An apple thuds against the soft orchard ground. A dimpled fist reaches to pick it up. His pudgy fingers struggle to stretch around it, but it’s too slippery and his hands are too small. A hand cloaked in a bright red glove large enough to envelop the little child’s fist in its own scoops the apple up and awards it to the blue-eyed baby. The baby promptly starts teething on it as best he can. A pretty woman, mid-twenties, with hair the color of the leaves that crunch under her feet reaches to steal the dirt-caked fruit away from her dark haired son, but the gloved hand stops her, informing her that a) dirt is good for Julian’s young immune system and b) their home-grown fruit is all organic. She sighs, but listens to her father.
Creamy fists turn pink when banged against the plastic tray of the high chair. Calypso’s little face is as red as an apple, and just as round. She is too young to enjoy the scrumptious german pancakes topped with mountains of sugar that Lucy does. She watches as white crystals fasten onto her older sister’s hair, around her mouth, on her fingertips. Just as Calypso is about to let loose her powerful lungs, good-old Nana places one of her famous homemade brownies on the baby’s plastic tray. Wrinkled hands place pieces of gooey goodness into a smooth, new mouth. Soon, both parties are coated with chocolate and smiles.
Bleach blonde hair swirls in the clear blue water of a five foot tall, blow-up pool. To little Calypso with the pink checkered Winnie-the-Pooh swimsuit and tiny toes that don’t even scrape the bottom, it is an endless ocean. Older, darker Lucy, clothed in a little mermaid swimsuit and orca goggles and fins, suggests a game. “How ‘bout we’re dolphins?” To the girls too young to be enrolled in anything but half-day kindergarten, that’s what life is: an endless “how ‘bout.”
Small hands dig into the soft, black-brown fur of the restless dog. Calypso buries her blonde curls in his smelly coat. His hot breath reeks, but she either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. “Oh, Holly.” Her high-pitched voice is soft. She was early learning to walk and talk, but that doesn’t mean she’s very good at either. The dog yelps as she loses her balance and tumbles to the ground, her chubby fingers still tightly interwoven with his fur. His name is Harley.
The wrinkled animals sway their trunks back and forth as if waving to the dark-haired boy. Julian waves back, but Tristan bumps his arm, giving him a sharp look that warns him that’s not cool. Julian shrugs, but his arm goes limp at his side. He suggests they move on. Tristan brags casually to Julian’s parents about his little league baseball team’s successes as they stroll past a small lake, a special feature at the zoo where patrons can fish. Tristan tells everyone who will listen that his team will probably even make it to the world series. Julian’s eyes and mind wander and he catches the eye of a golden-haired girl casting her line. He waves, but unlike the elephant, she doesn’t wave back. She turns away as the line goes haywire, the hook rearing back and embedding itself in her hand.
Sparks float up into the air, drifting over the hot flames and into the night sky above. Fingers pluck guitar strings, transforming the vibrations into soulful resonance. Julian’s eyelids droop in the groggy air. Tristan jabs him in the side a couple of times to keep him awake, but his burning eyes protest. His eyelids start to fall one more time, and through the dancing flames a halo of blonde hair illuminated by the fire frames a pretty face. Her milk-chocolate eyes meet his in a second that lasts an eternity for young hearts.
Cleats gouge out lumps of frozen grass and scar the earth as they send the soccer ball flying across the frosty field. Calypso misses and giggles, her breath appearing before her in miniature clouds. She’s too busy experimenting with her homemade fog to see the checkered ball making a beeline for her. It breaks her little cloud and punches her in the stomach, sending her crashing to the ground. Her breath flees her lungs and she lies on the frozen earth, her arms and legs oversized icicles, her bones brittle in the cold. A boy with icy eyes but dark chocolate hair reaches out a hand and pulls her to her feet. Her numbed fingers can barely feel his warm ones.
She sips from his styrofoam cup of hot cocoa. The back of her white uniform is caked with mud from her fall and her blonde hair is flecked with brown dirt and frozen water droplets. Her soft, cold hands touch Julian’s as she passes the cup back to him. He sees a familiar auburn-haired woman with lines at the corners of her mouth walking towards them, and he hastily hands the girl his hot cocoa and says goodbye. The blonde girl leans over and quickly presses her chocolate coated lips against Julian’s blushing face before his mother comes and yanks him by the wrist. “You’ll never see that girl again,” the auburn-haired woman tells him. He presses his fingers to his sticky cheek and smiles.
On one of the last days of the middle of middle school, the teacher releases the students into the school’s back garden to discover and sketch plants. The boy with the tar black hair and turquoise eyes trots over to a funny-looking purple flower with yellow seeping into the middle of the petals. Julian scans for something to tell what the pretty flower is called, maybe a name card, but can’t find it. Just as he’s about to give up and move on, a soft voice behind his shoulder whispers shyly. “It’s called an iris.” With her platinum hair shimmering in the sunlight, she looks strangely familiar. He smiles. “Thanks.” She grins back and holds out a creamy hand. “I’m Calypso.”
Julian grips the straps of his backpack until his knuckles turn white, struggling to make it through his first day of highschool without getting trampled. Pushing against the current of bodies, he finally makes it safely to his small red locker, where he sets his backpack down and sits on top of the mass of books. He takes a deep breath and watches the stream of people hurrying to class. He should go too, but his short life is still flashing before his eyes. A whiff of a familiar scent floats over the sea of people coming and going. Jasmine. His mother wears the perfume, but she’s definitely not at school. He searches the crowd, catching a familiar flash of blonde hair.
Kosher Dill Pickles
Calypso watches silently as Julian dumps his backpack on the hardwood floor with a dull thud. She clumsily does the same. He cooly opens the fridge door. She still stands stiffly away, watching him shake his dark hair at the lack of food. He grabs a jar of pickles, sets it on the counter, and twists open the lid with a pop. He grabs two bowls from the cupboard and starts stabbing mercilessly at the pickles before depositing them equally into each. Calypso raises an eyebrow.
The decaying leaves crunch under their feet as they begin the daily trek of yet another year of highschool. Calypso throws her head back and laughs while Julian shakes his own at an awkward memory of pickles and a powerpoint presentation due the next day. Their fingers brush each other briefly; her giggles soften and her timid gaze slips to her scuffed converse.
The rich scent of chocolate fills the kitchen as the brownies bake in the oven, her Nana’s secret recipe. Julian’s tired eyes skim the directions for the fifth time, desperate to finish before the next morning’s bake sale. Calypso loses her grip on the mint extract as she falls asleep at the counter, the fresh scent spilling over and dripping onto the tile in a sticky mess. Julian tries to clean it up but her soft, muffled snores lull him to sleep on the floor where he sits. A couple hours later, he is rudely awakened by the smell of burning chocolate.
A squirrel dashes across the forest path, its brownish black pelt vaguely stirring up in Calypso the memory of a pet she once had. Julian laughs at her puzzled expression. She giggles along with him. The musky, nature-smell of trees and leaves reminds him of his grandparents’ orchard. His face grows grim as he thinks of his late grandfather, but when he looks beside him, he realizes that as some people go, other blessings come along.
Her Nana takes the family on a trip to the orchard in a desperate hunt for the best apples to be baked into the old woman’s scrumptious apple pie. Before everyone scatters to snatch up bushels of the sweetest apples, her Nana explains that she travels all the way out to the countryside each year because here their home-grown fruit is all organic. Calypso laughs and rolls her eyes before hugging her grandmother and running off after the rest of the family. In the middle of the path between trees, she stops and breathes in the sweet, crispy scent. He always smells like apples.
A leather journal awaits Calypso in her small red locker when she swings the door open. She flips through the crisp pages, each decorated with an odd little picture above a small caption or note in his handwriting. There’s a jar of pickles, a muddy uniform, a half-empty bottle of mint, a fishing hook. Each has a meaning only they understand. A small smile creeps across her face. A sweet smell like honeycrisp apples catches in her nose and she turns around. Her arms wrap around Julian in a warm embrace, and he plants a small kiss on her sleek blonde hair.
They sit in Julian’s living room, discussing APs and life. The conversation grows serious and dull and talk turns to college, a subject they’d both rather avoid, at least for another year. He stretches his long legs out over the carpet and pushes himself up with the heels of his palms before wandering over to the bookshelf in the corner. His fingers hover over paper sleeves until they rest on an older record, their favorite record. He slides it out and places it on the player, a peculiar habit for those who have access to iTunes. They like it, however, the smell of the vinyl and the distinct melody as the first chords of the last song, “The Show Must Go On,” fill the air. Calypso hums along and he grabs her hand. They waltz offbeat through the small room.
The bell rings and they race from school and outdoors into the pouring rain. Sunlight streams between the droplets. Calypso opens her mouth, tips her blonde head back, and devours both the sunshine and the rain. Small pearls ice her hair and collect on her lips. Julian sprints to the biggest puddle he can find, beckons for her to come closer, and jumps straight into it. The water coats them both from head to toe. She laughs a laugh like wind chimes in the summer air as he pulls her close. The droplets on his lips brush the pearls on hers. Never has rain tasted so good.
Glitter dances on dresses and faces under the flashing lights. Heels are strewn everywhere, edging the dance floor while bare feet stomp to the crashing bass. The gym is hot and stuffy. Faces glisten with perspiration, but the girls are prepared and are painted with waterproof makeup. The dj’s voice echoes over the speakers, deep and soothing in comparison to the previous buzz of activity. The song slows and the lights come down. Boys timidly ask girls to dance. Through the crowd, she sees a flash of blue eyes. He catches a glimpse of blonde hair. They find each other and Julian rests his hands on Calypso’s waist. She wraps her arms around his neck and rests her head on his strong shoulder. Like an elephant’s trunk, they sway to the soft rhythm.
Groggily, Calypso ambles down the hallway into her kitchen. She grabs a piece of bread and drops it into the toaster. She wishes she didn’t have to wake up in the mornings, especially after such a great night. What was that Latin phrase again? ‘Post festum, pestum?’ After a holiday, pain. She wishes she could go back and relive the dream-like dance over and over again. The dry, cracked smell of something burning fills the air. After a dance, burnt toast.
Lucy’s baby screams for her mother but is instead attended by her aunt and that boy who always seems to hover about. Calypso comforts her, but soon realizes that her parents going out for the night isn’t the problem and leaves to change the small child. Afterwards, the little girl soon drifts off into a deep sleep. Her aunt lays her down in her crib and switches on a movie. As Calypso drifts to sleep, she leans her head on Julian’s shoulder, blonde and black hair intermingling. The baby’s mother and father come home late to see the final credits of Breakfast at Tiffany’s rolling down the screen.
The warm night air streams through the crack of the slightly open windows of the car he worked so hard to buy just so he could drive her around. The soft breeze twirls Calypso’s blonde curls around its finger, stroking her face every so often so her eyes close and she breathes in the evening. Julian steals a glance at her through the corner of his eye. A stray golden lock dances across her soft, pink lips. Of all the things he’s ever seen, she’s the most beautiful by far. They cruise past the open fields of the sleepy countryside and sweet breath of air drifts through the window. Violets. He pulls off to the side of the road and climbs out into the moonlight to pick a couple to plait in her hair. She gazes out the window to see the best thing that’s ever happened to her frolicking through a field of purple flowers, laughing as he tosses petals into the air. She smiles. All he ever wanted was to make her smile. The long, blaring horn of a semi spinning out of control breaks the magic spell. It smashes into the meadow, crushing the violets. His night-sky eyes meet hers for a second that seems to last an eternity. She screams.
The rain splatters across her already moist cheeks. The open grave is covered in a green tarp, the coffin lying across it on a special splint. She’s wearing a little black dress, the one she had worn to Sadies with him, the one whose waist his hands had wrapped around and pulled her closer to him. A foreign arm envelops her shaking shoulders. It hurts. It hurts badly, deeply. The pain penetrates profoundly, piercing her injured soul. Her heart is squeezed and her stomach turns and the pain spreads itself to her frozen toes, numbing them worse than frostbite ever could. A fist squeezes her throat so she can’t breathe, she can’t talk. But she must be strong for him. For his ash-haired mother. Before the great box is lowered into the ground forever, Calypso approaches Julian, strokes his face with the side of her finger, and tries through a petrified throat to say her last goodbyes. She intertwines her fingers with his, but her warm fingers can barely feel his numb ones.
She feels nothing. Smells nothing. X. Zero. All five senses have shut off. If they can’t experience him, they can’t experience anything. She is more numb than at that first soccer game. Her eyes feel like they’ve been forced open underwater in a pool filled with chlorine. Her lungs burn as if she’s breathed that water in. She’s drowning. She’s numb. Death is like the smell of a dog, horrible and rancid, but denied by love. Except no matter how long you deny it, death won’t let you forget. It feels like a soccer ball socking her in the stomach, sending her crashing to the ground so that she has no air left to breathe. It feels like a hook to the heart, a journal of memories tossed into the devouring fire where sweet guitars used to sing. Her throat is as cracked and as bitter as burnt toast as she realizes she will never see those night-sky eyes again. She screams.
Her mother tries to preoccupy her with baking. The smell of yeast fills her nose and makes her sick. Everything makes her sick these days. Everything reminds her of him. Everything reminds her of what happened. Of how he picked those violets for her hair. Of how the drunk truck driver picked that meadow to crash. Of how the murderer walks free while her love is trapped forever beneath the cold, hard earth. Her mother tries to preoccupy her with music. It’s Queen. She closes her eyes and waltzes offbeat through the small room. Tears stream down her face from eyes that try in vain to shut out the world. She hums a broken melody. She realizes that when some people are snatched away, life gives nothing back, only a hollow emptiness.
Zaffre and Zomp
She walks through the Home Depot with her sister, choosing colors for her new nephew’s bedroom. A paint swatch on the wall catches her eye. It’s a beautiful, deep blue, like only one thing she’s ever seen before. It’s called ‘Zaffre’. Next to it is ‘Zomp’, another shade she has only seen in one place, many times. She runs to find the paints that match the colors and brings them to the man who mixes the paints. She begs him to blend them together and ignores his look of perturbed concern. With her directing, he takes a little of this one and a little of that one and stirs. It becomes the night sky and she sees his eyes one last time. A tear rolls from her cheek and falls into the paint mix, splattering it and scattering it until he’s gone once more.