by Aryn Free Kelly
(Portfolio Website: arynfreekelly.com)
The day could not be more beautiful. Branches sway as the wind gently rustles the oak trees. The giggles of a one-year-old as he tries to catch the wind before kerplunking on his rear bring a smile to Beth as she sits by a sliding door, watching him explore the little backyard. She basks in the sun and glory of the day while taking in a deep breath before issuing a sigh of relief. He won’t be home yet. Enjoy the moment. Don’t think about last night.
Although Beth sits in the backyard, before her eyes all she sees is last night. Darkness envelopes the quaint bedroom inside the 1920s house where Beth sleeps snuggled amongst five fluffy pillows. A thud at the door awakens Beth. Her eyes fly open, but it is so dark that she cannot see. She stops breathing.
“Not again,” she whispers to the night.
The scratching of a key on a doorknob. Where can I hide? She pulls the covers over her head. Nowhere. Maybe he’ll leave me alone if I’m asleep. She tucks the covers around her body like a cocoon. Heavy footsteps stumble toward her bedroom. Please, don’t bother me. The wooden floorboards creak with the approaching footsteps. Her bedroom door slowly swingsopen. She keeps her eyes shut trying to control her breathing. The footsteps trudge to her side of the bed. The dark figure pokes her and chuckles. She grips the covers but knows there’s no way to secure her feet. The dark figure pushes her under her covers and chuckles again.
“Go to bed,” she says with every ounce of courage. She braces herself.
“Come on. Honey, I’m home,” the looming figure says like evil dripped in honey. The hair on her body stands on end. The musk of alcohol and sweat permeate the room.
“I told you to never come home drunk, again. Sleep it off,” Beth replies.
“But, I want something,” the dark figure replies. As the last word escapes his lips he yanks Beth’s feet and covers straight off the bed. Her head hits the floor as he drags her by her right leg.
“No! Let go!” She writhes trying to escape his grasp. As he turns she kicks him, twisting her ankle to break free of his vise-like grip. Her hip pops and sends a shooting pain through her right leg.
“Nice try. What did I tell you? I get what I want until I’m all done.”
“No.” Tears escape her eyes and burn her cheeks. “Please, don’t. God, save me.”
Under a luminous moon, the large yellow eyes of the southern great horned Owl, symbol of wisdom, peer out of an ancient, sweeping oak tree through a broken window blind and into the quaint-little house where Beth writhes on the hard, wooden floor, struggling to get free. The Owl hoots at an old man, transparent, walking down the sidewalk underneath the Owl’s tree. He stops and looks up at the Owl and smiles.
“Well, hello there. Aren’t you beautiful?” The old man says with a gentle smile. The Owl hoots at the old man.
Beth’s voice echoes in the street, “God, save me.”
The man’s smile vanishes as he says, “Beth.” He rushes to the front door and pushes the doorbell, but it will not ring. He pounds his fist on the door, but no noise comes from the impact.
“Help me. That’s my daughter,” the old man cries out.
The Owl takes flight, hovers in front of the foot door and rings the doorbell with his beak.
The doorbell rings. The Owl returns to his tree, but in a lower perch watching the shimmering, transparent old father. He hoots.
“You do understand why you couldn’t ring the bell don’t you?” The Owl asks the father.
The father stands at the door, arms poised like a boxer at the beginning of fight. “No.”
“Do you remember the end?” The Owl asks.
“What end?” The father says.
“Do you still feel pain?” The Owl asks.
“No. Ring the bell again, please.” The father holds his fists in front of his face waiting for the door to open.
The Owl hovers in front of the doorbell and pushes it with his beak again.
The door opens. The dark figure of the grouch sees no one there. The old, transparent man standing in front of the grouch punches the grouch in the face, but all that the grouch feels is an icy breeze in the face.
“Hello?” The grouch calls to the empty street.
Another swing from the father, another chilling breeze catches the grouch’s face. The magnificent Owl takes off from the huge, tree branch hanging over the street. The grouch shuts the door.
“Where are you going?” The father calls to the Owl.
The Owl hoots and circles above the old man.
“Why did my fist go through him?”
“I’m going for help because only the wise know when to ask for help,” the Owl says and takes to the sky full of shimmering stars.
He looks through the window and sees the grouch asleep on a futon in the den inside the front door. The leaves rustle in the oak as a breeze picks up and the transparent, old man dissipates with the breeze.
A large Crow, symbol of destiny, lands on the backyard fence next to the father who peeks out from the shed towards the kitchen window. The sun rises coating the sky in marvelous oranges and reds.
“Shoo,” the old man says to the Crow.
“I was sent,” the Crow replies.
“NOYB,” the Crow squawks.
“None of Your Business,” the Crow cackles.
“My daughter and my grandson are my business.” The old man crosses his arms. The clatter in the kitchen makes him turn his head toward the noise.
The toddler-boy climbs a stool in the kitchen. Beth picks him up and places him on the stool at the built-in kitchen counter attached to the wall, opposite the kitchen sink and refrigerator which look out over the backyard and fence.
“Do you want Cheerios?” She asks the boy with the big grin, proud that he can sit on the stool.
He nods and says, “Yes.”
“Yes, please, Mama.”
She smiles and pulls out the milk from the fridge and pours some in the bowl sitting in front of him, and hands him a shiny spoon.
The floorboards creak. Beth’s smile disappears, and she runs her hand through her hair. The grouch appears in the doorway to the kitchen overlooking the little alley kitchen.
“Where’s my breakfast, woman?”
“Ummm…” Beth fumbles for words.
He throws a twenty-dollar-bill on the counter. “That’s all your worth anyway. There’s your money for the week.”
“That’s not enough. What did you do? Spend your entire paycheck last night?”
“Don’t talk back to me. You should be grateful I give you anything at all.” He stomps out of the kitchen and outside, slamming the door in the process. Beth jumps involuntarily at the noise of the door.
Meanwhile, the toddler chases Cheerios around his bowl giggling oblivious to his mother’s anxiety. Beth’s smile returns.
“Young man, your behavior is unacceptable,” the father says to the grouch.
The grouch ignores him, picks up his bicycle and peddles out of the yard.
“How come you can hear me and he can’t?” The father asks the Crow.
The Crow takes flight after the grouch as he responds, “You don’t live in their world anymore, or the next one. You must find rest in this world to move on.”
As the Crow disappears a giggle draws the old man’s attention. He looks through the kitchen window and sees the mother and child laughing as the boy tries to reach a Cheerio stuck to his cheek with his tongue. The breeze begins to blow, and he vanishes with the swaying of the big oak tree.
A regal Blue Jay lands on a bird feeder hanging from the big oak tree in the backyard. He nibbles the birdseed and then knocks some on the ground.
“Shoo,” the old, transparent man says, “You’ll scare away the doves.”
“How dare thee. I am Blue of noble lineage, royal symbol of clarity of path,” the Blue Jay replies haughtily.
“Well, Blue, I like doves,” the father replies.
“I was sent,” Blue says.
The little boy claps his hands, “Story, Mama. Story.”
The mother smiles at the boy who holds a book that appears too big for him. She puts away the glass she holds in the cabinet, closes it, and sits on the floor. The boy crawls over to her, pulling his big book across the wooden floor in one hand and his snuggly, blue blanket in the other. He climbs into her lap and curls up as she props open the book to read to him.
“I find her of noble spirit,” The Blue Jay says to the father.
“Of course, you do, but she’s in a mess,” the father replies. “This moment is good though.” He looks back at his daughter and grandson and sees her kiss the top of his forehead. The boy’s eyes struggle to stay open. The old man smiles, the breeze blows, and the old man fades with the breeze.
“She’ll want to know right away,” The Blue Jay says as he takes flight.
Beth blinks back to the moment. Her son rolls on the ground, giggling. A butterfly lands nearby and catches his attention.
Atop the largest oak tree sits a dark-skinned goddess, Karma, glowing. Her white dress flutters in the breeze, a stunning, diamond necklace around her neck sparkles reflecting the brilliance of the power of the sun. She swings her legs back and forth, causing a leaf to fall here and there. She smiles down at the mother as her child runs around the yard, trying to catch the butterfly.
A Cardinal, regal in red, symbol of eternal life, lands next to her and chirps, “What do you see, Great One?”
Karma replies, “I see joy. For her, she does not see enough of it.”
Cardinal fluffs his feathers and tilts his head. “I do not see sadness here.”
“Just wait,” Karma says. “His time has come.”
No sooner does the cardinal settle upon the branch than the sliding door opens.
“Where is my dinner, woman?” A man of pure muscle and not much height exits the door. He staggers toward Beth.
Her smile falters. She looks to her son to see if he is watching. “I will make it in an hour. It’s only three o’clock.”
“Why is there laundry out?” He barks at her like a rabid dog.
Beth flinches. She balls up her fists. “The baby needed fresh air, not to watch me do chores all day. Look at him.”
“Don’t talk back to me.” He advances on her so quickly that she freezes like a possum.
Maybe he can’t see me anymore if I don’t move like a snake’s vision.
He swings. She doesn’t have a chance to react. She closes her eyes and holds her breath as his fist comes at her face.
“Oh, that’s what you meant,” Cardinal says.
“Wait for it,” Karma replies.
It stops just short of hitting her, and he lets his fist hang there, lingering in front of her eyes. She opens them, moves toward her child who now chases a ladybug and picks him up. She silently puts the child inside in a playpen, out of view inside, but safe, and slides the door shut.
“Don’t do that to me, again.” Beth puts her hands on her hips.
“I’ll do what I want with you, or don’t you remember?”
Beth’s shoulders droop as her courage falters.
“You’re done when I say I am,” the grouch says.
“Whatever,” Beth replies. Her body trembles as she reaches for the door.
He goes for her.
“May I?” The cardinal asks.
“After me,” Karma replies. She snaps her fingers with a sound like a distant pop. A hand, invisible to Beth and the man, gently moves Beth very slightly to the side as the man advances on her.
“And for good measure.” The invisible hand flicks the man’s legs, making him miss a step. Off balance, his raised fist collides full force with the side of the concrete house. His hand crumples. He howls.
Beth evades him and goes inside, locking the sliding door.
The cardinal takes flight and defecates on the man’s head, turning his black hair white.
Karma waves to the cardinal with a smile.
“Boo.”A man of huge stature floats in the air behind Karma.
“Stop doing that,” Karma snaps.
“It’s so fun to mess with you, though,” the man says. He sticks out his bottom lips as his golden wings flap behind him.
“I don’t like it,” she says.
“It’s my favorite,” he says. “May I join you?”
“No. You’ll break my branch. You weigh too much.” She watches the man on the ground walk around the house, checking for unlocked windows or doors to re-enter.
“Hallo, weightless. You know, I’ll fix it for you,” he says with a goofy, but brilliant grin.
“I don’t need your kind of help.” Karma crosses her arms.
“Oh, come on. Don’t be like that. Why can’t I help?”
“Because you are too…” She searches for the right word.
“Dashingly handsome? Wonderfully sweet? Stunningly marvelous?” He offers.
“Exactly. You are too showy. It’s about subtly, not how much attention you can draw.”
“So, I am dashingly handsome to you?”
“So, not the point. As usual, you missed the finer points in life. Go away. I’m busy.”
Hercules flaps huge attached golden wings on his back and makes a circle around Karma.
“I can be subtle.”
“No, you can’t. Look at you.”
At this point the man has given up on breaking into his own home and has found his bicycle which he attempts to mount.
Karma snaps her fingers and the air leaves the tires as the man sits on the seat.
The man dismounts and kicks the bicycle, stubbing his toe. He jumps around cradling his right foot with his left, uninjured hand.
“I got this, really,” Hercules says.
The man stomps off to a shed and gets out a bike pump. He works on refilling the tires, almost tipping over twice due to a balance issue.
“What will you oh Master of Anonymity do?” Karma mocks.
“I will run him over with a truck.”
“Did you sleep through the class on finesse?”
“Hang on. I wasn’t done. Then I will back up and run over him again. A big, shiny truck.”
“Too violent? Oh, come on, Karm. The guy is scum.”
Tires re-inflated the man gets on the bike and pedals down the street.
“Where is he going?” Hercules asks.
“Probably the bar,” Karma replies.
Inside, Beth lets the baby play in the playpen. He is now determined to build a mountain of squishy blocks to climb out of the playpen. She folds clothes sitting on a chair located next to the playpen. She glances the clock.
Karma takes flight and lands in a tree above a small strip-mall. There is next to no parking. Just a bar, a gas station, a clothing store, and a restaurant along the two-lane road up the street from the house just beyond a huge, green park. She sees Hercules land on the ground and change form into a burly, human version of himself minus the wings. He walks into the bar as the man on the bike arrives.
As the man reaches the door, Karma snaps her fingers. The door flies open into the grouchy man’s face bonking his nose. Hercules emerges from the bar. The grouch waves Hercules off when he apologizes. Blood streaming off his upper lip he glares at Hercules and enters the bar.
Hercules looks up at Karma. “That was not my style, girl.”
Karma smirks, “I know.”
A man in jeans approaching on the street looks around to find to whom Hercules speaks. When he sees no one about he shakes his head and avoids eye contact with Hercules.
“Now, the mortals think I’m nuts. Ugh. Stay out of my way. I’m going to fix this,” Hercules says and re-enters the bar.
A red-tailed Hawk lands near Karma.
“Anyone I can carry this time?” The hawk asks Karma.
“Not yet, Hawker. Thanks though. I’m waiting for the baboon to finish interrupting.”
“The human is a baboon?” Hawker asks.
“No. No. Hercules is the baboon. He’s such a show-off.”
Hawker turns his head toward Karma. “Have you thought about the effect that he has on you? You are after all cause and effect.”
“No. I have not. Except that he’s a nuisance,” Karma replies with a shake of her head.
“Imagine if you two actually worked together.” The hawk gazes through the window.
“Ugh. Don’t make me cringe. The man-child-god is obnoxious.”
“Good heart though.”
“Ugh. He’s going to be awhile. I’ll see you later, Hawker.” With that Karma takes flight by launching herself off her branch, unlike the show-off, Hercules, she does not need wings to fly. She returns to her perch in the yard of the mother and child. As she lands she sees a kindly looking old, transparent man peering in the window. She watches him. Beth looks out the window. He ducks.
Beth commences preparing to cook. She sets up the baby gate to block the child from entering the kitchen while she cooks. He stands on the other side of the gate looking at her with big brown eyes.
She sits down for a moment. Yearning for the sound of her Dad’s voice. He would know what to do. She looks out the window. The tree rustles in the breeze and a robin, symbol of passion and honor, flies off.
Karma lands next to the spirit apparition. “You know she cannot see you,” Karma says.
The man jumps. “Who are you?”
“Karma. Who are you?”
“I am her father.”
“Why are you here?”
“I don’t know. I keep coming back here. She and my grandchild are not safe. I cannot find rest I think is what the Crow told me.”
“I’m working on that.” She motions to the kitchen.
“She is my youngest. I worry about her most. My other children are at peace in their lives in comparison to this one. I fear for them.”
“I understand. Would you like to sit with me?” Karma asks the ghost-spirit.
“Do you have a better view?”
“Yes.” She takes his hand and they fly to her branch atop the great oak tree.
Beth takes out vegetables from the fridge. She moves some papers on the counter. A twenty-dollar-bill stuck to a note falls to the ground. Beth, for the week, make it last.She puts the vegetables back in the fridge, glances at the clock, picks up the child, and hurries out the door. She opens the car, buckles the child into his safety seat, and gets into the driver’s seat.
“God, have mercy on me,” she whispers.
She drives to the end of the short street and enters a corner market. She unharnesses the boy and goes inside. She buys milk, eggs, and a $2 scratch off ticket. She has enough left over for gas for the week. She loads the car with kid and groceries and drives back home. She unsnaps the child, hooks the groceries around her forearm and re-enters the kitchen. She puts the groceries away. She holds the child and grabs a penny. She closes her eyes as if in prayer, and she scratches.
“I do not want her to gamble,” the father huffs through his moustache.
“Wait for it.” Karma snaps her fingers.
“Oh my God.” Beth double checks the numbers. She looks around and buries the ticket in an inner pocket in her purse. She picks up the child and they spin around.
The baby giggles at his mother’s delight.
“We don’t have it yet, though. We have to make it ’til tomorrow, okay? Then, we’ll drive to Tallahassee and collect it.”
“Is that how people really win the lottery?” The spirit asks Karma.
“Usually, but sometimes other forces are in play.”
“That’s rather vague. You couldn’t have let me win the lottery when I was alive?”
“You really did not need it. You led a rich life that money could not compare. You led people out of their darkest hour and into a life happy, joyous, and free.”
“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”
“There you go.”
A crash interrupts their conversation. Karma takes flight and the spirit follows her. Halfway between the house and the bar they land in a tree above a car-bike accident.
“No, please tell me he didn’t,” Karma says.
“Who?” The spirit asks.
“Him.” Karma points at a huge man who exits his Cadillac wearing a black t-shirt with a bedazzled ‘H’ on the front.
“Yo, you gotta look before you cross, man. Geez. You ok?”
The grouch rolls over, gravel imbedded into various parts of his skin. His bike frame lays bent and twisted half-way under the chassis.
“What did I do to you, man?” The grouch says.
Hercules leans over the man. With a low raspy voice just above a whisper he says, “We’re watching. We know who you are. We know what you do to her. Let her go.”
The ghost-father whispers to Karma, “I can rest now.” He evaporates with the breeze into a brilliant light.
And so it begins…