The trees bleed green for the girl on the swing. It’s a picture perfect scene—a clear creek rolling through, a breeze riding the back of the sun. Her bare feet stick out from the layered skirt and drag through the grass as her dark hair flows behind her. Then you see how it really is a picture. You pick up the horizon and watch the edges curl in your hand. The color runs and drys in splotches. The paper flakes specks of paint. The light has faded the skin, leaving an empty face. Dust covers the sky. Held at an angle, the trees are over-powering, closing in. Soon grass and wood and water will rise up, and the girl will swing on, motionless. The painting is old, very old. Any living thing at the point of conception has passed into darkness. You hastily drop the picture, but it is too late. A coldness lingers, a chilly breath. You are mortal, too. On the floor, the girl keeps swinging. You watch her swing; you watch her fade. Already you are stained paper, waiting to dry and wrinkle.
An open book, an open page. Turning each leaf carefully and with slow concentration. I don’t know how this story ends, but I want to.
Lost. Lost as a bird egg fallen from the height of limbs. Lost as sweet honey bees with no flower. A hundred riddles in my mind and no guess of reason. What are the chances of finding complacency again? Perhaps I’ll find it there, sitting on a different bench. Outside there are answers under every piece of shredded bark. The water whispers gentleness and the leaves echo calm. The grass sparkles like a field of diamonds. The world makes sense in the sun.
“Have a seat right here, dear. Just give me a moment to wash this hair goo off. Ok, now what can I do for you today?—Oh dear lord, baby, your hair is a disaster.”
“I know—turn the mirror away—I can barely even look at it. Last Wednesday a racoon crawled on top of my head and died there. My hair has never been the same since.”
“Well, of course your hair hasn’t been the same; you have a dead raccoon stuck in it.”
“I thought it best to leave to the professionals.”
“Well sure, baby, but you couldn’t come in sooner?”
“Not in planting season. You know, all hands to the fields—every adult, child, or decaying vermin.”
“Don’t you mind. Just put this bib on. I’ll get you right, quick. I’ll go get some gloves.”
“I really can’t thank you enough for taking me on, you know. Will removal be extra?”
“Dead rodent is the same as highlights, I’m afraid.”
“I suppose it’s just as well.”
“But I’ll knock off $5 dollars for you since I’ve had an animal die on me, too, in my past. It can be a terrorizing event.”
“You too? What was it?”
” Yes, a horse. I’d taken my ol’ Beauty out for an evening ride on the new country road –Just past the white church, and how’d you like it–right as I told him to turn around, he gave out. Kaput. Fell underneath me. A goner.”
“How strange. Was he very old?”
“Not a day older than twenty-five. When I was twenty-five I was in the prime of my life, way back when. I was up to my waist in mischief–both feet in the very muck of it, I tell you. It made no sense.”
“Perhaps it was on account of your weight?”
“Me? Wait? Well, of course I didn’t wait for a dead horse. That’s nothing doing. If I didn’t walk myself home, I’d be sleeping on the steps of the church to this day. It really was quite traumatic.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. What did you end up doing with it?”
“The horse? –The only practical thing. We bulldozed it over five feet to fill in the hole in the church parking lot. The members had been praying for the means to fill that trap-hole for weeks. God works in mysterious ways, they say. Nothing gave me more joy than to be able to be the answer to their prayers.”
“You must be proud.”
“I was, I was, but stay still now. –There we go. No more dead hairdos. Now let’s start by putting your head in the wash bucket.”
“Oh no, stop! You can’t wash my hair. The egg nest will be ruined!”
“Egg nest?! Now you have a nest in your hair? Girl, I like to refer to myself as county, but what to high heaven is wrong with you?”
“It’s to keep chicken eggs in, obviously. You’ve never done this? Why else did you think a raccoon crawled up there?”
“Can’t say I didn’t wonder. Does that work well?”
“Usually. Until the predators come. They’re smart little buggers. This old raccoon died choking on one of the fake eggs I put in for the snakes.
“Snakes?!” Do they get stuck in your hair then too?”
“From time to time.”
“Yes, well, that looks like all I can do you today, sweetheart. Remember to schedule again in four months. And ask for Lacy. I’ll be busy that day.”
A packed lunch on a sunny day. A pair of binoculars around the neck of a bird enthusiast. Every day is a picnic when you eat at the park. Crispy, stuffed green pepper— tuna I should not have been allowed to season. The bright mallards agree with me in their own way. “Excuse me, sir. You’re in a city park.” I wanted to say to him. “There are no birds, except for the fat, waddling ones. The ducks can hear me, but they don’t mind. Ducks look like they haven’t minded anything for the last one-thousand years. I spy on my bird-watcher. A nearby drake keeps an eye on him too. He puts his binoculars down in a hopeless shrug. “Hey, mister, I’m a bird, quack. I’m right here in front of you, quack. Look at my brilliant green feathers. Don’t know you proper ducks don’t sit in trees, quack?” The drake talks loudly at his feet. Don’t worry, little mallard. I notice your beauty, and your great skill on balancing on one foot without falling over. You impress me. If only more of us could be as peaceful as ducks.
I call her Pari. That’s not her real name of course, but it’s the one that always gives me a sort of a chuckle when I say it because she’ll do her own turn-up-head-nose-crunch to go along with it. I like her a lot. When I get in one of my “the world is going to end” moods and stay in my reading room all day, she’ll come by and bring some fresh cut flowers. She loves open windows and unrelentingly spreads sunshine onto the piles of books and quills and runners. Whatever human decency I’ve lost these last few days will be found again before she leaves the front gate. Maybe she’ll even come around today.
How do you write a good story? —Something that matters to someone and captivates people’s hearts. What is it that separates paperbacks from legends? Who are these few special souls that uncover the New out of billions of grains of sand on forgotten beaches? How many conflicts can this world sustain? How many made up worlds, movies, plays may be written before every scene is just a rehearsing of old?
I do not know what captures our attention, be it places of fantasy or alluring characters or dramatic action we secretly wish for in our own mundane lives. There must be something more. Perhaps it is simply the fact that written stories only last 300 pages, whereas ours last a whole life and lose our attention long before the credits.
I believe there is only one true story, and a thousand different ways to tell it. Can I create way one-thousand and one? Can I imagine a new color or make a new leaf? I do not know I have such skill.
I could not make a new leaf even if you gave me more time than the end of the world.