The Painting

alina prompt jpg

I hated that painting.

Seriously. Hated it. People don’t fit into bottles; there are no fairies.

I know she doesn’t have wings! But Granny Betty always insisted she was a fairy. This happened at least once a week from elementary school through high school, so yes, I’m sure.

Nothing I did stopped her. Instead, I stopped inviting friends over after The Incident in third grade when Anita told me my grandma was crazy and I punched her in return. And still Granny Betty repeated the stories, through braces and my first boyfriend and prom.

I remember that because it was the Monday after prom: the day had passed in a haze of exhaustion after a brilliant, heady weekend, and it was all anyone talked about: dresses and dates and DJ choices. That was the only thing that seemed interesting, certainly not mitochondria or factoring. 

The bus had just dropped me off. I had a few blocks to walk to Granny Betty’s, but I didn’t want to go and do homework and hear about fairies again. I wanted to go home and sleep, but Mom wouldn’t be home for hours, and Granny Betty would never let me take a nap with unfinished homework in my bag. I stomped half-heartedly down the street, past the Grand Tower’s faded brick and the Stable Corner’s sagging cloth archway. Mrs. Finway greeted me, her Great Dane Trotter tugging at his leash, as I passed the abandoned lot that used to be The Alchemist’s Hotel. 

It was dark in there, amongst the weeds that had almost braided themselves together, brambles and ivy and saplings competing with thistles and the odd daisy pushing out onto the cracked sidewalk. A glisten caught my eye as I half-stomped by, a strange blue-gold that reminded me of a deep-sea fish. It hovered for a moment, bobbing and blinking–it must be an early, confused firefly. But I’d never seen a blue firefly, never even heard of one. I stepped closer, until my jeans were brushing against the thorns and daisies invading the sidewalk, but all I could see through the brush was tantalizing flickers. I looked left, right, behind me, as if someone was going to come and berate me for what I was about to do. Mrs. Finway was already around the next corner, and the street was deserted. Who would care what I was doing anyway? I said to myself as I stepped across that first bramble and into the lot, flattening a space for myself. I paused there, overwhelmed by what I’d done. This wasn’t a good idea; I was trespassing, someone was going to call the cops on me. I should go back to Granny Betty’s.

It was like navigating an unfamiliar house full of thorns in the dark. I could hear my heart pounding against the clenched rock in my stomach. I shouldn’t be here. There was nothing to see, except maybe the inside of a jail cell when someone called the cops. I–

Something flickered, that same ocean-fish blue that was woven through now with green, the green of phosphorescent plankton in that film we’d seen in biology class last year, the kind that filled the ocean and drew in whales to feed. They flickered behind a blackberry bush that seemed to take up half the lot, barely visible in the gaps between the brambles and the white flowers and the leaves. I stepped closer, glancing back at the street, up at the windows looking down, down at my feet, every once in a while at the light. I worked my way around the bush, painfully slowly, sticking myself with spines and thistles and dead twigs every step. 

Mr. Brown rounded a corner, and I ducked down, heart pounding. I didn’t think he’d been looking at me? I waited, forcing myself to breathe as I listened for his shout, for the sound of sirens. I heard his shuffle even from across the street; it didn’t pause, only faded.

I was shaking. This was stupid, stupid, stupid! It was just some weird firefly. What was I doing? I tried to steady my breathing as I crouched, preparing myself to stand–what if someone else was coming?–but when I looked down to find somewhere safe to steady myself, there was something glowing, glowing purple. It was crawling up a vine by my leg in great leaps. It wasn’t a firefly; it was a dragon, glowing amethyst from its wings and eyes and every inch of its body. 

I sat down in shock–and leapt up again with a curse, because I’d sat on something sharp. The dragon was gone when I thought to look again. I stood where I was, trying to–to make it make sense, to think what I could possibly have seen, because what I’d seen was a tiny glowing dragon and that was–impossible. 

There–another glow! Now I had to go see what it was–go see that firefly, that is. I shoved my way through all the growth until I was at the first light I’d seen, that ocean-life blue. It floated at the same height as a firefly would, but… it was almost the size of a quarter, and instead of an insect it was a cage of electric-blue light, dotted with gold, just like a comb jelly but in the air. In front of me. In the abandoned lot.

I almost sat down again. 

And–there! There was the green light I’d seen, and… it was a tiny woman, standing as solidly in midair as if she were standing in my bedroom. She had no wings, just as in Granny Betty’s painting.

It was too much for me. I stumbled back the way I’d come, feeling the brambles pull at my jeans, until I was back on the solidity of the sidewalk, with all of its cracks and unevenness still more solid than… back there.

I hurried to Granny Betty’s.


 

Thanks, everyone! This is my contribution to Rosalie Valentine‘s Penprints Flash Fiction Dash, i.e. a fun reason to write flash fiction (1,000 words or less) or maybe just to write at all. And I would never write about fairies or people stuck in bottles, so this was my chance!

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Chips

I’m in the grocery store. My basket is almost full, with cereal and cheese and yoghurt.

I’ve come because I’ve given up on work, on the sermons I have to write. I’m hoping a break will give me the courage for the phone calls I need to make. Mostly I’m hoping it will clear away some of the fog, some of the darkness and despair and suffocating blackness that paralyzes that’s been following me around, clinging with far more strength than I have, that it would take to dislodge it. It followed me to the office; it followed me to the bakery where I had lunch, where I pulled out a book to read and a notebook to take notes and a Bible to work on my sermons. It drove away any thoughts of sermons and obligations and joy, until I gave up, put everything back in my backpack.

It’s snowing as I leave. The trees behind the parking garage have snow-icing already, and thick, fat snowflakes are drifting down and it’s better than a postcard, better than driving in snow with incompetent drivers and almost makes up for it.

It’s the first day of spring.

I try to take a picture with my phone. Every picture shows trees and the ground, snow everywhere across the landscape, with a pipe or concrete ceiling in a corner and five blurs that might be snowflakes. If I really use my imagination.

I trudge to my car, defeated. I just want to slink home. Pretend life doesn’t suck and maybe watch some America’s Next Top Model. I’ve seen every season I can watch for free on Amazon, but damn it, I am so willing to watch them again if maybe I won’t feel crushed by everything else while I’m watching the contestants be covered in body paint and hung upside down and then criticized for having tension in their face.

I really do need food, though.

Which is how we’ve come full circle, back to me in the chips aisle, holding back tears because they don’t stock my favorite flavor anymore. Or, that’s what I tell myself I want to cry about.

A Walk

It’s barely above freezing, but I’ve opened my coat. There’s still a scarf wrapped around my head, my ears and neck and chin. My hands are in my pockets along with my phone, with headphones snaking up to my ears. I keep having to shove them back in.

I’m walking. I’m going on a walk. Every day for the past week. I’ve been going down roads I had never even really noticed, not knowing where I’m going but knowing how to get back to my apartment. I think I’ve found all the hills, even though there’s plenty of ways I haven’t gone yet.

Today I started off down another road I hadn’t noticed in four months of driving past it, and ended up somewhere I’d already been: the field with impossibly green grass and one single soccer goal placed crookedly somewhere between where it should be and the middle of the field. One side of it drops away to an empty, abandoned-looking pool; the next side is a baseball field crowned with a stone building that looks like the gatehouse to an estate.

I walk around the field. “Open from dawn to dusk,” the sign proclaims, and the sun is up. It’s cold, but that’s been blunted by walking.

I’m not really going anywhere with this: on my walk, other than back to my apartment; with this piece of writing. It was just a moment, one without revelations or tragedies but not without joy and the chill of almost-snow and the ordinariness of an almost-habit.

Night Rain

The rain roared down; I kept clicking my windshield wipers another level faster. Two manholes were gushing water like springs, feeding a river that vanished off the road. Lightning snapped across the sky; I never heard the thunder.

I slowed down, just a bit, once I wasn’t driving through a submerged bit of road. Even my headlights weren’t much helping me see through the downpouring night sky.

But it was warm. Maybe that was why I didn’t hate the rain. I used to love the rain, dance in it, revel in getting soaked by sudden downpours. I could listen to rain pounding on a roof for hours. Nothing was more beautiful than rain… until it was, until rain instead made everything go tight and uncomfortable and ravenously miserable.

Maybe it was the monsoon-like rain, coming down with the fierceness of a waterfall–a reminder of those desert times, when rain felt once-in-a-lifetime, when clouds softened and deepened and hid the scorching sun–maybe the pounding on the car roof reminded  me of all those times roads had swelled over with water and we’d pulled over so mom could see to drive.

Maybe I had just stopped trying to make myself still like rain, stopped pretending that I hadn’t changed since I was ten. Maybe I was finally willing to accept that I didn’t have to like rain until the end of my days, revel in it when it was almost freezing or it had been overcast for two weeks or enjoy how rain turns concrete sullen.

Maybe it was just beautiful and wild, and next time it rains I’ll be suffocated with unspoken misery again.

Worrying

I can’t sleep. I’ve been trying for a while now, but tomorrow I go before Presbytery (the regional church gathering in my denomination) for the final step in the process, the final approval before I can go ahead with my ordination service: I have to defend my statement of faith before Presbytery, and they vote whether to approve my joining the presbytery or not.

I’ve been telling myself that I’m not nervous, that I know my statement of faith and believe it, and that I tend to get the same questions and I can answer them well, that even if I get a question I’m unprepared for I will probably still be able to stumble my way through an answer. I don’t even feel nervous, or didn’t before I tried to fall asleep. It seems doable, and distant enough that I don’t need to worry yet. (That comes in the minutes or hours beforehand). But still I’ve been unfocused and unmotivated all day.

And–I am nervous. It’s the final step, and a big crowd, and I’ll have to be loud. I’m sure at least one question will be unexpected, and I’ll fumble around and just feel so awkward the entire time I’m up there.

I’m just trying to remember that it’s okay to be nervous. It’s natural. It’s okay to acknowledge that I’m nervous and that this is a big deal. It’s okay to name my fears about tomorrow. And that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to let it take over. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to let my nerves turn me mean or frozen or anything else. It just means totally ignoring it or shoving my feelings aside is a way of lying to myself, of saying that I’ve got it all together and I’m a good little robot of a human and I don’t need God to keep me from turning into a quivering mess. None of those things are true. None of them are even worth striving for.

It’s just way harder to sit with the fact that I’m nervous than it is to shove it aside. It’s way harder to remember that I don’t have to do it alone and depend on God and other people. It’s difficult to listen to myself, because what about those moments when I say things that are ugly and uncomfortable and that I’ve been trying to avoid for weeks?

But there’s something so incredibly freeing, too, about being honest, about admitting what I’m feeling and sitting with it. It becomes so much less serious. It becomes something I can embrace rather than avoid and deny, and with embrace comes acceptance and that moment of letting go of judgment. “It’s okay that I feel this way.” It’s never okay to act that out in ways that are hurtful or sinful or dangerous–but it’s okay to feel.

Excited-Worried-Idon’tevenknow

I got a job!!!

Technically the term is “accepted a call,” …and technically it’s two churches! I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve accepted a call to Chartiers Valley Presbyterian Church and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. I start soon, and I’m beyond excited.

But I’m trying to hold on to that excitement, because the reality of the matter is that these past few weeks have been stressful. Getting ordained is no task for the faint-hearted: there have been committee meetings and session meetings and joint meetings, with all of the attending paperwork. There’s the planning of the ordination service, asking participants and figuring out a service I’ve never seen done (I had a forty minute conversation with the officiant about all this) and the music, and then there’s letting all the important people in my life know this is happening and arranging for them to stay nearby or being sad they couldn’t come. I’ve been completing background checks and rewriting my statement of faith. I went home to sort through everything I have there and start packing it up to finally come stay with me–in the apartment I don’t yet have but am trying to look for, in between meetings with future congregants and reading annual reports and writings sermons and maybe hopefully cleaning so my parents don’t think I’m a total slob.

I think I forgot something–which is how I’ve been feeling pretty constantly for weeks now.

Look. I’m not trying to throw a pity party here. I know I stress myself out about everything sometimes, whether it’s important or not. Trust me, I know. (I live with that anxious voice saying maybe my background check will have a non-existent crime reported even though I’ve literally never been in a courtroom and maybe the robe I ordered will be terrible and maybe I screwed up something tiny on my last piece of paperwork so that now this is all going to fall apart)

I just want to say that I really really don’t want all this stress to be my memory of my ordination and starting this new job. I want to do what I can and leap in rather than linger and worry and stress out about things that in all likelihood will never happen. I want to rejoice in the blessings, like seeing my family and extended family, like receiving a call and being ordained and all the other people who are also working to make this happen. I want to not worry away the time.

I’m so not there yet. SO not there: Writing this reminded me of three other emails I need to send and one other place I’d like to clean and one other appointment.

*sigh*

But it also reminded me of where I’d like to be. So, here’s to holding on; here’s to wading through all the worries while sometimes pointing out that they’re kinda really stupid without bashing yourself for worrying about them. Just…let’s keep holding on. Let’s keep moving forward, worries be damned, and enjoy the good things.

Cleaning and Loving

Confession time:

I haven’t been cleaning very much. And by “very much” I mean it’s been more than a month since I’ve done anything that wasn’t laundry. (Necessary about laundry?)

Ugh.

It’s not just that. I’ve been at my place for almost a year now and still haven’t hung anything up, except for one post it reminding me that “The internet does not inspire you.” (Truth!) As much as not cleaning has partly been about being exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s also been about a lack of permanence. I know I won’t live here forever. I plan to move out when I find a church. I’ve been actively trying to not set down roots: I have more boxes than furniture, and most of my books and winter clothes are still packed (because last September, I optimistically thought I wouldn’t need them before I’d moved). I haven’t really bought anything for the room. I haven’t bought anything future-oriented since I moved in.

And I’ve been thinking about that, as I try to get over the hump that is “I haven’t cleaned and nothing has exploded!” so that I can reach the other side and start cleaning again. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not completely unpacking, or not buying things I’ll just have to move again–but intentionally distancing myself so I don’t form any attachments is not really the goal. I don’t like it. What’s wrong with loving the place where I am, even if I’ll be moving someday? Why do I feel the need to hurry through instead of getting to know my neighbors?

I’d like to love this place, even if I’m not here much longer. I’d like to clean, and leave it better for whoever comes after me. And I’d like to remember that organizing and cleaning and putting pretty things on the walls and shelves is good for me, too.

Which is why I’m going to the store in a bit to get a new shower curtain. Which is why I’ve been rearranging my room so that there’s more than one path (because it’s a start) and making piles to donate.

Which is why I found myself mopping the bathroom today, dripping with sweat because I made the bright decision to start cleaning when it was pouring rain and so the humidity was through the roof.

And…loving is mostly hard work, and messy, and made up of moments that aren’t particularly memorable.

But I think I’m ready to love a little more.