Of the world
And the margins
To the endless
[For Kathryn: you became light eight years ago today. We all loved you. We all love you more.]
Of the world
And the margins
To the endless
[For Kathryn: you became light eight years ago today. We all loved you. We all love you more.]
“It’s not much,” Eric noted.
“That it isn’t,” Morris agreed. “Still …”
Eric nodded. It was better than their tent in the woods. “Walls look sturdy.”
“That they do.” Morris circled the dilapidated farmhouse, hands clasped behind his back. A habit left from years of teaching and one he wasn’t particularly happy to be reminded of.
It still hurt. To have been cast aside. To not be wanted anymore.
“So, she just left it for you?” Eric tried to keep the eagerness out of his voice. He’d hoped for some juicy details ever since Morris had told him about the inheritance.
“That she did,” Morris replied.
He remembered her, of course. Juliette, the brunette. They’d been a couple, in a manner of speaking. “What’s mine is yours,” she had promised. Years ago.
Then they’d parted.
Not once had he thought it to mean anything beyond what she’d shared with him then.
It would be a long day of hiking to get to where she was going, but that only meant she’d have all those hours to herself. Time to cherish. Laura rarely had alone time now that she was taking care of three little ones. Four, if you counted the one who was adult in years but child in coping.
The others were coming by van and bike and car, and at least one that she knew of was likely to arrive by horse. Like spokes on a wheel, they where converging onto the place that had birthed and maintained their connection.
They were barely taller than grasshoppers when they had made their pact. The icy waters of the stream that slid in mirror-like pools sewn by white foam amidst the forests behind their homes, were known to either meld souls together or break them. They were adamant to have theirs fuse.
“Friends for life!” their reedy voices had risen breathless in the cold that needled every part of their unclad bodies. Only their palms, holding on to dear life, gave warmth.
Not one of them was going to admit that the submersion ritual had sounded better in the stories. Not one of them was willing to allow their fear or blue lipped trembling be the weakest cog.
“As one submerged, as one emerged!” they had cried and dipped and clung and sprung up in a sputter, pausing just a moment to stare in delighted disbelief at their hands — still in an unbroken circle, vow completed, magic done — before scrambling out onto the banks and into their awaiting piles of warm clothing.
It was unlikely that none of their parents had noticed the simultaneous wet hair and mossy, muddy patches. The river was off limits to unsupervised young. On any other day they would’ve been subjected to interrogation, yet none of them had been told off and not a one was punished. As children they’d believe themselves successfully secretive, the magic camouflaging the blatant disobedience.
As a mother now herself, Laura leaned toward believing that the real secret was the adults’, who must have seen the rosy cheeks and glowing eyes and realized the true magic of shared friendship. She found herself smiling at the memory as she walked across moors and over hills, through copses and sheep-speckled fields and bubbling streams and into the forest.
As she neared, her breath lifted and tightened in joyous anticipation. It was hard to believe it had been thirty years. They’d kept in touch all those decades. Through many moves and schools and colleges, through marriages and births and loss and celebrations — they wrote and called and saw each other in all manner of combinations. But this was the first time in a quarter century that they would be all of them together in one spot.
To submerge and renew the magic. In the stream.
From the distance came the clop-clop of what had to be Timmy’s draft horse, mixed with Sally’s giggles and Benny’s tenor mingling with Robin’s guitar strings and Bonnie’s soprano. A faint whiff of smoke filled Laura’s nostrils. Good! No frozen buns this time!
She reached to straighten the bathing-suit strap under her clothing. “As one submerged, as one emerged,” she whispered, lengthening her stride.
There were hollows underneath the old ruins. They could be reached through the small shadowy glen that indented the hill where the remains of the stone structure stood.
Da had said that the underground spaces had likely been storerooms, but in Konnor’s mind they could just as easily have been dungeons. People had such things in castles and forts and towers. In old times.
Or perhaps still did. You never knew what could be lurking underneath someone’s residence.
He used to go to the ruins with Baldwin. It had been their favorite play space. They’d crawl through the opening in the rocks which led to a small roundish place with hand-hewed walls that still showed marks of chisels, complete with what must’ve been a doorway to other spaces but was blocked by a tumble of large stones.
They had made a plan to clear those, he and Baldwin, once when summer was long and they were bored and needing an adventure. They were soon disabused of the notion, however. Not only were the stones heavy and the tugging of them sweaty work, but the dust that fell on their heads from the ceiling made them realize that the whole thing could come down and leave them buried.
They weren’t ready to be buried. Not when ghosts and goblins waited to grab any who stepped into Death’s domain.
So they left the rockfall alone and found that their imaginations managed to terrify each other well enough without actually discovering what hid underneath and behind the areas into which they had no ingress.
Then Baldwin got sick, and when the fever subsided his legs did not work anymore and one of his arms was weak and he became morose and pale and could no longer come play in the ruins. When Konnor came to visit him, Baldwin reclined in his bed and frowned and said that dungeon stories were stupid and for babies.
Konnor stopped mentioning their games. He visited less and less until he only went when his mother made him. Baldwin was too angry and there was nothing Konnor could do right and he felt awkward and worried and sad.
His feet still took him to the ruins — they knew the way so well — but it wasn’t the same without Baldwin. The place felt spookier. Lonelier. Colder. Silent in a way that breathed him guilty. The stories that had been so exciting felt empty and Konnor began to think that perhaps the hollow, too, was for babies.
He turned his back on the ruins and tried to forget the way things used to be.
Then one day, as his feet walked him by, he heard mewling. At first he wondered if those were ghosts come to haunt him … but the insistent whines sounded too much like complaints brought forth by small, needy, hungry, living things.
He crawled in. His torch lit an area of newly fallen stones and a squirming mound of furry wobbly creatures.
It had been heedless to enter face first into a den. He would have been taught a painful lesson by the parent, had she not been crushed under one of the stones. It couldn’t have been long. Her motionless form was almost warm.
The pups mewled and one wriggled to nuzzle blindly against Konnor’s palm, seeking comfort. It was only when he picked them up into his shirt that he realized something.
“The stories we told may have been for babies,” he told Baldwin when he unveiled the brown head of a pup that had snuggled into the crook of his arm, “but the dungeons seemed to have produced some real younglings.”
“And this one,” he planted the helpless creature in Baldwin’s withered lap, “needs someone who understands. Da says her back must have been crushed. Her hind legs are paralyzed.”
Baldwin’s eyes grew round and as he reached to touch the pup, she licked his finger. “I’ll call her Dungeon,” he said gently and his voice held a hint of sparkle. “For the way it used to be.”
It was the key that would change everything.
He only found it because Cooper, ever disobedient, had slipped the leash and ran off the trail and into the thick of the woods. Again.
Deena thought his walks in the forest were cruel.
“It is his breed’s nature to hunt scents,” she’d inevitably complain about the leash, ruining what calm there was to be had in an afternoon walk. “How can you chain him to you when he’s meant to run where his nose leads?”
In Leigh’s view, walking the canine on paved sidewalks where there was no loam or crushed insects or chipmunk poo for Cooper to breathe, was actually far crueler. And so, like they often did when it came to disagreements, they ended up taking the easier way out by splitting the walks between them.
Deena would walk Cooper in the mornings in the neighborhood, where the most the dog could sniff was garbage cans and the occasional fellow leashed-pooch’s butt. Leigh walked him after work, and almost always in the direction of the woods, where in some ways they were both of them at home and both straining against some kind of leash.
It wasn’t perfect and sometimes it was lonely, but he preferred it that way. Quieter. With none of Deena’s nattering about minutia that he found excruciatingly boring to listen to and only slightly less indecent to ignore.
Not that he’d say that to her. Life was better when some observations were kept to oneself.
Like about keys …
He’d been running after Cooper when he tripped on an exposed root. A stream of words he’d learned while serving on a Navy ship spilled out of his mouth, when a shape manifested on the leaf-strewn forest floor. And it was as if a switch flipped and turned his mouth dumb.
He swallowed but there was nothing. His body shuddered with the memories of how quickly a mouth can turn devoid of moisture. That, too, he’d learned while serving on the ship.
He shook it off to make the involuntary shaking into an act of volition. Still his heart whooshed in his ears as he took a knee to the wet ground and reached for the key.
He didn’t know how long he remained frozen, fingers hovering without actually touching the bit of metal. Long enough for Cooper to return to investigate. Because the next thing Leigh was aware of was Cooper’s wet nose, sniffing at the object of his master’s interest, licking Leigh’s fingers, breathing on his cheek.
“Move,” Leigh nudged the canine gently out of the way.
And Cooper, for once respectful without bribery, obeyed, and stretched with head on paws, his tongue dangling and his long body smeared with something Leigh noted to himself in passing would need scrubbing off with soap before being allowed back indoors.
“It’s the key, Cooper,” Leigh whispered. He was awed. He was aghast. “But how?”
It’s been eight years, five months, and two days since he’d lost it. On a different continent, in what felt a different world, in the middle of a battle, and not two hours after he’d sworn to his dying best friend that he would guard it with his life and bring it home to the fiance Mark had left behind.
“It was to be my wedding gift to Deena,” Mark had gasped, fighting for every breath. “She doesn’t know about it. I was waiting to tell her. It’s the key to my safe.”
Arkar waited. The sky, his namesake, spread gray and calm above him.
Sometimes it took Dachen a little longer to make it. No matter.
Long breaths passed. A dog barked in the distance. Children laughed, and Arkar thought of the first time he’d met Dachen. They were but boys themselves then. Dachen had just come to live with his grandparents, who lived downstream from Arkan’s childhood home. The old folk enfolded the young orphan. “Our great joy, he is, true to his name.”
Dachen was as gregarious as Arkar was shy. They balanced each other. Then and since.
A pat sounded and Arkar lifted his pole in welcome. Dachen neared and expertly swiveled his boat to face Arkar’s.
“Twelve fish today,” Dachen’s face shone. He accepted a cup from Arkar. “Two big ones here for your wife.”
Arkar smiled his thanks. For the fish. For his friend. “Tea time?”
They sent the younger children on their way. They cleaned up after breakfast. Hung the wash. Made the bed. Picked up after the husband, the father in law, the older sons (who in almost all cases were sprawled, asleep, with an empty plate of this or that by their side, as boys of certain ages seem to be).
The market waited. And the dinner to start. But for the next hour, there was just them. Their gossip. Their shared stories of the minutia of struggles and laughter.
It was their sanity’s lifeline, midday at Juanita’s “Whale Of A Time.”
Five years ago today
You passed on
Into effervescent light,
And joyful belly laughs.
It is no wonder, for
You have lived light, even
Through deep pain.
You have breathed
And nourished all you’d met
Along your path.
You have gifted us all with your
Your glorious heart.
You are now
With it all,
In the place your soul
Must have always known
Come and play
In the snowdrifts
And the cold
Will not bite
We are warmer
And will sleep well
Note: No filter was used. This is the original photo of the colors that day.
Good friends to me,
To each other,
Their hearts and souls
A decade passed
Since this photo,
And both had grown
That won’t ever
Dedicated to Kathryn and Carol, forever thankful to have known you. You are forever in my heart.
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