Friday, May 29, 2015

#182 Why Am I Eating These Fries?

Why am I eating these fries?

I don’t even like this kind. They spill out of a greasy white paper bag like so many overgrown crispy-fried grubs. I could buy a whole pound of these exact same crinkle-cut fries from the freezer case at the grocery store for about the same price we paid for this one bag. Fat, greasy, bloated, they’re either overcooked and crunchy as too-thick potato chips, or else soggy and pale.

I bite into one. Salt and crunchiness, then the smooth, creamy starch at the center fill my mouth.

These aren’t real fries, I tell myself as I pick up another one. Real fries still have the skin on. These fries were probably made from dried potato powder mixed with glue and pressed into little crinkle-fry shaped molds.

One of the fries is bitter, a little too overcooked. I take two next time and drench them in ketchup to wash down the bad taste.

If I’m going to be stuffing untold fat and carbohydrate calories into my body, why don’t I choose a food I actually like? These fries are not worth it.

I’m eating them faster now, as if trying to get it over with. My hand, almost without my permission, keeps picking them up, dipping them in ketchup and popping them in my mouth.

These fries are not my responsibility. I didn’t even order them, my husband did. I’m not even hungry. I already ate my burger. That was more than enough.

I am going to stop now.

I try wiping my fingers on my napkin, cleaning off the salt and grease. I clasp my hands on the slightly sticky table top, which feels as if so many cokes have spilled over it there’s no more wiping it clean. Trying to distract myself, I look at the chipped paint on the picnic table boards, studying the progression of color. Brown, then blue, and finally now red. If I just sit here and wait, my husband will eat the rest of the fries. I know he will. They’re his anyway. He just asked if I wanted some.

I pick up the ketchup bottle and without even thinking, squirt some in the top of the Styrofoam box my burger came in. Trying to be artistic, I run a line around the place where the sides meet the bottom.

There are still a few fries spilling out of the paper bag onto a Styrofoam plate on a sticky picnic table in the strip mall where I’m having lunch with my husband. I can’t let the ketchup I just squirted from the bottle go to waste.

I pick up another French fry, dip it in the ketchup, and eat it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#181 Banana Harvest

We were too eager the first time we harvested our bananas.

We’d waited long enough, we thought. I’d bought the tiny banana plant on our first trip to the nursery after moving into our new place. We had a yard, and it wanted trees. Lemon, tangerine, pomegranate, those were the ones I wanted, but I never considered bananas. But there it was, in a black plastic pot with “dwarf apple banana, $12.50” scrawled on the side. Why not, I thought.

It slept for months, years, unchanging, in the grassy corner of the yard where I’d planted it. Then one day it began to grow. A towering trunk, then another sprang up, and another. Green leaves unfurled like solar panels on an opening space probe. The architecture of nature built with astounding speed.

A flower appeared, a huge purple-red bud the size of my open hand, hanging down like the head on a goose’s neck from a long stem. Petals dropped off, exposing tiny green fingers. Proto-bananas. Embryonic. The stem grew longer, adding ranks of bananas until a bottle-brush of them hung from the top of the tree. We sent proud photographs to relatives, as if this bunch of bananas were a new baby in the family. Day by day we watched them grow. Are the bananas fat enough yet? Can we cut them down yet?

At last we couldn’t stand it any longer. We cut them down, solid and green, and hung them up to ripen. My sons gleefully hacked down the tree with a machete, careful not to damage the younger trees coming up around it. Its sheaves, peeled away one at a time, revealed a hollow lattice structure that hinted at the plant’s ability to spring up so quickly. Layers circled a center trunk, rows of cube-shaped chambers in every one, like the steel superstructure of a skyscraper.

The second time we harvested bananas, it took us a long time to get around to it. For months we said, those bananas look ready, we should cut them down. By then there were three other bunches coming on, one in our yard and two hanging over the side fence into the neighbors’. The bananas got bigger and fatter, far fatter than the first bunch we cut.

When they finally started to turn yellow--could bananas actually turn yellow on the tree?--we decided we’d better hurry or we’d loose them all to the myna birds.

One of my younger sons stood up on a stool and used the saw to cut them free while three more of us stood beneath to hold them up. Cold banana sap dripped into my hair, like an anointing. The bananas were so heavy they nearly knocked me over when they came down. The boys fought over turns with the machete, cutting up the trunk for the compost, while I helped my daughter cut the bunches of bananas off the stem. Afterwards I had to use paint thinner to get the latex from the saw and the machete and my sticky hands.

“This must be why Hawaiians share food,” my son said. “There’s too many bananas all at once for us to eat by ourselves.”

Would you like one? Ripened on the tree.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

#180 Dragon's Egg

“Where does magic come from?” Professor Lazlo thumped a polished wooden box on the table. Her green eyes glittered as they swept the class full of little girls in their deep blue frocks. “You there, Miss Kornelia.”

“Dragons!” Kornelia squeaked. Her feet in their buckled shoes kicked at the legs of her desk in excitement.

“Yes, dragons.”

The box wiggled. Everyone in the classroom gasped, except for Ana. She knew that kind of box, knew what was in it. She knew how tired it was, almost out of life, for it to sit so still, only quivering now for the first time since Professor Lazlo set it down.

“Now, who can tell me what is the very best source of magic that we can get from dragons?”

Ana didn’t raise her hand, though she knew the answer to the question. The class was silent.

Professor Lazlo undid the latch and opened the box.

It was beautiful, in its own way. Round, about the size of a human head, and smooth and leathery as elm bark. White with flecks of grey, it might have been mistaken for a strange stone at a casual glance, but it was no stone.

“Is that a dragon egg?” One of the girls asked. Ana almost sighed. None of them had ever seen one.

She’d seen too many.

“Yes. Now, why would you think this is the very most powerful source of dragon magic?” Professor Lazlo asked.

This time Ana spoke up without bothering to raise her hand. “Because its still alive,” she said sharply.

“Yes,” Professor Lazlo gave her a hard look. “Unlike dragon scales or horns or teeth, unlike a dragon heart or liver or skin, the dragon egg is very much still alive.”

Ana’s stomach gave a twitch as Professor Lazlo wheeled a gleaming apparatus of copper vanes, pipes, and springs in front of the desk. “This is a weatherworking machine, not the latest model, but still quite functional. I’ve received permission from the headmaster to give you a short demonstration. I will set it for thunderstorm.”

The egg shifted a little in its box, as if maybe it had heard its doom pronounced.

Professor Lazlo picked up the egg and set it in a wide glass jar, then clamped down the copper lid. She switched on the machine, which began whirring and chiming. Little sparks of magical energy fizzled out from the egg’s surface and made the jar glow a faint pink. The egg itself shuddered, rattling against the glass.

Ana gripped the side of her chair.

Outside the window darkened, and rain began to fall. A great crack of thunder pealed across the sky. The girls applauded.

The egg’s movement began to slow, and with it the storm faded almost as quickly as it had begun. Tap, tap, then one last little twitch, and the egg lay still.

Ana wanted to leave, to run from the room, but instead she sat and watched. Watched while Professor Lazlo removed the egg from the apparatus and dropped it in the rubbish.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

#179 Home Lunch

I usually don’t take a lunch with me to class.

Not that I’m not hungry at eleven o’clock when we get our break. The student center grill is right there, so I usually grab a sushi roll or something. Once I even tried their stir-fry, but there was too much of it for me to eat in ten minutes so I was slurping noodles while the teacher started talking again. Not cool.

Today, though, I had some leftovers of this fantastic ramen noodle salad, with carrots and peas and chicken and lettuce that had been marinading all night in soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. That was something worth taking. Not something lame like a peanut butter sandwich and a bruised apple.

I’d spent the minutes leading up until the time I was supposed to leave cramming in the reading assignment, and after that I still had to blow-dry my hair, so I knew I didn’t have much time to pack up my lunch. I found a plastic container in the cupboard, scraped a generous serving of salad plus a few extra toasted slivered almonds on top, then snapped on the lid. Now all I needed was a way to carry it. I was pretty sure that container wouldn’t leak, but I wasn’t going to risk my computer by putting a cheap plastic container that had been through the dishwasher too many times in my book bag.

There were lunch carriers in the cupboard over the stove. I pulled down my favorite, a grey one with butterflies that might have been a handbag if it wasn’t made out of that soft cooler material. I picked up my container of salad, ready to slip it inside.

The lunch bag wasn’t empty.

A crumpled piece of greasy sandwich wrapper with lettuce bits sticking to the inside. Something blackish and furry and vaguely reminiscent of half a banana. A bloated foil wrapper that might still have a piece of chocolate inside.

When was the last time I’d taken a lunch anywhere?

“Not using that one,” I said out loud, soft but kind of frantic, because class was starting soon and I still had to walk all the way across campus.

There were other lunch carriers up there. That red one that had come from the grand opening of the new computer lab on campus, when they were giving out free lunches courtesy of the computer company that had donated all the machines in hopes of getting us college students hooked on using their stuff. That particular company had folded already, or had they been bought out by someone else? Oh well, not really my business. Anyway, I kept the lunch cooler, the boxy little red lunch cooler, just in case I ever needed a back up. Waste not, want not, and all. It was down at the bottom of a stack of paper lunch sacks.

They were too small for my container to go in, those lunch sacks.

The red thing would work. I pulled it out and unfolded it.
Patches of brown mildew encrusted the fabric lid. Not just vague spots like ordinary mildew. This stuff was three-dimensional. The Incredible Hulk of mildew. Grimy brown bits got off on my fingers. I was afraid I’d discovered one of those alien plants that was going to take over the world by the end of the episode. The kind that died in the rain at the last minute so the world would be saved after all.

I still didn’t have anywhere to put my lunch.

Ideas flashed through my head. A plastic grocery bag? So not environmentally correct. Put it in my bookbag with my phone and computer? Not on your life.  Carry it, along with the fork, in my hand? That would look great as I walked across the campus.

Then I noticed something. There was still something red up in the cupboard underneath the paper sacks. Another red lunch tote. I’d gotten two of them? I’d totally forgotten. That was sneaky of me.

I pulled it down, hoping the mildew beast hadn’t spread. This one, somehow, miraculously, was clean. I stuffed in my salad and my fork and beat it out the door to class.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

# 178 The MRI

The machine stared, a huge, round eyeball twice as tall as me, with an empty opening at the center. It thrummed and thumped a slow rhythm, like an alien heartbeat.

I shuddered in my pajamas, even though the dimly-lit room was warm. “Hop up here on the bed,” the nurse said. The bed was on a long ramp that led right into the middle of the eyeball. I climbed up onto it really slow. It was like sitting on something’s tongue.

The nurse put a blue thing like a paper showercap over my hair. “It gets really noisy so you’ll need to wear earplugs,” the nurse rolled the little bright blue pieces of foam in her fingers until they were tiny worms. “Put these in your ears, and then this headset goes on top.”

It gets noisy?

Once my ears were all plugged and covered, the nurse said, “Okay, now lie down,” like it was no big deal.

I shook my head. No way was I going to lie down so she could roll me into that super noisy giant eyeball machine.

“Come on, you can do it,” she smiled. She was young, and pretty, with blond-brown streaked hair and pink lipstick. Her eyes matched the soft green scrubs she wore. She looked so nice. How could she do this to me?

I shook my head again.

“Go get Mom,” the nurse said to the girl in the door way, the thin one in black who had brought me from the waiting room where I’d left Mom.

I sat hunched on the bed and waited. All around the room there were shelves with pieces of foam in different shapes and colors. A shiny metal sink, a soap dispenser. Pillows. Strange plastic shapes.

“Hi,” Mom said, when she came in. “Everything okay?”

I shrugged.

“Mom’s going to be right next to you the whole time,” the Nurse said. “This is really the easiest test you can get. There are no needles, you don’t have to drink anything. All you have to do is lie there for twenty minutes.”

Twenty minutes? I can’t possibly lie still that long inside a noisy eyeball machine.

“Mom, do you have my Minecraft guys?” I asked.

“No, I left them in the lobby. I’ll be right back.”

When Mom came back she had the paper models I’d printed, cut out, and glued together, my Link, my pig, my ocelot, my tiny sword.

“Do you want to hold one of them?” The nurse asked. “You can hold it in your hand during the test, though you can’t hold it up and look at it.”

“Can I have Link?” I asked.

Mom handed him to me and I curled my fingers gently around the delicate little paper boxes that made up his body. I forced myself to lie down on the bed and the nurse adjusted a small mirror over my head so that I could see my Mom. She waved to me from the end of the ramp, grinning like this was the most fun she’d ever had.

“I’m jealous, you know,” Mom said, admiring the machine. “I’ve always wanted to get an MRI”

Mom was crazy.

The nurse tucked a piece of foam at either side of my head and reminded me to hold still so she could get a good picture of my brain. Then she gave me a button on a long wire that I could push if I got nervous and wanted to stop the test.

I wondered how long I’d last.

The nurse pushed a button on the machine and I started to roll. I rolled until my head was in the middle of that great big eyeball.

I waited, stiff, cupping my Minecraft guy in one hand and clutching my escape button in the other.

“Ready to go?” The nurse’s voice came over the headset.

“Ready,” I said back in my tiniest voice.

The machine thumped. It whined. It chugged. Whoom, whoom, whoom, just like a space ship in a movie.

The machine sounded hilarious.

I had to try hard not to laugh. I didn’t want the picture of my brain to get blurry.

Mom and I grinned at each other.

Yeah, I could do this for twenty minutes. It wasn’t so bad.

Monday, May 18, 2015

#177 When My Daughter is Home

When my daughter is home, flowers from the backyard find their way onto the table. Different ones every week, the yellow wildflowers from the corner under the trees, the white bougainvillea creeping through the fence from the neighbor’s yard, the plumerias striped dark pink, apricot, and snow.

When my daughter is home, pets find their way to our door. Neighbor children bring baby birds. Stray rabbits show up in the field on the way home from school. Chameleons appear on the sidewalk. All of them come home to stay.

When my daughter is home, she sits up late with her brothers, both taller than her, together on the couch with her computer open in front of them. They’re laughing at something together, talking, watching. Every time I try to send them upstairs for bed they drift back to her room, one more idea, one more laugh, one more something to say.

When my daughter is home, the sound of harp music drifts through the rooms, soft but insistent, like a gentle rainfall.

When my daughter is home there is quiet, except for the sound of typing, a fluttering of word-wings, as miles and miles of sentences spool out through her fingers from the endless spinning wheel of her mind. Dizzying word counts mount up day after day.

When my daughter is home, the dishes get done. Every last one. And the counters are wiped down. There’s someone to watch the other children, someone to be here when school gets out.

When my daughter is home, the house is full again, if only for a little while.

Friday, May 15, 2015

#176 Shipwreck

Splinters. Fragments of wood, fresh, sharp, red as cedar, litter the damp sand. Strangers among the tiny stranded jellyfish and crab holes. Bent, tortured, one has a hard, white paint fragment clinging to its face.

Farther down the beach the splinters begin to line up, long lacy arcs of them, raked in by the water. And now the larger pieces appear; a chunk of deck, black with tar; a pointed piece of prow; could that have been the mast stand

The sea, indifferent, roars and surges. Blind, it cannot see the wreckage still in its arms, the dead weight still floating in the surf, making its way to shore.

Weathered colors of paint on a shattered board speak of broken beauty. Sodden clothing dragged up on the point of a broken beam splays across the sand. Nails stab upward through a face-down board.

Someone has tried to clean up already. A metal first-aid kit sits near the top of a plastic bucket of debris. Some of the pieces have been dragged into piles.

The eye of Ra stares, huge, black and wet, from a jagged-edged panel. Did it see the reef that would wreck it, in the dark and high surf of the night?

Strange shapes, a puzzle, some pieces too large to move, others too small to find, strewn over a mile of beach. All together, it had been a boat. I am standing in the midst of a boat, on the beach, beside the eternal sea.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

#175 Mother's Day Flower

“Mom, look,”

Beside me in his awkwardly small plastic chair, my son had rolled his neck tie up tight under his chin. When he saw he had my attention he let it go, sending it shooting out like one of those paper party blowers. His face remained impassive as he watched me for my reaction, where another child might have grinned or even giggled.

“Don’t play with your tie anymore,” I said. “If you have to fidget, wiggle your toes quietly inside your shoes.”

He sighed, a huge exasperated sigh, and leaned all the way forward in his chair.

“Sit up please,” I whispered.

He sat up and was still for a few minutes, listening as the Sunday school teacher finished telling a story about Jesus healing a blind man. Then he started chewing on his fingernails.

“Hand away from your mouth,” I poked him gently in the side.

He jerked away from me and toppled onto the ground.

“Back in your chair,” I glanced at the Sunday school teacher, who was doing his best to ignore us in favor of the row of more attentive children in front of us. “One two three…”

My son climbed back up in his chair.

“Now children, because it’s mother’s day, we’re going to make something special for your mother.” The Sunday school teacher took out a basket of crayons and a stack of paper from the table behind him. “Everyone take a paper and fold in in half, like this, then write Happy Mother’s Day on the front, and on the inside write something you appreciate about your mom.”

When the basket of crayons made it back to us, my son stared into it for a long time.

“Just take a handful,” the teacher said, at least three times.

My son finally selected one crayon.

He folded his paper in half, then in half again.

"You don’t need to do that,” I said.

“But I’m going to do it this way,” my son said.

“Please, just follow the instructions,” I said.

He opened it up, and folded it diagonally from corner to corner.

Pick your battles. Pick your battles. Pick your battles.

On the row in front of us, I watched a little girl in her Sunday dress and lacy bow in her hair write “Happy Mother’s Day” in beautiful handwriting. Could a nine-year-old child really write that neatly? It seemed strange to me. But all of them were doing it. Perfect printing.

“Look, it’s like a flower,” my son held his multi-folded paper up in front of my face.

“I see,” I said.

He took his one crayon and began to trace all the fold lines, then draw a heart in each triangular section. I watched the other children decorating their cards, which actually looked like cards. I could read what they were writing from where I sat. My son had turned his card over and started writing on it. I knew it was going to take some serious concentration to figure out what words those were.

“All done, Mom,” my son handed the card to me, this time with one of his tight smiles.

“This is my favorite color of crayon.” He'd chosen blue-green. “How did you know that? Of all the colors of crayon, this was always my favorite.”

His smile got a little bigger.

I unfolded the card flower and started working out his handwriting.

you’re the bestest friend in the whole wide world, and I love you

I rotated the card to the next panel

mom you are so awesome

There were some more scribbles I just couldn’t interpret

you are friendly and kind and loving (so am I)

Now I had to turn it upside-down

I appreciate that you are always there for me
I love you

My Mother’s Day card was different from all the rest, but that's why I loved it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

#174 Rainbow

My bicycle tires crushed bright orange flowers the size of my fist into the black asphalt as I sped beneath the flame trees. On the other side of the new brown plastic fence, cows lumbered slow through the tall grass, standing or grazing lazily. Behind them, the steep green slopes of the koolaus rose up to a sky patchy with clouds. On the other side of the bike path, old telephone poles leaned under the weight of their wires, and cars sped down the narrow, pot-holed and patched highway. The smell of the sea mixed with car exhaust, sun on dewy grass, and tropical flowers.

As I sped down the path the sun warmed the back of my neck and my shoulders, even through the straps of my backpack. All of a sudden, a brilliant rainbow spread across the sky in front of me. Bright against a charcoal background of cloud, it stretched from behind the jungle trees that hid the beach from my view, all the way to the mountaintops beyond the fields where the cows were grazing. A glorious arc of color, the most amazing, perfect rainbow I had ever seen, and there it was, right in front of me! It looked like I would bike right under it if I kept going.

Right in front of me!


Wait. That meant….

Oh, snap.

I saw it ripping toward me over the path, heard the rising roar, saw the wall rushing to meet me only an instant before I was pounded by buckets of cold rain. It swallowed me up, sent white streaks ricocheting off the asphalt, and created a fog of droplets that turned the grass silver-green and the cows into shadowy, distant shapes. I squinted and swerved my bike to avoid the puddles, not because I wasn’t already soaked, but because the mud here, the red volcanic clay, never washed out, not ever.

By the time I got to school I was as wet as if I’d rode my bike right into the canal, but the sky had already cleared. The dark rainclouds had moved inland, and were shrouding the mountains in a white gauze, leaving everything behind them gleaming wet in the sun, with colors as bright as the rainbow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

#173 Journey to the Future 3

read the first part

There was someone, or something, waiting for me at the gate to the city.

Gleaming metal walls rose three stories over my head. It made me wonder what they were trying to keep out, or maybe keep in. The wide road I’d been walking along, except for when a passing truck gently beeped to encourage me to move out of the way, maybe as if I were a stray cow, passed in under a wide arch in the wall. I couldn’t see any doors, but then maybe they were the kind that rolled aside and were hidden in the wall.

I still hadn’t seen any other people.

The something standing by the gate at first I took for some kind of public art. It had hinged metal legs, six of them, and a spherical body of black glass. When I came close, it spoke to me.

“Ryan?” It was my sister’s voice.

“Cathy?” I stepped closer to the sphere. Inside the black sphere, beneath the surface, I saw an image of her face, like a hologram, like she was trapped there inside the glass.

“They’ve said I can record a message for you, so here goes,” Cathy’s face said. She looked exhausted, worried, but hopeful. “They’re taking us away while they clean up the mess we’ve made. And then they’re going to bring us back, but it will take longer than a hundred years, they say. If you want, you can come join us. We’re going to another planet, Ryan. You’d be so excited.”

“Cathy,” I said again, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me. “Who? Who’s taking you away?”

“I hope you got here safely, and that the pod worked and everything. You never did test sending it forward more than a couple of weeks, so, well, I hope you made it.” I could hear a tremble in her voice. “Please come find us,” she said.

Her image disappeared.

“Is that all?” I asked the black sphere. “Where’s Cathy now? Who’s she talking about? Who took her away?”

The thing began to move, its legs lifting gracefully and touching down gently so that the sphere seemed to levitate over the ground. It took a few steps through the arch, and then paused as if waiting for me to follow.

I stepped into the city.

Monday, May 11, 2015

#172 Journey to the Future 2

read the first part

It got too hot for my radiation suit as I pushed my way through the tall stalks of corn. I hadn’t really lived in the country, ever, and I’d only seen corn fields from a car window on road trips as a boy, but I was thinking this corn was bigger than I remembered it. The leaves were wider than my outspread fingers, and if the city ahead weren’t so tall it would have disappeared behind the golden pollen heads.

I shed the suit and bundled it into my pack, then pressed on. Soon my arms were itching from brushing against the dry, hairy green corn leaves.

When I got closer I noticed something that made me stop and study the gleaming glass and metal structures in the distance. Along the base, standing twice as high as the corn, was a wall. I’d never seen a walled city in my entire life. As far as I could tell, the corn went right up to it. A single city like an island in a sea of corn.

I came to a road running crosswise to my direction of travel. Relieved to be able to walk a clear path for a while, I followed it until I reached a larger road that led straight to the city. A truck came rumbling up behind me. I looked behind, hoping to hail the driver, then saw there was no cab. It was just a huge bin of corn on wheels. When it got closer to me it slowed down, then stopped entirely and began to beep gently. I stepped off the road and into the corn, and it picked up speed again, heading toward the city in a cloud of dust.

Look me up when you get there, my sister had said. Maybe by then people will be living over a hundred years. At the time the joke had been a bitter one, recalling the years before the apocalypse began. But maybe it had come true. Maybe she’d be waiting for me.

read the next part

Friday, May 8, 2015

#171 Journey to the Future

"You’re abandoing us," my sister had said, her voice cold, hard, logical. “You think you’re going to save everyone, but you’re only running away.”

"Come with me," I said. "There’s room."

"And leave them?" She had shouted. "Leave them to this?"

Outside the windows of my workshop, the sky had been dark. Dark at noon. Ash and dust choked the sun, fell over everything like a sad, gray, toxic snow.

"There won’t be anything left," I said. "I have to bring them hope."

She had watched me set the last parameters, enter the final commands.

"I love you," she hugged me. The face masks of our radiation suits clicked. I felt her arms through the thick, stiff material. No warmth came through. "Good luck," she said.

"I love you too."

She stepped back. "Look me up when you get there," she joked. "I mean, maybe by then people will be living for over a hundred years."

I sealed myself in the pod. The countdown began. All the world’s knowledge and I, taking a one-way trip to the future.

And now I was here.

"What if no one listens to you?" My sister had said. Her words echoed in my mind as I turned the wheel to unseal the pod. "What if they think you’re a witch and smash everything you’ve brought them."

"Their problem, not mine," I had snapped back, tired of her arguments. At the time I didn’t care. Now I did. Now it mattered. I had to make this work.

Sunlight streamed into the pod. I hadn’t seen sunlight in months. At least the sun was still working a hundred years in the future. Green, I saw green. Plants. Life. We hadn’t managed to kill the whole planet. I laughed, tears streaming down my face, and doubled over with the agony of relief, one hand of my radiation suit clutched tight on the hatch opening.

Radiation levels normal. No toxins or known bio-weapon agents. All the readings were good. I took off my helmet and breathed the warm, sweet smell of a field of corn.

A huge field of corn, unbroken all the way to the mountains ahead of me. Distant, silent machines moved through the corn, harvesting maybe, I couldn't tell. I turned around and found myself facing an impossibly tall city. The buildings, cylindrical and metallic, rose high into the blue sky.

They hadn’t needed me at all. I could have stayed. I might have done more good if I had stayed.

Guilt gnawing at my chest, I sealed the pod and began making my way toward the city.

read the next part

Thursday, May 7, 2015

#170 First Night Out

The last image of the dream burned in my mind. A tall man, a stranger, thin, in a pair of overalls, his dark, hollow face in shadow. He held up a limb rag of rabbit fur. My rabbit. Dead.

I swallowed, listening to the sound of my heart thump, and stared at the dark ceiling. My rabbit. This was her first night to sleep outside in her new hutch. Always before we’d brought her in at night, to keep her safe. She’d slept in her cage in the corner of my room. She was only a baby. Was she all right? Was the hutch safe? What if a cat got her, or a weasel? What if she was scared, or cold?

I rolled over and looked at the red glowing numbers of my digital clock. Only a little past midnight. Even if I checked on her now, she would still have hours to go before sunrise. Why did night time have to be so long?

In my bare feet I felt my way down the stairs, hand on the railing, nearly blind in the dark. Down on the ground floor a splash of moonlight spilled in through the sliding back doors. I put my nose up to the glass. There was the hutch out in the yard, but I couldn’t make out if my rabbit was in there.

I slid the door open after undoing the latch and stepped out onto the cold cement of the back porch. Now I could make out a small white shape behind the wire, huddled on the dark grass. Dew soaked through my thin pajama pants as I knelt in front of the hutch.

“Hey, bun?” I whispered. “You okay?’

My rabbit opened one liquid black eye and stared at me in the moonlight. In the dark, with her eye closed, the side of her head had looked blank, but now the dark spot appeared, staring back at me. Calm, a little curious, as if she wondered what I was doing out here in my pajamas. Of course I’m all right, she seemed to say. Why wouldn’t I be?

Rabbits, I guess, sleep outside all the time in the wild. Or maybe they sleep in their burrows, but that’s still sort of outside.

I wondered why my rabbit hadn’t gone inside her little rabbit house. Why was she sleeping out on the grass in her run? Maybe she liked the moonlight, and the stars. I liked them too.

I watched until my rabbit closed her eye again, the black spot vanishing again into her soft, white fur. Then I quietly stood up and looked around the yard. The bushes whispered in the wind, and the trees overhead sprinkled flecks of moonlight over the grass. Right now the yard seemed safe, quiet, but what about the rest of the night?
I slid the back door open again, then closed it behind me. Instead of going back upstairs, I turned on the light and went to the closet where we kept the sleeping bags. I dragged one outside, then went to get my pillow. It was my rabbit’s first night outside, but she wasn’t going to have to spend it all alone.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

#169 How to Build a Sandcastle

Slice into the damp sand with a shovel. Hear music of crystal grains on metal. Smell the salt and damp rot of the sea. Lift the crumbling burden and tip it on the smooth, wave-washed surface. Clumps tumble down the small mound.

Another thrust with the shovel, cleave the sand, make the hole deeper, longer, each shovel-full creates both moat and hill. The rhythm of digging matches the hiss of the waves. Stop to look out over the sea, its deep, mysterious blues that shift with the passing of the day. Drink in the colors that only it can spread in such profusion, cover the earth in indigoes and turquoise.

Finish the moat, a deep rectangle around the lumpy cone at the middle. The boundaries of your imaginary kingdom are set. No stranger will cross them. This is your world now. Toss the shovel aside to lie with the driftwood. Now is the time for hands. Feel the grains on your bare knees, the sun baking the back of your legs and neck. Pound the sand, push it, knead it, shape it. Create plateus and cliffs, spaces for building, places for paths, terraces for gardens.

Now for the water.

Dig again, this time deep enough to find the sea. Down, down into the sand, create a well of saltwater and fine sand. A quarry for the slurry of crumbling, quick-drying cement that will be your building material. Deeper, deeper, and then at the bottom a darkening of the sand, then a gleam of reflected sky. Water.

Reach in and take a handful. Feel it drip down your arm, the flowing grit. Place it on your mound, cup your hands to make it round, wait while the water drains away, leaving the firm base of a tower. Another handful, set it on top, the water liquefies the whole mass into jiggly clay. Shape it, hold it, wait for it to set. Build your towers, layer by layer. Add a building, square, rectangle, or round. Make bridges by supporting the sand slurry from below as it hardens into an arch. Find a stick to carve windows, doors, and stair-steps.

Now for the magic.

Take a handful of watery sand and let it dribble off your fingers. See each drop fall, then freeze, building up a sand stalagmite. Lace your tower tops with sand-drip caps, sharp and pointed. Drizzle railings for the stairs and walls for the gardens.

A wave splashes at your ankles, then sucks the sand from beneath your knees. The next one comes, the water a great paw carving a hollow in the side of your hill. The castle falls into the pit of the moat.

The sea reclaims your kingdom for its own.

Take your shovel and walk a little higher up the beach. Slice into the damp sand.

Monday, May 4, 2015

#168 Desert Lights

A red sunset burned across the endless flat expanse of the Mojave desert. I could feel the left-over heat from the sun through the material of my sleeping bag as I spread it on the sun-baked crust. Hot as the day had been, it was going to be a chilly night. I could already feel the temperature dropping.

I couldn’t wait for dark.

I went back to the car, passing my boyfriend with his sleeping bag and my cousin who had just pulled a deck chair out of the trunk. I reached in the back seat and took a smooth, wooden box from the floor. My birthday present. It was still too early to use it, really, but I took it back to my sleeping bag and sat down with it in my lap, then opened it up to admire it.

Ultraviolet lamp. A long glass tube with a black, metal hood. I turned it on and shone its faint purple glow on my sleeping bag. My white socks lit up like the full moon on a clear night, but everything else stayed dim.

There were certain rocks, certain minerals, that would light up too. All around me on the desert ground, pebbles, crystals, bits of petrified wood, they held secrets that darkness and the ultraviolet light would reveal.

My boyfriend pulled the ice chest from the back of the car and slammed the trunk down. He brought me a can of coke. “Ready to start looking?” he asked with a grin.

I grinned back, “I want to wait until it’s really dark.”

While my cousin sat in her deck chair and read a fashion magazine, I listened to my boyfriend talk about the drag races tomorrow, the real reason we were camping out here in the desert. He knew all the drivers, their cars, their wins and losses. It made me nervous to hear him talk about it. I didn’t want him to ever get behind the wheel of one of those cars, but I could hear it in his voice. It was his dream, he was going to do it someday. I didn’t think I could ever bear to watch him race, to know at any moment he could be crushed and burning. No, I wouldn't let it happen.

When the stars came out, I turned on my light.

We all gasped, even my cousin. The desert floor was as starry as the desert sky. Tiny bright lights gleamed everywhere, shining in the ultraviolet glow.

My boyfriend reached out to pick one up.

It moved.

He turned on his flashlight.

Scorpions! Tiny scorpions everywhere, each one glowing in my ultraviolet light.

My cousin screamed.

The three of us bolted for the car. My cousin tore the door open and we piled in, a tangle of arms and legs.

When we got ourselves sorted out and caught our breath, we all started to laugh. We laughed a really long time.

But none of us got out of the car.

We stayed in there all night.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

#167 Fireflies

“I brought you something,” I told my little brother.

Turn off the lights. I unzipped my suitcase. The glass of a baby food jar shone faintly among my used socks and shirts. I pulled it out, felt the cool glass in my hands. Two tiny insects sat still inside, barely glowing.

My brother sucked in a big gasp of air.

“Fireflies,” I said

“Fireflies!” my brother echoed.

Fireflies, caught in auntie’s back garden. Fireflies, that rose up between the poles of okra and beans like green-yellow sparks from a cold fire. Slow, they were, and easy to catch. Easy to put in a jar and smuggle in my suitcase from Louisiana back to Texas.

Texas, where there weren’t any fireflies.

But now there were.

I opened the jar lid. The bugs didn’t know they were free. I had to shake the jar and tumble them out onto the bed. Gently, I didn’t want to hurt them. My brother watched, not daring to breathe, as they crawled slow, jet-lagged I guess.

One eventually took off, and then the other. I waited for them to flash, to spark, but all they did was make their dull green glow. Like a glow-in-the dark plastic toy. In the dark of my bedroom they wove their way up to the ceiling, bumped it a couple times, then landed on the wall, the two of them close together.

I’d wanted to bring my brother that whole garden full of fireflies, night after night of amazing fireflies. These two weren’t anything compared to that.

Should I have let them alone? It tugged at me, a little sadness, a little guilt. I’d brought them all this way, so far from home. No wonder they wouldn’t flash for us. They missed their garden.

I couldn’t take them back.

Wow, my brother said, but that’s just because he hadn’t seen what I’d seen. To him, two sad little glowing bugs on the wall was amazing.

I left them there, on the wall. In the morning, they were gone.