1 nonfiction story
by Autumn Koors foltz
George Washington Carver Center of Arts and Technology
It was difficult on my mother. She didn't say it, but I could tell from the way she wrung her hands in and out of each other and forced polite conversation that she wished to be anywhere but there. The family members gathered around the table but the chair sat in the corner, empty, and though I felt its presence like drops of boiling coffee burning wet paths down my fingers, I didn't say anything about it. Nobody did.
We played Uno, but I couldn't place my mind in the dining room. I felt my thoughts displaced, floating and fluttering about like a card trick gone wrong.
"It'll bring us back together." She had assured me.
I never was able to place my thoughts that day, but I did win the game three times.
In my youth, my grandmother accompanied me on every adventure I set my mind on. I tumbled up the staircases of metal playground slides that burned that backs of my chubby thighs, only to have her sliding down the chute right after me. Every careful story I meticulously executed with my toys was followed without questioning of the “whys” but only the “what elses.”
I’ve figured out that when you’re younger, your imagination is like a spiraling cave, filled with depths and corners unbeknownst to anybody until you seek them out, lantern in hand. But a lantern is hard to hold when your hands are too busy with paperbacks and crayons and stuffed animals, so my mommom always kept behind me in the cave, holding my lantern for me while I explored.
Once on a family vacation, we visited some caverns. They towered high above me, caging me in with the mighty formations of milky grey stalagmites. I’d never felt so small. The tour guide explained to our group that the deposits had been formed from the way minerals built up as water dripped from the ceiling. I envisioned the entire cavern filled with the great tapering columns, packed densely like trees in a forest. I couldn’t escape.
Quietly, I kept to the path and watched open-eyed as a swarm of bats flew overhead. My mother screamed, grabbing my shoulders and digging in crescent marks on my shoulders from her untrimmed nails. There wasn’t anything that scared her more than bats. As we crossed beneath a deposit formed bridge, the tour guide gathered the kids around him.
“Do you want to hear a scary story?” He grinned wickedly.
I screamed louder than my mother had just a minute before, and ran to her, clinging to her legs. She gave a few miffed parents a sheepish, apologetic smile. Breathing heavily in her chest, we waited on the path until my sister returned from hearing the story of how the bridge came to be. My mother turned to her.
“Was the story that scary?” She asked.
My sister shook her head.
“No, it was a love story. But it had a sad ending.”
red; draw 2
When I was seven, sap clung to the peeling “Flower Power” appliques of my bicycle as lonesome honey bees lazed about the plastic woven basket fastened to its front. I rode down the streets, newly paved, stopping at landmarks only I knew. I collected small chunks of pavement from moldering sidewalks. My plan was to create an elaborate rock mosaic once I collected enough. It had been my entire summer’s work, and I already had started planning out in my head where each rubble chunk would lie. When I rode home I unloaded my cargo into an empty flower pot, handed my mother the walkie-talkie we used to keep in touch when I went on my neighborhood bike journeys, and slumped onto the chipped paint stairs. I nibbled at a freezie-pop and basked in the shade of the watermelon season sun.
I hadn’t gotten through half of my treat when I saw my sister storm down the sidewalk, a look of rigid determination on her face that only a 13 year old can possess. She stopped in front of me and grabbed my shoulders. “There is a baby bird that fell out of that tree over there and I need to save it,” my sister informed me, marching up the steps of the porch and doing the same to my mother, who sat on a dirty lawn chair and read from a James Patterson novel.
Her voice was near a laugh. My mother met eyes with my grandmother and they smiled at each other. My sister didn’t respond.
“Okay, I’ll go get the gardening gloves. I’ll be right back.”
“Amber, can I come?” I asked, the thrill overtaking my voice.
I hopped up from my seat on the steps before she could respond. She nodded gravely, and took the striped gardening gloves from my mother when she returned. Amber shook the dirt from the insides, slipping them over her hands and her remnants of mint nail polish. She lead me down the next street. The pavement was uneven, alternating from each different color – burlap to tan to slate and back again – bubbled with pebbles at the tops. On a slab of cracked blue grey laid a pitiful lump of wet feather and bare, sickly flesh that slowly beat with each pained breath it took. Amber scooped up the visceral wad and set it onto the paper plate she’d brought along. My sister had made enough attempts to save enough birds in her time that I knew this was all part of the method she’d formulated – gardening gloves, paper plate, eye dropper of water, and a single slice of white bread.
Amber carried the plate home dutifully and we overlooked the creature as it took sparing nibbles at the piece of bread. It limped about the paper plate
I decided that perhaps the bird was in such poor condition because it didn’t feel safe. An idea sprung to my head as quickly as a mother bird pushing her kin from the warmth of her nest. I could take my rock collection and create a barrier around the paper plate so that the bird would feel safe! The solution was so clear in my mind I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t considered it sooner. I recruited my mommom to come with me, deciding that it would be much more efficient. I took off through my house, her right behind me, trailing flip flop prints of gravely mud to collect my buckets of rocks.
When I returned out front, the baby bird had already died.
When I played with my Littlest Pet Shops, I was the greatest architect the world had ever known. I created sprawling landscapes of plastic mansions and gyms and hospitals, connecting them to bring towns to life for the animal citizens to go about their lives in. Cotton Candy the Poodle and Walter the Pitbull lived in the bottom apartment of the complex with their adoptive daughter, a kitten named Daisy. Jack the Yorkshire could always be found in either the gym or the junkyard – depending on what my hands sprawled to life that day. Each animal had their place. But each animal fell from their place when an earthquake came. Their homes fell and the rain would fall when the architect cried, not only for the delicately crafted world that had fallen all too quickly, but more for their grandmother who was rushed to the hospital that night on her second fall that week.
When the watermelon season sun returned before my eighth grade year, I sat on the newly painted steps of the front porch with my best friend who I never thought I’d lose. My mother and my grandmother sat on their creaking lawn chairs and together the lot of us watched the workers hull around lumber. They were assembling the frame for the ramp they were installing—my mother watched with tears wet in the corner of her eyes. She beamed at my grandmother.
“Mom, look, doesn’t it look great already? On Friday we’ll get to see Amber in her show – and maybe we’ll go for a walk soon—and, oh, we can go to church this Sunday!”
My mommom hummed her agreements, murmuring out a yes. I hadn’t seen my mother so excited since a few months ago when she found the Christian charity willing to put the ramp on our porch, free of cost. She neglected her healing crystals for a full week and turned to reading Bible verses on a forum site, but it didn’t last long enough for her stones to even begin to collect dust.
When my friend and I set down the street to the Chinese shop to get eggrolls, my mother insisted we buy enough to give to the workers. The head of the team talked her out of it and we stumbled down the steaming streets in the heat, which warped the air and sizzled the drops of water that fell from our bottles as we carelessly strolled.
The night overtook the day when the workers left and my mother set up the security camera borrowed from a too nosey neighbor who helped us out more often than not. The night was filled with our laughter as we watched the screen in delirious tire, swirled with sugary coffee and lemon iced tea.
Every Fourth of July, my father buys a pack of fireworks, and we watch him in the street, commenting on the show of each pillowing plume of golden sparks, interspersing with flecks of greens and reds. We dance around the yard with sparklers that burn our fingertips when the glittering flames fall too low. The firework show we watch from the street side of the main road is much grander, but our celebration is much greater.
Our last Fourth of July was met with tears that fell from my mother’s eyes as she called the number of anybody who my grandmother might muster some utterance of syllables to speak to. I’d only gotten halfway through cutting up strawberries for my water when I heard the doors swing open and my cousins come in, their faces whiter than the summer sun should permit. My mother embraced my cousin Jessi at the door.
“She just—hasn’t been able to—not since this morning—it was completely random. Father Ray is coming tomorrow. I don’t know.” She spoke in fragments.
I watched the strawberry slices whirl around the bowl. They reminded me of ice caps. The strawberries were beginning to sink under their own weight. The ice caps were melting.
At my mother’s prompting, I tiptoed to my grandmother, shy.
“Hi, mommom. I love you.” I whispered, my voice too small to pour from my throat any more than a trickle.
After she didn’t reply, I ran to my room and shut the door, ignoring my families’ calls. My father had forgot to pick up a pack of fireworks on his way home from the grocery store, and I heard his heavy footsteps weigh up the staircase from my bed. His door shut and we shared our Fourth of July in collective upstairs silence.
“How’s your grandmother?”
It was the first question my neighbor asked me when I entered his car. The artichoke season sun had not yet risen in the sky, and the navy blanket had overtaken all features of the atmosphere. Black coffee sloshed over the side of my cup and dribbled down my fingers.
“I don’t really feel comfortable talking about it.” I replied.
“That bad, huh?” He mused.
“I just really don’t feel comfortable talking about it.” I repeated.
The tired in my eyes was set deeper in my eyes than the stains spread across his dashboard. The ride was silent after that, the sun beginning to rise like a cracked, running egg in the sky.
I shifted in my seat uncomfortably as he toggled the stations between Fox News and Margaritaville. It seemed that all suburban 50 somethings had dreams of Margaritaville. In my head, I promised to myself to never set my sights for the elusive island with salt on the rim.
“Be good!” My mother laughed.
It was the first time she had laughed all week. My chest expanded like fire flickering into the base of a hot air balloon.
“I am! I’m not starting anything.” I assured, a grin toying my lips. “I just don’t care anymore.”
Jessi laughed too, each bubble cranking up the flame.
“That’s my girl.”
We left, and I held the hands of Jessi’s sons. Loading into the car, her husband started up the engine. I was in between the car seats and I began to shrink. I felt small. I wasn’t small.
When we arrived at the restaurant, the familiarity was slowly unraveling from my grips. It was the way I felt months later, sitting in the wooden pews of our crumbling church. The candles were fluttering in the draft as parishioners sung strange hymns unknown to me. The music echoed through the building. The ash had already smudged on my forehead.
We walked up the narrow staircase to the upstairs of the restaurant, my family spread across a few tables loosely connected. They weren’t connected by the hands of an architect. I hadn’t planned on coming tonight, and they were surprised to be met by my visage. I stumbled through conversation before retreating to the table that held our car tow. I didn’t get to stir up any controversy with liberal mentioning of my girlfriend, or the clubs I partook in, but I ordered a desert I didn’t want in some small act of retaliation, just because I knew that my uncle Joey was paying. He made my mother cry and never visited my grandmother for more than 10 minutes when he was in town. I ordered another coffee.
The viewing was the following day and the only desire I had to go was prompted from the urging of my mother. She wasn’t planning on attending. Jessi gave me the yellow rose, sprayed with glitter that I planned on lying by my grandmother’s urn. The yellow was dull and reminded me of nothing like the memories of my youth and my mommom painted with bright hues. I decided the silver glitter spray was sufficient enough.
Amber didn’t try to make conversation with me as she drove us there. I read Sappho and tried not to let her sun break my heart—lately, it had been much too dim. There was no glitter and there was no glamour. We arrived and I tried not to look at the funeral home’s Christmas tree. I still vividly recall the moment my grandmother passed. My father and I sat in the truck, the first of the tree we’d gotten reaching just past our seats. He read texts from my mother he didn’t think I could oversee.
dont let autumn into the backroom. mom just passed
do you want me to tell her?
When he told me, I already knew.
The furniture in the viewing room was much too ornate to be comfortable. I hadn’t considered what an ideal viewing room was, but this wasn’t what I had in mind. I didn’t think that my mommom would like it, but I pushed the thought aside and made small talk with relatives I barely knew. They told me I’d gotten so thin. They told me I’d gotten so beautiful. I nodded.
When we stood up to leave after a polite hour had passed, I knew that I had to say something to her urn. I admired the elaborate baskets of flowers purchased by the likes of family like Joey, who had nothing else to offer. My mother told us we weren’t spending two hundred dollars on flowers. I laid the artificially glittered rose by the urn and shyly dropped to my knees.
“Hi, mommom. I love you.”
The beach house had a spiral staircase I could’ve spent forever running up and down, jumping into mommom’s arms when I reached the final few steps. In my head, I was creating a world where the spiral staircase was the center of the universe. I was a princess and these were the marvelous stairs of my palace. On my third run down, my fuzzy socks caused me to slip, tumbling down to my grandmother’s feet. I was too shocked to cry.
Mommom picked me up in her arms and carried me up the steps and onto the balcony, where my mother, aunt, and sister sat, sliding a deck of cards into the sleeve.
“It’s about time you got out here! We were just finishing up Go Fish.”
My mother pulled out the second pack of cards she had in tow and doled out the cards. When we played, I was unstoppable. I was good at Uno. I’ve always been good at Uno. Below our deck, the cars buzzed through the late night summer haze. Seagulls had returned to their nests. My mother cut a cube of fudge and I popped it into my mouth, the chocolate coating the sides of my cheeks as I joyously chomped away.
After a round or two, my mommom rose to her feet.
“Alright, goodnight.” She yawned.
I pouted and shook my head. She smiled and sat back down, and our whole table laughed. Our laughter rose through the summer night, mixing with the sounds of the cars honking below, harmonizing with the sounds of the buzzing mosquitoes spotting our atmosphere. The song rose into the late summer night, always to fly and never to sink.
Autumn Koors foltz
Autumn Koors Foltz is a poet and current student in the literary arts program at George Washington Carver Center of Arts and Technology, class of 2020. Her work has previously found a home in Pidgeonholes. She loves black coffee, writing poetry, girls, and the moon, all equally.