Burning Autumn

“Mommy, why are the trees on fire?” His three-year-old eyes look concerned, in my rearview mirror.

I glance back to smile, reassuringly, as we pause at a stop sign. The red and orange leaves of street-stalking maples fill my periphery as I do.

“They’re not on fire, Honey. It’s autumn.” He seems to be thinking, as I pull onto the main road. A seasonal gust dances clusters of brown, red, purple, yellow, and orange around our moving car.

“Why are the leaves blowing away?” He asks next. His eyes dart from one window to another to follow the erratic wind-paths.

I think over my answer. ‘The trees are getting ready to go to sleep,” I say, stopping at a traffic light. I watch the leaves as well, a happy warmth glowing inside at this vibrant change to mundane landscapes.

I watch his tiny face scowl. “Trees sleep?”

“Yes, Sweetheart. The leaves fall off so the trees can sleep when there’s snow on the ground.” His face lights up at the mention of snow. “They need to sleep or they get too cold,” I explain.

Just before the light changes, I catch my own eyes in the mirror. They’re dark, like my hair; like my son’s.

Memory-image immediately draws me back to that morning, when he’d walked in after my shower.

“What are you doing, Mommy?” He’d wondered. Still wrapped in a towel, I’d been anxiously pawing through my reflection’s scalp.

I’d found my first gray hairs while brushing.

We’re nearly to his preschool when he asks, “Will the leaves come back again?”

We slide back and forth against the seat  belts’ embrace as the car bumps over the parking lot entrance. I wait in a minivan queue.

“Mom! Will the leaves come back?”

No, I think, I’ll keep getting gray. Aloud, however, I tell him, “Of course, Honey! The trees grow new leaves when the snow melts and it’s spring again.”

That’s too far away for his mental reach. He’s trying to puzzle it all out, scrunching his lips and small, dark eyebrows.

I park, exit, come round to his door. Rustling leaf-rain sweeps under my feet. A few blow into the open sliding door as I unbuckle my thoughtful child.

“I like it,” he finally decides, smiling. He laughs; and, clutching my hand, skips and crunches through the leaf storm all the way to the school doors.

He goes inside, to his waiting teacher’s arms. Through the glass I see him point backwards, waving his stocky little arm in a swirling motion. He’s explaining autumn to his teacher; while she intently watches his face, smiles in return, and nods dramatically.

They head off to the classroom, hand in hand. I turn to face the wind and its accompanying leaves.

Everywhere a deciduous tree has been planted, I see color. They’re shouting on their way to the death of winter.

I absently run a hand through my hair, just about where I’d found the gray strand. I smile, as my son had.

When I die, I plan to go out like the burning autumn.

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The Festival of Trees

Instead of writing your ear off this evening, I wanted to share a Christmastime tradition of mine.

Ever since I was a wee girl scout, I have attended a local charity event called The Festival of Trees. People donate decorated Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, wreaths, quilts, and items for auction. Every. single. penny raised goes to Primary Children’s Medical Center.

Many of the trees are in memory of another; many for loved ones who have passed on.

My second child was born approximately 9 weeks early, so I have a special place in my heart for these stories. The Festival of Trees often causes me uncontrollable public crying when we walk around, especially if I ever read the back of the name cards where the person’s story is typed up.

From volunteering as a girl scout, to pushing around my oldest son back when he didn’t walk, to chasing my four boys away from the chain separators today, I’ve gone nearly every year for twenty years. For those of you who cannot attend, I’ve taken a few awesome phone pictures.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

First, my favorite gingerbread “houses.”

 

 

 

Now, onto a few trees. There are rows and rows of full-sized, decorated trees.

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These last two are miniature trees.

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I hope to decorate and donate a tree of my own someday, probably in memory of my son. I’ve gotta give people a tree that ends with a happy story, after all.

 

 

The Boy Who Never Got Involved

I just had the brilliant thought that Voldemort should have gone for a much easier target than an eleven-year-old boy; by storming the Ministry of Magic (or wafting through the walls as the spirit he was), stealing a Time Turner, and re-doing that whole getting killed thing.

That wouldn’t be a long enough story for seven books, though.

…Maybe if Rowling described all the times he camped out along the way.

Recurring Story: Twenty-Four

To everyone’s surprise, Rob spoke first.

“Jakob. Mina,” Their father began. “Your mom and I love you very much. So, we want to make sure you know everything going on.”

Wil’s mother looked gratefully at her husband, then bestowed each of her children with a tender look of sad love. Jakob and Wil sat on the edge of the cushion, and attended their parents dutifully.

Rob looked a bit lost for words to continue with. He didn’t like long speeches, especially when they were wanted from himself. He looked to his wife, and found courage and inspiration in her trusting blue eyes. He cleared his throat.

“We’ve known about this condition from early on, but not as early as they should have.” He explained. “Your mom would have done better if they’d found it even earlier,” Rob glanced at his audience, who all nodded understanding.

Wil tried very hard to sit still, despite the torture of time it took her father to produce words, and the fact that he was repeating what they already knew. Fidgeting when he was talking made him take even longer.

Rob nodded, himself, then continued, “We’ve been fortunate to have your mom live this long, with what we can pay for.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, and looked at the floor.

“It’s been hard to pick what to pay for, because we know what will happen.” Rob swallowed, then said quietly, “In the end.”

“But, Mom always says we will all die,” Wil blurted out. “So, we should live for as long as we can.”

Wil’s father and stepbrother began to hush Wil, when Cynthia held up a hand. The IV tube dangled from it, down her arm. “Not quite, Wil,” she corrected gently. She pushed herself into a slightly more comfortable position, and sighed carefully.

“I said,” Wil’s mother continued softly, “We all die, so we should live the days that we can.” She looked fondly at them again. “The question of whether the cost is worth each new idea or treatment has always been there.”

Jakob glanced at his step-father before impetuously asking, “So, do they know how much longer you have left?”

Cynthia closed her eyes as Rob exclaimed, “Jakob!” and turned to fix his stepson an angry, disapproving look. Wil was glad that he had asked the question instead of her, although she equally longed for and dreaded an honest answer.

Jakob crossed his arms in a typical, defiant fashion, and waited. Rob rubbed a hand in irritation over the right side of his own face, then through his thinning blond hair. Wil had seen her father do this many times when he tried to talk with her.

“It’s okay, Rob.” Cynthia said quietly, and opened eyes of resigned sorrowing. She breathed her oxygen and room air deeply and slowly in, then out. “Just tell them.”

Rob set his jaw, then softened when he realized he needed to get this speech over with to stop the necessity of talking.

“There’s a new drug out, but we would have to borrow to afford it.” He looked to the swirling desert sea print on the wall for distraction. “And, we’d only buy about five more years if all goes well.”

Wil and Jakob both thought about this news and what it would mean. They knew what the family would have to pick, but would feel like callous traitors for it.

Literary Prescription

“I need a new book to read,” a friend asks. “Do you have any to recommend?”

I have to steady myself against a wall; tell my thudding heart to slow. Almost euphoric, I compose myself. It simply wouldn’t do for a bibliophile of my standing to be caught drooling.

I straighten my posture and eyeglasses, immediately donning my physician’s overcoat. My pipe rests gently against my lip, held in my right hand. The left, of course, finds a casual perch halfway in a front pocket.

“What have you read lately?” I query.

The friend’s response is crucial. “Oh, I just finished up This Popular Novel,” she may say, telling me of an interest in mainstream, feel-good stories. Or maybe she admits to perusing dystopia, sampling science fiction, catching a guilty whiff of fantasy, or snitching a teen romance before dinner.

Without prompt, the information is almost always followed by, “I liked these details or this character, but am looking more for less violence or more of that world.”

I liked, but… is the imperative response to furthering my prognosis.

“Ah, yes,” I muse, pondering; filling the conversational space as my eyes wander a few titles. “Would you like another of that same genre?”

Yes or no will sort my mind to a flow-chart diagram of question, response, action. Yes leads to more of that section; then Same author?, Want another female lead?, or What about this one?

No, of course, follows an arrow to What other type would you like, then?

I’ve been out of practice for a tad longer than I’ve wished, life circumstances being what they are. I try not to allow this lapse to show, however. Professionalism is paramount; poise essential.

I clear my throat, nestling the unlit pipe in the right pocket. Striding excitedly to a shelf, I begin extracting pharmaceutical samples.

My patient listens, keenly, fully prepared to ignore my advice once within access of internet searches. For now, she watches my sorting hands move through the pile of books. She is judging appearances as I detail contents.

My calm demeanor is more difficult to maintain. I had thought my raised pressure, sweating palms, and nervous movements to be results of an overexcited reaction to a question. Instead, I realize I’ve dipped into the medicine cabinet a few times more than was healthy. I’ve become attached.

“I think you’d really like reading this one,” I say, feeling the shaky stress of a salesman’s position as I proffer a favorite.

A shrug; a, “Meh.”

I hock a few more titles. Strangely, I begin to view the rectangle-bound writings as closer friends than the human patient before me. In judging and dismissing these fragments of my soul, she has become an unwanted interloper at our private family party.

If she snubs another book, I may have to show her the door.

“I think I’ll go with your first one, here,” she finally says, drawing out the prettiest cover.

“Excellent,” I say, nodding. I gather my smock more snugly round the buttons; find the pipe with my right, and the pocket with my left. I attempt a businesslike smile.

“Thank you, Chelsea,” she smiles, holding a hand out to hug.

“Of course,” I respond, embracing. “Let me know how you like it.”

My friend departs, smiling. I close the shop door; its bell tinkles. Alone with my books, I collapse into a handy overstuffed armchair.

I pull an illicit title from a nearby shelf, immediately recalling its pleasurable side effects. I’d love to share it with another.

As I pass through the first chapter, I eagerly anticipate my next patient.

 

The Human Condition

Do you ever stare at the human face, and think that it’s a really strange feature?

Bony bumps protrude beneath squishy orbs that we call distinct and handsome, and fangs spread wide in a gesture we recognize as friendly.
Droopy parts are pasted on the sides and smack dab in the middle -plus dead cells sprout from the top or ears and nose like a wild jungle plant’s fronds…

What gets me, when I’m in this mood, is how the arrangement of these fleshy parts causes us humans to say how attractive an arrangement it all is (or not).

You’re all so weird.

Captain Misnomer

City Smoking

“Is that all of ’em?” Dash asked, between heavy gasps of air.

Strong looked around, then darted across the square and back before Dash finished blinking. “I didn’t see anyone, but maybe we need Stretch.” Unlike Dash, his breathing was normal.

“Need me for what?” Stretch yelled. They looked up, and up. Shading their eyes, Dash and Strong saw a Stretch-shaped silhouette poking from a broken window in the building behind them. He looked to be ten stories up.

“If you see or hear any more damn robots,” Dash said under his breath, groaning to stand. He coughed in the thick, smoky atmosphere.

“Okay!” Stretch called back.

“I’ll pop over and see if Rad’s found that submarine,” Strong said quickly, and was off before the other two even thought to respond.

Dash looked up to the building again. He could vaguely make out Stretch, through the naturally-waning light of dusk mixing poorly with the smoking fires from the armored vehicles around him.

Stretch’s shape cupped hands around its mouth. “All clear!” He shouted. “I’m. heading. down.”

A small breeze passed between the skyscrapers, clearing smoke and cooling Dash’s sweating face. He couldn’t see any movement either, but had learned to never count on his limited sight.

“Nothing to report from Rad yet,” Strong said, at Dash’s elbow. Not surprising, the huge man nearly jumped out of his spandex.

“Sorry,” Strong added quickly, grinning.

Dash waited for his heart rate to slow, clapping a giant hand over his chest as he recovered. He was tempted to “accidentally” clap his speedy associate on the shoulder in response; but that sort of trick only worked once, and once had come a long time ago already.

Deliberate, even footfalls echoed behind them. They turned to see a tall woman with a wet, black ponytail jogging through the rapidly-clearing mists. “Rad,” Dash said, happy that the approaching steps had not belonged to more enemies.

“Strong. Dash.” Radio acknowledged, as she reached them. She tucked a stray strand behind her ear calmly, subconsciously smoothing her minuscule gills as well. “I searched most of the bay, and could not find our target.”

The door of the nearest building opened, and Stretch descended the stairs to join the party.

“I may have heard a motor in the water just before the robot army opened fire,” Stretch told Radio. She gave him an exasperated look, to which he shrugged.

“Next time, tell Rad before she has to get her feet wet,” Dash reprimanded the forgetful Stretch. Sometimes, he felt Stretch missed obvious sights and sounds as he sought the subtle ones.

Strong bounced up on his heels, impatient. “Where’s Shade?” He blurted.

Dash looked around quickly -quickly for him. “I don’t know! I forgot she was with us during the fight!” He couldn’t believe he’d lost track of her.

Radio laid her hand gently on his massive bicep. “It’s okay, Dash. She usually waits in the plane. I forgot she came along, as well.” She turned to Strong, raising a dark eyebrow expectedly.

“Right,” Strong said, and was gone before he was done speaking.

“Didn’t Snipe come along, too?” Stretch asked Dash. Dash rubbed a sooty hand in his short, blond hair, considering.

“I don’t know.” He concluded.

“Well,” Stretch joked, “If you don’t know, we’ll never find her.” He laughed his nasally snorting chuckle for a bit, then stopped when no one joined in.

Radio looked sideways at Stretch. “Isn’t that your area of expertise?” She queried.

Chastened, Stretch nodded. “I’ll… um, I’ll go look around,” he said, and headed into the damaged square. The only lingering smoke was centered around a few smoldering trucks, but it was enough to irritate his movement-tracking.

“I wish you’d found that sub,” Dash grunted. “I’d like to smash the guy that just blew up a whole city block.”

Radio closed her eyes in agreement, then opened them to meet Dash’s fierce scowl. “I did sense a somewhat warmer stream near a suspicious outcropping,” she told him. His scowl cleared. “But,” she continued, “I lacked the necessary strength to move it.”

Dash was thinking about possible options, that would hopefully not put him under water, when the streak of Strong returned. Dash opened his mouth, then closed it at Strong’s panicked expression.

“I need you, now,” he said, and was off again. Dash and Radio spent a precious half-second to look at each other, then ran in the direction Strong had. They caught brief glimpses of him as they moved, impatiently tapping a foot or literally bouncing up and down as he watched their much slower progress.

Dash cursed mentally, lacking the energy to do so aloud. He had trouble enough keeping tabs on Strong’s position in normal situations. In the waning sunset light, amidst the battle detritus, he had an easier time following Radio’s wagging ponytail than Strong’s intermittent pauses.

The more lithe Radio pulled ahead of Dash, who was breathing heavily again. She disappeared around a sideways assault vehicle; he pumped his stocky legs to catch up. As such, Dash nearly ran right into the back of her.

He bent over, supporting himself on the vehicle’s undercarriage, gasping. The metalwork groaned. “Careful!” Strong cautioned, raising his hands. “You’ll crush her!”

Peering around Radio, Dash saw the prone form of Shadow. The poor woman’s arms were wrapped several times around a deactivated robot’s carapace. Both lay in the shadow of the amtrack Strong was pushing against. He desisted, supporting himself on his knees, instead.

Radio drew closer, carefully. “I think it’s dead,” Strong guessed.

Dash straightened slightly, and stalked forward to check. Radio would be better at helping Shadow anyway, if she could be helped. He kept him eyes down, on the robot, focusing on its inanimate body.

“She’s still breathing,” Radio noted, as she squatted. Dash and Strong let out relieved sighs.

Dash began routine diagnostic checks on the robot, initially verifying that it held no self-destruct automations. He tried to ignore how Radio’s efforts pulled his project side to side; how her concerned mutterings grew anxious. Finally, Dash found a small, pulsing power source.

“Stop!” He commanded Radio, who had successfully unwound a layer of Shadow’s left arm. She paused, holding the oddly-flat appendage. Strong jumped and was suddenly at Radio’s side. Under their undivided stare, he pointed to the faintly-glowing battery. Strong immediately backed a few hundred yards away, though Radio held her position.

“It’s not completely dead, but that’s probably why Shadow isn’t, either,” Dash called to the flighty Strong. Radio nodded.

“I see,” she said, looking up into Dash’s sweating, dirty face. Dash saw that she remembered the last time a team member had approached a recently-destroyed robot; the last time they had fought with the naive, young, and overeager Invincible.

Strong remembered as well, choosing to keep his wary distance. “Get her off and run!” He recommended.

“I’ll need to do it, Rad,” Dash urged, gently. She nodded once, set Shadow’s arm down carefully, stood, and retreated toward Strong’s position.

Dash looked at the pulsing light, at the position of Shadow’s wrappings, and at the dead visual sensors of the robot. Somehow, Shadow had applied enough pressure to disconnect its receivers without turning it completely off. “She must have passed out from exertion,” he mumbled. Shadow groaned, barely audibly.

Attempting to imitate the gentler Radio, Dash continued her work of unwinding Shadow’s twisting limbs. He kept glancing anxiously from the arms, to the light, to the robot’s head. He kept his ears tuned for the telltale beeping of an activated self-destruct.

He needed only to lift the robot body once more, to free the last layer of arms, when he heard the warning knell. “Strong!” He shouted, lifting the metal casing. Before the last echoes of his comrade’s name could fade -just before throwing the flashing, fiery, exploding robot over the armored vehicle; Strong came. Dash saw Shadow’s body pulled free and quickly removed from sight.

Dash felt a sudden, heavy pressure on his back as the assault vehicle fell onto him. His ears rang with sound; his face felt singed. Dash coughed. “I guess I’m not the handsomest guy on the team anymore,” he told the churned-up asphalt beneath him.

Someone else coughed, very near to his crouched position. “What makes you say you ever were?” Sniper’s voice asked, from just outside the vehicle. Dash pushed up, throwing the car from him, to glare around.

Sniper laughed her tinkling laugh, from the deepening twilight nearby. “If you’re finished resting, let’s go check on Shadow.”

Dash grunted, and limped to where Strong had been. Holding a wall of rubble for support, he made his way around a small pile of passenger cars and down a deep groove. “Strong?” He called. “Rad?”

“They’re just ahead,” Sniper’s soft, mischievous voice told him. She sounded a few feet behind him, but he could never be sure.

They cleared an upturned truck on a ridge of street, and found the rest of the party. Stretch looked up as Dash approached, apologetic. “I couldn’t find -” he began, but Dash held up a hand. Sniper giggled, and Stretch’s expression changed.

“That’s enough,” Dash admonished, then turned to Radio. “How is she?”

“She’s alive,” Strong responded without hesitation. He sensed Dash’s disappointed stare. “What?”

“We need to get her back immediately, but she is alive.” Radio smiled gratefully at Dash, then turned to Strong. “Thank you, Strong, for rushing to grab her.”

Strong looked modest, and pleased. Dash considered defending his pride, but agreed with Radio about the praise. When they’d needed him most, Strong hadn’t hesitated.

“Will you carry her, please?” Radio addressed Dash. Nodding, he stooped to cradle the fragile Shadow. She weighed nothing in his enormous arms. He looked around at the battle-scarred, smoke-smudged group -except for Sniper, of course.

“You know we can’t take the plane now,” Sniper piped up, from next to Radio. Radio started slightly, but tried to cover her surprise. Reacting to Sniper only encouraged her.

“You’re right; we’ll have to walk,” Dash acknowledged. Shadow was their only pilot. He hoped he could make it to headquarters.

“No problem,” Strong said, and was off. Darkness was falling, but even daylight would not have helped them follow his trail.

“Show-off,” Sniper’s voice said, in Dash’s ear.

If success causes happiness, then every employee who gets a promotion, every student who receives an acceptance letter, everyone who has ever accomplished a goal of any kind should be happy.

But with each victory, our goalposts of success keep getting pushed further and further out, so that happiness gets pushed over the horizon.

Shawn Achor, Introduction to The Happiness Advantage

Grey Thursday

Suess

So, when all of the food
Had been swallowed and chewed,
The guests left the dishes and host
With their brood.

And, forcing employees
To all do the same,
They shopped and they grabbed
And they spent without shame.

 

Please, stay home on the holidays. Popular greed is robbing store workers of time with family.