As is their nature, in the cold of winter, they leave for warmer shores. Fortunately, I’ve committed to memory their aerial dance and play it back in slow motion- a frame a minute to allow me to meditate on the aching beauty of their elegant necks and snow-white and black-tipped wings that gracefully stretch for one thousand years and back, thrusting them forward like a ruby crowned dart, before landing with a victorious V, framing the clouds that keep them company.
By the window, I watch and wait, it is all I can do, weighed down by dust and branded by coffee ring marks left on the torn page of the lined notebook that was folded to give me joints with minimal range of movement. The sharp creases of my form serve as lines separating me from them. Pierced and suspended, I float on my winter carousel, replaying memories of the cranes to bide time until the taunting promise of flight that summer brings.
Woodrow was showing visiting professors around the facility. They were eager to learn all they could, in the quest to increase production of SaltyNectar®, the much sought after finite resource.
Pointing to the subject, Woodrow began to explain his findings:
“EL-AINEDOB150816 is responding well to memory convergence. Synapses effectively returning to previous points of extension, resuming plasticity. Connections have been observed, with neurons firing in response to simulated seasons visible through the ‘window’. Relics have also been left in the mock bedroom, including a basket full of sentimental assortments, such as printed images of people known to the subject, and the shell of a nautilus, held dear to her, according to her file notes, as a treasured memento from her childhood that it is likely to conjure memories- a conjuring nautilus.
“Conjuring nautilus” he repeated. Woodrow liked the sound of these words. He was one of the rare re-births who had the ability to program himself to register small pleasures, in this case resulting in a curious upturn of his lips and crinkles at the corners of his eyes.
I tip toed through the field, not knowing if there were tiny creatures underfoot, like chickens, rabbits, or even my cat. Maybe the Jains have a point. The higher vantage made me appreciate that life is still life no matter how small or seemingly invisible. I had the tractor in hand. It looked just as a toy vehicle should in my palm; even the weight seemed to feel about right. It didn’t take many paces to get to the gate at the edge of the forest that had given away just how out of wack my world was. That same gate that my grandmother and I had unlatched and walked through countless times when I was barely as tall as the highest post- we’d look for fairies and magic dragons. The posts now looked like matchsticks lined up in those promotional books of matches you don’t see much of nowadays. Of course I couldn’t fit through the gate. I paused right there, peering down at the forest and wishing to reverse the magic my grandma had made me believe.
The brevity of my services to the household was sealed during the formalities of introductions, the quickening of my heartbeat directing dancing waves of warm light from every extremity to my core, leaving me tingling and within a week, receptive to his touch, warm hands on my cheeks, fingers stroking my earlobes, his breath sweeping hair from the nape of my neck before tracing hieroglyphics of unspoken promises with his tongue. He kept me suspended with his will and my acquiescence, one arm around my shoulder, tilting me back, and the other circling my waist, hand resting on the small of my back to ward off gravity as he breathed life into implausible dreams with a kiss. Clandestine kisses charged two-fold, for the slightest movement could sending me crashing down, and an untimely intrusion held the threat of broad crimson brush strokes, tainting me the scarlet woman, the other woman, the unemployed woman. My memory has imbued our last kiss by the window in the cool and calculating shades of blue of bruises I sustained with the backward fall, as the lady of the house opened and shut the door quickly, throwing the delicate balance of his hold on me.
She’d resigned herself to her fate. It hurts knowing she was younger than my two children are now. Carefree and with a resolute sense of entitlement, they claim stakes on all their wants and needs. There I was, eager to please and do my best to negotiate a better outcome. It was hard to balance the joy I felt with the sadness at what it could mean for her. That day shaped me. Yet another piece of baggage I’ve hauled from one year to the next. I have never stopped feeling the guilt.
With time, I’ve been able to rationalise and know it was no fault of mine, but there is always the little boy inside saying maybe I could have told them how clever she was, how kind, how good she was at drawing.Maybe I should have said that if they don’t take her too, then I wouldn’t go. But how could I say no to the one thing we all wished for? Praying like the sisters taught us, hands pressed together tight, as thought that would make a difference, asking for nothing more than a family. Except family for me meant Adelais and a mum and dad.
Exactly 200 words for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #1. What does the image say to you? This was the first train of thought I had, seeing the expressions on the subjects faces. Join in and share your take on the prompt (follow link to Jane’s challenge for details).
Week 2 of the 10 week series. Click on the image above to begin your travels. This week’s edition is a poem titled ‘moonrise’, inspired by a George Inness painting of the same name. What do you see in the painting? What story comes to mind for you? Share your impressions in the comments…
If you’d like to continue your travels through the tumbleweed, check out the menu item of the same name for others in the series.
This is week 1 of 10 in my Travel Through the Tumbleweed series: re-posts of old content, with the intention of sharing them with a new audience. I chose 10 as a good number to allow me to pick my forgotten favourites (out of about 70 on the blog to date) and a way to cap the time travel to ensure I am not re-hashing posts that are best left buried. I will not be editing any of the posts in this series.
Shout outs to Richard Baxter, Marissa Bergen, and Robert Okaji who are probably the only ones to have seen most, if not all, of the Travel Through the Tumbleweed posts- it has been lovely to have your support since the very early days.
This post is a short story inspired by an Edward Hopper painting “Intermission”. The story itself went on to inspire 2 other stories written from the perspective of 2 other characters. I realised only after writing the story that the woman is probably sitting in a theatre. Had that occured to me before writing, it would have been a very different story.