now ring your bell
through forest, field, and fairy dell,
from riverbank to village green:
the time has come for growing things.
now ring your bell
through forest, field, and fairy dell,
from riverbank to village green:
the time has come for growing things.
Did you know there’s a National Beer Day? I didn’t, but I do now. And yes, of course I’m celebrating. Here’s a silly poem to prove it.
For you, O Mighty Brew,
we celebrate this day.
Quencher, and friend,
foe, and consoler,
partner in pleasure,
and (sometimes, perhaps) in crime
(we won’t speak of that now…),
you are a time in yourself,
a moment of fizzy bliss,
of foamy joy.
You, Oh Ancient Potion,
are powerful, potable,
You make us brave
You make us wise
(for a while).
To you, I tip my hat.
And then drop it.
Thanks for that.
Harley Orr noticed everything.
When he and his mother lived in the city, he noticed the smell of exhaust and of people all around him. He noticed the other children in his daycare, their unmatched socks, and how the teachers always had dark circles under their eyes. He noticed his mother, how she moved like a racecar, and only stopped to sleep. He noticed how she stirred his mac and cheese for dinner, fast and then slow, always with the same wooden spoon, and served in the same blue plastic bowl. He noticed that he spent a lot of time alone.
Now, in the hill country, he noticed creaky house sounds and musty forest smells and the way the light slanted just right at about 4:00 in the afternoon on the second Sunday in March, on the creamy white wall of his new bedroom in his grandmother’s house.
They’d moved in with his grandmother not too long ago, Harley and his mother, and the little clapboard house on the mountain felt different, but not in a bad way.
“It won’t be forever, baby,” his mother had told him. “Just until I find a new job.”
He noticed how his mother’s voice tightened on those words, “new job.” His heart beat a little faster.
“But we’re not homeless, are we, Mom?”
“No, baby, we’re not homeless.”
“And we can stay here for a while, right?” Harley pressed his fingers into his palms, waited for her answer.
“Not if I can help it,” she’d said. “Your nana sure would love it, but we’re not hill people, you and me.”
Harley didn’t know what that meant, but he did know he liked his new room. It had a big window that faced an oak tree and a creek in the back yard. The house did smell a little, like dust, Harley thought, but it was clean and you didn’t have to eat your dinner on the couch, because there was a dark wood table right in the kitchen.
He also liked his grandmother. He noticed how she always smelled a little like caramel and peppermint, and how she smiled a special, crooked close-lipped smile at him when she thought he wasn’t looking, and how her knobby fingers combed his hair as gently as if he’d been a breakable thing.
“Look here,” she’d told him, perched on the side of his new bed the first night he’d slept in it, “this is your home now, understand? I want you to be happy here, okay?”
“Mom’s not happy,” Harley’d replied.
“Well, it’s awful hard to make Arlene happy, but we’ll see what we can do, won’t we?” She’d reached over and given his shoulder a squeeze, and then she’d said, “Goodnight, Harley-bug.”
He’d never had a nickname before.
That first night, Harley hadn’t slept much. His new room during the day felt bright and warm, but at night, it felt a little like a haunted, dark cave. He noticed the quick skitter of something outside, the groan of a shutter in the wind, the “sshhhh” of the breeze through the branches. In the morning, his grandmother had told him not to be scared, that it’s always a little hard to get used to new places.
“Remind me when you’re older, and I’ll tell you all about when your papaw built this house, and how we got used to it together.”
Harley’s mother got a job that first week, waitressing at a diner in town. She called it “temporary.” The hours were long, but the pay was good, and Harley was happy enough to spend the time with his grandmother. He noticed pretty quickly that things moved a little slower at her house. Mornings always meant a big breakfast, sometimes biscuits and jam, and sometimes scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. In the afternoons, his grandmother would walk down the hill to the mailbox, always pausing a few times to pull a weed or just look around or up at the sky. She’d start dinner at 3:00 each day, stringing beans or peeling potatoes or shucking corn in the sunroom. Now that the weather had changed, and the air was starting to warm, she liked to sit out on front porch, a plastic bowl nestled in her lap.
They sat together one day in the sunlight, watching the trees sway in the gentle spring breeze, and Harley helped string the beans while his grandmother peeled potatoes and onions. He noticed that his grandmother always gave him a little extra on his plate, if he did some of the work himself.
“You’re getting to be pretty fast with those green beans,” his grandmother told him.
“I like green beans,” he said. He adjusted the bowl in his lap, to show her just how many he’d done.
“Next, maybe I’ll teach you how to chop the firewood. I reckon you’re big enough to handle the ax.”
Harley looked over at her, eyes wide as saucers, breath caught right in his throat.
She winked, “I’m only kidding, bug.”
Harley released an audible sigh.
They sat together, both working in silence, until the vegetables were all ready to be cooked. Just as they both stood to go into the kitchen, Harley noticed a deep rumble from down the hill. He’d never heard a sound quite like this one, so gravelly and deep and loud. It was loud. He grabbed his grandmother’s free hand, dropped the bowl of beans.
“It’s just a truck, Harley, don’t you worry.”
But she was moving fast, pulling him into the house. She told him, quicker than she ever talked, “Go on up to your room and don’t come down.”
“Nana?” Harley stood still at the bottom of the stairs. He noticed tears on his cheeks, and a sting in his eyes. He realized he was crying. “I’m scared.”
His grandmother came over, and she hugged him, tight but not hard. Outside, he heard car doors slam, and yelling, and worst of all, he heard someone screaming. Not quite screaming though. Screaming and crying together. He’d never heard anything like that before.
His grandmother let him go, turned him around and nudged him toward the stairs. “Everything’s fine and don’t you worry. I just got a feeling you don’t want to see what’s about to walk through that door.”
This time, he ran up the stairs two at a time. He slammed his bedroom door behind him. He thought about locking it, but noticed it didn’t have a lock. He hadn’t noticed that before. He took deep breaths, slid down onto the floor and pulled his knees to his chest. And he listened.
He heard the screen door open, and the screams and cries. And he heard muffled voices.
“…to the stove. Hot cast iron…oil in the frying pan…”
“…on into the kitchen…at the table…”
His grandmother, again.
And then, everything went quiet.
Harley was scared, but he was also curious. He couldn’t help it, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He didn’t want to get in trouble, but he wanted to know what was happening, and he wanted to make sure his grandmother was okay.
He stood up. Slowly, a little at a time, he turned the doorknob, and as quiet as he could, he opened the door. He stepped out into the hall, and crept down the stairs. He rounded the corner, and peaked into the kitchen.
He saw three people. One older woman, and one little girl. He noticed she was about as tall as he was, and that she had a big, red, horrible burn on her arm. And he saw his grandmother, standing over the girl. Her back was turned. She touched the girl’s arm, right on the burn. Harley winced, and he must have made a noise, because his grandmother turned around and spotted him.
“Come on in here, Harley. It’s all right.”
He took a few cautious steps, and then, feeling a little more brave, took the last big strides to the table. He sat down across from the little girl. He noticed her eyes were red, but she didn’t cry anymore.
“This is Helen and Libby. Libby’s about your age.”
“Now, Harley, I need you to be real still and real quiet, and I’m going to work on Libby’s arm.”
Harley did as he was told, and he watched.
His grandmother closed her eyes. She held Libby’s burned arm in one hand, and with her other, right above the angry red splotch, made a little pushing motion in the air.
She said, “Water won’t burn, fire won’t quench, God’s word won’t lie.”
A little push in the air, right over Libby’s arm, and then again, “Water won’t burn, fire won’t quench, God’s word won’t lie.”
Harley just stared.
Once more, his grandmother pushed at the air above Libby’s burned arm, and said, “Water won’t burn, fire won’t quench, God’s word won’t lie.”
His grandmother opened her eyes, and looked at Libby. “Does that feel better?”
The little girl nodded her sandy blonde head, looked at her arm, poked at the burn, and smiled a little. “Yes, ma’am,” she answered.
“Thank you, Alice,” the older woman said.
“You don’t need to thank me at all,” Nana told her. “Just make sure you keep that child away from the stove when you’re cooking.”
The older woman stood up, and ushered Libby out of the room.
“And bring Libby back one of these days to see Harley.”
“I will,” the older woman said, and opened the screen door. “It’ll be nice for her to have a kid her age to play with.”
Libby smiled at Harley, and Harley smiled back.
They left through the front, and Harley heard the car start and then make its rumbling way down the hill.
His grandmother walked over to the sink and washed her hands. “You snuck downstairs, rascal,” his grandmother said. But she didn’t sound angry, and after she dried her hands on a kitchen towel, she beckoned him to her, to sit on her lap. “I didn’t want you to be scared. Your mother used to hate it when this happened. She’d be mad if she knew I showed you. Thinks it’s not real.”
“You fixed her,” Harley said.
“I took the pain away,” his grandmother answered. “I talked the fire out of the burn.”
“It’s like magic,” Harley told her. “You made her better.”
“In a way,” she said.
“It’s my gift, straight from the Lord himself, and it belonged to my daddy before me.” She gave Harley a squeeze and said, “One day, I’ll give it to you.”
Harley’s eyes went wide. He shivered, a quick chill that started at the top of his head and made its way down to the tippy tips of his toes. “Really?”
“You’re my grandson, aren’t you?”
“And this is your home?”
He nodded again.
“Then yes, sir. But not for a long time, so don’t you worry.” She set her jaw and looked right in his eyes. “You’re a smart, brave boy. Don’t be afraid.”
Harley wasn’t afraid. For the first time, in as long as he could remember, he wasn’t afraid at all.
Thank you for reading! This is the third of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.
Here are the first two stories, if you’d like to read them:
And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!
The next story will be posted at the end of April.
tea and pictures
and a notebook page
welcome the spring
take a moment
write and read
a letter for every raindrop
I spoke to the horizon,
to the brightest sky and bluest water.
“You are limitless.”
It spoke back,
“So are you.”
I carry it with me,
this bag of bones,
of broken down building blocks.
These I have gathered,
these moldering bits of a million little memories,
times and places and people,
thousands over the course of a life,
tucked away for safekeeping.
It drags behind me,
clatters and clacks in a diabolical cacophony.
Always I carry this calcified collection,
but only a few can see,
and those few know the weight of it themselves.
They carry their own
bones in sacks, dangling from weary hands.
Why is not the question.
It is when.
When to open it?
Which to choose?
How to fit that one fragile bit into the puzzle just so.
the burden is heavy,
and every day it grows.
But for those who carry the bags,
curate the bones and create new skeletons,
there is no greater treasure.
the warriors and weavers and
witches and wanderers,
the brave and bold
who came before,
I promise this:
My light will magnify your light.
I will shine because
you reached for the sky
and grabbed the sun and moon and stars
to fight the darkness.
your home –
the one you made with your own hands –
will live on in me.
I will stand and speak.
My voice will carry as yours,
over the mountains you climbed,
across the sands of time
and the pillars and platforms you built.
I won’t make myself small
just to fit into the corners
of a world made and sustained
I cradle your wisdom in my soul
because you carved a place for it.
I will keep that place
sacred and whole.
I will nurture the fire you lit
and pass the eternal torch.
Leonine you are, we say,
but today, only light –
gray, mild sunshine,
and a breezy chill in the air.
Perhaps you’re saving energy,
waiting for better prey –
a colder, wetter, wilder moment,
a time to truly roar,
to give a little more of your royal self.
You’ll pounce then,
claws and jaws and teeth and trouble,
and surprise us all.
“How do you stand it here?”
“What do you mean?”
The two of us sat together on top of a giant round hay bale, the largest in the field this year, staring out at the stars. In the chill of a mid-February night and the light of the full Snow Moon, we could see our breath hanging in the air in front of us.
“The dark. The quiet. The…nothing. There’s just nothing to do,” he said.
“I’m used to it, I guess,” I answered.
“I will never get used to it,” he said.
“It’s not that bad. I think you’re blowing things out of proportion.”
“No. You just don’t know the difference.”
“That’s mean,” I said.
“You guys don’t even have a movie theater.”
He’d moved at the beginning of the school year. His parents had dragged him halfway across the country when his dad took a new job, all the way from sunny, funky Austin to the lonely, scrappy mountains of Russell County. We’d met on the first day of school, but only because we had to.
“I’m supposed to give you a tour,” I’d explained, my backpack slung over one shoulder. “It won’t take long.”
“Thanks,” he’d said. “I kind of figured.”
We’d walked up and down the three main hallways and the side wings of the red brick block of a high school. I’d asked about his classes, invited him to sit with me and my friends at lunch. I’d offered to meet him after school and show him around town, or, at least, what little town there was to show. He’d said yes.
It had been almost a half a year since then.
“It’ll start to get warm soon,” I said. “The redbuds are really pretty in spring.”
“Those are trees, right?”
“Yes. The next town over has a festival when they start to bloom. We should go.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay,” I said back. I squeezed his hand.
I’d introduced him to the hay bales on the winter solstice. He’d spent the entire Christmas season lamenting the chintzy 1970s decorations sprinkled along Main Street.
“They’re sort of charming,” I’d said. “Like looking into another time.”
“I spent last Christmas in Germany,” he’d said. “I wish you could see the Christmas markets there.”
“Maybe someday,” I’d answered. “Why aren’t you traveling this year?”
“My dad’s too busy.”
“Come to my house tonight,” I’d offered. “My mom’s making steaks, and I’ve got a surprise for you after.”
I don’t know what sort of surprise he’d expected, but he didn’t seem impressed by the rolling pasture and enormous hay bales.
I’d always walked out to the fields on cold, clear nights. I liked the silence, the peace. And in the winter, I loved the brightness of the stars against the dark, empty landscape. I’d thought maybe he would, too. I didn’t know much about what it was like living in a big city, but I knew it never got dark enough to see the stars.
“This is my own personal light show,” I’d told him. “I wouldn’t bring just anybody out here to see it.”
He’d laughed, and said, “So you think I’m special?”
We’d kissed then, for the first time. “I like you,” I’d told him. “You’re a jerk, but I think you’re pretty cool.”
“I like you, too,” he’d said.
I wanted that night to live in my memory, always.
“I like you,” I told him now. “And I like this.”
“I like you,” he said, from somewhere far away. “It always looks the same out here.”
“Not at all! The constellations are changing all the time.” I pointed up, showed him Orion and the Big Dipper. “Some nights,” I added, “you can see the milky way.” Did he truly not notice? “Once, I saw the Northern Lights. They almost never come this far south.”
“I saw them when I went camping in Alaska.”
“I’ve never been to Alaska.”
“You’ve never been anywhere.”
“I’ve been to Nashville. And to Myrtle Beach.”
He harrumphed, released my hand, and hopped down.
“I’m going home,” he said. “It’s cold and I’m bored.”
“Well, excuse me. Sorry I’m not interesting enough for you.” I took a deep breath, let it out. “You’re being a snob.”
He turned around and looked up at me. “Don’t be like that,” he said.
It usually ended this way. Him, walking away from me to go play whatever latest video game he got online, or to video chat with his friends back in Texas, or to tinker with his computer. Me, on the verge of tears, clenching my jaw to keep from yelling at him, feeling like a dumb small-town hick.
“I’m not being like anything,” I said. “I just wanted to share this with you.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry. Let’s just go home, okay?” He started to walk down the hill.
Strictly speaking, the farmer next door didn’t like having trespassers on his land, but because he knew me, he usually let it slide. Our two families had been sharing this little valley for five generations. He wouldn’t start trouble over two stupid kids sitting around on top of hay bales in the dark.
“I thought it might make things better,” I said. “I mean, for you.”
“I thought you might feel better, if you could see what makes this place special.” I hopped down and walked over to him. I caught his hand again, held it up between us in both of mine. “I know it’s not big or loud or anything, but this is something you can only do out in the country. There’s nowhere else in the world quite like this.”
“You’re hopeless,” he said, but he pulled me in and kissed me quick on the lips. “Someday you’ll get out of here, and you’ll understand why I hate it.”
“This is my home,” I told him. “It doesn’t matter where I go. I’ll always be from here.”
“Wait and see,” he said. “You’re too good for this place.”
He turned and walked away. From the bottom of the hill, he called up to me, “Are you coming?”
“No,” I answered. “I’ll stay.”
“Well, see you tomorrow, then.”
I stood right where he left me, planted in that one spot. I looked out ahead at the dark expanse of field and pasture, and at the rolling mountains in the distance, illuminated by the silvery cast of the full moon.
Thank you for reading! This is the second of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.
Here’s January’s story, if you’d like to read it: The Roads
And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here. 😊
The next story will be posted on Friday, March 26th.
Take a step
And then another after that
Move forward not back
Be brave and blaze the trail ahead
But look both ways
There’s wisdom in the past