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End of the Road November 6, 2016

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End of the Road

by Linda Maree

 

End of the Road I

You have come to the end of the road. Behind you: the path and steps you’ve taken, in front of you: nothing. This is not a crossroads filled with choices, with numerous paths to follow. If you move from here, it will mean stepping into the unknown. Perhaps you will step off a cliff and into the abyss. Perhaps you will fall forever. Perhaps you will grow wings and fly. Perhaps a path will be created by your footsteps, leaving behind your prints for others to follow, so that the end of the road turns out to be not a finite point, but movable and malleable, a knotted rope of beaded ‘ends’ strung together to make something of nothing.

 

End of the Road II

You have come to the end of the road. You expected something more, but what you see all around you is so ordinary: tables, chairs, food, people. Piped-in music blasting from speakers in the ceiling, right over your head to judge by the strength of the vibrations you feel jolting you to attention. Ordinary. The end of the road is ordinary. A sunny day in a bright and noisy café. Nothing to indicate the end of anything, except your sense of it.

 

End of the Road III

You have come to the end of the road and here, just as you’d heard it would be, you discover a new beginning … along with a bucket full of hope, handfuls of strength, and a firm, feathery belief that takes flight, disappearing into a clear blue sky, carrying you, wingless, with it.

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At the Water’s Edge: White September 2, 2016

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White-capped waves roll under white clouds that scudder across a blue-white washed-out sky. The day, hazy at first, has lightened into quiet — save for the soft shushing of the water and the background hum of buzzing insects, all is silent. Even the wind makes no sound, sighing high in the bleached sky where only the clouds feel its gentle nudge. The sun blazes behind the clouds, dispersing its heat on a lazy earth, but holding fast to its golden glow, keeping it greedily for itself, the clouds backlit while soaking up the honeyed rays, unable to share, though, unlike the sun, willing. Generous, they are impotent in the face of their own nature, their inability to create light. The white-topped waves fail to notice anything amiss and continue to roll toward the pale sand beach.

And this is where the white waves find her, on the pale sand beach, cloaked in white, a mirror of the scuddering clouds. She sits now at the water’s edge and the white waves spiral around her, pushing into her skirt and then receding in a rhythmic pulse tapped out by the hidden moon, leaving in their wake a large white snake, which hisses, but does not strike, does not leave. In her hand the woman holds an earthen bowl filled with warm turquoise water shimmering with crystals within. She tips the bowl slightly to show the white snake, who merely nods.

The water in the bowl bubbles and boils and the crystals in the warm turquoise water rearrange themselves and rise from the bowl, a shimmering tree that speaks of life in its light, and causes the white snake to dance, as if only now it has heard the melody tapped out by the hidden moon. The waves on the shore darken and the greedy sun retreats, as the glowing tree grows and encompasses all the light there is to see. The clouds give up their brightness easily, willingly, just as happy to be grey or black as white. To them, only the wind has consequence.

Blood Blossom September 5, 2015

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The blossom opens, yellow petals unfurling to reveal a deep blood-red center filled with tiny seed-like pods. I see this and yet, as I watch, one of the pods opens and out I step, smiling, whole, adult, mature, but tiny. A bee lands on the flower and “tiny me” climbs onto her back, laughing as if at a private joke only the two of them understand, taking two big fistfuls of the bee’s striped fur in her tiny me hands. The bee then rises into the air with a steady hum and flies away with tiny me so fast I cannot follow its path.

I stand at the edge of the garden, bereft at the loss of this happy little self, this little me that had just burst forth with such joy. The flower from which I emerged is closing up now and I reach for it, angrily plucking it from its earthy perch and holding it out as if to implore the bees to come to me, so that I might capture one and force it to tell me where I (tiny me) have been taken.

I jump when I think I have been stung, but realize it is the flower that has pricked me with a sharp thorn I hadn’t noticed, and I watch as scarlet red blood drops from my finger, and with an audible plop lands on the ground at my feet. Hurt, I immediately drop the flower, which grows new roots as I watch and feeds itself on the bloody earth of my own making.

Grey Cloud August 2, 2015

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This grey cloud that seems to follow me turns out to be laden with gifts. At first glance, they are not apparent, but when one is followed by a dark cloud as long as I have been, one tends to look for deeper messages, if only to avoid the tedium.

So today, when the new neighbors show up uninvited, and me with no tea or biscuits to offer them (lack being part of the grey tedium of “not enough”), I grasp at the gift that dangles before me and venture to announce that I never serve real food in my home, only the imaginary kind, which, I tell them, is the best kind. I paint a picture of magical tea parties that are so much better and more filling and satisfying than what they might call the real thing.

I bring out the best china, meaning the pieces that are not so badly chipped, and pretend to steep the tea and mime serving the cakes and dainty little sandwiches, all the while weaving a story of fairies and wood nymphs, and unicorns so that even though it is only a made-up story, they all laugh and play along. When they finally leave, they are biting and licking their lips, searching for the lingering sweet taste of a magical afternoon.

Later, as the night grows dark and the grey cloud melts into a deep velvet sky, I close my eyes and imagine the tea and biscuits settling in my stomach. The rumbles inside me dissipate until the only sound I hear is distant thunder. Even with my eyes closed, and despite the clouds, I can tell the moon is full and shining through the open window, illuminating the dishes on the table and crumbs of magical food fallen to the floor that I have yet to clear away.

I think of a dog I have always wanted since I was a child: medium size, black, with a wise and kind face that evokes both curiosity and stability. She is wearing a lovely jeweled collar and I call her to me by clicking my tongue and offering her a bite of sandwich. I motion to her that it is okay if she wants to lick up any crumbs she finds on the floor. We spend the next hour cleaning up my little room together and when I finally open my eyes, I can still picture the palace that fits within these four grey walls; still feel the dog’s slippery tongue on my hand.

I read, one time, about a village in Japan where they used to sacrifice a black dog to call in the black rain clouds. I have done the opposite. I have used my dark cloud to call in my black dog. No worries. I am well enough to know this is all happening in my imagination; hungry enough to know that, for now, it is sufficient.

The dog comes to me again as soon as I close my eyes. Once again the rumbling in my belly becomes the portent of an approaching storm and I can imagine the dog being caught in it, so I whistle to call her to me and she comes right away. I am lying now on a mat on the floor and the dog lies down next to me. Her furry warmth stops my shivering and I feel safe next to her.

But I do not sleep right away. I have always loved storms and wait with anticipation as the rumbles grow louder, which, of course, they do. I think about my neighbors and our tea party and wonder if they are still savoring the sweetness of our communion, as I am. Drowsily, I lay one hand on the dog’s head and for a moment consider what to name her, for in all the years of wishing and hoping for such a companion, I have not done so. And then I realize that this is not my task to do. The dog has a name and it is for her to reveal it to me when she is ready. I fall asleep, finally, content in this realization.

When I awake, though, the dog is gone, the sky still dark and rumbling, and I feel my hunger in a way I hadn’t before. I put an imaginary pot of oatmeal on the stove and while it simmers I stand at the window looking out on what my mother used to call a “toad-y” kind of day. The grey cloud still hovers over my little cottage, but the rest of the sky is an odd green hue that brings forth visions of nauseous sea voyages and the bumpy backs of the great bullfrogs by the pond.

I am reminded of a long-ago day just like today. I am getting ready for school and the smell of oatmeal with cinnamon fills my nostrils. My mother loved days like this — overly wet days that would call forth the tree frogs to set up a chorus and sing to me on the way to school, my belly full of warm oatmeal, my imagination fueled by the grey clouds, a loyal black dog at my heels.

When One Tiny Door Closes . . . June 25, 2015

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It is a very tiny old closet in a very tiny old house. In the very back corner of the very tiny closet is a very tiny door. You have made yourself as small as possible and stoop to make yourself even smaller, but still you are not as small as the tiny door. It is plain, the tiny door, and yet, you want to see inside. You position the tiny marble knob on the tiny door between your index finger and thumb and turn. You hear the click of the latch coming free and the tiny door creaks open. You have to lie down on the floor to see inside, and you put your right eye, the stronger one, up to the tiny open door and peer in.

At first you see nothing. It is dark on the other side and you have to give your eye time to adjust. When it does, you are surprised to find no great treasure, no magic forest or fantastic fairy realm, no other reality that you were sure existed somewhere behind the tiny door and beyond your everyday experience. No, what you see is nothing but an empty space. Even ordinary dust and cobwebs are absent from what seems to be a void, a miniature black hole within the confines of a very tiny old closet, and everything you thought you wanted.

You creep backwards, away from the tiny door, and as you let go of the tiny marble knob, the tiny door squeezes itself shut with an emphatic thump! You close your eyes for a moment then open them again and let them readjust to the dim closet light.

Disappointment tumbles over disappointment and your breath somersaults from your body with a loud whoosh! You feel tears tumbling on your cheeks and flick them away, impatient with their frivolity. One teardrop hangs in the air for a moment, pearlescent, and then somersaults to the dusty floor, landing with a plop! in the corner. Its bright spiral has caught your eye and that’s when you see it . . .

Another tiny door, very different from the first. You don’t know how you could have missed this one. Though it is tiny, too, it is striking, painted bright blue, with a tiny glittery dragonfly knocker and a tiny handle that twinkles like the first star in a new moon sky. You are more hesitant this time, first taking in the details of the tiny blue door, how the tiny dragonfly glows with an otherworldly light and how the color—your favorite, the exact shade of a clear May sky reflected on the smooth surface of a mountain lake at mid-afternoon—is soothing and invigorating at the same time.

You are certain this is the door. The one you’ve been searching for. That within you will find a bright universe of treasures and fairy tale magic, all that your heart desires. But the disappointment you felt last time still steams in your veins, creating doubt and an unwillingness to be disappointed again. You are averse to disappointment. Your eyebrows pucker at the center, just over your third-eye, and you see again that one shimmering teardrop lying at the threshold of the tiny blue door, a beacon. All you have to do is . . . open . . . the . . . door.

But you hesitate, and before you can stop it, the tiny glittery firefly knocker flies down from its post on the tiny blue door and lands on the floor where, watching you the entire time, it drinks the shimmering teardrop until it . . . and the tiny blue door . . . are gone.

The Pool May 31, 2015

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She heard the hawk’s piercing call and felt as if it was especially for her. She had sat so still for so long, waiting, waiting for a sign, a cry that would beckon her. She opened her eyes now and scanned the skies. There it was, coming out of the trees and heading her way. Silent now, it circled overhead, tracing a spiral path that moved lower and lower with each ever-tightening circle, until it was just above her and then, unbelievably, perched on her shoulder.

“Breathe!” the hawk whispered in her ear, and only then did she realize she was holding her breath. She took a great gulp of air and let it out slowly as the hawk instructed, relaxing her muscles as she did so. “That’s better,” the hawk said, settling comfortably onto her perch. “Keep breathing and listen.”

She did.

At first all she could hear was her own breath as it escaped in soft sighs. Then, as her stillness and listening deepened, she could also hear the fainter intake of air through her nose and its movement into her lungs. Hold. Then the sigh of release. When she had become fully attuned to her own breath, she realized she could also hear the hawk’s breath as well as its strong heartbeat next to her ear.

They sat like this for a long time, breathing, listening, deepening. As they sat, the sun arced across the sky, creating moving shadows, that appeared then disappeared, as if in a choreographed dance, but the woman and the hawk saw none of this. When the sun had fallen well below the horizon and the sky had taken off its flashy pinks and purples and donned its black velvet cloak, the hawk whispered once again in her ear, “It is time.”

The woman did not know what this meant, but as the hawk took off, she followed it. She had no idea where they were going, and could not see the path, but the hawk flew in front of her, leaving behind only a trace of sound for her to track in the deep, deep dark. Somehow, even in this darkest of dark places, the woman’s feet managed to miss the loose stones and rambling roots that might have tripped her up.

Someone else’s beliefs might have kept her from taking this journey at all, but the woman was ready to go all out for what she knew would be the richest of treasures, if only she persisted. Another ripple of sound caressed her ear and she turned toward the left, following it blindly, never once doubting the hawk’s purpose for calling her — though she had no idea what that purpose might be. All would be revealed.

At last she heard the hawk come to rest and she stopped a few paces away. Standing still, she could allow her eyes to adjust to the dark. At first she could see nothing but trees so close around her, then the path, the hawk, and the sun barely peeking over the horizon. Beyond the hawk stood a large flat rock upon which a narrow stream of water trickled, glistening in the rising sun and filling a pool at the great rock’s base.

The woman approached the pool and saw that it was clear, like glass. Not a ripple marred its smooth surface. She bent over the pool and saw her own familiar face, but watched in horror as the image appeared to be engulfed in flames, melting into the pool and leaving nothing of itself — of her — behind. The woman took a shocked breath and would have moved away from this frightening vision, but there was the hawk again, on her shoulder, whispering, “Stay!”

And so she did.

She forced herself to keep her eyes open as one gruesome, graphic image after another was illuminated in the pool. After each, the hawk reminded her to breathe, until finally she was able to witness the devastation without becoming tense, without forgetting to breathe; indeed, without judgment or emotion. She had always thought that the opposite of emotional response was apathy, but realized now that apathy itself was an emotion. What she was experiencing  went beyond emotions, a wordless place of endless possibilities that, within the confines of a limited human vocabulary, could only be called Love.

Bystander May 2, 2015

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One spring afternoon, in the lavish silence of the deep forest, where nothing moved or breathed or wished for things to be anything but what they were without permission from The Lady, who was, it must be said, generous with her permissions and so no one suffered, a strange bystander stood at the edge of the very center, just at that spot where the trees thickened, the silence deepened, and the light gave way completely to the dark, and watched.

He had a mind to step in, to tell them all, from the minutest lichens and mosses clinging to their forest hosts — stones and trees older than anything around, save The Lady — to the tallest firs and massive oaks, to make up their own minds. To walk away from The Lady’s oppression.

But as he stood and watched, he began to wonder if benevolence could rightly be called oppression, and what exactly determined the essence of “free.”

Instructions January 31, 2015

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Listen up, all of you. Once you have set out, it may be awhile before you have another chance to ask questions. Some of you will be gone a long time; some will be back almost immediately. Remember, it is not the length of the journey that is important, or even what you accomplish along the way, only that you complete it.

You will begin your quest right here, in this place, by turning yourself counterclockwise three times with your eyes closed. Then, without looking, you will slide into time at that skinny space between past and future, and turn to squarely face the present. Once there you must always be on the alert and watch for any discomfort or unwillingness on your part to be fully engaged. Be honest about this at all times because, if you’re not, any unacknowledged emotions that only seem to disappear when ignored will surely come back and trip you up at the end. I can’t stress this enough, though I know some of you will forget and will likely want to lay the blame elsewhere. I will tell you now: It is not a fault of the design but a consequence of not paying attention. Heed my words!

Once you are established and the time seems right, you may proceed along the invisible path, the one that glows, but can only be seen when the inner eye is activated. If you get lost on this path, or you can’t find the light, please ask for directions, advice, water—anything you need. Ask! There will be guides at all the crucial points along the way, though sometimes you may not recognize them. Some may look like beautiful angels, to be sure, but some of the guides may be cranky, crippled, miserable, homeless, hungry, rich or poor. Some will be well dressed and well educated, some not. Some you will like, though it is not necessary. Some are not even human. Animals, books, trees, and the like, even illnesses can all show up as guides and can help you find the way, as long as you’re not afraid to interact with them and ask for help.

This is where you get to experiment—have fun! There is no script, save for the very beginning and the very end. What you do in the infinite present in between is totally up to you.

Once you get to the end of the path, you must dig deep into the earth, using your own two hands. Get dirty! Sweaty! Smelly! It matters not how long it takes, only that the task is done. It is hard work and so worth the effort. In fact, it is necessary. You cannot retrace your steps on this journey, and this is the only way back to where you are now.

Once it is deep enough and long enough, climb down into that hole you’ve dug, lie down, close your eyes, and slow your breath until it is no more than a hint of a whisper, a ghost of a sigh. This is where it gets tricky if you have not been honest with yourself along the way. This is your last chance, and I have to say, most make a good show of it at this point; though it may be difficult, it’s not impossible. Once all loose ends are taken care of, simply roll over onto your belly and dive down into the dark, where you will find your way through that skinny portal out of the present and back home once again.

Ready? Enjoy your journey!

The Weaver January 1, 2015

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The weaver put the basket on the ground in front of the girl. Even in its unfinished state, the girl could see that it would be exquisite. Her eyes gleamed. “I want to learn,” she said to the weaver.

“Do you have permission?” the weaver asked, looking her over carefully. She had been wanting to take on an apprentice for some time, but the old ways were frowned upon these days. The baskets, the beads, the trinkets, they were OK – they were commodities to be bought and sold. Economics. That was acceptable. But the craft? The knowledge that went beyond the skill, the weaving? The magickal energy that had to be infused into each piece just so? That had been relegated to the realm of superstition and they had been encouraged to give it up, to stop telling the ancient stories, to forget and become mute. The tourists would buy anyway, so what did it matter? Most of the others were more than happy to give up the old ways, which could often take much longer and make a task more tedious. But she still held fast to the true craft as it had been taught to her, her mother before her, and all the women in her family going back many generations, though these days she didn’t talk about it much.

The girl nodded at first. But then she drew a painted scarf from her pocket and admitted, “She doesn’t know.” She pulled the scarf out to its full length and the weaver had to resist the temptation to grab it, and instead listened patiently as the girl went on. “She doesn’t know and wouldn’t care one way or the other if she did.” The girl spoke without emotion, merely stating a fact. “Daddy’s been gone a long time,” she said, as if that explained things. She shrugged. “But I had this dream, and . . . well . . . I’m not so good with words, but . . . “ The girl hesitated and then thrust the painted scarf at the weaver. “Here,” she said. “I painted my dream on the scarf. The woman there . . . “ and she pointed to an image at the far edge of the material . . . “told me to. Then she said I should talk to you.”

The weaver felt her hands tingle as she took the scarf from the girl. The images were crudely rendered, but the message was unmistakable. The woman to whom the girl had referred was wrapped in a cape that looked, even in its painted simplicity, to be velvet. Deep blue, with a number of small silver beads twinkling like stars against the night sky. And she wore several large colorful rings on her clumsily drawn fingers. The weaver knew exactly who this figure was and she smiled at the girl, handing the scarf back to her, telling her to take it home and sleep with it under her pillow. “Come back when you have another dream to share,” she told her.

That night, the girl did as she was instructed and dreamed once again of the same woman in the dark blue cape. This time the dream woman took the girl’s scarf and wrapped it around her own long, slender neck. A line of letters that the girl had not put there made its way across the scarf and some of the letters fell to the ground and skittered away as the woman tied a firm knot into the material. “Find them,” she said without elaboration.

The girl dropped to her hands and knees and began patting the ground with her fingers, feeling for what her eyes might miss. After some time, she still hadn’t found anything and was in fear of failing the woman’s test, for she was sure that’s what this was, when she looked up and found an A perched in awareness at the apex of a glittering arch. The agile little letter jumped eagerly onto her open hand, landing squarely in the center of her palm. The girl handed it back to the woman, who accepted it without comment.

The girl resumed her search, remembering this time to look both high and low. This was how she found the E trembling and beside itself with worry at the base of a large tree. “Come with me,” the girl coaxed the fearful E. “I’ll take you home.” The little E jumped into the girl’s ear and whispered directions the girl didn’t need. She thanked the E anyway as she handed it to the woman in blue.

“One more letter is still missing,” the woman said to the girl. “Can you guess what it is?” She took the scarf from her neck and held it out between her hands. The girl could see the word PEAK dancing across the painted fabric face of the scarf. Just then the girl heard a loud and persistent hissing and looked down to see a sinuous, snaky letter sliding up her leg. An S! But did it go in front of or at the end of PEAK? Perhaps it was a message that she had more mountainous tests in front of her. She thought for a moment, and then she knew. She took the S and placed it herself on the scarf. SPEAK!

The woman in blue smiled and gave the scarf back to the girl. “Well done,” she said and disappeared before the girl could ask her any questions. When the girl awoke the scarf was no longer under her pillow, but clutched in her hand. She unfurled it and read the message written on it, smiled, and headed to the market to find the weaver.

Library Dream December 16, 2014

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(From a six-word prompt: armadillo, cougar, letter, library, splatter, temple)

Library Dream

I sit on the back of an ancient armadillo, who is carrying me to the library. She deposits me at the bottom of the concrete steps saying “This is as far as I go.” I slide off her back and climb the stairs, which grow steeper with every step I take. When I finally reach the top, I turn and look back. The old armadillo is no more than a tiny speck, moving slowly in the direction from which we just came. Turning, I enter the library.

At the desk is a wrinkled woman with wild grey hair and a splatter of glitter on her cheeks. There is a cougar sitting at her feet with an envelope clenched in its jaws. “The letter is for you,” the old lady says. “We’ve been waiting for you.” I reach for the envelope but the cougar snaps at my hand without letting go the letter. “Oh you can’t get it that way,” the woman says, brushing a wisp of grey wildness from her face and getting glitter on her fingers. “Come with me.”

I follow her through row after row of books stacked high on shelves all the way to the ceiling, creating great caverns. At the end of the last row we enter a room that looks like a temple, with lighted candles dripping beeswax on the floor and spicy incense filling the room with pungent aromatic smoke. The cougar is there waiting for us, sitting quietly, the letter still clamped tight in its mouth.

Ah, so this is how it is, I think. Understanding that which cannot be understood, I place my hands together, fingertips pointing upwards, in prayer position, in front of my heart, and bow low to the cougar, imbuing the move with all the respect and dignity I can muster. The cougar drops the letter at my feet, bows in return, and disappears as I pick up the letter from the floor.

The old woman smiles.

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