I Might Have Been Five

I remember the smell of my lunch box, the plastic ones with a companion thermos. The smell of sandwich in its ziploc bag and the futility of searching for morsels on the long bus ride. It was a long bus and I sat in the back with my too small coat. I would run up the gravel drive when the bus pulled up to my rural address in upstate New York.

I remember the birch trees in our rather large yard. How I liked pulling the silvery bark apart! It made me think of zebras. I also loved how its leaves looked like twirling coins during autumn. I remember, in the third person, myself running while wearing a brown coat, or maybe it was blue and grey? and pulling along a rainbow hued kite as my father looked on. His hair was jet black at the time and he didn’t have his belly. He looked like I do now, skin draped on bone by virtue of genetics. I remember a white window, and tunneling in the snow. My mother dug a cave in which I huddled.I think I fell out of my bunk bed that night. My mother remembers me smearing petroleum jelly on the old faux wood vinyl wall paneling of our trailer home.

I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to gather the clouds into a jar and hold it forever, captured within the glass, as I soared across the continental United States, leaving the only home I remembered. Now I don’t remember so much; my memory is a box of old photographs, of moments arrested in Time.

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The Aftermath: Bottoms Up

The fire gloamed full spectrum in the bent light, splashing rainbow warmth onto the cool figures huddled in the night. They were four in number, and ceramic bowls in their cupped hands were steamed mushroomy muskiness. They sat in comfortable solidarity in their status of outcasts from each of their respective cultures, and at the foremost, they sat as friends at the brink of adventure.

“I don’t know if I can do this.” This was Anchor, an elfin faced womanchild, slender and willowy from her childhood in the low gravities. Her eyes were green pools of mossy fear. Charlie, the youngest and the catalyst of the group, with soft accord said, “This can’t be done without the entire consent of your being.” He looked at her with intense endearment. “Think on it a moment, and if you still feel fear, put down that bowl and sit with us tonight, without worry.” Anchor smiled, showing small teeth. She said, “I’ll do it, Charlie, because I trust you.”

Fahey, his face a constellation of freckles under a dusk of shock-red hair, grinned with relief. He winked at Anchor, his eye bulging grotesquely with refraction. Anchor and Manara, the golden skinned slow girl who sat across from Charlie, giggled. Charlie chuckled and brushed the brown hair from his eyes. “Now you understand this many-monthed blue mead from the mushroom climes induces visions in the soul,” he said with a ritual litany. “Do not be afraid. We are in the company of friends. When in doubt, turn your gaze to your neighbors.” His comrades nodded with sober assent. Charlie raised his steaming bowl and said, “Bottoms up!”

The friends sat as the familiar jostle and bustle of their throbbing reality twitched slowly into implacable smoothness. Anchor was reminded of the crest of wind back in the airs of her childhood. Fahey knew the burnished oak walls of his village over which he would run his young, callused hands. Manara remembered her mother’s slow breast and its creamy froth. Charlie just smiled imperceptibly, as if he saw much, much more. The swaying trees solidified into warm organic marble, and the rainbow fell from the fire with a crackle. The dirt and stones ceased their pulsing. Anchor, eyes wide with child’s gaze, let the smooth limn of the world run down her body like so many crystal waters. “Charlie. I-it’s so beautiful…”

The Prodigal Son

The wayfarer stood at the crossroads, holding a small leather satchel with gloved hands. He wore a long coat, with an upturned collar. His eyes, green like beetle sap, watched the crooked streetsign rattle in the wind, its mischief also fondly fondling his rich brown mantle of hair. His breath steamed from aristocratic nostrils that sniffed as a line of dust slowly grew from the west.

It screeched to a halt in a paroxysm of steam and dust. He could barely see the figure who crawled out of the contraption. It was only a boy! He affected scratched aviator goggles that he pulled from his eyes, snapping it onto a thick mop of dirty brown hair. His eyes, like blueberries in a barrel of water under a clear summer sky. Boy blue eyes. A wide grin redeemed the grimy face and a hand gloved with thick old leather reached towards the wayfarer. “Joannes. How do you like this thing?” The wayfarer took the hand gingerly and nodded. “Ashford. Ashford Blaxhill. W-what is it? I was expecting a carriage.”

The boy whooped and slapped the metal beast. “It’s a Steamhorse Deluxe! It’s a carriage… horseless! Car, for short. A beaut. It’ll take us where you’re going right fast.”

Ashford nodded again, nervously. He made to step into the carriage and lost his balance. With a cry, “Careful, hot!” the boy steadied him.

Ashford began to regret his excursion, but it was necessary. The boy did something with the carriage, uh, car, and it bucked into violent life, eliciting an involuntary cry from the wayfarer. Steam broiled the low, thin glass pane that faced them and the boy sniggered. “I heard that.” Ashford gripped the satchel until his knuckles became white. The boy laughed again, his goggles frosted. They were off, the car once more tossing up dust, headed for the road.

It flapped in the wide open spaces above the rolling hills and blue winding streams that made up the sun-spattered countryside of checkered orchard greens and golden wheat, above stone bridges and old, cracked roads. It was the very last of its kind, its species’ only survivor of Nature’s compassionate cruelty, and it ranged the land for a suitable nesting place for its precious hoard, tumescently tucked under the whir of its iridescent wings. Multi-faceted eyes gleamed, telescoped and its antennas susurrated a hum of approval; its slow drone upped the ante and it fell towards a copse of gymnosperms voraciously choked by twisting vines dotted with yellow topped blue blooms.

“WAHOOOO!” The boy bounced in his seat with childish enthusiasm. Ashford was beginning to smile. Once on the road, the going was much smoother, and admittedly, this new-fangled thing was surely faster than a horse drawn carriage. Something pulped against the windshield and he squeaked with fright.

“Oh, man look at the mess that one made!” The glass was a meaty smear, and a piece like a rainbow shard tinkled against the beating air resistance. Joannes stood, bracing his knees against the dashboard and reached over the windshield, wiping at the mess. He still handled the steering wheel and the car almost plunged off road, into dark forest. Joannes gave Ashford the little piece of rainbow. It was soft, like flimsy velvet, but it did not snap in his hands. He put it in a pocket.

They puttered past cornfields, stone cottages crumbling to ruin, rusted industrial complexes surrendering to choked foliage, invading morning glories, past chicory and datura and belladona that overtook the gravel bordering the ferrocrete, threatening to strangle the road. Foliage whipped their cheeks and they had to huddle to the center. Nothing grew on the ‘crete road.

It became prematurely dark. Clouds boiled a purple black cauldron in the sky and teemed with dancing lightning. Joannes had brought out a pair of Naptha lamps. It was an unnerving experience, as the boy had a way of doing things with seeming disregard for the road. Somewhere between the torchlight and fading visibility superstition had crept into Ashford’s mind. He heard cackles between the crackle of tire and road, saw foliage rustling with sudden motion. Witches weaving through the corn, and long skeletal hands plucking at the plants of secret magic, dark green fire of straddled broomsticks jetting through the stalks. Purple eyes that gleamed amid unholy incantations through mouthfuls of rat blood. Bat streaked air. Ashford clutched at his hair. The sun buried itself in the far clear horizon, the light disintegrating with a green flash.

The rain started coming down in stinging sheets. The boy shivered in his seat, and Ashford felt depressed. The lamps still swung and rattled on their hooks, flickering in their glass globes. Firelight in the distance. Joannes howled joyously, and seemed to get a bit more speed out of the monstrous contraption. They sluiced off the road, snapping a sapling, and rutted in the mud before finally surging forward. The car shut off, but they seemed to slide sidelong for many long moments before finally coming to a halt.

The house lay before them, its many windows aglow with welcome light and warmth. The screen door clanged open and a plump, matronly form in baby blue apron stepped onto the porch. Joannes was already making his way towards the hearth glow, but Ashford just stood in the rain. A gray hair in bun, crow’s feet on a map of wrinkles, spatula in hand. A smell of cookies smiled down at them. Relief flooded Ashford and choked his voice. It was not too late. “Father…”