Alfalfa shook her head as if she could shake out the demons with the raindrops in her hair. She’d been angry three times today already, and it wasn’t even afternoon. They were all stupid reasons, she thought, and now I can’t stop being grumpy. She was angry with herself. She thought she rooted out the worst of her self-hatred, decades of peeling that particular onion, layer after layer, until–she’d thought–there were only small pockets of it wedged in hidden places, sparked on rare occasions. Until now those remaining pockets felt like tiny eruptions, small squalls only, not the deadly storms that used to make her want to die. In recent days, though, these crazy short-fused bursts of anger were chased by strange backlashes of self-loathing, akin to what she weathered long ago and thought she’d left behind. Left behind like the cottage on the lake she and her father used to visit in the summers, her nose pressed up against the car window each time they had to leave, the cottage growing smaller and smaller as they drove away. She shook her head again, a softer gesture now, sadness deep inside her. She missed her father. Not his compulsive need for order, never that, but the kind of dance he did with life, the part of him that loved every inch of that lake and showed her why. He gave her her name one summer there all those years ago, and she let it stick, goofy as it was. She let people think it was some crazy hippie choice, some commune-loving naiveté. She didn’t say it was the magic whimsy of the man who showed her faces in weathered bits of wood, who made her fall in love with wet stones at the edge of the lake, the man who always let her feel like a person, who never treated her like a child.
[Editor’s note: timed writing, the prompt to include the words grumpy, dance, compulsive and raindrops.]
When I catch myself in the mirror this morning, I like the look of me in my favorite green cotton top and Mami’s old purple sweater. I have a bag of bird seed in each hand on my way out the door to feed them, and I smile at my reflection, unexpected joy rising. I went to sleep early last night, slept long hours with loud rain sounds coming through the open windows. For me, my heart’s ability to lift, maybe even her agility, seems linked to being rested, even to eating well. I am convinced much of being happy is tied to simple body chemistry. When I’m worn out from being too busy, from navigating grief or anger, from the stress of a new job, this kind of unlooked for joy doesn’t spring up in me in the same way, and I tend to miss it, that lightening, that natural lifting of the heart. I have two friends who are in the midst of weathering two huge losses, and I know they’re exhausted, would read it on their faces if they hadn’t told me. I want to be able to bundle them in blankets, sit them by a fire on this wonderful day of our much-needed rain, place warm mugs of my split pea soup in their cradled hands. I wish I could take over the demands of their day to day lives, let them move between the fire and their bed and back again, let them do nothing but sleep and dream for a week, for two, for three. I know they haven’t stopped being grateful, feeling lucky even now, treasuring the richness of life. But I suspect their hearts aren’t agile right now, may be too bruised, too tired to lift very far. I want to tuck their blankets in around them, pour them hot tea, remind them it will take time. “That surprising joy will be back,” I whisper. They smile at me, silent, love in their eyes.
She crumpled up the paper and tossed it over her shoulder. She refused to look behind her, certain the sight of the heap of wadded up paper would make her want to crawl under the straw to hide like she and Devin used to do up in the hayloft of the big old barn when they were kids at their grandparents farm. She didn’t even turn around when she heard a small crash. The Buddha statue, she figured, the small pink one made of resin, the one where he’s the jolly traveler, knapsack on his hobo stick. At least, she thought, that one wouldn’t break. But she aimed the subsequent balls of paper lower and put a little less punch behind them. The truth was, she didn’t know why she was doing this. Why was she putting so much pressure on herself? Since when did she tear pages out of her notebook, begin again and again, rejecting her work like this? What was wrong with her? She heard the sound of a car on gravel, and her pen froze. Henry couldn’t be home already. Could he? In spite of herself, she got up and walked to the window. Who the hell was here, and what was she going to do with her big pile of evidence? She saw the orange Fiat in the driveway. Fuck. Worse than Henry interrupting her. It was Marge. No way was she letting Marge in. She ducked when she saw her getting out of the car. Ducking, squatting there beneath the windowsill, made her feel insane. She giggled. I’ll just crawl away, right? More hysterical laughing. She backed up, inched her way over to the other wall, hands and knees wading through the mountain of crumpled paper. How was she ever going to be able to explain this?
Hank shook his head and muttered under his breath. Then he shook his head again. He wished Sally was here. She’d know what to do, what to say to his leftie child, this daughter of theirs. Her daughter maybe more than his, but he loved her like there was no tomorrow. He just couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her sometimes. This living with them again wasn’t something he saw coming, but here she was, rearranging the kitchen cupboards, hiding his ashtray. Hell, yesterday he even found a full box of his Frosted Flakes in the outside garbage can. What was she thinking? And now she was on to his politics, chastising him for not trying harder, for not being willing to camp out with her in protest at the community center. He was too damn old to sleep on pavement in the middle of December. And she was too damn old to be living with her parents. When was Sally going to get back, anyway? How long could it take to get her toenails done, for Christ’s sake? Since when did she even have her toenails done? He muttered again, opening the can of dolphin-safe tuna Alexa had bought for the cat. It was probably her idea, the toe painting deal. His wife had been perfectly content with doing her own toenails all these decades, and now when she should have been here helping him deal with her damn daughter, she was off getting her toenails doo-dawed instead.
Longing to me is about being in a body, like Zora Neale Hurston and our little mudballs, wanting to “show our shine.” I think the earth herself holds a kind of longing in her, a kind of yearning or ache, a sadness, maybe. To me it’s all wrapped up together, these clumps of earth us, what it means to be a being in a body, longing to belong, the impermanence of things in this life we live.
He was getting cold, but he wasn’t ready to leave. The winter sun abandoned his usual spot in the mid-afternoon, and he’d left his blanket outside the walls, folded with care and tucked up in the fork of his favorite tree. He wasn’t yet used to the sun being so far south in the sky, and these narrow streets blocked so much of the light in all seasons. He sighed and got to all fours, managed to stand up without groaning out loud. No one wanted to hear him groan, he knew. No one wanted to think he might be truly suffering, and he didn’t want people to think he was faking it to play on their sympathy, a ploy for more coins in his copper cup. The truth was he was getting old and creaky. Getting up off the cobblestones wasn’t as easy as it used to be, and the dampness in the stones, the cold that never left them for long this time of year, made it harder. But he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. He liked his life for the most part. He wouldn’t have chosen to go blind like this, slow and steady, but if something had to give, he thanked the Weaver every day that she hadn’t taken his hearing. Then he would have had to struggle not to feel sorry for himself. He might have become the pitiful sight some people already thought he was. But the Weaver had left him his hearing and his voice, so every day he got to lift himself up to the sky, carry himself across the tops of the eastern forest, sail across the southern sea. Weaver be praised.
He couldn’t believe the school was making him have a different kind of class card than everyone else just because he was a foreign student. Foreigner, they should have said. Dark-skinned Middle Easterner. Alien. Maybe he should just wear a sign around his neck: fucking scary. His grandfather would just shrug it off with that peculiar arrogance. But he didn’t feel like that. He wanted to be liked, to feel welcomed in this high school. In his biology class, they each had to take a blood sample from themselves, quick pinprick, smear across the slide. His lab partner Callie gaped when she looked through the microscope at his blood. He swore her jaw dropped. She looked up at him then, confused. He saw it on her face. She’d expected his blood to look different under the glass.