The Piano – A Short Story

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I have been around fur-ones all my life. They do not have fur on the tips of their fingers, but it is everywhere else. On some it is pale, touched but mostly unseen, and on others—the nose-ones mostly—it is an encapsulating seed, the vessel through which they experience the world. As you can see I am one of the wood-ones. I do not experience the world through skin or fur, but through sound.

 
Many years ago, when the fur-ones brought me into this world, I thought I was one of them. I tried so very hard to see, and to feel. I tried to taste the air. I heard the fur-ones speak, their voices creaking, the chords in their throats expanding, the buttons on their coats snapping up, the keys turning, ripping like ice through the metal interior of the lock. I tried to call out to them, but I could not even do that, not of my own will. I could hear, and that was all I could do for myself.

 
The first fur-one to play me was a boy-one. He had never been inside the metal walls before, but I’d heard his breathing sometimes, on the outside, by the hollow tin where the fur-ones threw things. His fingers sounded like stubs of snow, approaching, approaching. The idea of music startled me. He played a very simple piece. For the first time I felt, rather than heard, and it was a glorious warmth, a sun-glow, a something I would call joy. I saw this something, too; the color yellow, or maybe it was gold. I did not have a word for it then. I remember it as something unworldly. Something ancient; a bridge through time. By the time the boy-one left, I knew why I had been created.
I was happy to leave my birthplace. A family of fur-ones brought me to a sunny corner, and they pushed another wood-one in front of me, a four-legged thing with a cotton-heart, but he could not speak. We listened to each other, how we creaked when the air shifted, deep in the quietest moments before the fur-ones rose.

 
Some days we could hear the whistles of the feathered-ones, beyond the net of glass, but most often we heard the scurrying of the fur-ones. The more I listened to them, the better I understood their ways. Two large fur-ones stepped slowly, one with the swish of her fabric bell, the other with the swoosh of his leg-tubes. A nose-one ticked wildly in a quadruple rhythm, one-two-three-four, scat-scat-scat-scat. Similar to these staccato footsteps were those of the girl-one, scat-scat, a duple rhythm.

 
“Isn’t it about time for your practice, darling?” the woman-one said.
“I already did.”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“I played when you were outside.”
“Beatrice, you need to practice twenty minutes per day. Remember what Mrs. Patterson said.”
“But Mommy, I don’t feel like it.”
“Come on. Let’s have a concert. Daddy and I will be your audience. Right, Phillip?”

 

Creaking, as the fur-ones sat. The woman-one clapped her hands, a sound like feather-one beaks on tree-one husks. “And now, here to play Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for you on this fine afternoon, may I present, the fabulous and talented—Beatrice!”
The man-one clapped as well. The nose-one nudged up close to me, and rounded himself into a circle by my pedals.
The girl-one began to play.

 

 

 

Some days I like piano. Mommy says all ladies should learn an instrument. She learned the violin when she was young, but she hasn’t played it in years. I’ve never heard her play. Sometimes I think she’s making it up.

 
But I like to play piano sometimes, like on rainy days, on afternoons when it’s so dark we turn the lights on early. Whiskey sits at my feet. He breathes heavily, huffy nose-breathes, and I know he’s fallen asleep. It’s easy to play on days like that. But not when it’s sunny. I want to go outside, or I want to teach Whiskey how to play hide-and-go-seek.
I stop playing. Whiskey lifts his nose.

 
“Honey, you need to play a little longer,” says Mommy.
“I don’t feel like it.”
“Don’t talk to your mother that way,” Daddy says.
I stand. Whiskey stands too.
“Beatrice.”
“I don’t want to.”
Why do they care if I practice or not? I want to be free like Whiskey. All day all night free to nap or play as I choose. I wish I was a little doggy. All covered in soft fur, with floppy ears and a snout with whiskers.
I am daring. I clench my fists. “You can’t make me!”
“That’s earned you a time-out.” Mommy points to the hallway. Daddy’s eyebrows curve. That is a good way to tell that he’s mad. I cross my arms but my daringness is gone.
There is a corner in the hallway, the time-out corner, where I’m supposed to stand when I’m in trouble. I stomp my feet against the wood floors. Like drums. See, I’m playing an instrument now. See, Mommy and Daddy.

 
“Twenty minutes,” says Mommy. “Think about how you can be more respectful toward your parents.”

 
I lean my forehead against the green-flowered wallpaper. I start to cry. Mommy and Daddy are mad at me. I’ve been bad. I know it. Why do I always do this? I stomp my feet again. Stomp stomp. Stomp stomp. All with my forehead glued to the wall.

 
Last time I got in trouble I refused to eat the liver and onions we had for dinner. I don’t like liver. It tastes like metal, like you’re licking a pure metal spoon, and it’s always really dry. I told Mommy I wouldn’t eat it. Never. I would never eat it again. I would rather have a grumbly tummy all night than eat liver. But Mommy didn’t like me talking back to her like that. She didn’t like my tone. I thought my tone was very grown-up. That’s how Mommy talks half the time. Daddy doesn’t mind as much, but he goes along with what Mommy says. I think if it was just me and Daddy here I could get away with almost anything.

 
But I have been bad. I shouldn’t be mean like that. I love my Mommy and Daddy. And the poor piano. I don’t hate the piano either. I love the whole house.

 
“I’m sorry,” I yell into the wall.
 

 

The girl-one does not like music. She is eager to run instead. Perhaps she is too young. Perhaps she is more a nose-one than a girl-one.
One night the man-one played something lovely. The girl-one had already gone to bed, but the woman-one sprung out from behind the corner, and she said, “Phillip, you never told me that you play.”

 
He pulled his fingers away. “I don’t. Just tinkering around, love.”
“Sounded like more than just tinkering around to me.”
The man-one laughed. It was not a real laugh, but a pressure of air through his nose.
“Well don’t stop. Keep playing.”
“I’m a bit tired,” he said, and he closed my cover.

 
The next time he played, the house was empty, the woman-one and girl-one ridden away in a wheeled basket pulled by hoof-ones. The man-one played the same piece again. I did not recognize it, but I could tell it was something old, something that he was trying to remember, because he paused at certain passages and hummed along with the notes until he found his way. He mastered it just before the other fur-ones returned. Whatever it was, it was exuberant.

 

 

Daddy comes out and cups my chin. “Don’t you like the piano, dearest?”
“I like it sometimes.” I sniffle. “When I feel like it.”
“It’s something that requires absolute dedication. Day in, day out.”
“Daddy, did you ever play an instrument?”
“I used to. When I was a little boy, I played the piano just like you.”
I jump. “You did? You did? What happened?”
“I loved it so much I wanted to become a pianist.”
“A pianist?”
“A professional piano player. But your grandfather told me that that wasn’t a good job, and so I stopped.”
“Daddy, do you still remember how to play? Oh, play something for me, please!”
A short silence, and then the man-one sat down. “This is a song I made up, long ago.” The girl-one curled up on the sofa, and she stroked the nose-one’s ears. The woman-one returned to the room.

 
All the fur-ones breathed softly. Their chests rose and fell together, legato. The music was like a rush of moving air, like the girl-one and the nose-one as they played together beyond the net of glass, soft, and frantic, and young. Wind in head-fur. Wind in body-fur.
The girl-one asked: “Daddy, will you teach me?”

 
The nose-one curled up at my pedals. Together, the fur-ones played.

 

 

 

At the Mall – A Short Story

 

Sharp elbows. Sharp like shark fins, serrated like old kitchen knives with wooden handles. A smell like skunk and burnt canola oil, something stuffed away and long hidden from sunlight. There is no overhead music but—velcro, children’s shoes, spilled fountain drinks left sticky on the tiles. Glass boxes filled with plastic cloth, on plastic people whose faces look like stones, and bags and shoes and plastic jewelry, and the small, plastic eggs where children receive machine candy.

 

A glass elevator slides up, smooth as moving water. Two elderly women look out, their arms bulged upon shoulder bags. There is a long line. One of the escalators is broken and wrapped off with shining yellow tape that is almost see-through. Caution. No one thinks to use them as stairs. That is not their purpose.

 

Inside one glass box are lotions on white cubes. Everything is clean and white and overly perfumed. The women wear aprons. They hold up plastic bottles, move slowly and stand in one place like perched birds. They exist in other boxes too, tinted, plumed, manicured; extinct creatures who have risen again, who scratch and scathe, immortal.

 

The bathrooms are safe except for the screaming. Plastic-children blunder and peer under stalls, their hands and knees impressed upon stains that look like long insect trails, which the children sniff and then follow. They end up in another glass box. They are everywhere, on every corner; hard to digest meals in glass tummies, scarves and hats, movies and wristwatches. Holed-up sweaters that are not warm, stump-shoes that are unwalkable.

 

At the very highest point are two plastic bubbles, side by side, plastered to the ceiling like a sky mural. Sunlight spits down in a funneled tube like a hurricane, meeting one spot on the tile where it dries up. Two teenage boys walk over it. The sunlight remains.

Backs on Grass – A Short Story

 

Where did we come from? I don’t mean life. That’s been documented already; the pale curtain of lightning; the dense seas—Venusian, black like boiled leather; the first spark that tethered us all to water. Roger Gray was the first one to record it on video. He won the Nobel Prize for it about a decade ago. He guessed the right year, the right hour, the right minute, the right second, out of all those billions and trillions of moments. He guessed the right few nanometers out of those bare starscape-plains of water, and he witnessed the genesis of all things. He was lucky. He was called upon by God. This is what it’s for, we all thought when we saw the microorganisms writhe into being. This is what time travel is for.

 
Gray now lives in a mansion in Italy, and goes back to Rome and to Greece to do what he calls “research”. We all know that the reason he really goes is because the ancients think he’s a god. I mean, the engravings of Dionysus and Bacchus look suspiciously like him. That doesn’t just happen.

 
But there is more to know. More to show people. We’ve seen the first life, but what about the first us? The first hominid who became truly human?
“You’re bringing me back something, right?” my sister asks.
“Something? Yes. I’ll bring you back a jar full of pond water.”
“Ew!” she laughs. Her eyes pull wide as her mouth, wider still; straight lines.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get you something.”
“Something good?”
“Something good.”

I hug her and she inhales deeply, which means she’s going to cry. She knows I’ll only be gone one day. It’s always one day. We can’t be gone more than twelve hours or we’ll run out of battery. That’s it, that’s all you get; it’s too expensive to carry a spare. She knows that, but she cries anyway.

 
I say goodbye to my parents, to my younger brother, and to the family cat, Lyra. I always leave them with these big goodbyes because you never know what will happen. They’re used to the uncertainty, I think; they’re used to it more than I am. They brag about my job to their friends all the time. Our daughter is an archaeologist, they say. She’s going to the Pleistocene next week.

 
It’s not any more dangerous, really, than flying on a plane. Before every trip you must prepare yourself for the small possibility of a life where you become an old woman at age forty, a life where you step barefoot on twigs and stink like mud for the rest of your days.

 
When I step out of the time machine, the sun feels dim, polluted. I look up at the haze. At first I think there might have been a small volcanic eruption a few weeks past, but then the rain shivers down, a muted, felted click against leaves. Rain clouds, then. I live in the desert. It hasn’t rained in years. It hasn’t rained on a trip in years, either. This is a sign, I think. A sign from the God or Goddess of this era that I’ve come to the right place.

 
The pond is big enough not to be stagnant, but small enough not to be a lake. The trees feel heavy, the lianas hanging down like tangled hair. I clutch my extra-zoom camera and sit near the water. My pants soak through immediately with mud. I feel completely naked, like I am one of these trees, and a sense of panic shivers through me. I have done this so many times, but there’s something different now. The grasses wheeze with insects and rain. All the birds sound far away, as though they’re chanting at me from mountaintops.

 
“Hello?” I say, just to hear my own voice. The birds pause, and then they sing louder than ever, faster, quicker, the staccato of a heartbeat.

 
I think about the present I’ll bring my little sister. A rock? A flower? What would she do with such things? Nothing here will interest her. The picture will have to be enough.

 
Any moment now, I think. Any moment I will see the first human amongst her tribe of ape people. She will be different from them—slender, taller, less hairy. Her clever, mutated genes will pass on through millennia, shifting and growing, but recognizable. The original mother. The original Goddess. How will I know if she’s the first? I will know, I think. Somehow, I’ll just know.

 
The sun is veiled, doused by cotton balls, but I can tell that it’s almost evening. Maybe this moment was not the moment. Something crunches behind me, and I stoop silently behind what is either a small tree or a tall bush. A pack of hominids squat and cup their hands and bring water to their mouths. The sun is setting quicker than I thought, but there’s still time to watch. None of them stands out. They look like classic Homo heidelbergensis; flat foreheads, eyes positioned within brow bone caves. They look human but they also look disfigured, lumpy. In this lighting, completely naked, they appear silhouetted; remnants, untouchable; they are ancientness embodied. There are many pictures of them at home, but I take a few anyway. I am breathlessly quiet. Their hearing is better than ours. I go on taking pictures, shifting my weight, ready to run back to the machine.

 
The sun is almost gone. I’m halfway to the machine when I glance over my shoulder. There is a woman I hadn’t noticed. Her back is turned, but even from behind, I can tell—she is slender, with long, straight hair. She is different. This is it; my picture, my Nobel Prize, my sister’s gift. I run toward them. “Hey!” I yell to get her attention. She is lumpy. Her teeth stick out. She is not me.

 
I sprint to the machine but it’s too late. The battery is dead. They walk toward me, hunched. I understand their faces. In their eyes I see my own pupils. I see all the millions of moments, the learning of unthinkable languages, the cold fireside nights, our backs on grass; I see my own self—the goddess eternal, the very first strand of humanity, the first and the last, a birth and death in one swift motion.

New Earth – A Short Story

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You see, I was afraid. Afraid of all the little things that could go wrong, the things that, out there, would be big things. One little bump, one little mouse-sized hole in the metal, and we would be blown open, exploded like dandelions, smoked out from the inside until we became quiet, floating ice cubes in the drink of space.

This is what I thought about. What I worried about. I did away with it when I climbed on board. I had committed to a four month journey, my friends. A big old space journey to the place where they’re sending scientists, the new Earth. It’s not for living yet, but you can come visit. See what it’s going to be like. Look at property. Marvel at the two moons, round and ghostly as sand dollars.

The reason I went was to be one of the first. It was only the second commercial shuttle trip out. I wanted to be a pioneer, you see.

Four months swept by fast. Nothing exploded. We slept. We ate big meals and threw our waste into the galaxy. I talked a lot with a thin-armed girl who was training to be a scientist. I told her that she was too pretty to be a scientist, and then she stopped talking to me for the last three months. What was wrong with being pretty? I wondered this until we disembarked.
It was a blue skied planet, just like ours. I’d seen pictures but this still surprised me. There were mountains taller than the cloud level, yet absolutely snowless. They towered over everything, muscled and furrowed like a gigantic beast. If there was an indigenous species here before us, these mountains would be their god, I thought; even now, it was hard to believe they weren’t alive.

But that’s the thing. They actually were, you know—alive.
I saw it for myself. Third week of the stay. I was just lounging outside by the giant lake or the inland sea or whatever, and then I heard this creaking noise. It sounded like trees, only there’s no trees on this planet. Thin-armed girl told me so. I looked around to find the flowing noise, a long clash, maybe like bones sticking together. And then I saw it. It moved.
I told all this to the trip leader. She told me that hallucinations are common with the slightly lower oxygen levels. She says the scientists are trying to fix this by implanting more algae in the water.

But the next day I saw it again, and keep in mind that a day there is not an Earth day; it’s two Earth days. So I kept seeing this stuff another two New Earth weeks in, way past what Trip Leader called the “adjustment period”. I got the feeling, too, that I was being watched by it. That it could see me. I felt like I should talk to it. We had some great conversations. Much better than any with Thin-Arms. It told me I should stay there with the scientists. It told me there was nothing to go back to, that the Earth had exploded while we were away, that the emergency radio signal hadn’t reached us yet and wouldn’t until we were halfway home. This was too specific for anyone to doubt. I filled in Trip Leader and she told me that madness was not uncommon on unfamiliar terrain. Space travel could trigger this in some people. She recommended I fly back on the next charter.

That’s when I became afraid again. I thought it might be better to run off. Hide among the scientists. Wait for the New Earth to truly begin. That’s what the mountain told me to do. I wonder if that ship made it back. The signal hasn’t reached us yet.

Osprey – A Short Story, Part 3 (Finale)

The next day Alexis told her parents.

“It’s an osprey, I think,” she said at breakfast. “I looked it up online. They’re the only predatory bird that only eats fish.”

She led them upstairs, out on the balcony, where they all stood hip-to-hip.

“Look at that,” her mother said. The babies were alone again. “Aren’t they cute.”
“Good thing we found them early,” her father said. He was still holding his coffee mug—the one with Morgan Radley Real Estate written on it. “It’ll be easier to move them.”
“Move them?”
“Look, there’s already poop on the roof,” her mother said. “And we don’t want them eating into it.”
“The roof?”
“Roof repairs are expensive, Alexis,” her father said.
“They’re not going to eat into the roof. They eat fish.”
“But if their claws rub up against it,” her mother said.
“I’ve been doing research. I think the mate died. Usually there’s two together, and one gets to watch the chicks while the other goes hunting. But there’s only one here.”
“They’ll be better off somewhere else.”
“I can watch the chicks when the mother’s gone.”
“You’re not going to sit here all day and watch birds,” her father said.
“Or—at least they’ll be safer up on our house. It’s less likely something bad will happen to them.”
“Are you going to clean the poop off the roof?” her mother placed her hands on her hips, which she always did when she was ready to walk away, leave the conversation, move on.
“I’ll call in tomorrow,” her father said. He sipped his coffee. Both parents drifted inside. Alexis leaned against the railing, her forehead folded onto her arms.
“Oh, I almost forgot.”
Alexis twitched up from her slump. Her mother was in the doorway.
“Mary-Anne sent me a text-message. She’s going to ask about the interview. Probably Friday, she says.”
“Thanks, Mom. I guess—yeah. I guess I’ll do it.”
“Start practicing. Think of what you’re going to say.”
Alexis nodded.
“You’re good at that.” Her mother smiled. “This will be a good start for you.”
“Yeah. We’ll see,” Alexis said. She returned to her slump as her mother went back inside.

The rest of the day she sat on the balcony. She spread out a beach towel and leaned a pillow against the rail. She ate lunch, read for a little while. It was overcast but not cold. Alexis didn’t want to name the birds—she knew it would be too painful—but she’d started thinking of the chicks as The Big One and The Small One, which soon became Big and Small. She thought of their parent as a mother, even though she could well be their father. Either way, Alexis thought of her simply as Osprey.

Her father announced that the pest control people would be there on Friday. Same day as her interview at the bank. That meant Alexis would have two days with them.

Osprey had chosen this spot because it was the best for her chicks. If she was knocked out, bagged, and moved to some other location—what if the new place wasn’t a good spot for her? They were vulnerable enough already. And, worst of all, this nest was probably all she had left of her mate. At first Alexis thought the mate might show up, but it had been long enough that she suspected he’d died. Maybe accidental electrocution. Maybe pesticides. Maybe a bizarre car crash or a rare bird-illness.

At one point the mated ospreys had shared this nest. They’d most likely built it together, stick by stick, gathering fallen branches after early spring storms. They’d both seen the eggs lain. Waited for them to hatch. They’d expected to follow the long, slow migration when winter came, enjoy the warmth, and fly again to this very same nest next spring when the sun was once again higher in the sky. Osprey usually mated for life. Alexis wondered if birds could feel sadness. She’d taken a class on the philosophy of animals; their rights, their similarities to humans, their varying levels of sentience. Osprey should have rights. It was more important for a living creature to raise its young in peace than for their roof not to have poop or scratches on it.

Alexis tried talking to her father again, but he didn’t understand. He saw Osprey as one would from a distance—sharp, glinting, mean. Talons and fish and soulless reptilian eyes. She asked him to come back to the balcony, look again.

“No. I’ve seen them already,” he said at dinner. “They look like birds.”
“They are cute though,” her mother said.
“What time are they coming tomorrow, Dad?”
“Sometime in the morning. I’m going in late so I’ll be here.”
“I guess I’ll say good-bye to them before I go.”

But the next morning she lingered on the balcony in jeans and a sweatshirt. Light clouds draped over the highest part of the sky, the rest, a substanceless, untouchable blue. Big and Small already seemed older. After only four days their necks seemed more stable, and their feathers looked thicker. Alexis burrowed onto her stomach again. She breathed in the hay-and-sour-wildflower-pollen scent of the nest. It suddenly occurred to her that it hadn’t rained this whole week. Not since the mist during her walk. What would Osprey do in the rain? Out in the open, with no cover? It probably didn’t make her feel young and free. Osprey flew free in the open all the time. She didn’t need rain for that. No—rain was just an accepted part of the world. Water that was sometimes there and sometimes not. A piece of the sky.

Her father and a man in a khaki uniform pushed out onto the balcony.
“Alexis? I thought you left for the interview?”
“I’m not going.” She’d had her words planned, but now they felt stiff. “I wanted to ask, one more time—”
“You skipped your interview because of these birds?”
“Dad, I’m going to fight for them. They have as much right to be here as you do. And they’ll only be here until early fall. That’s it.”
Her father shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said to the man. “She’s on a kick.”
The man leaned over the railing. “Where’s the mother?”
“Out hunting,” Alexis said. She pointed. The horizon of the Swamp Barrens.
“Not the father?”
“He’s dead,” she said. “I’m pretty sure. They’re already at a disadvantage. If you move them—”
“Alexis,” her father said in a low tone that meant enough.
“She’s right,” the man said to Alexis’s father. “It’s happened a few times. We move the single parent nests and they don’t typically recover.”
“Essentially, you’d be killing them,” Alexis said.
“Now, I wouldn’t say that. But there’s a low end-season survival rate.” He tucked his hands in his pockets. “Up to you, sir.”
“There she is,” Alexis said, and Osprey perched on the edge of the nest. She busily slopped a fish into the middle. One yellow eye tilted toward the balcony and then away. “Dad, she just looked at you.”
Her father raised his eyebrows at Alexis, then he stared at the nest.
“This is a nice set-up they have here. Great place for an osprey, with the wetland down there.”
“I guess they can stay then, Alexis,” her father said. He placed a hand on her shoulder. “And you don’t think they’ll do any damage to the roof?” he asked the man.
“No, sir. They’re fairly low impact,” the man said as he followed her father back inside.

She knelt again. Osprey fed a frayed, feathery fish to Big and then Small. Carefully, one at a time. Alexis knew her mother would be disappointed about the bank job. But she was beginning to realize that, maybe, all the greatness and smallness of the world resided here in the Swamp Barrens; the sunrise, the sunset, the fish, the osprey; everything she’d grown with and had known; everything that she’d loved. This was where her questions came from, where she would soon migrate from. All her perceptions had arisen from this place. This was her beginning. This was her Life World.

Osprey – A Short Story, Part 2

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Behind their house was a sprawling wetland. In the winter its green water came up to Alexis’s knees, but in the summer she walked through it in shorts and rubber boots and only got her ankles wet. Sometimes in her head she called it The Swamp Barrens, but that was only because her freshman roommate had made her read Tom Brown Jr., and he was always talking about the Pine Barrens in his books. That was Tom Brown Jr.’s childhood wilderness, and Alexis’s childhood wilderness was completely different. A rural New Jersey forest versus a freshwater marsh in Washington State. Hers was an open wetland without trees; just grasses, cattails, and slimy, dainty sheets of growing things that she used to slop through when she was a kid. There was no good reason to call it the Swamp Barrens. It wasn’t even barren; fish glinted below the water in curled lines of silver. Nina used to call them swamp-fish.

When Alexis’s father came home, the three of them sat together at the long dining table. Her father untucked his white button-up before sitting down. “Alexis, how was your day?” he asked, still chewing a bite of pasta. “Did you apply for any jobs?”

Alexis swallowed her own bite. “Not today.” She wished she could somehow be transported to Nina’s apartment in California. She was probably still making dinner; something fancy and homemade, like quiche or spring-vegetable-salad-with-lime-vinaigrette.

“Mary-Ann said the bank is hiring,” her mother said.
Alexis stabbed a shiny, olive-oil glazed pasta bowtie. Her mother had told her about that bank job twice already. “I didn’t get my philosophy degree so I could work at the bank, Mom.”
“Philosophy is a transferrable skill. Everyone wants to hire a thinker,” her father said.
“And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose job goes with their major. That degree is to get you a good-paying job. Like this.”
“Exactly,” her father said. He pointed his fork at Alexis. “It doesn’t matter that much what you majored in as long as you have the degree.”
“But I want to do something with philosophy. I want to work somewhere—somewhere good.”
“Somewhere good,” her mother repeated.

What she really wanted was to write books about philosophy. Really accessible books that would make people wonder and question. She once told her mother about this dream, and her response had been: “That’s not a job, Alexis.”

Alexis crossed then un-crossed her legs. “I want to work somewhere that’s—I don’t know. Good for the world. Good for me.”

Her parents said nothing, but she could tell that they were thinking, Working’s not always going to be fun, Alexis. You need to start making money, Alexis. Suck it up and get a job like everyone else, Alexis. Like everyone else. Like her parents, receptionist for an insurance company and real-estate agent. Maybe she’d chosen philosophy because it was the major most unlike their lifeless professions.

“The bank’s good for the world,” her mother said. “They help people get loans. Get their affairs in order.” A pause. “Mary-Anne can probably get you an interview.”
“I’ll think about it.”

Her mother glanced across the table at her father. We’re getting through to her, they were probably thinking.

She’d only been out of school for a month. They were only being pushy because she didn’t have a name for what she wanted to do. She didn’t have a clear goal. If she couldn’t be a writer, what did she want to do?

Alexis retreated to her room. This had always been her room, right on the top floor, where the windows overlooked the Swamp Barrens in their glistening entirety. She hadn’t gone out on the balcony for a while, so she opened the door. In the open air she saw the diffused blues and purples of watery early-evening; the silhouette of a blue heron, its legs like stilts; a fluttering herd of white songbirds that reminded her of butterflies, mirroring fish as their wingtips painted streaks upon the water. Air like crisp grass and rotten logs. It was usually pretty quiet on the balcony, but today she heard some sort of tapping sound. She crossed her arms against the wind. There it was again. Tap-tap. Kind of hollow. Alexis glanced straight down over the rail. There, on the flat part of the roof, just under her feet, was a nest. Two little birds, nestled in an enormous circle of branches. Those sticks looked too sharp and rough for them, with their wobbly necks and fuzzy white throats and stripes of black along their eyes. Then she noticed the nest was lined with soft fibers of frayed bark. She sank to her knees and peeked out underneath the balcony rail so she could see better. It was all delicate strips of dried grasses and floating cotton from trees or dandelions, everything yellowing, browning, not rotting but crisping and melding into the inner walls of the nest. The chicks looked out toward the water. They moved constantly in a quavering, vibrating dance. Like they were unable to keep still.

Then there were wings. Great, giant, amazing wings. White and curved, a W shape bent at the elbows. Those wings fell from white to black to gray in ombre feathers. Speckled. Not flapping, just out. The bird landed on the edge of the nest. A delicate, pointed beak, and a small head. Alexis thought first of an eagle. The bird glanced at her. There was that same stripe along the eye. For some reason she imagined it lunging at her, claws outspread into daggers as it attacked her eyes. She felt a distant sort of fear, an edginess. Don’t get too close to my babies, she knew the bird must be thinking. If birds could think.

But Alexis didn’t want to leave. The babies screeched in ugly, raspy, pleading voices. Maybe they were hungry. What did eagles eat?

The bird took off. Down, she swooped; like a kite over the Swamp Barrens. Water splashed up as the bird sliced the surface with her talons. She hovered over the nest—her wings blowing the lightest whisper of air against Alexis’s face—dropped a lithe, brown fish in the nest, grasped it with one foot, and tore off pieces with her beak. The chicks gurgled, still quivering. Their mother eased red fish chunks down their throats.

Alexis settled more closely onto the dusty balcony, down on her stomach. She watched the babies’ orange eyes blink sleepily as they swallowed. She watched the mother strip apart the fish until there was just one long spinal bone left on the bottom of the nest. Part of her felt like she shouldn’t be watching them. This was an ancient, intimate ritual. It was for carnivores. It was for birds. It was for those who were non-human. Surely the bird should’ve chased her away by now. Instead she’d simply been forgotten. The mother settled in to the nest, and all three birds faced the dying sun. It had been years, it seemed, since Alexis had been so completely absorbed in something that she’d lost track of time. Sure, sometimes she forced herself not to look at her watch every five minutes, but she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d really, truly not cared what time it was.

Red and pink robbed the water of its blueness. The clouds soaked up all that color, condensing it into pale light. A breeze—just one short gust—clipped the wind chimes downstairs. It smelled inexplicably like summer; some blend of tree and warmth and just the right amount of distant ocean sadness.

Alexis felt like one of the ancient people she’d studied—phenomenologists without even knowing it—trapped in a world of light and darkness beyond human control. They probably watched the sunset every night, and let the sun guide their days. But evidently they didn’t like this deference to the elements, because they’d created religion to give them control. And as religion was dying out, technology was taking its place. Why was everyone so afraid to just—go along with it? Why, when these birds looked so content, all three still blinking and ruffling into tight balls of sleep in the last, gray moments of dusk?

Check back next week for the finale, Part 3!

Osprey – A Short Story, Part 1

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She didn’t like going for walks when it looked like it was going to rain. The rain itself didn’t bother her—Alexis kind of liked the cool droplets pinging against her forehead; maybe because being out in the rain made her feel like a little kid, or like a straight-laced intellectual led to freedom by some mysterious, creative force. One minute reading at a desk in some dark, Victorian study, the next, running through the open air, letting the rain absorb into skin and hair and tongue.

Yes, the rain was fine; it was the pre-rain air that she found annoying. The murky heaviness, the taste of water in the air, the wind suddenly directionless and choppy like ocean waves.

Ahead, just above the yellow house at the end of the street, the pale outline of the sun shuddered through a purple cloud. Another cloud piled on top of it. Then there were three clouds, burying any transparentness and any evidence of sunlight. It was the kind of sky that would not stop moving. Each cloud sailed across small glimpses of blue. When Alexis looked up for long enough, it felt like the sky was steady and, instead, it was the earth that sailed. Of course that was true, tectonically, but not as part of the immediate human experience. The life world.

As Alexis turned down the bark-chip path through the park, she thought back to her philosophy thesis. Two-hundred pages on the history of phenomenology. Most of it focused on Husserl’s Lebenswelt—a theory validating the unique, fluid experiences of all conscious beings, claiming that one’s reality and truth were based entirely on their experiences in the world. She was initially drawn to it, back in her freshman year, because she liked the way it sounded. Life world. Like each person’s life was special enough to create a new world. To phenomenologists, it was the body, too, that counted, not just the mind. For most of human history the sun had risen and fallen. Sunrise, sunset, not Earth-turning-in-relation-to-the-static-sun. That was her favorite part of phenomenology. If the sun appeared to move, then that was your personal reality, your way of knowing the world, your sense of place as a body on the rotating Earth. And it was no worse or better than any other; just, simply, your own way.

She’d completely immersed herself in her thesis. At first Alexis had felt like her place there, in college, was tentative. In some vague way she’d worried she would be fired, like she was among those creaky brick and cement buildings for only a trial period, and at any moment Professor Simmons, her advisor, might send her a solemn e-mail asking her to meet during the last ten minutes of his office hours so he could terminate her. He had a kind-but-creased old man face that she could easily imagine grimacing at her like some cartoon demon.

Every time she actually did visit his office in those first few weeks of class, Alexis secretly worried that he would tell her she hadn’t done enough, hadn’t been enough, and that her scholarship had been revoked. Of course this didn’t happen. Her SAT scores were top notch, her high school GPA was 3.98, and she’d taken four AP classes her senior year. She’d deserved that scholarship. And she’d made good use of it. Four years later she had completed her thesis and earned a BA in Philosophy. She could always get her masters, but she was satisfied with her education. She was ready to get started on real life. Ready to get it over with.

But now Alexis was living with her parents, again. To save money. The scholarship had only covered part of her tuition. Her student loans were simple, easy, such a low amount that she would be independent again in six months, tops—if she could only find a job.

She paused at the thin, mossy tree with the weird hump on its side, and she turned around. That was one mile. Two miles round-trip would be good enough. Light exercise. Something to get her out of the house.

Even in spring, the forest still smelled like dead, fallen leaves. It held the warmth of buried things. She thought she could even smell smoke from winter fireplaces, absorbed long ago into satchels of leaves and peeled bark, as the porous breath of the woods drank in everything.

The pavement told her it was raining. She felt nothing on her face or arms, and the mist was invisible except for the spotted evidence on the road. This was just another form of pre-rain. What she wanted was a full-out rainstorm.

By the time she made it home, the mist had ceased its shimmering, and the sun danced hesitantly between clouds. There was her mother’s red van in the driveway. It had belonged, at certain points, to both Alexis and her older sister, Nina, before they left for college. Well, in hindsight, it had never really belonged to either one of the girls. They were just stewards; renters; borrowers. Back when Alexis drove it to school and volleyball practice, she’d ordained it with a cinnamon-scented clip-on air freshener and a fuzzy purple blanket lining the back seats. But they were gone now.

Recently she’d realized that nothing in her parent’s house was hers. Not really. Most things in her room were vestiges of childhood. Parent-bought, parent-stored. The few things she’d bought herself in college were all she had. A few posters. The rug that once lined her dorm room.

Alexis called hello from the entryway and followed her mother’s voice into the kitchen. Her mother leaned over the sink, washing out her tupperware from lunch.

“Oh, Alexis. This humidity is unforgivable.” She turned off the faucet.
“It’s not that bad.”
“I feel like I’m swimming through mud.”
“How many times have you actually done that?”
“When you girls were little.”
“The swamp doesn’t count.” Alexis laughed through her nose. “Wading through water is different from swimming.”

Check back next week for Part 2!

Premonition – A Short Story

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“Don’t say that,” he said softly. “Why would you think that?”
“It’s just this feeling, Brian. I just— I know I’m not going to make it past the weekend. I just know.”  Her eyes closed, and her shoulders shook as she cried. She brushed away each tear as it rolled to her delicate nose. Soon her fingers were wet and glistening. She looked at him steadily.
Brian moved closer to her on the leather couch. He reached out to stroke her blond hair, but she leaned away from him.
“They made fun of me. They always made fun of me and now I’m going to die. And they don’t even know. What would they say if they knew?” She held her breath.
“If who knew what? Baby, nothing’s going to happen to you. You’re fine.”
“You need to tell them that I knew, alright?”
“Who?”
“Everyone. My family. Everyone I’ve ever met. Tell them that I knew it was going to happen and I had a dream about it. Then they’ll finally believe me. It’s the only good thing that can come out of this.”
Brian turned on the television and stretched his legs onto the vintage ottoman. He unhooked the first two buttons of his collared shirt.
“Babe, I just got home from work,” he said. “Can we talk about it later?”
“Oh yeah, sure, later.” She stepped toward the patio and opened the sliding door. “Later when I’m dead.”
The newscaster read the weekend’s weather forecast— sunny skies with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon. Brian muted the sound. He opened the door a crack and yelled to his wife.
“They say it’s going to be sunny!”
She was sitting on the grass with her legs sprawled out in front of her. The sky held bright wisps of cloud colored red by the sunset. One last ray of light rested on her angled face. The rose bushes surrounding their manicured yard withdrew into shadow.
“Your mom wants us to go, and I don’t see why not,” Brian said. He stepped outside. “Doesn’t it sound like fun? I mean, we haven’t been out to the ranch in a long time. We didn’t even go to the reunion last year.”
“Why not. It’ll be a good place to die,” she said as she plucked at the grass with her fingertips.
“Don’t say that—your skirt’s getting dirty. Don’t you want a beach towel or anything?” Brian walked hesitantly onto the grass, letting only the tips of his loafers touch the earth. He bent over and kissed the coiffed hair above her forehead.
“No. I don’t mind the dirt,” she said. “Not anymore.”
The next morning they left the sunlit halls of their estate. It was a two hour drive through cattle and farmland. He handed her a handkerchief to press over her nose. She wiped her eyes with it instead.
“You’re really upset about this dream, aren’t you?” he asked, glancing at her. “What do you think is going to happen?”
“I can’t explain it and I don’t expect you to understand,” she said, and she crossed her arms.
“Hey,” he whispered. “Lara, look at me.”
She tilted her gray eyes toward him. They were rimmed with thin, red lines.
“I love you,” he said, and then he looked back at the road.
They were halfway to the ranch, where the air smelled more like hay and less like cows, before she spoke again.
“But do you believe me?”
“You’re not going to die. Not anytime soon. Hey, try out the new camera. It’s right there in the backseat.”
She pulled out a heavy Nikon with a long lens. It was the camera all the professionals chose. He pointed out some of the features and which buttons to use. She took a photo of his hands on the steering wheel. The crack of the shutter made both of them jump.
Her parent’s ranch sat at the base of a beige hill, lined by meadows thick with wildflowers. They drove down the gravel road, beneath rows of blossoming pear trees. Pink petals drifted into the car. One landed on Lara’s lap, and she rubbed its velvety skin. Brian rolled up the windows.
The driveway was cluttered with cars. Her two brothers and her cousin had already arrived. Lara’s mother stood in the doorway. She looked hunched and gray beneath the tall, wooden arch.
“Oh, kids. I’m so glad you came.” She hugged them both. “Brian, you look fit. And you’re growing your beard out. And my little Lara. You always look pretty. What’s that in your hand?”
“Nothing, Mom,” she said, and she let the pink petal flutter to the ground.
Her father came out with a beer in his hand.
“Doesn’t that dress look lovely on her, honey?” Lara’s mother asked him.
“Sure does,” he chuckled. “What’re you doing with this guy?”
Everyone laughed except Lara, who only smiled and looked back at the car. She walked into the house arm-in-arm with her mother. Her father and Brian came up behind them with the suitcases.
The house smelled like her mother’s floral perfume. Her brothers emerged from the kitchen with their polo shirts un-tucked and wrinkled. Their cousin came down the staircase wearing tiny plaid shorts that choked her thighs. Everyone hugged and exclaimed how long it had been.
“Great, how about we take a picture? I want to try this baby out,” Brian said with the new camera around his neck. “All of you first. Get together.”
The flash made Lara’s eyes water. She grabbed the camera from him and made him stand between her parents for another photo.
“When are we doing the campout?” she asked.
“It’s either tonight or tomorrow night,” said her brother. “Why don’t we do it tonight, since it’s so nice out?”
They all agreed and gathered their backpacks.  Their excited voices echoed over the polished wood floors. Lara’s mother handed each of them a sack lunch, which they stuffed in among their sweaters, I-pads, flashlights, I-pods, speakers, solar chargers, pajamas, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, tents, and toiletries.
“You all come back if it rains, okay?” her mother said. She adjusted the necklace of black pearls she wore daily.
“It hasn’t rained in a few months, Mom,” her other brother said. “We’ll be fine.”
“See you tomorrow, then,” her father said. “Be careful.”
Lara hugged her parents tightly. She kissed each of them on the cheek and told them she loved them.
“Look at us,” her cousin said when they were marching across the fields. “We’re just like kids again. Except Brian’s here.”
Brian grabbed Lara’s hand and squeezed it gently. They were both sweaty beneath the late afternoon sun. The wind blew over them and brought with it the tired rustling of songbirds. A robin pecked at the dry ground beside them.
By the time they reached the base of the hill, everyone was ready to set down their heavy packs and take a break.
“Brian, I don’t want to go up there,” Lara said. She buried her face into his chest.
“You can’t be that tired already. We need to see the view!” He rubbed her back.
She stared at him, unblinking, for several seconds. Her face was at once pale and ruddy, and there were purple circles beneath her eyes.
“Did we really need to bring so much stuff?” she asked.
“Come on, let’s get to the top before the sunset. We have to keep up the tradition, guys,” her cousin said.
The five of them began their summit. Tall, crunchy grass brushed against their knees, and the occasional oak tree offered shade. Lara coughed. It came from deep within her chest.
“You can do it,” Brian told her. “Almost there.”
They crouched low, pushing their knees against the sharp incline. Finally, they reached the top. Forest and field stretched into nothingness. Hills in the distance made blue waves against the horizon, and at their feet lay the dark reflections of clouds.
“We’re up so high,” Lara whispered.
“Picture time,” Brian said. He positioned them along the edge of the cliff with the sky at their backs. “Perfect.”
Lara knelt down at the rim. She looked closely at the cracks in the rock. Spongy mosses grew out of them. Brian sat next to her.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I could live up here, right on top of this hill. I could watch the sky, and the birds, and the plants, and the fields, all of it. I could watch all of it forever. Now it’s too late.”
“Don’t worry. Nothing’s going to happen. Just enjoy the view.” He set the camera down and kissed her.
“I just felt a raindrop!” her brother yelled from the other side of the hilltop. His voice was strange and hollow in the open air. It seemed to come from the low clouds.
The wind changed direction. Fat raindrops stained the dirt.
“Let’s go back down,” her other brother said, squinting.
Brian leaped up and held out his hand for Lara. She stood gracefully. They walked toward them with their hands clasped together. Then he pulled away.
“Wait,” Brian said. “I forgot the camera. It’ll get ruined!”
He ran toward it just as the rain crashed down in its full force. The ground grew slick and sodden. The air was thick with freshly formed mud.
Brian slipped. He skidded over the coarse edge of the cliff with the camera clutched in his hands.
The others watched. They were so entrenched in gray mist that they weren’t sure what had happened. Lara stepped closer and peeked over the edge. Brian looked at her through the fog, but he couldn’t see his wife, nor the rain behind her. He closed his eyes just seconds before he crashed to the soil with a soundless thud. Then he lay there in a twisted heap, and the clouds moved lower and covered him up.
She wanted to scream but she couldn’t. Tears mingled with the cold drops of rain. They ran in hurried braids down her cheeks. She dug her fingernails into her scalp, and she shook her head.
“No… I didn’t think it was him,” she managed to say.
“Lara, what is it? What happened?”
Lara closed her eyes. Then she said, “I was right.”

Volando – A Short Story

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     “Ala,” her boyfriend said with his head turned away. “We need to go.”
She was named after God. Or wings, according to her Spanish parents.
“Uh… just another minute, Sam. Just…”  Her hands were still drying, one resting on each leg. She curled them up like potato bugs. A leaf fell into the water in front of her. Its smooth edges sliced her reflection.
“Look at the shadows. I want to hike out while we can still see,” he said.
He dug the toe of each boot into the soft dirt and exhaled. His green eyes searched the branches.
Ala’s bare feet skimmed the face of the lake. She swallowed the air, clean and full, and pulled an apple from her backpack. When she bit into it, Sam jumped. He stared at her with both cheeks sucked in.
“Okay. Finish that. Then we’re leaving.” Sam crouched beside her. He wiped his finger under his nose and licked his lips.
“You usually wear your hair up when we go for a hike,” he said.
He took a lock of her hair within his rough fingertips. She raised her black eyebrows.
“I didn’t feel like it today. How else could I let the wind comb it through?”
The last time she came to the lake, she had worn it in a bun so tight her forehead throbbed. Halfway through the day she finally just ripped it out. As soon as she did, a breeze came along. It crept over her shoulders, warm as the sun around the strings of her bathing suit. She still remembered how it smelled, like the inner neck of a dandelion.
“It’s all puffy. You can tell you’ve been swimming in the lake,” Sam laughed through his nostrils. “Damn, aren’t you ever going to finish that apple?”
“Look.”
A cloud of chickadees made black silhouettes above the lake. She pointed for Sam. He never noticed those things.
“Do you not think these things sacred?” she whispered.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sam grunted. “There’s some little birds shitting all over the place. You can see that at home. Hurry up. You want me to leave without you? You want to stay here all night by yourself?”
“You don’t love this. You don’t love any of this.” She had written those same words in her journal. Every day he did something to make her angry. She wasn’t even sure she loved him anymore.
“You want little mosquitoes and gnats crawling in your ears? Huh? You want to sleep curled up in the mud?” he asked, turning in circles.
“No. I want the stars, Sam.”
There was a panic in his eye that she didn’t understand. What was so terrifying about a night in the open air, away from concrete hills and car fumes? She remembered spending summer nights in the open fields behind her childhood home. Bats swept from one edge of the trees to the other, swirling like pieces of fabric lost in the wind. She fell asleep as frogs chimed and chirped around her and the stars emerged overhead. The field was her bed nearly every night in the summer. How could Sam fear what she had grown up with?
He paused a moment, then lunged toward his backpack.
Sam. You wouldn’t leave without me. What kind of man would you be?”
She realized that he wanted many things; the convertible their neighbor was selling, an apartment downtown, a plate of ribs for dinner. Their hikes were wasted days in his mind. They were small prices to pay to satiate her and win the prize. He wanted her to be rational, wear a ring, and settle down.
They had been together for two years. What would she have without him? Who would she be?
Her lips curled into a somber smile. The answer was all around her, breathing and flowing in the wind. Maybe he didn’t love Alder trees, or Ruby-crowned kinglets, or the pale moon in the sunlit sky, but she did.
“Do whatever you want,” she said. “I’m staying here tonight.”

The Figure Skater – A Short Story

Photo courtesy of figureskatinginternational.com

Dina stood near the ice with her shoulders hunched over, noting the skater’s lithe jumps and pretty contortions. The rink felt colder than usual on her bare arms. She stumbled back into the lobby.
Ignoring the spicy smell of pretzels and churros, she sat on a wooden bench near the entrance. A line of bodies blocked her view in every direction. Dull heat encircled her.

“Dina?” Abby shoved her round stomach through the crowd. “How’re you? What are you doing all the way out here? I didn’t even know you would be— oh. Oh!” Abby paused, her brown eyes falling to Dina’s feet. “You’re not… are you competing?”
Dina lifted one leg, heavy with her worn skate, and crossed it over the other. Abby smiled. Her teeth were yellow in the weak lighting. She eyed Dina’s sequined dress.
“Of course I am,” Dina replied. “I qualified. Second at Regionals.”
“Yes, but you’re—”
“There’s no age limit.”
They glanced at the ice as the skater’s routine ended. Dina was so nervous she’d ceased to hear the music long before. She swallowed and stretched her arms in front of her.
“You know, I’ve seen you practicing at the rink back home. I thought you might’ve switched to the adult competitions by now,” Abby shouted over the cheering. She sat on the bench across from Dina.
“Why is that?”
“You may be a bit younger than me, but you’re no spring chicken. We all know how hard it is to keep up with the kids. My Bree’s just going to run over you one of these days! You know? They’re a little faster, a little stronger, a little quicker at jumping up when they fall. Out there,” Abby paused to gesture at the ice, and laughed gruffly, “you’re gonna look like an ass stuck in with a herd of horses.”
Dina’s lips trembled as she forced a smile.
The skater pushed into the lobby, hovering near vendors selling jackets and stuffed animals. Chunks of ice clung to the back of her beige tights. A new song chimed soothingly over the speakers, then rose quickly into its majestic chorus.
“Yeah, I’m over thirty,” Dina said. “I’m old for a figure skater. I know that. I stopped skating before college so I could focus on school. Once I graduated I had enough money for food and rent, and that was it. I couldn’t afford to start skating again until my restaurant got going. Then I said, why not? If I can still skate, why not skate?”  She rested her knuckles pensively against her bottom lip.
Abby sniffed.
“If you ask me, Bree’s going to make it to the top before she even gets to high school. And this one,” Abby said as she patted her swollen belly, “if she’s a girl like they say, she’s bound for the 2022 Olympics.”
Dina gripped the bench with her bare, pallid fingers. The skater’s sparkly bun bobbed across the room. Her tears were buried into the armpit of a man— either a coach or a parent— in a black jacket. The results were posted next to them.
“The warm-up for novice is next,” Dina said as she stood. “I better go.”
“Well don’t you know how to dress your age? That little outfit!”
She tugged at her velvet skirt as Abby cackled. It was a custom-made dress, longer and humbler than most.
“Dina, dear. Let the children have their fun. Don’t take it from them.”
“I’m not taking anything from anyone.” Dina held her breath. “If I love it, why shouldn’t I compete? Why shouldn’t I skate? At least I go after my own dreams, instead of making my daughter do it for me.” She walked away with all her muscles clenched.
“You don’t even have a daughter, you old maid,” Abby called after her.
Dina stretched her legs next to the rink. She sipped from her water bottle, trying to quiet her thoughts. She would soon approach the age where becoming pregnant would be challenging, even if she finally found the right guy. After her fiancé broke off their engagement, calling them incompatible, she had given up. There were other things to worry about.
Silence washed over her mind. The door to the ice opened.
A group of tight-faced teenage girls drove through the entry, leaving a cloud of glitter behind them. Dina eased the plastic skate-guards off her blades and stabbed one toe-pick into the ice.
The girls carved away at the clean, white sheet. Their cheeks blushed pink against the biting air. Dina imagined herself out there, glancing nervously at the stands like they were. Her face grew hot. She stepped away from the ice and covered her mouth with her hands.
The skater still sobbed beside her.”I’m quitting,” she whined, wiping streaks of mascara from her eyes.”Dead last… that’s it. I’m done. I can’t— I don’t even like it anymore.”
Abby stood behind the skater and watched her cry. She looked at her, then at Dina.
Dina inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. One of her shoulders pointed toward the ice, the other toward the lobby. Suddenly, a plump hand rested on her shoulder.
“Do it, sweetie,” Abby said softly.
Dina’s smile was weightless. She stepped back toward the ice and glided on. Then she extended her arms proudly, and she skated.