Poetry: Nostalgia

I’m not sure what the snails
thought when you gathered them in
your tiny hands and raced them
across the slick glass back door

maybe they liked the chalk rainbow
you’d drawn as a finish line  
or how you happily cheered each 
one saying, “you can do it!”

or maybe they were terrified they’d 
suffer a fatal fall but kept 
going anyway because your belief in
them was greater than their fear

whatever they thought all those years
ago in our tiny wild backyard
the echoes of your joyful voice
still manages to make me smile

Photography: Sunset Drive

“Some roads aren’t meant to be traveled alone.”
-Chinese Proverb

My favorite thing to come out of quarantine was the tradition of evening drives with my daughter. We play loud music, talk about everything, and just drive. After spending the majority of last week apart from each other it felt good to get behind the wheel and see where the road took us. We found dragonflies, cows, our favorite parking lot, and a gorgeous sunset.

As we process our grief and plan a memorial to celebrate my mother-in-law, it felt extra special to have these moments of beauty to reflect on the blessings in our lives. Thank you to everyone who has reached out and supported our family. We feel the love.


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW.

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The Blackberry Quest | A Short Story

It isn’t easy to surprise your mother when you are five years old, but Henrietta doesn’t mind doing hard things for the people she loves. For the last several hours she’s been on a hunt for blackberries to give her mother for her birthday. A tiring barefooted quest that’s led her to the very edges of where she’s allowed to go on their small farm.

Despite checking the ditches along the road, the field behind the animal barn, the banks of the small creek, and the apple orchard, her little wicker basket remains empty. Henrietta thought finding the berries would be easy as she’s gone with her mother to harvest them many times, but she never paid attention to where they picked them and now she wished she had.

Mother does so much for Henrietta and she loves blackberries and cream. She can’t go home empty-handed. She simply must keep looking.

Stuffing her left hand into the pocket of her favorite purple linen dress and swinging the basket in her right, Henrietta skips along the edge of the property marked by a two-rail wooden fence. Her thick, blonde braid bounces against her back and she sings a song about blue jays and mockingbirds with a sweet high voice her mother says is “purely delightful” but her new teacher calls “truly distracting.”

Pink-cheeked, she stops abruptly when she spots a dirt path leading into a patch of scrubby-looking old trees she’s never noticed before. Perhaps that’s where the berries are hiding. She stares at it for a long time, wrinkling up her nose and twirling the basket in her hand.

To follow the path means she must break the rules. It’s beyond the border of the wooden fence—the one she swore to never, ever cross. Closing her eyes tight she pictures the joy and delight on her mother’s face when she hands her the basket of berries and the decision is made. She has to go for it.

Hiking up her dress, Henrietta carefully climbs over the fence and lands with a thud on the other side. Her heart races as she sprints to the clump of scraggly trees, certain a huge blackberry bush will be waiting among them. It isn’t. There are only rocks, dirt, and weeds. She picks up a round grey stone and throws it in frustration. The berries must be just a little further.

For the next few hours, she follows several winding paths through a mostly dry forest of thorny weeds. She knows she should turn back but she keeps thinking she sees the dark green leaves of the berry bushes just around the next corner. Just a little further.

The path suddenly ends at a lumpy hill covered in swaying, yellow grasses. With hope still wrapped around her like a tiny silken cape, Henrietta tucks the basket under her arm and climbs on all fours like a bear to the very top. Thorns make her palms and bare feet burn and itch. Just a little further.

On the hilltop, Henrietta watches the dark purple wild lupine flowers sway slightly in the warm breeze of the now late summer evening. Tiny golden hairs escape her thick braid and curl around her ears. Still no sign of berries.

Scrambling onto a small boulder, Henrietta stands on tiptoes and reaches for the puffy white clouds in the darkening blue sky. She’s certain eating one would make things better. It certainly can’t get any worse.

Suddenly her left calf starts to cramp and she yelps in pain, tumbling from the rock into a patch of scratchy brown weeds. Curling into a ball she uses her thumbs to try and massage out the pain but it doesn’t work. Tears from her soft blue eyes make tracks down her bright pink cheeks. It’s not fair.

Rolling onto her back, she lands in a patch of soggy mud and feels it soak completely through her thin dress. Mom will be furious at the stains. She’s stupid and dumb for wandering away and getting lost. A useless baby.

These kinds of thoughts aren’t like Henrietta at all and she wonders if perhaps the wind is saying these awful things to her. She’s simply lost. That’s all. There’s no need for name-calling.

“Stop it wind. Stop being mean.”

As if in response the wind gusts across the hilltop causing the long stems of the flowers to lean almost to the ground. There’s a high-pitched sound, like when mother’s yellow tea kettle is ready, and Henrietta covers her ears and closes her eyes. She isn’t sure she wants to look for berries anymore.

When the wind stops, Henrietta sits up, expecting to see her beautiful mother appear over the crest of the hill and rescue her. When she doesn’t, Henrietta wipes the tears from her eyes with the muddy hem of her dress and sniffs loudly. Being brave is getting harder and harder.

Maybe it’s time to go home and give mother something else for her birthday. Henrietta’s thinking about putting together a bouquet of wildflowers when a horrible screeching sound causes her to look up. Two rather ugly birds sit on the rock she fell from. They are covered in black feathers with bright pink naked heads, hooked white beaks, and intense black eyes.

She scrambles backward further into the mud puddle and the birds laugh at her. It’s a horrid sound and it makes her mad. Jumping to her feet, she places her hands on her hips and stomps her foot sending a spray of mud up around her.

“Go away you mean things.”

“We aren’t mean things. We are vultures. Don’t you know anything?”

They take turns speaking, each saying one word at a time, with matching slow growly voices. Henrietta feels her cheeks heating up and she twists the hem of her dress in her left fist. The birds smell terrible so she plugs her nose, causing her voice to sound strange.

“I know lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“I know how to spell my name and count to 100.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I know all the names of the flowers in my mother’s garden; pansy, bellflower, iris, candytuft, tulip, wisteria, and hydrangea.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I can snorkel in the water all by myself and know the names of all the fish in the lake; trout, salmon, bass, catfish, perch, and pike.”

“Everyone knows that.”

The vultures laugh again, scraping their shiny black talons loudly against the rock and clicking their beaks. Henrietta thinks nothing of this warning but instead grabs a handful of mud and throws it at the birds. They dodge it easily and then dive toward her with loud, terrifying squawks.

“Oh, no!”

Realizing a bit too late she’s in danger, she turns quickly and sprints down the far side of the hill. About halfway down she discovers she’s going too fast but can’t stop herself. Instead, she falls forward until she’s rolling like a wild croquet ball spinning towards a field of wire wickets.

“Help! Someone help me!”

Within seconds a mass of blue and white swirls around her, circling wildly with tiny quick moments too fast to fully see. There’s a sweet sugary smell in the air and a low rhythmic humming Henrietta associates with lullabies and bedtime. She’s scared but also very curious.

The creatures move faster and faster until they are able to stop Henrietta’s forward movement and suspend her in midair upside down. She looks from the delicate soft creatures to the sky beneath her wiggling toes and giggles.

“Thank you, but I think I’m pointed the wrong way.”

The swarm of blue and white butterflies lightly laugh, flip her around, and gently ease her dirty feet onto a patch of soft green clover. Holding out her arms and spinning in a circle she dances with them until they eventually disperse and fly off into the darkening forest around her.

“Wow. What was that?”

“Butterfly effect.”

The fast breathy voice comes from inside the branches of a large sycamore tree leaning slightly to the right. Henrietta moves closer and finds a tiny squirrel climbing up and down the branches grabbing acorns from a pile at the base of the tree and then storing them inside a hole midway up the tree’s trunk. Its long bushy tail twitches up and down.

“Did you say butterfly effect?”

“I did.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“The butterfly effect?”

“Yes.”

Henrietta laughs in frustration but the squirrel doesn’t stop moving and doesn’t add anything further. She leans down to examine the fat brown acorns touching one of the wooden caps with her fingertip. A terrible squeaking sound erupts and the squirrel rushes toward her.

“Don’t you dare! Those are mine!”

Henrietta quickly pulls her finger away and takes a step back.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just looking at them.”

“Had to purge my other spot…got too busy. Too busy. Industry moving in. Those beavers have no scruples I say. No scruples at all. They just take and take and take. These are mine. I collected them. Mine. Mine. Mine.”

Henrietta covers her mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping and then smiles gently at the squirrel who has stopped moving to look at her closer. It sniffs her hand with its twitchy nose and she can see the forest reflected in the shiny black of its small eyes.

“You lost?”

Its voice is slower and softer. Henrietta thinks it sounds worried about her. Looking around the thick forest of tall trees she finds nothing looks familiar. She really is lost.

“I guess I am. I was looking for blackberries for my mother’s birthday and I didn’t find them and then…I kind of got lost. I don’t know where I am.”

The last words bring a few tears and Henrietta quickly sweeps them away with the back of her hand. She feels like she should be tougher, after all, she’s a kindergartner now and can go down the big twisty slide without anyone to catch her at the bottom. The squirrel takes another step toward her with its head turned to the side.

“Can I help?”

Henrietta brightens at this.

“Maybe….do you know the way to my house? It’s the big blue one with the white fence behind it.”

The squirrel shakes its head sadly and they both sit quietly for a few minutes staring at the forest floor. Henrietta feels bad for stopping this kind creature from its work but then she has an idea. An exciting idea.

“Could I help you?”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Of course! We can use my basket to gather up the acorns and then I can climb up and dump them inside.”

Nodding its head vigorously they get to work putting the plan into action. Henrietta climbs trees in the orchard all the time to help her mother get the apples near the top, so climbing with the basket isn’t hard for her at all. Before the sun sets another inch in the sky, they are done.

The squirrel rushes around the tree chirping excitedly and Henrietta feels proud of herself. She loves to be a helper. It makes her heart feel as if it has grown big and full inside her body. Her mother would be so proud.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” it chants over and over in time with its twitchy tail.

Stopping mid-tree, a thoughtful look breaks across the squirrel’s face followed by more frantic running and squeaking. Henrietta laughs hard and this time she doesn’t hide it. Bouncing on its back legs as if ready to spring high into the air and take flight, the squirrel talks super fast.

“I have an idea! I have the best idea of all the ideas in the woods. Will it work? I don’t know. But it’s a good idea. A fine idea. A wonderful idea. He owes me a favor and he has to be able to help. He has to. It’s a good idea. A great idea. I can help you!”

“You can?”

“Yes. I know someone who might be able to help! Wait here!”

With that, the squirrel scampers away at top speed mumbling “great idea.” Henrietta sits on the forest floor and picks out thorns from her dress and tosses them as far as she can. She wishes she’d asked for one of the acorns because her mother loves to draw little faces on them and line them up along the kitchen window. She decides she will ask the squirrel when it returns.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. You can’t make me talk. No. No. I won’t tell you. I won’t.”

A gruff voice breaks through the woods and within moments Henrietta sees the squirrel walking slowly beside an old, fat, grey rabbit with a slight limp. It’s shaking its head, making its long, floppy ears flap all over the place. Henrietta thinks it’s the cutest rabbit she’s ever seen and has to sit on her hands to avoid reaching out to touch its soft fur.

“See! She’s nice and she needs our help.”

Stopping a few inches away the rabbit stares at Henrietta for a long time. She’s not sure if she should say something to it, and after what feels like forever, it nods once.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. But I’ll show her the berries. For her mother…”

Henrietta jumps to her feet, sending both the squirrel and the rabbit into a nearby bush.

“Sorry. I’m just excited.”

“It’s okay. I’m no snitch, but let’s go. Don’t tell anyone I told you okay? Nobody. I’m no snitch.”

“Oh, I won’t tell a soul.”

The squirrel rushes to its pile and then returns to Henrietta with an acorn in its tiny paws.

“For you mother.”

“She will love it! Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

Henrietta wants to touch its soft fur but decides it might be bad manners and instead blows the squirrel a kiss before turning to follow the grumpy rabbit into the forest. They walk slowly in silence for a long time around fallen logs, through patches of bright green ferns, and around several large colorful mushrooms.

The sky beyond the trees has turned golden orange and purple. Soon the moon and the stars will be out. Her mother must be so worried about her and it makes Henrietta feel terribly upset. By the time they reach a large blackberry bush hugging the edge of a small stream her enthusiasm for picking has been replaced with utter despair.

“Here you go. Now, remember, I didn’t take you here. I’m no snitch.”

Henrietta begins to sob. She can’t help herself. All she wanted to do was make her mother’s birthday special and she missed the entire day, broke the number one rule, and probably won’t ever find her home again. Thinking about her mother’s crying green eyes makes her feel sick as she clutches her stomach.

The rabbit hops into her lap and looks at her with concern in its dark shiny eyes.

“You can pet me if you want.”

Henrietta does and is surprised to find it makes her feel better. The more she strokes the soft, grey fur the calmer she becomes. The babbling sound of the nearby stream draws her attention to the blackberry bush and she feels a renewed sense of purpose. This day can be saved!

“Thank you, rabbit. A million times thank you.”

It hops from her lap and she runs toward the bush and begins picking the fattest, prettiest blackberries she’s ever seen until her basket is filled to the tippy-top. Mother will be so overjoyed she’ll forget everything else. Henrietta pops a few of the berries into her mouth and chews them happily.

“Excuse me…”

A deep voice causes Henrietta to almost drop her basket and she’s shocked when she turns around to find an enormous deer with huge antlers pawing the ground a few feet from where she stands. It occurs to her in an instant that the berries must be his and he’s going to be really mad.

“I’m sorry. You can have them back.”

She’s about to pour the basket onto the ground when the deer laughs. It’s not mocking like the vulture’s cackle but rather a gentle soft chuckle between friends. Tilting his head he nods to her.

“My forest friends have told me you are trying to get home for your mother’s birthday. You are almost too late little one. Mother moon has opened her eyes and her starry children are rushing out to play. The day is almost over.”

Tears reform in Henrietta’s already swollen eyes as all the feelings of the day flood through her again. She falls to the forest floor letting the basket of berries tumble from her hands. Nothing is as important as being with her mother and she should have never left the farm. Love and time together are the most important gifts of all.

“It’s okay,” the deer says. “It’s all going to be okay.”

Henrietta looks up to see all her new forest friends gathered in a circle around her—big deer, grey rabbit, twitchy squirrel, and the swirling mass of blue and white butterflies. They gather the berries for her and return them to the basket. They kiss her on the cheek and help her onto the smooth back of the large deer. She can feel his breath beneath her and her own breathing slows to match his.

“Time to go, little one. Your mother’s waiting for you,” the deer says.

“Thank you!” she calls to her friends who stand waving until she’s out of sight.

The journey takes no time at all and soon Henrietta sees the fence at the back of the orchard. Her mother stands near the treeline with her back to her. She’s wearing a long purple dress covered in tiny white flowers. The moonlight makes her hair look sleek and silver.

“Henrietta! Where are you, daughter? Henrietta!”

Sliding quickly off the deer’s back she kisses him on the nose, leaps over the fence, and runs toward her mother.

“I’m right here! Mother! I’m right here!”

Her mother scoops her into her arms and kisses her from head to toe, the basket of berries falling to the ground beside them.

Author’s note: This was a hard week for our family. We gathered together in my sister-in-law’s home as my strong loving mother-in-law gently faded away from us in her upstairs bedroom. We held her hand, kissed her face, and brushed her hair. We made sure she knew she was loved but also that it was okay to leave us. It was a beautiful and incredibly hard week.

My short story, written mostly in one sitting, was inspired by my love for her and many of the wonderful moments we’ve shared over the years. There’s a little Alice, a little Blueberries for Sal, a nod to family history, and a lot of grief. I’ll miss you forever, Janet. Your loving legacy will not be forgotten.


Short Story Challenge | Week 34

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about an interrupted journey. We had to include butterfly effect, vulture, cramp, industry, purge, scruple, snorkel, snitch, warning, and useless.


Write With Us

Prompt: A conversation between artists

Include skull, galaxy, expression, trash can, deployment, visitor, brushstroke, decade, forgot, ponder


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Photography: Neighborhood Sunrise

“The morning steals upon the night, Melting the darkness.” -William Shakespeare

A gorgeous friend of mine writes and talks a lot about joy—seeking it out, the importance of recognizing it, and fighting for it even when it feels ridiculous. She inspires me all the time and this morning I did something purely for the joy of it. I hiked to a park by my house with my camera to capture the sunrise. It felt luxurious and I basked in the beauty of the world for an entire hour alone.

My mother-in-law has entered hospice care within the home of my kind, caring, and incredibly giving sister-in-law. This time in our lives is hard. Watching a woman of immeasurable strength and love fade before all our eyes is beyond difficult. While I don’t know what this next part looks like, I do know that even within these hard moments we can find gratitude and even joy.

All the photos above were taken with my Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW.

Here’s a bonus iPhone self-portrait:


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Photography: Oregon Mountains

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I’ve shared many photos the last few weeks of my trip to Oregon but this final collection is the most special to me.

My grandmother died of Covid at the start of the pandemic. Although it took us several years, we were finally able to reunite her with her husband in a lush field of tall grasses on top of a beautiful Oregon mountain. The sun shone brightly and butterflies chased the truck as we left. It feels wonderful to know she’s where she wants to be and at peace.

Here are a few of the images from that day. I hope you enjoy them.


Covered bridge
Moss and cobwebs
Bear grass
My grandmother’s marker
Wildflower
This leather marker was placed when my grandpa passed and the tree has grown around it.
Butterfly on the Columbia Tiger Lily
Lupine
My beautiful momma

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Poetry: Apple Carrot Muffins

The same old silver grater, clear
glass bowl, dented wooden spoon used
to make round applesauce cake for
first birthdays 
today 
made muffins for freshman and senior 
year. Instead of watching from your 
wooden high chair, bass boomed behind 
closed bedroom 
doors 
while green granny smith apples, bright 
orange carrots joined honey, oats, almond
flour for you. Another day of
beautiful childhood
fleeting
before lovesick eyes not done soaking 
up all the wondrous firsts, seconds
of motherhood’s dance. Don’t blink they
tell you;
blink
blink
blink

Photography: 4th of July

I’ve not felt patriotic in years. After seeing a terrible car accident this morning and reading of yet another mass shooting, my mood is far from celebratory. I decided to photograph my day in an attempt to combat the anger, disappointment, and sadness at fully realizing freedom in America has always been selective. It’s getting harder and harder to cling to the hope things will get better.

Here’s a look at what brings me joy and gives me the energy to keep fighting—my sister’s new puppy, playing with my sweet nephew, dominoes, fresh tomatoes, swimming with my mom and aunt, and sparklers.

Thank you so much for your support.


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Chocolate Kisses | A Short Story

Zech’s got his shoulders turned away from me when we pull up to a four-way stop in the middle of Utah. There are no other cars around, but I pause for a full minute to be sure one isn’t going to blast through the intersection and into us. The rain’s so loud I can’t hear the blinker.

“Quite a storm,” I say loudly.

He nods. The reddish hair at the nape of his neck is matted and I’m certain he’s wearing the same red and blue plaid shirt he wore when I picked him up at the bus station late last night. There’s a strong smell of Old Spice and a fainter smell of chewing tobacco and I wonder if he lied to me about quitting. It’s none of my business.

Wishing I could find a way to break the tension, I glace over and find he’s twisting his hands in his lap. It’s exactly like grandma used to do, the way she’d squeeze the fingers of one hand then the next while whispering the Lord’s prayer over and over under her breath. He’s making me uneasy. Five hours left to go.

“See any cars coming?” I say.

He shakes his head no but doesn’t look at me. He’s opening and closing his knees rapidly making our economy rental car rock back and forth. His nervous energy makes me feel like I’m five years old again and he’s yelling at me for riding my bike in the street.

“You could have been killed,” he’d scream. “Don’t you know anything?”

I never knew anything. He’d tell me the statistics of kids being killed on bikes, paralyzed on roller-skates, or how likely I’d be to die in a plane crash. When I moved away to college he gave me enough pepper spray to douse the entire male population three times over.

My roommates both told me driving with my brother to our grandmother’s funeral was a terrible idea. He’d never gotten his license and we’ve not seen each other since I left for college three years ago. He calls me on Sundays to argue and tell me what’s wrong with the world. Politics and religion are his favorite topics. I still know nothing, according to him.

“Mina, you don’t have to be a hero. Your brother has been nothing but an asshole to you your entire life. You don’t owe him shit,” Megan said.

“Seriously! I know he’s all the family you have, but he makes you crazy. You always are in tears after talking to him and a nervous wreck. You don’t have to do this,” Paula said.

They offered to pool their money together to buy me a plane ticket but I couldn’t do it. He needs me and I still hold out the childish hope of having the kind of TV sibling relationship I used to dream about in our shared bed at night. We’d magically become Mable and Dipper from “Gravity Falls,” solving the world’s mysteries while looking out for each other.

The truth is, I’m not sure where my brother lives right now or if he has people in his life. He asks about my classes and my friends, but it’s mostly to assess my level of danger. We are practically strangers.

“Is it okay if I put on some music?” I say.

“No,” he says. “My head still hurts.”

Grandma used to tell us she’d be gone one day and all we would have is each other. At church on Sundays, she’d make us hold hands when we walked through the tall wooden doors so God could see we loved each other. It never made sense to me how this all-seeing and all-knowing God cared so much about how we acted and looked on Sundays. Shouldn’t we love each other every day?

“God’s watching you extra close today,” she’d say. “No wildness or wickedness on Sundays.”

We’d have to stay in our fancy clothes until bedtime. There was no outdoor playing or television. It was dominoes, reading the Bible, eating fried chicken, and having ice cream sundaes for dessert with one single cherry on top. The picture of domestic bliss on the outside, but inside it was flat and empty. I wanted more. I still want more.

“Did you hear old auntie Char will be at the funeral?” I say. “I haven’t seen her in years.”

“So?”

His voice is flat and he doesn’t turn toward me. The sunrise has begun through the haze of the misty rain and I realize today is the day we will bury our grandmother. It doesn’t feel real. I guess I figured she’d made a deal with God and would live forever. She was 92.

“Do you remember when auntie Char climbed the ladder at our Eastwood home to put up the Christmas lights and fell backward into the hydrangeas? Grandma was so concerned about her beautiful flowers, fussing and pulling the blossoms out from under her butt. Oh, Char was so mad…”

“Yeah.”

He doesn’t move or smile. He and grandma always seemed to have a secret language of misery I wasn’t a part of. I’d try to be still like them and crack the code, but I’ve remained on the outside. Tapping the steering wheel with my thumbs, I try again.

“Do you remember the name of that stupid dog she had? The little white one who humped everything? It would not leave my shins alone. I swear, to this day, I can’t stand little dogs because of that stinky thing. What was it…Jasper? Juniper? Jackson?”

“Jupiter.”

“That’s right! She’d dress the smelly thing in dirty, ugly sweaters and it would shake and shake like some kind of drug addict going through withdrawals. I’m sure it’s dead now right? She wouldn’t bring it with her to a funeral?”

It’s quiet for a few minutes and then Zech chuckles. It’s the first time since we got into the car his posture has changed. He pulls a plastic bottle of water out of the faded denim backpack at his feet and takes a big swig.

“It’s been 10 years, Min,” he says. “ I’m sure it’s dead now.”

“Unless…”

“If you say unless it’s a zombie dog I’m going to punch you in the arm.”

I smile at his remembrance of my favorite childhood movie, “Frankenweenie.” I made him watch it with me at least 50 times. I’d pretend to be terrified, pulling the blankets tight around my shoulders and scooting close to him on our well-worn grey couch. He’d make fun of me, but keep his arm around me. He liked it too.

“Big baby,” he says under his breath.

He pulls out a bag of Hershey kisses, rips open the top, and sets it on the center console between us. I watch from the corner of my eye as he unwraps the silver wrapping, pops the chocolate into his mouth, and then folds the paper over and over in his lap.

“Want one?” he asks.

“Sure.”

He unwraps it and I open my mouth. He tosses it, but it misses, hitting the side of my nose and falling down at my feet. It’s probably going to melt there or be squished by my boots. I don’t care, but he’s back to rubbing his hands together in his lap and shaking his knees.

“I’m going to pull over and get it,” I say.

He nods. I take the next exit and follow a twisting road lined with old Birch trees until we reach an abandoned and boarded-up rest stop. It’s overgrown with tall thorny weeds and there’s graffiti on the small half-burned building which used to house the bathrooms and probably a few vending machines. The rain has finally stopped.

“I’m going to stretch my legs,” I say.

He doesn’t look at me, but I examine him for a minute before closing the door. He’s stopped moving and he’s got his arms crossed across his chest. He’s holding his neck at a weird angle. I wonder if he needs a smoke, a chew, or a drink. It’s probably hard for him to be sober around me. I consider giving him permission to do what he needs to cope, but I think it would either embarrass or anger him.

Retrieving the stray chocolate from its spot near the brake pedal, I toss it toward an overflowing garbage can and watch it bounce off the side and land on the ground. There’s a fair amount of steam coming from the engine and it occurs to me it needs a break too. Following a cracked cement path, I arrive at a small patch of dirt filled with cigarette butts, discarded soda and beer cans, and several thin pine cones.

I check my cellphone for messages, but I don’t have a signal out here. The last few days I’ve received a flurry of texts and IG messages from friends I haven’t seen in a long time letting me know they are here for me if I need anything. It’s hard to tell them I feel very little at my grandmother’s death. I can’t imagine what I might need.

The sound of a low meow draws my attention to a cluster of bushes off to the left I didn’t notice before. I take a few tentative steps onto the wet ground, making sure my soft brown boots aren’t going to get stuck, and find the ground solid. A thin and dirty tabby cat pokes out its head and meows again—a sad pathetic sound. 

“It’s okay, kitty,” I say. “Are you hungry?”

We don’t have anything in the car we can feed to a stray cat, but it seems the right thing to say. The hair on the back of its neck raises and it limps through the bushes, disappearing from sight. How did it get out here? I can’t leave it behind to starve or run onto the freeway and be crushed. It needs me.

“Come back, kitty!”

Following it through the thick ugly brown bushes I find an area of short dying trees and piles of garbage. Judging by the amount of dog poop on the ground, this was probably once a grassy area for pets. There’s a tangle of black and orange extension cords, an old metal lawn chair twisted and broken, pieces of splintered wood and several large shiny black bags spilling their contents onto the ground. I step around all of it.

“Here, kitty, kitty! Here, kitty, kitty!”

There’s no sign of the cat, but I hear rushing water and follow it until I reach a cement runoff ditch swollen with rainwater. A styrofoam cup floats by followed by a bright yellow kids bucket, the kind you take to the beach. There’s a part of me yearning to fish it out, but Zech’s voice from a long time ago booms inside me.

“Don’t get any closer,” he says. “The tide can rip you out of my arms and into the ocean in an instant. I’d never see you again.”

We are standing on the beach while grandma watches us from her old white Cadillac. She’d parked it on the edge of a cliff looking down at the long line of white foamy waves, while Zech and I scrambled over the sandy dunes to the water’s edge. I’m mesmerized by the force of the waves, terrified really, at how powerful it seems. He grabs my hand and holds it tight.

“Don’t go,” he says.

His big blue eyes are filled with tears. They fall down his freckled cheeks in lines, almost as if they are drawing me a picture. My 5-year-old self promises I’ll never leave him and I mean it. I really do.

Guilt wriggles through me, squirming and singing the song of my selfishness. I wish our parents hadn’t died in that car crash leaving my brother to have a giant scar on his cheek and the burden of worrying about me. I should have picked a college close to home. He needs me.

Stepping onto the rough cement ledge surrounding the runoff ditch, I balance so my toes hang over the two-inch space and I can watch the water rush beneath me. Grandma always wore pale pastel suits with bright colorful silk scarves around her neck. I wonder if the ladies of her church chose the mint green one. It’s my favorite.

“What in the hell are you doing?” Zech calls.

Within an instant, he’s grabbing my shirt and pulling me off the ledge. I tumble forward, lose my balance, and fall to the ground. My knee hits something sharp and I scream out in pain. A jagged piece of glass pierces my jeans and sticks out of my knee. Blood begins to pool around it. Zech stares at it with wide eyes and then begins to scream. His face has turned bright red.

“I swear to God, Min, you do these things to make me crazy. Why would you wander so far from the car? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Don’t you care at all what it does to me? You don’t give a shit about anyone but yourself, always have. Must be so nice to walk through the world with people who care about you while you spit in their faces like it doesn’t matter at all. You don’t have any idea about anything. You are a stupid little child.”

He tries to scoop me up from the ground to carry me back to the car, but I push him away and stand on my own. It hurts really bad, but I’m not about to let him be the hero again. I was perfectly fine before he showed up.

“Stop it,” I say. “Just leave me alone.”

“Leave you alone! Seriously, Min. You’re telling me to leave you alone?”

“I was fine and now I’m not. This is your fault.”

Gesturing to my knee, I begin limping toward the direction of the car. He grabs my arm and spins me back toward him. The red of his face has become splotchy and his lips are pressed tight together. He punches me on the arm, hard, and then takes a step back.

“You are such a brat. Seriously. Grandma and I protected you all this time, but you don’t give a shit. You conveniently don’t remember anything. This place…this place…this is where you pull over and pull this shit. I really don’t believe you don’t remember. It’s not like you were a baby, Min. You have to remember. It happened at a rest stop just like this. Fucking, hell. You have to remember.”

I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. Searching my memories I find only one at a rest stop. Grandma pulling up in her white Cadillac, a bag of Hershey kisses on the seat between us, Elvis Presley singing “my hands are shaky and my knees are weak…”

Zech says in a quiet voice, “I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet. Who do you think of when you have such luck?”

“I’m in love. I’m all shook up,” I finish.

“What happened before the car?” he says. “Why did grandma pick us up? You can remember the car so clearly, but nothing else. For God’s sake, you were 5. I promised grandma I’d never tell you, but you were there, Min. You were fucking there. Why do I have to be the one to hold it and you get to be the carefree one, off at college? Why do I have to shoulder it alone? It’s fucking unfair. It’s so fucking unfair.”

He’s crying now. Sobbing. He falls to the ground beside me and covers his face with his hands. I watch him and try to recall the moments before grandma came to get us. Was I in the car during the crash too? Did I see our parents die? I don’t remember anything.

Then I do. It’s like blowing out birthday candles, it comes in a whiff of smoke. My parents weren’t in a car accident. They had a fight. Another one. A big one. Zech got cut when our dad took a knife toward our mother. They left us here. They didn’t want us.

Staring at my knee I remember there was a lot of blood when they fought. Raised voices. Raised fists. I don’t want to think about it, but the tourniquet has been pulled off and the blood gushes everywhere. Our parents didn’t die. They left us. Falling to the ground beside Zech I sit as close as I dare. I’m scared and shaking. I don’t want to remember.

“Are they still alive?” I say.

Zech stops crying and looks at me. His face softens and he wipes his nose on the sleeve of his shirt. He opens and closes his mouth, but nothing comes out. He scoots closer to me and I lay my head on his lap. He’s so warm.

“I’m sorry,” Zech says. “I’m so so sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

He’s stroking my hair and his voice is soft and comforting.

“Are they alive?”

“I don’t know. I tried to find them a few times, but other than a few stints in jail over the years, there are no other records of either of them.”

“They really just left us?”

He doesn’t respond for a long time. I move up and down with his breathing and feel like a small child. How many times has my brother protected me and held me like this? How could I not see it for what it was? Reaching up, I trace the jagged scar on his left cheek.

I want to say so much to him; to apologize, to beg his forgiveness, but also to tell him I see it now. All of it. He felt responsible for me. I was his everything. He was only 10, a child like me. It wasn’t fair. None of it was fair. It begins to rain lightly, but the darkness of the sky hints it might begin to pour again any minute.

“We need to get you out of the rain and bandage up that knee,” he says.

“Okay.”

I let him help me back to the rental car and we sit across from each other in the backseat. He pulls a small red first-aid kit from his backpack and I smile. Of course, he brought one along. He probably predicted I’d get hurt and he’d have to save me. I’m grateful.

He gently pulls off my boot, cuts off my jeans at the knee, pulls out the small piece of glass, cleans the wound with alcohol, and uses a butterfly bandage to pull the wound closed. He covers the area with a clear antibacterial ointment and wraps first a soft white bandage and then a blue sticky one around and around my leg.

We climb back into the front seats and fasten our seatbelts. As I start the car he unwraps a Hershey kiss and I open my mouth. It goes in this time. The sweet chocolate melts on my tongue.

“You okay?” he says.

“Right as rain,” I say.

“Right as rain,” he repeats.


Author’s note: My brother and I have had many conversations about events in our childhood that we both remember very differently. This was the starting idea of my story this week, but I allowed it to develop into this tale of siblings connected through family trauma and the roles it cast them both in. I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Zech and Mina. We are halfway through this 52-week journey of short stories and I’m so grateful to everyone who has read, commented, or liked my posts so far. You keep me going and growing each week. Thank you for your support!


Short Story Challenge | Week 25

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about memory editing wreaking havoc. We had to include Jupiter, chocolate, domestic, blossom, ladder, steam, extension, pine cone, sunrise, and tide.


Write With Us

Prompt: A dystopian glimpse of the future
Include: wheelchair, Labrador, throne, jungle, prescription, railroad, trunk, gulley, wasp, photosynthesize


My 52-Week Challenge Journey