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Serious. Intense and dark. The wedding bells ringing in the distance sound more like mourning bells to me; I feel sorrow for the poor sucker getting married.
Bright. Nimble and carefree. The melodious sound of individuality rings through my ears with an intense strength as I fly high in the air on my lone tree swing.
Wonderful. Helpful and excellent. A dragonfly flutters down onto the tip of my nose, and I shed not a breath.
Awful. Evil and rotten. A great wind comes and blows the dragonfly away. Though I am angry at the wind for driving away my companion, I like being alone.
My name is Bermuda Flatt, born in the year 3000.
I am a woman like you, or your sister, or your.... wait, not your mother, because that means marriage. I hate commitment. I always have. And I always will. I like being alone, no matter how wretched some people think us unmarried women are. But I like to see that cold spark in those people’s eyes when I tell them I am uncommitted, when I point out the empty spot on my left ring finger. I like the sound of that word, uncommitted, so I say it out loud whenever it pops into my mind.
A bleary gray watercolor paints the sky with passion as I walk to the market with a wicker basket in the crook of my elbow. Wind sends wisps of straw hair to catch in my eyelashes, but I do not bat them away. For my mind is absent of this place. This dusty cobble stone road where no one dares to tread but me. My mind is in a faraway place, known only to me. It is called my Ideal Place, and it is the home of my hopes and dreams. I live in this world. Everything I do, every rattling breath I draw, it happens there. Only people born with the Ideal Place can ever have enough creativity to pursue a career other that crunching numbers and growing crops.
My mother, a single woman, used to tell me that I needed to “stop living in that fantasy world and grasp reality, before the shock takes you down. Because, believe me,” she said, “some day it’ll come back to haunt you.”
I didn’t believe her then, I don’t believe her now, thank you very much. In my humble opinion, she was loony from the start.
As I near the market place, the sounds of men’s cello voices and women’s violins echo between the tall plaster buildings. The many crooked windows, crooked doors, crooked lives, are covered with heavy drapes or thick oak doors. The stone streets are narrower, their aimless path leading hither and yon, zigging and zagging and drunkenly staggering between buildings and empty fountains and big trees that no one but me wants to climb.
Several people mope by me now, their faces sallow and their cheeks emaciated. Poor tortured souls. Maybe they’re married. I skip by them now, hopping on my toes and keeping my chin high. I am proud. I have dignity and good reason too. I have no commitments. I am unemployed. I sculpt clay figures of fictional creatures called otters and beavers. It’s an eccentric hobby, and I like it. People buy my art for a very high price, though I don’t really want their money at all. I also do pots, but they are not as interesting. I don’t know why.
I live in a small shack made from wood near the dusty road and a big oak tree with a swing. Alone. No pets. No friends. No husband. My life is under a rock around here.
I near a vegetable stall. A shriveled up old lady with fragile, lined skin and hair the color of a tornado at midnight stands behind it. She looks into my eyes and smiles happily. I feel like smiling today, no matter how grey the sky is. So I do. A big flashy grin that stretches from ear to ear, showing all of my perfectly crooked teeth. There are no words spoken among us two lost and perfectly content souls, yet we understand. This lady’s name is Mizsa. She lives 500 strides away from me. I walked to her house once, counting the steps as the light melodies of sparrows coasted on the midsummer’s air. She had written and asked me to make a large bowl with different vegetables depicted on the sides for her produce, so that she could show her crops in a compelling, beautiful way. The bowl had been light brown and green and speckled with black. The colors of the natural Earth were Mizsa’s favorites, and they radiated out from her very soul; beams of sunlight that enlighten all who see her.
I look around at her assortment of beets, asparagus, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, corn, and wheat, and then look at her. She points to each and every little “soul food” plant and wraps her arms around her self in a big hug, rocking to side to side with her clouded black eyes closed and a small but blissful smile on her slight face. I understand; all she wants is love in return for all of these vegetables. I guess I’ll take two of each of them, and pay her back with pottery made with hugs in them. Just because I don’t like commitment, doesn’t mean I have to hate love. I write on a small scrap of paper that blew against my ankle in the light breeze with a chewed up stub of a pencil from my back pocket:
Two handmade pots for your vegetables with hugs in them for your kind gift of food.
I hand it to Mizsa, and she smiles like a child promised a moist, sweet chocolate chip cookie from a master bakery. She emerges excitedly from her quaint wicker chair and motions for me to take my produce. I take the weathered basket from my scrawny elbow and set it on the driftwood stand to begin picking two of each of the vegetables that I will eat for dinner.
I trudge back home holding my basket with both hands out in front of me. The weight of vegetables may surprise the unexpecting souls, whose minds lack a common self-esteem boost, otherwise known as the Ideal Place, that both my mind (and that of Mizsa) has. We are proud.
Wind, more fierce than before, buffets in my ears and stirs up a river of dust. The current is strong, but I keep my pace swimming upstream. I reach my battered little hut made of that unpolished wood, and the windswept, gnarled door swings open when I unhitch its sore little brass latch. Inside, it is warm. Mizsa gave me a blanket at the market today, and though she is mute, I could understand; keep warm.
I set my basket on my rough table and wander over to my little counter, where a burner and a little oven sit. My ice box sits in the corner, and my shelves full of pots and pans I purchased at Blacksmith Taylore’s forge are all against that back wall. Though they are very crooked and look very fragile, I have had them for over 7 years. I take a pot and my chopping knife and start hacking my potatoes, beets, and carrots into a big pile of chunks for my soup. I scoop up the pieces and drop them into my pot. Into my pot with the vegetables goes some water from my well that I had been keeping in my icebox in a bucket until further notice. I have my reasons. I walk over to a small box, and open the lid. Its smoothed cherry wood sooths my calloused hands. Inside are many compartments, each with a different colored dust in them. I take a pinch of the white granules from a compartment sketchily labeled “SALT” and put the cool grains into the pot of now lukewarm water that is sitting on my little burner. A bone from a beef leg I had cooked for dinner a night ago lies in the icebox, neatly labeled “ICE BOX” though there actually isn’t any ice in it. I drop that bone in too.
This night, I sleep under my patched-up quilt with warmth all up and down my boney arms and a belly full of delicious soup. My dreams consist of what they always do: a row of socks, mended, cleaned, pressed, and hanging by a fireplace. Tonight, though, another image appears. There are the socks, yes, but also, a man. A tall, lean, muscular man with a slight nose and an oval-shaped face. His hands are in his pant pockets, his brown hair is windswept, and naturally curves up. Only brown is much to plain a word to describe his mane. It has hints of olive, lilac, onyx, daffodil. He looks as if he has been waiting for me, and he smiles as if he has never seen me before. Only I know, in my dream, that we have met.
I wake up in utter dark. Wind whistles, moans, and twists in agony outside my plank house, which is safe and warm on the inside. I slowly get up and stretch, then light an oil lamp, its glass warped by years of use. And I am happy to be alone, in the dark, this morning. I have no clock to tell time, but soon the gigantic clock tower in the city starts its shouting. It says, “One bell and that is all. One bell, the city’s all retired. One bell to tell them all that yesterday’s expired.” One in the morning, I dare say that I should have at least woken at 12, for then I would have one more hour to jot down every detail of my dream in my small leather bound journal held together by a scrap of cloth that once fell off my mother’s shirt. All of my clothes were my mother’s. This particular scrap came into being when one day, my mother was wearing her favorite shirt. It was button down, men-style, and was white crinkled cotton with mint-green pinstripes. She was pushing me on my swing back then. I was only 9. Tabitha Flatt was my mother’s name. She’s dead now. But when she pushed me on my swing, I felt so elated, so free, that I begged her to try herself. I got off, she got on, and she pushed herself using the heels of her feet. Her big hands, muscled arms, lanky but sturdy legs, thin but big feet. Everything was in perfect proportion, yet nothing seemed to fit. She swung higher and higher until she seemed she would never come down, floating in the sky, lounging on clouds, blowing out the candles on her cake when she wanted the wind to be fierce so that I wouldn’t come outside. And then, a rrrrrrip! As the bottom hem of one side of her shirt caught on a twig and tore. She came back down, looking ecstatic, with her brown hair, plain brown, swept to one side of her head, a broad grin stretching all around her face: in her eyes, in her crinkled nose, in her sticking-out ears that jiggled when she laughed, and then, of course, smeared all over her chin. She got that one torn scrap from the tree and gave it to me. “Keep this like a memory. It will make its own mark on the world someday, if you choose to tell its tale.” She told me. I had nodded my heavy little head and trotted inside to tie it around this same notebook. Memories of my childhood, my imperfect, lacking, glorious childhood, flood back to me, as if a foggy barrier has just been broken through. I sigh and continue scrawling down the new appearance in my dream. The same question incessantly snakes through my tired mind; who is that man, with his perfect face?
Then I correct myself, almost out of habit. My mother used to hold my hands above the table while we were eating peaches with cream, and she would say, “Berry, you know you can’t pour that cream on your peaches just so perfect. Nothin’s perfect, darlin’. I know that from personal experience; your Daddy left because I isn’t perfect. That there apple tree don’t always grow its fruit because it isn’t perfect.” I would always correct her when she used improper grammar.
As I scrawl this last sentence in my journal, a sharp knock at the door makes my heart stutter. Who could possibly be rapping on my door at one in the morning? I quickly wrap my journal back up and go to open that blasted door. Outside, a tall, toned man with a gleaming badge on his his left breast stands awkwardly.
“Astounding that you happen to be awake at this hour, Ms. Flatt. I have some reports here that I believe you might want to hear.” the sheriff says. He introduces himself as Sheriff McNamara, hailing from Ireland, which, everyone knows, only existed until the climate change of the time swept it bare with a cold, hard dust storm. I can only imagine the terrible feelings of loss that would have flooded through the surviver’s bodies, radiating from their hearts and breaking their hopes. McNamara invites himself in, and I notice something strangely familiar about him. Have I met him before?
I follow him into my humble abode and go straight to my cherry wood box.
“Tea? Coffee? Spiceberry loaf?” I ask the officer, gesturing to the box compartments with the dark coffee grounds and the tiny olive colored tea leaves. Also, a small loaf of leftover bread that I had made a few days ago with some Spiceberries from a faraway place called Elsewhere, which isn’t on the map but does exist....
“I’ll, uh, take some coffee, certainly. Would a small dollop of cream be too much trouble as well?” says the officer, who politely sits down at my petite wooden table. As I prepare the coffee, my mind starts to drift. Where have I seen this man? Have I passed him on my way through the blustery streets to the market? I wonder if this kind gentleman, though he may be an officer, knows Misza, who wrote me once for fun, and told me that she had a son who was killed in a war long ago. My pleasantly disturbing thoughts are thoroughly interrupted when the tea kettle shreiks loudly. I hastily pour the steamy water into two awaiting, slightly chipped mugs, and stir in the black coffee grounds. A small creamer from my ice box produces some fresh cream .
“Ms. Flatt, I....” starts the officer.
“Bermuda.” I correct him, setting the mugs on the table and sitting down.
“Bermuda, I came here at this hour hoping you would be asleep so that I wouldn’t have to tell you this. But there are, ah, some people who have, for some reason, complained about— you.” Sheriff McNamara looks almost pained upon mentioning that the subject of conversation these bleary days happens to be me. I nonchalantly sprinkle some sugar into my coffee with a tiny tarnished silver spoon. At the tip of this spoon is a little oval, and inlaid on it is a little ceramic piece with a portrait of a young lady with wispy brown hair and blue eyes. My mother.
“There have been complaints of, as silly as this sounds, you being uncommitted and unmarried. Is this a fact?” It’s the silliest question I’ve ever heard. Of course I’m uncommitted. Do you see another bright, shining face in this house? Do you think my overused mattress could fit more than one? Do you see a ring on my pale finger? I snort as I sip my hot coffee.
“I am indeed uncommitted. I also understand that the fact that I am not in a stable relationship makes many of my neighbors uneasy. I realize that I, as free as I am, am a bit more, ah, bubbly than some would like. But that’s me.” I reply.
Sheriff McNamara nods and slurps at his own coffee. There is a blissful moment of silence, and in the time, I look the officer over.
Dusty brown, unkempt hair. Just brown, but with a hint of daffodil.
Blue-gray eyes that sparkle when he smiles.
Freckles scattered randomly across his fair skin.
He’s rather bulky, but in a muscled way.
His hands are fairly large, and so are his feet.
He wears a red polo shirt with both white buttons undone and worn blue jeans. On his feet he wears very muddy gym shoes. How very old fashioned.
“A report of, um, stealing, was also delivered.” This sudden statement knocks me painfully from my observations.
“Stealing?” My eyebrows rise higher and higher, and I notice a small leaf dangling in his hair. Suddenly, the whole world is that one little leaf. It’s obviously still very windy outside, as it has been for three and a half years now. I long to reach over and take the leaf from his hair, but I restrain myself.
“Ah, I, uh, have a report that says you were supposedly seen taking vegetables from a cart owned by a mute woman and not giving any money in return. Is this true?” he says, eyeing his mug.
“Yes it is true. I don’t deny taking the vegetables, but I do deny stealing them. The old woman, Misza, told me that she wanted no money in return. Instead, she requested only love. So I promised her two handmade pots to use to store her vegetables. See, I happen to be a potter.” I gesture to a corner, where a small potter’s wheel and a large block of clay sit side by side. McNamara nods, and a small smile appears on his face.
We both seem around the same age, 19, and I suddenly feel very strongly attracted to this man who sits comfortably in front of me. I shake my head. I cannot fall in love with a man I have just met. I realize why he seems so familiar: he greatly resembles the man in my dream. I jump, but not enough for him to notice.
“I thought you seemed to nice to be a thief.” He winks and my heart falters.
“I never got your first name?” I say, eager to know what I can about this man.
“Chadford. I am more commonly referred to as Chad, though. Is there a nickname you go by?”
“My mother, deceased, used to call me Berry. No one since her death has called me that. 6 years without a nickname... Or close friends.” I mutter that last part under my breath, but he still catches it. Though he doesn’t actually say anything, his eyes dart up to mine and his posture straightens.
“Well, then, since it sounds like you don’t have many plans, would you like to accompany me at a game tomorrow night? I play football. Such an old sport, but very fun. Everyone else on the team already has someone or other to bring, and if you say yes, then so will I.”
Like on a DATE? Yes, yes, a million times yes! But all I can bring myself to do is nod. My heart beat is echoing incessantly in my ears, and goose bumps form on my arms.
I might even reconsider marriage.