(In) Fact, (In Fiction)

I am (not) what you think I am.

(In) Fact
I am entirely what you think I should be.
(Except there is a twist.)

I am the water of a lake,
as smooth as glass.
(The calm that comes before the storm.)
You can see the bottom (but it is deeper than you think.)
The light reaches the bed of rock (but cannot fill every crack.)
It is teeming with fish (and sharks too.)

(In) Fact
(there are whales and walruses and mermaids,
for this is not a lake; it’s the ocean)
life is everywhere.

I am glorious to swim in
for my current will rock you softly
and hold you high.
(but I could drown you should it suit my fancy.)

I am (the maiden.) the mother. (and the crone.)
A (three) face (Celtic goddess) who wears a smile close to her heart.
(and a scowl on her sleeve.
I am not often angry, but when I am,)
I am prepared for anything.

(In) Fact
I am a fire (and a hurricane too,)
because my heart is warm
(Although, I must say that when I rain, I pour.
Fire bends before water)
and I will (wash you out unless I) care.

(Do not mistake me.
It is in my nature to care.
I care so much my chest aches.)

So run into my arms (while they are open.)
and I will hold you close.
I love easy (because I choose optimism)
and forgive often.
(at my own expense.)
You can trust me.
I am not complicated.
(in comparison to anyone else.
Everyone is equally as messy as I am.)

I am everything you imagine me to be,
(but also what you wouldn’t expect.)
and that is a fact,
(in fiction.)


The Aviator

I have always liked to think that the birds of St. Michael’s were my friends. They have been with me my entire life, and that’s more than I can say for most folks I’ve encountered. c3afaa327f1a7aa93a40b4bf034479c8Despite the changing of the seasons and endless flipping of calendars, they have remained as constant as the bells that bring in the dawn. The clear and bright sound of their ringing disperses the fog every morning, and with it there is a chorus of beating wings to add to the hymn. I can recall waking up to those bells every day as a child. Now, despite all the changes in my life, the only thing that has changed in regards to how I wake up is the view from the bedroom window.

The only creatures that seem to be alive when I wake up now are the birds. Marvelously humbling creatures they are. Despite how swiftly the river of time flows, it would seem that we will always be craning our necks to see them. Even planes have their limitations, like fuel or bad weather, but birds can fly whenever they wish for however long they choose. Such freedom would be exhilarating I imagine. Back when I was young my life used to be that way. As the youngest in a family of eight my parents and older siblings had very little time to watch me, so I spent my days wandering the cobblestone streets of my town, often throwing breadcrumbs to the birds of the church. Perhaps that is why birds can fly and we cannot. They live so close to God’s own house that it must only be natural that they can almost touch the heavens. At night they all roost in the bell tower. I fear they must be cold at night, the poor little dears with nothing but feathers to keep them warm. I’m always cold at night now. I ask the nurses to add extra blankets to the bed, but they’re the kind that makes the skin itch something dreadful.

I suppose the birds have each other to keep warm. They bundle in tight for the night in their bell tower bed, dreaming of how they will take to the sky come morning. No one else will be awake to see them rise except me. Everyone sleeps in late now. Sometimes I fear that our world has forgotten what a sunrise looks like. God paints the sky every morning, and yet when I stare down from my window I see empty streets. It’s a melancholy sight. Some might call it peaceful, but it only makes me sad. An empty street is a lonely one. There’s nothing to make the ground give off a jolly rattle, and so by leaving them alone they are condemned to sleep. And so I watch the birds take to the sky alone. Up they go, higher than the kites of my childhood could ever hope to reach. I’ve got half a mind to fly a kite right now. What a sight that would be, a woman my age with a kite in town square. Of course, no one would see it anyway. And it’s not as if the nurses would let me go. These days I can’t be trusted to go to the bathroom by myself let alone walk into town. They keep insisting I could fall and hurt myself. Clearly they don’t know how strong my legs are. As a girl, I was the fastest runner in my seventh grade class, boys included. No one could catch me. Every time I tell that story though, the only response I get is that times have change. I don’t see how that could be. I still have the same legs after all. It’s not as though I’ve gone and gotten a new pair. The memory of running like that is still in them somewhere. Of course, I could never run now, but I’m certain I could walk mighty fine on my own. Well enough to get to St. Michael’s at least. It’s only two blocks from here. I can see it from my bedroom window. It’s a lovely sight. Did you know that the bells ring there every morning? It’s like clockwork really. Despite all that’s changed, they’re the one thing I can count on. That and the birds, my darling little birds.

I like to think of them as mine. No one else seems to care much about them now, but I still do. I remember how folks used to feed them. Children would tug at their mother’s arms, asking for pocket change to buy a bag of breadcrumbs. Folks were more compassionate then I think. Or at the very least, they noticed more. Once the streets do wake up, long after the sun has been in the sky I might add, people walk by them in droves, and rarely does anyone seem to see them. Unless, of course, the birds are in their way. If that’s the case people scold them and shoo them, calling them a nuisance among other things. The kind of language one does hear in front of God’s house these days is appalling. And with nothing left to turn to, the birds take to the sky, seeking the kind of warmth that divine love can give. Even with that though, I imagine they must be lonely. They must know how things used to be. They must miss it.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the world of the morning. When no one is awake but them or I, time seems to echo back on itself. The nice thing about quiet streets is it guarantees I can hear the bells. My ears aren’t what they used to be, and sometimes I fear that if cars start driving early in the morning, I will miss my wake-up call. Then I won’t get to see my friends immerse themselves that melted crayon sky. 8636567709_9f10548eab_mI must confess, sometimes I imagine I am among their numbers. That my fingers have stopped their infernal shaking and that they can crack my window open. From there, I would stand tall upon my ledge and a leap so strong that I would shoot up into the sky. My friends would teach me how to fly then and we’d soar until the town became nothing but a speck. We wouldn’t come down until nightfall, but even then we would share a roost. No more itchy blankets, only soft down feathers. I had a down quilt growing up. My own grandmother had made it by hand, back in the old country. Of course, it was falling apart the last time I remember seeing it. I asked my son to pack it with my things when they moved me. He said it was lost in the journey. But with my bird friends, it would be almost as if I had my quilt back. How lovely that would be!

That would be a dream life I should think; flying clear and free. Everyone around you encouraging you to go higher rather than to stay on the ground. Of course, it will never happen. My wings have been clipped I’m afraid. Instead, I will have to content myself to nothing more than the ringing of bells and the sight of grey feathers among an illuminated morning sky.

A Strange Day in July: A Harris Burdick Story

Author’s Note: The inspiration and first line of this piece is not my own. It comes from the Harris Burdick photography set. For those who do not know what that is, I highly suggest researching that before reading. The photograph and first line belong solely to Mr. Burdick, whoever he may be. And on the slight chance he is reading this, I’d like to thank him for the inspirational legacy he has left.

A_Strange_Day_in_July.pngHe threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back. Just like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. It was always the third stone that came back. Never the first, or the fourth, or the twenty-seventh; it was always the third stone. It was as dependable as clockwork.

And that was exactly why Benjamin was determined to break the cycle.

It made him angry from the deepest part of his seven year old heart, setting it on fire in the hottest flames he could muster. Fire burning hot with confusion and anger towards things he could not understand or were out of his control. To an adult this was merely a flickering candle but to Benjamin it was like the Chicago fire of 1871 was roaring inside his chest. Benjamin didn’t know much at the age of seven but he knew about that fire. He knew because his great-grandfather had been there.

Some families told stories of crossing the ocean or being descendants of ancient kings or fighting in wars from long ago, but for Benjamin the story passed down to him was always about how his great-grandfather had fought the flames for three days without rest in the same city he now called home. How every adult who told the tale swore up and down his great-grandfather had seen spirits running through the smoke in the sky by the end. Horses and gazelles and even human figures swirling and curling about within the chocking pitch black. And whenever Benjamin asked if that was true, they would all answer yes. It was as dependable as clockwork.

Benjamin had come to hate that too.

He had thought about this as he walked down the grassy hill to the lake the family summer cottage was nestled beside. The huge expanse of cool green-blue lapped against the shore, almost tauntingly, daring him to try again to break the cycle of the boomeranging third stone.

The first stone he’d thrown didn’t even sink because he threw it so hard. Instead it arched its way through the air before meeting the water in a determined ‘cher-splunk’. The second had skipped only once before disappearing beneath the lake’s surface. He had taken this as a good sign. So he snapped his arm back and then forward, sending the pebbling flying. It skipped once, then twice and then a third time. Benjamin held his breath as he waited and watched. Then, just like clockwork, the pebble came bouncing back, akin in motion to that of a small puppy.

Benjamin opened his mouth to scream in frustration, when he heard a giggle behind him.

“It happened again didn’t it?”

Benjamin turned to see a young girl behind him. She crouched behind a rock and was watching him with a lop-sided grin.

“What’re you talking about?” Benjamin grumbled.

“The third rock you threw. It came back. It always comes back.” 18dy0goi5tqoojpgShe proceeded to sit down on the rock and swing her legs. It was then Benjamin took into account her appearance, which could only be described as peculiar at best.

“Why’re you in a night dress? People don’t wear one of them down by the lake.”

“I wear my night dress because I want too. Simple as that. But that’s not important. What’s important is your rock isn’t listening to you.”

“Whadaya mean it isn’t listening. It’s a rock.” To emphasize his point Benjamin picked up a fourth rock and chucked it into the water. Just as always, the fourth one stayed sunk.

“That’s not the rock you’re talking about though. The third rock is what’s special.”

“Says who?”

“Me that’s who! You’re only seven but I’m ten so I know way way more than you do!” She puffed out her chest as if to emphasize her point. Benjamin scowled.

“Ya know what? I don’t care if you’re ten or twenty or a hundred and seven! I’m sick of people telling me what I can and can’t know! I hate it and I hate you!” Benjamin sunk to the rocky shore in a heap of shaking frustration. The little girl watched for a moment before getting off to rock to sit beside him.

“Awww. I didn’t mean it like that! Don’t cry. I’m not here to make you cry I’m here to help you.” Benjamin slowly lifted his gaze to meet her eyes. She continued, “Yeah. And to prove it, I’m gonna tell you why your third rock always comes back to you. But you gotta listen really carefully okay ‘cause I’m only gonna explain once.” If she hadn’t had his attention before, she had it now. Benjamin’s gaze was locked in the eyes of this mysterious little girl.

“The reason the stone keeps coming back is because it’s a present for you from your grandpa.” In the silence that followed, the little girl did not blink. Instead her face remained blank and solemn, as though it were carved of marble rather than flesh and bone. All Benjamin could do was stare for a good minute or so until he found his voice.

“That’s…so dumb. I’ve never heard a dumber more stupider thing in my life.” At this, the little girl’s stony gaze melted away like lava.

“Says who?”

“Says me!”

“You’re only seven!”

“Yeah but I’m not stupid! I know my great-grandpa ain’t throwing no rocks! And besides that has nothin’ to do with why I always get the third rock back! You make no sense little girl.”

At those words she fell flat against her back and stared up at the sky. The wind rustled through Benjamin’s hair and the world brightened as the full extent of the Sun’s power filed out from behind a cloud.

“Most things in life don’t. They don’t make sense at all. People like to think stuff we imagine and the stuff that’s real don’t mix. But that’s not true. And you know it too. Whenever you tell your Mom about the third stone, she doesn’t believe you does she? At least not really. She says she does but she doesn’t”

Benjamin shook his head. The little girl nodded and kicked her feet out, wiggling her toes.

“Not all adults are like that though. A lot are but not all of them. Your great-grandpa is special like that. He gets that imagination isn’t just for dreams.” Suddenly Benjamin felt heat rising in his chest. Not hot like his anger, but rather a strange sort of warmness, unknown but not unwelcome.

“You…you knew my great-grandpa?”

“Sure I know him. I talk to him lots. That’s how I know about why every third stone you throw comes back. He told me so. And he told me it’s him who’s throwin’ them so there!”

It was at that moment Benjamin noticed the lapping of the waves against the shore. Back and forth, as steady as a drum. Whenever his family told him stories about his great-grandpa and the fire, they always said how he had saved countless people by telling them to leave their homes, run out to the shore and wade into the great lake that sat kitty-corner to Chicago. He had said the water would protect them. His family said he saved lives, going so far as to carry a young girl who had passed out from the smoke out to the waves so she would be saved. The smoke had been too much for her, but he had given her family her final moments if nothing else. In thanks, the girl’s father gave him their summer cottage when they moved away after the fire. It had been in the family ever since.

Benjamin thought about this. Then he thought about the fact there was no conceivable way this little girl could know his great-grandpa, who had been gone long before he was born. He wanted to argue with her. To question her. To tell her everything she was saying could not be real.

But something stopped him. A tiny voice, murmuring in with every caressed of water upon stone. So he asked a different question instead.

“What does that have to do with my rock?” The little girl gave him a toothy grin, clearly pleased by his choice of question.

“You throw stones from the shore out to the lake. He’s just doing the same. His way of saying ‘hi’. After all, you’re the third generation since him to use the cottage. He said it would be kinda ‘symbolic’ whatever that means.” With that the little girl got up and brushed the dirt off her nightgown.

“Well anyways I gotta go. I can’t be home late. I wish you were ten like me, but seven is okay. Your grandpa said I had to wait for you to be seven before I could start talking to you. I’ve been awful patient. But I’m glad we can be friends now! It’s nice to have a new friend, even if its only for the summer. See yeah Benjamin!” With that, the little girl waved and ran off along the shore.

Benjamin watched her go until the horizon swallowed her whole, leaving nothing but ripples of her laughter in the air and a few shoe prints in the dust.gray_boat_house_lake_cottage_water_landscape_sea_hd-wallpaper-1980231

The next day, he ran down to the lake side as usual. And like clockwork, he began to throw stones. The first skipped five times, a new personal best. The second almost went three but he had put a bad spin on it so it wavered as it sunk. Then came the time to throw the third rock.

He felt a tingle in his fingers as he rubbed them across the smooth stone surface. At this point a part of him still wanted to break the cycle, to fix it in a way he could understand but now there was a new feeling as well. A feeling content to not question the unknown but instead allow it to just be and relish in that.

So as Benjamin through his rock out onto the open waters of the lake, and that same rock came bouncing back to him, he laughed instead of feeling angry or confused. And if anyone ever asked, he would swear up and down that a ten year old girl, a great-grandpa he ever knew but considered a friend and the lake itself laughed with him. Because in the heat of July and the heart of a seven year old boy who is willing to believe, who’s to say what’s strange isn’t real, and what’s real isn’t strange.