After 25 years, I had become accustomed to the fact that Tristan would never mentally advance beyond the level of a seven-year-old.
“It’s too much. The stares and the name calling. If you won’t put him away somewhere, then you can deal with him on your own.”
That was the warning Nick gave me when our son turned ten years old. He lasted three more years, then one day he did not come home from work. No note, no call – nothing. I notified the police in case my suspicions were wrong, but he had given notice at work, saying he was moving out of town. They assumed I was moving, too, but they were shocked to find out we had a child. His boss told the policeman Nick never mentioned a child. The news came as no surprise to me.
”Mama? MAAAAMMMMMA?” I walked over to the plastic swimming pool that was Tristan’s ship.
”What is it, Mister Pirate?” He was a beautiful child and made a fabulous pirate with his long dark curls poking out from under the scarf he asked me to tie around his head.
”My parrot is hungry. Can we have a sandwich?”
”Yes sir, matey!”
As I spread the mustard on the bologna sandwich I watched him run around the pool. I knew someday I would no longer be able to care for him. But today was not that day.
August approached in a golden sweltering haze. Carrie spent every August at this old rundown beach house her father left her and every year seemed hotter than the last. This year was no exception.
She unlocked the door to find the pile of realty brochures she had come to anticipate. This little slice of beach just off the point skyrocketed in value in the ten years since her father succumbed to a sudden heart attack. The wave of emotions washed over her allowing grief to rise into her consciousness. This had become a familiar but painful ritual every time she came to this damned place.
She was thankful she remembered to have the power turned on in advance of her arrival. Last year she had forgotten and weathered a fairly severe storm in the dark her first night back.
She walked to the other side of the room and slowly pulled on the sadly discolored drapery cords. There it was. The long stretch of boardwalk, flanked by seagrass neatly maintained by Mother Nature herself. At the end of the boardwalk she could see the waves rolling gently onto the beach signaling low tide. She could feel her heartbeat slow to the rhythm of the sea. This was the only reason she kept this place.
Carrie was fortunate. The houses that flanked the cottage had been kept in their respective families which kept the developers at a healthy distance. Thankfully local ordinances minimized overdevelopment. She never engaged the investors for fear their offers might tempt her to sell.
She slipped on her flip-flops and stepped onto the deck. It was worn and the boards warped from the sun and the sea but her dad always said those boards gave the place character. As she stepped onto the boardwalk she stopped and breathed in the salty air. It was easier to breathe here and somehow the heat was more tolerable.
Sitting in the wet sand, she watched sand fleas bury themselves at her feet. This was where she spent every August as far back as she could remember. The ocean, the sand, and the salty air were embedded in her DNA. She closed her eyes tightly to force down any thoughts of a future when she would not spend her August reconnecting with this place.
A high pitched giggle caused her to look up. She saw the little brown-haired girl, stick in hand, writing in the wet sand, a man bent over her shoulder.
“Look, Daddy. I wrote I love you. Now run before the water gets us!”
She watched as the two ran back down the beach filling the air with laughter. A lifetime ago that had been Carrie and her father running and laughing on this same stretch of sand. She couldn’t help but wonder if that little brown-haired girl would someday return here to wait out the sweltering August heat and remember.
This is my first time participating in the Sunday Writing Prompt hosted by MindLoveMisery’s Menagerie. Today’s prompt is shape-shifter.
The style is completely open; poetry, prose, even a single sentence…Go where the prompt takes YOU!
Keep your submission to 500 words or less.
Post it on your page, and TAG it Sunday Writing Prompt, SWP, MLMM, Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. And be sure to leave a link or pingback in the comment section below.
Feel free to use my photo for inspiration, or as your own cover image.
Please have your submissions in by the END OF EACH FRIDAY (Pacific Standard Time). Every Saturday, I will post a “standout” piece in a post entitled, SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT. Bear in mind, it will be based on my personal opinion. If you are not chosen, that does NOT mean your piece was not superb.
Be creative and HAVE FUN
My fate was sealed before I was born. A bundle of sage swirled above my mothers head as the elders marked her protruding belly with charcoal from the fire. They held her head back as she choked down the potion that would hasten my arrival. Disease had taken all but of a few of the elders. When the protector succumbed to the fever, he was kneeling at my mothers feet – a sign her child would absorb the magic of the ages, but only if the birth happened before the next rising of the moon. I witnessed it all. It was my only memory of my mother. I would always remember the desperation of her last breath as I saw my first light. They say it was love, but I feared I was destined to never experience love again.
I was taken into the wilderness as a baby, left alone on a blanket to test my power. It was the first time I heard the animals speak. The panther considered eating me, pacing around the blanket for hours. He suspected a trap and taunted me by scraping a paw across my forehead. I did not cry, nor did I bleed. I felt the power of the panther seep into me as the panther backed away. By morning, I was no longer a member of the tribe. I was every creature of the forest and carried the mark of the panther from that day forward.
This life was lonely, full of responsibility for the tribe. I slept while fully awake, each part of me taking its turn guiding my body. I was a manchild the first time I transformed. A deadly rattlesnake found its way into the camp headed for the tent of the chief. Without a thought I felt myself rise and fall with the silent wings of the red tailed hawk until I had the snake in my claws. This was the reason for my mother’s sacrifice.
During the full moon I could sense my mother’s presence, her hair long and dark, her body strong now. It was her spirit that protected me, but it did not quell the deep loneliness I felt. She told me that during the coming moon, I must claim a wife and have a child. If I did not, another child would be taken from his mother as I had been. Her tears filled the sky and fell like arrows to the ground.
At the next full moon, I took a wife. I shared her bed and felt human touch for the first time. Within months our son would be born to a mother and a father. He would not lie alone in the forest as I had. I would teach him. He would know love.
Arnie pushed her auburn hair behind her ears. She found her hair annoying at this length but there was no need to worry about a haircut now. The message was clear, perhaps the clearest she had ever received.
She scooted her stool close to the window and pushed aside the blue and yellow flowered curtains her grandmother said would be perfect for her room. “You will always have a breath of spring in your room!” The sky was baby blue with cotton-ball clouds In the distance. Other than her curtains, spring had faded away. Summer arrived with warm days and cool nights. Everyone seemed anxious to get outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun but Arnie was conflicted.
Jack Rose, Arnie’s father, paused by her door. “Gorgeous day, isn’t it?” The question was rhetorical of course as her father continued toward the stairs that would lead him to his morning coffee. Grandmother Rose moved in with them when Arnie’s mother passed away. Three years had passed but it still felt like it happened yesterday. People had been kind, but Arnie never wanted to see flowers again. She could no longer tolerate their syrupy sweet smell.
Of course Arnie knew of her mother’s looming fate before anyone else. The message was the first one that frightened her and she clung to her mother hoping it would sway the imminent message. All she could do was wait until others learned what she already knew. Sadly, there was no changing the result. The drunk driver was never caught, but Arnie knew that would be the case.
Arnie quit trying to talk about the messages long ago. Everything was conveniently whisked in the category of coincidence. Arnie was not mature enough to articulate what she knew so she just quit talking about them. Over the last few years the frequency of the messages had decreased. She knew as soon as her mother died she would lose her playroom so Grandma Rose could have a nice room of her own. She packed up her most important books and the stuffed bunny with the floppy ears her mother gave her long before her father explained the need to consolidate her belongings.
She smiled at the squirrels jumping precariously through the oak tree out front. She slipped on her sandals and went downstairs to join her family.
“Your pancakes are ready, my dear.” She loved the way her grandmother smiled with her eyes. “I even warmed the syrup just the way you like it.” Her grandmother kissed Arnie on the forehead as she handed her a plate with three large pancakes. “I hope you’re hungry.”
As she ate her pancakes, Arnie listened to her father and her grandmother talk about the weather. It was a perfect day to just relax with no errands to run and no work to be done. Arnie tried to compartmentalize her thoughts. Should she tell them? What purpose would it serve other than turn a perfectly glorious day into a catastrophe?
After breakfast, Arnie went outside and climbed into the curve of the oak tree. It was a perfect place to give into her thoughts. She thought about her mother and wondered if this was what she felt? Did she know on that day she would breathe her last breath or did it come as a complete surprise?
Who does one tell, when the entire world faces the same fate? Who would believe a thirteen year-old child if she told them today would be the last sunset for the entire planet? Who would believe the sun would lose its grip on this beautiful earth forcing it to be flung into space?
From the tree she watched her father practice on his makeshift putting green. Her grandmother clipped the rose bushes, cutting off the dying blooms. She closed her eyes and wondered if today she might see her mother again.
A hawk appeared out of nowhere and scooped up a small squirrel scampering across the yard. Sunset had come a little early for that little guy.
This piece was inspired by the following photograph. It is outside of my normal style of writing and stretches me out of my comfort zone as it is a little otherworldly. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Meredith’s mother did not approve of her afternoon walk to the forest. None of her mothers had approved of most things Meredith did, but they never argued. They were wary of her, their feelings bordering on fear. She knew the time was approaching. These human bodies wore out quickly, and each time the process started over. The first had lasted only six months. The second almost two years. She had lost count. Each time she shed the human shell, she observed the look of relief on her mothers’ faces. Her new mothers were elated, but the elation soon turned to sadness. As the new body grew and stretched, the mother’s anguish increased.
This time she made it 12 human years. This body had nothing left for her to take. The transition time was near. She always wished it could happen here, alone at the edge of the forest, but she knew the process. Luckily, this time, the neighbor’s wife was with child, and that child would be relinquished and the process would begin again. All her prior transitions had been within hours after the human birth. This time, she wanted to be there from the start. She had the power to transition before the birth now, but it required more time preparation, as the sun relaxed its hold on the energy she needed to survive.
”Thank you for coming, Simone. This child has been a difficult one.”
”She has such a high fever. Have you sent for the doctor?” Simone thought Meredith was such a beautiful child – she hoped her child would be as lovely.
”No, not yet. I hoped she would come around. It’s such a long trip for the doctor and she might recover on her own.” Constance was tired. 12 years she had tried to love this distant child, but something about Meredith was foreboding. Even as a young child, mothering her was torturous. Maybe it was best to release her, but these were words she would never utter out loud. No one could understand. She decided it was best to let nature take its course and hope this would be the end.
“Let’s let her rest. How about a cup of tea?” As they walked toward the kitchen, the house grew dark and a bitter chill fell over them.
Simone stumbled as she made her way to the table.
“Oh, honey! Are you okay?” Constance held her arm and helped her into the chair.
Simone tried to gather herself. The baby moved so suddenly it caused a sharp pain to rip through her abdomen.
“Could I have some water?”
After a few minutes, Simone seemed to regain her composure.
“You scared me. It’s too soon for labor. You have another six weeks to go.” Constance rested her hand on her neighbor’s shoulder.
“I think I should get back to the house. Sam will be home soon and I’d like to lie down for a bit.” Simone stood slowly. “I hope your angel gets better soon.”
The next morning, the sun broke through the window early. Constance rose to check on Meredith. She had not moved since the prior afternoon. She entered the room and glanced at her daughter. Her eyes were open, but her body cold and white. Constance sat down on the side of the bed and gently closed her eyes, putting a penny on each one. She breathed a sigh of relief as she felt the release of 12 long years of frustration and fear.
“I don’t think you were ever my child, really. I’m not sure where you have gone, but I’m relieved you are no longer here.”
She closed the bedroom door and waited for the doctor to arrive.