Nora’s Story (The Remix)

After my daughter went to bed last night, I decided to write a second draft of her story. Enjoy!

The Lila-takers drive down the center of a well-lit road at midnight. Closed shops line the sidewalk, and streetlights illuminate small patches of drunken fog. The passenger sticks his head out of the window like a dog with its tongue lolling. He looks up: the streetlights block the stars. A man stands dead center in the bed of the pickup, a baseball bat hanging at his side, as if the truck were his chariot and the baseball bat his faith.

Mice scatter along the curbs. A police car hides in an alley, and its officers, waiting for speedsters, watch the Lila-takers pass. They exchange a look, and turn their eyes to their coffee cups, ashamed of what they’ve become. The driver puts the car in reverse, and with headlights off, the police back farther into the alley.

Lila celebrates the success of her cat’s eye surgery with her cousins. They dance to pop music and drink sparkling lemonade. As she twirls beneath the ceiling fan in the living room with her cousin Maddie, she doesn’t know there are such things in the world as Lila-takers.

A second car, a deep purple, refurbished sedan, pulls out of a sidestreet and alongside the pickup; the drivers don’t acknowledge each other. In the passenger seat of the sedan, a woman with long purple hair and small purple sunglasses stares straight ahead, her right hand curled around the doorhandle, tensed and ready. The sedan and the truck drive on, together, a motorcycle now pulling up fast behind them, its overweight driver dressed in baggy black, her rounded black helmet hiding her identity, a baseball bat strapped to the side of the gas tank. She revs the engine, pulls along the other side of the truck, and all three vehicles exit the city.

Lila’s cousin, Caleb, takes her onto the patio to look at the stars. Out here in the country, the stars sing to her, a choir of light calling her to attention: look up!, they sing, look up! Caleb taps her shoulder. She turns, and she follows his finger up toward the North Star. It feels like home, calling her forward, calling her upward — ascend!, ascend! She takes a step.

The Lila-takers turn down a long dirt road, their headlights like scarecrows crawling across the night. A bump lurches the truck upwards, its wheels caroming off the ground, exposing its shocks. The man in the center of the bed bends his knees, adjusts his balance; his feet don’t move. He taps the baseball bat against his thigh, always hitting the same space just above his knee, a dead-eyed tap with no logic or rhythm, a slow motion twitch, deliberate in intent, illogic in manner. The truck rolls on; the sedan and motorcycle follow.

The edge of the wood surprises her. Caleb calls out somewhere behind her, a distant voice in the darkness. She looks over her shoulder. The house lights hurt her eyes, and she shields them with her hand. Caleb calls out again, and she sees him, his silohuette on the edge of the patio, calling toward the other side of the lawn, unaware of where she might be. She turns back to the wood. Above her head, the stars shimmer through the shadows of the branches, sing to her through the blanket of black leaves. Caleb calls out again. She takes another step, not caring how she got here.

The Lila-takers stand at the end of the driveway, their engines quiet, their headlights off, their baseball bats in hand. The overweight woman dressed all in black pulls a coiled rope from the saddle of her motorcycle and walks toward the house. The man who’d stood in the center of the truck nods to the others, and they fan out behind her, all except him: the last line of defense.

Lila reaches her hand toward the next limb and pulls herself higher into the tree. The North Star doesn’t come any closer, but the stars sing stronger now, each individual melody sung in harmony with its neighbors, and behind it all, the crackling white noise of the North Star, calling her with its intelligence. Her hands and feet find the limbs without her having to give them her attention. Her head dodges around this branch, her shoulders swoop under that branch, her path twists around the trunk. She climbs with the ease of an experienced roofman ascending a ladder, unconscious and trusting, up and up and up.

Her cousins cower in the corner. The man who stood in the bed of the truck enters the living room. His eyes scan the work of his Lila-takers: the overthrown sofa, the smashed window in the patio door, the plants ripped from their pots and thrown against the wall, the overturned cat tree. One of them, the oldest one, glances toward the patio door, looks back at him to make sure he sees, and glances back at the patio door. The man turns and walks across the back of the living room, over the smashed glass of the mounted television, and out the door. He looks up into the night sky. The North Star. He calls out to his crew and charges north across the lawn. This one will not get away.

Her head pushes through the canopy, and she pulls herself into the crown of the tree. She finds her balance, one foot on the tallest nub of the trunk, the other resting gently on the middle of the highest, youngest branch. She feels the tree surging beneath her feet, pushing her higher and higher still, each moment struggling to channel its energy into, through, and beyond its tallest nub, its highest young branch, its Lila. Her arms outstretched, she feels the entire Earth cycle itself into, through, and beyond her, surging up one side of her body, cresting out of the crown of her head, then splashing back into her and surging down the other side of her body, back into, through, and beyond the roots of the tree, surging out through the dark soil and back into the oceans, where it dissipates into a crackling cloud before coming back together on the other side of the waters with so much tremendous force that it thunders through the continental shelf, over the desert, under the mountains, back into the soil, up the roots of the tree, into her right foot, and back out of her head, cresting over and over in waves, pushing her, pushing, until she finally looks down and sees that the tree is far beneath her, and she’s riding upwards on an umbrella of light. She turns her eyes heavenward, and sails toward the North Star: ascend, ascend, ascend.

The Lila-takers stand at the bottom of the tree, their bats at their side. “Fine,” says the man who stood in the bed of the pickup. He turns toward the house. “If we can’t take her, let’s take her dog.”

Nora’s First Published Fiction

My four-year-old daughter and I are seated at my desk. She’s curled up in a comfortable chair with a warm blanket on top of her. I’m at the keyboard. We’ve decided to write a story together,

“What should it be called?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“I should name it The Doggy Who Was Lost in the Forest.”

“That sounds good,” I say. “So how does it begin?”

“Okay. I’m just writing in the letters here.” She scratches with a red marker on a piece of paper she’s holding. The paper is on a clipboard. “There,” she says. “I’ve got it dad.

“Beginning that day,” she continues, “everybody was at the celebration. We were all there, except Lila. She was always coming for dinners, but this day, she was all lost. But her dog was also lost in the forest. She knowed nothing to do, but she knowed a friend.  But all that day, it grew dark. And everybody in the world happened to be scared, except Lila. It was so dark and so stormy. She saw a creature called the Lila-taker, and that monster, her name was that because she wanted to take every kid whose name was Lila in the city. And it grew darker, and darker, and darker. All that day — once a year, every year they would all gather around the Lila tree to taste…”

“Don’t start telling the story of Trolls,” I say.

“It’s a little like,” she answers. “They wanted to taste true happiness.”

“No, not like Trolls. We’re not gonna tell the Trolls story. Let’s back up. So it grew darker and darker… Maybe you want to talk about her dog.”

“I don’t know how to make up any dog parts.”

“So what’s the dog’s name?”

“John,” she answers. “Yeah, I like this. You ask me questions about the dog, and then I’ll do it. Okay?”

“Okay. John is lost in the woods. What does he see?”

“He doesn’t see anything. He’s dead.”

“He’s dead?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Okaaaaay,” I say. “Tell me about the kitty that you mentioned at dinnertime.”

“Ask me questions about it.”

“What’s the kitty’s name?” I ask.

“Mmmm…Stuart.”

“And where is Stuart?” I ask.

“At home.”

“What’s he doing?”

“Sleeping.”

“How does he figure into the story?”

“What does that mean?” she says.

“Well, you have Lila lost in the woods…”

“Lila’s not lost in the woods. She’s at the celebration.”

“Oh, right,” I answer. “Okay…soooo…you have Lila at the celebration, her dog is lost in the woods, and Stuart is sleeping at home, and there are Lila-takers….where are the Lila-takers?”

“In the truck.”

“In a truck?”

“In a truck with dogs.”

“Okay,” I say. “So what does Lila want?”

“Umm…a party.”

“But she’s at a party.”

“No,” she corrects me, “She’s at a celebration.”

“Who else is at the celebration?”

“Um…Lila’s parents, her cousins, Jayden…um…Maddie and Caleb.”

“And those are her cousins?” I ask.

“And Caleb, yeah.”

“What are they celebrating?”

“Don’t know exactly how to tell you this. Hmmm. A kitty.”

“Stuart?”

“They’re celebrating Stuart,” she says.

“Okay. So, you’ve Lila celebrating…is Stuart her kitty?”

“Stuart is Lila’s kitty.”

“And where are the Lila-takers?”

“I told you!,” she says. “In a truck! I already told you. Did you not know that?”

“I forgot. Sorry. So what happens in the story?”

“So the Lila-takers, they’re in a phone patch.”

“A phone patch?”

“Uh-huh. So they’re inside a phone.”

“Okay,” I say.

“And they all deserve to hug. To eat, to taste, and hug.”

“Is this Trolls again?”

“Nooooo!”

“Okay, so what happens next?”

“They all…want…lots of Lilas, but there’s only just one Lila.”

“And then what?” I ask.

“Because…they…they…I mean…want Lilas and they really like Lilas.”

“So what do they do about it?”

“They kind of just hug. Do what do about what?”

“So we have the Lila-takers, Lila…”

“Monsters.”

“Aren’t the Lila-takers monsters?” I ask.

“There are monster Lila-takers and there are human Lila-takers. And dada?”

“Yep.”

“What did I just say?”

“You said…um…we have Lila-takers that are monsters and that are not monsters…”

“Daddy?”

“Yeah.”

“Can we write a song too?”

“Sure.”

“Right now?”

“Sure.”

“That was the whole story. That’s a long story right? Now we can write a song, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Um…I don’t…” She stands up and climbs onto my lap. “Dad, you have to erase all of that.”

“No.”

“You have to! I didn’t mean that! It wasn’t in the story! Daddy, no!”

And that was the end of that.

 

Haikus #9 – #15

#9
married bickering
“stop killing each other, guys”
two years old, but knows

#10
mama dives headfirst
long legs and slender torso
she pops: “did I splash?”

#11
we vacuum the house
spider webs sucked down the hose
‘rachnid tilt-a-whirl

#12
ninety-degree day
find me a place with AC
we’re museum bound

#13
eleven red fools
sharing their bankrupt ideas
three hours, no hope

#14
Thursday afternoon
the river is cold and fresh
not a bad workday

#15
she lets go the kite
middle-aged man gives it chase
the string lifts: bye kite

Haiku #7

5979411559_a768b21099_o

“it’s your turn to speak”
scared smile shaky hands flushed cheeks
scared shitless: still speaks

Haiku #5

Classroom Walls

these four classroom walls
outside: cool breezes and sun
tick tock tick tock tick