The dust settled and there was only two feet of clarity. The rest of the world was a wall of thick, solid white. Keeping my arms out and shuffling my feet enabled me to progress through what I knew was the foyer between the dining room and the sitting room. We had heard the ringing, the deafening shrill trill of the alarms. There had been no time though, not even enough to consider running to the backyard and into the shelter.
Separate, everything was separate. The walls were worlds apart now. Is there anything above me anymore? I looked up but could see nothing. How much longer to the sitting room? I was starting to become frantic in the emptiness. The silence was so heavy I thought maybe I had lost my hearing. My heart sped up. Never before had I dreamt the world could be this quiet, this still.
Tilly had been in the sitting room. Where was she now? This was the longest trek through the house I had ever taken and in all reality our house was not that big.
At long last, my hand brushed against a smooth surface. I was at the foot of the stairwell. I could feel the door frame beneath my hand, I squeezed it; I could feel the bottom step against my ankle, I kicked it. I let out a sigh of relief. These were the first concrete objects I had encountered since I had left the dining room. It had really only taken me a couple of minutes to get here but it felt like an eternity had already passed. The reality of the situation sank in as I connected with these objects. I began to shake. A moment passed and all I did was stand there, trying to take in the solidity that had suddenly rushed back to me.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Calm the panic in my head and back to my shuffle.
This is where it could turn dangerous. While in the dining room, I had stumbled in to several chairs, adding stubbed toes to my list of injuries which included bleeding scrapes and what I had deduced to be a sprained wrist. I imagined the sitting room to be in much worse repair due to the amount of furniture. I kept my pace steady and felt carefully in front of me; all the while repeating to myself what was now not only a reminder but a mantra. Deep breath in, Deep breath out.
The air was cleared as I entered the room and I could see why almost immediately . The back wall had been torn in half along with a portion of the roof that had been held up by a large beam, a beam that was now taking up a good portion of the living room’s floor, covered in dust and chunks of wall. Chunks of home. Against the muted brown of the beam was a small pair of black oxfords, just visible around the up-turned couch.
I began to tremble with fear and shake with shock. This couldn’t be.
This was wrong. It felt like my brain was rejecting what my eyes were seeing. This was so wrong. There was suddenly nothing else I could think of besides those shoes. They were incredibly small. In these shoes were legs clothed in blue stockings and dusted with bits of rubble. I closed my eyes and counted to ten, then crept closer. I picked my way past the television that now had a lamp sticking out of its top and past the coffee table that was now missing a leg. I got down on my hands and knees. I was close enough now to see the bottom of the tiny figure’s dress. Frayed edges stuck out at weird angles and the previously pristine condition of the skirt was now destroyed almost beyond recognition.
An overwhelming sense of dread enveloped me and I no longer wanted to move any closer. I called out Tilly’s name and there was not even a hint of movement. Now there were tears obstructing my vision instead of the white solidness of moments ago. It was no longer a feeling, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I did not want to move even one inch closer. But I had to; it was my fault Tilly had even been in here, alone. It had been my idea to play hide-and-seek.
I took another calming breath and crawled on, moving almost in slow motion. I closed the remaining space between us; crawled towards the figure that had never before seemed capable of being so still. Leaning against the couch for support, I peered around the arm; surprised for just a moment at how cool and soft the fabric was despite its tattered condition. Just for a fraction of a second. And then, everything else was gone. The couch was gone, the white dust was gone, the torn house was gone, everyone and everything in the world- just gone.
I let out a noise that didn’t seem human. I shrieked and gasped and cried all at once.
The little frayed dress had much more wrong with it than a few ragged strings. It had been ripped at the seams so that now the skirt was all that remained. Quite literally. What should have followed was a torso and a pair of arms, a smiling face waiting to yell “Gotcha!” and a crown of curls that made anyone who encountered her think of the sun. Instead, what followed was the beam. The beam that should have been holding the house together had torn Tilly apart. Had torn me apart. I couldn’t move, couldn’t even avert my eyes, oh how I wanted to avert my eyes! There wasn’t a sight I could imagine that was worse than what was currently filling my vision. In my wildest nightmares I would have never imagined something could be so gruesome and heartbreaking at the same time.
Tilly was so small.
She was always the first to volunteer a crazy idea; always the first to jump up and try anything. Tilly could wear a frilly jumper and still be one of the boys. She was a force to be reckoned with at just five years old. Fragile had never been a word associated with her. Until now. I could not believe just how delicate the tiny legs looked, could not bring myself to look on the other side of the beam for fear of seeing the remnants of Tilly’s last smile. Something had to be done though; this was not right at all. Anger welled up inside me. This wasn’t fair. This wasn’t right. This couldn’t be. I stood up and grasped the end of the beam. The pain in my wrist seared. I let out a scream, defying gravity to challenge me.
This had to be done right now.
It was heavy and I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. Struggling, I put all my weight in to it and the piece of wood hovered an inch or so over the lifeless form beneath it. Slowly, I moved to the right and momentarily covered Tilly’s body in shadow. Once clear, my strength wavered and I gave a last full effort, heaving it into the wall where it fell with a resounding thud. Silence reclaimed the broken room, interrupted only by my heavy breathing.
I didn’t look at the space that had just been covered by wood. Instead, I looked at Tilly’s eyes. They were still open, staring up at nothing in particular. The blue was bright and clear. The blue had been Tilly, had been happy. But I was not happy, happy was something foreign. The heart shaped lips on her angelic face hung open and I could hear the haunting echoes of laughter; bubbly, infectious laughter that would never be heard again. Trembling, I knelt down again and put my palms beneath Tilly’s head which was now as heavy as the situation, as heavy as death.
“Somewhere, over the rainbow,” I began to mumble. “Way up high,” my voice cracked on every other word. “There’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby.”
I began to softly stroke her hair.
I had never seen death. I closed my eyes and hung my head.
Tilly was running in the field behind the house, laughing as the wind blew the tall grass against her legs. She climbed up the big tree next to the barn and stuck her feet in between the branches. “Watch!” she had called with excitement. Letting go, she swung backwards and hung there by her ankles, rocking first backwards and then forwards until her face turned red and she let herself drop, landing with amazing grace.
I opened my eyes and gasped out loud, my heart beating as fast as if I had just been running through that very field. I bent my head close and kissed Tilly’s face, and ran a hand over her eyes allowing them to shut.
“I love you,” I whispered, knowing that there would be no response.
I held her close and began rocking, just like Tilly. Upside down was how the world was now and unlike Tilly, I could not drop to the ground and have everything straighten out. There was no place to drop to; nothing would ever be the same.
A tear slid down my cheek and in to Tilly’s hair. That was when I heard the screams of the sirens.
A Little Bit of Bad Luck
It was still dark in the room as Smith rolled over in bed. Thunder had woken him up twice over night and by the time the rain had finally lulled him back to sleep the second time he was very tired.
Must be nearly time now, he thought to himself. He reached over and turned his clock around to face him and gave a start. It was 7:42 and he was supposed to leave at 8 o’clock. His review at work was today and it was going to be downright misery to walk in late. For reasons Smith had still not been able to figure out, his boss exhibited a bit of dislike towards him. This was not good. Quickly, he threw back the covers, flipped on the lamp and fumbled toward the wardrobe.
The previous night he had hung his freshly pressed trousers along with his sharp gray shirt and smart jacket inside the wardrobe’s door. Forward thought; he smiled to himself. He reached for the door and pulled. It didn’t open.
He rattled the handle and pulled again, still nothing. Well this was irritating. For the next two minutes Smith jiggled and wiggled the handle to no avail and even tried rocking the wardrobe, which of course produced no result. Pushing in on the door once more, he wiggled the handle again, took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and yanked with all his might. There was a tiny click and a sudden woosh and the door flew open, smacking Smith square in the nose. Suddenly the tangy, coppery taste of blood filled his mouth.
“Crap,” he shouted.
He had read once that tilting your head back during a nose bleed causes the blood to run down your throat and settle in your stomach. A good way to get really sick is what that sounded like. And while going to the ER seemed like a much better way to spend the day than showing up as late as he was going to be to work, he couldn’t afford to make that kind of detour. Instead, he pinched his nose and kept his chin pointed towards his chest. Running his hands along the wall, he guided himself through the still dim apartment to the bathroom. Once the light was on he saw that his nose was already starting to swell.
That’s it: he was going to have to call the office and let them know how late he was going to be.
Peering in to the towel cabinet, Smith grabbed the darkest washcloth he could find and shoved it under his nose. The icing on the cake would be getting blood all over the newly carpeted floors.
This review was his chance for not only a raise but also for a promotion. He had started in the mailroom at Pimbrook Associates & Company a year ago. Five months into the job Richard Pimbrook had fired his personal assistant for fetching the wrong kind of coffee one too many times. The next day, Smith was told to report to Human Resources where they gave him a set of keys and an elevator card. The card was for access to the 40th floor and the keys were to Richard Pimbrook’s office. Today’s review was going to, he hoped, make him Pimbrook’s permanent assistant instead of his temporary assistant.
Smith picked up his phone from the bedside table and dialed the main number to the building. He pressed zero to get to the concierge, Betsy, whom he would have deliver his notice of tardiness. That was his plan anyway but by the fifth ring Betsy still hadn’t picked up.
It wasn’t as though he could call upstairs directly; there wasn’t anyone there to answer.
I’ll just have to hurry.
He put his phone down and went back to the bathroom. Taking the washcloth away from his face, Smith saw that the bleeding had quelled. The swelling however had increased. He felt up and down the bridge on both sides. It didn’t feel as though anything was broken; that was lucky. Wetting the washcloth Smith wiped the blood off his chin as it had already begun to dry. One last glance in the mirror assured him that his face was blood free.
Back in front of the wardrobe Smith gingerly batted the door open and jumped back. It wasn’t going to best him twice in one morning. Cautiously, he put on his shirt and then his pants and tie and jacket. The clock on his nightstand now read 8:08. He scratched his chin in thought, if he hurried, he would be able to catch the 8:15 bus to work. The roughness of his unshaven face brought him out of thought, no time even to shave.
Keys, briefcase, phone. No time to eat breakfast or to make coffee. The bus stop was at the corner of the street, forty yards from the front door of his building. Just as he was walking out the door the bus drove past him. It was early!
Taking off at a run, Smith chased after the bus. There was no one else at the stop; if the driver didn’t see him he would keep driving.
“Wait,” Smith shouted as the bus neared the corner. “WAAAAAIT!”
The bus kept driving.
Determined not to let it get away, Smith kept running and shouting and waving. Just as the bus turned the corner and disappeared from sight, Smith heard the brakes squeal and knew that it had stopped. He picked up speed and turned the corner as the doors swished open.
“Thank you,” he said; panting as he climbed the stairs and punched his bus pass.
“I didn’t see you,” the driver said innocently with an amused grin on his face.
There were only two other people on the bus. One was a teenage boy immersed in a handheld gamming device. The other was a woman with shoulder length brown hair and eyes the deepest blue Smith had ever seen. She had a thick paperback in her hands. Smith felt sure that it had been she who had pulled the brake cord.
“Are you going to stand there and stare at her all morning or sit down?” the driver called out.
Smith felt his face flush and hurried to a seat two rows behind the woman.
“Thanks for making him stop,” he said leaning forward.
She turned around in her seat to face him.
“Not a problem.”
Her eyes were fixed on his nose.
“It hasn’t been a good morning,” he said without offering further explanation. There was no way he was going to tell this beautiful woman that he’d gotten in a fight with a wardrobe- and lost.
“I’m Smith,” he said extending his hand over the row.
“Jane,” she said and shook his hand. “Late for work?”
“How could you tell?”
“Oh, I don’t know, flailing arms are usually an indication.”
He grinned sheepishly and was about to ask her what she was reading when he felt a sneeze coming on. This is going to hurt.
Immediately his whole face was engulfed in pain. His cheeks throbbed and his head pounded. Much to his dismay, Smith let out a small whimper of pain. Jane looked at him in alarm.
“Here,” she offered. “Take one of these.”
“Thanks,” Smith said, accepting the tissue.
“Oh, no! I’m afraid it’s gotten on your shirt.”
“What has?” He looked down.
Blood had begun to drip from his nose again, right down on to his freshly laundered shirt. He began to lightly dab the dime sized red circle. At least it had missed his favorite tie.
“This has not been a good morning,” Smith repeated with a sigh.
He looked up and suddenly realized where they were. He had almost missed his stop. Quickly he reached up and pulled the brake cord and the request dinged throughout the bus. When he stood to leave, Jane handed him the packet of tissues.
“Just in case,” she said with a warm smile.
After he got off the bus, Smith set his briefcase down in order to wipe his nose once more before going into the building. Turning the pack over in his hand he realized that Jane had not just given him the tissues, she had given him her number as well with the note Hope your day gets better. A huge smile spread across his face which instantly made his cheeks flare with pain again. He looked at his watch; he was now officially 20 minutes late. Smith picked up his briefcase, carefully tucking the tissues into his jacket pocket and went inside.
“Holy buh-jeez Smith! What happened to you?!” Betsy asked as he approached the front desk.
“Never mind that,” he rushed her. “He hasn’t called down for a new assistant has he? I’m so mad at myself for being late for my review.”
“Nope,” she chuckled. “It’s okay, calm down and take a breath. I haven’t heard anything.”
Smith pressed the elevator button and to his immense shock one of the four bays opened right up.
“Good luck,” Betsy called after him as the doors slid shut. He swiped his key card and pressed the 40 button.
Reaching in to his pocket he looked again at the little package of tissues. It was just then that he noticed the fly to his trousers was down.
He zipped them up quickly as the doors binged open. The elevator opened to the floors main hallway, at the end of which was Smith’s desk. Since no one was in sight, he rushed to his desk. As he approached he noticed that there was a note on his keyboard. He felt his heart sink. It was his dismissal, he just knew it. Plopping down in his chair, Smith reached for the slip of paper.
I came in early and filled out your review papers. All you have to do is sign them and fax them down to HR by the end of the day so your raise can kick in. Hold all my calls and reschedule my 2 o’clock. I’ve decided to go golfing with Bram. If my wife calls- I’m in meetings all day.
“Oh my God!” Smith said out loud as Fred, who sat two desks down from Smith, walked up. “I got it Fred! I’m permanent now!”
“Congrats, Smith! That’s awesome! Say man, do you know your nose is dripping blood?”
That’s okay, he thought and smiled. Once more he pulled out the packet of tissues, dabbed his nose and resolved to give Jane a call for a celebratory drink. His luck was changing. He just knew it.
Pain and Love
Every nerve that twined through her body stung with pain. It burned like fire and froze like ice. She shivered uncontrollably despite the fact that she was laying on asphalt that seared every inch of her skin that it touched. Every shiver caused her to cringe because it prompted fireworks of pain.
The sharpness of it was dulling the rest of her senses; all she could do was feel and all she could do was wish she couldn’t. She cried and screamed but didn’t make a sound. Inside her head, her cries turned into whimpers and her screams turned into occasional shrieks. On the outside she was silent; her face contorted into an expressionless mask, answering the million “Are you okay”s with infrequent nods.
“It will be okay. You’ll be alright,” a man’s voice.
What the hell did he know? Was he the one writhing on the ground in pain? Or being burned by the sidewalk, incapable of moving?
She knew this crowd of strangers felt nothing but pity for her. Look at this poor girl…bless her little heart.
They had never felt this, would never feel this. The
It only lasted for a fraction in time but would never really go away. It was unbelievable and cruel and felt like a punishment; for what, she didn’t know. She had asked herself “why me” more times than she could count without ever coming up with an answer.
She had been blocking everyone out when she suddenly felt the pull that would make everything right again. The screaming in her head ceased instantly.
There was no sound that could be heard when this happened. She imagined the soft shwoop it would make on the inside. Immediately the agonizing grip dulled to throbbing and her gratitude towards whoever had straightened her leg soared to a level so high it could have been love.
It amazed her, every time, how quickly the pull ended the pain.
Without knowing if it was the same person or a different set of hands, she was lifted and taken in from the heat. Cool leather pressed against her, erasing the burns of the concrete.
Looking up, she found her mother’s soft blue eyes and knew everything would be alright. Grace hadn’t remembered her being there when she fell. That’s what made her mother so amazing: her timing. She was always there the second she was needed. Comforted by her mother’s presence, she drifted off to sleep. Nothing else could happen; she was safe.
She was back in the classroom where it had first happened. She was lying on the floor with 15 seven year-olds staring down at her in silence. She was screaming. Not on the inside but on the outside. Loudly.
“I’m going to die,” she shouted.
“Alexis, run to the nurse and tell her to call an ambulance. Tell her Grace fell and her knee is dislocated.”
Alexis’ face was a mask of pure terror but she took off running like she was told to.
Grace was being pushed head first on a stretcher into the cab of an ambulance. Unable to let go of her mother’s hand, she squeezed harder.
The ambulance’s lights and sirens weren’t on. She complained about this. The paramedic explained that if they drove faster they would hit bumps and jostle her.
“Fuck,” she screamed.
She heard her mother apologize for her child’s profanity but the paramedic just laughed.
“Glad to provide entertainment,” Grace almost snarled. She could no longer feel her leg.
“The doctor will be with you in a moment,” a nurse said. “The little girl that came in right before you can’t breathe.”
“She can’t breathe? My leg is going to fall off!!!”
She woke up with a start, panting, and realized someone else was sitting on the couch with her. Her mother’s fingers combed through her hair. Relaxing and calming. Familiar and loving. Her touch was like the ultimate ice pack, capable of soothing every hurt.
“What were you dreaming about?”
“The first time.”
They were both silent. Her mother looked at her for a long time before sighing and saying “I’m sorry.”
Grace looked up at her mother quizzically, unable to figure out what she was apologizing for.
“There is sadness in my heart,” her mother began, her voice quivering. Taking a breath, she started again. “There is sadness in my heart every time this happens to you. I always know you’ll be okay, physically, but I also know what it does to you on the inside. It kills me that you have to go through this pain alone. I know it embarrasses you when you fall and that you limp. The frustration you feel because you twitch and the irritation you feel because you constantly have to massage out Charlie horses. I feel that in my heart and I am so sorry for it.”
“It’s not your fault Momma,” Grace said. She was crying now. “I wouldn’t trade the pain I feel. It’s made me who I am.”
They smiled at each other and hugged for a very long time.
“I love you.”
They said it at the same time, causing them to giggle.
“I’ll come check on you again in a little while,” her mom said. She got up and walked out of the room, leaving the door open a crack in case her baby needed her.
Grace smiled and tried to adjust herself on the couch. Big mistake. The pain flared instantly like a newly lit match.
While her disease was in fact genetic, she had never once thought to blame her mother.
She lay there, wondering yet again, why this happened to her. Why, and this one was important, the constant reminder of something that would never go away?
The pain she felt from the time she woke up until the time she went to sleep, every day, was on a level which most people would never experience in their whole lives. It existed in phases. On a scale of one to ten, sometimes it would be an 11 and sometimes a 15. She preferred the 11 days. Sadly, it was something she was so used to that the 11 days felt like nothing and the 15s were more of a seven.
The more she thought about it, the more she knew she would never wish her daily suffering on anyone. No matter how great an enemy, no one should have to endure constant pain for an entire lifetime. It would, however, be interesting to see how long others could stand the different levels of sharp agony.
To see how they handled pin pricks
every time they took a step.
To see how they handled Charlie horses
in every muscle of their body.
To see how they handled the snap, crackle and pop
each time a knee was bent.
To see how they handled panic
when they woke up at 4 a.m. with a shoulder out of place.
What an experiment that would be!
She shifted her position again; slowly this time, aware of her surroundings and wanting to prevent the flames from engulfing her once more. Slowness didn’t help though; she still felt it, agonizing pain that started in her knee and shot both up to her hip and down to her toes faster than cracks spreading across a frozen lake.
This brought her out of her musing. It wasn’t the first time she had thought on this topic, however she had never told anyone out loud.
The truth was- there would never be any experiments, never be anyone who understood.
The truth was- it didn’t matter because she didn’t want their pity.
The door opened and her mom poked her head in.
“Doin’ okay? Need anything?”
“Sit with me? Just sit with me.”
Her mom smiled and came to her side. She knelt down and sat on the floor next to the couch and took her daughter’s hand in her own and in that silent moment there was no more pain.
And Life Was But A Dream
The wind was calm, almost non-existent, and the air smelled so clean that it was like breathing in some new element he had never before experienced. He stood up and picked up the walking stick he had laid next to him as he rested against a giant tree. Taking in another deep breath, he continued his hike up Leaning Peak. There were few clouds in the sky, gently floating along like cotton balls that had become unfurled. The sun was bright but not hot, providing a beautiful contradiction in regards to the senses. He could hear nature around him: birds chirping, squirrels jumping from one high branch to the next. To say this day was anything less than glorious would have been an insult to Mother Nature.
With each step, he dug his walking stick into the ground beneath his feet. The dirt was littered with stones that varied in size from pebble to boulder, each adding a different shade of grey, blue and pink to the path he was carving for himself. The Leaning Peak was angled so that from a distance it looked as if it were about to topple over. Once one drew even to the peak it did not seem too slanted, however once the climb began this illusion was quickly dispelled.
He had plenty of time and was in no particular rush to reach the top, so the frequent breaks needed to catch his breath hindered no schedule. He had sat on a gnarled tree stump for a spell and once for a bit on a boulder the size of a house. After continuing his hike for an hour or so, he found a patch of flowers that created the perfect setting for his lunch. Sitting in the very center of the clearing, he looked around. The flowers were a terrific shade of magenta that he could not recall ever having seen before.
Smiling to himself, he began to unpack his lunch, all the while mindful not to let any trash fly away. To pollute this spot would be very wrong. He did not know if it was the sublime view or the pure air but his lunch had a deliciously rich taste to it that made it extremely satisfying. After finishing every morsel packed, he took the same care to put his trash back in his sack. He inhaled deeply, taking in the strong aroma of the flowers and laid back into them, creating an enclosure around his eyes. His view was obscured by everything except the flowers immediately around him and the sky above him. This tunnel vision of nature was gorgeous. He was completely content. This was what peace felt like, he thought. Slowly, and without meaning to, he drifted off to sleep.
The alarm buzzed loudly right next to his ear. Without opening his eyes, he reached over and felt around for the snooze button. He had been having such a lovely dream. He breathed deeply and stretched. A scent unlike any he had ever smelled reached his nose, causing him to open his eyes and look around. Upon doing so, he lost the dream and could only remember a color: a strange and vibrant shade of pink.
With a sigh he got up and donned his slippers and house coat and began his morning routine.
The new toothpaste he had was more minty than the previous tube; the shocking coolness caused him to make a face at himself in the mirror. After rinsing thoroughly he began to lather his face. Carefully he slid the razor across his jaw line and was almost done with the task when the phone rang, causing him to jump. The razor slipped in his hand and a bead of crimson began to ooze from under the white of the lather.
Cursing and setting his razor down he hurried to see who had interrupted his morning silence. His mother’s name flashed blue on the caller I.D. screen. He knew why she was calling. She was wanting to make sure he was going to show up at her dinner that night. He had already promised her he would be there three times and let it click over to voicemail. As he walked back in to the bathroom, her voice became the soundtrack for the rest of his shave, face wash and hair comb. He was surprised the machine hadn’t cut her off. She had reminded him (again) to wear a tie and not a bow tie and the silver cuff links she had given him last Christmas. Due to these attire requirements he assumed she had asked several of her friends to bring their daughters. His bachelordom worried her; it was something she brought up entirely too often.
He ate a large breakfast, not planning on eating for the rest of the day thus allowing plenty of room for the alcohol he was going to drink at the party. These events were never enjoyable, no matter the company provided, and he found drinking to be the only way to suffer through.
There was plenty he had to do before going to his mother’s but he did not feel like getting up from the table. The color and scent he had awoken to were still on his mind. Where had they come from? He sat there a moment more, contemplating, and then got up. Casual dress for the day consisted of dark jeans and favorite deep olive sweater. He left his apartment shaking his head and trying to figure out why birds were chirping lyrically in his mind.
The errands he had put off all week took him longer than he had anticipated and as such he was late getting home. Dressing quickly, he arrived at his mother’s house at what he considered a fashionably late time but which she just considered to be late.
While the dinner was formally for some fundraiser for one his mother’s many charities, it was also as he had suspected, the latest of her many fix up plans. Pleasant conversation transpired between several beautiful women and himself, but none inspired the spark of interest that he yearned for. They were all beautiful and smart but he wanted something or more importantly someone who would put excitement in his life. He knew his mother was dismayed that he was once again going home without any intention of calling anyone for a date. By the time he got home he was exhausted. Sitting on the edge of his bed, he took off his shoes and lay back, promptly falling asleep, cuff links and all.
Something was tickling him. He opened his eyes and instantly crossed them as his vision zoomed in on a black and orange butterfly perched on the tip of his nose. This made him smile. There it was again: peace. So why did he awake feeling annoyed? He glanced up at the sky and saw that the sun had not moved too much; he guessed he had only been asleep for an hour or so. He reached up to rub his eyes and discovered that there was a sensitive spot along his jaw as though he had cut himself. He puzzled over it. It was like one of those bruises that no matter how hard you tried, you could not remember how you got it. He got up and collected his bag and walking stick and meandered back to his original path, leaving the flowers behind.
He looked to the top of the peak as he left the clearing and smiled. The summit of Leaning Peak was the best place for sleeping under the stars. Without the lights of the city polluting the sky, the stars were brighter here than anywhere he had ever been. The remainder of the journey would take roughly four hours, putting him at his destination right at sunset. This excited him. Digging in his walking stick, he continued upwards.
As time passed, he took in his surroundings and noticed that the foliage was made up of more shades of green than he realized existed. It was astounding how many different colors there were. Many of the bushes that clumped around the trees in this section of the peak were a deep and striking olive color. These made him pause several times. He couldn’t understand why but the color invoked a deep sense of comfort within him. He picked several of the leaves and put them in the baggy that had previously contained his sandwich. Also in the bag was a flower from the clearing. Both would make wonderful additions to his pressed collection.
As he neared the top he began looking for a place to unroll the blanket he had snugly folded into the bottom of his pack. There were several spots that from afar looked like good places but upon closer inspection revealed multiple snake holes or anthills that were unbelievably large.
Finally, he came upon a clearing that was roughly the same size as the one with the flowers and did not seem to house snakes or fire ants. He set down his walking stick and got out the blanket. As he spread it out to its full size he turned to unfurl one corner that had not come unfolded and in so doing, tripped on a stone he had overlooked. Instantly his ankle began to throb.
Well it’s a good thing I’m done walking for the day, he thought calmly.
The sun was just beginning to set as he lay back, using his bag as a pillow. The oranges and reds that burst over the horizon took his breath away. Slowly they melted and transformed and took on purples and pinks and even, just for a second, a flash of bright green. It was completely silent and completely inspiring. The stars began to peek out of the deepening blue sky, creating a stunning juxtaposition of light and dark. He began to pick out his favorite constellations.
As he did this, he came to realize that his mother was on his mind. This struck him as odd as he had not thought of her in many years and this serene setting provided a stark contrast with her memory, he remembered the irritation he had felt earlier. He shook his head; this was no place for her.
Out of his first aid kit, he retrieved a wrap that would provide the pressure his ankle would need to prevent swelling that might be detrimental to his descent the following day. He contemplated his surroundings and as he drifted off to sleep he knew, without a doubt, that there was nowhere else he would rather be.
When he awoke, his apartment was black as night and he realized he was still fully dressed. He groped around for his alarm and pressed the button that backlit the face of the clock. He sighed and stood so as to undress but immediately sat back down as a shooting pain exploded up his ankle. Swearing loudly, he lay back down and thought he saw stars. He blinked and they were gone. Without looking away from the now dark ceiling, he lifted his leg up to his chest and felt his ankle. It seemed to be a little swollen and when he touched it, it was as sore as when he had stood on it.
He knew he needed to get new dress shoes but he hadn’t thought his current pair would cause this much pain. Any other explanation eluded him. After a while he brought his other leg up to his chest and became lost in thought, wishing for the stars he had glimpsed moments before. It’s a shame they couldn’t be seen from the city.
Ignoring the pain, he kicked off his shoes and wriggled out of his pants. Further examination of his ankle would have to wait until morning; he was not getting up for ice.
His cuff links twinkled in the light of the clock from their position on his nightstand. They looked like little stars in the dark room. The last light he saw was not the glow of stars however but the glow from the clock reminding him how late it was.