Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Rachel ~ Between the Stops

The little girl looked up at her father with a smile in her eyes.

“Rapunzel had pets, you know.”

They were on their way home after going to town for cereal. It was Mom’s birthday tomorrow and both of them were determined for everything to be perfect from the moment she woke up. The day had been completely planned out; breakfast in bed, a morning of board-games and old movies, and in the afternoon they were off to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s for dinner and tea. In the business of getting the day all set up and trying to make sure that Mom didn’t make any conflicting birthday plans of her own, Dad had forgotten to pick up the most important part of their special day breakfast routine: Cap’n Crunch. It was the little girl who had noticed the problem, and so, right after Dad got home they made a special father-daughter trip into town.

“What kind of pets does she have?” her father asked, returning her smile.
“A rabbit and a dragon!”
“Oh, wow! I wish I could have a dragon! Then I could ride on his back instead of taking the bus home.”

The little girl gasped aloud and her eyes opened widely. “Daddy! Dragons have fire!”
“I’m not afraid, sweetie. I could bring lots of water with me. And I think we might get home a lot faster if we had a dragon to ride.”

The little girl seemed to ponder this for a moment and in the space before she wrinkled her nose and shook her head slowly, time seemed to lean back, as it sometimes does, and he marvelled at his daughter. Her long lashes seemed to batt open and closed in slow motion, concealing and revealing again the deep, bright blue of her mother's eyes. It was like staring into a whirlpool of thought, those eyes. He swallowed a sudden urge to well up and dropped his gaze to her pink-velcro sneakers. He smiled. When it came to footwear, there weren't two tastes more opposed. Her mother would never have been caught in stockings and shoes in this weather. He shook himself back to reality in time for the inevitable nose wrinkling.

“No," she resolved, "you can't come. It’s a purple dragon.”
Her father laughed. “Well, that’s okay,” without missing a beat, “I’ll just spray-paint him black.”
“Black! Oh, no Daddy, not black!”
“Not black, eh?” He chucked gently at his daughter’s horror. “Well, what about... what if we colour him like the rainbow?”

Suddenly all of the concern in the little girl’s face melted away, revealing the wonderful smile of childhood’s simple joy and a laugh that danced through the air between them.
“Yes! That is a good idea! That would make the dragon very happy!”

The little girl’s laugh was contagious. A couple across the aisle from them couldn’t help the smiles spreading across their faces as they glanced over at the child, not-so-secretly eaves-dropping on their conversation. The creativity of such an innocent heart is hard to ignore.

“Well, I don’t know about happy, but he sure would be multicoloured.”

The girl’s gaze dropped from her father’s and down at the large, colourful cereal box tucked between them on the seat. Then she took a moment to smile at the bus-driver who smiled back with a grandfatherly grin.

“Could we colour the dragon Daddy? Could we draw pictures on it and colour it however we want?”
“Of course we can, darling.”
“And it will have pink!”
“And blue?”
“For Mommy’s birthday!”

They were talking about Rachel, of course. She had jumped into the role of both wife and mother only two years ago - a leap of faith, both feet and full heart. His baby girl didn't know anything different, as far as mothers go, but hearing the title come from his little one with such love still caught him. Her mother had died when she was only eighteen months old. She had barely learned to use the word, but his precious first wife had heard it a few times, tumbling out of their toddler's mouth with the stumbling, crinkled concentration of a first year Latin student. Oh, the blissful laughter of those first few weeks in the world of words. And then she had gone. The doctors told him that she had been carrying the aneurysm in a dormant state all of her life, unaware. They said it had been a "merciful death," quick and without suffering; but his grief and shock did not heal quickly and he suffered for years, alone and lonely... except for his little girl. She kept him going. She gave him hope in his despair and strength in defeat. She revived in him the will to love.

He met Rachel a few days before his daughter turned three. Tipping and toddling no more, his little girl deserved to graduate from his often lopsided attempts at birthday cake to something that more physically reflected the celebration at hand. He flipped through the yellow pages, checked on Google, scanned the paper and eventually determined to wander the shops downtown until inspiration found him. And she did. Rachel was a veritable muse in her apron. With dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin, "muse" might be a misleading title -- until you saw her art. It framed her as you entered into the little patisserie; towering cakes and sugar flowers so life-like you can almost smell them, marzipan models and modelling chocolate figurines, cupcakes with whole paragraphs of script in the icing, and a hundred other delights vocabulary can't capture. And she stood, smiling at him as his eyes took in the room. She welcomed him to the counter with the same familiar airs of a hostess, ushering personal guests into her living rom and telling them to make themselves at home, and would anyone like a lemonade? She was warm and friendly, and she had honest eyes.

Ordering the cake took about four minutes, but he hovered there at the cash in happy, easy conversation until the bell over the door chimed and another customer came in with three children underfoot. When he stepped back onto the street an hour had passed and the rest of his errand-running was a scramble. Forgetting the Cap'n Crunch during a pre-birthday shop seemed to be as much a tradition as eating it for breakfast on the morning a year is gained in the life of this growing family.

The last-minute make-up trip to town that followed in the morning proved to be as much of a distraction, taking another hour longer than he had planned; thirty minutes were spent pacing in circles around the corner from the cake shop, deciding whether or not it was silly to check on the progress of an order that she promised would take her two days. He decided it was silly, and the next ten minutes were spent walking laps from the corner to his car, changing his mind back and forth. Eventually he had gone in, with almost no reason and with little to contribute but a blushed nodding in the presence of the beautiful woman behind the counter who was pointing at sketches for his daughter's cake, and prattling on about one or another new recipes she was going to try.

When it came time for the little party he had arranged -- mostly friends from work, their wives and kids if they had any -- the bakery masterpiece was shimmering with sugar dusts and looked like an elaborately embossed Christmas card. "Are you able to come and pick it up? Or, if you'd like, I could come and drop it off for you? I've got some extra time on my hands today, and I really wouldn't mind." So she came, and stayed; she played with the kids, made friends with the women, made fun at his expense, just a little. He liked her.

And so did his daughter. This now five-and-three-quarter-year-old lass by his side had taken her time to adjust to a "Mommy" in the home, and even after they were married it wasn't a generously used name. This little exchange on the bus wasn't the first time he'd heard the title used with so much love, but each instance was still so special to him. Little girls have a way of melting even the most grown-up of hearts.

Her father reached high up above the little girl’s head and tugged at the yellow cord.
“What do you say about making Mommy a card when we get home? A birthday card, out of really big white paper and I’ll draw a great big dragon on the inside? Then we can colour him like the rainbow with pictures of whatever we like for Mom’s birthday, and no black anywhere.”

The little girl laughed a wonderful, happy laugh that seemed to light up the whole bus. At the next stop, the little girl’s father stood up tall, took their box of Cap’n Crunch under one arm and offered his other hand to his daughter.

Hand in hand father and daughter marched up the aisle and thanked the bus-driver for their ride. Then, with a quick smile to each other that glowed of great friendship and mutual adoration, they hopped off the bus and onto the sidewalk, both dreaming of Mom’s special surprises and the stories they would be able to tell in the morning.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Heart Attacked

I fear my heart,
It's restless beat-beating that never tires or rests or slows,
not even in sleep.

I fear my heart and its wandering desires 
that tip back and forth like a balancing bird,
not yet convinced it should fly,
fervently unwilling to remain still. 

I fear my heart. 
I cannot trust it. 
It's like trying to control a helium balloon
tied to a pebble by a child,
let loose in the gale of a hurricane.

I fear my heart, wild and slipping, 
madly, desperately trying to stabilize 
independently. On its own.
It clings to everything, to others, snatching as they press past
as though it knows it needs them to help, but it won't allow itself to ask.
I am failing, alone. I feel it failing, too.

I fear my heart.
I fear its weakness. I fear its needs.
I fear the power it wields over my mind and strength.
It asserts its authority; it overwhelms its own sweetness with the bitterness of anger.
I fear its division; the civil war of it all, the wreckage it promises.

It shouldn't be like this. I shouldn't fear the overflow.
But there is a poison of malice that has been seeping out, slowly; 
a black tar of thoughts and words from a sick, dark heart.
I need a cure. I need a doctor.

You say you heal the brokenhearted.
This fracture has become infected. I now need more than a re-setting.
Restore, LORD. Revive this heart of fear.