I Do

They lie there, with him holding her from behind, cradling her against him. Spooning, that’s what it was called, but she thought the word cradle was better suited to the sweet protective embrace. Sheltering her against him, like he could hold her and the world would pound at his back like waves against a rocky shore and he would not give her up.

They were flushed with the dregs of heated embraces. Embraces that seemed to be fueled by the energy from all of the things they could not find words for. It was too soon, too rash, too  good. They were not young things with nothing to lose. They were mature adults with responsibilities and the complex realities of well lived lives. So they tried to say the right words without saying too much, to give them as gifts to the other; parcels wrapped in unhurried, well-formed thoughts to define much less neatly felt, heartfelt yearning. They failed.There were no words

Breath, hands and the sounds that cannot be defined, yet we all know the language of, filled the spaces that words never could find footing within.

Now, after all of the words that weren’t enough and the touches that could not be named, he held her more tightly than what could be called a “casual embrace”.  She felt small and precious with him. She pushed and nestled herself more firmly against him and felt his warm soft breath against her ear,  his arm tightening just a little bit more, as if she might ever want to leave. little-boat

“Would you like to make future plans with me?” He whispered into the silence that held them both

” I do” she whispered back and felt his soft sigh of held breath along the whole length of her spine.

“Would you like to make future plans with me?” She asked back into the silence that had become pregnant between one syllable and the next. The words left her like a small craft on a massive sea.

” I do” He whispered back, giving her safe harbor for as long as she wished.

safe-harbor

 

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Eli

E

 

Eli surreptitiously checked himself out, in the reflection of the glass before he went into the restaurant. Nothing seemed glaringly out-of-place but the surface was not a perfect mirror, so how could he really be sure. He couldn’t of course. He had done all the usual things, a mint for his breath, no spinach or other foods that might lead to teeth snafus and gone over the dating sites Top Ten First Date Mistakes. He had at least 10 conversation starters if there was a lull, plus questions he prepared if he got nervous and couldn’t think of anything off the cuff.  Was that normal? Did he remember antiperspirant?

He followed the large woman with the proportionately large gold bag into the restaurant, remembering to shift his shoulders back to give an impression of confidence and self-esteem.  He was early of course, he was always early. He had to create diversions at home so he wouldn’t be too early, but he was still there 15 minutes before the meet-up time of 7pm. He waited behind the large gold bag lady as she spoke to the hostess and was then lead to her party’s table int he back left corner. He watched as she was greeted by a tall thin man who stood up as she arrived. He kissed her on the cheek and gave her a hug. Both fo them were beaming. Eli saw the woman’s face for the first time and noticed that she was attractive int he way some women of a certain weight can be, they could carry it well, or maybe they were just comfortable in their flesh, he never knew. She had round cheeks that were blushing at the words the tall man was saying, a smile stretched across her face, suddenly making her pretty. They laughed and sat down across from one another

“Sir?”

” I’m sorry” Eli started and came back to himself, realizing that it was probably not the first time the young hostess had tried to get his attention while he stared at strangers. Pretty, too much eye make-up, too young, his brain quickly categorized the girl and then followed her. Nice to look upon, but probably barely out of her diapers.

She led him to a table that was at an angle from the older couple he had been so intent upon. He thanked the girl, sat down and pulled out his tablet to check work emails, but couldn’t resist checking the couple out again. He could tell they were on a date. They were flirting, laughing and arguing over menu choices in the way people did just for the joy of trading soft barbs. Eli wondered if he would still be dating when he was their age, which looked to be at least a decade beyond his mid-thirty vantage point. Neither of them seemed awkward, their conversation seemed to flow like water and each of them had some part of them touch the other; a finger, hand or knee constantly found its way to brush or bump into the other. Eli recognized the dance, he could sing the lyrics, but somehow the two never got together and made the perfect kind of moment he was witnessing, where everything was as it should be and neither party was conscious of every syllable and body language cue. He often felt as if he was following all the directions to the letter yet was always a few steps behind, stepping on toes and confused about what just happened.

“..and never the twain shall meet..” he heard the words come out of his mouth just was the noticed the hostess heading his way, another guest trailing behind her.

From behind the young hostess emerged a woman he recognized from her pictures online. In the pictures she looked different, but he Vital_Partners_dating_etiquette2supposed he did too.  She was curvy in the way that men loved but women often doubted on themselves. She had dark hair that  hung straight and shining to just below her shoulders, which she was nervously pushing behind her ears.  She wore what he had identified as “date” clothes, a skirt and blouse with a cardigan and paired with a nice looking medium height heel, that wasn’t too dressy or too revealing or too conservative. He recognized it because he wore the male version of the same uniform as advised  by various dating articles. What was good research without reading the corresponding data from the other side?

 

At first he couldn’t see her face, until she seemed to remember the same rules he had read and lifted her face as she too, straightened her shoulders and raised her head to greet him with an almost certain smile.

Her round eyes were that nebulous shade of hazel that never seemed to make a decision between green and brown.  He noticed a small collection of freckles dusted the bridge of her nose as a mouth that was just slightly too wide and full to fall within he median, smiled and turned her plain yet pretty enough face into a thing of beauty.

Eli reached out and grasped her outstretched hand in a not to firm grip to find the same barely there clamminess that is own nervousness often produced.

“Hi, Eli? I’m Olive, it’s nice to meet you”

The sat down, perused menus, chatted and her hand brushed his. He looked over and saw the older couple leaning in to one another, oblivious to the rest of the world and smiled.

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Dance

D

Lucy liked to sing in the store while she shopped, and enjoyed the odd looks when she broke into a little booty shaking in the aisles.  With Pandora on shuffle, a list in hand and a plan of attack, this had become a weekly ritual right along with laundry and picking her daughter up and getting ice cream on Fridays after school.

She liked the smiles she got and outright laughter when she was a little too loud and slightly off-key or doing a little dance to music only she could hear, though this wasn’t always the case. She had been taught to be quieter, because she was always too loud, to laugh softly when she brayed like a donkey and to just tone all of “this” down. She was too abrasive, too passionate, too everything. From her childhood to her marriage, she had been told to be a little less than herself, or a lot less really.

It took Lucy much too long to realize she had let people tell her these things and it had been her choice to change for them. That look in the mirror had been rough, but she had decided changes must be made, quickly. She started small, and this act of song and dance, this small act of inappropriate behavior was one of her first acts of bravery. What did people think of her? What would they say about her? She didn’t want people o look at her and think she was strange, that she wasn’t normal.  Why couldn’t she just be normal??

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Yet Lucy hated stores and shopping but she loved music and dancing, so she decided to try the latter to negate the former as an experiment and tiny act of rebellion.

At first it was hard and she stopped moving if someone joined her in the  aisle and  started whispering under her breath if they were within earshot. Sometimes she completely failed and became silent and still like everyone else around her, like a normal girl, but she kept at it. Soon, she realized she was making more people smile than frown and she caught them singing along, winking or trying to catch her when she passed them. She realized that they were laughing with her and not at her and the perception she had of herself and the the world she lived in, shifted on its axis just enough to let more light through.

As she sang and helped an older man get a collection of bottled water into his cart, he thanked her and smiled with her.

Much larger changes came after, many were still in process now, but this small thing that most wouldn’t consider an act of the utmost bravery, made her heart sing along with her voice every time she did it.

dance.hm

 

Wild Thing: Jacob

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He sat at the kitchen table, soaking up the sun through  windows that surrounded this little nook, much like the cats that lay around him, on the floor, on the table and the chairs closest to him. Anne had never let them on the table or chairs, but now that she was gone he didn’t have the heart to shoo them off. His bones hurt these days, everything moving slower, but sitting in the sun he visualized the warmth seeping in, loosening stiff parts. He stretched his legs out from himself and chuckled as he did the stretches Anne had nagged him to do every morning with her. He had hemmed and hawed, never letting up on a cantankerous grumble of complaints. She had never stopped moving and loved stretching, then yoga, always trying to rope him in. She had danced all of her life, it was how they had met all those years ago.

A buddy had made him go out, insisting there was more to the world than the pieces of wood he was obsessed with, more than the apprenticeship he had fought and won to study this art. His buddy had forced him to clean the sawdust off and pull out the single good jacket he had to his name, and come out dancing. He didn’t dance, he didn’t care to dance or waste his precious time chasing skirts. He didn’t have time for them and he was pretty sure they wouldn’t care to have time for him. He wasn’t very good at talking to fill the space, he wasn’t charming and he couldn’t dance. Yet that night at the birthday party, for a gal he could never remember the name of, he had danced. She was one of those women that shine, not because she was the prettiest, but because her personal light shone through on anyone lucky enough to gain her attention. A bright smile in a lemon yellow dress, she had teased him when she found him skirting the edges of the party looking at his watch.

“Why even come to a party if you’re going to watch the clock? The whole point is to lose yourself, just a little bit, enjoy the moment, not count them!” she had said in a voice deeper than he had expected. He had seen her out on the parquet floor with the pretty corner details, dancing in red heels, with an, ever shifting line of guys trying to pin her down to more than a few moments of her time. He never knew how she had noticed him or why she had spoken to him. She had always said that his obvious discomfort drew her like a moth to a flame, she wanted to make the serious awkward boy smile, and she had. How could he stay stoic in the face of her smile, like sunshine through the clouds?

She was a student at the art school, studying painting but she didn’t know if she wanted to be a painter, or a dancer or a trapeze artist. While she painted and danced she worked at her Uncles print shop doing whatever needed doing. To Jacob she was a whirling dervish, and he had a hard time keeping up with her quick shifts in conversation, her mercurial moods that bounded between teasing fanciful larks to ponderous philosophical musings. She was rarely grim, and he loved that in her, it was as if she just didn’t have time to plod through the drudgery of sadness. For a man prone to being a bit dark and dire she was a soft welcoming light. He never could think of her without thinking of light, in all of its varying hues between harsh and life giving. He supposed that was exactly what she had been for him, his light bearer, though good and bad, she lit his way. Despite all of this or because of it, they had fought often and with great passion. He thought her fiery temper, a blazing fierce star of righteousness, was one of his favorite aspects of her. They fought about politics, art, religion, his collection of cats and in the end her treatments. She wanted to be home, wanted to stop the drugs and he…he didn’t want to lose her, couldn’t admit defeat.

He complained, remembered and loosened up through the moves and was finally ready to make peace with the new day. He got up and poured his first cup of coffee from the press on the stove and spotted his Wild Thing in the backyard, making her way through the trees towards the house. Her arms were filled with deadfall from the citrus that he hadn’t gotten around to clearing, face hidden, he he could still  see her messy curls popping out around the branches.

He smiled but tried to hide it behind the mug, just in case she caught him at it. He hadn’t been sure she would stay, pretty sure but not positive. He was afraid he might of gone a little overboard with the shed.. He would of done even more if he thought she would have accepted it.  He had searched for some time trying to find the most worn pieces of the odds and ends needed to make the space a tiny home for this young skittish girl. The last time she had visited, right after the big storm that took down the magnolia in the front yard, he had decided to keep her. Anne would have swatted him good for such a “man” thought (as she would’ve called it) but he knew that the girl needed someone to keep too. Someone to care for, to be responsible for, to bear some light on. He knew she watched him, knew she hid in the shed when it got bad outside and he knew he needed her as much as she might need him. His body was slowing but it was still working, he could still create and live and flourish with the time he had left, but he was bored! So bored without Annie to keep him in this world, caring about the next great chapter to explore. He was fading after Annie left and then one day he brought some leftover cornbread out with him in his pocket on a walk out to the edges of the property; some for the fish in the little pond and a bit for him if he happen to lose steam and needed a rest before starting back. He didn’t know why he looked up, because it wasn’t due to the girl making noise, she was quite good at not being heard or seen, but look up he did and there he found his Wild Thing. Joints and big hair, with her knees pulled up to her chest, hiding amongst the lemons in faded dirty jeans and a green tshirt. She met his eyes with her own clear green gaze, never making a sound, never stirring a leaf. She looked fierce, wild a creature of the outdoors. She also looked hungry to him, no meat on those bones, challenge in her eyes. They stood that way just looking at each other and he wondered what she thought of this old man tottering through his old trees all by himself. He felt himself fading from this world, but those eyes and the hunger he saw there stoked some last bit of stubbornness to flame. Maybe he wouldn’t go so quietly into the night.

“ I’m glad someone’s keeping my trees company little Wild Thing, feel free to visit them anytime you want.” He grumbled while he pulled the wrapped up bread from his pocket. She still didn’t say anything as he left it on the ground at the base of the tree and turned away, continuing on his walkabout without a backward glance..though it killed him not to take a peak.

When he came back that way the girl was gone as was the bread. He had thought someone might be staying in the old shed and didn’t care much either way since it wasn’t ever harmed, but now he had a pretty good idea who it might be. Suddenly he cared very much, and for no good reason. He hadn’t cared about much in a good long while, hadn’t felt anything at all really, and it felt good to have something to think about.

He had ordered the food he would need to cook beyond what would sustain him and started in on recipes he hadn’t made since Anne had been too ill to keep his heavy Southern cooking down. He dug out the pretty blue plates she loved so much, that a friend had made for their 40th anniversary. Over the next few weeks he made the trek out to the back orchard a routine on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He started leaving covered offerings to his sprite in the trees, and every time they would be eaten, with the plate cleaned and left for him on his way back.

He had the young man who had moved in next door with his girlfriend and three chickens, take the old rocker out from storage and bring it out to the tree he had found her in. The first time he sat there it took her almost an hour to come out and sit in the grass, rough bark against her back. He told her about his wife, he told her about meeting her, the dance and all of the things they had planned for their life together, while she ate the pulled pork , the biscuits and gravy with nimble fingers and quick sidelong looks at him.

Eventually he ran out of words and rocked in the shade; citrus, birdsong and quiet company warming a small part of him he had begun to believe would just stay cold.

“ Did she teach you to cook like this?” Her soft voice was unexpected and was almost lost in the breeze sweeping through the grove

He didn’t show the surprise and satisfaction at her interest but answered like they had been chatting together this whole time. It was the first time he had heard her speak.

“ No, my Annie never could boil water. She was smart as a whip but I could never teach her to cook a damn thing. My momma taught me and I’m grateful for it, otherwise we would of gone hungry all of those years.”  He chuckled with the sharing, almost feeling her laughing with him at the memories of burned pots and small fires put out just in time.

So it went for weeks that turned into months, until this day when some dam had broken and Eve the Wild Thing, walked towards him for the first time.  He pulled out the blue plates and started rummaging in the cupboards. Annie had wanted children but it never happened for them, they had filled the space with love, travel, tears and exploration, and it had never been an empty life. He never had a regret with her but right then as he wondered what to whip up and watched Eve try to figure out how to approach the kitchen door he thought maybe he still had something to give.

He went to the door and ended her struggle by opening up the door. She looked like she had only been seconds away from fleeing, but raised her head to his gaze anyway. He moved back to let her in and watched her twist and turn to take the bright kitchen in. The cats circled her ankles and she absently leaned down to give them each her attention.wards him for the first time.  He pulled out the blue plates and started rummaging in the cupboards. Annie had wanted children but it never happened for them, they had filled the space with love, travel, tears and exploration, and it had never been an empty life. He never had a regret with her but right then as he wondered what to whip up and watched Eve try to figure out how to approach the kitchen door he thought maybe he still had something to give.

“ I hope you’re ready to learn how to cook Wild Thing, we have a lot of work to do around here and we’ll need the fuel” He said as he walked ahead of her into the kitchen. He was turned away from her when the smile caught up to the thought, but he was looking forward to something  and it felt good, like bright sunlight.

Wild Thing

 I little story of a not so wild thing…

lemon orchard

She was a wild thing, at least that is what the old man said whenever he caught her before she could eat the treats he left for her on the blue plate that looked like a piece of sky amidst the scrubby grass below the lemon trees.  Wild thing. She liked the way it sounded in his grumbly voice with the lilt of the deep south like syrup. She smiled, face pointed down to her chest, he thought he caught her but often she stayed even when she saw the fat cats creeping along the edges of the orchard, scouting for their master. When he finally made his slow way to her they would settle around her, so fat they resembled small soft rugs, like those hunted trophies some men had in their homes. The citrus scent of lemon, orange and lime would surround her as he stood a few feet away watching her. He would sit upon the old rattan rocker that was falling apart under one of the trees. He left it here for these moments, when she didn’t run before he could make it all the way to this last stand of trees where the grass and trees grew more and more wild as time flowed by. She finished the sun warmed cornbread and pleasantly sweet tangy barbeque chicken he had left under the glass cover to keep the ants at bay. She knew he had a sweet with him, he always did, as a reward for these not so chance encounters. She had spent precious hungry moments scrubbing herself in the cool spring that lay hidden back here feeding the orchard. It only smelled faintly of sulfur, but she had used orange peels and sand to scrub under her arms and in her hair. He had made comments, quiet undirected comments about the funk she sometimes carried like a protective cloak. She didn’t like it either, but it kept people away. Yet now when she came to the shelter of trees, cats and citrus she stopped at the spring. It reminded her of the before time, when she wasn’t alone, but only faintly like the scent of sulfur.

“I appreciate you waiting for me out here girl” He grumbled from deep within his wide barrel chest that hinted at the much larger man he once was.

He bent over with obvious effort and placed the small plastic wrapped square on the cleaned off plate in front of my downturned head. I watched it for a moment, resisting the urge to snatch it like the stolen scraps I often nabbed from forgotten plates on the patios of fancy restaurants along the waters edge.  Here in front of the old man I tried to pretend I wasn’t hungry. We both knew different, which is why he left me the sky plates with their bounty heaped like offerings to forgotten wood spirits. Sometimes he would bring old books filled with tales older than him, of fair folk tricking the unknowing, witches making unwinnable bargains and of clever children finding paths through the thorny brambles of the riddles meant to trap them. Sometimes, like today in the slightly cooler shadows of the twilight, he would lean back in the rocker and tell me of the places and people he and his wife visited around the world. He built and carved beautiful pieces of furniture in his younger days. As he spinned a tale of commissioned grandfather clocks meant for the grand homes of rich men in the North I gently unwrapped the pale brownie dotted with dark chocolate pieces. For once my belly was full, so I lie back in the scrubby rough grass and felt it tickle my exposed arms and legs with one arm cushioning my head and savored the sweet buttery confection the old man gave me to keep him company and listen to tales I replayed over and over in my head when I was away from this quiet place. His deep lilting voice flowed over me like the warm water at the shore where it washed up and over my feet and legs. His voice had become one of the things I trusted, that soothed me just like the oceans’ touch.

The sun set while he spoke and I realized that the sweet treat was nothing but crumbs on my lips and that his tone had changed. He was asking me a question and I had missed the individual words, lost in my content reverie. I looked up at him, with obvious confusion and he repeated the question.

“ What would you say to coming by a few times a week and helping with the cats and the trees? I ain’t as nimble as I was and I would appreciate some help now and then. You know the old shed back by the spring? It ain’t much but if you could see yourself giving me a hand I’d be grateful enough to let you stay there as long as you want. “ His words were like honey over sharp jagged rocks, kindness wrapped in glass.

I knew the shed, more like a shack now, with the voracious growth of the land taking it over quicker than this old mans physical decline. It had a roof and four walls and not much else. We both knew I had stayed in it on stormy lightning filled nights.shed The soft bedroll and boxes of crackers that appeared as if by magic between one visit and the next attested to the farce of my ignorance. The bedroll stayed and the crackers were replenished and I had found myself there more often over the last year or so, even when there was no storm to hide from. He had never said a word about it, but now he was asking for me to openly admit a need I never mentioned either. I wondered for a moment if this was how he had collected the fat purring orchestra scattered around me, tempting them with treats until they were too fat and content to go anywhere else. A quick image of my current situation flickered past me, lying on the ground, belly fat, skin warm and I almost snorted with a burst of giggles. I suppressed the undignified urge and rolled onto my side, looking at him through the, now dry strands of hair, partially obscuring my eyes.  He was looking at me, but not directly, eyes sightly focused off to the left of my gaze.  leaning back, like he didn’t care what my answer was but I saw the tension in his hands covered in paper thin skin, marked with thin white scars grasping the arms of the chair. We had both been alone for a long time and the thought of these bright comfortable nuggets of time becoming commonplace had us both on edge. The time he called the gloaming stretched like taffy between us, a time I knew from his books to be one of shifting and change. It seemed a good setting for the ground that seemed to be moving beneath me, though I knew it was doing no such thing.

I sat up, crisscrossing my legs beneath me. I thought that the serious question that was said in such casual tones shouldn’t be addressed while lying on the ground covered in crumbs. He waited me out, as comfortable with silence as he was with the one sided conversations we often had. He treated me like a skittish animal that might run at any quick movement, which was probably why we had gotten here in the first place. Endless patience for a broken wild creature. I had looked at him often when he didn’t know, spying in his windows from tree branches,  while he puttered about the house that even through the window, seemed empty without his beloved wife.  The house was scattered with beautiful pieces of wood, that he still carved, sanded and polished. I knew from his stories, that he was still asked for precious pieces that took so much longer to create now. He would take the sales once a year or so, not for the money because despite the spartan way he lived I knew he was comfortable and wanted for little. He sold them to know that he was still a part of this world, even if he never left the house, brilliant pieces of himself were sent out into the world to be cherished and passed down from one generation to the next. He and his wife never had children but I thought that maybe his work was that for him, a thing that would live on past his time here, a solid memory. I looked at him and saw the same loneliness I knew was in me. I saw responsibility that might trap me, each kindness building a debt I didn’t know I would have the currency to pay.  My hand found the fuzzy warmth of a receptive cat belly and as his eyes finally met mine I nodded my head, yes.

The stars had begun to peek through as his whole body visibly relaxed.

“ Well that’s settled, I’ll expect you in the morning to feed ‘em. Might even be able to scrounge up some breakfast for you, wild thing.” and with that he used the momentum of the rocker to propel himself upward to a standing position.  The cats made similar rolling motions and got ready to scout the way back home. As he turned and slowly walked back towards the glowing windows just visible through the trees I got up too.

“ My name is Eve, but wild thing is okay too”  the words came from me but surprised me as much as they seemed to surprise the old man, since he startled the slightest bit and turned his head back towards me.

“ Well that seems fitt’in doesn’t it? My name is Jacob.  I’ll see you in the morning, Eve the Wild Thing” He replied with a slight smile and turned, and continued his path toward the light.

path2I turned the opposite way and found the barely there path leading to the shed carrying the sky plate with it’s glass dome. I rinsed them in the spring and found my way inside the small room, and stopped dead in my tracks. The bedroll was up on a small cot, off the dirty floor where I had left it rolled neat in the corner. A quilt that was faded with age and washings now covered the whole thing. A shelf was now above the cot with a collection of books lining it. I walked over and  picked up the small sturdy carving of fat cat that stopped the books from tipping over. There was a small narrow bedside table with a bowl and ewer on top next to the cot. A slightly larger table with lovely, simply curved legs gleamed in the far corner with a single matching chair pulled up to it. On the side of the table that pushed  against the wall there was a small camp stove with a single burner, one pot and a tank of kerosene hooked up. Above the table were two more shelves, one lined with boxes of crackers, dried fruit, oatmeal and a single plate with one bowl, a fork, spoon and knife stacked neatly together. The second shelf held a lantern, two tall wide candles, a box of matches and a small stack of folded white wash clothes.

I sat on the edge of the cot, desperately clutching the soft warm wooden cat, my bare callused feet resting on a round braided rug that was yet another surprise. He knew, he knew I would say yes. I fought the panic to run, to hide, to forget about all of this kindness and warmth that might choke me, lull me into complacency, with tooth and nail I waged a silent war inside my head. I felt my shoulders shaking with the effort not to run into the night. Instead I forced myself to lie down, and wrapped myself in the soft quilt that smelled of lemons and sunshine. I fought against the fear, hating to let it win yet another battle. I forced my eyes closed but didn’t think there would be any sleep tonight.

My last thoughts were of an old woman smelling of that same lemon and sunshine mixture tucking me in and kissing the crown of my tangled head.

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