Categotry Archives: Short Stories

by

Blue River Bridge

Categories: Short Stories, Tags: , , , ,

 

6067004108_fb792a4052_o (1) 

Blue River Bridge

“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” -Virginia Woolf

My name is Sammy Sherwood. Or rather, it was about ten years ago when I was fifteen years old and in the middle of my Freshman year at Blue River High School. I was always one of those kids who was either invisible to everyone or ostracized by those who had nothing better to do, whose own lives hid dark corners that perhaps they couldn’t speak of. I never spoke of mine, but I never took it out on other people, at least never intentionally.

I was a quiet kid who loved comic books and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. I had a collection of Superhero figurines that I often held and imagined myself as one of them, instead of the “Fat Nobody” I was. In my Superhero fantasies, almost everyone loved me not only because I rescued and protected them, but because I was good-looking with a muscular physique and had a variety of powers. I was also a bit mysterious like Batman, and all the girls loved that.

But enough about Superhero fantasies- there are more important things to explain.

My mother left my father when I was nine years old and I soon developed a habit of eating too much, which didn’t take long to show on my body. Pretty girls would snicker or avoid me altogether; boys my age called me all sorts of names and sometimes threw Twinkie wrappers and rocks at me.

I always sat alone on the bus, usually pretending to read a comic book and praying that I could get through the ride without being harassed.

Every now and then while walking in town I’d even overhear adult strangers make comments about my weight and peculiar demeanor. Almost no one accepted me the way I was or bothered to ask me how I was, what I thought or how I felt, except for my one true friend, Ray Saunders.

Like me, Ray was a misfit who most people didn’t bother with. We lived next door to each other in a small, modest neighborhood. I was pretty much his only true friend also. I remember how he’d give his toys and games to other kids in the neighborhood to try and gain their friendship, but they would only be nice to him for a day or so and then return to excluding him.

He’d give me stuff also, especially Matchbox cars and comic books. But one day after I witnessed him giving his favorite GI Joe toy to some bratty mean kid, I told him I wasn’t going to accept any more gifts from him, but that we could instead trade stuff sometimes. I told him I liked him well enough without any gifts and that he didn’t need to give me things in order for me to stay his friend. I told him he was my best pal, and he sat down on my front steps and cried afterward.

Unfortunately there came a time one summer when I hardly ever saw Ray. I had heard through gossiping neighbors that he was causing a lot of trouble at home and in school, so he was sent to a Boy’s Home for troubled kids.

He never had a father around and his single mother worked a lot of hours. Sometimes she’d have a boyfriend, but according to Ray they never took much interest in assuming a fatherly role with him, and acted like he was more of a nuisance than anything. I guess some of them were downright mean to him when his mother wasn’t around, or if she was she’d put the guy in his place and a breakup wouldn’t be far off.

Ray’s mother was always nice to me and sometimes let me spend the night. She was a fun-loving woman despite all the burdens she had to bear. Once when Ray had been gone for several months, I went over to his house to ask his mom when he’d be coming back home, but just as I was about to knock on the door I heard Ray’s mom sobbing uncontrollably. I knew she was crying over the situation with Ray, and I turned and left without knocking, even though I wanted to comfort her somehow.

I saw her briefly the next day at her door and her eyes were red and so swollen I almost couldn’t recognize her. I remember how defeated and haggard she looked and I said a silent prayer for her and my best pal.

When Ray did finally return, he told me that the professionals suggested his mom make him a ward of the State and get on with her life, but she refused to give up on her only son. I always admired her for that and though I know Ray had a lot of hardships and similar problems with peers like I did, a part of me envied him, because I missed my mother so much and resented the fact that she left. There were times I’d forget that she was gone and would call out for her after having a nightmare, only to hear the crickets respond and the sound of my dad snoring from his bedroom.

I guess my mom left because she was unhappy with the simple life she had with my father. She used to be very vivacious and had a special light in her eyes that slowly began to fade along with her quirky smile. She had dreams of dancing on Broadway and loved everything creative; yet she wound up with my father who was a postal worker and a man who liked television over dancing; small town life over Jazz bars and Open Mic nights in the city of Westland. I think she got very lonely and I wasn’t enough to keep her happy.

After she left, I decided I had just been another thing in her life that drowned out her dreams with my childhood demands. She sent me birthday cards and letters sometimes over the years, and even called, though my father rarely answered the phone or let me do so myself. When she’d send me money for my birthday, I’d buy a new comic, some candy, then stash the rest away in an old shoe box to go visit her one day. I’d often remember her brushing her hand across my forehead to help get me to sleep, and I missed that along with the scent of her Shalimar perfume.

My father was caring to some degree, but more often than not seemed solemn and weary. Sometimes I caught him sending a look of pity in my direction and would watch him shake his head. I know now that he too had his secret pain that dulled him, kept him at a safe distance from most people. He also missed my mother but stayed angry at her for leaving. He had his own dreams that never came into fruition, and his passion for life was smoldered by the day to day grind of the same old thing. He got so accustomed to it that he didn’t even recognize his own plight, nor paid any mind to my mother’s or mine.

I think it’s strange how the truth is right in front of so many people, and they shrug it off and toss it away- as if it were another piece of junk mail pushing them to enter a sweepstakes they know they’d never win.

A truth I know now is that the world has a big hole in its heart and too many get caught in it. I became one of those people when I accepted what others thought of me; when I blamed myself for things beyond my control. So many don’t even know they are caught in it until it is too late to return from that place.

Such was the night I stole my father’s vodka, guzzled it down and dangled my fat legs over the edge of the Blue River Bridge. It was only a few months until my sixteenth birthday, and I was devastated by a recent incident at school.

I had passed a note in the lunchroom to a pretty girl from my Science class who I had had a crush on since Junior High. She was always kind to me and smiled at me, even though she was popular and came from a well-to-do family (her father was a partner in some law firm). She never teased anyone or acted superior. Her name was Sara and she had that certain kind of light emanating from her eyes; the kind comparable to my mother’s before life got in her way.

At home I’d often play an old cassette tape of my mother’s with that song titled ‘Sara Smile’ and practice singing it, in case I ever got lucky enough to get closer to Sara and date her. It was her kindness and smiles that got me through more tough school days than she will ever know.

After so much time of wanting to ask her out on a date, and feeling rather good because I had new school clothes and had managed to lose twenty pounds, I finally got the nerve to ask her in the note. She smiled with her usual warmth, but before she had a chance to read it, one of her loud snobby girlfriends sitting next to her snatched it away and read it out loud. Then she scowled at me, turned to Sara and yelled, “Why would that Big Fat Nothing even dream of asking you out?!” Much laughter ensued, but not from Sara, and I ran out of the lunchroom sweating and dizzy with pain.

So there I was the following weekend on the massive steel of Blue River Bridge. It was a cold night in October, and I knew the river would take me down quickly with its icy chill and heavy current. I didn’t need to put stones in my pockets like the famous writer Virginia Woolf; my weight was already like a boulder that would sink quickly, especially since I wasn’t one for swimming.

The last thing I remember in my fleshly body is seeing the autumn moonlight reflecting off the river. As I said a final prayer, I imagined the moonlight was God’s arms reaching out to hold me,  caress my forehead as my mother once did.

If still on Earth, I would be approaching twenty-five. There would have been some consolation from those dark days; a way to retreat from that sad place in the center of the world’s heart.

I was beautiful; capable and deserving of good things- I just didn’t know it that night on the bridge. I hope that you know you are…

-Heather Lenz

May 2015

 

If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255 (24 hours, 7 days a week)

If you are feeling hopeless and alone, please visit: www.halfofus.com

by

The Moon Lover

Categories: Short Stories, Tags: ,

 

Pezibear / Pixabay

The Moon Lover

Rebecca showered, put on a blue sundress, sandals, and fastened her long, dark hair with a clip. A hint of daylight grazed her cheek through the picture window of her beachfront rental. She looked out toward the Oregon shore, recalling the long summer days of fishing with her father. Catching fish was something she never really enjoyed, she preferred to leave the creatures be to live. It was the memory of her father’s brown eyes, the scent of his jeans damp with salty morning mist, and the boat rides that she longed for again. She let out a long sigh, turned on the CD player in the corner of the front room and listened to Van Morrison sing as she finished her morning coffee.

Only two more days left to gather her thoughts and get some painting done. Time. Never enough time. She was there to reflect and cultivate, conjure inspiration. Ever since the divorce and nasty custody battle, though, inspiration seemed far from her grasp; seemed a distant echo losing momentum somewhere in the interior of her heart and soul. She was alone now, with the uncertain future set before her like an ominous cloud of fear. How weary she was of fear; of discord and that creeping feeling of middle age.

However, she knew it was time to try to leave the past at rest, to accept the present moments; take hold of herself and find something more meaningful to reignite the fire. The one that burned so brightly when she was nineteen, and so ready to live a truly artistic life.

Romance was the last thing on her list. Sure, sometimes she missed the tender embrace of it all, the perpetual reeling of passion and all the excitement it provided; the exhilarating inspiration that would often rise from the depths of it. Sometimes a handsome passerby still caught her attention as she wandered through the city sidewalks on her way to work, but the glint in her eye was only momentary, and cynicism found its way back to the forefront within seconds of any amorous longing. She would not give way to vulnerability again. Her difficult path had taught her it was a mistake time and time again. It was crucial for her to wake up, to pull herself from the long, dreary years of being a backdrop in someone else’s life. Scared as she was, it was time to find herself again, a task that romance could only hinder and stifle.

She finished her last sip of coffee, gathered her sketching tools, pad of paper, two books, her journal of myriad ideas and scribbles, and then shut the cottage door behind her. The large hemp bag she carried thumped against her hip rhythmically as she walked toward the long stretch of beach.

In the distance, she noticed a family of four flying kites and laughing. A pang of sadness hit her insides as she looked away and continued in the opposite direction of familial bliss. She would not allow herself to envy the lives of others or continue moping over the fact that her domestic years were anything but tranquil and loving. They were more like the morbid depictions of Dali’s dreams or the subtle desperation of Van Gogh’s people and landscapes. But that was the past. It was time to salvage what she could, though she felt helpless in understanding just how to go about it.

“Hey there,” a feminine voice called out from beside a huge jutting rock on the shore. “Did you notice the Day Moon? I must say it is glorious!”

Rebecca, startled by the stranger in a straw sunhat and a long, crepe black dress that moved furiously in the breeze, smiled and nodded her head shyly. She laid out her worn lavender blanket and settled down with her things, avoiding further eye contact with the woman, hoping that she would not attempt to converse with her further. She kicked off her sandals and took out her sketch pad and journal, along with a favorite book of poetry. If the Oregon beaches and some cherished verse could not inspire her, nothing would.

She stared out across the tumultuous waves, watching the foam and bits of seaweed spill from them. Her mind seemed to wander straight into their centers and she could feel herself beginning to relax, the tensions moving away from her as if the Day Moon was not only controlling the tide, but pulling away all of her anxiety also.

She glanced over at the woman near the rock and saw that she was busily searching for shells. She was confident then that the stranger would not interrupt her further. She closed her eyes, meditating in the various sounds of nature around her; the rushing and turning of waves, the cry of seagulls, the moving wings of blue herons passing somewhere above her. In a matter of minutes, a sweet and restful slumber found her.

When Rebecca awoke from her nap, she looked around her drowsily, frustrated that she had fallen asleep when there was so much work she wanted to start or complete. She noticed the odd woman who seemed so giddy by the presence of the Day Moon had left her little spot near the rock. She was nowhere to be seen. Rebecca was left to herself to begin jotting and sketching.

She wrote notes about the various colors and textures of the crashing waves and the shore around her. With charcoal stick in hand, she made quick and elongated strokes on her sketchpad. Clouds passed across an amber sun momentarily and she sketched that also. She wished she could truly capture the magnitude of spirituality she felt at that moment, surrounded by such natural power and beauty, but her sketches seemed dull and lackluster. Perhaps the paints would help convey her sentiments more clearly, more vibrantly, and her work would come alive again.

The day moved further along at a pleasant pace. Rebecca felt her mind finally relax, her tension ease to some degree. The mental chatter had taken a temporary vacation from her. She began to sketch more freely, loosely, and her work was the better for it.  She paused to drink some lemonade and caught something out of the corner of her eye resting on the left edge of her lavender blanket. It was a small, neatly folded pink piece of paper beneath a large and rugged clamshell. Surprised and curious, thinking someone may have dropped it; she lifted the shell and unfolded the paper. She read the following:

“I pointed out to you the moon and all you saw was the tip of my finger”        ~Tanzanian Proverb

Written below was a personal note:

Tonight the moon will be full and the sky is supposed to be fairly clear. Perhaps you would like to meet me at the All~Night Blue Dream Café near Orion Beach at around 8:30 pm. I might be able to help you with your vision problems. Your choice, my treat. Hope to see you there.

 Sincerely,

 ~V

Rebecca was baffled. She knew of course who left the note; it was the strange and giddy woman near the rock. Who else would it be? She knew no one in the area and the quote about the moon was obvious. She thought it strange, as personal as the note was that the woman did not even sign her first name completely. Of course she would not go meet her. She had business to tend to and furthermore, she found the quote to be a bit rude. How dare this woman be so brazen and make such assumptions about her. She was an artist; of course she saw everything, felt it deeply. On the other hand, did she anymore? She wondered to herself and thought of how little she had accomplished in the past two years. Was she even paying attention? Had the sluggish way of discouragement and pain really paralyzed her, numbed her that much?

She admitted to herself that she probably came off to the woman as disinterested and disengaged. So much was weighing on her and she had not yet settled in to her surroundings. She looked down the beach to her left and to her right, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman so she could defend and assert herself. She wondered what possessed the woman to leave such a note for a total stranger that she had only a moment’s interaction with. She must be crazy, Rebecca thought. She gathered her things and walked swiftly toward her cottage, shoving the note into the right pocket of her blue sundress. A light rain began to fall as she left the beach. Somehow, she doubted the moon would be visible that night.

Dusk began to fall. Rebecca prepared herself a plate of cheese and crackers and sat down on the lemon-colored plush sofa near the picture window. She watched the rain fall heavier against the huge pane. The wind rippled through the tall grass as if the earth itself was shivering. In the far distance, she could see a hint of waves crashing toward the shore. She said a silent prayer, thanking God for all His wonders, for guiding her through so many trials. Now if only she could feel like herself again. Free and confident, filled with vigor and passion. “Like Isadora Duncan”, her mother used to say.

After her light snack she brushed some cobwebs from the small fireplace and pulled a Dura-flame log out of the heavy aluminum bucket nearby. She loved the scent and sight of burning wood against a backdrop of rain. She opened the window to the right of the fireplace so she could allow the fresh, rain-filled air to mingle with the fire. It would be just the right amount of natural inspiration for her to get some painting done. She poured herself a glass of Merlot and began playing Mozart on the CD player very softly in the background. She did not want the fine music to drown out the rhythmic sounds of rain, wind, and crackling wood. A soft hint of everything was just what she wanted. She basked in her solitude, soaking it all in like a patch of parched meadow.

A few hours passed and Rebecca stopped to stare at her creation. Blues, greens, hints of yellow with subtle washes of orange. A feeling of mellow satisfaction washed over her. She was finally accomplishing a piece that she felt was better than anything she had completed in the last few months. Not a masterpiece by any standard, but a sway in the right direction.

As she lingered over her painting, she heard her cell phone ring. It was her son, Matthew, calling from New York. It had been a while since she heard from him. She figured he must have been enjoying the summer with her sister so much that he didn’t have time to call in between seeing the sights of Greenwich Village and taking his acting classes. She could not believe he was going to turn fifteen in just a few weeks.

Her mind brought her back to all that was said during the custody mess, and for a moment, she wondered if she was really raising him right, wondered if she should have done some things differently. They were close, no doubt, and he seemed to be growing into a good person. Their bond was like no other, and with this knowledge she reminded herself that her parenting could not be that bad, given the closeness they shared. She loved that he shared her creative passion in some way, and just like most mothers believe in their children, she was sure he possessed great talent and would go far in his acting career if he kept at it.

“Hey, mom, what’s up?” asked Matthew, as she answered her outdated cell phone. She could hear the smile rise in his voice.

“Hey, son, I’m actually just finishing up with a painting here at the cottage rental in Lincoln City. I’m so happy to hear from you. How are your classes going?”

“They’re going great, mom, really great,” Matthew replied excitedly. “My instructor Mr. Broward says I’m improving and chuckles at my impressions of Al Pacino and Jim Carrey. He says I don’t have much of a singing voice, but I already knew that. Needless to say, I won’t be starring in any musicals in the near future,” he said with a laugh.

Rebecca smiled, recalling all of the Rap songs he used to write and perform. Though he had inherited her awful singing voice, he was actually pretty good at Rapping.

“That’s wonderful news, Matt. I’m so happy things are going well. I miss you terribly, but I bet New York is exciting and keeping you amazed. I know it did that for me so many years ago. I’m proud of you for having the courage to leave home for the summer and pursue your goals.”

“Thanks, mom,” he replied. “You should see all the fabulous art, theatre and literary events going on around here this summer. There is so much I want to do, that I hardly take time to sleep. Aunt Lisa gives you her love. She has been a lot of support and so much fun. I’m lucky to have her.”

“Yes you are, son,” replied Rebecca in a soft warm voice. “Be sure to give her my love in return and tell her I will write soon. Don’t forget to record some of your performances and email them to me. I can’t wait for you to fly back home for your birthday weekend. I spoke with your father the other day and he is taking a day off from work to be at the party.”

“Yeah, about that mom…the birthday.”

He hesitated and Rebecca felt her heart sink.

“Yes?” she asked him.

“Well, my class is in the middle of practicing ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The day before my birthday we are going to present it at a small local theatre. The next day we are all going to get together and celebrate our first real performance. And there’s this girl in my class…well, I am sort of starting to like her a bit. I’m real sorry mom, but that is the main reason I was calling… well that, and to tell you I love you.”

Rebecca tried hard to hide the disappointment in her voice, but her son knew it all too well.

“Mom, are you gonna be okay? We can always celebrate later, after August.”

“I’ll be alright, Matt,” Rebecca replied, barely holding back tears. “It will give me more time to concentrate on my own work anyway. Perhaps I’ll rent this cottage for another week if it is not reserved for someone else. You just have a great time and concentrate on your acting. Don’t let this girl distract you too much, though.” She gave a little laugh. “I suppose you’ll tell me all about her when you come home. I love you so much, Matt.”

“I love you too, mom. I can’t wait to see your new paintings and tell you all about my trip when I get back. It’s only been two weeks and I have so much I want to share already. I gotta go now though, I have class early in the morning and it is so late here already.”

“Okay, Matt. Take care and try to get a little rest at least. I think I am going to go out for a walk or perhaps an evening drive.”

“Okay, mom, I love you and miss you.”

“I miss you too son, but it’s all worth it. Call me again soon.”

“Alright, bye mom.”

Rebecca hit the END CALL button on her phone. As the embers from the fireplace log began to fade, hot tears ran down her cheeks. Tears of joy for her son’s happiness, and tears of loneliness for herself. She sighed and gazed out the window.

She noticed the rain had stopped, that the many clouds in the sky were beginning to disperse. The bright Pacific moon began to peer out from a large mass of clouds to the east. She thought of the odd woman on the beach who left the invitation on her blanket as she napped. After learning that Matt was not returning home for his birthday celebration, her solitude seemed more like an enemy than a welcome guest. More like a weight than a freedom.

Rebecca made sure the fire was completely burned out, scooped up her hemp bag, tossed in her cell phone and headed for the door. She would drive to the All~Night Blue Dream Café after all. Curiosity about this woman who signed her name with one letter, mixed with a sudden need for company prompted her to leave her little sanctuary, for better or worse. Though it was almost 9 pm and a twenty-minute drive to the Orion Beach area, even if the strange woman had already left the café, she could at least find comfort in the drive and spend some time people-watching if anything else.

As she drove her black Mazda along the coastline highway, she listened to the Soft 70’s station and wondered just how it was that this female stranger was able to notice in a few seconds how screwed up she was at this point in her life. It made Rebecca feel uneasy, defensive. “Just like Isadora Duncan” she heard her mother say from somewhere inside her whirling thoughts. “Yeah, right,” Rebecca said aloud as if her mother, though deceased, could hear her. “Maybe once upon a time, mom.”

After hearing a few more 70’s tunes and a couple of annoying commercials on the radio, she pulled in to the parking lot of the café, half-hoping the strange woman would not be there. She suddenly felt nervous and wondered to herself why she had decided to come to this place, when she could’ve stayed at the cottage and finished her painting, or read some verse and called it a night. The best-selling book titled ‘Smart Women, Foolish Choices’ suddenly came to mind. Though she’d never read it, it seemed to fit her. She deemed herself a pathetic idiot, but walked sheepishly into the café anyway.

The main room of the place was filled with a soft blue and amber light cast from the many lamps hanging from the ceiling. Various paintings on canvas, wood, and paper lined the walls in myriad styles and colors. Portraits, landscapes, surrealism, expressionism, abstract. All very good works of art, but obviously by many different artists. Hung randomly between each art piece were smaller canvases, paper, and wood, each containing quotes or short poems on painted backgrounds? Rebecca was fascinated; she immediately felt at home in this eccentric place, even among the faces of complete strangers, many of whom were looking her way.

In the far corner of the room, past the bar lacquered in shades of blue and the rows of plush Tuscan-orange booths and little round tables for two, Rebecca saw a man playing a saxophone. His brown lips and fingers moved as smooth and strong as the Pacific wind outside. Behind him, the wall was a mural of a night sky, complete with stars and a milky white full moon against midnight blue.

Rebecca seated herself at a small round table adjacent to him, allowing herself to become lost in his beautiful rhythm. She glanced out the bay window onto the deck, eyeing the faces and forms that glowed against the flickering candles and moonlight. She scanned the females to see if she could recognize the mysterious woman who had invited her here. No luck; she could not see her anywhere. Perhaps it was for the better, she thought.

The last thing she needed was another half-mad person entering her life. She struggled enough with her own sanity; she didn’t need to take on the burden of keeping someone else’s mind together. She had been down that road before, had learned her lesson. No more false and flimsy friends, no more temperamental, unsatisfying lovers. She had the love of her son, her art. That was all she needed.

If people perceived her as distant and unsociable, it’s because she was. It was safer that way. Lonely, but safe. Her childhood and younger years had been lonely and unsafe. At least now she had safety to some degree, even if it consisted solely of walls she built up inside of herself.

As she sat there wandering in her own thoughts, someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to see a smiling waitress with bobbed red hair smiling at her. She set a glass of red wine down in front of Rebecca and said, “Hi, I’m Amy. A woman named Valerie sent this over for you. She told me to tell you she would be back shortly. She has an errand to run. Let me know if you need anything else.”

Rebecca was surprised, but glad to finally learn the strange woman’s name. She thanked the waitress and began to enjoy her drink. Merlot. How did the woman guess she preferred Merlot?  Just coincidence, she figured.

About a half an hour passed, and there was still no sight of the peculiar woman from the beach. The café had become busier and the saxophone player gave the stage to a woman who played well-known Jazz tunes on the piano. Rebecca recognized one of her favorites, ‘A Case of You’ and immediately drifted back into wonderful, bittersweet memories of a time she was in love. She could not even fathom feeling that way now. That entrance to the deepest place of her heart and femininity seemed permanently sealed.

Just as she was finishing her glass of wine and considering leaving to take a walk on the beach, a familiar face walked up and greeted her. It was Valerie, no doubt; wearing a long, turquoise cotton dress with a line of silvery stars gracing the neckline. Her blond, shoulder-length hair appeared beaten by the wind. Her eyes appeared lively, as if they knew secrets beyond ordinary comprehension.

“Sorry I kept you waiting. I figured I’d let you settle in a bit and relax, enjoy the atmosphere of this lovely place. Isn’t it amazing? The art on the walls, the music, the variety of people?”

“Yes,” Rebecca replied. “It is just my kind of place. I wish I had discovered it much sooner.”

“I guessed it would be,” Valerie said. Then she summoned Amy the waitress, and ordered two more glasses of Merlot. “The wine here is quite good, yes?” she asked Rebecca.

“Well, I’m no wine connoisseur, but yes, it is very enjoyable.”

Amy brought them the glasses of wine and the conversation continued.

Now, I know you are wondering why I am here, why I decided to make contact with you and leave that note for you as you napped on the beach. I wasn’t even sure you’d bother to pick it up and read it, but I felt you might.”

“Yes, this all seems very strange,” replied Rebecca. “I wasn’t even going to show up tonight but I decided at the last minute to take the drive and find out why you took such an interest in me. I must say though, I was not only caught off-guard, but a little leery.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Valerie said. “Listen, I’m not here to bother you with a ton of questions, for there is much I already know about you. I am sure that makes you uncomfortable to some degree, as it would anyone. But everything I have to share with you and tell you are for your good and I intend the opposite of harm or upset for you, though I do think maybe you need to be shaken up a little.”

“Shaken up?” Rebecca asked, in a confused and slightly irritated tone. “I think my life has been shaken up enough these past few years.”

“Yes, I know that,” Valerie said. “It’s written all over your face. But I don’t mean shaken up in a negative way; I mean shaken up in a way that brings you back to life. I’ve lived quite a bit longer than you and have seen my own share of troubles, so I wanted to extend a hand. I wish someone would have done that for me when I was your age. You appear so sad and lost, almost like a fragile bird caught in a snowstorm whose wings are too weary and cold to endure further flight.”

“But how do you know so much about me, even down to what my favorite kind of wine is? I find it all a bit disturbing!” Her voice was getting louder and more irritated. “The only thing I can guess is that you’re staying very close to my cottage and have watched me often without my knowledge.”

“In a sense, you are right about me watching you,” replied Valerie, “but not in the way you would suppose. Let’s just say I’m an old crone and that it is part intuition, and partly your eyes.”

“My eyes?” Rebecca questioned.

“Yes, you can tell a lot from a person’s eyes. You know the saying about how they are windows to the soul. I believe that to be true for the most part. And furthermore, they look like hers. I could tell right away the first time I saw you arriving at the seaside cottage.”

“Hers?” Rebecca felt her heart start to race a bit and considered getting up from her seat to storm out the door. She felt the urge to leave this strange and intrusive woman far behind, just like she tried to leave so many other things in her life far behind.

“Your mother’s, of course,” replied Valerie. “I know her, and I know her deep love and concern for you.”

Rebecca started to tremble with nervousness and irritation. She again raised her voice to the stranger and said, “My mother? My mother has been dead for years! And you are bringing up a very touchy subject! My mother never mentioned having a friend by your name, and certainly I would have known if you were connected to her in any way!”

“I’m sorry to have upset you,” Valerie said, “but my friendship with your mother was more on a spiritual level, and she probably never mentioned my name to you because she knew me by a different name. I changed my name several years ago.”

“Why did you change your name?” Rebecca inquired, still unsettled but highly curious.

“I changed it because just as the ebb and flow of the tides change, as do the phases of the moon, I changed. Like the moon, I entered a new phase and felt the need to shed my old self, to find renewal. Changing my name helped signify this and lead me to new places. It just felt right.”

Rebecca looked away, sat silent for a few moments, taking in all that Valerie had said. When she looked up again and met her eyes, suddenly she felt a sense of warm familiarity. Her nerves settled. Something in the air seemed charged with a serendipitous light.

“How about we move out to the deck so we can catch some of that glorious moonlight?” Valerie suggested.

Rebecca agreed and they both walked through the glass door leading to the deck.  Tables were illuminated by colored glass lanterns, casting a poetic glow that flickered in the night. They chose a table in the right corner, it being the most private and having the best view of the risen moon. Rebecca watched Victoria gaze adoringly at it, then briefly close her green eyes and smile. The rush of ocean waves mingled with the piano jazz that could still be heard from a set of outdoor speakers attached high in the corners of the deck. A haunting and sultry song by Nina Simone; another of Rebecca’s favorites.

After a few moments, she finally broke the serene silence between them. “So, Valerie, why did you feel compelled to add that quote to the note you left for me on the beach? I almost found it offensive.”

“That was not my intention. My intention was to make you think, to shake you up a bit as I mentioned before. All of us get lost in life sometimes, you know. And all of us at some point or another, in whatever way, by whomever, need help finding our way back to a place where we can live, not just exist. I know there is more spirit in you than what you are allowing. Every wound has surfaced and opened again, left you tired. You no longer see with vibrant eyes, and even now in this beautiful moonlight there is a dull sadness to them. Do you think this is how your mother would want you to live out the rest of your days?”

Rebecca felt tears rising in her eyes and fought to keep them from flowing down her cheeks. A part of her had a desire to tell Valerie to leave her alone, to mind her own business, but in the deeper parts of her she knew everything Valerie was telling her was true. She had been beaten down, her inner flame and creativity doused with loss and trouble.

Sure, she still painted; she still basked in the beauty of life to some degree, but not with her entire being as before. Not with the fervor and passion that had often enveloped her daily. Sometimes it seemed as if total defeat was breathing down her neck, waiting for just the right moment to ruin her forever. There had been a few times when this feeling was so strong that she cried out loud alone in her studio, threw her paintings across the room in fits of maddening pain.

After a long pause, Rebecca finally answered Valerie. “No, no, next to my son, my mother loved me more than anyone. I know she wouldn’t want me living like this. She wouldn’t want me to allow people or life to break me down this badly, which is exactly what happened to her.”

“There are good people in life,” Valerie responded, “but sometimes they are not the people you expect, and they can be difficult to recognize or find when you’re not seeing clearly. It’s even harder when most people seem a painful disappointment. Judgmental, gossipy, too proud, too unapproachable. And some even desire your demise or hate to see you happy in any way.”

Rebecca took a long slow drink of her wine. The moonlight steadied on their faces.

“I still don’t understand how you know so much,” she said to Valerie, “but I’m no longer going to question it. I’ll just say that I’m thankful for your kindness and time. I would really like to keep in touch with you.”

“Oh, we’ll be in touch again, one of these days. Either here or somewhere else, I’m sure. You know, you should really consider donating a couple of your paintings to the café. I am sure the customers would enjoy them. All of the art here is done by locals or frequent vacationers.”

Rebecca gave a soft smile and looked inside toward the walls covered in various art pieces. “I just might do that sometime,” she said.

Valerie then picked up her large floral printed handbag and pulled out something wrapped in silvery-blue paper, topped with a large white bow.

“Listen, I have to be going now, but I want to give you this. Don’t bother opening it now, go ahead and wait until you’re back at the cottage and can enjoy some quiet time.”

Rebecca thanked her as she gathered her handbag and rose to leave.

“Wait,” Rebecca said, still seated in the moonlight, the breeze from the ocean tossing back her hair. “Don’t you want to exchange phone numbers or addresses at least?”

“No, there is no need for that,” she answered. “Our paths will cross again when they are meant to. I hope you like your gift, and know that I have really enjoyed this night with you.”

Before Rebecca could respond, Valerie hurried through the glass door and made her way out of the café entrance.

The next day, Rebecca awoke late in the morning, feeling well-rested and energized. She looked over to the faded blue ottoman and saw the gift from Valerie still unopened. She made her usual dark roast coffee and pulled open the handmade fabric blinds, to reveal a clear sky and Pacific waves lapsing in and out from the shore.

She sat down with her coffee in a nearby cozy armchair and carefully unwrapped the gift. It was a book titled: ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype’ byClarissa Pinkola Estes. She opened the front cover to reveal the familiar handwriting of Valerie.

For Rebecca,

“You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you.”

~Isadora Duncan

With love always,

~V

She closed the book and smiled in wonder. An Isadora Duncan quote; one that was shared so long ago by her mother. One that she had promised herself to live by- Wild. Beautiful. Strong. Filled with Life, Passion.

When nighttime came again, she would paint the moon and the swelling waves beneath it. She would paint it with the intensity and freedom that Emily Carr had painted huge trees and forests. She would paint it in homage to sacred nature, to renewal, to her own soul. To the love she held for her son, her mother, her God. And of course, to the otherworldly woman she now knew as Valerie.

-Heather Lenz

2014

 

 

 

 

by

Superstition Freeway

Categories: Short Stories, Tags: , ,


Yourself II

Rob and Dan cranked up the music and sped down the Arizona freeway in a black Probe. It was a dry summer night outside of Tempe, as they headed toward one of their favorite bars, The Dog Run Saloon, in Apache Junction.

They were hoping to score by the end of the night, after women there consumed enough drinks to become oblivious to the fact that they both were jerks, who really cared nothing for their female counterparts, save for what their pretty faces and hourglass shapes could deliver.

Dan reached over from the passenger’s side and turned down the stereo. “Hey, Rob, whatever happened to that one bitch, Dana, that you were dating? She was pretty hot. You should have shared.”

Rob gave an arrogant chuckle and said, “I kicked her ass out of my trailer one night about two months ago after she mentioned something about me driving drunk. I told her to shut the hell up and swigged down more Tequila. She said she was leaving so I helped her out by grabbing the back of her neck and pushing her off my porch. Bitch got a broken nose, I think. Haven’t seen her since.”

Dan laughed. “Serves her right, I guess. Still, you could’ve at least shared before you broke her pretty nose, Asshole.”

They both laughed then, lit smokes and sped down the lonely desert road, toward their rowdy destination where women and booze would make them feel like somebodies for a night.

“Hey, what the hell! Slow down and pull over, man,” Dan demanded.

“Why?” Rob asked.

“You didn’t see that chick back there on the side of the road waving us down?” he bellowed. “From what I could tell, she looked hot, too. Turn around!”

“Hmm, well if she really is hot,” Rob replied, “I just might be her knight-in-shining-armor tonight. Bitches in distress are always turned on by guys that help them. Maybe we can share her if she wants to party,” he said with a sinister laugh.

Dan spun the car around and raced toward the female stranger. He’d gone about a quarter of a mile when they spotted her standing there leaning against a blue Ford Aspire. To her left was a small figure that appeared to be a girl, though they weren’t absolutely sure since two small hands covered the bent down head.

“Damn! She’s got a damn kid with her, I don’t want to deal with this shit, we’ve got to get to the bar,” Rob said to Dan. “Well it’s too late now,” replied Dan, “she sees us and there’s no one else on the road to help her. Maybe she can ditch the kid later and come party.”

Reluctantly and with a sigh, Rob pulled up behind the blue car and both of them got out. The Arizona moonlight beamed off the woman’s face and long, Auburn tresses. Dan caught a glimpse of her large eyes and gathered they were of a greenish hue. He noticed her shapely, tan legs beneath a pair of cutoff shorts and a snug, white tank top. “Kid or not,” he thought, “she is a fine piece of ass.”

“Hey, we saw you waving us down so we turned around,” Dan said to her, as Rob stood there silently exploring her figure with his eyes. “What’s the matter, did your car break down?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “and I need to get my little girl to the hospital right away. We were at my sister’s visiting and I think she may have ingested something poisonous. She keeps holding her nose saying that it is bleeding, but her nose is just fine. Whatever she got into must have made her start hallucinating on our way driving home. And then my damn car has to overheat! There’s hardly anyone on this freeway tonight, definitely not ones willing to stop, anyway. Please! Can you give us a ride to the hospital?” she pleaded, wringing her hands with tension and panic.

“Sure, we’ll give you a ride,” Rob answered. “The hospital is only about six miles from here, not too far out of our way.”

“Thank you so much,” the woman said. “I can give you some cash for fuel.” Rob couldn’t help but think of other things he’d like her to give him. “Too bad she has a brat on her hands,” he thought.

The four of them climbed into Rob’s car and headed down Superstition Freeway, toward the Banner Desert Medical Center, which was the closest one he knew of. The little girl with long, dark hair seemed more calm than her mother described. Rob glanced at her in the rearview mirror to see her quietly rocking back and forth, holding her head in her hands in such a way that none of her facial features were visible. He decided he’d feign interest in the child to get the mother’s attention and try to make her like him.

“What’s your little girl’s name and how old is she?”

“Her name is Dana. She’s seven years old,” she answered, as she stroked the back of the little girl’s head. Rob felt a slight tinge of guilt at the mention of the name. “And I’m Amy, by the way. Sorry I didn’t introduce myself sooner.”

“No problem,” he replied, “you have a lot going on right now”.

Just then, the little girl raised her head and stared at Rob in the rearview mirror. Tere was just enough light for him to catch the color of her eyes, and they were so green that they almost appeared to glow like neon. He wondered in that moment if perhaps it was the pot he’d smoked earlier, messing with his head. He quickly turned his eyes back toward the road.

“Dana, do you want a drink of Mommy’s soda? How is your nose? You’re still holding it, Honey, but there’s no blood there at all.”

“Yes there is! It’s broken, it’s broken, smashed to bits. That boy pushed me! He pushed me far, far away down. I can’t even feel the earth anymore! And he called me bad names when I was always nice to him!” the little girl shouted.

“Dana, tell me what you got into at Aunt Cindy’s house. Did you drink or eat anything you weren’t supposed to, or take any of Aunt Cindy’s medicine? Tell mommy now, please!” The mother started to cry.

The little girl refused to say anything, but instead looked at Rob in the rearview mirror with angry, wild eyes and began spitting viciously at the back of his head. Rob inadvertently touched the back of his head to feel large globs of saliva accumulating in his well-groomed hair. His heart was pounding with fear. How could he be afraid of a sick little girl? he wondered. Just then, the little girl began to sing in a loud and mocking tone:

“Rob the nob is such a slob,

he has no heart and has no job,

He likes to beat and hurt and thrash,

Rob the nob is trailer-trash!”

Rob began to tremble and sweat as the mother tried to quiet the little girl, but she would not stop her taunting song and continued to spit at the back of Rob’s head inbetween singing the single, morbid verse.

“Man, speed it up, dammit,” shouted Dan to Rob, for he too, felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise at this point.

Rob pressed his foot harder on the gas pedal as his head began to swarm with panic and disbelief. Everything suddenly went dark. Then sirens, flashing lights. Then Rob outside in the Arizona night, being wheeled away on a gurney. He could feel the blood rushing from his nose. Pain everywhere, mixed with sensations of numbness.

“Hey,” he yelled to the paramedics, “my friend, my friend, where is he? Where’s that evil little girl? She’s evil! She’s evil! She caused this! She was in my car and she caused this! And her damned mother!”

“Sir, you need to calm down or we are going to have to restrain you. You’re seriously injured and we’re rushing you to the hospital along with your friend. Please lie back and try to relax. We’re here to take care of you.”

“But, but, the little girl! Her mother! Where are they? Keep them away from me! Please!” begged Rob.

“Sir, I think you are in shock and a bit delirious. We checked the vehicle and surrounding area thoroughly. We did not find a little girl or woman anywhere, just you and your friend.”

As the paramedics began to lift him into the ambulance, Rob glanced over toward the wreckage. There stood a little girl with long, dark hair and eyes an almost neon green. She smiled sweetly at him and waved, then turned to walk away.

~Heather Lenz

2013

Copyright © 2017 ravensamongme.com. All Rights Reserved.