In The Rain

Water drips from my hair, my cheek, and the end of my nose. Where’s my umbrella?

“Why do you walk so far?” Marie asks. Then she blurts out, “Parking’s available closer to the office.”

Should I tell her? Or will it create a moment of: I can hear a paper clip hit the carpeting on the other side of the floor?

My friend slipped off a stool. It wasn’t a bungee jumping incident or skydiving accident. She’s short, and wanted to get oregano from the top shelf.

“It’s a good form of exercise,” I say.

Part III: If I Could Only Breathe

“Mom-mmy, Mommy, Mommm-mmm-y!”

Mom took me to my horseback riding lessons. After, we would go for soft serve chocolate ice cream. It’s our favorite.

“Mommy!!!!!”

Her smile is the last thing I see at night. She moves in close to me with the sweet smell of her perfume surrounding me. Then mom pulls the sheets tight around me, cocooning me in my duvet. Once I’m tightly wrapped, she tries to plant one hundred goodnight kisses on my cheek. I always stopped her at fifteen. When I was little, I always let her go to one hundred. But at some point, I didn’t. I was too cool to have my mom smother me with all those kisses, even though no one else was there.

I don’t know why I stopped her.

“Mommy!!!” I scream through blurry eyes. I’m too frightened to turn away from Momma’s pale white face for fear I’ll never see her again. But at the same time, I don’t want to see her like this anymore. I want to see her smile.

“Alvina, Alvina, Alvina….”

I blink at the man’s voice who knows my name. I don’t know who he is.

Now, he’s dragging me away by the hand from momma.

“Mommy!” I hiccup through my tears. Drool escapes from my lips. My nose drips onto the carpet where my wide-eyed mother lies.

“Alvina, baby,” the man’s voice cracks apart like soil does in summertime when it hasn’t rained for several weeks.  The man’s lower lip trembles. I feel his hand shake inside of my hand. Small streams of water fall from the corners of his eyes.

How did I not know who the man was?

“Daddy!”  I shout as fear and comfort collide together inside of me. I thought I was alone. But now that I know he’s here, I’m relieved and yet, even more frightened at the same time. Daddy’s arms wrap around me and he lifts me up. I drop my head onto his shoulder and bury my face into the space between his neck and shoulders.

I’m being carried away from mom.

“Do you know how long she’s been like this?” a man asks who wears a paramedic’s uniform.

I blink at him. When did he get here?

Daddy places me on the ground. I stand beside him not quite certain what else to do. He continues to hold my hand. It’s comforting. But it doesn’t feel quite right. We never hold hands. It’s mom’s job.

I know this is bad.

I’ve got nothing else to do, so I stare at dad’s face. Water drips from his nose and he wipes it away with his free hand. Dad’s eyes are red. I hear him say, “I don’t know. I found her like this. I was working late.”

“What’s your wife’s name?” a bald paramedic asks with dark brown eyes and bushy eyebrows.

“Be-Beth,” Dad says stuttering.

Dad never stutters. He owns his company, and he says: he’s the man in charge.

I take a deep breath in and summon all the strength I have inside of me. Daddy needs me to be brave now. I squeeze dad’s hand so he knows I’m still here. Nothing is worse than feeling like you’re all alone.

Dad’s eyes glance down at me. His face contorts in a twisted expression of emotion. Water pours from his eyes, over his lips, and out his nose all at the same time.  His breath is laboured as he sobs for a few seconds.

From where mom is I hear, “Beth, can you hear me?” a dark haired woman paramedic asks.

I notice that at some point the paramedics moved mom to a stretcher and they’ve placed an oxygen mask over her lips.  As they wheel her past me and dad, her eyes roll over to where we’re standing next to a policeman.

I don’t remember seeing the policeman. Where did the paramedic go? But he’s the bald guy with bushy eyebrows. He wasn’t a paramedic. He was always a policeman. How did I mix up their uniforms?

I can’t believe I was upset over a grade earlier today. Stupid history test.  One grade. I can’t believe a few hours ago, that’s all that mattered to me.

My lower lip begins to tremble. But when I look up at dad, I stop it.  I notice dad’s calm now too.

“Come on, Alvina. Let’s find out what hospital they’re taking your mother to,” Dad says as he fumbles for his keys in his pocket.

We walk behind mom with our hands clasped together. Dad’s focused on mom. My eyes flip over to the window. Outside, I see the twenty acres of woods my parents own. I search there for one second of peace in the leafy branches. Because when I’m upset, it’s where I always go.

Through the window panes, I see a faint outline of a woman. The woman has long dark hair, and wears a plaid shirt, and blue jeans.

There, Gudrun waits, for my return.

Part II: If I Could Only Breathe

Part II:

What a mess.

Beth was always a slob who never took her domestic responsibilities seriously. But then again, she never took anything seriously: not cleaning our home, not as my wife, or our wedding vows. Selfish. High-maintenance. Drama Queen. Those are the best words I can think of to describe my “beloved”.

“Beth?”

Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Gulliver’s Travels, Outlander, 50 Shades of Grey, The Alchemist. Her books are recklessly spread across the floor as if she’s had a temper tantrum and tossed them across the room.  That wouldn’t bother me if it were just her stuff. But my reading material is twisted together with her garbage: The Wealthy Barber, MONEY Master the Game by Tony Robbins, Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson to name a few.  I’ve never realized until now how different we are.  I’m made of the real stuff. I work hard to get things done. Beth is all about the fluff.

“Beth?” I say more impatiently. My wife dislikes me. But she normally at least shakes her head with annoyance in my direction when I say her name. Or for that matter, ask her any question.  I stop. Not one muscle flinches from her body. Not one hair moves on her head.

It’s quiet.

If there’s humming from the lights, I don’t hear it. If there’s a fly bumping along inside of a light fixture, I don’t hear that either.  My fists open and close. Trying to do what? Pump fuel to my heart?  I don’t know. Why am I panicking? I’m sure she’s fine.

“Beth, stop playing games!” I shriek at her uncontrollably. Her body is spread out on the multi-coloured Persian rug we purchased from Turkey a couple of years ago when things were still good between us.  There’s no response from her.

Weird.

My heart thumps like lightning does igniting fear in me.   I stumble over our books that impede my way as I scramble to Beth’s side.

“Beth!” I scream. My hands shake her limp body.

Wide-eyed, terrified eyes peer back at me. Beth’s skin is blanched like chalk. Her eyes remind me of a woman I pulled from a car at an accident a few months ago. It was the same night that Beth told me about her affair with Ross.

“Beth, hang on!” My voice shakes with terror as I fumble for my phone. It tumbles out of my hand and lands on The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. I grab my cell and punch at the keys mumbling, “Goddammit, it’s three numbers! How can dialing 911 be so difficult?”

“Momma!” Alvina screams as she enters through the wooden doors of the den.

No, no, no, no! Alvina, don’t see this! “Alvina, please stay back, honey!” I bellow to her.

Like mother, like daughter, she disregards what I’ve said. Now, she’s sobbing while holding Beth’s hand looking up at me with tears galloping down her round cheeks as her lower lip trembles whimpering, “mommy, mommy, mommy…”.  I could barely stand to see Beth’s wide, terrified eyes staring back at me. To see Alvina, my only daughter, like this –

“Police, fire, ambulance?” a controlled voice says through my cell phone.

“Ambulance!” I shriek.

Gretchen & The Red Ford Mustang

Flickers of white light crackle all around her body. Then sunshine warms her face. The landscape before her reveals green meadows, and some distance away, are white cliffs carved along the shoreline. A bird soars above the water, hunting.

Darkness descends.

A porch light switches on revealing a woman with blonde hair. When she turns around, Monica knows her name. Twenty-one year old Gretchen brightly smiles at her with beer-laced breath. Peter wobbles to his red 1969 Ford Mustang and reaches for his door handle. Once the door is open, he throws himself into the driver’s seat.

I want to say something. It doesn’t feel right.  Maybe they should stay? Or maybe Gretchen should just stay? But who I am to argue? They’re both adults.

The Mustang screams to life with a thundering noise, and then the King’s, “Jailhouse Rock” engulfs the air. Headlights shine light on the trees, but they are merely shadows of what I can see in daylight. The tree shadows remind me of a graveyard scene. I don’t know why.

Gretchen bounces into the passenger seat. She rolls her window down, and I notice she’s re-applied her red lipstick for Peter.  Joyful and giddy, from the booze and her man, she beams at me. After years of trying to catch Peter’s eye, she’s finally leaving with him!

Why should I say anything? She’s an adult, capable of making her own decisions. Besides, I tried to talk to her, and she said Peter was fine.

I watch the car backup, go forward, and then it races into the darkness. Red tail lights flicker at me. They seem to be saying with each pulse of red glow: you need to stop, STOP, STOP THEM – NOW!!

Gretchen’s ivory hand is out the window flapping from the car. A back hand wave, she signals to me, a final farewell.

One Moment, Please

“I’m suffocating.” Her eyes are wide. Hands rest limply by her side. She’s taken on the “look” as if she’s nearly drowned and was saved by some heroic passerby.

The man seated across from her scribbles something into his notebook. One eyebrow arched, like he does, he asks, “Physically, or figuratively?”

“Both,” she answers swiftly. Her voice is thick like overgrown trees and shrubs that will slow a hiker down in the woods.

His eyebrows arch towards the ceiling. He asks, “What do you think is causing you to suffocate?”

“The pace. The rat race. Crushing responsibilities.”

“Responsibilities? Such as your job?”

“Yeah,” her voice wavers. Quietly, she ponders how much more to say.  Of course, he picked up on the job immediately.  But there are other things. Responsibilities don’t only lie in a job. It’s everything, and at the same time, nothing at all. Will he think her a selfish whiner? One of those petulant children stomping their feet, screaming, “GIVE ME THAT! I DESERVE IT!”

This is a safe place, where she can say anything, right? That’s what she’s been told by him, and by others. With a sigh, her words tumble out in a rush, “I worry about being late for work, my boss thinking I’m slacking off, my neighbours thinking I’m lazy because I don’t garden more.”

“Are you slacking off at work?” His voice is a rhythmic hum as small dots of dust float up in the air as if there has suddenly been a gust of wind knocking them off of the bookshelf, books, or the oak coffee table in front of her.  But the two of them are barely moving. They sit there, talking. The shared words may mean something, or nothing. They’re digging, trying to get to the root of the problem. The thought comes to her of things she’s read about London and Rome where construction workers begin to dig and find burial sites, or ancient Roman ruins.  Who wins? Does the past get to keep the space? Or does the future, knock over the past?

She snaps herself back to the now.  “No, I don’t think I’m slacking off. I mean, I have days when I could do better.” There’s a pause as she waits for the moment of judgement to pass. She’s certain that’s the case. Will it matter if she says one more thing? She decides, why not? Finally, she adds, “I’m just so tired sometimes.”

His eyebrows knit together. Index finger rises, and pushes his eyeglasses up to the bridge of his nose.  “I think we all have days we can do better. After all, we’re human.” He stops talking for a moment. It’s a tactic of his to force her to consider the words he said.  “So, you’re not slacking off at work. Is there anything else you can do differently in the morning?  Maybe, leave earlier so you’ll have more time to commute to work?”

“I try to leave earlier most days.” She bristles as her arms fold defensively in front of her.  “I could skip my Starbucks run, but I don’t want to.” Eyes suddenly fill with tears. She knows what he’ll say next. He won’t get it, and will try to reason with her. Explain to her that it’s the most rational decision.

“You go to Starbucks every day?” His voice seeps with an incredulous tone as his hand begins to swivel and swirl around as the pen he’s holding stops and starts, racing from left to right, jotting notes down in his notebook.

“Yes, even if I really don’t have the time, and I’m already running late.” Stopping herself, she breathes out and then adds, “because I want just 30 seconds, maybe a minute of relaxing.” Her words rush out in a flurry. She needs to explain herself before he stops her. Make him try to understand her position. “I do the mobile order every day. But it’s the 30 seconds of running in and I hear the old time music, and the baristas are SUPER busy, but they’ll still take a moment to acknowledge me with a smile, or a hello. Then, sometimes all these people are in the coffee shop who are having conversations, reading their books, or sitting and sipping their coffee. All I think, I would love that. That’s how life should be.”

“How life should be?” He peers at her through his spectacles as wisps of hair fall forward onto his forehead.

“Yes,” her voice is emphatic. Hands wave in the air making small circles, “life should be full with books to read, feeling the warmth of sunshine and heat on your face….You know – sipping beverages and chewing your food properly, and when you have an indulgent delicious dessert savouring the lemon, chocolate, or cinnamon taste in every bite.  Versus shoving food into your mouth in between stop lights, while eyeing other cars suspiciously as if they’ve all conspired together to leave at the exact time you did, because they want you to be late for work.”

“Do you believe that?” His pen pauses on the paper. He reclines back and uncrosses and then crosses his legs waiting for an answer.

Paranoid, she imagines him writing.

She throws her head back, laughing at the question.  “No,” she answers.  “But it feel like I’m in a race with everyone else, and I need to get as far as I can quickly, to give myself the best chance of making it to work on time.”

“Have you thought about going to Starbucks after work?”

She snaps, “I’ll never go.” More than ready for that question, she didn’t hesitate. He’s not the first one to ask her that.

Eyebrows furrowing together, he remembers back to another conversation they had, and asks, “Is that why you take short trips?  Because you think you’ll never have the time to take longer vacations?”

Nodding her head, voice rattling a bit, she answers, “I know I won’t.  So many people say: I can’t go now because I don’t have the time or money.  I’ll go later, when the time’s right and I can do a bigger trip.  But for a lot of people, it never happens. I’d prefer one minute at Starbucks if that’s all I could have. I would prefer two days in New York, if I can’t afford five days. And if I never have two weeks off to go to Australia, I’ll do one week. I don’t want to wait for the perfect time, because one day, I won’t have any time left.”

Deconstructing Stupid

“Alright everyone, take your seats.” It’s said with a certain level of gravity Mr. Bryson seldom uses.

The kids wiggle into their seats as a quick hush descends over the classroom. There’s an unending pause that lingers in the air -; it’s the same weightiness found in churches when members of a congregation perched on wooden benches wait for an inspirational sermon to be given by a priest or a minister.

“Tom,” Mr. Bryson says. “Are you on your phone?”

“No, Mr. Bryson,” Tom lies as he casually scoops his phone into his Under Armour sweatshirt pocket.

“Well, if it’s already away, there’s no point getting it out for this exercise. Everyone else, get your phones out.”

The students wonder: is this a joke? They glance around at each other waiting for someone else to make the first move. After a few moments, someone grabs their knapsack, and there’s an echo of rustling bags being shuffled around as other kids slowly reach for their cell phones. Once found, twitching fingers are poised and rest lightly on their telephone keypads as they wait for further instructions.

Tom casually removes his mobile phone from his pocket. Mr. Bryson stares at him. There’s an exchange of glances between them. After he can’t handle it anymore, the boy averts his eyes and focuses on the desktop in front of him.

“I can’t believe he’s letting us use our phones!” Jenna whispers to her friend Beth who’s seated in the desk beside her.

“Yes, I am,” Mr. Bryson answers. His voice cracks through the noise that consumed the air with the movement of books, bags, and low murmuring of voices. Everything halts instantly.

“We were going to continue to talk about The Giver today. But I’ve decided to do something different.”

The tranquility returns. It lasts so long a buzzing fly’s zzzz is loud and long enough several children spin their heads around in search of the annoying insect.

“As everyone knows, I was a monitor in the schoolyard at break today. When I was outside, I heard a word that I feel should never be used.  The word was…”

Mr. Bryson’s arms were protectively folded in front of him as he casually leaned against a wall in conservative “teacher dress” of beige dress pants, and a short-sleeved plaid shirt. But he breaks away from the standard dress code with his funky red tie with Rubik’s Cubes on it. His attire is a reflection of his teaching style: strict when required, but otherwise, cool and jovial.

With the incomplete, unspoken word that hangs on tethers in space, he turns his back towards the class and grabs a piece of chalk. He scribbles STUPID on the chalkboard.  Once he’s finished writing the word, he tosses the chalk and it hits the ledge with a gentle thud.  The sound ricochets throughout the room. It’s louder than Mr. Bryson intended.

“Okay, that’s the word that was used in the schoolyard. Does anyone know the meaning of it?”  Mr. Bryson asks as he paces back and forth with uneasiness like a caged lion at a zoo.

Sixty-two dilated pupils stare at him.  Heads begin to turn in all directions. A low-level whisper begins as everyone poses the same question, “was it you?”

Mr. Bryson nods his head in answer to the question no one will ask him directly. He leans backwards and adjusts his tie. Quietly he says, “It was no one in this room. Thank goodness.”

Silence.

Time passes.

There’s a small cough.

Otherwise, nothing else is said.

Not one child raises their hand.

Finally, Mr. Bryson says, “If you don’t know the exact definition, that’s okay. Let’s brainstorm together.” He spins on his heel and snatches up a piece of chalk. With impatient fingers, he stands ready to write.

Hailey’s hand shoots up into the air.

Mr. Bryson points at her and says, “Okay, Hailey. What am I writing?”

“People say it when you’ve done something wrong.”

Done something wrong, Mr. Bryson writes, “such as?” He asks Hailey.

“If you… Spill your drink!” She offers.

“Well, that sounds like an accident to me. But we’ll put it down. Because you’re right – people say it in those situations.”

“Okay class, let’s go! You can just shout out your answers. Better yet…” He faces the students. Placing the piece of calcite down he continues, “I’ll give you five minutes. Just come up and write on the board what you think the word means. Or, you can also provide examples of where you’ve heard it said before. The examples might help us figure out the definition. ”

A line forms and the students write:

When another person in a car cuts you off in traffic.

When you don’t know the answer to a question.

When you chase your ball into the street, and forget to look both ways for cars.

When you forget your gym clothes. 

It’s a name that’s called.

They call you stupid when you talk about becoming an Olympic Figure Skater when you grow up.

Stupid is the opposite of smart.

When you tell somebody something, like a fact, and it’s wrong.   

When you wake up late for school.

When you fail a test.

When you trip on a curb…

***

Mr. Bryson quietly skims some of the sentences written on the chalkboard. It’s obvious to him these were things either said to the kids, or that they’ve heard.

“Wow,” Mr. Bryson says as the last student places the chalk down and returns to his seat. “We’ve filled up the board. Okay Tom, do you have your phone out?”

Tom stares out the window for a second. When he faces Mr. Bryson again, his cheeks are crimson. With a snort of laughter, Tom answers, “yeah.”

“Okay, can you look up the definition of the word for us?”

“Already, did it,” Tom says raising his chin proudly.

“Great!” Mr. Bryson’s head is bent downwards as he grins at Tom. “Can you read it to us?”

“It says, having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense,”[i]  with hands over his mouth he says in a muffled voice.

“Okay,” Mr. Bryson responds. He quietly stands in front of the chalkboard and writes the words Tom said.

Mr. Bryson walks to the middle of the room with rows of desks on each side. He turns to the right, waves his arms at the students seated there and says, “You guys, google the definition for intelligence. And you guys,” he says turning to the left and motions to them, “look up the definition of common sense. As soon as you find it, raise your hands.”

Tap, tap, tap…..

There’s a steady clicking sound of buttons being punched into phones. Moments later, several hands rise up into the air.

“Brianna, give us the definition of intelligence!” Mr. Bryson shouts.

“It says the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.”[ii]

Mr. Bryson races to the board and scratches the words onto it.  “Okay,” he says with his back to the room as he casually spins his white flaky writing instrument around between his fingers reminiscent of baton-twirling girls at parades. Without turning around, Mr. Bryson says, “Liam, I think you were first? What’s the definition of common sense?”

Liam nearly drops his phone when he hears his name. The poor kid stutters, “ah sorry….okay, it says, good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.”[iii]

“Excellent!” Mr. Bryson says. He scrawls the definition onto the board. When he’s done, Mr. Bryson drops his white scribbling stick on the ledge. Facing his students he asks, “Does anyone see a problem with the definition of stupid?”

There’s no sound except for the steady hum of lights above them. Everyone holds their breath as they wait for the answer.

Mr. Bryson stares at the sea of wide-eyed blank faces.

“Intelligence is something you acquire over time. Some people have a natural ability in certain areas such as art, mathematics, or maybe science. But in order to develop a natural ability,” Mr. Bryson starts to walk up and down the rows of desks and continues, “you need to have access to education and the right teachers. Any ideas where this might not happen? Where kids might not get a chance to learn?”

“Third world countries,” James announces.

“Right again! Third world countries! Do you think it’s fair to use that word to describe people in those situations?” Mr. Bryson asks.

Each student’s head moves from right to left, signalling, no.

“Good. We all agree to that.” Mr. Bryson’s words are slower now as he considers each one carefully. He places his hands in his pockets and calmly strolls the wooden floor of the room as if he’s in a park on a warm summer’s day and says, “but what about when someone can’t learn because they’ve had a terrible teacher?”

Small snorts of snickering reverberate throughout the room.

Mr. Bryson’s eyes glisten in recognition of his joke. He waits to see if anyone is brave enough to answer the question.

No one says a word.

Finally he says, “No, it’s true. Just like in any job, we have some mediocre teachers. I try not to be one of those.”

A low chuckling sound quietly sweeps across the room. Some kids nod their heads in Mr. Bryson’s direction. The students are thankful for Mr. Bryson’s honesty: no one else, not another teacher, principal or parent – has ever admitted such a thing before.

After everyone stops laughing, Mr. Bryson says, “Here’s something else for you to consider… What happens when a good teacher who’s used a method for a long time, still can’t teach a kid something? Any ideas?”

Samuel says, “You need to change your teaching methods.”

“We sure do. Sometimes teachers don’t realize how they’re teaching might be wrong for a particular student. So we need to adapt our methods in order to help those kids. Is it fair to use that word to describe someone, when the person may learn things differently?”

“No,” the kids whisper together.

Mr. Bryson calmly walks back to the chalkboard and places a hand underneath the word saying, “words matter.”

He states it as a fact. It’s not a point to be debated.  

He waits a second and adds, “This word – is a value-based judgement word. It’s dependent on any number of factors. Who taught the person? Where the person lived? What kind of teacher they had?”

“Even the common sense factor in the definition of the word can be argued. It might be common sense in North America to look both ways before you cross the street, so you don’t get hit by a car. But in some countries, where there are few cars, maybe you need to be more aware of hippos hiding in lakes that want to trample you.”

Laughter bounces across the room.

Mr. Bryson waits a moment, and then continues, “I’m being somewhat funny. But I’m serious too. What you think is common sense and matters here, might not be important if you live somewhere else.”

“As for this one,” Mr. Bryson says pointing to the figure skating line, “sometimes people will use name-calling as a way to force another person to conform. They want the person to pick a reasonable career because the chance of success might be low, and if they do succeed, they will have done something that seemed impossible. But you can’t let their negative comments stop you. People dreamed of travelling to the moon, and wrote about it, way before it happened and were ridiculed for it. Without those dreams, without those books, without those scientists – we as a world may never have gone to space, to the moon, and now we’re looking at going further into the universe.”

Mr. Bryson gingerly picks up a chalkboard brush, and using his other hand he places a finger beneath the word and quietly says, “This word… is a word…that should be erased from our vocabulary.”

With a slow wipe of the brush, Mr. Bryson, makes stupid disappear.

[i]  Stupid. Retrieved October 5th 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stupid

[ii]  Intelligence. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/intelligence

[iii]  Common Sense. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/common_sense

Part II: Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge

 

Anywin Castle, home of the Elf Queen Gudrun, is a gold building. But once inside, Alvina notices that her feet are walking on a glass-like structure. Under her shoes are many levels with different rooms where elves are busy tending to various tasks: right below are elves standing up peering through a microscope, and in the next room are elves sleeping in beds as other elves in blue-white pants with matching shirts and black boots, pull blankets up around those who are resting. Are they patients? Alvina wonders to herself.

Several floors down elves rush around chopping long purple carrots and toss them into pots with bubbling water; other elves two floors up from those preparing food clink swords together; other elves are doing laundry; while other child elves are being instructed by an elf with a long white beard. On and on, elves work below Alvina’s feet, separated only by clear glass and see-through walls. None are distracted by what other elves are doing in different rooms.

All of a sudden, Alvina’s lips move together with thirst. It’s as if her saliva glands are working to produce liquid, but everything inside of her has gone dry.  Her hands that were relaxed at her side begin to open and close in fists as if she were trying to pump water from her hands up to her mouth.  Then the floor beneath her feet and the see-though rooms that were all separated, are closed in gold. Everything is shuttered from Alvina’s eyes.

“Are you alright?” A voice she knows, but can’t quite place, coos to her.

Alvina can’t speak. In answer to the question, she nods her head at the woman in the plaid shirt and blue jeans.

From her right side a hand touches her arm and says, “Here, drink this.”

When Alvina faces the voice, she sees a woman dressed in blue-white clothes, and she holds a clear liquid in a glass in front of her. Alvina takes the clear fluid, pushes it to her lips, and the zesty, sweet taste of orange-pineapple tingles on her taste buds. Some of the drink escapes from the corners of her lips and dribbles down the front of her shirt. Once done, she places the glass back on the tray the woman holds. Alvina whispers the words, “thank you.”

An eloquent and kind laugh echoes throughout the gold walls of the castle. Gudrun pulls from her jeans a white handkerchief and passes it to Alvina. When Alvina peers down at the cloth the letters: H.R.H.G.A. are embroidered on it. She takes it and wipes the corners of her mouth.

Gudrun nods at the other woman and says, “Satya, thank you. You may go now.”  The woman smiles slightly, steps backwards, bends forward, and then once she’s no longer facing the Queen and the child, she quickens her pass returning to her other duties.

Gudrun says, “I’m sorry. I should have asked them to close the floor before we arrived. I forget – some of your people are afraid of heights.”

“It’s okay. I’m alright. By the way, who are you?”

“I’m Gudrun,” the elf woman replies with a smile.  Gudrun waits a moment, testing to see if Alvina will ask a more precise question.

“Does everyone have a home like this?”

There it is. “No, I’m Queen of the Elves.”

Alvina’s face scrunches as she stares at the woman. “But you’re dressed in a plaid shirt and blue jeans?”

Gudrun’s hands rest easily at her side. She steps back and says, “What would you have me do?  Wear a silk gown and tiara on my head while tending to my duties? Also, dressed in an evening gown is hardly practical for flying.”

Alvina’s nostrils twitch as she chuckles.  Gudrun watches her guest carefully and notices Alvina’s shoulders relax more while her face returns to a pink glow. The child’s eyes focus on her, and are no longer distant as if they are lost in some other world.

Yes, the girl is no longer feeling faint. 

Recalling the statement the Queen said a second ago, Alvina finally says, “I guess I’m a little afraid of heights.” Her voice is a quiet confession.

Sympathetically, the Queen says, “We’re all afraid of something.”

Suddenly a monster appears behind Gudrun with light purple skin, red shimmering eyebrows, wide black eyes, and a glowing red mouth.  Wearing a yellow-gold shirt and pants, Alvina notices a white scintillating rope hangs on the creature’s black belt.

“Gudrun, run! There’s a monster behind you!” Alvina squeals. She reaches for the Queen’s hand and tugs at it to pull Gudrun forward.

The monster stops in his tracks. “Queen Gudrun, this is the reason why we can’t simply hand over the plant to the humans! They are narrow-minded!” The voice is an echo grumble as if the monster has a cold. The creature hisses the words at Alvina.

Alvina stops pulling the Queen’s hand.  The Queen’s fingers now tighten around Alvina’s hand as she nudges the child forward. The Queen only stops the motion when Alvina stands directly in front of her. Gudrun rests her hands on the child’s shoulders and says, “Alvina, I would like you to meet my friend, Radyalasana, who has travelled far beyond the Pinwheel Galaxy, where there’s a planet called Kysta. That is Radyalasana’s home.

Gudrun bends forward and whispers into Alvina’s ear, “don’t worry. We’ve already fed Radyalasana.”

Alvina twists her lips to the right side with annoyance at Gudrun’s joke. (By now she knows when the Queen is making fun of her.) “What does he mean, give us a plant?”

“I’m not a HE,” Radyalasana’s voice clips Alvina’s question.

“Well, she then,” Alvina corrects.

“You are wrong again, human,” Radyalasana says with annoyance. “I’m neither.”

“You have to be one or the other,” Alvina counters.

“No, I do not.”

Gudrun moves to Alvina’s right side and stares down at her. “Alvina, sometimes you must open your mind to other possibilities. Everything you believe, everything you are told, may need to be corrected at some point. That is why an A is not important. If you reach perfection, where is the ambition to continue to learn?” The Queen’s eyebrows pull together and with a soft smile she adds, “Remember, history is always being written – and re-written.”

Alvina looks over at Radyalasana. She nods, and offers a smile while asking, “What plant do you want to give us?” Alvina asks boldly.

The black eyes of Radyalasana blink quickly at the child. The Kystan’s wide lips remain silent.

“Radyalasana,” the Queen’s voice breaks through the silence, “Alvina pursues knowledge, and wishes to understand things. I sense Alvina has a special purpose in this project, and will be needed when she is older. Our encounter today was no accident.” Gudrun quickly peers over at Alvina as she says this.

Alvina can’t catch her breath. She’s special. The Queen said so. Alvina’s ears perk up as she waits to hear what Radyalasana will say. She is  aware now, that whatever the Kystan says today, she must remember for when she is older.”

Radyalasana’s eyes blink rapidly at the Queen and through clenched black teeth to Gudrun these words follow: “Very well. Only because I know you can see the future, and we have known each other for several hundred years, do I trust what you say is true, and will give the information to the runt human.”

“I’m a child!” Alvina shouts.

“Hmph,” Radyalasana grunts at Alvina. “You call me a monster, and when I call you a runt, you get angry?”

“Oh,” Alvina says as her eyes shift down to the floor. Then she blinks up to Radyalasana, and says, “I’m sorry.”

Nodding at Alvina, Radyalasana says, “I’m sorry too.”  The Kystan traveller begins to pace back and forth  and says, “It’s a plant that I brought from my home, and will transport and place in the ground in Brazil. It will be found by a researcher in the Amazon Rainforest, and will be the cure for many diseases that plague your people, according to Gudrun. Assuming your species doesn’t destroy the plant before it’s found with your clear cutting of the jungle, it will mean many illnesses will be eliminated.”

“Why don’t you just give us the plant?”

Radyalasana’s face scrunches. Eyes squint tightly at the child.

“Oh,” Alvina says.

With amusement the Kystan traveller smiles at Alvina, turns towards Gudrun and acknowledges, “You are right. The child is clever. She will find it.”

Do You See Me?

***

This short story was originally published online with Potluck Magazine in July 2015. The link can be found below:

http://potluckmag.com/july-2015/2015/7/19/do-you-see-me

It was also my very first publication in a literary journal.  Start the dance music.

***

My two day unwashed hair is greasy, face dotted in red and white pimples as I stand at the counter with yellow-egg splotches dribbled down my white t-shirt, combined with brown dusty crumbs from the last customer’s toast. I push my black, grease-stained skirt, apron-wearing-hip against the counter. The pocket of my apron holds runaway home fries, escapees from a plate earlier this morning. On my uniform I have all the essential elements of a great Canadian breakfast. If I get hungry later, I can snack on my clothes. I grab the coffee pot that contains the steaming black tar, lean in to ask a customer in my soft spoken, customer-oriented voice, “More coffee?”

I come from a large family consisting of me and my five siblings: Debra, Rob, Joseph, Cynthia, and Brad.  I am one of the middle children. Last Saturday night, I spent the evening scrubbing my mother’s bathtub, sinks, and toilets. My mother has been recently diagnosed with colon cancer and is in treatment. Cancer and chemo stole my mother’s energy. Cleaning is now an impossible task for her. Our father is gone; the victim of a Christmas heart attack last year.

My sister, Cynthia, called as I was leaving the house to ask a favour.  Cynthia is divorced and has crossed the eight-month line. She has started to shop for a new husband. Her husband, after six years of marriage, decided one night he didn’t want to be married anymore and left. It was that simple for him.

Cynthia is convinced that this new guy is “the one” and begged me through desperate tears to babysit her daughter, Kendra. As I hesitated in providing her with an affirmative answer she began rambling about the unfairness of life: a husband who abandoned her and their child, changing his mind without warning after an agreement was made in marriage and words. Cynthia proceeded to paint a picture of her date, Henry, like this: countless child-friendly dinners out with Kendra, trips to museums as a family, and she spoke at length about a planned trip to New York which Henry will finance. But, on that particular Saturday night, it was just to be the two of them at the Keg Steakhouse. Unfortunately, the babysitter that Cynthia booked for the evening developed a spontaneous case of the stomach flu, a common occurrence for THAT babysitter.

Cynthia’s daughter, Kendra, is a five-year-old, adorable little girl. According to Cynthia, all of my other siblings were busy. Rob was swamped at work managing competing projects for his company; Joseph had a date with his model-girlfriend. The hand model demands Joseph be on time, must not cancel scheduled dates under any circumstances, and Joseph pays for all their outings even though they are not in a committed relationship. The youngest in our family, Brad, broke his leg two weeks ago riding his motorcycle on slippery streets which were covered in rain that later froze when the temperature plummeted in the evening. Brad said he wanted just one more ride before the season ended. He can barely walk to the fridge. But, he’s lucky to be alive. That reminds me – I need to make Brad some food. McDonald’s wrappers littered his apartment intermingled with the odd empty potato chip bag when I saw him on Tuesday. His friends think they are helping. He will be three hundred pounds before that cast comes off.

Debra never picked up the phone when Cynthia called. She never does. To be fair, she works full time as an administrative assistant at a hospital and has two children. Debra is constantly shuttling her children to various extra-curricular activities: piano lessons, guitar lessons, volleyball, basketball or swimming – the list is endless.   After shuttling, Debra can be found up to her elbows in soap suds scrubbing the pots and pans from dinner. Kevin, her husband, works full time too, but prepares healthy dinners for his team. That’s what he calls them – a team. After the children are in bed, Kevin will help Deb clean the kitchen.

I secretly think Kevin uses the time in the kitchen as an excuse to be with Debra. I’ve witnessed on numerous occasions, Kevin whistling while wiping counters down or drying dishes. (No man is ever that happy to do housework.) But, he will also make soap boobies or a penis in the dish water when Debra isn’t looking. When he has built a sudsy penis, inevitably, Debra will stick her hands in the water breaking the penis in two. On cue, Kevin winces and screams, cradling his private parts in horror. A small smile crosses my face. What a clown – and a good guy.

That left me to babysit. Babysitting and cleaning toilets on a Saturday. I love Kendra, but sometimes I just want to stop. Stop it all. No more working, cleaning, cooking, or babysitting. But, I know what will happen at work if I stopped. Grumpy, old, grey-haired, wrinkled, cane-wielding-Gertrude will have me fired.  She will stroll into this diner, demand her coffee, and when I don’t respond, will tap her cane three times on this black, slippery floor (she says she does it to get my attention) and scowl demanding to speak to Rudy, the manager. Words like incompetent and inefficient will roll off of Gertrude’s tongue. I’ve heard it before.

I’m sure Gertrude doesn’t really need the cane. I suspect she carries it as a weapon to beat unsuspecting victims, (no one would be suspicious of an old, defenceless woman) or to trip innocent people as they walk down the streets for malicious fun.

Does anyone see me?

I am a thirty-six year old, University-educated woman. I only completed University through student loans and hard work. I am not smart. I’ve been told. While the other wealthier, brilliant, students clubbed on weekday and weekend nights, I sat in my room studying text books convinced it would get me somewhere. And here it is. I am like the 1980’s, red rose wallpaper on these walls.

I am just part of the old decor.

I’m circling the black, grunge-ridden floor of this diner with red sticky booth seats. I watch as Allison wipes the syrup from her blonde, blue-eyed, toddler daughter’s face.  I check my other customers; Brian and Dan are in expensive grey business suits today and both wear their lucky Italian ties. They discuss another sub division planned in the area. Family and careers are juxtaposed in this world. I have neither.

Am I just a waitress, cleaner, cook, babysitter? I’ve covered all the domestic roles except the one I really wanted:  to be a mother.  After multiple miscarriages and a visit to a fertility specialist she said your odds of successfully conceiving a child and carrying it to term are less than 20 percent.  

I’m losing on all the front lines.  

In terms of career, how did I end up here? Failure again, is the correct word. In my past, I have held several administrative positions at companies with each company folding faster than the one before. There are signs when a company is in a downward spiral: employees diminish through lay-offs or resignation, vacant offices increase, funds for necessities such as office supplies decrease, and there are many, many, closed door meetings. I bounced out of each company quickly, locating a new opportunity shortly before my pink slip arrived. The last time, I was not so lucky.

Unemployed. It sounds like a dirty word: worthless, undesirable, down-sized. I was off for a few months and then everyone, with the exception of my husband, told me I should just take anything. Family and friends said: certainly you can wait tables as you did in University. Some money coming in is better than no money. My husband was the exception, encouraging me not to settle too quickly. But, after a few months enduring relentless, you could always work at McDonald’s jokes (why does everyone think that joke is so damn funny?) I took a waitressing job. Here I circle, one year later.

This is the middle of my life where I should have most of my shit together. And yet, I have nothing; no career, no children, and no house. I am biologically deficient in every way – not smart, and unable to reproduce. If natural selection is always at play, it has determined my genes to be inferior. How can I argue?      

I circle. If this were the end of my life, I would hope at my eulogy, I would be described as a good and kind daughter, wife, sister and friend. Oh God – please don’t say, what made her really happy was cleaning, cooking and serving. I swear, I will come back and haunt that person. All joking aside, my real concern is this: does anyone know who I am?

I blink back tears as I place the coffee pot back on the burner. I want a different life, but how do I make it happen? There are bills to pay, family and friends that depend on me. I want to change my life, but how? How much of my life do I give to others, and how much am I entitled to? What is the ratio?  90/10? 50/50? 30/70?

I know part of how much I give depends on how much I offer. But, I wonder – if I took care of me first, was happier, healthier and less resentful, wouldn’t I be able to help others more?

Or is that just the selfish?  What happens if I took the $15,000 in my RRSP’s and travelled for a few months to relax and think about what I want to do with my life? I hang my head down and put my hands on my face in an effort to hide the tears that swell in my eyes. Physically, emotionally, and financially bankrupt; I am spent. 

I have other plans. Here’s an example. What if I used the $15,000 in RRSP’s to buy property on the outskirts of the city in the hopes in ten or twenty years a developer will purchase it for a subdivision?  As already proven, the area is in a boom phase for residential building. It would be a long shot. I know. But I might be financially secure in my later years.

I hate this job.  I should quit right now. Walk out those doors today and find a Monday to Friday job that pays more than the $19,000 I made last year, tips included.

If I quit, do I include the waitress position on my resume if I want another administrative role? Is it true that it’s better to do something versus nothing? Or, if I left it on my resume, does it demonstrate to potential employers that I lack ambition?

Who am I kidding though? I wouldn’t quit on Rudy. Rudy, the owner, defended me against cantankerous Gertrude when she declared me incompetent, shuffled my shifts around to accommodate my mother’s sudden and various medical appointments, and I am always called in first if another waitress calls in sick. He’s a wonderful boss. I know I’m lucky in some ways.

As I uncover my face, I see her white hair. GERTRUDE. How long has she been sitting there? 

“Hello dearie,” she says as her head is tilted and she taps her cane three times on the floor. “Where’s my coffee?”

I grab a cup and saucer and pour the morning brew.

“Is there something wrong?” She asks in her squeaky, kind, grandmother voice.

It’s just a trick, I tell myself. Don’t fall for it. She doesn’t care. “Absolutely nothing,” I say with my head raised and a reassuring smile.

“Good. I was concerned I would lose the worst waitress that I’ve ever met.”

I stare at her dumbfounded, purse my lips together as my jaw locks up. God, I hate her.

Gertrude smiles at me, her eyebrows are raised as she tastes the black, caffeinated, poison.

Now that her brain is on, there will be no end to her comments. Trust me, I know what I am. She doesn’t need to point it out.

Gertrude places her coffee cup down on the saucer and stares at me for a long moment. The smile evaporates from her face as she drops a card on the counter and pushes it across to me.

“I give you a hard time Tammy, because I know you can do more than this. Maybe you’re tired or lazy, or possibly both, beaten down by life’s complications. But, don’t waste your life away. My daughter, Pamela Radder, works for an employment agency. You should call her. I’m sure she can find you another job better suited to your education and skills.”

My mouth gapes open as I stare at her in disbelief.    I hesitate for a moment wondering if she is playing some awful joke on me.

Gertrude’s eyes are steady, lips have narrowed, shoulders and jaw have tightened. She looks serious.

Softly she says, “Listen, I’ve lived a long life – and mostly a good one. I was married to a wonderful man for forty years.” Gertrude take’s a deep breath as if she’s about to go under water. I watch her grey eyes get misty like a foggy day. Then, she exhales and the fog dissipates.

She continues, “We have two beautiful, successful children who take care of me now. I am also blessed with three grandchildren. But, just like you, I went to University then settled into low-paying jobs after graduation. My husband, Daniel, was in a car accident shortly after we were married and we had two small children to feed at the time. I worked anywhere to pay the bills.”

Gertrude chokes on more tears that have gathered again at this memory. Her voice is thick. She is drowning. The tears fill her lungs making it difficult for her to breathe, let alone talk. I know. The same thing happens to me when I talk about Dad.

With more determination she clears her throat with greater force, sits erect, pushing the painful memory back.  She continues, “Daniel eventually recovered and became a successful businessman. After he was better, I gave up on any chance of having a career, too tired by footsteps I had already taken. My husband was a modern man for our time and he encouraged me to pursue the things I talked about when we first met.”

“He sounds like a wonderful man,” I say, not knowing what else to say.

For a moment I think about my husband. He was the only one who told me not to go back to waitressing. He said I could do more.

“Yes,” she says. “He knew me better than I knew myself. I was a fool who flatly refused to think outside the box, as the saying goes nowadays. I regret not listening to him. Life is short and time is finite. You will eventually run out of time.”  I am experiencing too many feelings in this conversation: confusion, anger, sympathy and sadness. Just like Mount Vesuvius, there is red hot lava boiling up in my head. An eruption is inevitable. I suddenly snap at her, “You said I was incompetent!”

“You’re alright as a waitress. But I know you’re unhappy. I wanted to give you some incentive to find a better job!”

Gertrude pauses and looks down at the counter for a moment. Then, she raises her head, as her eyes meet mine, she sighs, and says, “I was trying to get you fired. If you lost this job you would be forced to find something better. I’m sorry, I was wrong. I should have just told you that you could do better. You’re a smart girl Tammy. You deserve more.”

She pauses, eyes locked on me. “I heard about your father, your mother’s illness, and your brother’s accident. It’s a small town and everyone talks. But no matter how hard it is, you should always push forward even when the deck is stacked against you.”

With a sudden, widening, lop-sided smile, she adds, “You don’t want to turn out like me, do you?

A snort of laughter erupts from me. Then, my face flushes hot with embarrassment. My laughter is an admission of guilt; all those unkind thoughts that I had towards Gertrude. Oh god, I’m an ass.

I place my hand on top of hers and quietly say, “No, I wouldn’t want that.”

I bite my lower lip and pause for a moment to consider her words. I hesitate as the card stares back at me, beckoning me to take a chance. I consider my other options. They are zero. I pick the card up and slide it into my apron.

I turn around and reach for the coffee pot on the burner. I ask Gertrude, more gently than ever before, “More coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Gertrude says with her chin raised, sparkle in her eye, as she beams at me with a look of satisfaction.

Part 1: Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge

“I can’t believe I got a B!” Alvina says squeezing the pages of her test a little tighter in her hand crumpling it. The B stares at her, taunting her, with its curved letter. It’s an insulting reminder she’s not quite smart enough.

Her right foot swings out as she kicks at the ground. Surprisingly, her boot whips up a pile of dirt and it is tossed further down the trail. Alvina’s feet stomp at the ground. But because its spring, she sinks into the moist soil. If it were summer, the path would be dry and her feet pounding on the trail would be louder and would be a clear expression of her anger. Instead what she hears is muffled. The sound of slurping muck under her boots seems to suggest the springtime goo can pull her down below the surface like quicksand – never to be seen again!

Alvina’s face scrunches like twisted metal at the demolition yard when she thinks about the B versus an A; wanting to stomp loudly and only hearing the softness of earth beneath her feet; at wanting to be smart, and maybe, only being average. With this thought, anger blisters throughout her body.  It pops and explodes pulsing with fire through her veins.  Alvina kicks at the ground again, and another huge chunk of mud lifts up and spreads out across the air before it crashes into trees, ferns, and other plants that are in the way.

“What’s the matter?” Alvina hears from behind her.  It’s a curious tone mixed with concern.

Alvina glances over her shoulder. Standing on the path is a woman with long black hair, wearing a multi-coloured wool hat on top of her head, a plaid shirt, and blue jeans.  The woman’s face is punchy white against her black hair and it reminds Alvina of how white the moon looks on a clear night against the background of a black sky.

“Nothing,” Alvina mutters to the tall woman who is still standing further down the path.

“Nothing?” The woman says. “Surely, it must be something. You wouldn’t redecorate the woods for no reason.”

Alvina quietly laughs at the woman’s joke. Then Alvina huffs, glances up at the woman, before her eyes skim the woods. She doesn’t really want to answer the question. Alvina glances at green ferns, maple trees, balsam firs, and the dangerous wild parsnip that Mom warned her about when she said, Alvina, don’t get too close to the wild parsnip. That stuff will burn you.

“I got a B on a test,” Alvina blurts out to the stranger.

“You should be proud: a B is a good mark!” The woman says the words in an authoritative tone and with a nod of her head. To Alvina, it seems like the women has placed too much energy in the statement as if she’s trying to convince her it’s true.

Alvina’s eyes glare at the woman dressed as a lumberjack. She says, “I wanted an A.”

The woman folds her arms in front of her chest, tilts her head, and asks, “Why?”

“Because,” Alvina hesitates as if she were a train climbing up a monster of a hill with a heavy load. With her next words, it’s as if the train has reached the top, and now with the downhill momentum it blasts straight down and  Alvina’s words rush out of  her with the same speed when she finishes her because statement with, “I want to be smart.”

“You think a grade, an A, is a reflection of how smart you are?” The woman says folding her arms in front of her while her eyebrows pull together.

“Yes,” Alvina answers with zero hesitation in her voice.

“So, if you don’t get an A, you don’t know anything?” The woman asks the child as new lines crinkle together showing the woman’s confusion.

“No, I’m not saying that,”Alvina answers with annoyance. She knows the woman is challenging her, just like her parents, when she gets mad about getting a different mark than an A. But it frustrates her. No one seems to understand the importance of it. After a few moments, Alvina gathers her thoughts and says, “It means I don’t know as much as the other kids who got A’s on that history test.”

“Oh, history!” The slender woman says excitedly. “You know, history is constantly being written, right?” Then there’s a pause in her voice as she walks past Alvina towards the largest tree Alvina has ever seen. The tree isn’t a maple, or a balsam fir – as a matter of fact, Alvina doesn’t remember the tree being there before. The woman glances up at the tree, spins around to face Alvina with her black hair twirling, and says, “And history, is also being rewritten.”

“I know,” Alvina says as her eyes shift back and forth to the woman and to the large red tree in the middle of the woods.  “But history is important,” Alvina says defensively.

“Absolutely!” The woman acknowledges without hesitation. “But it’s impossible to know everything, about everything; particularly, something like history.”  With that the dark-haired woman places her left hand on the tree, and uses her right hand to remove her hat.  As her palm touches the tree, Alvina hears a creaking sound as two pieces of bark separate. This goes on for several minutes until the tree is split in two pieces. From the opening in the tree, a light blue light pours from the doorway of the tree.

Alvina’s mouth is open. She’s so surprised! Never in her life has she seen a tree do that! Alvina cautiously takes a step back with fear. It’s not a planned move, but rather an instinctive one to get away from something that you’re not familiar with.

Just then a rainbow coloured bird bursts from the entrance of the tree fluttering, and chirping, singing his song to everyone. It’s hard to resist music no matter who, or what, is singing. Alvina finds she is no longer afraid but smiling.  The bird bounces onto Alvina’s shoulder and continues to chirp into her ear.

With hesitation, Alvina asks, “How did you do that?” Realizing she has more questions she shoots out one more with, “And where did the bird come from?”

“My name is Gudrun,” the woman smiles at the child and says, “And this is the path to my world. That bird is Patnik, and he’s a friend of mine.”  During this whole time, Gudrun keeps the palm of her hand on the tree.

Alvina hesitates. She’s not quite certain of this woman, or this opening to another world. Turning her head she stares at the bird, and when she does this, the bird places his beak against nine-year-old Alvina’s nose.  Then as quickly as Patnik flew out from the tree and landed on Alvina’s shoulder, it rushes back into the opening of the tree, and disappears into it.

“Would you like to come see my world?” Gudrun says raising her eyebrows at Alvina.

Alvina stares at the woman. Then she notices it – or rather, them.

“Your ears!” Alvina shouts at Gudrun while stretching her finger out at the woman. Realizing almost instantly that she’s being rude, she quickly drops her finger, and her eyes stare at the muddy ground.

Gudrun shouts, “Oh my! Have I lost them?” Gudrun says with surprise as she places both her hands on her ears.  When the woman’s hand is removed from the tree, there’s another creaking sound and the two piece of bark that were separated pull together, closing the door to Gudrun’s world.

The sound causes Alvina to glance up. She’s giggling at the woman and she says, “No.”

“Then – what?” Gudrun asks still holding her ears.

“Their pointy, like Spock’s from Star Trek.”

Gudrun places her hands on her hips, huffs, and says, “Or – LIKE ELVES!” She finishes the last part with exasperation in her voice. “That show. What was it called, Star Trek?”

Alvina chuckles to herself and says, “Yeah, I guess so. And yeah, it’s Star Trek. How did you know that?”

“You’re not the first child I’ve encountered that said my ears looked like Spock’s. A long time ago, kids would always say elves. Now we’re in competition with Mr. Spock.”

Alvina laughs. Then she hesitates, points at the tree, and says, “The door closed.”

“Ah yes, it has.” Gudrun says matter-of-factly. Then she places her hand on the tree again, it splits in two, the door opens, and light blue light pours from the opening again.

Slowly Alvina walks to the entrance of the tree that leads to Gudrun’s world. She peers through the doorway and holds her breath when she views the landscape before her: a mix of green and red fields. In the background are what look like crystal mountains, and they are surrounded with purple water.

From behind Alvina she turns when there’s a small breeze that hovers above her. She notices that Gudrun has poked her head around the corner. She smiles at her, stands still mostly in Alvina’s world with just her head that’s poking around the corner. Smiling, she asks Alvina, “Would you like to come for a visit? I want to show you some things that may help in your quest for knowledge.”

Alvina hesitates glancing at the view of Gudrun’s world and before she turns back to the woman in the plaid shirt she says, “I need to be home for dinner.”

“I’ll make sure you’re back,” Gudrun says with the same amount of confidence in her voice as Alvina’s teachers do when they are explaining something in class. Then Gudrun says, “Me and the other elves have lived a long time. I want to show you what we’re learning.”

Patnik whips out of the open tree door again, singing, and squeaking with happiness. When it sees Alvina it hovers in front of her, and then waves its right wing at her as if it’s a hand in a motion of, come!

Unable to resist the wing of her feathered friend as if it were an outstretched hand, Alvina touches the wing.  In that moment when her fingers touch the bird’s wing, Alvina rises up gently at first, and then as the bird spins and twirls, so does Alvina. Giggling, Alvina does somersaults in the air.

When Alvina stops, she notices she is now past the tree and below her feet are the red-green fields. Gudrun is now beside her and the tree-door has closed to Alvina’s world.  Gudrun’s feet slowly rise up and she hovers beside Alvina, still holding her hat in her right hand. Then she stretches out horizontally, turns back briefly to face Alvina, and says, “Come, let’s follow Patnik! He’ll lead us to my castle!”

As if Patnik understood everything that was said, he beats his wings quickly, and flies happily towards a yellow-gold castle nestled in front of the mountains.  Not far behind Patnik, are Alvina and Gudrun. They hold hands as the air rushes across their eyelashes, nose, mouth and the breeze pushes their hair this way and that way, and their shirts and pants flutter from the speed their travelling across the white pillow clouds around them.

Their destination is Gudrun’s castle: for she is the Queen of the Elves.