Out of Her Mind
As soon as the door opens, I bolt into the closet to avoid being seen. I do this every time Lilian comes home, but today it’s even more important. She’s mad. I can’t tell who she’s yelling at yet, but I can hear crying.
“Would you stop?! You know who I am!”
“No, I don’t!” she says, crying even harder. I can see her now; she's a little girl, and she looks to be six or seven.
“I am your mother! Stop playing around Ashlynn, or you’ll be going to bed early tonight.” I could tell how exasperated she was, but Lilian doesn’t have a daughter. She’s thirty-two, and has never been married, or been in a relationship long enough to have a child.
The little girl quiets gradually, and when she finally forces herself to stop crying, she says, “My name is not Ashlynn, it’s Eva, and I think you mixed me up with your own child. My mommy’s name is Helen, and my daddy’s name is Robert. I live on-” but Lilian cuts her off.
“Your name is Ashlynn, I am your mother, and your father died two months ago!” She screams the last bit, and Eva starts crying again.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. It’s probably the landlord, coming for the monthly check. Lilian goes wide-eyed, but walks toward the door. “Go sit in the living room, Ashlynn.”
She smooths her dress and opens the door. “Hello, sir. Can I help you?”
When he comes in, I see that it’s a police officer. “Ma’am, we got a call a few minutes ago, saying that one of your neighbors saw something moving in here, and you weren’t home yet.
Would you mind if I take a look around real quick?” But he’s already walking in before she can nod her answer.
Doesn’t he realize that there’s something wrong with Lilian? She’s a wreck, and it’s only going to get worse.
I’m the one who was seen in here earlier. I sometimes come in here and try on my old clothes that Lilian never got rid of. It makes me feel real, since I died two months ago. I’ve been watching over her, making sure she’s alright. Lilian and I were together for two years.
Before I died, she told me that I was the only man she ever loved. There is definitely something going on with her, though. She didn’t used to be like this.
I always loved taking Lilian places, and spending time with her. She was a little uncertain of our relationship at first; she wasn’t very open with her feelings. But after a while, everything seemed so natural.
But Lilian never wanted a child. She specifically told me that when I would bring it up, hoping she’d change her mind. I don’t know where she found that little girl, but she seems to actually think her name is Ashlynn, and that I’m her father.
After looking all through the house, he goes into the living room, and sees Eva. She looks scared, so he sits down cautiously. “Hello," he says, "And who might you be?”
She just stares, and doesn’t say anything, probably thinking that Lilian was going to freak out again if she says Eva.
“It’s alright. You can tell me. What’s wrong?” Nothing. “Can you tell me your name?” Still no answer.
He takes out his spiral pad and a pen and hands it to her. She takes it, but doesn’t write anything down.
Lilian comes in, carrying coffee. “What’s going on?” she says suspiciously, looking back and forth between the two.
“Is this your daughter?” he asks, looking at Eva the whole time.
Lilian is silent for a moment. “Yes, of course, she’s my daughter. Why else would she be in my house, on my couch?” she asks him defensively.
“Ma’am, she looks terrified, and there is nothing in this house that suggests a child lives here. I’m going to have to ask you to go stand in the foyer for a few minutes while I talk to the girl.” He turns to Eva as Lilian walks away.
“Now, I want you to tell me your name, so we can get you back to your real parents. Can you tell me?”
She stays quiet for a moment, and then recites what she tried telling Lilian earlier. “My name is Eva. My mom’s name is Helen, and my dad’s name is Robert. We live in a neighborhood called White Springs, and I was at the playground when she-” She looks up at Lilian, who is now crying. “She came over to me and picked me up, calling me her baby, like I was her daughter. I don’t know her though, please help me.” She talks so quickly he has to scribble to keep up.
“Okay, Eva. Do you know your parents’ phone number? Or your address?” She shakes her head no.
“I’m sorry.” She pauses. “I'm still going home, right?” She actually looks scared that he’ll say no.
“Of course you will. I’ll be right back.” he tells her, and walks into the foyer to talk to Lilian. “Can we go outside and talk?” he asks her, eyeing the door.
“Sure.” She looks upset, like it’s actually her daughter who is about to be taken from her.
Before I died, Lilian was put in a mental hospital to care for her, and to fix her. They said that she was experiencing a break from reality, caused by the loss of a loved one. They don’t know about me; no one does, but they know that her dad died earlier this year.
She broke down at least once a day, being trapped in a small room alone, aside from her once a day therapy session. Lilian is considered one of the dangerous ones in this place.
I visit her everyday, and most days, I stay all day. She started talking to herself more and more frequently, which the doctors found concerning, but she was trying to talk herself through everything that had happened.
And then- well, then, she started talking to me, too. She told me she was sorry, that she loved me so much, that she wanted to see me- just one more time, if that’s all she could.
She just wanted a chance to apologize, to make it up to me for what she did. I never spoke back, but I listened, whenever she needed it.
About two months ago, Lilian was still grieving her dad’s death, and I came over to her house to comfort her. She seemed to be telling herself that he was coming back, that he just went to the store, and took a detour, that he got lost, that he was getting directions, on and on until I tried to tell her that he was gone for good.
Lilian had been my everything, so I wanted to help her feel better, to move one, even if she still missed him. But she shut down, stopped talking to me. And I know I shouldn’t have, but I left. She kept telling me I couldn’t help her, and that I was worthless, that if she had been with her dad more instead of me, he would still be here.
I had given up on talking to her for the week, but then I saw her walking in the park. Out of impulse, I went up to her, asked if we could talk. She tried to walk away, but I followed. She ignored me all the way back to her house, even when I tried telling her that I loved her, that I would always be there for her, that she could tell me anything she needed to get out of her system. But she slammed the door on me,
I could tell she wasn’t okay, and I still had a key to her house, so I went in. She was in the kitchen, starting to make dinner. “Sit down.” she said. I looked at her questioningly. She looked straight through me. “What are you waiting for?! I said sit!”
So I sat. She rushed around the kitchen, banging pots and pans and gathering ingredients that made no sense together. I stood up.
“Lilian, are you alright?”
“I told you to sit down!” She was screaming at this point.
“Lilian, listen to me, Please, just talk to-”
“No! I said sit down! Stop telling me that everything is fine and that it’s going to be okay, and that everything I’m feeling is normal! I lost my only living parent, the only person who ever cared about me! I! Am! Alone! But you wouldn’t get it, because everyone cares about you! Just get out of my life!”
“Lilian, you need help. You can’t live like this. I’ll go if that’s what you want, but then you would be really alone. I love you, Lilian. I always will, and I’m so glad I have you. I don’t want to lose you. I need you.” I’m crying but she doesn’t seem to care.
She pauses, silent, except for the sound of her breath hitching as she cries. “I love you too, Jack.”
I move toward her, and wrap my arms around her. We stay there like that for a while, just hugging her, crying, while I tell her how much I love her.
I whisper, “He may be gone, but you can still talk to him whenever you want to.” Her eyes go wide, and she gets mad again, shoving me away.
“He’s not gone! He’s coming back! He would never leave me!” She’s back to screaming, “I know he’s not gone. You’re both just pranking me. He’s on vacation somewhere. That’s where he’s been! That’s why he’s been gone! Don’t lie to me!”
She picks up the cutting board off the floor, washes it, and starts haphazardly chopping onions and other vegetables.
“Be careful, you’ll hurt yourself. Do you want me to do it instead?” I ask, hoping she’ll put the knife down before she cuts herself. I walk toward her slowly. “Honey, come relax for a few minutes. I grab her arm gently, trying to ease her out of whatever came over her, like I did before. “Lilian. Lilian, I need you to talk to me.” With my other hand, I gently take her wrist, the hand she’s holding the knife with.
She seems to cooperate, but then her eyes go wide, and she realizes what I’m doing.
“Lilian, please, just calm down.” I tighten my grip just in case, but she’s faster than me. She slips out of my hold, and walks around to the other side of the island countertop.
“Lilian! Please, Lilian! We can work through this. You will be alright. I’ll get you someone to talk to. We can even go together if you want. I love-”
But she charged at me, and everything went black as my head hit the counter and I fell to the ground.
When I woke up, I could float, and go through walls, and no one could see me. I don’t blame her for what she did. She was hurt- and something was going on. She couldn’t help it. She wasn’t herself. I don’t think she ever will be again.
I watch her now, and she doesn’t seem happy, but she seems at peace. And I’m happy for her. She’ll make it. Even if I didn’t.
Mint Lip Gloss
My Grandma gave me cosmetics for the holidays.
I loved my Grandma, and I shouldn't have been surprised considering we only see her once a year. I didn't hate wearing makeup, I was usually just too lazy to put it on.
Grandma did not skimp out that year. She got me a full (and possibly slightly expensive) bag for everything, despite not being able to fit it all, packed to the brim with eye shadow, blush, hair care, and a small container of mint lip gloss.
Because I didn't want it to just rot away in my room, I took a few minutes in the mornings before school to put on some eye shadow and lip gloss. Honestly, I thought it makes me feel more awake, just poking my eye with colors at 6:30 in the morning.
My friends noticed it, of course, because I only ever put on makeup for Halloween or special occasions.
On a day I had gray eye shadow on, my friend said to me "I like your makeup Jill! Wait are you wearing makeup or are you just tired?", which, although a fair statement, is not one I appreciate.
My life didn't rapidly change or anything, just sometimes received a comment from friends about not looking like a walking corpse.
But it was different in mid-February when a girl I had never spoken to came up to me.
"Mint?" She smiled as if she asked me something comprehensible.
I eloquently responded with, "Huh?", as one does.
She laughed and tapped her lips. "Mint lip gloss, right?"
"Yeah," I was shocked. By this time of day, all traces of it had usually vanished. "How'd you know?"
"Oh, you know." She waved it off. "Hey, you're in my math class, right? Did you understand Mr. Thompson's homework?"
Her name was Sally, and we started talking after that. She would find me at lunch, or whenever we had free time in math, and just start talking to me. It was a bit off-putting at first, but after three weeks I had gotten used to her presence.
The still cold March weather was getting to be one day, and I was shivering despite having on a thick sweater. Probably because they didn't bother heating the cafeteria.
"Hey, Jill!" Sally was suddenly next to me. The first few times she did that, it startled me, but I was expecting it.
"Hey, what's up?"
"Just really bored today." She sighed and laid her chin down on the table. "Do you want to come over today after school or something?"
I shrugged. I had nothing going on, and I had to admit I was curious about Sally's house. "As long as you have heating, I'm in."
She perked up. "Great! I can drive us there right after school if you're fine with that."
At 2:43, we were in her driveway. I remember the time so clearly because my mom texted me then if I needed anything from the store. I forgot to text her back.
Sally pulled out a key a opened the door, pushing me inside.
Her house was strange. Not like 'covered in blood and guts' strange, but it threw me off how fake everything looked. Like a house, you would see in a commercial for insurance.
"Just throw your bag anywhere, and make yourself comfortable! Do you want hot chocolate or tea?"
I sat down on the couch. It was stiff. "Hot chocolate."
She nodded and walked into the kitchen. Sally couldn't have been gone for more than seven minutes, but it felt like I sat there for hours. There was no noise from anywhere in the house, except for my own occasional breathing.
She walked back in with two mugs and handed me one before sitting next to me.
"I assumed you would be alright with whipped cream and sprinkles on it."
"Of course. I'll never say no to sweets." I laughed but felt weird having a tall sugar-filled cup while her mug looked so plain. I took a sip, and it wasn't as sweeter as I expected, tasting more bitter than anything.
"Do you want to work on homework or something? I'll help you with math if you help me with history."
Sally grinned and stood up. I had never seen her smile that wide. "Yeah," She set her mug on the coffee table. "Let's go up to my room."
I only had gotten halfway through my drink, but I couldn't say anything about it, because as soon as I had risen, I fell straight to the floor, shattering the mug.
"Oops." I could only hear her. My head couldn't move from the floor. "I was hoping you would set the mug down before the effects took place." Despite not having any recently, I swore that I tasted the strong after taste of almonds in my mouth.
Fingers grasped my chin and lifted up my throbbing head. Sally was blurry but clear as she kneeled in front of me, barely avoiding the spilled drink and shards.
She ran a finger over my lips and sighed. "Aw, I guess your mint lip gloss was rubbed off."
Meet me here
Rustling the leaves in autumn, scuffling my way through the familiar sound of nails on a chalkboard as I hit the downward spiral.
Winter moisture in the air, snow falls on my nose, frost bites my windows.
Waiting is the game I’ve learned too well, small sprinkle of fairy dust and a happy thought holding off for you to meet me here.
Inhale the spring wind, shifting through my hair, throw on my running shoes and I’ll meet you there.
Holding onto a hope, a dream, something to keep you tangible. Grasping the image of you, the hope for you to appear. It has been so long my memory is becoming so fragile. Trapped between the broken pieces of window where we held hands and jumped out of like Peter Pan, off to never land, but I’ve grown up and forgotten how to fly.
Reflection in the same window,
Waiting for the night to come,
So that the moonlight can hide her shadow,
As she runs,
Raven colored dress and silky long hair,
Her skin is like starlight,
A black butterfly is tattooed behind her left ear; a mark of imprisonment,
She grabs her cotton cloak before running to the stone stairs,
Each tap reverberates across palace walls
Travelling like a ghost across these halls,
Her handlers are at a conference tonight,
This is her shot at freedom as she takes different passageways,
For years they have brainwashed and tortured her,
She finally was able to free her mind when she saw the moonlight,
The first time, many days ago,
Now she is running to get back her life,
The scent of pine fills her nose with fresh air,
Imprisoning warmth no longer restraining her,
As she finally makes it outside,
Holding her cloak closer to her body,
She continues to run,
Past the dark green trees and branches
Her feet burn as the twigs snap beneath her feet
The forest seems to be endless,
Moonlight glows brightly over her,
Time melts into nothingness,
Until she finds an opening,
Loud voices start echoing,
She gives it everything,
As she practically dives out of the woods,
And lands onto the cold road,
The woods behind her finally disappear,
Flying away the black butterfly departs from her skin
As she looks up to see nothing there
Just the golden sun rising
For the first time in years.
Anya sat by the river every day, watching the clear water flow on its own, traveling through the quiet valley. The sky was cloudless, the gentle spring breeze playing with the strands of Anya's hair.
Anya came to this secret place of hers, always bringing a bag with her. She took out the pieces of paper from the bag: red, purple, orange, pink, and yellow. There was no particular reason behind the choice; Anya just liked the colors.
Anya made flowers out of the paper she brought with her. Anya enjoyed her solitude, folding the paper gently to resemble a flower shape.
Anya's mother taught her how to fold the paper into the beautiful shape of a flower. It was a delicate process that required concentration and patience.
"It doesn't matter if you try and fail." The most important thing is the effort you put forth. The results will come gradually," is what Anya's mother used to say to her when she was frustrated about not folding the paper right.
"But, mom, what if I never get it right?" Anya didn't want to disappoint her mother, who always took the time to sit with her and play with paper.
"Oh, honey, don't worry. No matter how long it takes, I'm sure you'll do it. And even if you don't, that won't change anything. I'll always love you and support you; remember that."
Anya returned to the present. Those memories resurface when she's by the river, making paper flowers. It seemed like an eternity since Anya first started this little hobby of hers.
No, not a hobby. It was a ritual that she shared with her mother—an unspoken promise made between a mother and a daughter.
It was the only thing left that still connected Anya to her mother. She never gave up making paper flowers, even in the toughest of times.
The paper flowers that she let float on the water's surface were Anya's way to feel close to someone dear to her—to someone who's no longer physically there.
However, her mother's gentle touch guides Anya even now as she sits by the river in her own little world.
Anya's mother is there, in those paper flowers that Anya so lovingly creates.
Perfect walls surround the walls of my heart.
A heart of glass—
So fragile, so breathtaking—
The walls are made of pearls and silver,
Melted together with sapphires and emeralds,
Blended with jades and rubies.
It’s sparkles different colors, shimmering in-
The sunlight— and the Moonlight.
The inner wall inside this beautiful wall
Is made of refined, pure gold.
Sunstones are scattered across the top edge.
Written unto the very center are words—
Words of such beauty and love,
They ring of joy and meaning.
Yet there is another wall that surrounds both,
It is made of white stone,
Unblemished and pure.
In these stones are engraved names,
All who are named—are allowed to enter.
Thriving green vines grow across the stone,
They produce bright colorful flowers,
Flowers that have never been seen before.
And unto the very center, inside the last wall—
There lies a beautiful crystal room.
There is a light coat of untouched snow that lies on the ground.
The columns are made of ice,
Carved to portray the most beautiful memories.
There is a table, it is made of water,
It moves yet keeps its place and shape.
There also, were three doors.
The first door was made of pine,
It was painted in shades of colors never seen before,
And it glowed in the shimmering light like a rainbow.
It was unlocked, and inside every happy-
Joyful, beautiful, lovely, pure memory was displayed.
The second, which sat at the far right,
Was made of stainless steel,
It was coated with the night sky,
And the stars were displayed across it.
The door was also unlocked,
And inside lay every beautiful—
Good, awe-inspiring, joyous thing ever to be done.
The final door, which lay between the two doors
Was made of tar.
It glittered with black diamonds,
And there was a lock of iron.
Nothing could get in—
And nothing could get out.
Yet if one could see inside—
They would find a room so dark…
Filled with every sorrow, grief, pain, and confused thought.
Jars of tears were scattered across woven shelves,
Nightmares and memories of hurt were written on the walls.
If the door had been unlocked,
One could have shed light
On the memories of and in the dark.
Yet the door remained locked.
Trapped inside a crystal room,
Behind a gold wall with sunstones scattered across the top edge,
And a silver wall embedded with
Pearls, and sapphires, and emeralds—
And jades, and rubies, and sparkling with-
Hundreds of different colors.
Behind a wall of pure white stone—
Scattered with flowers never seen before—
Along the unblemished wall with names yet to be- carved in it.
Visible to any who are permitted to enter.
The Only Way Home
Chris reluctantly left behind his last regarded safe space as his foot propelled him off the school late bus and into an anxiety-filled evening. Taking this specific bus was the only available option for him to catch a ride home each night due to his recent choice to join the school’s football team. A decision for him, that was quickly becoming a regrettable one. The accordion door closed swiftly behind him forcing an air tight seal between the security of the bus’s interior, and the cruel fall night where he vulnerably stood.
It was as usual this night as it always was. He was very much exhausted from a full day of schoolwork followed by barely surviving another evening practice, which he recently determined was designed to kill him. Chris Sighed. He heaved his backpack over his shoulders, and turned to face the mile long hill he was soon to embark on for the last time this week. The wind was ripping through from the west, attempting to pull the dancing trees from their roots, and creating ominous shadows that stretched across the winding road. The spider-like branches creepily scurried out of sight and disappeared into a vortex of darkness that even the moonlight could not seem to penetrate. Chris remained frozen still.
The air brakes on the bus released all of their pressure dispersing a cloud of pebbles and dust into his face. In a flash of a familiar faces mixed with a yellow blur flickering across his view, the bus exited down the road rapidly out of sight. Chris’ hands waved a clearing through the dirt cloud that surrounded him, paused, then dropped them to his side with a dispirited thud. There was no one waiting at the foot of the hill, and though he had gotten used to maintaining the lowest of expectations that he would be warmly greeted and lovingly embraced, he still had held onto a bit of hope.
Unfortunately, the reality that this weekend was starting the same way the last ten before it had, begun fully sinking in, and he had to walk this hill once more this week.
Perhaps he was a burden, or his parents’ decision to make him walk alone was a life lesson he would later learn, whatever their excuse was, the refusal to offer a ride, even once in a while, was rude and unsupported. He hated this hill. He also hated the dark, and this country back-road offered both. It was the worst part about his decision to join the team second only to the physical death that he endured during every practice. Although, despite the setbacks, Chris regularly reminded himself that this was a calculated attempt in expanding his physical and social experiences while also allowing him to escape the alcohol-fueled arguments plaguing his home.
Chris usually diverted speaking of home when asked, and mostly avoided the subject all together. Similar to the others they lived in prior, this dwelling could not be claimed as their own, and for the past five months they had been squatting on someone else’s land, only to recently move inside just before winter. The Property belonged to a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Hixon, who was a kind nurturing lady, and was known to be most loyal to her flowers and garden throughout the year. She remained a dedicated state employee for over 20 years, which was a direct contrast to the personalities and lifestyle of his freeloading parents. The news they had gathered from local neighbors eluded them to believe that she had moved out after a lengthy divorce only a few years prior, and no one had seen either of them since. However long they would live at this house remained to be seen, but Chris concluded that it was far better than the tents that sheltered them over the spring. Its not like he could do anything about it anyways, so he never complained, but morally and ethically it never really settled well in his thoughts.
“Let’s do this,” he said to himself with an encouraging whimper.
Despite getting bulked up for the football season, tonight Chris’ fear of the dark woods and the creatures that lurked within them was not dissuaded, and he stood there as if he was the worlds tiniest mouse. Though, he was full of paralyzing thoughts, he eventually managed to muster a bit of courage; A combination rooted out of necessity, a growing pain in his stomach, and him channeling his favorite film hero played by Sylvester Stallone. Chris took a deep breath, then exited the edge of the street lights into the darkness that had become his familiar way home.
Like most back roads, the ones in Vermont are reliably unforgiving, usually littered with pot holes, loose gravel, and the occasional slippery dirt, thus guaranteeing a bumpy ride and an even more sketchy hike. Thankfully for Chris, on this night, the moon dimly guided his climb to the top whenever it had a chance to peek through the patches of clouds rolling overhead. The wind busted through the bushes and quickly howled across his feet. As if a pack of wolves were nipping at his heels, his pace hurried onward, careful to glance over his shoulder every few steps. Shadows danced over him from the branches above as leaves and twigs snapped off in a winding flurry of chaos. They fell fast and hard into the deep ravine below, but not before beating themselves across Chris’s face. Somehow, he was in their way to their final destination. The branches reached out their monstrous arms seemingly trying to grab at him which surely was as an attempt to pull him into the darkness where he feared he would be lost to the endless depths of the forest, forever. He wasn’t curious enough to learn that fate and instead ducked and dodged around every reaching limb as if his thick lineman legs were that of an agile running back avoiding every tackle to score a game-winning touchdown.
“Almost there,” he whispered to himself.
He stumbled forward, kicking the rocks along the road that he could not see, and attempting to stay upright while muttering pale attempts to build his bravery enough to make it home. His steps grew faster while he began using the energy that his coach demanded he was to leave on the field a few hours earlier. Tonight, he was glad that he had not. Chris’ mind was a mad alchemist fabricating the darkest woodland of evil around him, and causing his jutting eyes to search every direction for the next potential thing that could observably kill him. He twitched with anxiety. A crack of a twig frantically snapped his head to the right. He was in a whirlwind of fear. His footsteps mirrored his heavy breathing, and he tightened his shoulder straps to lessen his body from over-swaying.
“Just get home,” he urged.
The pointless conversation he was having with himself calmed his nerves at best for a few moments, but did little to nothing to scare off the increasing hallucinations of the flickering pairs of eyes that starred back at him from behind the trees. They tortured him by keeping their distance. He wondered why they wouldn’t come out from the shadows and just take him alive. It would be easy to end it quickly, yet the monsters that followed him remained there still and motionless as if they were mocking him. A rustle in the bushes flipped him around, forcing him into a backwards jog. Being on high alert meant that every shadow was a demon and every sound was a coming attack. Chris began sprinting, and covered a quarter-mile in what seemed under a minute. He was singularly focused on getting home safely, and as quick as his energy would allow, until a flickering light began dancing through the trees just ahead of him. His pace slowed as the familiar porch light illuminated through an opening in the woods.
His fear induced thoughts of the eerie forest, the dreadful trees extending their claws to snatch him, and the howling wind that chased him up the hill, began to recede, yet he realized in actuality that all the perils from the woods, he had just arguably and perceptibly survived, were likely minimal, in comparison to the real darkness that remained hidden from him behind his own front door.
Chris stood at the foot of the driveway, and decided to stay a little longer, in the dark…
Pockets Full of Stars
Two nights ago I saw a man wearing a big yellow hat placing stars in the sky. He stood on his tippy-toes on top of the waves to get them just so, in the right spot. I call out to him from the bow, “Hello! Do you do all of this? Put up all of the stars?”. The man looks over the waves, noticing us, for maybe the first time. He sees me at the bow of our little ship in the big wide open ocean. He simply smiles and waves, tipping his hat. ‘There’s no need’, his smile says. I watch him as he walks, pulling stars from his pockets, choosing their familiar spots, sometimes placing them, sometimes giving them a gentle toss if he can’t quite reach. His aim is perfect, every star landing where he intends. As he walks, further towards the horizon, the sky continues to darken and he keeps on tossing up stars.
Erato is the Song I Hear in my Sleep
Erato is the song I hear in my sleep
when darkness cloaks the world in maybes,
might be’s, could be’s, and should be’s,
the gray sheen descends over bedrooms,
masking truths and leaving subtle traces of things,
but this is when I hear your song the strongest
like a seabird skirting the ocean of the night,
taking my longing in your thin beak,
streaking through the purple shade of sky
with a tail like a midnight rainbow.
You sing your subtle siren seductions,
your sweet songs of love and blood,
passion, enlightenment, and intrigue,
and your fragile beauty now escapes me,
but I know it rivals wildflowers and gods.
“Excuse me, but I have a favor to ask. I know it’s odd and intrusive, and I’ll understand if you tell me it’s not going to happen, but I have to ask.”
Stan Giles stood in the door of the kitchen.
“Well ask, I can’t say yes or no until you do.”
The Irish owner of the bed and breakfast he was staying at, smiled at him and he felt like he might have a chance. Maybe he finally had a way to connect with her. She’d been distant, not unfriendly, just kept a proper distance from him. Caring for his needs as a guest, but not encouraging any further closeness, this smile was a first.
“I need to make a meal. I want to cook for a woman I’ve met just a day ago. It’s important because I know in my heart, she’s the one. I need to convince her to take a chance on me.”
“Hmph. I don’t see the harm in it, but how do I know you won’t chop your fingers off, and leave my kitchen in shambles?”
“I’ve been cooking since I was old enough to hold a knife and chop up potatoes for my mama. I’m taking a break from culinary school. I was compelled to come to Ireland. It called me like nothing else ever has. But that’s beside the point. Do you need a demonstration?”
“Make me lunch. Something from the heart, comfort food for a rainy misty day like today. I’ll watch you cook, and if you pass my test, I’ll let you have the kitchen for tomorrow’s evening meal. You’re my only guest for the next few days. It will do no harm.”
“May I take a look around? I’m not familiar with your kitchen.”
“Take your time. Use anything in the refrigerator, the eggs are farm fresh, my cousin raises chickens.”
Stan stepped into his dream kitchen. A six burner gas stove stood against one wall, a stock pot simmered on the back burner, and he lifted the lid, sniffing the familiar scent of chicken simmering with chunks of onion, carrots, and celery. A bay leaf floated to the top, and he looked down the counter, spotting a large spoon, he skimmed the scum off the top, and into the sink. Flushing it down the drain before he took a smaller spoon from on of the drawers to taste.
“I would add a small amount of salt to this, and do you have turmeric?”
“I won’t add those until I make the finished soup. This is going into jars so I can preserve it. You have a good nose, and an educated palette.”
Colleen O’Brien’s stern face broke into the first genuine smile he’d seen since he arrived.
“Now what would you suggest as a meal?”
Her voice was muffled, as he peered into the refrigerator.
“How soon do you want to eat?” he asked, spotting several varieties of mushroom in the crisper. Along with shallots, sweet onions, and garlic he’d spotted on the counter, they would make a tasty soup. He saw a quart of heavy cream in a glass bottle on another shelf.
“Let’s give you a chance. An hour for prep time. I’m quite interested in what you might come up with.”
“Well, it’ll be a soup and sandwich. Something I learned from my mother, but I’ve added my own touch to it since then.”
Stan opened the bread box and found a round loaf or dark rye bread and pulled it out. Spinning back to search the cold storage once more, he pulled out butter, with cremini, oyster, white, and portobello mushrooms. He set the onions, garlic, and shallots next to them, and looked up to spot a copper skillet above his head.
“If you’re going to make a mushroom soup, make enough to have it for the first course of your dinner. I’ll taste it now, and you can use the rest later. I can already see you understand how to develop a good flavor.”
“Thank you! Mrs. O’Brien.”
“Oh, call me Colleen. It’s been a long while since I’ve had another chef cook in my kitchen.”
He drizzled olive oil into the pan, setting it on medium heat to warm as he chopped his onions. Turning the heat off, he added a quarter stick of butter to the oil and let it melt, knowing it wouldn’t brown or burn this way.
“Do you want help with the mushrooms?” Colleen asked.
“I thought I was cooking for you,” Stan said.
“Oh, you are. I’m playing sous chef. Tell me how you want these mushrooms. Slices or diced smaller?”
“Slice the cremini. Nice thick slices. Those will go in after I sauté them with a little white wine. The rest in quarter inch cubes, they’ll go in with the onions, garlic and shallots right now.” Stan took command without a second thought.
“When you’re done that, I saw several cheeses in there. Take the smoked Gouda, and grate us a nice heap of it, and I’ll get you to add some Stilton and some of the mozzarella or cheddar.”
“Grilled cheese sandwiches?”
“Yes, after we have the soup simmering.”
Stan stirred finely chopped mushrooms into the caramelized onions letting them sizzle as he looked around for flour to make the white sauce for the basis of his soup. The cream would be added later, a finishing touch before eating.
“Do you have fresh herbs?”
“In the pots over there.”
Colleen pointed to two pots with compartments stacked on top of each other. He recognized rosemary, basil, thyme, and chives immediately.
“This is a lovely nook for a kitchen herb garden.”
“T’was the last thing my darling Roark did for me before his untimely death. It’s his design which turned our old farmhouse into the inn I run now.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Stan heated another pan, as he stirred his white sauce, adding a hint of rosemary, and thyme to the thickening béchamel. Tasting, he added a little more salt, and a mere hint of chili flakes. Satisfied, he poured it into a larger saucepan, and put it on one back burners to simmer.
“He had cancer. Pancreatic cancer. We knew it was a death sentence, and it was always our dream to run a bed and breakfast. One close to the stones and ruins of old Ireland, in the midst of the old kingdom.”
“I can’t imagine losing someone you love like that. I’m sorry it happened.”
“Living through it was agony and ecstasy. But in the end, he had his last wish, and I had my way clear to a life I always wanted, even if it was on my own.”
Colleen’s eyes misted as she grated the smoked Gouda.
“We’re going to twist a little on the regular way of doing grilled cheese. I discovered a truly decadent way of making them. I think your sturdy rye bread is exactly right for it too,” Stan explained.
“I’m done with the Gouda, what about some mozzarella?” Colleen asked.
He could see the curiosity written all over her round face. He decided the milder cheese would go better with the strong flavors of the Stilton and Gouda, so he nodded.
She dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her apron, then went to the fridge to retrieve a ball of home made mozzarella. Coming back to the prep island she began shredding more.
“About half as much of the mozza as you did Gouda, and half again, so a quarter of the Stilton. Then mix it all in a bowl.”
Stan took the loaf of rye and cut it in half before taking four generous slices from the center. He wanted large dense pieces of bread for his grilled cheese sandwiches. Wrapping the remaining bread so it wouldn’t go stale, he put it back in the bread box next to a French bread baguette.
“Do you bake your own bread, because this is one of the best rye loaves I’ve ever seen.”
“I get it delivered from the bakery in the village. Moira does such amazing things with sourdough, and her pastries are better than anything I can make. My specialty here, is good home cooked Irish fare. You’ll have one of my full Irish breakfasts in the morning.”
Colleen finished mixing the strands of cheese in a large bowl.
“If you would slice up those Cremini mushrooms so we can sauté them, I’ll add them to the béchamel sauce. I’m not going to add the cream to this pot if I’m keeping it for tomorrow tonight. Do you mind having your bowl without it?”
“We’ll add it in the bowl and commit the sin of heating it through in the microwave. It will give us a good idea of how it will work finished properly.”
“So, you dislike them as much as I do.”
“Oh yes, but there are times when they come in handy. I’m looking forward to the combination of mushrooms you’ve used for the base of the soup.”
“I’ve never tried it precisely this way before, but you said use what’s in the refrigerator. Necessity is the mother of invention, especially when you are cooking.”
“What are you going to make tomorrow?”
“I’ll make a trip to the butcher in the village, I’m going to make roast chicken, lemon rosemary chicken to be exact. Fluffy garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted root vegetables, probably carrots, turnips, and parsnips. I noticed they’re all coming in fresh from the farms around here.”
“I would glaze them with honey and Italian spices. It would go well with the rest of what you are planning.”
“I’ve never glazed with honey before, but why not? It can’t be any different than using maple syrup.”
“Glazing is glazing, you don’t have to wait for the honey to concentrate before you poor it over the vegetables. Let them go for around ten minutes at 400 and they should be good.”
Stan had a second to wonder how this test, had turned into a collaboration between cooks, before Colleen continued.
“So, what are you going to do with all that cheese?”
Colleen’s knife flew through the last three mushrooms as she asked, and she put them in a tiny frying pan with a daub of butter. Turning the heat to high she browned them quickly before stirring them into the bubbling saucepot on the back burner.
“I’m going to let it melt in the center of a non-stick pan. Then poor it into the center of a slice of toasted rye. I’m telling you now, you’ll never make grilled cheese any other way again. Cap it with another slice and eat as soon as it’s cooled enough not to burn your mouth.”
Colleen took the bread to the toaster, sliding all four slices onto the conveyor of the commercial machine.
“I didn’t expect to see one of those here.”
“When I have a full house, getting breakfast for a crowd would be impossible without it. There can be as many as twenty in the dining room.”
Stan shook half of the cheese mix into his pan.
“The trick is to have the heat high enough to melt it without letting it bubble and burn around the edges.”
Colleen ladled some of the half finished mushroom soup into a deep soup bowl. Adding cream, she stirred until she felt the consistency she wanted, and tasted it.
“I don’t even have to reheat it. You’ll have to serve it as soon as you have the cream mixed in. It’s perfect as it is,” she told him. She grabbed a second spoon and brought some to him to taste as he watched the cheese slowly meld into a golden pool in the center of his deep grey pan.
“You’re right. Maybe a tiny bit more salt and pepper, but it’s good like it is.”
Colleen pulled out a stool and sat at the island, watching as he built his grilled cheese sandwiches. The soup disappeared quickly, and he pushed his first completed masterpiece over for her to taste.
He stood there, half wondering if he’d been wrong about how good they were, as she blew on the hot mixture, heeding his warning to make sure it had cooled enough.
She bit in and long strings dripped from the shell shaped divot she left behind.
Stan was on pins and needles as he waited for her opinion.
Colleen held up her hand to stop him from saying anything else and took another crunching bite.
Stan shifted from foot to foot and raised an eyebrow. He stood there silently, as beads of sweat formed on his forehead. Had he misjudged the proportions of the cheeses?
He poured the cheese onto his own salvers of toast and slapped the sandwich together. Pulling another stool out from under the counter he sat and prepared to enjoy his own lunch.
Sniffing the aroma of melted cheese as he prepared to take a bite, he knew he’d nailed the combination of ingredients. What was taking her so long to pass judgement? He tried not to stare at her as she finished the entire meal in silence before standing to take the empty dishes to the sink and rinsing them.
He couldn’t wait any longer.
“This is something for an intimate meal for two, or if you’ve got a patient family, you can put them together as they wait. I guarantee they will fight tooth and nail to get the first one. I think I won a lottery today.”
Stan leaned back against the island. Relief made his knees a touch weak. Why had her opinion meant so much?
“Thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me to have your approval.”
“That sandwich was pure magic. It took everything I had to savor it properly instead of mowing through it like a scythe through hay. Taking a mish mash of ingredients and transforming them like this? You’re a talented chef, Stan Giles. You’ll go far.”
“All I want is a small town diner where I can make good food for hard working people. Perhaps a bed and breakfast on the side, like you have here.”
“And the young woman you want to cook for?
“Melissa? She’s bewitched me. I think she shares my dream. It took a trip to Ireland for us to find each other. Her grandmother left her an old mansion in Montana. It’s a Victorian with a wrap around porch set on a several acres of land. She wants to refurbish and renovate. There’s a spot on the estate where we can build a diner from the ground up right beside one of the main highways leading into town.” He knew he was gushing, and he couldn’t have cared less.
“She’s the young lady I’ve seen you with then, she’s staying at the hotel in the village.”
“How do you know?” Stan was stunned.
“We talk, it’s a small community. I’ll help you with dessert.”
“Thank you, I can’t say it enough. She’s the light of my life in only the few hours since we met.”
“You remind me of my Roark. If we had been blessed with a child, I would like to think he would be like you. The look in your eyes when you speak of her, I can’t help myself. I have to do what I can to bring you together. Think of me as if I were your grandmother.”
Stan did what came to his heart. Walking over to her, he wrapped her in a hug. His own grandmother was gone, but for some unfathomable quirk, the universe had granted him another.