Wednesday, January 27, 2010


The morning was calm; there wasn’t a single puff of wind to rustle the tall green blades of the overgrown grass. Mona sat quietly on the two-seater teak swing that hung from the porch roof, her long legs tucked up under her and cocooned inside a burgundy chenille blanket. Her elegant hands cradled a porcelain cup of tea, the deep red of the painted roses matched her hair and the painted leaves were the same bright green of her eyes, which blinked languidly from her alabaster face.

The burble of the creek that bisected her property filtered to her ears through the stand of elm trees that blocked it from view, but she could close her eyes and see the large boulder she’d always used to cross the creek, the stone forcing the water into a Y around it and creating small eddies when the two sides reconnected.

She had used that stone to cross the ribbon of water since she was five years old, her father’s work roughened hands ready to catch her should she fall while his deep voice encouraged her to do it on her own, confidant in her abilities. With his certainty as a net, she never fell.

Mona shifted her gaze up when a breeze finally moved across her cheeks, blinking into the blue sky, white clouds like cotton candy drifting slowly by. Unfolding herself she rose to her feet and made her way inside, leaving the blanket on the swing and sitting her teacup on the kitchen counter before traversing the stairs to her bedroom.

Dressing in tan linen slacks and a lightweight knit shirt, Mona slipped her feet into her deck shoes and trotted back down the stairs, leaving the house through the back door in the kitchen. She made her way down the well worn path to the private dock at the edge of the lake, her shoes making quiet noises on the wooden planks of the jetty that jutted out into the water.

Unwinding the rope that tethered her small sailboat, Mona stepped in and pushed off, little Coral drifting away from shore as her main sail was hoisted up the mast. The bright red canvas caught the rising wind and snapped taut and propelled the craft toward open water. Mona claimed her seat at the stern, tiller in hand, and smiled wide as Coral coursed through the water like a sleek eel.

The day moved by unnoticed, the sun crossing the sky the only proof that time was not standing still. Mona dropped sail and anchored Coral; there was no land in sight and no other boats broke the perfect line of the horizon. She laid back; lacing her fingers behind her head and turning her face up to the sun, letting the golden rays lull her to sleep as the lullaby of water lapping at Coral’s hull filled her ears.

Mona woke to wet kisses, fat raindrop falling widely, and she blinked herself awake, sitting up and looking into the quickly darkening sky. The fluffy white clouds had been chased away by dark ones heavy with rain, and she could almost see them swelling larger and larger against the ominous canvas of the gray sky.

With practiced speed Mona hauled anchor and raised her sail, the stiff wind catching it eagerly and Coral listed sharply to port. Mona squinted through the ever condensing raindrops to get her bearings, but nothing was visible. She pulled her compass from the small bag under her seat and pushed the tiller to turn Coral west, toward home.

With each passing moment the storm worsened, the sky grew darker, the clouds heavier and the wind stronger. The rain fell in sheets, plastering Mona’s clothes to her body and she fought to stay on course, the tiller slick in her hands. A fierce blast of wind attacked Coral, pushing her like a bully until she tipped, falling sideways into the turbulent water.

Mona swam away, her heart too busy hammering against her sternum to be sad at the loss of Coral, she could be sad later if she survived. She fought against the choppy waves, the muscles in her arms and legs burning with fatigue as she tried to stay afloat, each passing moment taking more and more energy.

Her strength began to give out, muscles refusing to work and making her feel leaden, her own weight pulling her under. When she could no longer fight her way to the surface she felt herself falling, falling weightlessly through the quiet press of the dark water, but there was no safety net of daddy’s confidence to catch her and soon unconsciousness enveloped her.

It felt as though no time had passed; one moment Mona was sinking through the storm tossed water and the next she was blinking up at a glossy wooden ceiling. Her body cried out when she tried to move, her muscles protesting any movement and it felt as though her limbs weighed ten tons.

With gritted teeth she pushed herself up, using her hands to move her legs over the side of the bed in which she’d found herself, the navy blue flannel sheets soft against her bare skin. Bare skin? Looking down at herself Mona frowned at the large black T-shirt she wore, Firefly emblazoned across the front.

The room rocked gently, and despite her tired legs Mona didn’t lose her balance to the familiar feel of the water. Slowly making her way up the steep stairs she opened the hatch door and emerged into the quiet night, stepping onto the deck with bare feet.

“Hey, you shouldn’t be up.” Came a deep voice from behind her and Mona spun in surprise, her weak legs tangling and again she was falling, but the stranger’s calloused hands caught her, lifting her and carrying her to a padded bench.

Sitting down beside her he read the questions in her expression and smiled, the bright starlight shining from the now cloudless sky glancing across the planes of his face. “I was angling for sturgeon and instead caught a Siren.” He said softly, reaching up to tuck a stray lock of red hair behind her ear. “I’m the luckiest fisherman in the world, I think.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guardian Angel

Everything has ranges; there is nothing that is absolutely singular and unique. This was something I hadn’t ever really given much thought to. I never took the time to evaluate the differences between an heirloom and a Roma tomato, I just saw them as tomatoes; in hindsight, I should have paid attention to the details.

The day wasn’t different from any other, its name on the calendar was the only proof that the year was marching onward. I woke slowly, eyelids reluctant to open and out of habit I reached out to my left and found – nothing. I turned my head, tousled hair making soft noises against the smooth cotton of my pillowcase, and in the soft morning light that diffused through the blinds and curtains I stared at the empty space beside me.

Alex had been gone for almost seven months, and I had only recently finished donating his things to charity: his clothes, sporting equipment and video games had been delivered to the Salvation Army Thrift Store to be scattered into new homes.

His books were harder to let go of, the books he’d read to me with a different voice for each character as though reading to a child. I would listen intently, his voice like ermine across my cheek, and I found it easy to fall into the story when he helped me feel like I was part of it. It had taken months for me to sort through them, whittling and purging the volumes until I was left with a handful I just couldn’t part with.

Rolling onto my side I buried my face in his pillow, inhaling deeply, trying to breathe in the last trace of his scent hiding deep inside the fibers. I curled myself into a tight ball, unsurprised when tears silently leaked from my eyes and dampened the sheets.

Alex had been on his way home from a business trip, and none of the cliché hazards had fallen in his path: it wasn’t dark and it wasn’t rainy, it was a perfectly bright, warm, sunshiny morning when he’d stopped for gas and was shot dead by a car-jacker. That isn’t a call I’d ever expected to receive, let alone a month before my wedding.

The police had shown me a still photo captured by the gas station surveillance camera of the man who had shattered my life, the black and white image grainy. I didn’t know him, and could make out only that he was tall, thin and was missing his left thumb, and even with such a distinctive feature the police hadn’t been able to match him to anyone in their records. The case went cold and died, just as its victim had.

With a deep breath I pulled myself together, wiped the moisture from my face and climbed out of bed, shuffling my way into the bathroom and under the spray of a hot shower. I let the water run over me, hoping, as I did every morning, it would carry away the overwhelming sense of anger and loss that I had been mired in, and taking comfort in the knowledge that with the passing of each day I sloughed off another layer of pain.

I dressed with little thought, jeans and a non-descript T-shirt that might have been blue, and was thankful I worked in such a casual environment. After a quick brushing of my hair I bound it into a ponytail and called it good, I couldn’t be bothered to apply even a minimum of make-up.

I scooped up my purse as I grabbed my keys and made my way out to my car, starting the motor and pulling into traffic. The drive to the office went by unnoticed, as did the cubicles, meeting rooms and people that filled the five story building. I made my way to my desk and dropped into my chair with a sigh, closing my eyes while I focused on caring about my work.

The hours slipped by in painfully slow ticks of the clock, and it wasn’t until the sound of arguing voices emanating from the reception area filtered through the glass wall into the rear of the office that I realized I hadn’t even gone to lunch yet. I stood slowly, reinforcing the office term “ground-hogging” along with the 50 other people who were all standing up to peer over the cubicle walls.

The man in the lobby was very adamant in his demand to be let in, pounding one fist on the receptionist’s desk and leaning well into her personal space, which she was incrementally losing to him. He suddenly swung his gaze and his eyes locked on me like a missile, the intensity of his gaze actually compelling me to take a step backward.

The receptionist was forgotten as he moved to the locked door, gripping the steel handle and pulling it open. Bits from the lock mechanisms fell to the floor along with part of the doorframe and people scattered like ants. At first I was frozen, his green gaze unwavering as he strode through the aisles, making his way toward me.

My senses finally returned to me and I ran, barreling out a side door and into the hallway, making a quick right and running full out for the stairwell at the far end. I could hear him behind me, his curses audible as the screaming of my co-workers faded away, and our feet pounded against the carpet in almost perfect synchronization.

With a loud curse he seemed to find a supplemental supply of energy and with a burst of speed he hit me from behind, wrapping his arms around me and the force of the blow carried us to the floor. He turned his body as we fell and absorbed the majority of the impact with a grunt, sliding on his back until the stairwell door stopped us.

I struggled within the iron bands of his arms, thrashing and kicking and cursing, but his hold didn’t slip. Bracing his back against the door he pushed with his feet and leveraged us off the floor so we were upright again.

“Damn it, woman,” he said through gritted teeth, “I’m not going to hurt you!”

I wasn’t convinced so my thrashing continued until he spoke again, his words freezing me like a puddle.

“Alex sent me, you’re in danger.”

When my body went still he released his hold on me only to grip my shoulders and turn me to face him. A scar lanced across his face from the center of his forehead down to his left earlobe, but it was the green of his eyes and the earnest look in those eyes that drew my attention.

He opened his mouth to speak until the sound of renewed screams filled the air and drew his attention to the opposite end of the hall. I turned my head and stared at the man who erupted into the hallway, his dark eyes locking on us. He smiled a sinister smile at us and waved, the lack of a thumb catching my attention and I gasped.

“Trust me,” said the man who still held my shoulders and before I could answer he had pulled me into the stairwell. I turned and tried to head down, hoping to escape into the street outside, but he grabbed my hand and headed up to the roof.

Our feet carried us toward the edge of the building, the nine-fingered man gaining as he ran after us and without missing a beat my rescuer lifted me into his arms and leapt off the edge. I hadn’t had time to argue, so I simply clung to him, my eyes going wide as huge wings materialized from his back and carried us away, leaving the nine-fingered man scowling on the rooftop.

The man landed in an alley several miles away, the wings fading from sight and I stepped away from him until my back connected with the wall behind me.

“So what are you, some kind of guardian angel?” I asked, eyes wide. He didn’t look like I’d imagined an angel would look, he was rugged and imperfect; I hadn’t thought there would be a variety of angels as there was a variety of tomatoes.

“Something like that,” he said, holding one hand out toward me. There was a promise of safety and information in his bright green eyes, so I slipped my fingers across his palm and followed as he led us out of the alley to get lost in the sea of humanity that filled the city.