The Lilac Bush

Front yard 2014

The Lilac Bush 

Flash fiction by mfptkd written as a birthday gift.

Now in a cottage built of lilacs and laughter
I know the meaning of the words “Ever after”
from Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Rick Zelle and Jay Hungerford

“Oh, Joy!” He sang. Relieved and excited, he exclaimed, “This is it. This is home!”

They had been circling his neighborhood territory for hours, looking for a place to build, when he suddenly swooped down into the sun stretching branches of an old lilac bush.  She followed cautiously, settling on a stable stem.

“Aren’t I supposed to pick?” she asked, but there was a teasing note in her voice.  The plant, brushing the brick on the front of the old ranch house, was well over six feet tall. The grandparents in residence trimmed it just enough to not obstruct the high bedroom windows. It was set directly left of the front door, so late spring and summer the entire house enjoyed the flowers’ scent.  The leaves today, in early spring, were still new but plentiful.

“Yes, of course.” He allowed. “But wouldn’t this be ideal? The house will guard us from the north wind.  In a few weeks the leaves will be full, providing cover and the flowers will bring us breakfast in bed.”

She chirped nervously at the suggestion and hopped from perch to perch. He was an odd bird, but she had followed him because of the that, rather than despite it.  His territory wasn’t as large as some, but it was well plotted and easily defensible.  There weren’t as many trees as others, but it was as if each yard was trying to outdo the next in the size and scope of shrubbery.  The orange on his chest didn’t puff out as far as his competitors and he would sometimes lose his place mid-song but she had witnessed his unexpected swift fierceness in battle and felt his harmonies sincere. “All right, then.” She relented. “Go get me things to build with.”

“Oh, Joy!” He said as he flew off.  She smiled to herself and wondered, while collecting the dry starter twigs that would support their nest, what made him so different from the other males.  She thought fleetingly that perhaps she had changed upon their meeting but shook it off; now she was being fanciful and there was work to be done. “Oh, Joy, indeed!” She scolded herself.

But when he came back, again and always leading with joy, she was pleased with how much happiness he found in their small alcove of flowers.

“Oh, Joy! I’ve brought clay to patch in holes.”
“Oh, Joy! Look at the soft fur I found for lining.”
“Oh, Joy!  Come see this ribbon I found to weave within the branches.”

After a few busy days the nest was complete. “Oh, Joy!” He said softly. “I was lucky to find the best nest maker in the county.”

The cool breezes of May translated into baleful June winds, storms strengthening with competing temperatures. She was content to sit and warm the three tiny blue eggs that also arrived with summer. He was a flurry of activity, always on guard, patching the nest or gathering food, so she could concentrate on the babies. When the weather kept them both at home he would sing softly, “Oh, Joy.  Do you see how wonderfully the leaves keep us dry?” And over the long hours waiting, he would tell her tales of past migrations, high altitude escapades and fellow travelers.  She noted however, that the ‘joy’ was reserved for only when he spoke of their hideaway.

The eggs hatched in July and their combined energy was focused on feeding and teaching.  Following their parents positive example, the little birds learned quickly.  He was a proud father but still honored their habitat as if it were a castle.  When a mean tempered cat failed to break through the bushes obstacles, he sang triumphantly. “Oh, Joy! We could not ask for a better shelter!”

Birds are generally sensible so there was no sadness or loss after the young found their wings, only pride in a life’s work well accomplished. They returned their attention to the outside world and discovered commotion all around the house.  Strangers going in and out of the front door carrying boxes.  There was a busy woman directing the activity.

And every time she walked past their nest and those bright perfumed flowers, she sneezed.

They both set out a warm late summer morning to visit feeders and maybe find some materials to spruce up the nest.  Although outside of the norm, she thought they would return next year and if all was ready, they might have time for two broods.  She worked hard and happily, tuning out the rumble of mowers and machines.  But by mid-afternoon she noticed the other birds and animals were regarding her strangely.

“What is it?” She finally asked a passing squirrel.
“We’re sorry for you, that’s all…for birds you were such a nice couple…”

She did not let him finish his thought and flew back, racing towards home.

There was a monstrous hole next to the house where the lilacs had been.  The roots were being chopped apart and tossed to the side. The new home-owners unknowingly bagged up their sanctuary, taking their bed, roof and walls.  She was overcome with sadness. In her mind, she did not doubt they could find another place, but her heart burst for what she knew he loved. She found him watching from the neighbor’s roof.

“I’m so sorry.” She cried. “They’ve taken your Joy.”

He looked at her surprised and said gently, “Oh no, my dear they didn’t. You are my joy!”

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An Hour in the Sun

Took a posting respite after finishing the poetry project to concentrate on black belt testing. There is always a little let down following the end of a test or project – that sense of ‘Great. Now what?’  The short story below was written as a birthday gift for my chief instructor.  He consistently reminds us to be happy in the present – “Breathe in the positive. Breathe out the negative.”

An Hour in the Sun

“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam” she chatters happily, sitting tall in the front seat of the grocery cart, a Gerber baby, all eyes and smiles, proud of her first and only word.

Grandmothers would stop them in the aisles saying “How sweet. How precious.”

“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.” She entertains.

“Is that her father’s name?” They ask.

“No.” The young mother shakes her head, torn between embarrassment and humor.

“Sam’s the dog. “

The beloved mongrel under discussion is in his second favorite place. The lake at the camp house is his personal park. Taking his time to distinguish between new and old scents, he walks slowly around the hikers path, exploring alcoves. He is an aging dog, keeping track of raccoons, rats, cats, skunks, and possums, but chasing only when necessary. He has nothing to prove.

Mid-May, Lake Keesus bursts with life; saplings stretching for some light, birds busy planning and gathering, fish and frogs welcoming the water’s warmth, and young insects already moving at a frenetic pace with a life’s work to be accomplished in a matter of months. Sam pauses to greet Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and properly admires the line of ducklings between them. He stops to commiserate with Mother Rabbit, the bunnies slow to learn caution. He smells the newly hatched Garter before he sees him, which saves him a nip to the heels. Sam doesn’t stop to talk. Young snakes think they know everything and want to tell you. Old snakes know a lot but are always uncomfortably sizing you up as dinner.

Sam approaches a shallow inlet and spies two boys poking the waters edge with a long stick, trying to capture a recalcitrant turtle without getting their feet wet. He startles them by barking. They drop the stick and back away, uncertain of his intent. The turtle sticks his head out in relief.

“IMPECCIBLE  TIMING, SAM!” The snapper shouts. Sam’s hearing is still keen but the old turtle’s a touch more deaf and tad louder every spring.

“HOW DID YOU WINTER?”

“Warmly.” Sam stretches and scratches behind his ear. “And you?”

“SLEPT LIKE A BABY.”

Sam tilts his head to the side. “The baby at the house doesn’t sleep much.”

“SOME SOULS HAVE TROUBLE WITH QUIET.”

Sam is distressed as turtles are notorious soothsayers. He paces back and forth.

“AN OBSERVATION NOT A PROPHECY. I’M NOT AWAKE ENOUGH YET FOR FORTUNES.”

Sam relaxes and suggests, “You may have to find another spot.”

“THOSE BOYS DON’T MEAN HARM. I AM QUITE THE SPECIMEN. MAY EVEN SUGGEST AN AQUARIUM IN A FEW SPRINGS. MIGHT LIKE BEING CARED FOR. “

“It’s a give and take.” Sam replies.

The old turtle laughs. “YOU’RE A WISE ONE, SAM.  STOP BY TOMMOROW?”

“So long as it’s not raining.” Sam sees the sun coming towards it’s peak and retraces his steps back towards the house. It’s about that time.

Making his way along the water’s edge, he recalls past adventures; memories with almost tangible tastes, sounds and smells. It is unusual for him to reminisce. Dogs are current in their thinking, focused on the here and now. But today, those reflections sharpen his sense of the present – why he is where he is – the traveler and tramp, finally settling with a family.

He pushes through the door and climbs the back stairs leading to the nursery.

“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.” His name is chanted in time with a bouncing mattress.

He crosses the room to the other side of the crib, closest to the window. The late morning sun streams through the screen, warming the rug. He lays down, relishing the light. His favorite spot.

“Oh good. See, Sam is here.” The mother instructs. “Now lay down, only an hour or so – just like Sam.”

She copies her first friend, putting her head down to rest, peering at him through the bars, eventually closing her eyes to sleep.

Not Afraid of Fiction #2

A third of a question and two thirds critical comment was put to me about how there should be and why wasn’t there more martial arts in my martial arts blog.

Replied with the truth, and something I share with all the children who come in for their first lesson.  We are not only martial artists at the school.  We are martial artists everywhere.

This is the second story in my original monthly short story series.  You can read the first story here.

“The Serpent Celebrates”

Ezra’s inner eyelid slowly blinks open.  The transition between sleep and wakefulness is imperceptible except for a small flick of tongue and a slight uncoiling of his lower vertebrae. He is cold. The lights heating his space are just warm enough, but never as warm as he would like it.  He is tired. It has been only eight days since his last big meal.  It still weighs heavily in his stomach.

There is a commotion on the other side of the glass.  This room is typically quiet; reserved for reading, soft conversation, gentle melodies leading late night slow dances and always the light laughter which leaves a pleasing tremble in his mouth. Ezra is almost entirely deaf, though he feels the family through even the smallest vibration. Like most constrictors he has a big heart and unheralded intelligence, fulfilling the prerequisites of  romantic philosophers. People are unaware of this because despite, or perhaps because of, their Byronic leanings, they prefer to remain isolated.  Coupling it with their bad biblical reputation, most snakes choose to keep their thoughts to themselves. Unlike his brethren, Ezra is unsatisfied with his solitary existence.  He is curious at the feeling after so many years of quiet contentment.  He finds he enjoys the family’s presence, so despite being cold and tired, Ezra awakens without complaint.

A shower of droplets rain down on the glass ceiling over his head, followed by a fierce scrubbing.  This is repeated on the two opposite panes of his coffee table size enclosure.

“Ah!” thinks Ezra, “Company!”

A small girl’s face appears next to the scrubbing cloth.

“Is it Ezra’s birthday too, Dad?” She asks.

“Well, he was a gift from a while ago, before I met your mom or you were born.  I always celebrate his birthday with mine.” He replies.

Ezra is shocked.  He had not realized that he was being celebrated, or even that the occurrence of his birth would be a cause for celebration.  He vaguely recollects that day.  Constrictors do not lay eggs but give birth to live young.  Sliding out into the daylight, Ezra knew instinctively what to do, and left, along with his siblings, in search of a warm sunny spot and small food. Many young snakes, as Ezra had done, attempt to keep count of their shedding, but after reaching their mid-length the practice falls off.  He never looked back or had thought about it since.  Most reptiles are forward thinking, excepting of course, turtles, who can in excruciating detail relay the entire history of the planet.  The telling can last well over a year, so be sure you are close to adequate sources of food and water.

Father and daughter tie balloons in a haphazard fashion all around the room.  She rides on his back, pointing to where they should be placed, giggling at abrupt stops and high reaches, but Ezra notes he is careful never to let her fall.  Their relationship always intrigues him.  He wonders at their pleasure.  Ezra never knew his father.  He considers some snakes attempts to retain their mate radical in the extreme but understands loneliness and sympathizes. The females are unforgiving of these overtures and they often result in a rather vicious bite.  He had been fortunate to breed in his youth and in true romantic fashion mentally composed an essay on passionate acquisitions made more meaningful by their obligatory loss. Until the daughter’s arrival, he never considered his offspring but he imagines their being raised in captivity relieves him of the responsibility. He hopes, however, that they all have found freedom or families and Ezra is awarded a different colored balloon on each of the four corners of his habitat.

The pair completes their decorating and the mother enters bearing the vegetable tray, and gently places it over his head. On occasion the family neglects to tell visitors of his presence inside the coffee table.  It is never long before the surprised guest jumps up with a shriek.  He is impressive, even coiled, and when stretched out, he now reaches over eight feet. The exotic brown, black and tan pattern is complemented by the cut tree branch which is his only furniture. Shaded lights on either end act as his heat but also serve to cast dramatic shadows as he moves, investigating the vibrations and smells.  Music playing, the father twirls the mother into a dip, followed by a long embrace, to the delight of the daughter still hanging tightly to his neck.

The door bell rings.

“Just when the party was getting good.” He murmurs in her ear.

Guests of all ages stream in bearing gifts, food and good wishes.  Hugs and handshakes are generously exchanged, some old and some new stories told, bad jokes revisited, and everyone is encouraged to eat and dance and eat some more.  The cacophony of sounds has Ezra on high alert.  He can no longer stay still, and travels along the walls, forked tongue darting out to the extreme excitement of the children and even a few adults who peer through the glass. He has been through parties before and knows eventually things will settle down, but this time understanding the gala is in part for him, makes him less anxious for it to end. He allows himself to be moved, marveling at the joy created by the camaraderie, the friendships, and the family. Ezra is proud to be present and decides this will be his first birthday. He will count forward from today with the goal of experiencing that ecstasy.

A tornado in the form of a young boy blows by and around him, the daughter closely following.  They are playing a dancing, running, circling version of hide-tag-seek.  As the boy turns around, the daughter jumps into a secret spot between a sofa and overstuffed chair, but the boy is more concerned with spinning than with finding. Ezra startles each time the cage is bumped, but no one else notices. The daughter stands, peeking out, trying to determine why she has not yet been found.  With no more warning the boy’s rotational velocity grows in strength to such an extent that he loses control. He stumbles, falling fast and hard. Ezra darts quickly away from the body and under the tree branch in a vain attempt to shield himself.  Through the crashing glass, he sees a swiftly flying razor sharp shard cut through the daughter’s dress mid-thigh.  A bright crimson spray, descending like the dying embers of a fire-work, stains the light carpet and she falls between the couch and big chair, unseen and unmoving.

Ezra slithers away from the fragmented remains of his home and looks for the father.  The boy is hysterical.  Everyone is working to make sure he is all right.  No one notices the daughter but some do realize that he is free and jump up on the furniture with loud screams.  Ezra wants to get to the girl.  One brave soul attempts to corral him, but Ezra strikes swiftly at his ankle and he backs away.  It is only a short distance, but the fine glass powder coating the floor pierces his underbelly in thousands of places.  The pain is blinding but Ezra forces himself forward and under the sofa.  A piece of glass sticking up from his back catches the edge and tears inward but he does not stop.  He reaches the daughter, who seems so much smaller to him now.  She is pale and still; the gash in her leg bleeding profusely.  Their blood intermingles as Ezra wraps himself just above the wound and constricts.  He has never known such hurt before but can not let go.  The boy’s screams subside and the father, looking for Ezra, finally finds them.

Ezra is struck by the irony of time and would laugh at the incongruity of discovering a new purpose at the end, but his lungs are filling with fluid and there’s no room for air.  As they are lifted up, Ezra looks into the father’s eyes, in an attempt to communicate his gift. The father nods, understanding and thankful. The pain diminishes but is replaced by freezing numbness. Ezra hears the fathers hushed “Happy Birthday” and as the light and warmth overwhelm him, knows the daughter will be all right.  Now he feels the joy and floating forward, celebrates.