A cold, grey, metallic container. Dust is inside. Dust we have given meaning so that the pain hurts less. It enables this type of sunset clause of pain. As time goes on it gets less and less. The greater our love was, the longer it takes to get over this loss. And vice versa, I suppose. Urn above the mantel keeps watch over the whole house – until years pass and we forget that it’s there. It is a depressing reminder that brings sadness in its wake. Urn filled with ashes. Imprisoned in its metallic tomb. On display like zoo animals.
An earthquake rumbles from the core of the Earth. It falls, the lid opens, and the contents spill out. It’s almost like another death. Peter bends down while the room still quakes, and tries his best to use his hand to sweep the ash back into the container. But as he does this, he notices there is a piece of paper in the urn. It is white and folded up into quarters. Looking up, he sees a vase falling and moving his head, narrowly misses what would surely have been a knockout. Anna is terrified, balled up under the table sucking her thumb. He should be comforting her. He takes the paper and runs to her hideout as the tremors continue to wreak havoc on their home. The noise is eerie. The minutes feel like days. He holds Anna close as she buries her head in his chest, silently crying, clutching her stuffed bunny rabbit. He stays on alert, making sure nothing else can harm them. Earthquakes are an irregular game. There are no rules, nothing is certain, and the range of play is undetermined. Suddenly, quiet. Peter’s bones are still vibrating. He feels Anna hold her breath. He reassuredly rubs her back and pats her hair down. Slowly he makes his way out from under the table with her, opening the front door. Other people on their streets have also decided to peak their heads outside, to see how bad the damage is. There is a crack in the street. A telephone pole has come down onto a tree. Peter forgets he’s holding the note until Anna asks him. He’s startled that he’s been holding it for so long without opening it.
Long highway driving makes for a giddy time. I am all bubbles in my excitement; If they pop, I blow another one through the magic wand, equally large as the first. I could go on like this. Exciting to get away and drive drive drive with someone I love. The trees are different in this part of the country. The grass smells sweeter than I’ve ever smelt it. The car smells clean and has been vacuumed and tidied so expertly, I think the last time it felt like this was the day we bought it. Distantly I can smell the bag of pretzels we’ve recently opened. Country music twangs on the radio, and I don’t mind it. The day has not yet given way to the full height of summer temperature. Right now it is cool.
I look through the windshield and watch the road; I count the white dashes that split the lanes and take in a big breath. We gave the windshield a good wash at the last gas station and it looks clear and pristine and promising. I kick up my feet in the passenger seat, pushing my sunglasses further along the bridge of my nose so they do not slip, and adjust the seat back – just a little – and close my eyes.
We are heading South. The bubbles turn into butterflies as I think about what awaits us. I rest my head on the window and take a good, hard look at myself in the side view mirror. Could someone please take a picture of my peak of coolness? I feel the motor rumbling, vibrating against my head from the window. It is gentle, but there. I slip off my shoes to get more comfortable and start humming along to the country tune on the radio. It’s Johnny Cash. I love Johnny Cash. In this moment, he makes me want to roll the window down and smoke a hand-rolled cigarette – and I don’t even smoke. He makes me want to stop the car, go to the bar, and order whiskeys all day long. He makes me want to meet a lover I know is bad for me, but whose attraction I can’t deny. A reckless fantasy pulses through my veins on this Sunday, daytime hour. Makes me feel more alive than Church ever did.
“Pretzel?” My father offers, ripping me out of –
A slimy, green, croaking toad leaves my hands and jumps down to the edge of the water. Its eyes pan for its lily pad. It is dark forest green. I cannot believe I have caught it, and I am sad to let it go. I wipe my hands on my jeans and continue to look on. My socks and shoes are wet and soaked through from wading in the pond. So’s the bottom part of my jeans. I start to feel that familiar annoyance when things like this happen and there are no change of clothes or towels available. I squish my way back to the car. As I approach the parking lot, I realize my car is no longer there. Stolen, I realize to myself. Annoyed and frustrated, I must now walk at least a mile to the Ranger Station to use their phone and call someone for a ride. Thoughts pass of calling the police to report the car as stolen. But I realize I can’t. I told Jean I’d lay low, so that’s what I’m doing – laying low. This turn of events is unfortunate, but I must resolve to move forward and take things as they come. My sneakers squish down the plain road and walk down to the Ranger’s Office. After 20 minutes or so I arrive, but the office is empty. I check the doorknob and it’s unlocked. A rumble of thunder jolts me and I turn on my heel back from where I came. The sky is black and menacing, promising a good storm. I turn face forward and the sky is sunshine and blue. The black sky behind is moving fast, so I let myself into the office and have a seat in front of the first desk I see. I take off my hat and rest it on my knee. Looking around, I lean into a desk fan blowing sweet cool air and make sure it hits my face, which is perspiring slightly.
“Hello?” I call out. But all I hear is the fan oscillating and the ticking of its blades. I abruptly get up and start to look around and start to hear something distant. A croak, a ribit. It is getting closer now.
A forest. Thick with trees, but the sunlight does come dappling through the cracks of sky on top. Places where branches have parted ways from tree trunks, giving the sky a place to break. The sunlight streams through. It is cool, but not cold. The forest floor is soft carpeting and I am alone. On my left, I hear the soothing sound of running water. Very distant. I turn and head towards the sound. My mouth is cotton, parched. I need a drink. After a few paces, I stumble on the creek. It is louder now, more insistent. I watch the cool, smooth water roll over stones. The current is mild. I get down on my knees as if to say a prayer, and lower my mouth to take a long drink. These are times before manufacturing and overpopulation. This is the time of isolation and peace. It is cooler by the creek. After I quench my thirst, I dip my hands in and wash them. I am clean again, reborn and baptized in Nature. The dirt comes off so easily. I sit on a rock nearby and glance around. I could get lost in here, physically and mentally. The forest is a self-contained womb I’m sure I could survive in for weeks at a time. It is preferable to socialization and reality. I realize I just want to be alone. As I have this thought, I hear the crack of something stepping on a branch. I freeze, not wanting to be disturbed. I quietly and slowly turn my head. It is a deer. She hasn’t seen me yet. She approaches the creek to take a drink and does so. She then looks up. We make eye contact and we are both frozen to our spots. Her tongue comes out of her mouth as she licks her nose, getting the last bits of moisture into her mouth. We are across from one another. Separated by this creek. I feel worthy in this moment. Not sure what I was expecting, but I am disappointed when she turns and leaves. Back into the trees, to her home and family. I hear the distant call of a bird and I am snapped from my reverie. I reluctantly stand, knowing the moment has broken. I must find my way back. Back to my home and family.
The park smells of wet grass and fresh mulch. Earthy scents that penetrate the nostrils. The glorious outdoors sounding their siren song, life affirming in its fresh openness. It is overcast and grey. An old man sits on a bench in a pork-pie hat watching the children play on the jungle gym. A father has turned away, on the phone in heated conversation. A mother fussing with her younger child, crying in its stroller. She is digging through her diaper bag, intent on finding something. Another man on another bench, reads the paper so it completely has covered his entire upper body, hiding his face. A moment passes and the old man lightly tugs his sleeve to glance at his watch. It is 2:30. He readjusts his seat and tries to pick a more comfortable spot on the hard wood holding him. Reaching into his coat pocket he rummages for a candy and finds a butterscotch. Pleased at his luck, he slowly unwraps it and pops it into his mouth, savoring the sweet, smoky flavor of a timeless classic he never grew tired of as a boy. He remembers when he was the age of all these children running around and playing. How he wishes to go back in time and join them. He watches 9-year-old Jimmy on the monkey bars, doing his best to go across, but ends up jumping down in the middle. He is not defeated and easily finds entertainment in laughing and he runs towards the slide. 5-year-old Jessica has just slid down, scooting her seat so that her feet can touch the ground and she can start running again. There are at least 5 other children, having the time of their lives, enjoying their afternoon, while some parents look on, some continue to the distracted, and some are nowhere to be found.