With a pinch of Lavender


February 3, 2009
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Mercer kept salt water in a jar next to the window over the sink. It wasn’t the same as the water she scooped it from. This was clear, with sand in the bottom and bits of seaweed or fish parts settled. Mercer liked the thick glass, with the smooth letters that spelled a cursive ‘mason.’ The jar was clear, and the water was clear, and it was wrong. Her mother Hannah kept old bits of china and sea glass. They were splayed with gray rocks that had white veins in them. They were wrong, sitting on wood instead of being polished and smoothed and worn down to bits of sand. Mercer thought of what should have been little piles of sand on her mother’s dresser.

Mercer secretly climbed a tree. She wanted to look over the pond, see where it met the ocean. Her grandmother’s house was mildew and pine. Hannah spent her summers there until an orphan burned it down along with five other houses near the beach. The fireplace was old; the rest was rebuilt while Hannah was in school. Mercer climbed down, the dry bark crackling. The beach was past the pond, but she had seen snapping turtles crawl onto the lawn. She climbed up the rock face instead of walking around the house to the lane, and closed the faulty screen door that let mosquitoes in. Lucas poked a snapping turtle with a stick on the front lawn, smiling up at the living room and reaching his foot toward the turtle’s mouth. She didn’t watch him taunt their mother.

The kitchen was connected to the living room by a slate pathway shouldered by windows. Her grandmother had jars with nothing in them. Mercer fit the jars into each other like Russian dolls. She slipped her sandals on in case her grandmother came into the kitchen. Her feet were dirty, and scratched between the light calluses.

Mercer went to the beach with Hannah, her grandparents stayed under the overhang of the clubhouse. Hannah told her about diving off the elephant with the boys, her swimsuit snapping when she hit the water, spending the entire summer with her bikinis held together with safety pins. Mercer wanted to climb the elephant. To see what the beach looked like from up there. To step around dried barnacles and touch the warm rock with her hands as she maneuvered up the tail and onto the back. To shoo the sea birds off, trying not to step in their droppings, thirty years of baked seagull scat.

* * *

She tried to swim to the elephant when she was little, with Lucas, both of them in life vests. Hers had dolphins on it. The undertow started, it was hurricane season, and the jellyfish were coming to the shoreline. The sign on the beach said that they were only allowed in the water if accompanied by at least one other person. Hannah held Mercer and Lucas by the nylon tethers on the backs of their life vests. They were floating on their stomachs, paddling, tipping right and left to crawl, necks sticking out as far as they could go to keep their chins out of the water. Lucas had a red life vest with yellow piping, she knew it was red, because Hannah’s feet got knocked by a wave, and she didn’t let go. Mercer saw Lucas’ red life vest through the sand and the seaweed. She saw Hannah’s blue swimsuit and her own white life vest with the pink and purple dolphins on it. They all looked darker under the water; the sand was between her and the sky. She saw legs and sand and sand again. When Mercer’s head came out of the water, Lucas was crying.

“Why do you want to kill me?” His cheek was already pink from where his knee hit.

“I didn’t try to kill you.” Hannah pulled her yellow hair out of her face.
“Yes you did! I saw! You went under and wouldn’t let go! I was going to die!” His other cheek was blushing, and his eyebrows arched in a ‘why?’
“If I let go, then you’d be dead. The riptide would pull you out far, far out to sea, and you’d be gone. You’d go one way and Mercer would go another way, and I’d lose you both. Would you prefer that?” Hannah turned them back to the shore.
“Yes! My head wouldn’t be underwater.”

* * *

Mercer left her sandals by the door, and closed it slowly. In the dark she almost couldn’t see where the tears were in the screen were. The dog stared at her, pacing. She hoped animals could receive telepathic messages, because she promised him a treat if he didn’t bark. Apparently he could, because he sat and tilted his smooshed face to the side to ask ‘now?’

Every pad of her toes slicked with the dew on the slate stairway. She walked in the grass until the driveway met the road, and took a right. The honeysuckle draped itself over the stonewalls like balloons filled with dough. She pulled the flowers and sucked the stamens clean, leaving empty petals. Her red brown hair was littered with leaves on the right side where it snagged twigs. She passed the sleeping beach houses with road bikes in the front yard. Mercer walked through the hurricane damage from before her grandmother was born, over the felled chimneys and sunken bathtubs. The fence on the dunes was missing a section where the pallets were stacked end to end around the clubhouse. She folded her shorts and shirt next to the lifeguard chair, the sand fine and cool, squeaking against her metatarsals. She retied her bikini with a double knot, the dark green matching the dune grass.

Mercer planted herself at the edge, the water sucking the sand from under her, leaving foot shaped pools, the pale and lacy foam ankleting. The elephant was between her and the lights from the harbor, glowing, the beached side black and wrinkled. She squatted, picking up a hollow green crab, flicking it onto the beach for the gulls. She climbed into the ocean, her arms sunk to her elbows, toes curling into the sand and shells at the shore. She gripped the bottom, the shells and old seaweed clinking against her bracelet, crawling.


The Amazing Poulayterani

September 17, 2008
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* * *

“I don’t really have anything to say about my summer break Miss Junston.”

“You must have done something.” She crinkled her face, little pieces of her dry forehead floating towards the desk.

“Me and my family went to the fair last week.” Johnny licked his finger. Definitely ink.

“That’s something.” She wasn’t impressed. He saw her lips tighten her smile, like when his father used a screwdriver on his mother’s birdhouses.

“It doesn’t count. Everyone went to the fair…but I did go to my cousin’s house and we played with his pet shark. His shark is named Cody and we fed him huge fish, and it got the tank all bloody.” Johnny looked around the room, Freddie tried to look bored, but Johnny could tell he was impressed like the rest of the class. Miss Junston blinked a couple of times. George nudged him. “Yeah, you totally have to meet my cousin; he’s got a tiger too.”

* * *

Johnny’s mother walked him to his trumpet lessons after school. He took the trumpet in band class, but his mother wanted him extra good. On Fridays, he went to Mr. Dunlap’s, and learn reverie, and camp town ladies, and Mr. Dunlap would watch the metronome, until five thirty, when Johnny’s mother came back for him. Johnny liked the trumpet, because it made him think of Africa. He saw an elephant once, and every time he blew his trumpet, he thought about lots of elephants, all walking around in the desert. Johnny was tiny when he saw the elephant; his mother framed the picture she bought for five dollars. Johnny liked to think that the elephant would remember him too, since they have good memory. The elephant probably smelled like Africa. Africa smelled dusty.

* * *

“Johnny, come get this bag of grain down for Mr. Parker.”

“Right away Mr. Comstock.” Johnny felt his starched shirt crinkle under the weight of the grain. His mother put his clean collars out for him before he left for work on Saturdays, but today was too much starch, and his bowtie choked him. The burlap was rough against Johnny’s face, and he tried not to sneeze from alfalfa particles wafting up his nose. He knew that the proper way to hold the sack was over his shoulder, but it worked better when he held the bag to his chest and crab walked to Mr. Parker’s cart. While Mr. Comstock told Mr. Parker about the new folks who moved to Maple, Johnny took a handful of grain to Mr. Parker’s horse, Elsie. Her tongue was warmer than her lips, with white in the corners of her big mouth. Johnny knew that Mr. Parker wouldn’t mind Elsie having just a nibble. He patted her nose, and since Mr. Comstock had started in on the new county fire house, Johnny figured he had time to give Elsie a little water too.

* * *

Uncle Kenneth took the photograph. Johnny didn’t want to sit still. The new uniform, all green and woolen, was itchy. Uncle Kenneth didn’t photograph anything below Johnny’s chest, but Johnny wished he had, because of how fine the rest of his uniform fit him. In the photograph, Johnny looked stern. Johnny’s father said that he looked just the same when he was in uniform. Something about it. Johnny thought that maybe his puttees were too tight. His mother was cooking the casserole, for the grange hall pot luck, and when she was finished, they would all walk over.

* * *

“Monsieur, Ho-ow mu-uch? Uh… Com…Combien? Monsieur, combien? Seize? Seize…seize… Oh, sixteen. Bon… Bon. Sam, you have got to see this! This man, he made this. Merci monsieur.”

“What in the hell is it?” Sam turned the thing over

“I’m not sure what it was originally, but doesn’t it look like an evil swan person?” Johnny touched one of the feathers, which fell off.

“An evil swan person that died screaming.” Sam handed the thing back.

“I’m just wondering how he did it. It looks pretty damn real.” It looked like the head of a monkey, but Johnny wasn’t sure. The monkey head, if that’s what it was, had it’s mouth open, most of it’s teeth gone. Then, from the supposed monkey neck, there was a convergence of fur and feathers. The swan body, like the rest of the godless creature, was fairly well preserved. Johnny found barely any stitches on the beast.

* * *

“Is anyone in here?”

“Yes sir, how may I help you?” Johnny hopped to the counter, balancing himself with both hands.

“You make all these?” The man looked up the nose of the deer above him on the wall.

“Most of them. I shot that buck myself last winter. Ten points.” Johnny wondered if there was anything interesting inside the deer’s nose.

“This is an interesting piece. How did you come by this?” The man scowled at the evil swan person.

“Well that I picked up during the war. It’s not for sale.”

“How about fifty dollars? Would it be for sale then?”

* * *

Johnny hopped out to the street. He knew the fall air was supposed to smell crisp, but the formaldehyde of the shop was still in his nose.

“Come tonight to the circus! See the amazing pinhead twins from Brazil! A lost civilization in your very town! See the blue people of British Kolombeea, a phenomenon not yet understood by modern science! The lion tamer! The tattooed woman of the Far East! Come and see the man whose skin is the product of his mother being frightened by an alligator, and his sister with her crocodile skin! And the most amazing of all, the gooseman, a strange and unholy union of a goose and man, found in the far off country of Kammeroon! We’re here for the week! Two dollar admission!”

* * *

“You’re going to have to run that by me again…Jack.” The manager scratched his beard.

“I’m just saying, I heard that the monkey from you show died from drunkenness, and I would like to buy it from you.” Johnny tapped his apron.

“You want to pay me for a dead monkey?” The manager squinched his eye. “What are you going to do with it? Voodoo? Because I don’t condone none of that voodoo majumbo.”

“No, I don’t do voodoo. Actually, if you have any other animals you need to get rid of; I’m willing to pay a great deal.” Johnny smoothed his mustache.

“Peoples can do what they please, but none of that heesty jeesty business.”

* * *

“Hey Johnny, did you buy a horse?”

“Oh, yeah, I figured it’d be easier getting around this way, haul things.” Johnny hopped down next to Elsie. “And since Mr. Parker didn’t need her anymore…you know.”

“Is it sick?” Mr. Comstock looked sideways at Elsie.

“ No, why’d you say that?” Johnny hopped to stand between Elsie and Mr. Comstock.

“You’ve got a…bandage over her forehead. You sure she’s all right?”

“Oh yeah, right as rain. She just…grazed a branch a few days ago. You know how it is… you put blinders on them and they’re practically sightless.” Johnny giggled.

“Well, it’s nice to see you both. Bye Elsie!” Mr. Comstock patted her head and went into the drugstore. Johnny checked under the bandage to make sure Mr. Comstock hadn’t disrupted anything.

* * *

“Come to Johnny Poulayterani’s amazing show of horrors! From all across the globe, wonders you’ve never before faced! See the human skeleton, five feet tall and fifty pounds! See the fairy woman of the Ukraine, just a foot and a half tall, dainty as lace! Johnny’s unicorn Elsie will be on display! A normal horse for years, until a horn grew out of her head! See the amazing mermaid of the Antarctic! Not the beautiful woman you expected, a hairy lady with the tail of a fish, carefully preserved for thousands of years in the ice, just three feet long! See them all! We have the werewolf family of Oodon Moo! The rubber man whose skin stretches over his head! We have the elephant headed tiger from deep within the African jungles! You’re going to have to see it yourself for just five dollars! See the Bearded lady, married to the trout skinned man! See the oldest woman alive, 130 years old, John Adams’ cook! See the extinct race of Fish monkey’s, part fish, part monkey!One night only!”

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