No door can hold the excitement of an eight year old girl, eager to announce her triumphed adventures of the day. The serenity of the old row home shattered as Isabelle shouted for her mother. Her little feet took quick heavy steps as paper shopping bag handle loaded both arms.
“Mom, mom, mom, Nanna and I are back.” Isabelle announce with a bit of exhaustion she set the bags down at her mother’s feet.
“So I see.” Mary answered. “Where is Nanna?”
“Oh no, I left Nanna.”
Mary smiled as her daughter quickly vacated the room. Knowing that her mother and daughter would return soon, from their adventures, she put an afternoon pot of coffee on. As she took a sip, the two pathfinders made their way in to the kitchen.
Mary pointed towards the coffee pot as Isabelle started recapping their day. Turning down the offer Nanna took a seat next to her daughter and the two listened as the young imagination began to unfold.
“So! This morning, mom, we stormed the ice castle, and there we met Dave the magnificent. He had a collection of frozen goodies that would blow your mind. We made our offer and he refused and said no. Then he went to the back and got the mother load of all frozen treats. It had everything in it… and then some.”
Mary looked at her mother. Nanna gave a quick explanation. “We went to the ice cream store. She wanted nature trail mix ice cream, but they were out. So Dave, went to the back and retrieved a new batch. Thus she started her day with ice cream.”
Isabella squinched her face. “That sounds boring when you say it.”
“I’m sorry Izzy, but your mother doesn’t speak ‘adventure’ and she needs a translator. Fortunately, I am fluent in ‘boring’.” Nanna explained
Considering the probability that Nanna was correct Isabelle continued. “Oh, OK. Well, then we went to the glass kingdom. The outside was all stone and brick but inside was all glass. Even the roof was glass, because you could see the sun shining everywhere. And in the center was a magical water fountain that the people of the kingdom gave offerings to. They came from far and near to toss a coin in and make a wish. The bigger the wish, the more coins you needed. That’s how it works with wishes. At first everything looked normal and the people looked happy, but then I realized that everyone was walking in circle. They were under a magical spell that forced them to walk forever. Nanna and I left before we fell under the spell too.”
“We went to the mall and walked around until she got bored and we moved on.” The two turned back to the plot spinner.
“That’s when we to the forest of doom.”
“The park.” Nanna interjected.
“The greedy trees hoarded all of the sun and brought darkness to the land. No one would dare enter for fear of disappearing forever into the shadows of the trees forever. Except for Nanna. Nanna didn’t have anything to worry about because… well, she’s Nanna and nobody messes with Nanna… not even Nanna.”
Mary burst out in laughter. Watching the comical complexity of her daughter’s face combined with a valley girl voice of explanation was too much. After collecting herself she motioned for Isabelle to continue.
“Right, so after the forest of doom we started our way back home. The ride back was good until we were swallowed up by a monster.”
“The bay tunnel.”
“You could tell Nanna wasn’t scared, She drove all the way from that monster’s mouth to it’s stomach and down until we finally came out of it’s…” Lost for words, Isabelle fought to find the proper description. Staring intensely a fist that she held up a face level, she quickly opened her fingers. “Boop! We came out and arrived home.”
Looking up, Isabelle noticed that her audience was laughing intensely. Smiling at the product of her narrative she concluded with the only two word that properly concludes any story.
The teenager moto,”I HATE YOU!”. was followed by the ritual door slam. Benjamin raised his eyebrows and smiled as he shook his head at Susan, his wife. A week earlier, they received a letter in the mail concerning Isaac’s attitude towards his classmates. Upon further inquiring at the school Benjamin learnt his son recently started isolating himself from his peers. Although this was unusual behavior for Isaac, Benjamin knew that this was not an unusual behavior for a high school teenager. “You wouldn’t understand.” was the only answer received after confronting his son about the letter.
Seeing her husband at his wits end, she decided to try her hand at the situation.
“May I come in?”
After a low acknowledgement, Susan stepped in with a tray of milk and cookies.
A heavy sigh accompanied his rolling eyes. “Mom, I’m not eight years old. You don’t have to bring me cookies and milk when you want to talk.”
“You’re assumption is so cute.” she remarked. Setting down she took a sip of milk. “We received a letter from the school, and that has us concerned. As parents, we tried to provide the best for our children. We also allow room for growth and try not to smother our children with too much affection or concern. Now, if you could explain, in more detail than you gave your father, what is going on, I would appreciate that.”
“Finish that phrase and I’ll make sure that you wish you never knew those words existed.”
Isaac looked up. He had never heard his mother talk in such manner. Although she was a petite 5′ 4″ woman, there was a sternness in her soprano voice that made his spine crawl. Her poise was calm, but Isaac could sense that she was ready to unleash an assault. Neither parents had raised their hands in an abusive manner, and it had been years since he received his last spanking. No, this was different, he could tell that he was on the threshold of a new type of punishment. Whatever it was he knew that he could take it. All he had to do was wake up, go to school, and come home. As long as he kept his life simple, they couldn’t take anything away.
He didn’t have a phone, didn’t have a car, he didn’t even hang out with friends after school. He enjoyed coming home, doing his homework, then reading. Fiction, non-fiction, self-help, classics, and new age, he had a wide variety of books he loved to read. He looked up at his mother, who was setting there in silence, nibbling away at a cookie. The books, she is after my books! Realizing his position in the conversation Isaac changed his course.
“I’m not isolating myself. I just like the quiet. I can think clearer when there’s not fifty people trying to talk to me at once.” He watch for any expression on her face that would revealed her acceptance.
Taking another bite of cookie Susan began to talk “See.” cookie crumb sprayed from her lips. “You do know other phrases.”
“Rude!” Isaac exclaimed.
“Yes.” she agreed as she stood up. “Think of it as a visual metaphor on how you have been acting towards your father.” Grabbing her tray she started to exit. “He’s going to finish this conversation with you.”
Isaac sat there in disbelief. She wasn’t listening. She was baiting him for a different comment. Benjamin walked in with a box.
“Are you ready to talk about school.”
Habitually the words escaped Isaac’s mouth, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I figured as much. Your mother gave me instructions to take your books if you said that exact phrase.”
“But it’s Friday. What am I suppose to read over the weekend?”
“Take that question up with your mother. You don’t want to talk about what’s bothering you… fine… but at least let us know you’re ok.” Picking up the loaded box Benjamin turned around. “I’d explain it more clearly, but you wouldn’t understand.”
Setting the box on the counter, a rant and slam was heard from down the hall.
“You know he gets that from you.” Benjamin stated.
“Yea, I suppose. It wasn’t until my books were taken away, that I started talking to my parents. Everything that I thought they had done wrong as parents has turned out to be not-so-bad.” she smiled at her husband. “There’s no instructions for raising kids, but there are memories of what worked for me.”
The raw truth of reality revealed itself in a moment of revelation. Disbelief riddled Loren’s body to the point she could not move. How could the putrid hands of segregation have such a grip on their community? The answer came while setting in the back of an ambulance.
A new mayor announced that she was bringing the community together. First a senior center was built, then a youth center. Next came the United African American center, then the Latin American center. With each month a new center popped up.
At first everyone was allowed to visit any center, but then town funding were cut. In an effort to keep their centers open people were charged a membership fee. The first sign of trouble came when Loren tried to join two centers. She was African American and Latino. Her face was vexed at the mere notion that she was forced to choose one or the other. She wasn’t one or the other, she was both.
Next came the social status of each center. People began to boast about what their center did for the community and how the other centers were bringing the town down. Most of this talk was sown during the Sunday morning gossip at church. Arguments would brake out and Loren could feel the divide happening. People stopped talking to each other. The youths moved away and the elders faded away. Their town was dying.
A once proud town of ten thousand citizens was now a divided community of two thousand and five hundred souls. In a course of ten years the centers went from opening to closing, only the senior center remained open. Graffiti displayed the hate that still existed in the city. And now, Loren found herself outside of the senior center that she was volunteering at just moments ago. Flames danced as the black smoke billowed into the night sky. Everything happened to fast. The sound of glass breaking and the flames erupting sent her running to the parking lot. She called 911 and reported the fire, and then it happened. A scream of agony came from within the flames. Loren thought she was the only one in the building. She was closing up. How could she have left someone in the building? Frozen her ears absorbed the wail of torture, and then it was gone. Only the sound of sirens and roar of the fire could be heard. Tears began to fall as she slowly turned numb. Loren barely recalled the fireman asking if she was alright. All she could say was someone was screaming inside.
Setting in the back of the ambulance, Loren collected herself. That’s when she remembered the four lane highway that was going to pass though the town. Everyone voted against it. That’s when the old mayor resigned and the new mayor took over. The centers weren’t created to bring people together. They were built to tear the town apart. They bred hatred and that hatred drove people away. How could we have been so stupid and blind as to not see this coming? Loren thought to herself. We were fools. Why couldn’t we just accept each other? Why did we feel the need for these centers? But this is human nature. Loren understood that we clung to others who shared similarities, no mater how shallow some of them were. Individualism can segregate and divide people. And when people are divided they can be swayed to allow a four lane highway through their town.
Time slowed as the coffee cup slid from the counter and took it’s maiden voyage to the ceramic floor below. Shattering fragment mixed with the hot blacken java as Jack stood there helpless only to watch. There wasn’t time for this. His routine was already behind schedule due an unscheduled power outage compromising his alarm. A near by towel made quick work of the mess, and soon he was back to the list of morning agendas; most important was getting some coffee.
Using his cell phone to maneuver though his house, it began to beep. A quick glance revealed he had ten percent battery. Forcing a smirk Jack was determined not to let this deter him. It was Friday, payday, and a three day weekend was starting after work. His optimism dissipated as he stepped into the cold shower. How long was the power off? He asked himself. It was times like this he wished his apartment came with a full size water heater. On the bright side, he had no reason to stall. Drying off, he made his way to the sink to comb his hair and brush his teeth. One more look at his appearance and he was off to get dressed. His work uniform eased the task of picking out clothes for the day. Under garments, blue shirt with his name over the left pocket, blue jeans, and steel-toed boots were donned. Grabbing his lunch and keys he rushed out the door. To his dismay, he was greeted with a flat tire. Well, why not it’s been that type of morning already. After calling his work, to let them in on his delay, Jack started changing his tire. As he took the lug nuts off, he reflected on the morning. Had he been twenty years younger his anger would have been a big factor. However, time, age, and wisdom has a way of calming people down. The morning sky began to illuminate with a soft amber hue. Birds began to call, as an air of serenity captivated the moment. As Jack tightened the last lug nut and lowered the truck, he began to take pride in his age. He wasn’t the irrational, loud mouth, quick to anger boy that he use to be. No, now he was happy. Life happens and Jack knew what it took to keep a positive outlook.
Although he was late, Jack never rushed to catch up. He was were he was, and he was going to enjoy the moment. Frantically his boss approached asking if he was going to make up for the hour lost.
Jack gave him a grey bearded smile. “That hour was never lost. I know exactly how it was spent, along with the rest of the time this morning.”
As Chris entered the serene room, he couldn’t help but notice how clean and organized Dr. O’Brien kept his office. Each calm step he took held back the anxiety brought on by this meeting. Speaking to a psychiatrist felt like a confessional. After five year six month and thirteen days with no results, what’s the point of going? But there was something in the way that Dr. O’Brien spoke that promised change; although no promise was actually made.
After receiving a formal gesture to set, Chris hesitated. The low back, grey modern style chair with it’s tightly stretched material gave it a rock-hard appearance. Transferring his weight to the chair, he felt it conform to his body, feeling nothing like it appeared. Wanting to comment on the chair, Chris held his tongue. It was likely that many other clients before him had already made the same statement. It would be foolish for him to do the same. Besides he was here for Dr. O’Brien, not the chair.
Pleasantries were exchanged and the Dr. O’Brien just started conversing. The more Chris interacted, the less it felt like a confessional session. In fact, it was just two guys talking about their childhood. The two compared memories about the 90’s. Chris found himself talking about things that he didn’t even talk to his brother about. When the conversation got too deep, Dr. O’Brien would change the tempo, never asking how anything made Chris feel.
The session came to an end and Chris stood up taking one last look at the chair.
“Is there something wrong?” Dr. O’Brien inquired.
“No. But it is striking in how similar this chair is to the conversation we just had.” Pausing he shook Dr. O’Brien’s hand. “I enjoyed our conversation as much as I enjoyed setting in this block-style chair.”
“What good is a conversation if one cannot relax?”
Turning back as he exited the room, Chris smiled. “Indeed.”
Every muscle crystalized as Louie noticed the faceless humanoid following him. The primal instinct between fight or flight ensued within his head. His body, frozen in time, waited for orders. Seconds felt like minutes as he feverishly fanned between the two choices, RUN!
Sheltering behind a tree, Louie stopped to catch his breath. With a jackhammer heart he fought to listen for the creatures footsteps. The sound of pleasant conversation drifted in the background. Unfortunately, as chance would have it, he was the only one who seen the creature. Why was it following him? Images of the faceless being were etched into his memories. He knew it was looking at him. He could feel it peering at him. Slowly his heart sustained a tempo primo rhythm.
Creeping a look behind him, Louie’s eye locked onto the creature standing inches away on the other side of the tree. Horror belted an involuntary scream from his lungs as he lounged into a full sprint. Frantically fighting to sustain balance he continued to scream. Tears began to stream. He had to keep running. A glimpse back revealed it was too late. The creature grabbed at his feet. The beast was upon him. A wale belted from his soul as he gave in to the hopelessness.
A pair of arms reached down and engulfed Louie in an embracing hug.
“Aw, did lil Louie find his shadow today?” Louie’s mother asked.
Turning to her friend, “They are so cute at this age.”
“I remember the first moment I saw you in the store, Leo. You were the new boy in town and all the girls were talking.” Margret recollected to her husband. The soft sound of his chuckle echoed in her head as she continued..
“We have been through a lot, you and I.” Her words froze as the cold hard truth set in.
“The wasted years we spent yelling at each other in our youth, not seeing the other’s perspective. If only I could go back, I’d slap some sense into that stupid girl. Learning to grow together and become one is the second most difficult thing a couple will learn to do. The hardest thing is maintaining that togetherness.”
“But, we had some great times too. I’ll never forget the look in your eyes when you first held Emily. I was so scared you would be upset that I didn’t give you a boy. But you didn’t even care. She was your pride and joy.”
A soft breeze blew across the front porch, as Margret continued her morning memoirs’. “The winds of change brought us a lot. closer. It seemed there for a while every step forward was met with two steps back. Employment was down and you lost your job. Bills stacked up and stress was high. Somehow we managed though. We grabbed onto each other like two kids lost in a hurricane. Neither one of us knew how we would get by, but we did. You found another job, I started working part-time. and slowly but surely life began to piece itself together. Oh, and the mother-daughter arguments seemed to go on forever at times. Why you didn’t leave, I’ll never know. I would have” she chuckled.
A moment passed in silence as her memories continued. Leo was always there. He helped in every aspect of raising Emily. Margret loved having her neighbors come over complaining about their husbands. She would start bragging about how great of a father Leo was, the things he did around the house to help and how cheerful of a man he was. This would send them off in frustration, leaving Margret there in peace. Uncouth, perhaps, but Margret couldn’t resist doing it.
“I believe you took Emily going to college harder than I did. Don’t get me wrong it was hard for me too, but you did more house chores that summer than I ever remember. You painted the front yard fence, tightened all of the plumbing in the house, planted too big of a garden, anything you could lay your hands on you fixed, and I swear you were mowing the lawn every day.” Her laughter caught the best of her as she began to cough and hack while fighting to catch her breath. Old age has a way of making any moment awkward. Collecting herself from the laughter Margret continued. “The proudest moment came when you walked her down the isle to be married. You could see the pride beaming from your bold brown eyes. Your whole body screamed “This is my daughter!”. You always did have a way of expressing yourself without saying much. There were times you and I could carry a whole conversation and not say a word. Friends and family often marveled over it.”
“They say life isn’t easy, and that is so true. But with you, life has been an enjoyment. Besides, who in their right mind would want easy when they can have fun.” Placing her hand in his, she looked at the empty chair beside her.
“Thanks for the great times Leo.”