coffee or scones.) It was far less dull than her aunt had warned but less thrilling than imagined. But she kept at it until her eyelids slid shut, fluttered, fell again. In a flash her mind had hopped on the sleep train and gone elsewhere. She was high up and everything was shining in whites and blues, a chilly, bright landscape. Calm, silent. Free. Far from feet and other human and mysterious impediments. Her rocking chair afternoon rolled away from her as she moved effortlessly.

Thwack! Ardis’ eyelids flicked open.

Something had hit a wall, the window, maybe the picnic table outside… was it the neighbor kid’s ball? a pinecone rolling off the roof from last night’s rainstorm? Then she replayed the sound and suddenly bent at the waist in the rocker, straining her neck to better look out the window and to the deck. There were some feathers. A bird had flown hither and thither as usual, then rammed right into her big window.

Trying to get a better view, Ardis rocked forward little by little, began to slide off the seat and steadied herself. But were those bird feet? She shouldn’t be able to see feet sticking out in the air. Her heart stirred. She grabbed the crutches, positioned them so she could stand and better look out.

Yes, the bird was certainly knocked for a loop, lying on its side with twig legs and clawed feet straight out. It lay stunned, perhaps paralyzed. Or–dead? She looked from every angle she could, noting the sleek black head, white stripe, two black stripes above and below dark bead of its eye, a dab of yellowish color by its face, body clothed in greyish-blue—taupe?– feathers, a colored breast. But its small face, still as can be. A handsome feathered thing. She didn’t think it had been given a name. Maybe a visitor? What sort? She watched then concluded her window had sent it to its demise. And she was filled with an attack of sadness, eyes going misty. What to do? She shouldn’t touch it, move it. Flummoxed, she retreated to the ottoman. Waiting for something to happen, hoping it might get up.

Hearing that awful thud again and again in her head.

It just couldn’t die.

She sat with hands crossed flat against her chest. Perhaps five minutes went by, then she skootched the ottoman to the window. Looked down at the bird, noted its right wing set a bit apart from its soft rounded body. The wing seemed to move rapidly; she deducted it was a breathing movement. She held her own breath, put forehead to glass wondering if the wing was damaged. If it would ever fly even if it lived. Suddenly, the bird smoothly hopped upright onto its feet. Stood still, just breathing more gently. The wing didn’t look bent but who was Ardis to determine anything? It wasn’t taking a step. It just stood there on spindly legs, not even the head moving. Maybe it was brain damaged and couldn’t figure out what next. Or, after all, there was that wing– or maybe something was hurt inside?

Ardis was pondering, still, how she might help, then admitted with a mutter that she was no use to a bird, surely not one nearly accidentally murdered in her own back yard. By her own picture window as she sat there, unaware. The beat up creature–why wasn’t it giving the offending window a bad look or, more appropriately, gazing toward sky and trees? She wanted to get up and walk out, make apologies to it–crouch down eye-to-eye with it.

Damn that ankle. Her inability to find a good solution.

From the distance there rose a clear bird call. And the not-so-dazed bird turned its head to the call, lifted off the deck and swiftly flew off with nary a wobble. Just like that! Ardis’ hand flew to her mouth as she grinned like a kid, amazed.

She pressed her face close to the glass, searching tree branches, the hedge next door. Not a feather to be seen. No significant bird chatter. The bird just recovered its senses and strength and oriented itself. Took right off. How could that be when it had looked like a goner? Unlike Ardis, it had not sprained a thing when it met with sudden changed circumstances; it had just lost its bearings, and perhaps consciousness briefly.

Ardis moved backward and sat down, thrusting the crutches aside. Stared out her window a long while, replaying what had happened. Her alarm, sadness, concern, surprise. A sudden desire to protect birds from her windows and even more from her ignorance.

And then: what bird was it? A nuthatch? A warbler? A chickadee? Those two black stripes, a white stripe between, some yellow or was it orange or…? She grabbed the Northwest bird identification book and began the search. It was taxing to recall the specifics of birds marking, beak shapes, coloration. It was hard to figure out what birds lived where or, if migrating, when and why. But she persisted awhile until she had come up with five different possibilities. She should have taken a photograph.

As time passed she also thought how she needed more patience with herself. The swollen ankle. Her mistakes and frailties. Her lack of knowledge of so much. The bird did what it was meant to do so it might regain its sense of self, its righted bird-ness. She could do the same with her own circumstances, couldn’t she–wait it out, let healing happen until she regained her Ardis self. Just be still. Worse might have happened to them both. She could manage this interval of time, as her little miracle bird had managed its situation.

Her fascination with the identification process continued until the room dimmed, then filled with soft rosy light. She put the book down, looked through her window. There was a bird sitting on dangling branch, looking right at her. Her feisty bird? Wishing it so, she imagined it had come back–or maybe it was a sibling or a cousin. No matter. Redux: she named it in case she saw it once more. Redux, as it had been restored to itself, to nature, to her. Ardis offered a wave and it flew beyond a scrim of deepening dusk.

Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: Occult Chocolate

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

If it hadn’t been for my chocolate hunger leading me astray, I’d likely not have run into Gabby Montague. As I pushed open the door a little bell tinkled gaily above me. There were my objects of desire and I made a beeline for them. A cottony murmur of voices under soft lighting swaddled the space then rose to high ceilings. Walls were dark blue with old floral prints. Tables were here and there with wooden chairs that were wicker-backed and -seated. I disliked wicker a lot but aromas drew me deeper inside.

So many choices: cacao from Peru, Ecuador, Madagascar, Trinidad….I licked my lips. I was a shameless consumer of dark chocolate but usually bought whatever was available. I certainly lacked insight into the various noted shadings of flavors.

“May I help you?”

I looked up and paused. Was this man speaking to me smoothly really a movie star laboring to pay rent? His eyes were bright; his perfect lips betrayed slight amusement. There was a wedding band on that finger. He was calm, poised.

“Not a clue. Maybe you could pick two of your best sellers for me?”

“Bars, candies or drinks? You may sample, too.”

“Chocolate drinks? I might indulge, let’s see…”

I studied the calligraphed menu behind his head but had trouble focusing. His hair: auburn, glossy and abundantly wavy. Three feet away yet his skin exuded sandalwood and cedar.

The bell rang again. In rushed a swirl of taffeta skirts accompanied by brisk tapping of heels.

I tuned to look but not before I saw Movie Star’s face brighten, formidable teeth flashing in the direction of those heels.

“Hey Gabby!” he sang out.

“Donovan!” she said, husky voice somehow light, sweet.

I latched onto her name as a tingle rippled over my spine but my focus returned to sumptuous displays before me. “Well, Donovan, how about two of your favorite bars and a black coffee.”

With chocolate from Peru and Ecuador in one hand and a coffee in the other, I turned and nearly stepped on black pointy toes, the hot liquid splattering her hem.

“Gabriela Montague,” I announced.

“I am she.” She tossed a cascade of fake silvery curls and raised a dark eyebrow, earrings jangling. “You are?”

“I’ve been meaning to contact you.”

She nodded, smiled. I nearly forgave her for a moment. Who could resist such bright energy sparking that charming cafe?

I could.

“I’ll get my card.” She scrabbled inside a gargantuan purple bag.

“Don’t bother. It was your tarot reading that sent my sister over the edge. She left with that feckless man. You’re a terrible advisor. The power you wield over naive fools is a power that banished my sister from a–a–a benevolent universe. She is, for all intents and purposes, ruined!”

I hustled toward the door as Donovan called out, “Wait up, you didn’t pay!”

“Let this quack Gabby Montague pick up my tab!” I shouted back.

“Hey, she’s my wife!”

“Not surprising ! May your futures be very interesting!”

After I ate half of Peru and two big bites of Ecuador, I was calmed by instant delight. But I decided to get over my addiction to dark chocolate. At least for awhile. Of course I did not return there despite the awards its product racked up. Gabby might have felt a smidgen of regret. I absolutely did not. She was a real case. People’s doings were sometimes beyond my ken–and I, for one, was rather good at that sort of thing.

 

Tissane and the Truest Truth

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Tissane isn’t afraid of her mother yet she feels as if she still could be. Melinda has always had power, cutting a swath through life with the incisive edge of her words, her intelligence an army of rebuttals. The fury of her routine inquisitions could pierce three layers of winter clothing and locate the tender spot where the mighty heart shuddered. Her amber eyes were like lasers set to short circuit Tissane’s own ideas. She was formidable. Until the last couple years.

She’s getting carried away. It was perhaps not so traumatic as all that. Those sentences arise from memories of being thirteen until maybe seventeen, when the sound of her mother’s voice at six a.m or p.m. often landed like a smack. Dangerous days then, her great need of adventure bypassing curfew and other rules. Beyond her mother’s grasp and her father’s burden of sighs. Her father was so absent that they were all they had, and Jonny, of course, for awhile. Then only Pill, the scrappy little mutt Tissane got her mother after she graduated college. A gift for putting up with her until she managed to grow up and succeed. That name was reasonable. Her mother had ingested tranquilizers like they were jelly beans. Instead of taking another pill she had that fussy, bouncy dog to focus on. Melinda’s true nature was revealed day by day. It was some better. And some worse. Nothing was the same in every way, though. Not after Jonny, then dad.

They fought out of the need to not love each other too much, she has thought since then. There was so much that could be lost.

Now it’s just the two of them. Not even that. Most of the time Melinda is alone. Tissane lives three hours away by plane. But it’s Thanksgiving week and Melinda had heart valve surgery three weeks ago. Tissane couldn’t come then; she was in Bali. Melinda’s recovery seems to inch along. She called to ask her to come to spend the whole week, help her out.

“Yes, mom, I likely can. I’ll check.”

But should she? They hadn’t talked much in the last few years. Tissane had a high pressure job in aquisitions in a big hotel conglomerate. Two new ones opening up in the next three months. There were meetings wedged between others, plans to execute, sites to visit. Travel afforded her independence she had craved her whole life.

And distance. She thought she had more in common with her father, long gone and now a retired pilot, than she liked to admit.

“Four days. Mom, I can’t spare more unless you don’t have decent help. If it’s critical.”

“Of course I have help; I’m in a swanky place that guarantees it. But is it even par? Is it worth the money I pay out? Not likely. And how can it remotely be critical? It was only a heart valve, Tissane. They replace them like rubber tubing, in, out, a couple neat stitches and done!”

Tissane bit her lip to squelch a retort. At least she sounded more like herself. She made arrangements and got there fast.

Now she has been listing things she needs at the store. No lukewarm Thanksgiving dinner to be delivered to the door. Tissane will make something good.

“I don’t want you to go to a lot of bother, dear. I’m not the ravenous type, you know. We can have canned pears well-chilled, a dash of cinnamon, and one of those handy pre-roasted chickens.”

“Is that what you prefer? Or my Rock Cornish hens? You used to like those.”

“There’s so little meat on those delicate bones. Is that what you eat? No wonder you’re so thin, dear.” She sniffs several messy sniffs. “Hand me a tissue will you? And a mint. The chocolate mints in that ghastly pumpkin dish. Saralee–I know, what a name– gave it to me. She has good taste but it took a hiatus. She shops at flea markets with her son now once a month. Dreadful.”

Tissane watches as she chooses three mints, then dabs her nose. She is propped up with two pillows and frequently requires readjusting. Her hair, though, looks as if it has been freshly washed and set. It hasn’t been done since Tissane arrived yesterday morning. She sleeps on satin pillow cases.

She’s beautiful at seventy-four. Maybe more than before, with a relaxing of tension that used to make her look severe at times. Her silvery white hair waves around her sallow face, etched with lines around mouth and eyes. Her golden brown eyes are at odds with the swoop of her hair. Their liveliness draws people but her powers of observation too quickly deducts who they really are. Tissane would not be surprised if her mother is both loved and resented, perhaps even hated, now as in the past.

“I will buy the birds, red potatoes or rice pilaf, fresh green beans, salad fixings–add stuffing if you like.”

“Leave the stuffing. Pilaf preferred. I’ll benefit from Saralee’s stuffing artistry later.”

Her mother painfully raises her shoulders a quarter-inch. Tissane rearranges the pillows until she is more comfortable.

“Are you good, mom? I’ll head to the store unless you need something.”

“Another pain pill. Please.”

Tissane raises her eyebrows, hesitates with list in hand. It has barely been four hours. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, mom.”

“Now would be good! My dear, I don’t have patience or time to be polite.  Let’s get on with it. This was not a fun surgery.”

“No.”

“I think they broke every single chest bone getting in, getting out. I am not convinced even breathing is recommended. Much less talking. But. Being mute is no option. The thought of leaving this bed is less enticing than expected, I can tell you. Yet I don’t feel like reading much. What can I do but lie here? Perhaps chat with you.”

She seems exhusted–all those words. She smiles at Tissane. Her eyes warm enough that her daughter thinks of tiger eye stones and honey. Of caramel, yes. Perhaps that oddly bitter and sweet marmalade of her youth. It makes her feel like she’s ten and that triggers shakiness, to her alarm.

“I’ll take your word on the pain. Yes, we’ll definitely chat more.”

She studies Melinda; Melinda gazes back but with flagging interest. Then Tissane gets the bottle of narcotics, shakes out a pill, hands her mother the water glass. Watches her swallow, and then her eyes lower to half-mast.

As she leaves the bedroom, Tissane waves but her mother doesn’t see her. She is already moving toward a place where pain will recede like waves at the seashore.

******

The rain started yesterday and has not let up an instant. Tissane is on her way back with two bags. She has turned the wipers on full force. Treetops bend this way and that like muscular dancers. The temperature has dropped greatly and she wonders if her mother is warm enough under two blankets.

The light seems to have been red a long time as her mind wanders. It’s so much nicer in San Francisco. She cannot imagine why her mother chose to remain in Oregon. But, then, she has never liked to move about. Even leaving the couch or a chair by a table after she completed her chores seemed a bother. She read alot or wrote poetry (Tissane saw a few but doesn’t know much for sure) for hours. People came to her. None of that traditional greeting-the-family-at-the-door. Children and husband searched for her when they came home. And then she opened her arms.

They played croquet or badminton or bean nag toss with dad ten times to every one with her. She sat on a white wrought iron bench in the shade, bare feet tucked under her. Looked up from the magazine to emit a sound that might be mistaken for a faint bleat of acknowledgement if you listened hard enough. Then came the critiques of their form or foul play, as she did seem to know about games even as a spectator.

A driver behind her lays on the horn several times. The light is now green. On a quick take off her rental car slips, slides sideways and for a minute she thinks she’ll cross the lane and smash into the oncoming truck. She recovers at the last minute, heart in her throat. Sleet is now assaulting everything. It takes her fifteen extra minutes to get back to her mother’s, shoulders knotted with tension.

“Tissane? You back, dear?” Melinda’s voice is a taffeta curl of sound, words drawled out.

“Yes, just now. It’s mad weather out there!”

Tissane sloughs off her wet coat, rubs her hair with a teatowel. She puts away the vegetables and Cornish hens. She is skittish, anxious after the slippery road, and chilled. Her mother sounds drugged. Tissane needs a hot shower and a steaming latte. She needs to be on her own balcony watching the city lights wink on and off. With her cat, Domino.

“Do you want some tea, mom? I’m putting the kettle on.”

There is no answer. She enters the bedroom and watches Melinda’s chest rise and fall rhythmically but shallowly. She wonders what it feels like after something has broken into your chest and meddled with the organ that keeps the body humming. That feels everything first and last. It terrifies her, takes her breath so she sits on the end of the bed, gently so her mother can’t sense her there. She wants to lie down beside her.

She whispers to herself as much as to Melinda. “Remember when Jonny used to draw houses inside houses inside houses? Like those old Russian dolls… And she said it was for protection from the world but also like a maze? We thought she’d be an artist, a first in the family. She always had an idea that was better than mine. Even yours sometimes. She was so…curious.”

Tissane’s voice hurts even in a whisper. Something grabs her larnyx. Melinda rests, eyelids delicate as shells that cover her soul.

“Remember when she told us she saw fairies by the rock behind the oak tree? I thought of that the other day when I saw a pewter one, only pewter but still…she reclined on a shelf at a bookstore. I wondered if Jonny’s fairies were fair or olive-skinned, if they looked like dad or you or no one. I never asked. Did you? Maybe fairies have skin you can see through. I bet she knew.” She swallows the angry crush of tears. “Who would she be now? With us?”

It is true she cannot control herself and she is crying but she doesn’t want to think about it. Nor let it damage things. She is here to help her mother, not herself. Tissane wants to be a strong woman, the grown up daughter she truly is. To take care of everything she needs to take care of even a few days. But her mother looks very small in the aqua-blanketed bed. An exotic fish the size of two hands in a big ocean. She looks very pale beneath the olive tones, as if foreign forces are leaching the vibrance. Like thieves of pain and loss and illness and time have won out.

“But she got hit, that car…ice storm, ’86…” Tears snake down one cheek then the other only to join the green-blue bed, water lost within cottony water. “It was so icy cold, mom. I was scared, she was smarter, older, I couldn’t make her come back…”

She is afraid if she closes her eyes she will see Jonny tossed onto the side of the road. She will yell Jonny’s name. Make a mess of things when she came to aid healing, to be courageous this time. For them both. Tissane keeps them open, stands up, enters the spare kitchen to retrieve the tea kettle. Outside the window she sees the night is blue-black. Quieter. She gets out mugs, tea bags. Dips them a few times. Watches them float, then sink. Blows her nose and splashes kitchen faucet water on her face–she’s startled by its deep chill. She carries the tea drinks, then sits on a bedside chair.

“Tissane. Dear.” He mother’s eyes blink at her a few times so their fading sheen eyes goes off and on, off, on. “Is it snowing? I thought…the wind, how it sounds when it gets snowy. Not likely, I know. Anything can happen in Novemember, right?”

Her daughter places each mug on the lamp table, then turns up the lamp one notch so the room pulses with a faint shimmer.

“Well, it was nasty out when I went to the store. I skidded…it was, I was…”

Melinda turns her head to better see her, surmise the intention of her words, discern her mood. Tissane makes herself glance back. Those eyes the color of hard amber agates they hunted once, up and down Oregon beaches. Her skin, imbued with richer hue after her nap. Since the snag of pain has been unravelled by a pill.

Arched eyebrows rise a little in anticipation of what will next be said. “Yes, Tiss? Then what?”

Tissane reaches for a mug. “It was so windy! A bit slippery. And the snow swirled about so prettily and all I could do was sit and stare at it as I waited at the light. Enchanted. So lovely, how it drifts and dives through the air. It makes me think of little winged things, I don’t know, like the snowflakes have angel wings, or maybe it’s all fairy dust, know what I mean? There is something about the snow that visits here. It’s softer, finer, brighter than any I’ve seen. It won’t last, though. But yes, you do have your snow.”

Tissane hopes so much her mother cannot, will not, read her face or thoughts tonight.

Melinda lifts her mug and breathes in sweetness of orange and spice. “Ah, I can imagine it entirely. Don’t you so appreciate a mystical snow before Thanksgiving? I have to tell you. I do like you being here. In early winter. Fancy Cornish hens. And your kind stories. I-” she sits up a bit, winces, then the pain falls away a moment–“do! Love you! Now I have a story as well. If my will holds out.”

She huffs a bit as she tries to blow across the surface of tea, then sets it down. Her daughter is blinking away memories, eyes lowered. A sure sign of shielding the heart. A shadow of sadness seeks the room. Melinda will need to make it rise over them, transitory as breath. Release them.

“Don’t worry. I’ve only the best tonight, too. Help me get comfortable, Tiss. It may take some work to tell it…you might need to add a few words here and there…”

 

Bus Stop

They used to meet here, back when things were easy. They dashed through the winter rains and caught a bus to Markham and 8th, then found their booth in a café. Leon liked the fish and salad combo; Celia dug into the Shepherd’s pie as though it was something special. Every Thursday it was lunch here and then back to their respective jobs. He was a doctor’s office assistant, taking classes at university and hoping against hope for med school. Celia danced then, hours and hours of it. Strong back and legs and a gift for lithe improvisation landed her a scholarship, then a place in the dance company. Such big talk they shared, plans growing as they ate and gabbed. Each savory lunch underscored their vitality, the possibilities.

It was odd, but suddenly things stopped for them, as though there was finally a period pressed hard into the page at the end of a series of stories. She didn’t see it coming. Nothing was resolved for Celia but Leon shrugged off her calls, his voice embarrassed and soft. They parted ways the summer of nineteen eighty-two. He married a journalist within the year and he invited Celia. She didn’t attend. She heard they ended up in New Zealand a few years later. He may have become a doctor, but she suspected he let his wife work harder. He’d liked to talk more than work (he was so good at it) and had confessed he’d always wanted to loaf on a beach.

Celia mourned despite her best intentions. Her father told her she had better do something besides weep about the rooms. Her mother said nothing, just looked at her from hooded eyes and shook her head.

On a night when the moon was so clear she could imagine living there, Celia had a vision. It left her unmoored, then sent her to back to church, the one by the bus stop, the same one where Celia and Leon had sometimes waited on shaded steps. From that point on it was as though things were meant to be. She had found a way back to a useful life and it was part solitude and part service. It was the service part that filled her up and made her strong. The solitude pared her down but it also brought things into sharper focus, sorted what mattered and what did not. She got up each day with a vivid need to give back what she found by accident the night the moon dipped low.

Still, when she and the Sisters visit this part of the city looking for homeless who needed care, Celia wondered sometimes if it was the wrong turn in the road, the moon watching, her visionary moment gone mad, the church that finally brought her to her senses and the work that now claimed her. She felt Leon’s presence like a happy breeze in the street. Only once did she feel a bit more, startled when she thought she saw his face at the bus window. It haunted her all day and into the evening as she tried to pray. It was as she lay half-sleeping that she mused it could have been his son and this cheered her. Yet, likely not. Leon had left for New Zealand thirty years ago. She had stayed and made a durable life out of other wonders. The past was something that lingered only if you let it. It was a small revelation and long in coming. The bus stop was just a bus stop; people got on, people got off. Celia sighed, turned over. Her snoring was musical, sweet as birdsong; she shifted, moved on.