Sunday, March 22, 2015

Morning Glories




Few things rival the morning quiet, and how the crisp cool air hit your face when you first open up the door, letting out a full night's collection of exhales. 

The boy has been reading Stephen King's "The Shinning", and as a result, I've found myself couch surfing in my own house.  He has been too scared to sleep in his own bed, stealing mine for the warmth of soft bedding and 'mom smell'.  His room is tough for girls to look at, let alone sleep in.  So I tuck him in at the start of the night, leaving on a small lamp in the hall, then creep downstairs and submit to the embrace of the oddly comfortable couch, and the company of Mrs. Bean, our pet bunny.

She likes to tug on the water bottle, making it clank with the metal cage, the sound large against the backdrop of the night.  But I succumb to sleep anyway, thankful that I've found the strength for a swim that afternoon and that it has the strength to beat insomnia I never had.

My phone chirps, in the wee hours when the neighbor's dogs whine like shapeless ghosts who are making their own creepy effect music.  I don't have to get up and go to the mantle where it lays charging to see it is from mom, she being the only one who would wake up and text me this time of the day.  The glare from the screen jilts me from sleep, even though my head spins from a dizziness that only occurs when faced with electronics at odd hours in the morning.

There is a world of worries out there.  Food quality, chemical ingredients, weather patterns, relatives near and afar.   All make up a recipe to pull mom awake from her dreams.  It has become a privilege now, to be able to share her thoughts, snoozing but a small toll to pay.

I open a window to hear the neighbor cough, another getting up to pee, perhaps lovemaking in the distance, mixed with nose blowing, and an engine starting in the parking lot on the left.  The sounds make the morning quiet stand out somehow, as if music made by the space between notes. 

Mrs. Bean falls asleep as the dark of the night fades into the blue, of morning light. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Gawky Library

It's smallish, and old.  As far as libraries go, it reminds me of the skinny kid on the edge of the playground with his neck out, his hands in his pocket and his feet shoving dirt because no one is picking him for dodge ball. 

I drive pass it thousands of times without noticing the library sign facing the street, a one story slope roof building on the edge of a parking lot.  It borders the middle school that you also don't notice, even if you walk through the grounds besides the earthquake shelter like classrooms.  They look like track homes from the 1950s, for the low income families.

The neighborhood is posh.  Across the street you will find fusion style cafes and restaurants, boasting a menu full of sun dried tomatoes, organic chicken, and sweetened coffee with fancy Italian names.  A church with steeple roof and stain class windows takes up the southern corner, giving the whole area an air of rich spirituality.  I've stepped inside that church once, it's as mellow as its congregations, unlike the burnt beans you will taste in that Starbucks across the parking lot.

But the boy falls in love with the school, turns out they let the kids surf for PE credits.  Only in California, friends of mine laugh while shaking their heads when they hear this.  So I come closer to this library now, and once I even step inside for a used book sale.

It is quiet inside, hardly anyone about.  The used books are stacked on low shelves on castors, which they scattered in the otherwise empty foyer, save for the doors to the washrooms.  I spot "My Life in France" by Julia Child immediately, something I've been wanting to read ever since I saw that movie - "Julie and Julia" which has become a favorite.

Then I walk about and scan the hardbacks, fingering their stiff spines and shiny covers.  I find "Remains of the Day" and unsurprisingly, the prose strikes me with its beauty.  I can't put it down.  But I don't have my wallet, so I fish around my five pockets jeans, and locate 25 cents which will entitle me to one of the two books. I get the Remains and walk on into the main room.

It is small enough that I can see from one end to the other, even with all the book shelves in the middle - about the size of the great rooms in my rich friend's $1million houses.  The feature shelves in the front reminds me of the "big desk" in book stores, where they pick out reader favorites or best sellers so you don't have to walk around the whole store to find them.  I find some good reads there, Stephen King, teen romance and Goldfinch all make an appearance, nicely balanced in their subject matters, sizes and heft. 

Beyond those there is a row of computers on an extended long desk, where several people are sitting and making clicking noises with their mice.   High shelves line the back wall, above which are transom windows which faces the morning sun, so splashes of white light came into the room and makes everything look cozy and warm, especially the large square desk facing the back wall.

That's where I decide to sit, away from the east side wall where story hours seem to be underway.  Though the reader is merely whispering and the children are merely listening with rapt attention, I sit on the other side of a tall shelf separating me from them.  I face the long wall of books on all three sides, the front door behind me, light pouring down over me like rain from the tall transom.  Scanning through the fiction section, I spot an ample selection of Tolstoy, Irving and more teen romances.  No Nabokov but plenty of T. C. Boyle.  I sit back down, deciding to write rather than read.

It has been tough finding a good writing spot.  The cafes are so noisy and bumpy with crowds that seem to flow in and out all hours it is impossible to concentrate.  My bums cry out in pain after 10 minutes on those hard chairs.  The yard crew goes crazy with the leaf blowers and tree trimmers every two days.   Restaurants, sigh, forget about it with all the "would you like to order anything else" guilt trips.  Conference rooms at work give me other kinds of guilt when I'm not doing "work" work.

Finding the tiny library and making it into my writing space is a blessing I can smile about, as can my bums as they sink into the soft green cushions.  I raise my eyes towards the light filled window, seeing the gawky kid standing at the edge of the field smile back, and taking his hand out of his pocket, to finally shake mine.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Strawberry War

Belle ran off, as soon as the car pulled into a spot near the field.  Her wispy hair came lose from the haphazard braid her mom had done up between breakfast bites and her incessant wiggling.   I tried to follow her, worried she might disappear into the strawberry bushes,  lined up neatly into rows.  The field stretched out as far and wide as our eyes could see, and Belle had just turned four a few days ago.

Her mom stepped out of the car slowly, navigating her six month pregnant belly among the steeling wheels, the door jam and her heavy backpack.  She stood on the edge of the field, all five foot four of her, and set down her loads.   With one hand on her waist, one hand shielding the sun from her eyes, she spotted Belle somewhere bobbing up and down through the field.

"STOP! Belle,  stop right there where you are!"  she shouted through hands cupped around her mouth, her voice bellowed through the field.

Belle appeared a few seconds later, not even losing a beat in her breath.  "Yes, mama?  What is it?"

"You can't just run off like that.  We need to go together.   Stay with me you hear?"

"But, can I just-"

"No, I don't want you to get lost.  And I can't chase after you any more or I will hurt your baby brother here. You want that?"

Belle paused for a hard moment of thinking with her a finger tapping onto her cheeks.  Three taps later she shook her head with only a slight air of reluctance. 

"Good.  Now here is your bucket.  Put your strawberry into the bucket, not in your mouth Okay?"

"O-okay.   Can I go now?"

"If you go slowly..."

Before Jocelyn's sentence ended, Belle had flown away again, like a butterfly, the hem of her orange dress fluttering in the wind.  She stayed slow this time, and I followed behind.  She paused when she spotted one sprinkled with berries, bending down, her face tucking into the leaves, her lips puckering, as if ready to kiss the strawberry prince inside.   But she was no fairy princess, her mom had chosen the dress, and it got in the way of running and threading through strawberry bushes.  So she flipped up its hem and tucked on edge into the pair of blue shorts she wore underneath.   Her mom sighs, shaking her head.   Compromises, she had told me that time and again.

With her clothes in place, she bent down again, reaching into one of the branch with berries, and pulled hard.  It didn't give, so she stepped back, holding onto it with all her might, poised as a young fisher girl pulling out her prized catch.  The berry stayed with its branch and the branch stayed with its bush and the bush, rooted firmly into the soil, refused to relent.  So Belle tugged harder, grabbing forward onto the sinewy stems with another hand, shaking it about.  Then she grabbed firmly with both hands,  legs bent and foot pressed hard into the ridge, leaning back and pulling until her legs shook, her cheeks beet red, and we all heard the unmistakable sound of branches breaking.

Before I could say STOP, she stood before me with her hand held high, reeking of strawberries, soil and victory. 

Belle: 1,  Strawberry: 0

The berry had been squished into mesh so juices ran down her arm, the branch wrapped around it long and loose,  limp in the light breeze and her chubby hand.

The bush looked like a defeated solider, meditating on its survival of that ancient battle between man and nature, or girl and bush. The aftermath looked sad - some of its top roots exposed, thin and white lines crying through the soil; its leaves and berries strewn about into the loosened soil, tears of a vapid loser.  NO fruit was left for the picking, not on this one anyway, not after all that ugly fighting.

I reached down slowly, giving allowance to rest for my old body, those shattered knees might buckle any moment now from the strain of standing, my cane having sunk deep into the soft soil around my feet.  What was left of me from the two wars - Korean and Vietnam - looked no better than the remains of the bush weeping next door. 


"Grandpa?"  She looked up at me with angelic eyes filled with mischief and pride.
"Yes, sweetie?"
"Do we have a bigger bucket?"


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