Saturday, September 10, 2022
Hello everyone, and welcome back to this casual series of “Shorts for the Weekend.” They’re written by yours truly, but illustrated with images created by and/or supplied by the featured guest.
Today’s images were provided by an author you’ve gotten acquainted with here, S.R. (Sarah) Mallery. She took the beautiful orange sky photo while out on a walk one evening, and she found the amazing mystical book image at Pixabay. Then I chose her novel Tender Enemies (Universal purchase link: relinks.me/B07MG6ZXZC) as the third inspirational image. The icons on the book cover got my imagination started, but my story didn’t go in the same direction, and has nothing to do with hers.
How could I not share one of Sarah’s marvelous books, when she just did a huge feature for me on her stunning newsletter? You can see it, and her quality work here and you can subscribe too: https://preview.mailerlite.com/g3w4z7t7f6
Thank you, Sarah, for offering these illustrations.
I suppose my story is rather… esoteric. I hope everyone will enjoy it.
Lemon Trees at Sunset
Sunset seared the sky, casting an orange glow on my notebook. I sat beneath the lemon trees and breathed in their scent, enjoying the calm of the evening, and not doing my homework.
My bare toes dug into the grass. I flexed my toes making a pop-pop-pop with the middle three toes. Then I wiggled all ten, enjoying the sensations.
It was a long-ago time, when assignments were written in cursive with ballpoint pins. Books were printed and bound. School libraries were constructed of brick and mortar. Cars and planes belched odors from their fuel.
And when misfit girls sat alone under lemon trees.
Rousing myself from a long daydream, I was only vaguely aware that the sun was on its way down the horizon. I looked at the book in my lap. My assignment had been a report on World War II. However, when I went to the library to collect the four required “sources,” I also picked up a wartime romance book.
I gave a little smirk, thinking of the delicious way the story made me feel. Then it faltered to an odd frown. My dad hated it when I smiled that way.
Either smile or don’t, but get that foolish look off your face, he would say.
My mind filled with iconic images from the story, the Statue of Liberty, the swastika…
“No matter how horrible, war always managed to return. Humankind never seemed to learn from it. I wonder if mom and dad have stopped arguing yet,” my thoughts rambled.
The teacher wouldn’t accept the romance book as a source. I spread all the library books in front of me. Only then did I notice a book that didn’t belong. I was certain that I had not taken that one from a shelf. I wasn’t likely to forget such a book.
It smelled musty and looked tattered and not just old, but ancient. The title wasn’t written in English or any language that had a familiar look. Strange emblems were on the aged leather cover.
“Maybe the librarian was trying to be helpful. The expression on her face was disapproving when she saw the romance book I was checking out,” I thought. “She was talking about symbols and the swastika having been something good before the Nazis corrupted it for their own use, but I wasn’t listening.”
I clicked my pen and opened my three-ring notebook. The light had not started to fade enough that it bothered my eyes. Staring blankly at the books, I wondered what to title my report.
The report had to be given aloud to the whole class. Everyone would make fun of me before I finished the first paragraph. The classes changed, and so did the students, but the ridicule was there every year.
“That never changes,” I mumbled.
Knowing that, the title had to be perfect. I made a sloppy start, misspelling a word. Angrily I tore the page free of the notebook, getting a paper cut in the process. I stuck my finger in my mouth.
When I glanced down, a tiny lizard sat on the old book, gazing up at me.
“Get off!” I yelled, startled.
Scrambling to my feet, I picked up the book and caused the lizard to flee.
At the sound of a plane overhead I looked skyward, wistfully. I imagined the varied people on the plane, the exciting places to which they went, the romance, the comradery. Friendships. Acceptance.
Distracted, I stumbled on the uneven ground. I dropped the book, which fell open on the grass.
With my left hand I shielded my eyes against the light. My right hand hung at my side. I didn’t realize the paper cut was still bleeding. I still gazed after the plane and watched the vanishing contrails, imagining faraway places and people.
The moisture of the blood on my finger and the burn of the cut finally displaced the daydreams. When I looked down, I saw a deep red bead of blood. Moving at an impossibly slow speed, it dripped onto the open page of the book. With a tiny splash, the blood landed in the center of a star symbol inside a circle. It was a pentagram surrounded by other strange emblems that I didn’t recognize. On the opposite page was a picture of a sun, overlaid by a line drawing of an eclipse.
I heard mom’s voice, calling me to dinner. Their yelling would transfer from each other and be redirected at me if I didn’t hurry. Clipping my ballpoint pen to the notebook, I stacked the library books on top.
When I turned to pick up the old book, I was fascinated by the way the setting sun cast light on the pages. It seemed to make the book glow orange. The drop of blood in the center of the pentagram glittered ruby red.
Trying to pick up the book without bleeding on it anymore, I lifted it one-handed. However, it was big, heavy, and too awkward to manage with just my left hand. I held the right side, but the left dangled vertically. The droplet ran downward, making a red trail to the drawing of the eclipse.
As the blood connected the heart of the pentagram to the eclipse, the orange light of sunset shone on the pages.
The scent of the lemon trees filled my nose. Light blossomed all around me. It was so bright that brilliance overwhelmed sight and even hearing. Yet I could still smell the lemon trees.
My grip on the book went slack. The heavy tome landed painfully on my toes. I jumped backward with a curse that would have angered both of my parents.
As the blinding light receded, I cast an accusatory glare at the book. However, it was gone. I beheld a pair of feet, that were as bare. The toes flexed, making a pop. Hearing the sound, I automatically made my own toes pop the same way.
Being so dazzled by the burst of light, my reaction was belated. I looked at the bare feet. Blinking away the last of the glare, my eyes took in a long airy skirt, then waste-length hair, and then a vaguely familiar face.
“Do I know you?” I asked suspiciously.
She looked a little like my mother, I realized. Although that wasn’t exactly what made me feel I should know her.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you for quite a while yet,” the woman said.
A breeze rustled through the lemon trees. Their scent came to my nose again, but it was different, clearer, cleaner. Abruptly something seemed off to me. I looked up, thinking it was about time that another plane would pass overhead. However, the sky was empty except for birds and fluffy white clouds. I turned toward the nearby highway, even though it would be out of view. I listened, and then I listened harder. There were no sounds of horns or engines.
I looked at the woman uneasily. She returned my gaze with a little smirk. That expression seemed familiar to me too.
She scrutinized me as if gauging my age. Then she nodded to herself.
“The bullies at school… mom and dad fighting all the time. Never feeling good enough? Dreading every new week before the weekend is even over?” she asked although it was clearly not a question.
“How—” I mouthed the word, but nothing came out.
“You’re right. It never really changes. The people who make life seem unbearable never change. Mom and dad will argue as long as they both live, and they’ll never give you the relief of splitting up either,” she said, astounding me that she could know those things.
“All you can do is cope with it as best you can. Lose yourself in your books. Sit under the lemon trees and dig your toes into the grass. Whatever gets you through the day. Then, as soon as you are old enough, you walk away from everyone who wants to break you,” the woman added. “You can, and you will.”
“You don’t get it. You don’t know what it’s like!” I cried. “Who are you? How could you know what I can or can’t cope with?”
She gave me that smirk again. Then she popped her toes as she had done when she arrived. As I had popped my own toes…
She was only a couple of inches taller than me. I looked at her lips, lifting my hand toward her face, but stopping. Instead, I put my fingers to my own lips. Finally, I understood what was familiar about the woman.
“How do I know you can cope, survive, even thrive someday?” she asked. “Because it is-was-will-be. Because you can-did-will-do.”
Suddenly the brilliant light engulfed me anew. When it dissipated, the noise of a jet overhead filled my ears. My notebook sat open under the lemon trees, and my books spread across the ground as I had left them.
However, the ancient leather book had disappeared.
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The Armadillo Files
If you missed any episodes of my latest blog serial, The Armadillo Files — or if you’re lonesome for Fang and Dilly, the book version is available.
Universal Purchase Links
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Wishing you a wonderful weekend. I love to hear from you, so friendly comments are encouraged. Hugs on the wing!
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This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2022 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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