The beginning

The wind deftly gathered her hair, swept it over her face. She closed her eyes, and listened to the boom of the waves as they came and went, over and over, endlessly. She could feel the clouds gathering above her, and she wondered whether she should move or not. As the light, cool rain fell on her hands and knees, she didn’t care enough to leave, so she hugged her legs to her chest and rested her head on them.

It was a bluff overlooking the ocean. The edge curved out over rocks and churning water some three hundred feet below, and one might have judged it an unsafe place to gather thoughts. Although she never gathered them there. She let them settle. Her musings, like so many small forest animals, were wont to wander without schedule or structure. The pounding of the water and the salt in the air let them rest. And as the noises faded, the quieter things would slowly begin to surface. Her heart would relax enough to reveal its answers, like a loosened grip that holds a starry gem.

Growing up, she and boy, a neighbor, would come with her to this place. Every summer when she would visit for her Grandma’s Birthday, they would slip away from the lemonade and the excitable dogs driven to madness by the seagulls that taunted them, all her raucous cousins, and would run to their secret place. Up a steep, rocky path they’d climb, grasping tree limbs and roots with both hands. When they had initially discovered it, it was partially hidden by a crop of thorny bushes and seemed long forgotten. But they spied faint traces of packed dirt that might have once been a trail, and so they had pushed through the protective foliage.

Their hearts raced at the vantage point, that first time. They had smiled at each other, both in silent agreement that this was something they would never share.

And she never did.

15 years later, her cares were a bit heavier than finding unbroken sand dollars and scraped knees. A new pain throbbed through her veins, overwhelming her heart as it strained to keep her alive. Her spirit was failing her, and it was time to say goodbye.

Her fingers pulled through the grasses at her sides, breaking the thin blades away from the earth and offering them to the wind, feeling as if she was offering the world all her years at the same time. It took them both, replacing the green, vernal life with air. Her hair and her sweatshirt were becoming soaked with the rain that steadily peppered her from the dark sky. She hadn’t been to this spot for a long time, but already she felt it working out the knot in her chest. The sea acted as a magnet; it’s own strife and movement drawing the anxiety out of her mind and into itself, leaving her empty. Lightening cracked, rain ran down her hair and cheeks, across her closed lids.

Without warning she remembered gray eyes and black hair, the tug of his hand on her wrist. She could hear his infectious laugh at her fearlessness, which was little more than innocence at that time. Sitting on small, white flowers that matted the nooks and crannies of the hard boulders.

She didn’t know what had called so far back to the beginning, to this place, as she  found herself at the end. she could remember the thrill of excitement when they first saw each other, and escaped to the beach before saying a word. Talking had never been a priority anyway; words had rarely been necessary. Their silence was their bond. The memories came so clear and sharp it seemed like yesterday, and she marveled at finding them so wholly untouched by the imperfections that plagued humanity.

She sighed. It grew still, then, as if she had moved into the space between moments, the part of the world that evaded time. Her flesh felt a weight being lifted, and light filled her mind, blinding her visions of the past and warming her through to the bone.

She stood. Reaching into her pocket, she brought forth a piece of something that shone a deep gold, a ring, a piece of her heart. With great carefulness she knelt and swept dirt away to make a shallow hole, and placed the weight inside, burying it. And she let him go.

Lost

He sat down on the cold marble, and he waited.

Rain cascaded down the glass, rivulets and streams gliding down to cement making small lakes, forcing people to maneuver to reach the double doors and enter the hotel.

Even after all this time, his jacket still smelled faintly of his sister’s cigarettes and orange blossom perfume from when he’d taken her to the symphony. He’d asked her a thousand times to quite smoking. Now the traces of it clinging within the folds, the collar, were an anchor.He sighed and leaned back against the wall. He was tired, but he didn’t allow himself to close his eyes. He might miss it. Today was his only chance. He felt around in his left pocket, eventually pulling out a tooth pick which he put in his mouth and worried with his teeth. He hated waiting. He hated rain. He hated the feeling his heart was making in his chest, which made him hate everything, which he hated.

He inhaled deeply and adjusted the collar of his wool sweater. It was hot. The walls were covered in a rich red velvet, a fire had been stoked and patrons were gathered around it pulling mink lined gloves off their hands, giving directions to bell boys, drinking hot tea. They all spoke languages he couldn’t understand, all from a different world, a world he never should have known. And suddenly, in that moment, he knew he would give anything just to be free.

His shock of blond hair fell across his eyes, and as he brushed it aside he saw it.

Sprinting up, he overturned a serving oval carrying hot chocolate and coffee, causing the server to curse. He had also startled an exceptionally small dog who was not fond of tall men or coffee, and it began to bark fervently at him, windmilling his little legs at a tremendous speed as he strained to chase the man upsetting his calm.

Leaving behind the bustle, he had made it out the door, oblivious to everything except a yellow pair of rain boots. The revelation of color had flashed through the glass doors amid a sea of legs, and was gone. He ran out to the sidewalk and searched desperately, determined but lost in the waves of movement and rain.

From inside the hotel emanated a sound that pierced his heart, and suddenly the whole street stopped. The dog had worked himself free and sprinted for the hem of a leg pant, and was promptly run over by a bellhop cart. The ensuing wail from it’s owner, a sharp keen of pain and loss, made everyone pause. The dog turned into vapor that rose to the ceiling and disappeared. Everyone stood still for a moment, half a moment, and that was all he needed. He kept his eyes locked on a small, sleet gray cloak, and he ran. As the crowds recovered and proceeded forward, he grasped and pulled the hood back, and found himself face to face with a young girl.

She had dark, dark eyes that seemed to look through him. A small thing with black hair and sweeping eyebrows, dressed in an unassuming  black dress that reached to her knees. But those boots, the yellow. He forced himself to stare into her gaze, his pulse filling his ears, and waited an eternity. But nothing could make him look away, not even her, this sentinel. He would wait forever, and she understood. She lifted her small fist up and opened it; a silver key. She blinked without expression, waiting for him. He took it. She turned around and disappeared into the bustle.

He crumpled to the ground, cradling the small key to his chest, and finally allowed himself to dream of home.

3 AM

My face was pressed deep into my pillow, and my hands that had been tucked under it were clutching a vibrating phone. I blinked once, then twice into the darkness, inhaled deeply. My body was in the same position it had fallen asleep in, and I felt warm. I was still in the midst of  realizing I was awake when I heard crickets outside my open window singing to the moon, eclipsing the faint, dying life of my dreams.

Oh, a phone. My phone.

At that time of night, my brain couldn’t reason that it was an indecent hour, and that I wasn’t obligated to answer. So I did.

I groaned when the light from the screen hit my eyes. Charlie.

Charlie.

I brought the phone to my ear.

“Hmm?”

“Kat, you awake?”

“What?”

“Sorry it’s so late.”

“I’m sorry, too.” I murmured.

There was patch of silence. Then a quiet, “Kat?”

“Mmhm?”

“I . . . need to see you.”

“Right now?”

“Yeah, I mean, could you?”

I rolled onto my back and gathered my thoughts.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“Nothing, it’s just this girl.”

“Oh. Who?”

“I think I love her.”

“. . .”

“Kat?”

“Yeah. I’ll meet you underneath the tree.”

“Alright, see you in a bit.”

“Bye.”

“Thanks, Kat.”

And I turned my head back into my pillow, this time to suffocate the tears.

Day 15 (A picture is worth a 1,000 words)

One day they weren’t there, and the next they were.

They had been left on the sidewalk, blithely placed in front of a brick walled apartment, some charming shrubbery.

At first people had walked past them, but then something would catch their eye. A boy had bounded down the steps for his morning paper route, hand checking the cap on his head that was threatening to free itself, and his gait was abruptly cut short by an odd shadow, a reflex of his eyes that searched for movement, kinetic energy, life, yet found none. Slowly he had traced his steps back and stood before the listless figures and stared. He looked for a very long while, and then eventually turned away and continued at a sober pace, a mysterious emotion playing in his eyes.

But, where had he found the clothes? they wondered. The bright pink coat on the girl provoked sadness for some reason, as she stood captivated by the man, clutching her small, black purse. The boy at attention like a soldier. What kind of paints could produce such startling, sharp realism? And their expressions, people would whisper.

The reactions were undependable. Many would pass by on their way to someplace else, notice, and decide to nervously ignore them, too afraid to stare as if the figures possessed a sense of propriety and the rudeness would become a palpable, real thing. Children would always ask to stop and look, and would even reach out to touch them, drawn to the children clutched by the stern man, and mothers would scold before remembering they weren’t real. A few women would gaze silently at the still family and tentatively pose beside the man as someone took a picture, pretending to be a wife and mother. Neighborhood kids rushing down the street on their bicycles would gather at the manikins as if they were a new club meeting spot.  Word spread and soon strangers came driving by just to catch a glimpse, to prove the rumors and stories they picked up while shopping for tunafish in isle 7, or while at church during meet and greet. Over black coffee in a friend’s parlor. A little girl stuck daisy chains on their heads, men would carefully study them, baffled and intrigued. They captivated everyone.

Then one morning the old man emerged from his room on the 8th floor, rode the elevator down to ground level and stepped outside. He was nearly ancient. His hair had gone completely white, his long beard snowy and soft. He wore an argyle seater vest over a white, button-down shirt, slacks, soft penny loafers and a wooden cane, which he did use. Something about him begged a sort of esoteric eccentricity, like he knew things. His neighbors always wondered what sort of hobbies kept him so occupied; no crackle and song emanated from the television during humid summer evenings. No morning papers, no parcels. Not even a dog.

He silently made his way to the manikins, back hunched over, and picked them up. Everyone kept perfectly still as he swayed first to the left, then to the right, and eventually steadied back on his heels. People in arm, he walked over to the double doors as a girl quickly opened them, and disappeared.

It took everyone a good while to reconcile the fact that the family was gone. No one ever figured out why he did what he did, what was the purpose in making them, because they never asked him.

And he never told.

DP writing challenge