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Little Annie

The air was unpleasantly cold, but spring was surely coming.  A couple of warm days earlier in the weak had decimated the old, icy snow that had persistently lingered, and now there were only patches in the shadiest parts of the yard.  Here and there, in the sunniest spots, spring greens were poking their heads out.

Little Annie came sauntering out of the back door of her little blue cottage.  Her boots, protecting her small, wrinkly feet from the several inches of mud that had taken the place of snow in many parts of the yard, went up to her knees.  Her arms, which looked frail but were tough with lean muscle, were laden with two buckets, one full of kitchen scraps, the other empty, a large basket, and several hand tools.  She stood barely more than four feet high.  Her silver, flyaway hair refused to be contained by the bun into which she had earlier pinned it back, and now, as she strode across the still-dead grass, splashing through puddles and mud with little regard to the mess it made of her hem, it flew freely in the breeze.  

She stopped first at the chicken pen, opening the makeshift gate and climbing through.  The flock came hurrying out of the coop to meet her, clucking and scratching at the ground impatiently.  She smiled an ancient smile and dumped the bucket of scraps onto the ground.  The birds dove forward to feast, and she slipped around them to the coop to gather the eggs.  With at least a dozen brown, white, and green treasures in her basket, she left them to their meal, carefully closing the gate behind her.

Her next stop was the garden.  Another makeshift gate, that was really just an unattached section of fence with a large branch fastened to the end of it vertically, then latched with a loop of thick twine over the post, stood in her way.  She picked up a small stick leaning against the post and reached up to push the twine over the top so she could pull it back and climb through.  Once inside, she set down her empty buckets, the basket with the eggs in it, and got to work with her tools.  She uprooted what looked like weeds, handling them gingerly.  When she had a decent pile gathered in her apron, she took them to the basket and set them in with the eggs.  After a several more minutes, she had filled her basket to overflowing with greens and roots.  She wiped her dirty hands on her apron, peered up gratefully towards the warm, bright sun, then picked up the basket and worked it through the fence, careful not to lose any of it’s contents.  She returned for the buckets and, dumping her tools into the one that had held the kitchen scraps, she worked her way out of the garden, using the stick to return the loop of twine to its place, holding the gate shut.

She set the bucket of tools down next to the basket, and set off towards the back of her property with the other empty bucket.  She climbed over an old stone wall, broken and worn by the years.  She remembered building that wall with her father, a lifetime before.  Over the wall to the most sunny part of the whole property, she continued until she reached a small grove of maple trees.  Hanging from a spile on the largest of them was a bucket, full of sap.  She carefully removed it from its hook and gently set it on the ground while she replaced it with her empty one.  She smiled benevolently at the other trees, all of which were still too small to be tapped for sap.  The year before, she had lost three of her four trees that produced the sweet liquid to a wind storm.  The lone survivor was surrounded by younglings that would need several more years to mature before they were ready to give anything.  

Little Annie made her way back to the house slowly, unwilling to lose a single drop from her bucket.  She set it down next to three more like it near the back door, ready to be boiled into syrup, then returned for her bucket of tools and basket of treasures.  When she had made her way back to the cottage again, she left the bucket by the door and took the basket inside with her.

She opened the back door of the little blue house and entered into a large room, each wall mostly made up of windows.  There was a small path leading through the piles and piles of junk into the living room, which was also full of stuff, stuff, and more stuff.  She went through the living room and placed the basket on the kitchen table, which was covered in books and dried herbs and trinkets from another century.  In the kitchen, the one clean room in the whole house, she put a pot of water on to boil before returning to the back room.

Though it was full of boxes of old clothes, piles of empty egg cartons and milk jugs, stacks of old newspapers and magazines, and many other inanimate occupants, there were two corners that contained life.  One, nearest to the rest of the house, was home to a tall easel holding a large canvas, halfway painted with the brilliant colors of autumn.  Winter had come on hard, and Little Annie’s hands had become too stiff to finish it.  Now that spring was warming things up again, she would likely set that one aside to finish when the fall colors came back, and would start up something new.  

In the other corner, near the back door, nestled among photo albums and encyclopedias, was an incubator made mostly out of styrofoam.  This is where the small, old woman was headed.  That morning she had noticed a few of the eggs inside had started to twitch and move as the chicks within prepared to escape their shells.  She lifted the lid and was greeted by three cheeping yellow balls.  They were rather scraggly; their feathers hadn’t quite fluffed up yet.  Two of the chicks bounced about, stretching out their legs and enjoying their freedom.  The third, however, lay on its side, unable to stand.

Little Annie scooped up the little bird and inspected it.  She found that one of its legs hadn’t formed right, it was lame and would not be able to walk.  She tried dipping its little beak into the water dish she had placed in the incubator before heading out to do her morning chores, but the little bird blinked its eyes weakly and refused.  With a sorrowful sigh, she set it down on the warm wood shavings that covered the bottom of the incubator, sure that it wouldn’t live out the day.  

Back in the kitchen, she used her spring greens and roots to make a wonderful soup.  With it, she had a slice of homemade bread.  Once she had eaten her fill, she put her coat and boots back on and went outside to boil the sap she had gathered over the last few days to make syrup.  She was anxious for the sweet, amber treat.  Once she had the pot going, she returned inside where she took up the tiny, lame chick and wrapped it in an old hand towel.  She carefully carried it into the living room, where she sat in a rocking chair, surrounded by piles of hand-knitted blankets, and gently rocked with it, back and forth.

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Warning: Parenthood

WARNING: PARENTHOOD

This material is meant to inform and protect those who may otherwise be unknowingly coaxed into the position of PARENT.  While much is known about this position, much remains a mystery until one is eternally locked into the commitment.  For the sake of justice and honesty, it is imperative that these mysteries be revealed beforehand so that subjects may make informed decisions on whether or not to engage in such a responsibility.  To aid in this clarity and honesty, three points will be addressed.

#1  Your sanity will be compromised.  While this may seem like no secret, the extent to which this occurs is extreme.  Parents-to-be prepare themselves for sleepless nights, rank odors, mountains of laundry, and baby gear that is specifically designed to break down the already broken mind.  What is often left to the new parent to discover is that they will find themselves coming back for more, every single day.  They will willingly wake up more times than there are hours in the night to soothe a crying child, and enjoy it.  They will continue to spend hard-earned money on gear and gadgets that protect and entertain their child, while simultaneously unhinging themselves.  They will read the same bedtime story so many times, they can effortlessly recite it backwards, every other word, upside down.  They will change diaper after diaper, clean up vomit and diarrhea and boogers day in and day out, and then kiss the face of the poop-factory that produces such unholy substances.  

#2  Your emotions will run higher, deeper, and wilder than you thought possible.  Closely related to the point made about sanity, you will find your emotions to be something different than they once were.  If you think you know despair now, parenthood will teach you desperation unbounded.  Think you feel anger?  When you find yourself unable to solve problems upsetting your infant and/or growing child, or worse–learn about someone or something that causes them undue harm, you will understand rage.  Sadness becomes grief and devastation that others might not survive.  Know what happiness feels like?  Parenthood will bring the sense of elation and joy that will have you flying higher than a kite, will make you laugh out loud just because you are happy, will make your spirit soar and your soul explode with sunshine and kisses.  Yes, any emotion you know consider yourself familiar with will increase in intensity exponentially with each child that you take on as a parent.  What’s more, new parents will inexplicably come by a supernatural ability to control these emotions–though be warned, when they get out of control, it would be advisable to retreat to a safe-room to expend whichever emotion breaks loose to avoid embarrassing or scarring innocents.

#3  You will have important points to make, but will find yourself too tired to remember them.

There you have it.  It is our hope that some of those things left unclear to the pre-parenthood crowd have been illuminated.  Do not be lured unknowingly.  Parenthood is not for the faint of heart, though it may turn the faint of heart into valiants and heros.  In conclusion, if you do not wish to be stretched to the very edge of your endurance, if you do not desire understanding and wisdom unavailable to the general population, if the idea of personal growth and development at the cost of convenience and comfort does not appeal to you, if the thought of creating your own small humans to keep you company and provide endless entertainment and emotional fullness is repulsive to you, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT embark on the journey of parenthood.  This concludes this warning.

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Not Yet

Inspired by Threnody (by Goldmund)

 

Dust floated in the air, meandering this way and that as a draft from a window or the crack in a doorframe influenced it to do so.  The feeble sunlight coming through the dirty window of the old shed lit up the specks that passed through its path, transforming them to flecks of gold for a moment or two before they turned back into plain old dust.  

Penny pulled back the tattered sheet covering the piano in the corner, adding a whole new cloud of dust to the air.  The beautiful mahogany baby grand, tucked in the corner of the shabby little shed, stood majestic despite its humble surroundings.  In the company of a broken table lamp with a yellowed shade, a faded chintz armchair, and dozens of cardboard boxes, the grand instrument stood nobly.  

For a moment, Penny couldn’t do much but stare.  The musty scent of the old furniture and the sheet in her arms was strong, but what she smelled was something entirely different…perfume.  Though there was in fact no such thing present, she inhaled deeply the sweet floral scent of her grandmother’s perfume, always delicately detectable if one stood close enough to the gentle lady.  

“Like a flower, darling,” Penny could hear her smooth voice instructing.  “Flowers don’t try to make you dizzy, do they?  Just enough to catch the attention.”  For a moment, the dust still swirling around her was instead the misty puff of perfume.  

Carefully, Penny pulled the bench out from under the piano.  It creaked as she sat down, just like it always had.  The fallboard was down, enclosing and protecting the keyboard.  She rested her hands lightly on the dark wood, imagining the keys inside.  She could remember exactly which ones were chipped or scratched, though most of them were in good shape, only slightly discolored by age.  She sighed.  The fingers she saw before her were much more haggard than the ones she had last placed on these keys.  In the presence of this piano, she felt like the granddaughter she had always been, though now she was also a mother.  She let her hands slide off the keys and onto her lap, remembering the last time she had sat at this bench.

The memory was clear.  All the other seats in the house were taken.  People spoke in hushed tones, holding small paper plates loaded with cookies and carrots and other finger foods.  Many of them wore black, though Penny had chosen instead the yellow dress her grandmother had given her–a memento of her swing dancing days.  Grandma hated black, so it seemed silly to wear it in memory of her.  

“Penelope, sweetheart, why don’t you play us something?  Grandma said you were coming along so well, I think it would do us all good to hear something she taught you,” her mother had suggested.  Penny didn’t want to.  She wasn’t feeling like music.  But hadn’t Grandma always said when you don’t feel like playing is precisely the time you need to most?  With a sigh, she swung her legs around to face the keys.  She stared down at them for a moment, feeling like perhaps they, too, were longing for their old companion.  Before she could raise her hands up to play, another hand reached from behind her and pulled the fallboard down over the keys.  She turned to see her grandfather.  He let his hand rest on the fallboard, and for a moment Penny was reminded of the moment just hours before when he had closed the casket at the funeral.

“Not yet, Penny, dear,” he said quietly.  There were no tears in his eyes, but she was overwhelmed by the grief that she saw there.  Not yet, it turned out, meant not for a very long time.  The piano disappeared from the house the next day, and no one dared ask why or where.

Penny brushed her bangs back behind her ear and slowly lifted the fallboard.  Gleaming like pearls, the keys were exactly as she remembered.  She had discovered the hiding place of the piano many years before, though she had never dared reveal the secret.  Waiting for the right time, perhaps when Grandpa stopped missing Grandma so much, she had graduated college, been married, and had three children.  Her growing belly now pressed against the edge of the keyboard, evidence of a fourth to come.  The sorrow in Grandpa’s eyes never seemed to diminish.  Sometimes it shared space with happiness, even laughter, but it was always there.

“You’re together again, Papa,” she whispered.  “Can I play now?”

As if in response, the light in the cramped shed grew as the few clouds that had dimmed the sunlight passed.  Now all of the specks of dust seemed to glitter like gold.  The mahogany surface gleamed, and the strings inside seemed to hum with anticipation.  Penny smiled, and with a deep breath, placed her hands on the keys.

 

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Small

She wasn’t sure what it was, but something compelled Virginia to stop walking and look up.  She was on her way to the much-coveted internship she had landed in the big city.  The sidewalk she was on was busy and the crowd had no patience.  As she stared upward, several people bumped into her, a few even cursed and told her to move along.  

It had been several weeks now, and she was getting the hang of it.  She still stood out; her country girl look was hard to shake.  Many hours had been spent in the bathroom practicing more modern looks than the simple braid she was used to wearing every day.  Her first paycheck, meager as it was, had been spent almost entirely on a new wardrobe.  It had been a slim couple of weeks, living off rice and noodles and leftover ketchup packets.  But if she could just fit in, if she could just prove to the world that she was something special, that she was talented and bright and useful, well, then it would be worth it.  Plaid shirts and cowboy boots tucked away in the suitcase under her bed, something new was beginning and she was ready.  

Yesterday she was on top of the world.  Her boss had complimented her work, and another superior promised to put in a good word for her so that she could get hired on after the internship ended.  She strutted down the street towards her tiny, grimy studio apartment, feeling important and accomplished.  She was going places.

Liam hadn’t understood, and they had parted on uncertain terms.  He couldn’t fathom what she could see in the city, what it could possibly offer her that was better than what she had on the farm.  The city didn’t require her to be up at inhuman hours milking the cow, for one, nor did it demand that she shovel manure or brave feeding an ornery, devilish goat.  She didn’t miss the mud, or the hateful rooster, and certainly not the blisters, slivers, or dust.  

“But the air…the stars…the mountains,” Liam had argued, as though three simple words would change her mind.  He didn’t get it.  She was bigger than that one small corner of earth.  She was meant for something more exciting.

Feeling bigger and more exciting than she ever had, Virginia made it back to her apartment that evening and fell into the old armchair that had been left there by the previous tenant.  She had covered it in a spare sheet and decided not to think about what kinds of diseases or creatures it might be home to.  Everytime she sat in it, a musty, dirty smell resurfaced.  Didn’t matter.  Someday soon, she was going to be a big shot.  She’d buy a real nice armchair then.  

She sat revelling in her accomplishments, dreaming of how she would keep moving forward and the places she would go.  She kept looking around the apartment, like she was looking for something, but she couldn’t figure out what she was searching for.  The feeling kept on for a while before she realized she was looking for someone to talk to about her successes.  She picked up the phone to call Liam.  It had been several days since she’d called–things were busy at the office, and by the time she made it home she barely had enough energy to eat something before collapsing on the twin mattress on the floor in the corner.  

“Hey, this is Liam, I’m probably milking the cow or feeding the chickens or fixing that dang tractor again.  Leave me a message, I’ll call you back when I get in.”

Virginia smiled.  He really ought to get rid of that old tractor.  The time he spent repairing it far exceeded the time he was actually able to use it on his little farm.  She remembered working with Liam and his grandfather on that piece of junk one summer, learning all about the different parts and their functions.  She remembered the kind old man’s funeral the following summer, and his tiny, sweet wife’s funeral a few months after that.  She remembered Liam working on the tractor, by himself, on the farm that now belonged to him, as pouring rain leaked through the roof of the rickety barn.  She had walked the short distance between his little farm and her parents’ every day for weeks, helping him settle in and trying to keep him from being lonely.  His patch of heaven, only about fifteen acres, was all he had left.  

Wishing she could talk to him, missing his voice and his simple wisdom, she fell asleep with that feeling like she was looking for something she couldn’t remember still nagging at her.  

The next morning, as she was walking down the bustling sidewalk, she stopped to look up.  She stared at the towering buildings, reaching so high in the sky that the glare from the sun made their tops disappear.  She stared and stared, ignoring the people bumping into her.  What was she missing?

“Look at those stars,” Liam’s voice said, floating in from memory.  “Don’t they just make you feel so small, Love?”

Those buildings were so tall.  Up and up and up they went, and she was just a little speck at the bottom of them.  

“Looking up at those stars makes the important things seem so much bigger, and the unimportant things feel seem so much smaller.”

I’m always going to be small, Virginia suddenly thought.  She understood now.  She was missing Liam.  The farm was small, but he was there.  He’d told her he’d marry her the moment she was ready for it, and she’d told him she had to see the world, she had to fulfill her dreams.  He’d seemed so broken hearted, and she had felt so indignant.  How could be begrudge her her dreams?  Why didn’t he think her aspirations were worthy of realizing?  

Like ice on the window of her old farmhouse bedroom slowly melting away with the rising winter sun, her vision started to clear.  To Liam, she was the world.  She was his dreams.  It didn’t matter where she went, to the world she would always be small.  But to him, she would always be the stars.  

So what?  She should just resign herself to living on a little farm, doing wretched farm chores for all of eternity?  She felt angry for a moment.  Then she thought of the night before, and the void she had felt.  Nothing was exciting if she had no one to share it with, and there was no one else but Liam with whom she wanted to share.  Nothing was worth living without him.  

 

“Hey, this is Liam–and Virginia!  We’re probably feeding the cow, or busy editing another manuscript, or feeding the chickens, or on a conference call on the other line.  Leave us a message, we’ll call you back!”