One Winter Day
The winter day comes, with its
Sparkling snow and colorful hats.
It snuck up on us,
Too little, too late.
As a small child, bundled up
My family and I would trudge one snow covered block
To the park. We would sled,
Throw snow, run wild.
As an older child, I loved to
Push myself down the hill
Just for that feeling of flying.
But less and less snow comes
And the child grows older.
Maybe, one day, a blizzard will come and the child will sled again.
One Autumn Day
I turn a year older every autumn.
For me, autumn is back to school and friends, back with new ideas and memories and hopes. I may reinvent myself every summer, but autumn is the proving ground. I turn a year older every autumn, but I age alone. Or maybe others age slower, where every change is gradual.
A Flutter of Moths
The village was tiny, squalid even, but as it was by the ocean, it attracted many people - tourists, fishermen - who came and walked through the small, narrow streets and colossal markets. Perhaps the markets weren’t quite that big, but in this village they were the glue that kept the warring locals and tourists at peace. The locals would hawk their wares, and the tourists would buy, neither quite satisfied. But for them, it was enough.
It was on a Sunday that Jenni arrived. She and her brother Mark were touring the coast, and had happened upon this small village. Immediately, it was clear that they should have just driven past. With their red hair and pale skin, followed by the eccentric clothes Mark had persuaded them to wear, it was clear there would be nothing but trouble, judging by the dirty looks that plagued Jenni as they tried to find their hostel among these tiny streets and alleys.
At last, they arrived at their hostel. Opening the tiny door with a small creak, Jenni and Mark found a room filled with moths.
A Humming Feeling
There was a hum in the air. It was something indescribable, and yet the very thought of it set her fingers to shaking, her teeth to biting her lips, and worse - her feet tapping in an uncontrollable manner. This led the other patrons of the train to look at her askance. She avoided their glares as much as possible as she took her seat.
The Lovely Smell of Toxic Waste
“Excuse me, I don’t think that green slime is edible.”
“But it smells so good….”
“That’s my cologne. Well, would you look at that sign.”
“The one that says, ‘Hey idiot, this is toxic waste.’”
“Heh. Oops. Little too late for that now.”
The Unnecessary Color Pink
She vanished quickly in the sea of bright dresses and robes. As Tamare checked her watch and fled, a furious discussion erupted from my peers.
“We were supposed to protect her, and look! She’s gone as if she never existed.” This was from Alexander, the most vicious of us. He paced around, hands in his hair, frequently muttering, “I told you so.”
But he hadn’t. No one could have planned that sweet, docile Tamare would flee the care of her protectors and trainers for a secret. And while the rest were arguing over our fee, and the damage to our reputation I slinked off, grabbing two knives and a headscarf. They were common enough in this part of the country, and would disguise me enough. Next, a pink bag to match the dark blue fabric of the scarf. For all our time together, Tamare had only ever known any of us to be gruff, hard, and ‘biased against color and fun,’ as she frequently complained.
I had to leave now. While she wasn’t a local, Tamare was quick. She would be far gone.
Honey and Cinnamon Smoke
I knew I was in trouble when my fingers started smoking. As I walked through the revelry of the night, I tried my best to hide my fingers in my long saffron sleeves. No luck. A small girl, perhaps four years of age tugged on my sleeve. A shriek, followed by a giggle escaped the girl, who tapped me on the hand before running ahead into the crowd. She vanished quickly in the sea of bright dresses and robes, all worn to celebrate the last glorious day of summer before the traders arrived with their goods, and the rains with their stormy days.
I quickly tugged the map out of one of my many pockets and waved my smoking fingers over it. The purple smoke, which smelled faintly of honey and cinnamon sunk into the fabric of the map like a storm over the sea.
As soon as the smoke had set in, the writing of the map vanished, only to be replaced with more directions. According to the map, I was supposed to wander all over the festival, picking up a porcelain mask here, and a flask of dreamcider there until I arrived at a storefront with an overturned cart of exotic fruit. The storefront would be called the Tipped Banana, whose strange name made me giggle briefly.
“Here, abuela. I brought you some soup for your cold.” Of course that wasn’t all I had come for. When I found the handkerchief in one of my grandmother’s boxes, there had been a note pinned to it in my grandmother’s handwriting. If only I had more time. With that one sentence, my grandmother became the most interesting person in this small village.
“Achh! This cold might be the death of me, and you bring me soup?” But even as she said it, she had a twinkle in her eye. My grandmother was the kind of person that everyone knew had enough stories to put a screaming toddler to bed, enough smiles to brighten a cloudy day, and a sharp enough tongue to burst an inflated ego. Today she still had the sharp tongue and smile, but I was hoping that my grandmother still remembered some of the stories of her youth. “Come here, niña. I want to see someone inspiring before the clouds come.”
“But you heard what Tía said.”
‘You’ll never be anything less than some pretty wife locked away,’ she had said. ‘You’ll have your children with some old man, grow old before your time, and die. I’ll make sure of it! You failed every test we ever gave you, just to waste your time dreaming of elsewhere.’ She said elsewhere like a dirty word, which I suppose it was, to her. She had never left this village, and wouldn’t until the day she died. ‘This is the only path left for you, mi sobrina.’ The words echoed through my head, racing me through every emotion. Anger. Fear. Shame. Hope. Defiance. She might not leave, but I would. I was determined to be more.
“Ignore her! She stayed here, never dreaming of anything. My daughter may be loved here, but you will see everywhere. I can guarantee it.” Her words! No one ever dared to speak of my aunt in such a manner, not even her own mother. A small smile curled across my lips. Free!
“How? She promised to marry me off to some old man!”
At this, my grandmother just shrugged. Sometimes I imagined that she shrugged her way through everything in life, just stopping words with a roll of her shoulders. “Turn out your pockets, Valencia.” I did so, and was surprised when she asked to see the handkerchief I had found. “This was mine once. Did your aunt ever tell you that? No, she wouldn’t. She likes to walk around, saying that we have always belonged here. It’s simply not true! No one can truly belong to a place, have it tie you down forever. You only belong somewhere if you choose to.” Finished with her rant, which had surprised me as much as anything else today, my grandmother told me how to escape. “You dream of seeing places? Then go see them! Simple as that,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Run away?” I asked. If I left, there would be no escaping Tía’s wrath if I ever returned. But why did I have to? “But what will I do for food? It’s not as if I could take a whole pantry, and even then it wouldn’t be enough.”
“I see you’ve thought about this. Do you know the river two days south?” I nodded. “Well, Valencia, take your dried fruits, flour, and other provisions. In fact, take a horse and cart. They know the way back, and you’ll be quicker that way. But do an old woman two favors: Take your fishing pole, the one we made, and use that. But when you get to the river, cut me a bouquet of the wild roses, the ones yellow like the sun, and wrap them in that handkerchief there.” Having been quiet this far, I saw no reason to interrupt my grandmother in what might be the last time we ever spoke.
“Goodbye, abuela. I will miss you the most of all.” I smiled, too bittersweet for the moment.
“Go! You don’t have a minute to spare! I can hear your aunt coming! I will tell her you went to pick wildflowers north of the village.” That my aunt would believe this was a sign that she had very little knowledge of me at all. I looked one last time at my grandmother, the strongest person I knew, and fled.
I had reached the river after two days of hard riding, just as my grandmother had said. She must have been here once before in her youth, before she was married. I quickly pitched my tent, which I had stolen from the storeroom my aunt always kept fully stocked. The previous night, I had slept in my cart, which was frequently used for bringing goods from the yearly market. Tonight, however, I would sleep under the stars. But first I had a promise to keep. I was surrounded by a field of wildflowers, which glowed softly in the light of the setting sun. As I drew closer to the river’s edge, I saw the roses my grandmother had described. I cut a few with my knife, and took my handkerchief out of my pocket to wrap the roses. As I was wrapping them, a thorn pricked my thumb through the fabric. A stain quickly began to spread over the beautifully embroidered fabric.
Perhaps I gasped, but not only at the blood. For as the blood spread, black swirls began to envelop the fabric. Strangely, they resembled the tattoos covering my own hands.
Mystified by the change to the handkerchief, I slowly drifted off to sleep with the rush of the river in my ears and the stars overhead.
The next morning, I woke with a shudder. The flowers were still there, as was the handkerchief covered in swirls. There was something odd about that particular scrap of fabric. I spent several hours puzzling over the handkerchief as I fished. By the time I stopped, the pile of fish was large, but I still had no answers. Then I remembered a story my grandmother had once told me as a small child.
There is a map. Not many have ever laid eyes on it, not many ever will. It changes with the wind, the moon, and many other things besides. I had the privilege of following it, as did my sister, and my mother before her. It led us all over the world, and back again. It could be many months before we were home at all. On one of these trips, I discovered my love for the yellow roses that grow by rivers, my love for the open sky and empty plains. But eventually my days of traveling came to an end. I always wished I had more time. More time for the markets, cities, for the cry of the sea.
Had my grandmother given me that map from the story?