Blades of Grass

We, the last warriors of the world,

see our war-shattered realm as a was, and an is, and a what might yet be.

Strong is our connection.

The ones before had tears that dried in a barren land.

Only memories to tempt the blackened earth to sprout colour,

tendrils of greenery, and life, and wonders

that only exist in memories.

Our children will finally wash the blood from the stones.

Coax more than memories from this land,

that still skims along the tipping point,

still yet hoping for the sky’s return,

for soft, growing soil,

for grass.

The blades of grass daring to remain sprout from endless mounds of charred soil.

They have withstood all, bending, but not broken despite the heedless winds, despite the careless flames,

despite the tread of our oblivious feet.

We, the last of the chosen race, dominant beings of Earth,

sit in the ashes and fragments of our kin,

teaching morality tales, and myths of an ocean of people,

feasting on a river of food,

turning the world into a swamp of the rejected.

Dust in our mouths, the bitter fruit of knowledge.

Our war fought so long, the cause we have forgotten.

Lullaby a protest song, trying to remember the words.

Believe that that blood is thicker than water, neither should ever be spilt.

We, staggering survivors, witnesses of the fierce four steeds,

promised today to never deprive another of what we would not deprive ourselves.

To never behold tragedy and proclaim,

I have no power to relieve you of your suffering.

Though it took us to suffer to realise.

Lest we forget, must remind of not of who we lost, but why.

The reason of our pain, though not the sting of it,

gives us hope enough to sprout without fearing the fire.

For sprout we must.

We.

Nothing separates us now.

No status of humankind, no adornment of the skin.

There is nothing but the firm grip of one hand on another,

and the worth of the words we barter among ourselves.

Green with life as from the dead we rise.

We. Us.

We are the blades of grass.

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The Disagreement

“I’m sorry it had to end this way.”

“Me too. “

We turned in opposite directions. I trudged, and skipped faster in turns, blood pounding in my ears, making me dizzy. I knew that difference existed in the world, but I hadn’t realised it was as close as my street, as close as my best friend before.

All the dogs, in all the white houses with their well kept lawns, barked and growled as I passed, some even trying to attack me through the fence. I could hear the dogs in the distance barking at her too.

At least in this we are the same. I thought, kicking a stone towards one of the fences.

Mum looked up from her washing, surprised to see me home so early. She frowned as I told her I’d had a disagreement with Marie.

“I thought you two had so much in common.”

“So did I! We both like maths, both play goal defender for our team… she bought me those long pencils for my birthday and we shared the pack. I can’t understand how we can think so differently!”

“It’s an unfortunate fact of life, love. Why do you think we’ve moved so many times? Do you remember all the crazy neighbours we’ve had?”

“I remember when we left the town with all the cat people.”

“Yes! What an awful, smelly place that was. We really needed to find other like minded dog-owners. I just love walking around this neighbourhood! Knowing that every dog nearby is capable of crushing a human skull in its jaws makes me feel so secure. Do you remember the town where it was unpatriotic not to grow vegetables? You couldn’t play soccer because they didn’t believe in grass.”

I remembered eating roast pumpkin slices with olive oil, liking the taste of fresh tomatoes for the first time, and learning how to catch fireflies in early summer. I felt disloyal reminding Mum of that though.

“They taught us the nutrients in different animals’ manure.”

She shuddered appreciatively at my contribution. “Oh yes! Somewhat of an analogy for our attempts to plant ourselves. So many variations, but all of them… hmmmm, bit blue for this time of the afternoon.” She turned back to her dish-washing. “In any case, you just can’t argue that lawn isn’t the best frontage for a neat home. It was honestly easier to move. Once you compromise on one thing, the end is Sharia Law enforced Communism – and we don’t want that!”

“I wonder if we will have to move? Or Marie?”

Mum put her cup down with a clank. “Marie, I should think, love. What was the issue?”

My heart began to pound again, my eyes straying to the freezer. I realised suddenly that the whole basis of my disagreement that afternoon had been based off a decision made alone, a few moves ago.

“Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s something we will agree on. You know this family’s values.” Despite her words, Mum’s face had become more grim as she followed my gaze.

“Well… we were going to the store. Marie wanted to buy some ice-cream. I asked what flavour.”

“And?”

“She said chocolate but…”

Mum had opened the freezer. From deep in the back, covered in ice-crystals, she uncovered a small tub of chocolate ice-cream.

“It’s never seemed that important to me before.” She said, looking at the ice-cream rather than me, “But, I never thought I would raise a non-chocolate eater. Where did I go wrong?”

I stood up slowly, as she finally raised her red-rimmed eyes to mine.

“Melly, I want you to go out for a bit, and think on this choice you’ve made. I want you to think if this decision you’ve made is something you really want to drive us apart. Your father and I will be having a long talk about whether we can accept such a perversion of our beliefs in this house, once he gets home from work.”

“But… Mum.” I struggled to speak through my panic, struggled to craft some alibi, a defence, building up to a flat out renouncement of the difference that had suddenly appeared between us.

I lost the moment though, as another fear muddied my thoughts and pushed itself out my mouth: “… How will you find me?”

“Brutus will find you.” There was an answering snuff from the screen-door as Mum’s pet pressed his giant head against the steel, causing tortured squeaks and covering everything in a slime of drool. I had always been afraid of that dog, and the idea of him let loose to seek me out filled me with almost as much dread as the idea that he might never come.

She made me some sandwiches with more tears than words, and clicked the lock behind me as I stepped back out onto the lawn.

My body felt weak. All I wanted to do was sink down into the freshly mown grass. Making it to the end of the driveway was the most difficult, but each successive house with its white fence and snarling dog was so similar, I could trick my mind into believing I was still by my own.

“Hey Melly.”

Marie stood in front of me, plastic bags in hand.

“Um… I’m really sorry I brought up food. My parents always say, “It’s easier to ignore what you don’t know exists, so never talk about politics, religion, sports, television, personal routines or what you want to be when you grow up.” I should have guessed really that food would be part of that list.”

She held out one of the bags. Inside was a small tub of vanilla ice-cream. My favourite.

She had chocolate. My family’s favourite. We sat down on the curb together, cracked open our different tubs, wrapped in their bags so no one else could see, and began to eat in silence. Growls, and squeaks from the dogs around us teased my hopes that Brutus was already on his way. Just wait until I finish. I thought, eating quickly.

The vanilla was so good though I wanted to linger. It was just like I remembered, even if I couldn’t recall exactly the place where I tried it. Just a park, a few dollars in my pocket, and a cart selling only that one flavour of ice-cream.

“I’ve never tried chocolate.” I admit. “What’s it like?”

She shrugs. “Mmm, I don’t know how to describe it. Sweet? I love it, though.”

“Can… can I try some?”

“…sure, if I can I try your vanilla?”

We swapped, both hesitating at the first taste. Chocolate was really good. Almost as good as vanilla.

“Is it possible to like two things?” I asked Marie in a low voice.

She looked around, then leaned in. “I actually like cats… as well as dogs.”

We share a wide-eyed look of shock at ourselves as I admitted, “And small, non-dangerous dogs, too. Mum hates them though. We’ve moved at least twice because of pet issues.” My ears physically twitched at a sudden spate of barking, but it was a postal worker, delivering brown-wrapped boxes.

Marie sighed, “Actually, that’s another reason I came tonight. We might have to go again soon. There was a disagreement at Dad’s work. They found out he says grace after eating, instead of before it. When do you guys do it?”

“Oh… we don’t.”

“Really? I didn’t even know that was an option. Mum said we might have to leave the country for somewhere like Australia where they say grace right.”

Silence fell again, and we swapped back to our original flavours. Soon, the tubs were empty, the guilty contents consumed. My neck was becoming sore from constant scanning of the empty street.

“I hope you can stay. I don’t even care about our disagreement any more. And all the other stuff we probably don’t agree on too.”

“Yeah, we totally should practice disagreeing but staying friends more.”

I jumped at the sound of dogs howling in the distance, but the seemed to receding in the opposite direction. Another false alarm. The sun had sunk to the point that our shadows stretched long down the street, back towards my house to those I hoped even now were leaving the house in search of me.

I would welcome even Brutus right now.

“Melly? You ok? We don’t have to do anything, if you don’t want to.”

“I know. I do want to, though. I want to disagree and stay friends. I want to try stuff, even if I think I might hate it.” The sun began to slip behind the tree-line. My neck hurt, but I couldn’t tear my gaze from the distant end of the road, and the house I had decided was probably, had probably been, my own. “I just don’t know if people can live like that.”

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 7

Part 7 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

Give her this.”

Dad had passed me a photo as I was climbing out of his van. Over the last few days, I had studied it closely, but even so, again held it close to my face, trying to spot a detail about the people within it that I might have missed before.

They were a student pair of the 70s. A laughing, flirtatious girl in a high cut, dusty orange dress, no stockings and big sunglasses, grabbing the broad arm of a young, man in matching shades, khaki short sleeves and a mullet he no doubt now regrets.

My parents.

Back before bitterness, before disappointment, before anything deeper than looking stylish in a photo. Would the promise of a memory be enough to convince her to take Dad’s call? Was I right to even ask her to? Mum wasn’t this girl any more. If she had the chance, perhaps she would walk into this photo and yank off those glasses, and make her younger self see the world in all its current, regret-coloured greyness.

Jesus stared down at me from every wall. The memory associated with them of my Grandma, cleaning, straightening, proudly hanging new ones she found at garage sales, calmed me. I remembered her forcing us all to eat together, an increasingly difficult task as we grew into moody teenagers; secretly calling Mum’s work to organise a shift change or day off so she could come to a school event; and not so secretly agitating for Dad to come home, in huge fights with Mum. The thought of those fights, usually in Maltese, and accompanied by lots of tea-towel throwing, made me nervous again.

I heard the car drive in, and the engine switch off, the clang of keys against the door frame. Mum was home already! Lost in the photo, my sewing jumble was still on the table, with all three dresses hanging behind it.

I took my place in front of the table, shielding them with my body in case she went into a rage again. As Mum came in she looked at me, then at the dresses, then back at my face, probably seeing there a mixture of white fear and defiance.

She burst into tears.

“I really don’t need this now, Rachel.” She said, disappearing into her room.

I sat heavily in the pool of kitchen light, with a weird, mixed, burn of relief and bewilderment in my chest.

That was unexpected.

It took half an hour, and a cup of tea, to build up the courage to slip into her room.

Despite the heat, she had pillows and blankets bunched around protectively. At least it was soft to cuddle into.

We lay in silence for a while. It had been a long time since I had come in here. Her room, and her bed, were where we met at times of family crisis. When Dad had left, or been asked to leave, Mark and I had come in to sleep in a big, comforting family jumble. After she came back from visiting Mark in the police cell, we slept a week in this room together. With Grandma gone by then, the house and all its previously occupied rooms had become a wound.

“Mum?”

“I’m not a monster.” Her voice was hard to hear through the blanket. She threw out an arm and pulled me in under.

“I know that uni is a big step when you’re not sure what your interest is. But the world doesn’t care, doesn’t wait, and you’ll lose all those opportunities that come when you’re young. You need to be ready to catch them or they’re gone forever. Uni, work, these are things you have to do, not because they’re fun, but because they’re what you need to get security. A home sewing business will never give you security. I’m not saying this to be mean, just realistic, cos you have no training other than Grandma. Who will want a teenage seamstress apart from other teenagers, maybe? Find some job at least as a parachute. Y’know, I talked to my supervisor for you, and she’s happy if you wanted to come in, do some work experience, maybe even get some paid hours. That’s a good compromise, if you don’t want to go to uni yet.”

The heat and blankets were becoming oppressive. I flipped them open a bit, to allow in cool, fresh air.

“Mum, do you even like working there? I remember how you wanted to be a librarian. What happened to that?”

“Because things didn’t work out. All of your Dad’s business failures left us too broke for me to do a Library Science course, or to volunteer in the library until a job came up. Nerry’s is at least stable. Pays your school bills, buys your food!” I can feel her body tensing up, her arm withdrawing and a pillow getting wedged in between us. “Why can’t I have one kid following my lead? Mark and his idiocy proved that he’s your father’s son. I was hoping when I saw your good grades that you would enjoy the chances I missed, but lately I’m beginning to wonder if you aren’t also his daughter!”

The blankets were being pulled off me. I let them go and sat up, “It took two people to make me, Mum, I’m not your clone, and couldn’t be if I tried.”

“Then you’re just going to leave me too.” Her voice was flat, and I couldn’t see her expression in the dark, but the words gave me hopes that helped control the anger and resentment our budding fight had produced.

“They want to come home, Mum. Mark’s been training as a baker at-”

“When did you see your brother?” She sat up.

“The other-”

“I’m not happy with you interacting him, Rachel, he’s a criminal now, and people don’t change.”

“Mum!” The angst roared back and my hands itched for one of Grandma’s tea towels to hurl. “He’s your son! My brother! You wonder why you’re alone? It’s because you pushing us all away! Always remembering our mistakes! Sometimes people fail Mum, why don’t you get that?”

“Rachel-”

You told Dad to leave.”

It was out there now. Time to test which one had been telling the truth. The proverbial gloves were off, and her counters could be the finishing blow to the boys’, and my, hopes of us ever being together again.

“You said he ran away, but you kicked him out! There’s a pattern here! Mark fucks up once and he’s broken beyond repair? Now I’m not following the plan, what will you do? Change the locks when I’m out? I bet you’ll love being all alone, except when you’re at a job that you fucking hate!“

“Move out then! Move out! Maybe you might finally understand what it’s like to struggle. Even then you won’t have to support an ungrateful family, always knocking you on your back! Get out Rachel, out of my room!”

I stood, stumbling a little as the blankets tangled. We glared at each other, even as my anger began to subside into a cold ball of regret in my gut.

Well, I’ve fucked it all up now.

Hands shaking, I took Dad’s photo out of my pocket and placed it on the bed.

“They want a second chance, Mum. To – I don’t know – show you they made good.”

Her voice was less angry, but guttural like she was pushing the words out through clenched teeth. “Your Dad made life really difficult, Rachel. I know you don’t remember, but I do. I don’t know if I could ever forget enough to forgive him. Either of them.”

“Just talk then. Maybe it’ll help, you know.”

She picked up the photo, gently, though she shook her head. “It’s impossible to go back. I just can’t let all these years go so easily.”

“Dad’s going to call. Just talk. Don’t even talk, just listen.”

She shook her head again. Placing the photo, face down, on the nightstand, she turned her body away, but didn’t protest when I climbed back in and curled around her back.

Lacking the energy to speak any more, sleep came quickly, and so heavily that I didn’t wake even when she left for work in the morning. When I did rise groggily to drag myself to school, I noticed the photo was gone.

Part 8

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 5

Part 5 of a  longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

“You’re quiet today.” Jo said, as I carefully pinned the paper patterns to her school uniform.

“Yeah.”

Silence settled over us again. Best to just keep quiet, both to avoid becoming more involved further in the saga between my two clients, as well as to better hear the footsteps of either Mum or Sara arriving unexpectedly. Pins were pushed into the soft wood of the table legs, after my jumpiness made keeping them in my mouth more dangerous than even style would allow.

“How’s everything going with Certifiable?”

“Who?”

“Sara. Sorry, I know you guys are friends and all, but she is pretty crazy.”

It’s hard to deny, but… “She’s having a pretty rough time at home, you know. I think that’s enough to make anyone become a bit… over-dramatic. Turn around.”

“Yeah, except, the way she acts, you’d think no-one’d ever gone through a divorce before.”

I stabbed a pin into the table, wishing we weren’t having this conversation. “It’s always hard when reality sets in. She’ll learn to focus on other things.” Like I focus on this dress, and not my fight with Mum, or my own broken home. Healthy? “How’s that feel? I think it’s fitting really nicely.”

“Her Dad is a jerk anyway.”

“Um, OK. I didn’t realise you’d met him. Aaaah, be careful! Don’t rip it!” She had twisted around to stare at me.

“OK, OK, hold up a sec. What has she told you?”

“Whatever, it’s not my business. Let’s just get the patterns off, or you’ll end up asymmetrical.”

“She didn’t mention anything about her Dad and my Mum at all then?”

Oh… I looked up at her wordlessly. It all makes a lot more sense now.

“Nothing?”

“Uh, She only really talked about some exam trouble at Grammar.”

Jo’s arms quivered. Trapped in the paper, they punctuated her words in stiff, though still alarmingly violent, motions. “That! That’s when I realised she really hated me. Me! For what? Her stupid Dad dating my Mum? Trying to be all friendly and hey! I have a daughter your age. You know he brought me over some of her stuff? Like her books and shit? I never asked for a father, especially not her father, but she can’t hate him, so I get all her angst. The exam was just the last straw. No wonder they expelled her.”

She stopped, her eyes meeting mine, searching for some missed reaction. “You don’t know anything about this? She hasn’t told you anything, has she? And you’re her best friend? “ She began drawing out the pins around her in order to sit down. As I hastily took over before anything got ripped, she murmured, “And that’s why we call her Certifiable.”

A heavy silence returned, full of my regrets, not only about having tried to defend Sara leading to this outburst, or the decision to take two arch-enemies as clients, but shading into remorse of having made contact with anyone, ever.

But it made sense. If I couldn’t trust Dad to stick around, or Mum to support my dreams, or even Mark to use his brain, how could I trust someone I’d only known a few years to tell me the truth about her painful past?

Focus on the dress.

Rolling out the rich, red material seemed to make both of us perk up. Jo touched an edge of the satiny fabric. “Wow, it’s going to look great.”

“I’d like to have it done by end of next week, so I’ll give you a call for when to come around again for another fitting. If you could bring the cash next time too…?”

Jo’s hand pulled away, but she nodded. “I just got a job at Nick’s Nosh, starting tonight, so that’ll help. Actually, this is a bit awkward, but I just realised I didn’t bring the deposit for their uniform. So… could you spot me and add it to my bill?”

“Sure, I guess. Though, it’s going out of my fabric fund, so I hope I don’t need anything more for your dress this week.”

“Thanks babe! “ She took the money and began collecting her gear, “Man, I wonder what will happen if Sara ever comes to Noshies?”

I will get a call to come hold your arms back… “Look, you know Sara is still really angry, and not going to chill out any time soon. It’s not my business, but I think you should talk it out, instead of always worrying she might be the next customer through the door.”

Jo’s cheerful expression fell away to one that was reminiscent of a two-year old’s stubborn scowl. “Unless you can talk her Dad out of moving in, I doubt it. Let’s just drop it, OK? I’ll see you about the dress next week.”

Closing the door on her, I felt I was closing something inside me. Maybe Mum was right in believing there was nothing she could have done to stop Mark. There’s no medicine for stupidity, there’s no advice that can stop a bad decision if it’s wanted to be made. Instead, I savoured the emptiness of the house.

Both dresses were at the stage of transforming from paper into product. Sara wanted a little black dress and I could see them becoming a frequent request if I lasted past this tumultuous beginning of my trade. I wanted something less funeral for her, I wanted a summery halter neck in yellow cotton, with a tight waist and ripply, bell shaped skirts falling just below the knee.

But she wanted a little black dress: strapless, shiny, ankle length matched with new stilettos.

And there’s nothing I can say to change that.

The phone rang. I moved slowly to answer it.

“Rachel?”

“Wha- Dad?” I hunched over a little, at the sharp pain in my gut.

“Hey girl, how you doing? Hey, I’ve got something to show you, if you’ll come past tomorrow arvy. Just you, ok? Don’t bring your Mum. Yet.”

Part 6