The Sounds of Life

Plish, plash, the silly splash of two sounds meant to merge to unity.

The sigh of lovers, that little downdraft of breath, predictive of all that follows. Faster, harder breathing. Finally, that scream of name, that begging commandment, that stut-stuterring surrendering control.

I hear murmuring vows, seriously, solemnly taken. I hear pleadings, compromises, accommodations; rising, falling tone; cantatas, sonatas. I hear rising strident voices raised in annoyance, anger, hatred; the blare of bugles, snare drums, broken glass.

I hear waxen molten sounds of reconciliation; I hear ice cracking. I hear doors slamming, windows breaking. No less hearts. Avalanche of disregard.

At last, silken silence descends like night, downy feathers, snowflakes glittering in the moon.

The unmistakable, rhythmic scream of a small baby. But where is this baby? Near or far? Is she wet? Is he hungry? Frightened? Thirsty? Or, is she just proclaiming her selfhood for all the universe to hear? Where is this baby?

Is she black? White? Red? Yellow? What shade of the magnificent brown rainbow that constitutes humanity is this baby?

The sound is growing louder. Perhaps baby is getting closer. Perhaps there is more than one baby crying. But I don't know how many or why. Where are the mothers? Where are the fathers?

Silence, now, the sweetest song.

Wind chimes far away.

Who would know that once a pair of lovers (us?) held hands on this squeaky-swinged back porch and listened for the moon to splash joyously into the sea -- a symphony of spray?

Wonder, Wonder, Who Kept the Wonder?

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you a wonder from the fartherest corner of the world: a being that is half frog, half woman!" shouted Carnival Barker.

"Whoa! Now, that's weird, isn't it, Denise?" said Boy.
"Weird, all right. But, kinda wonderful in way too," said Girl.

"Thanks for a wonderful evening," said Girl.
"So? Maybe we can go out again some time?" asked Boy.

"You look just wonderful in that dress!" exclaimed Boy.
"Thanks!" blushed Girl, as they spun through other the dancers."

"I wonder how I ever got lucky enough to meet you," said Lover.
"Oh, that ring! Wonderful! Of course, I'll marry you, silly," said Beloved.

"Listen, darling, they're playing our song!" laughed Woman.
"Wunderbar, Wunderbar, It's a bright and shining star,
Like our love, it's Wunderbar!" sang the record.

"You'll wonder where the yellow went...
When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent," promised Announcer.
"Turn off the TV. I'm trying to sleep!" screamed Wife.

"Sometimes, I wonder where you ever learned to drive," muttered Wife.
"Just shut up and let me drive," said Husband.
"You're going too fast," complained Wife.

"Hey, Charley! Ain't this a wonderful burger? Hmm. Wonder what that siren's all about.
Comin' right by the place. I just wonder," said Steve, sipping his Bud.

"Jeez!" The sheriff shook his head. "They must've been doin' eighty when they hit that oak. Wonder what the heck happened."

"Someone must have fallen asleep at the wheel, I guess," offered Deputy,
"Happens all the time. Don't it?"

Rita Rae Risk
Rita Rae Roberts. Her long blond hair, blue eyes, smooth skin. Sigh.

I was in the eighth grade and had loved her since the sixth -- a space of years that seemed lifetimes. And why not? I had discovered science fiction, changed schools, begun shaving and writing. I had broken -- and healed -- my arm. I had explored the walkable world for miles in every direction. I attended my first funeral. My only brother was born.

And -- still I loved Rita Rae Roberts.

But had never said so. She already had a boyfriend -- Bob Buchs -- by far, the strongest and most popular guy in eighth grade.

Our art teacher gave us a project: to make a valentine. He told us to have someone definite in mind because then it would turn out much better. I immediately thought of Rita. Painstakingly, I traced the detailed and intricate overlapping lace created with my own colored pens. Hours and hours, I worked to make the most beautiful valentine ever created -- for the most beautiful girl ever created.

At last, I finished it. I amazed myself with its beauty. Then, a teeny idea crept its tentacles into my mind.

No! Bob would definitely kill me! Worse, Rita would surely tear up the Valentine! And, with it, my heart.

I handed it to her anyway.
She turned bright smiling scarlet.
My heart leapt to a whole new level of happiness.

The world moved on.

But now I know -- there's nothing I cannot do.

Thanks, Rita.

Jennifer's Invitation

(Appeared summer 1997 in the e-zine, The Empty Shelf)

In Northeastern Ohio, my birthday comes in spring, real spring. This business about three months of spring is silly. Spring lasts about two weeks -- the time from the first onion grass, crocuses, and daffodils shoot green through bare black dirt, through the greening of the willow switches, the white exploding dogwoods and cherry blossoms, till at last, every tree's gold and red has turned dark green -- that takes two weeks. And, square in the middle of nature's renewal comes my birthday. At the age of nine -- more than forty years ago today -- it seemed so lucky -- yet, so right that this was my birthday! Perfect.

The only thing more perfect would be having Jennifer come to my party. Jennifer! Her family, Gunnerson, was from Scandinavia and she looked it. Long, light blond hair, deep sky blue eyes, pale white skin. Best of all, she liked me -- kind of. I lived nearly a world away from her -- three blocks -- but luckily she lived on the way to David Hill Elementary School so I could walk part-way to school with her. We could continue up residential Davies Street, littered with maple-seed helicopters, or cut over to Archwood. Urbane Archwood held the branch public library and even a filling station.

My mother had promised me a party this birthday and I could invite whoever I wanted. Or, so she said. Actually, her friend from the bridge club had two daughters that I definitely did NOT want to come to my party, but my mother, of all things, had promised that they could come. Really! Imagine! I never told her she had to invite Jennifer's mother to her bridge club! Actually, it wouldn't have been a bad idea, but I didn't think of it at the time.

No matter, so long as I could get Jennifer to my party. The tricky part was -- how to get her there. Of course, you might think, "Well, hey, why not ask her?" You might think that if you were born in New York or California or have forgotten what it's like to be a nine year old boy totally overwhelmed by the goddess beauty of a nine year old girl. No, just walking up and asking her was definitely not an option.

Instead, I hit on a brilliant idea, bound to succeed. I made a newspaper. It had three or four articles on the front page and three or four more articles on the back page. It only took me one week-end to make. And there, right on the back of page two, in the lower right hand corner was the story of my upcoming birthday party, complete with a list of invitees. That list included Jennifer!

Now, for part two of my plan! The very next day, I contrived to walk home from school in front of Jennifer. I slowed down till she was only twenty paces behind me and "accidentally" dropped my newspaper. I continued to walk, but held my breath, heart racing. Soon, I heard the soft, bell-tones of her voice call out that I had dropped my paper. Yes! She handed it to me. I stared into those infinite blue eyes. Nothing. Hadn't she read it? Hadn't she seen her name right there on page two? Was she blind, and I didn't know?

I scurried on ahead. Maybe she just hadn't noticed. I dropped my paper again. Again, I heard her call out my name! She had seen me drop the paper. I waited for her to catch up with me. She handed me the paper. I swallowed hard. I looked in her eyes. She looked at me. I said, "Well...did you read it?"

"Oh, no!" she said. "I wouldn't do that."

"Oh," I said, and turned, crimson glowing in my face.

I thought about dropping my paper a third time, but what was the point? She took it as an invasion of privacy to read my private paper. I'd have to come up with something else.

I did. I got pneumonia and the party was canceled. I did get a record and a book as presents from my mother's friend's two daughters but I never read the book and never listened to the record. The next year, my parents moved to a new house and a new school district and I never saw Jennifer again. Except in dreams. Where her blond hair is still blond and her young smooth skin is still flawless. And, spring -- spring lasts forever.

Story of the Lost Sapphire
A Trip Delayed
Short Story Index
The Empty Shelf

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Last modified: Sun May 18, 1997