stranger #1

to keep a pen in my hand, i've given myself a gentle story schedule - both wednesdays and saturdays, i will pick a stranger that i am drawn to during our trips to town & write a story for them. based purely on intuition and feeling, these will not at all represent who the stranger is, or their true story. they are entirely fiction.

trigger warning: child loss.

to the one at the farmer's market; the one with the sadness clinging to your eyes. listen to me reading this story below.

this morning he sat up in bed and lay a hand in the valley above her hip. a stretched womb still hung over the hem of her underwear, softly moving up and down, like the sea might after a storm has passed. he moved quietly, trying not to wake her. but she was already awake, wide eyes fixed like marbles, staring at the bean rows beyond the bedroom window.

he bent over the sink, inhaled, exhaled. he shaved his beard and cut his lip and draped a piece of tissue over the blood. 

"today's august twenty-ninth," he heard her say from the bedroom.

"I know."

he walked out past the sunflowers and the lavender and the pepper patch. there was a sapling marking the spot where her body was planted like a smooth seed. they had tucked her chin and laced her fragile arms, one over the other. he wrapped her in a piece of cream colored silk and cupped her between two palms until the cicadas started humming in the oak tree. his wife nodded and said, "let her be, love."

he knelt beside the baby tree and moved a few stones into a circle with his thumb.  "good morning, elouise," he said. he held his face in his palms and stretched the skin downward, trying to push and pull the sadness from the corners of his eyes.

he moved back into the kitchen and watched the sun tuck up underneath the oak tree. the entire wooden skeleton came alive with golden backlight, only for a moment, before fading back to brown again. he closed his eyes. there he stood, one week ago. she was cutting onions into neat rounds, and he complained about the sting in his eyes. the sun rose and the oak caught flame, and the smell of lavender and baking bread spilled over him. she smiled to herself and started humming, her hand gently sweeping from one side of her belly, to the other, feeling for subtle nudging from within. 

"how is she today?" he asked, patting his eyes with a damp handkerchief.

"quiet," she said, "I think she'll be here soon. she's saving her energy." she tucked her hair behind her ear and scraped the onions into a pan on the stove. "oh," she said, "I thought of a name, I think. elouise. elouise may."

he mouthed the name, and then said it aloud, "our daughter, elouise may."

rose water & wine

i swell in a dress that is not mine  -  round plastic buttons and ivory lines -  neck stained with the smell of rose water and wine - her ghost and my skin so awfully entwined

she was a woman who bowed at the sea  -  salt waters stinging up past her knee  -  throat choked with an ink heavy, "come with me"  -  and a lover lost fighting, a guarantee

last night i waited for you to come home  -  thistle-thick heart feeling sorry and stone -  our bodies would brush and our bones would atone  -  but beside you i lay and i was alone




sonora at the table

I spent the day on my feet, stirring the tomatoes in the dutch oven, pouring hot water over coffee and trying to keep myself bobbing along the surface of an anxious sea. The apartment was hot from the oven and hot from the climbing summer sun and hot from my tireless trips from the stove, to the sink, to the changing table, to the rosemary patch. I slung Aspen onto my hip and tugged my shirt back and forth to keep the air moving about my sticky skin. At five, the tables were still half-constructed and the lasagna noodles undercooked and the rising dough for rolls forgotten in a covered bowl outside.

"I think I should cancel," I told KC. "It's going to be terrible. I still have to frost the cake and cut the flowers and decorate, and -- "

He took me by the shoulders and stopped the words with his lips. "Listen," he said, pulling back, "it's going to be great. The only thing that matters is that we're all together."

And he was right. Folks started arriving at six, before the tables had been assembled. I ran back and forth to our house, the baby bobbing on my side, carrying stacks of thrifted plates and cloth napkins that we had dip dyed in indigo. In my mind, as I tried desperately to sleep the night before the gathering, I had imagined the guests arriving to find a perfectly styled jailhouse courtyard, the tables wiped and blooming with farmer's market sunflowers, bowls of fresh picked plums and figs and peaches, napkins tucked under plates and lights strung against ivy and brick.

Instead, I tumbled into the open space after a trip to the house to find that my guests were decorating the courtyard for me. Nothing was as I had imagined, and my ego fumbled, reaching out toward the vision I had built up in my mind. But I quickly softened. It was beautiful. Music spilled from a speaker in the corner, something slow and folky, and I watched with Aspen as the first guests tucked forks into napkins, set sunflowers along the table, spaced bowls of food and casserole dishes and foil covered platters.

We ate together, passing plates, pouring water and wine and beer. Strangers knocked elbows and became fast friends. There's something honey sweet & ancient about gathering to share a meal. It slows the rhythm of our breath, the speed of our mind; it softens the places where we've grown icy and anxious. And, for a little while, an hour or two, or maybe a hazy day afterwards, we're reminded of the tangible things - the ones we can smell and touch and taste on hungry lips. We notice the freckles blooming on the brow of a friend we've known for years, or the peachy color of the clouds as the sun leaves westward, or the way locally grown plums leave purple powder on your lips and taste floral and earthy, like the feet of a thousand bees. We find that, for a little while, we're no longer hungry, not only for the nourishment of food, but for the subtle and instinctual desire for gathering together.

This was the first of many. This was only the beginning.