Ashes to Ashes

The cliff juts out below like razor blades slicing up the angry water. I kick a rock over the edge.

I hate this place. You didn’t.

I pull the cardboard box from my jacket and choke back tears.

All we have left are memories.

I open the box and dump the contents on the place you proposed. When I do, a breeze blows in. The ashes fall lightly on me. I smile.

Perhaps even now you will never leave my side.

***

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

In response to this week’s microprose challenge over at Yeah Write.

Grandpa’s Garden

Before his stroke, Grandpa was my favorite. I would sit on his belly, round like Santa’s, and ask him if the battery above his heart hurt. I’d lightly press my fingers against the square shape protruding from his chest, and Grandpa would smile wide, toothlessly.

“Naw, Baby Girl. That’s my ticker,” he’d say. I imagined a tiny clock inside his chest, sort of like the Tin Man.

Grandpa was a self-proclaimed botanist, without using so many words. He planted tomatoes and other vegetables, mostly for canning to keep Grandma and him fed through the harsh winter months when the junkyard didn’t need his help sorting metals. I used to walk behind him. I watched Grandpa whisper to his green babies and touch the leaves carefully. He taught me about them, but I can’t remember his lessons.

After my grandpa’s stroke, between first and second grade, we moved in with my grandparents. They owned a duplex, and we lived on the second floor so my mom could care for him.

There were times I wanted to climb back on his belly, but Grandpa’s new oxygen tank made my belly do flips. I thought I could catch whatever was making him so sick. If I get too close, I’ll need one of those tubes in my nose too.

I don’t have a single picture of the stairs in my grandparents’ house, but I remember them perfectly in my mind: hand carved wood painted the same shade of red as fallen leaves just before they turn brown and crumble. I wasn’t allowed to play outside, so when I wanted to get away from everyone I would sit on the landing. I could hear my mom on the phone above and my grandparents’ television below. I sat there playing with dolls or staring at the cracks and chips in the yellow walls pretending they were a part of a roadmap to someplace magical where Grandpa wasn’t ill.

His ticker stopped that autumn. I was in school when it happened. He was there when I left and gone when I got home, crumbled and blown away with the leaves.

All I kept thinking was that I didn’t get a chance to hug him once more, or to really listen to his lessons.

This year, I planted an herb and vegetable garden. It’s nothing like Grandpa’s, small in comparison. I thought about him while I was out there with my hands in the dirt. I touched the plants with care like he used to. Small bits of food have managed to grow, regardless of my natural knack for killing anything green. Although, some of them are limp, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or right for that matter. If only I could remember what he taught me.

If only we had more time.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Over Breakfast

Eat her pancakes (no butter, how you like). Devour every fluffy bite doused in sticky maple syrup from Vermont. Savor the crunch of bacon, barely burnt around the edges. Drink two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Once your plate is barren, admit it’s over.

Smile, walking out the door.

Photo courtesy of Brigitte Tohm/Unsplash

***

This is in response to this month’s microprose challenge at Yeah Write. Interested? Go over at give it a go! Voting starts at 10pm tonight =)

Flight of the Monarch

I was asleep on a bench outside my mom’s hospice room when someone startled me awake by lightly tapping me on the shoulder. It was Easter morning five years ago. I opened my eyes and saw my dad’s best friend hovering over me. He said nothing, but the sadness in his eyes told me everything I needed to know.

My mom died.

My knees knocked together and stomach acid raced up the back of my parched throat. As I put my feet on the floor, the ground swayed, so I half-stumbled, half-ran down the hall to my mom’s room. I pushed my way past twenty somber faces, stopping between my sister and my aunt.

I stood over my mom’s body and waited impatiently for her next breath to come. Waited for her chest to rise and fall. Waited for movement of any kind, but nothing happened. Her body was still, too still. Minutes passed and I knew that there wouldn’t be another exhale from her cancer-stricken body.

The vice around my throat and the fist against my gut forbade me from breathing. And I couldn’t hear anything except for my heart thudding against my ribcage. Then there was the sudden ringing in my ears. Or was that my imagination? I couldn’t tell. My mind was scattered. Nothing was real and everything was wrong. 

The walls of the hospice room spun around me and the ringing in my ears intensified. It was too much too handle, so I screamed. I grabbed my sister and together we tumbled onto the icy tile. I gripped the back of her head, holding a handful of her silky hair. “It’s just not fair!” I shouted. I buried my head in the crook of her neck, rocking us back and forth. “Not fair,” I repeated in a whisper.

My entire world was crumbling around me like rubble after an earthquake. I would never again hear my mom’s voice, see her dance, or smell her perfume. She was gone. Gone forever and I couldn’t make any sense of why. Why her? Why would God take such a beautiful soul? Why would He cut her life short? My mind was grasping for the answers to questions that I’ll never understand. 

After four long years of chemotherapy and weeks of knowing the end was near, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I don’t know if anything could’ve prepared me enough for her death.

Later, when the tears finally stopped falling I mopped myself off of the floor and went outside to collect what was left of my sanity. I looked up to dry my cheeks under the April sun.
It was the kind of spring day that was warm enough for a light jacket and open windows. My mom loved days like those: where the breeze would gently blow her hair around, where we could work in her garden without breaking a sweat, or swing on her porch drinking lukewarm coffee and talking about whatever crossed our minds.

It was the kind of day my mom would have hand-picked as her last.

I looked at my sister, the only person in the entire world who understood exactly how I felt in that moment, standing beside me. Her face was tightly drawn and her vacant eyes stared at some point in the distance, but she said nothing. I wanted to be strong for her because that’s what big sisters are supposed to do and that’s what my mom would have wanted, but I couldn’t be strong. I was much more unraveled than she looked.

I took a deep breath in through my nose and closed my eyes. It smelled of fresh-cut grass and pond water. I exhaled and opened my eyes to see three Monarch butterflies fluttering in the distance. My mouth tugged at half a smile, because they reminded me of a lesson my mom had once taught me.

In second grade, my teacher brought in small caterpillars for the class to have as pets. We raised them, fed them, and cared for them. The caterpillars eventually wrapped themselves in a chrysalis, went through metamorphosis, and turned into colorful winged creatures.

On the last day of school, we released them back to nature and I was heartbroken that I would never again see them. After school, I ran off the bus, down the street, and into my mom’s arms. She held me tight. Then she wiped my tears and said, “oh, sweetie, setting them free was a good thing. Butterflies have to spread their wings and fly. They will never be truly happy while trapped in a cage.”

My mom wasn’t much different than those butterflies. Sickness caged her, preventing her from a career she loved. It kept her on a regimented twice-monthly chemotherapy schedule that she despised. The constant debilitating pain drained her energy and made it hard for her to remain hopeful for recovery.

It may sound crazy, but I believe those Monarchs were a message from her. Cancer and pain and chemotherapy couldn’t hold onto my mom anymore. Yes, I would grieve. I would scream and punch and curse because she wasn’t there on solid earth with me anymore. But somewhere she was smiling.

My mom was free.

Photo courtesy of Mathias Reed/Unsplash

Sea Glass Mosaic

you.

you are a seaglass mosaic.

don’t be fearful of your imperfections. they are what make you.

i know the resiliency of your skin is being tested. a seemingly never-ending current of depression is sweeping up, splashing the places you’ve reassembled many times.

let the wave reflect your courage rather than shadow your beauty. stand strong. let it wash over you. embrace the tide rather than bracing for it.

your finish will crack. maybe even break. but it’s okay. each crack represents new wisdom and love for life. each break will expose a new facet of your Self.

let sadness rinse away anything unnecessary, leaving only the important pieces.

after the tide, pick up what’s left, rebuild, and glisten in the sun once more.

photo courtesy of Seth Doyle/Stocksnap.io

Penny for Your Thoughts

A dirty mattress with rusted coils poking through sits propped up like a couch in one corner of the small shack, and a stack of old paperbacks sits in the other. A candle and some matches from a local bar are on top. There is no door, only a blue tarp to block out the wind. And some of the wooden planks of the walls are loose, letting in light between the cracks.

Patty used to squat here, but last week they found her behind Walmart with a needle sticking straight outta her arm. Dead so long she had rigamortis. I’m sorry she’s gone. Patty was a good person with a shit habit. Me too, I guess.

It has been a long road, but now I get methadone at the clinic once a day. I stand in line and get a dose just big enough to keep me from getting sick.

Today I was at my regular spot, asking for change, and each car that drove by just looked right through me. It was like I didn’t exist. I get it, though. We’ve all been approached by someone asking for change. People become numb. I used to be numb, too.

But people out here do exist. We have flesh and blood and souls. Some of us have just run out of luck, and some, like me, have made a couple mistakes along the way.

I sigh and watch a cloud of crystals form in front of my eyes. The chill in my chest is hard to erase in the winter, but I’ll get through.

Other than the mattress and my books, there isn’t room for much else, but at least I’ve got a roof during the colder months this year.

I hear a rustle at my tarp just as the sun begins to dip.

“Who’s there?”

“It’s Jan. Mind if I come in?”

“Not much room, but come in,” I say. “I can share the mattress, but leave your drugs outside.” It doesn’t pay to be stingy on the streets. Or anywhere, I guess.

Jan pulls back the tarp, letting in a breeze that bites. The extra weight on her bones makes it hard for her to breathe, and every time she exhales I get a whiff of cigarette smoke and teeth that need a good brushing.

“I found this book on the street today,” she says, tossing a tattered paperback into my lap. “You read, don’t cha?”

“I do. Thank you, Jan,” I say, carefully moving the candle and matches. I add it to the stack with my others, then light the candle for extra light.

“You’re welcome, dear,” she coughs, and nearly brings up a lung. “Thanks for lettin’ me sit with ya” she says. “Most folks don’t want me ‘round cause ‘a my size and all.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” I say, giving her room on the mattress.

“A kind lady bought me a sandwich today,” she holds up the sub wrapped in white paper with green and yellow letters. “Care to share? For your troubles.”

I feel my stomach grumble painfully in response to the mention of food.

“That would be nice,” I say, taking half her sandwich.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography

Shayla’s Choice

“I’ll drop you here,” Chris says, parking his blue pick-up next to a meter, three buildings down from the clinic. Downtown has few skyscrapers. Instead, most streets look like this one, with rows of older two-story brick buildings, iron fire escapes hitched sideways against the windows. As a child, Shayla imagined running down them as they lowered to the ground.

“Okay,” she whispers, “but I’m scared.”

He has cheated on her more than once, but she chose to stay. She tries to find something resembling love in his eyes, but he remains focused on the crumbled road. Crews had yet to patch the streets after the harshness of the winter, leaving it broken, like their relationship.

“Go. And call when you’re done,” he says. Shayla brushes a tear from her eye and climbs out of his truck, shutting the door behind her. Chris drives off without a second glance, and the rush of June air his truck leaves behind smells of river water and exhaust fumes. A wave of nausea sweeps over her body.

She grips her stomach and turns in the direction of the old warehouse. A dozen angry protesters separate her from her future. With no one at her side, she swallows hard, never feeling more alone. Her heart begins to palpitate.

“Why didn’t I tell my mom?” Shayla asks herself. She exhales and steadies herself before walking towards the door. Her pale fingers clutch her purse close like a shield against the name calling.

Baby murderer! Killer!

Somehow, she pushes past the protesters, and pulls the door open. Its heaviness reminds her of the consequences she would face for this mistake.

After checking in with reception, a small boxy room with messy stacks of paper piled up in every corner, the clerk points her towards the waiting area. Pine floors stretch the length of the old warehouse, and vintage flower-patterned couches and Venetian rugs placed at odd angles attempt to create definition. She finds a spot on an over-sized beige couch full of soft lines and maroon flowers, and settles deep into its broken cushion. There, she finds a familiar comfort of home.

“Shayla Hutchins?”

Shayla looks up, adjusts her cross-body bag nervously, and smiles at the girl standing in front of her. She glances at the nametag – volunteer. She stands and follows the girl back to a small room with nothing but an exam table and a strange looking machine.

“Change into this. The doctor and I will be back shortly,” the volunteer hands her a hospital gown.

After she closes the door, Shayla changes, and watches the clock.

Knock, knock.

“Come in,” Shayla says, startled.

The doctor and the volunteer file in quietly, and shut the door. The doctor explains the procedure, but Shayla can’t seem to comprehend what she is saying. Everything sounds muffled the way it does after a snowstorm, distant.

“Would you like me to stay and hold your hand?” the volunteer asks. Shayla looks down at her hand, outstretched; her caramel-colored skin looks soft and inviting.

She slowly nods yes, and the volunteer smiles warmly.

“I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”

“Thank you,” Shayla manages to say.

“You’re welcome. And you’re going to be okay,” she says. Her eyes are hot chocolate with a sprinkle of cinnamon, bringing warmth to Shayla’s numbness.

The doctor turns on the contraption and a loud hum fills the room. Shayla closes her eyes, grips the volunteer’s hand, and stifles a scream through gritted teeth.

***

The volunteer rubs Shayla’s shoulder like an old friend and ushers her back to the couch.

“Remember, you are worthy of more,” she says, catching Shayla by surprise. Her cheeks flush.

Shayla sits and dials Chris. He answers right after one ring.

“Meet me at The Twisted Hanger,” he tells her.

“Three blocks away?” Shayla hisses.

“I’m grabbing a beer. Meet me out front in ten.”

“You are unbelievable.” Shayla hangs up.

***

No longer afraid of their words, Shayla easily walks past the protesters. What’s done is done. Rays from the June sun warm her shoulders, and the words from the volunteer replay in her head. Worthy of more.

One foot goes in front of the other until she reaches the blue pick-up. But instead of stopping, she keeps walking, fishing around in her bag until her fingers find her phone.

Shayla dials and listens to the rings.

“Hello?”

“Mom? I really need you. Can you come get me?”

 

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io/Ashton Bingham