Thursday, April 25, 2019

a memory of flowers

Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination. This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts.
     "Ah, the River Warrior awakes!  Perhaps now he can introduce himself to us?"

     Riku looked up at the shadow that was speaking to him, and shook his head slightly.  "いいえ、分かりません"  [I don't understand.]

     Loud bawdy laughter from behind him filled the room.  "Well, that just figures.  You catch a River Warrior and he don't speak English!"

     "Hush old woman!  Head injuries can be insidious.  We have no idea where he came from or how long he was in the river.  He could have fallen off a fishing boat somewhere and been washed in with a storm."

     "He ain't no iceberg so I doubt that.  More likely he was caught in some outgoing tide during the storm and got washed back in the river.  What was he speaking?  Didn't sound like Inuit."

     "It wasn't.  I think it might be Japanese.  Didn't one of the high school kids spend a semester as an exchange student in Japan?  Who was that?  He doesn't have hands like someone who has worked as a laborer on a fishing trawler.  He looks more like someone who sat behind a desk his whole life.  I wonder what he was doing out here?"

     "I'll go see if I can find out and get him over here."

     Riku watched the conversation between the old woman and an equally old man, not understanding a word the two of them were saying.  His head hurt, in fact, his whole body hurt, but at least he could move both of his arms, and his legs no longer felt like they were restrained.  When the old woman left, he watched the man as he continued to talk and move about the room.

     "You sure had us worried, River Warrior.  Not many survive in that river, especially someone who had your injuries.  Both of your legs were broken in two places.  You must have hit a boulder in the river pretty hard to do that.  We had to set one of your legs twice.  You're lucky my wife is the tribe's doctor and had some young men to hold you down and help her.  You put up a good fight even being unconscious."

     The man glanced at Riku.  "You don't understand anything I'm saying, do you?"

     Riku just looked at him, and finally shook his head, repeating what he had said before,  "いいえ、分かりません"

     The old woman finally returned with a young man, and motioned to Riku on the bed.  "Tell him what I told you to tell him."

     Giving a polite bow to Riku, the young man began.  "私の名前はジェームスです。 私はここの署長の息子だ。 あなたの名前は何ですか。"  [My name is James.  I am the son of the chief here.  What is your name?]

     Riku looked at him, then down at his hands before lifting his head and shaking it.  "私は私の名前が何であるかわからない。 思い出せない。"  [I do not know what my name is.  I cannot remember.]

     James relayed his response to the old man and woman, then motioned to them.  "これは、私たちの長老の一人であり、彼の妻マーガレット、私たちの部族の医師であるハワードです。"  [This is Howard, one of our Elders, and his wife, Margaret, who is our tribal doctor.]

     He continued, "私たちがあなたを見つけたとき、あなたは2本の折れた脚、脱臼した肩、折れた手首、いくつかのひび割れた肋骨、頭部外傷を持っていました。 私たちがあなたを見つけたとき、あなたは非常に幸運でした。 溺れてしまった" [When we found you, you had two broken legs, a dislocated shoulder, broken wrist, some cracked ribs, and a head injury.  You were very lucky we found you when we did.  You almost drowned.]
      "どのようにして川に来たか覚えていますか" [Do you remember how you came to be in the river?]

     Riku looked thoughtful for a moment before he finally responded.

     "私が覚えているのは、花と金髪の女性です。 それ以上ではない" [All I remember are flowers and a woman with blonde hair.  Nothing more.]

The River

     Riku felt himself slipping and locked eyes with Cierra as he reached for her. Their fingertips touched briefly, then he was falling backwards. He fell for what seemed like an eternity before his breath was taken away by the icy cold of the river.

     When he surfaced again, gasping for air, he couldn't see Cierra on the cliffs above him.  The fast moving river had already carried him a half a mile downriver from where he fell.  He tried to relax and float on his back in the middle of the river as it carried him away, knowing that if he fought the current he would exhaust himself and be less likely to survive.

     Heavy with water, his backpack began to pull him under, and reluctantly Riku took it off his back. He tried to hold onto it, knowing that should he be able to reach the riverbank, his survival could depend on his gear within it.  But it became harder and harder to hold onto it without being pulled under the water as he was swept into the deeper part of the river.  Finally he was forced to let it go.

     He tried to watch for an eddy pool near some rocks that would be easier to swim to, but before he could turn so that his feet were facing downstream, his head hit a rock just under the surface and he was knocked unconscious.
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     Kermode watched as the dark shape swirled in the eddy pool closer and closer to him.  What was this thing?  It was scaring away the salmon, and he was very hungry.

     He batted at it, moving it out of the pool and closer to the rapids. The shape moved and groaned.  Kermode jumped back, startled.  Perhaps it would be best if he fished elsewhere, especially since the salmon had also been startled away.  Upriver might be best until the thing moved farther away.

     He lumbered up the edge of the river, looking over his should occasionally as the thing drifted into the rapids again and downriver.
      Riku vaguely felt hands pulling on him, dragging him to the riverbank.  As he was pulled to dry land pain from his legs and left arm shot through his body and he screamed before passing out again.
     The next time he woke, it was dark and while he sensed he was in some kind of bed wrapped in a thick blanket, he didn't have any idea where he was.  He tried to call out, but only a hoarse whisper came out.  He tried to move, but his legs felt like they were strapped down, and when he moved his arm to push himself up, the pain came in waves and he lost consciousness.
     The sunlight streaming into the room hurt his eyes beneath his lids, and he tried to turn his face away from the light.  A rough hand grabbed his chin and pulled him back again, forcing his lips open, and he tasted a foul liquid being forced down his throat.  He choked and coughed, and the pain in his chest from what was probably a cracked rib or two took his breath away.

     He heard voices, but couldn't understand what they were saying, and he tried to fight off the person holding his head still with his one arm that didn't hurt.  Another pair of hands grabbed his arm and restrained him.  More of the foul liquid was forced down his throat again, and as he struggled against the hands holding him down, the room and light faded away again.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Storm

Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination. This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts.
     She'd been eating at the small restaurant after shopping all morning for Easter gifts for her nieces and nephews when she overheard that there was a blizzard moving in.  It was April, and the robins had even arrived, but local lore said that there was always one more snow storm that followed the robins.  She had lived in the Northwoods for several years now, and it seemed that the locals were abounding with some kind of quirky weather predictions associated with the snow.  "They should know," she thought as she watched the waitress sloppily refill her coffee mug.

     Glancing out the large window at the lake, she watched as storm clouds began rolling in from the Canada border.  She realized if she was going to get home before the snow started, she should leave soon.  Getting up from the table, she went to the ladies room, telling the waitress as she passed that she would pay the bill when she returned.

     Returning to her table a few minutes later, she was surprised to see a scribbled picture of a quince blossom on a napkin near the upside down bill the waitress had left for her on the table.  She glanced around the restaurant, but most of the other patrons had already left ahead of the coming storm and she was alone except for the waitress and cook.

     "Is there a problem?"

     Cierra jumped at the sound of the waitress's voice just behind her.

     "The man said that he was a friend of yours who wanted to surprise you by paying your bill."

     "I'm sorry.  What?"

     "Your bill.  It was paid by the man who left while you were in the ladies room."

     Cierra turned over the bill on the table.  It had a line through the total and was marked 'PAID' in red ink that almost matched the color of pencil used to draw the blossom.

     "Did he leave his name?  Did you see which way he went when he left?  What did he look like?"

     "Whoa, whoa, whoa!  What's with the 20 questions?  No, he didn't tell me his name, he just paid in cash with a hundred dollar bill and told me to keep the change, which I was more than happy to do on a $8.45 ticket.  Everyone was wanting to pay up and head out before the storm, so I really didn't have time to look at him or see where he went.  What's the big deal?  You the kind that looks a gift horse in the mouth?"

     Without answering, Cierra grabbed the napkin and rushed out the door to her car.

     Starting her car, she sat in the parking lot waiting for it to warm up, her mind filled with questions.  There was only one person in the world who would have known the significance of that blossom to her, and she hadn't seen him in almost ten years.  She hadn't thought of him in ... she looked at her watch ... two seconds?  And before that, there hadn't been an hour that passed that he hadn't crossed her mind somehow.  A song on the the radio, an image in a magazine or on television, a scent on the air ... everything reminded her of him.  But he was supposed to be dead.  Or at least, she thought he was.  She had seen him fall into the ravine, and while they had never recovered his body, there hadn't been any doubt in her mind that he must have died in the fall.  If he hadn't, then why hadn't he contacted her before now?  It didn't make any sense.

     If he was alive, and there, he could only be in one place.  The camp where they first met as teenagers.  It held the same significance to her as the blossom had, and was one of the reasons she had never left the area after she thought he had died.  She pulled out of the parking lot and turned down the road leading to the summer camp that they had attended over forty years before.  Cierra had drifted away from her faith after Riku had passed, and no longer knew where her spiritual hope rested, but as she drove she prayed that somehow he had survived the fall and by some miracle had come back to her.
     Excited teenagers boiled out of the old yellow school buses lined up in the dirt parking lot, and laughter filled the air as friends made the previous summers greeted each other again.  It was Cierra's first summer and she knew exactly one other person at camp ~ her younger brother whom she was loath to admit she was related to.  She wanted to make friends, and if there was anything that would prevent that, it would be him.  

     Dragging her duffle bag, she walked to the board that listed cabin assignments and began looking for her name.

     "Excuse me, please?"

     Cierra turned to look at the slight boy standing next to her with dark hair and eyes.

     "This word.  What does it say?"  he pointed to the name of a cabin that was located right next to the cabin she had just found her name under.

     "Awasajiw?  'Ah-wa-sa-jew'.  It is Ojibwa for beyond the mountain.  I'm in this cabin, Agidajiw.  'Ah-gid-da-jew'.  It means on top of a mountain."

     "You have been here before?"

     "No, this is my first summer here.  But I didn't want to sound stupid so I practiced all the cabin names before I came up."

     There was an awkward silence.

     "Oh my gosh.  I didn't mean to say you were stupid!  I just meant, I always sound stupid when I meet new people and .... Crud.  I'm doing it again.  I'm sorry.  You aren't stupid.  I am.  I'm such an idiot.  Let me start all over again.  Hi.  My name is Cierra Imadork."

     "Hello Cierra Imadork.  My name is Riku.  I am here as an exchange student from Japan."

     Cierra smiled.  "Imadork isn't really my last name.  I was just trying to say I am a dork for being so rude and making it sound like you were stupid for not knowing how to say the names of the cabins."

     "Oh."  Riku laughed, and from that moment on the two of them were best friends.

     One afternoon, Cierra found Riku in line at the small canteen store that the camp had.  His clothes were covered in dirt, and dried blood was still on his face from where his nose had been bleeding.

     "Riku!  What happened to you?!?!?"

     "Some boys they want my toothpaste.  I tell them I didn't have much left so they hit me."

     "Why didn't you throw some karate on them?"

     Riku laughed.  "Not everyone in Japan knows karate.  I wanted to get something to drink to get the taste of sand out of my mouth."


      "They still took my toothpaste and made me brush my teeth with water and sand."

      "Where are they?  Who are they?  I will kick their butts!  I will throw some redneck karate on them and make them sorry they ever messed with you!"

     Riku started laughing again, and Cierra joined him, the two of them laughing so hard they could barely speak when it was their turn at the canteen counter.  Cierra pointed at the soda machine and put fifty cents on the counter.
     Five summers passed with the two of them at the same camp each year.  During the school years, they would write letters about school, parents, siblings, and events in each other's towns. Cierra was fascinated to learn about Riku's life in Japan, just as he was to learn about her life in Illinois.

     When he found out that she had not gotten a date for her senior high school prom and would be going alone, he told her that there would be something special arriving for her to take to the prom and to not leave until it came.  Thirty minutes before prom started, there was a knock at her front door.  Her little brother beat her to it and flung it open.

     Standing on the step with a clear plastic container that held a wrist corsage of quince blossoms he had carefully carried from Japan, Riku looked debonair in a tuxedo that had a bow tie and cummerbund that matched the color of Cierra's dress exactly.

     That night was the first time they kissed.  But not the last.
     Over the next fifteen years their relationship grew.  They both attended Southern Illinois University, although he at a campus in Japan where he studied Plant Biology, and she at a campus in Carbondale studying Forestry.  Every third semester, they would spend it together, alternating campuses so that Riku could show her Japan, and she could show him parts of the United States he had never seen before.  On the night they graduated with their PhD's, Riku proposed.

     Two years later, after a traditional Japanese wedding with all of Riku's family and friends in Japan, they had a second wedding in Illinois for all of her family and friends.  They spent their month long honeymoon camping, hiking, and mountain climbing in the Denali National Park, Alaska.

     They decided to make their home in Wisconsin near the camp where they first met.  Both worked on the Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest.  Cierra a Silviculturist, and Riku a Botanist.  One month a year they went to Japan to visit family, especially Riku's great grandmother.  She was over 100 years old and blind, but every bit as young and adventurous as she had been when she was 20.  They took her with them to every park, mountain, and forest that they visited when they were there.  Riku was Sōsobo's favorite grandson because he didn't treat her like an infirm old woman, but respected her and honored her wishes to join them. 

     On their 8th anniversary, they had gone camping in the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada.  A week into their trip, the instrument panel on their rental truck had gone dark, and they had been forced to detour into Prince Rupert to rent another.  As they were leaving town, both of them had been startled by a family of mountain goats that suddenly appeared at the edge of the road and slowly crossed it.  Just as they thought the last of them had crossed, a bouncy youngster with just nubs for horns appeared and trotted across with a look on its face that made both of them burst out laughing.

     They had been hiking along the top of a deep whitewater ravine when Riku had made a fateful decision to reach for a wildflower to give to Cierra.  As he turned to step back onto the path, he felt the ground begin to give way under his weight-bearing foot and before he could shift his weight to his forward foot, he began to fall backwards.  For a moment their eyes locked, and Cierra struggled to get to him in time to grab his hands.  

     Then he was gone.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination. This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts.
     She fixed her gaze on the horizon and pressed on against the wind and snow.  Passing a small cabin on her walk, the sound of dogs howling caused her to pause briefly.  She willed herself to believe that they truly were dogs and not the wolves she had heard lived in the forest.  The wind pushed against her and she wondered if it had been wind she had heard, not dogs ... or wolves.

     Brave was not a word she normally associated with herself, but tonight was not a normal night.  She smiled at the memory of her mother reminding her that "normal" was just a setting on a washing machine, and not something a woman should strive to be.

     "Be decisive, Cierra.  Be adventurous.  Be wise.  Be brave.  Be unique.  Be creative.  Be yourself.  Just don't ever settle on being normal."

     At that moment, the wind wrenched the hood of her parka back, and she felt the sting of ice and snow hit her face.  Turning her back to the wind, she was almost tempted to turn around and head back to the cabin she had just passed, wolves or no wolves.

     "This was a bad idea." she screamed into the wind as she began shake from the cold.  Why would a simple scribbled flower on a napkin have made her think that she was capable of finding him in this storm?  She should have waited until the next afternoon, after the storm had passed, when the road to the camp had been plowed.

      "I'm not brave, Mother.  I'm not adventurous, and I'm clearly not wise to be out here today.  What was I thinking?"


Words for Wednesday was begun by Delores and has become a moveable feast of word or picture or music prompts that encourages stories, poems, or whatever strikes the imagination.  This month, MessyMimi is providing the prompts. 
My words for last week are late as I have been dealing with some issues of the heart ... and learning a new job.  Better late than never, I suppose.

     Her presence was like sustenance, as nourishing to the heart as food and drink were to the body.  Talking with her was like sitting at a booth in a restaurant, overlooking a cobblestone street in a small German town, nestled at the foot of the Taunus Mountains.

     It felt like home.

     There wasn't any hint that anything was wrong.  Words flowed between them like syrup from a sugar maple in spring.  They both looked forward to their talks like one looked forward to sunshine and flowers after a long drab winter.

     The older they got, the more their conversations wrapped around the past.  Times shared.  Travels taken.  Cardboard boxes filled with treasured mementos picked apart by words, held up to the light to shine.

     It wasn't until later that it became apparent how wounded they both were.  Broken hearts stitched together by old memories.  They put on a good front, pasted empty smiles on their faces to the rest of the world, and were always astonished at how grateful they were for their friendship.

     It felt like home.