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Artist Unknown

Or Thin Places

By Lauren ColgatePublished about a year ago 64 min read
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Dedication

To the one I love and had to let go of:

The Pirate-Cowboy-Prince

It started when I was little. Shiny things, pretty things caught my eye. It began with flowers and rocks. Butterflies and mushrooms. I remember once my mother hit the toadstool I had found in the yard out of my hand before I put it in my mouth. “That could be poison!” She shrieked. That was when I learned at the age of five that beautiful things could be dangerous. I didn’t learn my lesson though.

That same year I accomplished two things. I painted a picture of that toadstool. The most colorful and soulfully textured thing a five year old could create with a cheap crayola paint set that came with a thin plastic paintbrush with wiry bristles. People tell me I have what’s called taste. And I suppose I had it then too because I hated that cheap paintbrush. It could not and would not move in the way my soul urged it to describe.

That’s when I found it at my aunt’s place. The brush felt like velvet between my fingers and against my cheeks. A shiny bright copper ferrule and the most beautiful turquoise-dyed wood handle. I had to have it. So I took it hidden under my dress held in place at my hip by my panties. When mother noticed my paintings lacked the texture of wiry, pubic bristles she found me out. Angrily, she took me back to her sister’s house and made me return the paintbrush with a “sincere” apology. My punishment was no creating for a week.

Good children would never repeat an act like that. They would relay the story of how they stole for the first and last time to their future friends and maybe children. But for a month I dreamt of paintbrushes and how it felt emanating power through my fingers. Art became power and power was art. And that paintbrush was my tool of goddess-like dominion over the world beginning with a blank sheet of computer paper.

By thirteen I grabbed whatever I loved and hid it away in the attic where my parents would never go and never see. Antique shops, boutiques, friend’s houses-even my grandmother’s place found themselves unsafe from my addiction. I became aware of cameras and watchful eyes. I became an expert at waiting until the eyes were averted from me and then at the perfect moment (waiting-for it was an art of its own) gently, and expertly slipping the object of my desire into my purse or push-up bra or pocket.

Though I craved those moments of invisibility so that I could fulfill my secret obsession, I began to crave the eyes on me equally. What good is beauty, my heart whispered, if it isn’t seen? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound?

Then I realized I wanted to make a name for myself. You could call it a messiah complex perhaps. You could call it a cry into the void before it swallowed me up whole,

“I am here! I am here! I am here!!!”

I thought about things like that at thirteen. And the anxiety of the sheer volume of eternity ate at me until desperation forced me to take bigger things.

My ticket to immortality was art. To bring beauty into the world was etched into my soul from birth. Pure. To become a famous artist and have my name written into history books from my gift of beauty was a natural step from there. Pure?

At 16 I hatched my plan. We visited the museum every Sunday. My father would grunt and complain the whole time my mother urged us after church into the clunky old minivan.

“We have a membership and we’re not going to waste it!”

My little sister, Frances, and I drank in every portrait and sculpture. Every family art activity in the museum basement where we learned as many forms and styles as 15 years of basic art lessons could provide.

Frances too was born with an eye for beauty. When I was five and she was three she too would catch butterflies and collect flowers with me. But she knew instinctively to never put a toadstool on her tongue. I never showed her my stash of treasures in the attic because I knew while she would be delighted by my collection of textured fabrics, colorful paintings, shiny watches and rings, smooth leather gloves, hats of all shapes and sizes, fragrant perfume bottles, magical prisms, minted hand painted book covers, and a variety of heels, due to their beauty, she would be horrified at how I attained them.

At eighteen I should have gone to the university. But that was the year Frances drowned. She shouldn’t have. She knew perfectly well how to swim. But into the water she went with her group of friends and out she never came until they found her pale, bloated corpse and fished it back into our cold world five hours later.

She was meant for art school. Smart, creative, philosophical, cool. Everything they looked for. A week before she died, she collected countless pamphlets which overwhelmed her bedroom mirror. Schools had already showed interest in having her specifically. They tried to get in touch with her over and over. And she tried to respond as often as she could.

“I am trying to enjoy my last few years of highschool before rushing into anything. You know, for artistic inspiration.” She would smirk gently.

It was a dress that unraveled me. Two years after Francis was gone, I remembered as I stared longingly at the angelic gown. Francis and I under the covers giggling about boys and hopes and dreams of the future. She asked me if she would be my maid of honor when I married my crush (Destin or Dustin or Doug?) and I asked her what her wedding dress would look like. Her eyes dreamed, closed tight and far away. The way she always looked when inspiration and muse was upon her.

“It’s pink. So pale that it’s almost ivory. And thin. So thin it feels like you’re wearing nothing. It floats. You feel like an angel. I don’t know about the cut. It could be princess or a-line. But the sleeves fall off your shoulder. And embroidered with everything good and lovely. Birds, flowers, butterflies…”

I giggled “Haha unicorns and rainbows?”

“Hehe you’re making fun of me, huh? You’ll see it. I’m gonna make it myself.”

The dress laughed at me straight through its glass enclosure. It screamed to me that it longed to be free. Not shut up behind a cage. I hated it. I loved it. I longed to have it. I broke in that very night. I was good with locks. They were puzzles that could always be solved with just the right combination and slight of hand. So I slipped inside. I, the dead of night, robbed the cold unfeeling mannequin of her dignity.

The pounding at the door made my body shake. My mother, dumbfounded, opened up and I could hear their voices downstairs. Was I home? She thought I was in my room. Footsteps up the stairs. Where would they look once I wasn’t found inside? I began to descend the attic ladder and stopped dead in my tracks. Shock and fear had made my thoughts fatally unclear. I was still wearing the dress that miraculously fit me like a glove. Before I had time to climb back up to grab my clothes that I had discarded on the attic floorboards they found me.

“Miss -?”

I turned around. “Yes?”

They didn’t even let me change. I was led into the cop car from my parent’s house still dressed in pale pink. I tried to imagine I was a high profile celebrity being escorted to my wedding, but the handcuffs, tight around my wrists prevented my imagination from wandering further than a vague dream. Nothing felt real. We sped down the interstate.

Then the insterstate sped through us. I don’t remember the impact much. I remember opening my eyes and the car door was wide open. I crawled out into the sun and something inside me urged me to run. We were on a bridge. I looked over the ledge and saw the river below. The officers were beginning to stir. “I’d rather be dead than incarcerated.” My head screamed. So I jumped.

Plunged into quietness and coolness. “At last.” I thought.

But I floated to the top. Air filled my lungs again.

The river carried me and I let it. I could still see the bridge and now the forms of the officers shouting over the ledge. They were still encircling me like vultures. In no time they would take their first bite.

Downstream, the river diverted into a swamp. Without thinking I swam until I reached the muddy grass. My feet sank into the mud while I tried to stand. The water encircled first my knees, then waist, then shoulders. I stopped struggling and allowed myself to float. That’s how the mire became unstuck to my body. This is how I waded through the swamp.

Twilight overcame the day. For hours I waded and swam through tall grass. Surprised I hadn’t been attacked yet by a gator or a snake. All the time fearful that out of nowhere I would. I cried sometimes when reality set in. Then hours of shock and denial of my situation.

Night flooded the swamp eventually. I felt like a baby left too long in the bath. My fingers, wrinkled. My body, shaking from the cold. Still I trudged on.

I don’t understand how but suddenly I found a wooden pier. I climbed upon it and my eyes followed the trail to a darkened cottage. I don’t know why I stayed. It must have been pure exhaustion, but I fell fast asleep on that deck though I shivered all the while through the night.

“Hello?” A soft kind voice shook me awake. I opened my eyes to those of soft blue-grey. She might have been nine or ten. “Are you okay?” She asked, clearly concerned not for herself, but for me. I was still getting my bearings. Where was I?

The events of the past day flooded back to me. I should run. But the continuation of cold made me shiver and shake visibly. Mist rose from the water surrounding this kind-looking apparition and I.

“You look cold…” the cherub continued, “I’ll get you some tea.” She ran down the planks to the now illliuminated cottage. It rose against the sun.

I didn’t realize how tired and hungry and cold I was until I pressed the warm mug to my lips and gobbled down a fresh biscuit the girl had returned with. I had also forgotten all about my bound wrists. I was sure the girl would run and grab a rifle as soon as she noticed the handcuffs. Instead she sank beside me and gulped down her own cup of tea.

“You the girl we heard about on the news? The thief?”

Tears brimmed my lids. “Yes,” I said softly.

“I like your dress. I thought you were a mermaid princess at first.”

“Thanks...it’s not mine.” I replied solemnly.

“They said it’s worth at least twenty thousand dollars! And they found stolen items totaling equal or more value in your house!” She was clearly in awe but not accusatory.

We were silent for a few moments. Sipping our tea. I was about to ask her her name but I gagged and puked into the green water below the boards.

“Mamma!” The girl got up and ran to the cottage. Moments later a woman ran out accompanying the little girl. I couldn’t tell what she looked like because the world spun madly around me.

The woman’s arms were strong and warm. She pulled me onto my feet as if I were a drunken sailer and led me into her abode. There she laid me down on something cushioned and soft. I puked again onto floorboards that shifted and shook like a jigsaw puzzle. I heard gagging across the room and the sound of liquid penetrating the floor as I had just done. The girl puked too.

“Eloise!” The woman gasped. But she wasn’t angry. At either of us. Just deeply concerned. “Mamma! I throw up when someone does it in front of me!” The girl, Eloise, cried. “Go outside then and get some water from the well.” The woman ordered.

“I’m...I’m so sorry-“ I gasped. The woman simply told me to lie back and tucked me in with a fuzzy blanket. Without any more prodding I succumbed to the exhaustion and sickness that clung to me like my wet dress from the night before.

I opened my eyes. Had I awoken to a fairytale? The late afternoon sun streamed in through the windows. Leaves danced outside in the breeze scattering their shadows upon the now bone-clean floor. The shadows twirled over a light and airy space. Full of lovely artifacts. Light and full. Pictures of botany, anatomy of birds and insects. Dried herbs, leaves, and flowers. Moss and peaches in jars. Toadstools safely behind glass. Beads. Vials of rainbow. Fractals. Colors. Warm textures of velvet and silk. Not boushie, simply elegant.

Two different smells filled my nostrils but oddly compatible. On an iron stove, chicken soup? From the wood burning oven, a pie? Then I could smell the herbs hanging above my head. Rosemary tied the two together. And top notes over all, clean fresh air from open windows. Sumptuous smells but not overpowering.

My wrists ached and I peered down to discover that they were free. Below me, plopped on the floor, were my old chains and some kind of tool I couldn’t name.

In walked a quiet man. His hair like cotton. He looked like a wise old monk. He stopped when he noticed me sitting up on the velvet, mossy green sofa. And he smiled. “You must be…” he stopped to ponder and bring to life the name he had somehow, somewhere heard before. “...the fugitive.”

He had eyes that on any other man might seem piercing. Invasive. But his simply made you ache for reasons unknown. They were icy, electric. But they danced instead of shocked. I wasn’t afraid of him but found myself in awe of him. The Mona Lisa with her secret smile came to mind.

Again all I could say was yes and at that moment in walked the woman from before. “Eddie, are you pestering our guest?” She was as thick as Eddie was thin. Her chestnut hair streaked in salt and pepper framed husky shoulders. Arms that had lifted me hours? Days? Before. She turned to me.

“Dinner’s almost ready, honey.”

She turned back to her husband and planted a kiss on his lips. Then turned her attention to the stove. Stirring it’s contents. Wafting the steam to her nostrils. “Mmm”, she murmured. My mouth watered as the scent traveled stronger across the kitchen into the living room.

“Four of us tonight, Elaine?” Eddie mused. The woman, Elaine, nodded “Mmmhmm”, as she pulled a bubbling pie from the oven.

What was right? What was proper? I tried to ask myself. Why on earth did I feel so at ease? Did they really know all about me? And why the hell did I feel as if I didn’t need to say anything at all?

They both helped me to the table though I protested that I didn’t need help. “Eloise!” They called and inside walked the little girl. She smiled at me. “I’m glad you’re okay!” “I’m glad you are too.” I returned. She giggled. “Momma says I’m empathetic.” She turned to Elaine “But I’m NOT pathetic!”

I didn’t realize how hungry I was. The flavor of the broth floated over my tongue. The chicken filled my stomach. The fresh-picked vegetables nourished my bones. Three bowls later I still gobbled down the piece of pie Elaine sat in front of me. Sweet, sticky, flaky, bursting between my teeth. And lemonade. Not too sweet nor too sour. Perfectly refreshing. A meal so good I could cry.

I tried to help with the dishes but Elaine shoo’d me away. “Go see what Eloise is up to.”

I found her in a workroom, drawing with chalk on the hardwood floor. Squeezing the last of the day’s light from an open door. “That’s beautiful.” I gasped. It was a sunset over an ocean. She blended the fiery sky into the deep rich blue expertly. “Thanks” she replied, eyes focused on her work. “Momma’s gonna make me sweep it up tomorrow.” I was shocked. “Can you take a picture of it or something first?”

“Hmm. I never thought of doing that.”

Puzzled, I carefully stepped around the exquisite colors and perused a framed handwritten paper on the wall that caught my eye:

What the Matter?

Who Cares who cares

If nobody hears but me?

If I sing if I play

My lone effigy?

I want to shout out

Into the world

Then maybe

My song

Would be

Something

But maybe it matters

If I cry my own shatter

Into the void

When I’m lonely

I want to change the world

Can’t write a single chord

What does it matter?

What could it matter?

But maybe it matters

To me

I stepped back. “Wow.”

Eloise looked up. “That’s by Ethan.”

I didn’t know who Ethan was but I absentmindedly wished that we could be friends.

I would come to stay with the Moonshowers for seven and a half months. Enough time for me to come to love each of them in very different ways.

Elaine was a chef. As a young woman she attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Like some sort of painter of pallets she intrinsically knew how to blend tastes together until they created a symphony of flavors. Her father was Italian and her mother Mexican. Elaine told me how they used to fight over rights to the kitchen when she was a child.

“Through the two of them” she relayed, “I learned more about food than I ever did in Paris.” At just thirty two years old she opened her own five star restaurant in New Orleans. Her name pressed onto every food guide in the nation. I saw the magazines, dated over twenty five years ago. Every one of them called her “eclectic” and “adventurous” in many words and ways.

We sat on rocking chairs on the front porch. Knitting as the sun sank behind the trees. Elaine’s fingers plucked each strand of yarn expertly. Mine not so much.

“One day,” she began “Unseasonably warm even for a summer evening in Louisiana, a scrawny young man walked into my restaurant. He ordered the beignets and sent them back for more browning and powdered sugar. I was furious. No one had ever sent my dish back before. I purposely burnt the beignets and added no sugar. I insisted on serving up the dish myself. When I saw his face, I instantly regretted my temper tantrum.”

“He was beautiful. Golden hair and eyes that pierced my very soul. And when he saw me he regretted being a nuisance. I set the dish down and he took a bite of the charcoal. ‘It’s...very good’ he almost choked. I ran back to the kitchen for water and had him gulp it down. We talked until closing time over fresh golden brown, powdered beignets.”

Eddie was from Bavaria. He was only visiting New Orleans in order to study a special kind of frog. He was a biologist but his true passion was drawing. Anatomical drawings were his specialty. He always drew animals and plants but after meeting Elaine for months all he drew was her. Justifying his work by telling his superiors he had finally moved on to human anatomy.

Young Eddie and Elaine stole as much time away to be together as they could scrounge from both their busy lives. When the time came for Eddie to return home they found that their lives had inexplicably become one.

“Distance didn’t matter,” Eddie told me as we fished in a rickety canoe in the steamy dawn. “We talked every night. Sometimes mornings before work too. I’d visit her for Thanksgiving and she’d come see me for Christmas. A year later she showed up unannounced in my homeland to tell me she was pregnant.”

“Most men would want to run away. Instead I quit my job and moved to New Orleans where we married. But I couldn’t find a job!” His hands trembled and shook his line.”

“Elaine and I began to have troubles. I won’t go into detail, but it’s hard on a man to be unemployed while his wife works herself to exhaustion...I left them to return to my old job. Missed them every day.”

“One day Elaine showed up unnannounced yet again...Damn fish don’t seem to be hungry this morning...Our daughter, well, she was hit by a car…”

I gasped.

“Only three years old and she was taken from us.” He continued. Now his face seemed to reveal wrinkles I hadn’t noticed before. “I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced loss like that but...it changes you.”

My mind flashed to Frances and I sitting on a dock in the late afternoon sun.

Eddie continued, “I suddenly realized how easy it is to lose the people and things most important to you. Suddenly it didn’t matter if I could find a good job or not. I just wanted to be with Elaine. To hold her close every night and wake up to her every morning. Elaine, she felt the same way. When we found out she was pregnant again, we decided together to go be somewhere where we could enjoy each other and our son for as long as we could. Lord knows we had each enough money to take and support us anywhere. Ethan was born here in our little house we built with our own hands six months later. Now Eloise! She was a surprise. A serendipity, nine years ago.”

Eloise was the result of the recipe of Elaine and Eddie. Like her father she could draw. Like her mother she could blend in color. The paintings she produced belonged in a museum. Landscapes so beautiful you could cry. Her favorite medium appeared as chalk carved onto trees, barn doors, planks, her father’s canoe, her mother’s refrigerator.

Not since Frances had I known a child so full of life. So completely at ease with herself. So sure of every stroke of watercolors, every crayon line, each dusting of pastels. She loved to talk. What she retained from schooling at home about the world and what she didn’t know, her imagination carried the rest.

Once a week she accompanied her parents into town for supplies. I, of course, couldn’t join them.

It was a day like this when at last I met Ethan.

I heard him in my dream before I saw him. I awoke that Sunday afternoon shocked at having slept so late. If it weren’t for the bright warm sun illuminating my eyelids I might have slept longer. The music relaxed every muscle in my body. Music? I thought it was only in my dream but it continued. Floated into the room in which I stayed through the open window on the soft breeze. A guitar strumming, lyrics full of depth, and a voice so strong yet tender. Heartfelt.

I peered out my window and below me, on the porch, bare feet dangling over the water, jeans rolled up to his calves, sat a young man. The sunlight danced in his golden hair. I listened intently to his song in awe. He finished and began another. Then he fooled around clearly fleshing out the motif of a ballad. Finally, he goofed around plucking the guitar strings and with a twangy voice serenaded the cat, the fish encircling his toes, a fly buzzing around his ears. I giggled. He stopped and turned.

Hazel eyes immediately found mine above him. Instinctively I ducked away from the window. Embarrassed for having watched him for at least half an hour then fearful. Did he know who I was? Did I know who he was? “It’s the son, it must be the son.” Did his parents tell him about me? Would he turn me in? Then embarrassed again because he had clearly seen me hide when he saw me. Then puzzled as to why I worried about what he thought of me when I should be worrying about running for the hills.

“Hey!” The voice called to me. “You can come out. I don’t bite.” He laughed. “Don’t worry, I know who you are.”

I realized that he knew the whole time that I was inside. If he had wanted to drag me away to the police he could’ve and would’ve done it already. Now I drifted my face back to the window, sheepish.

He grinned up at me.

“Ethan?” I managed.

“Howdy. Whatcha think about my song?”

“Beautiful...all of them!”

“You heard them all?”

“Yeah. You really came into your own with the last one.” I couldn’t help but smile “I think you found your sound.”

His laugh was every bit as beautiful as his music. It was music. Staccato and goofy. “Why don’t you come down and I’ll serenade you like a gondola captain in Venice.”

I was open to the suggestion and hopped down the stairs, caught sight of myself in the mirror and realized I was still wearing the nightgown Elaine had lent me. “Oh no...I look like a granny” I scowled at my reflection. “Uh...give me a second!”

I rushed to pull on a dress. Too big as it was also on loan from Elaine. If only I could don the Frances dress. It actually fit at least. Glancing at it hanging in the room, scrubbed clean of all the mud and swamp. Obviously it would be too much. I rolled up Elaine’s dress sleeves instead. Checked my breath in the mirror. Frowned. Brushed my teeth. Brushed my hair. Wished for some lipstick. I had been completely makeup free for months. Instead I bit my lips and pinched my cheeks to add some color to my skin like a Victorian flushed by a visiting suitor.

He smiled when I stepped out onto the porch. “Is that my mom’s dress?”

He walked over to me, tall and strong. My head barely reaching his throat. We took each other in for an awkward beat. I guess I had no need to pinch my cheeks since I could feel heat rushing to my face. Ugh, apparently I wasn’t used to people anymore. Especially handsome ones. I stuck out my hand “Ethan.”

then went in for a hug for some stupid reason. Maybe because he was the only Moonshower I hadn’t met before and they had begun to feel like family. Maybe because I felt like I already knew him.

Apparently the feeling was not mutual as I noted the confusion on his face. “I mean, you’re Ethan I’m-.”

He smirked back. “I know.”

He stepped inside his canoe tied to the deck, pulled out from under the seat a bottle of Jameson and took a swig. He stretched it out toward me. I grabbed it and took a sip. Smooth at first then I gagged and almost threw it up. He laughed yet again as I stepped onto the boat ricocheting it and splashing water everywhere.

He untangled the rope from it’s coil. Pushed us off. He paddled until we floated where the swamp met the river. Pulled out his guitar and said “This one’s for you”:

COSMIC POOLS

The eyes, chico

They never lie

In the eyes

A million skies

Look past the disguise

Look and see

Hazel, green

Brown and blue

A billion galaxies

Swimming for you

Velvet, glassy

Matte, glossy

Call them gems

Call them oceans

Compare them

Dance to their motions

Emotions

Tired, wired

Shining, pining

Swimming in their pools

Dazzled by the jewels

Eyes we remember

Eyes we forget

Eyes that make my own wet

Eyes that are a secret

Windows to the soul

That they struggle to control

But how? Possibly?

With universes so full!

Eyes that shatter

Eyes that burn

Eyes smattered

Eyes full of concern

I’m afraid to look

In case they burn me

I’m afraid to see

If they’re too icy

Now I’ll take the time

To stare into you

You gaze into mine

Four universes collide

Four seas combine

My planets are yours

Your stars are mine

Averted, alerted

Crazy, hazy

Frustrated, humiliated

A trillion words for your violent

Peaceful universe

Gaze into the eyes, chico

And you will see

The whole of you

And all of me

“I bet you sing that to all the girls” I said sarcastically with a lump in my throat. He returned, “No, I just made it up.” I laughed at his lie. Later I would learn he was completely serious.

Out again came the bottle. “I was thinking of meeting some friends. You wanna join?”

As much as I realized I should stay put, I also realized how starved for company I had been over the last few months. “Why not?” I replied.

He began to paddle and led us to a creek just barely deep enough to accommodate our canoe.

As we traveled downstream I noticed litter scattered about, a skull on a tree, rotten apple cores. Then a shack on the bank. “Who goes there?” A thick voice and the cock of a gun.

“Just two outlaws looking for sanctuary!” Ethan called out with his hands held up past his ears. My heart pounded. I pulled my arms up too.

“Name?”

“Go fuck yourself!”

The voice stepped out of his habitation belonging to a burly redhead with a grizzly beard. He held the gun up to Ethan’s nose. As he moved toward me Ethan slapped it away from pointing at my temple. The young man howled in amusement. “Moonshower!” He greeted him. “How the hell are you?”

Jacob Abernathy could steal the show. His hair rolled out around him like an 80s lions mane. He wore camo pants. Not much to look at, but he could charm a snake of it’s mouse. He invited us inside the shanty. Looking around it was littered and messy. He pulled a giant bong from behind the ratty couch. “Care to partake?”

Ethan plopped down beside his friend and promptly took the bong. “Anyone got a light?”

I had been high twice before. First with Frances under a bridge. She lit up the joint, inexpertly rolled. We laughed harder and listened to music longer. We took turns sharing a song at a time from our playlists. By the time we ran out of things to talk about and music to share the sun had risen high into the sky and we realized we hadn’t been blazed for a long time.

The second time at a halloween party where I inhaled a dab rig. I spent the night talking to every guest and by the end of the night, my friends found me in the basement face painting and conversing lively with a line of party goers.

This time around, as Ethan went back and forth with Jacob I sat frozen. My life unraveling in my head.

Reality pulled me back when Jacob pulled out his gun and pointed it at Ethan. “Why haven’t you been my friend?”

Ethan laughed and pushed the barrel from his face. “Put that the fuck away, man.” He laughed.

“Am I making you nervous?” Jacob traded his attention to me.

I played it cool. “Nothing makes me nervous anymore.”

“He didn’t hit on you did he?” Ethan asked as we paddled back. “No…” Maybe he did? “I can’t remember.” I giggled. Ethan pulled out his bottle and pressed it to his lips, gulping. He passed it to me.

“At least that son of a bitch can’t threaten us anymore!” Ethan laughed as he pulled out Jacob’s gun from under the seat. He emptied the barrel of its bullets into the water as we paddled back home.

“He’s rough around the edges, but he’s been through a lot. He found his mom hanging in the basement when he was a kid.”

I gasped and had no idea what to say to that so I took another shot’s worth of whiskey.

I rocked the boat as I attempted to disembark. He pulled me out just before I went overboard and held my waist steady upon the dock.

“You...saved me. I am forever beholden to you.” I slurred my words in an attempt at sarcasm.

He smiled gazing deep into my eyes. This was the moment, based on past experience when he would kiss me. Instead he led me gently into the cottage, up the stairs, and sat me down on my bed. I slept long and deep that night. And when I awoke next morning, for the first time in forever, I smiled.

By my bed sat my “sketchbook”. An old Mennonite cookbook contributed by every other name of “Mrs. Eli Yoder”. Over recipes for cola cake and pickled pig’s feet I drew my pieces. I had found the book in the wastebasket one afternoon. Day after day I drew from the technique and inspiration I found in the Moonshowers. I used a no. 2 pencil to capture the cat that had no name.

It was feral but came around for the scraps Elaine cherished feeding her. Despite Eddie’s quip “if you name them you get attached”, I think we each had a different name for her. Eddie simply said “Wildcat”, Elaine cooed “Dumplin’”, Eloise called her “Aurora”, Ethan wrote a song for her called “Zephyr”.

I could never find a name that truly fit the mysterious and mystical and ever sweet creature. Some days I called her “Pussy” because I thought it was funny, other days “Cinnamon”, then “Stella”, then “Serendipity”.

Somehow she could never stay put long enough for me to capture her in the moment.

I remember when Ethan took Eloise and I to the waterfall. There was a rope swing there once. He put it up when he was ten. “Why isn’t there one now?” I asked. He pulled out a rope from beside his jack daniels. “Why not today?” I wasn’t wearing a bikini. Not even a bathing suit. Just a skirt and blouse. All too big. All belonging to Elaine. He pulled off his shirt and Eloise stomped out of her jeans. I sat by the edge of the water.

“Aren’t you coming in!?” Shouted Eloise.

“I’ll be too cold!”

After a while, Eloise swam herself over to the canoe. “I gotta dump. I’m gonna head back. You two can walk home. It’s like a mile or three.” She grinned mischievously as she paddled downstream.

The obvious rom com thing that should have happened after Eloise left was that Ethan swam around in the refreshing pool, cajoled me into dipping my feet in until I had the courage to strip and jump in completely naked.

I take the plunge but don’t rise from the water. A minute goes by and Ethan dunks himself underwater finding me passed out on the bottom floor. He uses his strong arms to pull me up out of the water onto a sunbathed rock in the middle of the pool. Gives me mouth to mouth. Pumps his muscly arms against my breast because he definitely knows cpr. He is also naked. I cough out water and come to. First aware of his worry stricken face gazing intently into my deep brown eyes.

“You can’t swim a lick!” He gasps. “You crazy girl! Why did you jump!? Why did you do it!?” “I...I wanted to impress you…” “I thought I lost you!” He gazes into my eyes and I am suddenly aware that he is on top of me. But he doesn’t move. Instead his eyes travel up and down my face. Searching. They settle on my lips. Yearning. That’s when he kisses me. Hard and deep. The kind of kiss that electrifys your whole body.

But mine is not that kind of r-rated hallmark movie story. “Ingrid?” Ethan’s voice shook me back to reality. “You okay?” He grinned and I grinned back sheepishly.

It was two am and he hadn’t invited me. Ethan stumbled inside and slammed the door shut. I was making hot chocolate in the kitchen with a bit of rum. He was wasted and I was tipsy.

“Hey!” I tried not to startle him.

He fastened his gaze on me as the world around him twirled. “Oh good it’s you.”

He moved clumsily toward me until we were eye to eye. He closed his eyes and breathed in. “Mmm...hot chocolate.”

“Do you want some?”

“I’d love a cup.” He slurred.

I added cocoa and sugar and heated milk. Just a dash of cinnamon while he went on about where he was and what he did. “Jacob wanted to go cliff jumping.”

“So that’s why you’re drenched.” I giggled. Heading to the laundry room to pull out a towel.

“Everyone’s asleep?”

I nodded. He pulled off his soaked shirt. And fiddled with his belt. “Can you help me?” I gingerly undid the buckle. His boxers were polka dot and I tried not to smile. Then he slipped them off too. My head shot the other way and I held out the towel. He took it gladly and wrapped himself about it.

The milk on the stove began to boil.

He fell over. I awkwardly help him up and led him to the couch where he plopped down with a sigh. I brought the hot chocolate over to him. “Is it spiked?” He asked. “With cinnamon.” I replied. I wished I was on his level.

“There’s some black velvet in the canoe.” “Don’t you think you’re good for now?” I asked. “Yeah...you’re right.” I went to the canoe anyway and poured a generous amount into my own mug.

“How’s it taste?” I asked as I sat down beside him. “Like heaven! I touches my soul...I think it’s because you made it.” I gulped down my own, making my head spin.

“Can you play me something sad and sweet?” I asked. My soul begged. He pulled his guitar to him. And strummed.

SICK (DEPRESSION INSURRECTION)

Falling in love

And falling out

And falling in again

Hope up above

Waiting for a shout

And staying in again

Reading everything

Losing Everything

Eating dim again

Too much work

I’m getting sick

Of my worth

Too much introspection

I’m feeling sick

Of this depression insurrection

Words I mean to say

Things I try to do

It’s a given

Looks like my mind’s away

Tongue is goo

Am I forgiven

For my lack of communication ?

It’s our salvation

But, you see

It don’t come easy

To me

You need

Not so queesy

To make a “we”

But I try

I studied his instrument as he strummed. A gorgeous Stetson with a mother of pearl inlay. Stamped on the body were the words “this machine kills fascists.” Then I watched his fingers expertly picking and plucking. His strong arms guiding his hands. Then his face in a trance of beauty.

I can’t remember who leaned in first. Who instigated the pressure of lip against lip. But I remember the warmth of his body against mine when we had gone upstairs to his room. I remember early early morning. My sleep had been peaceful for the longest time. I remember him kissing the top of my head. I snuggled deep against him. I felt safer than I ever had in my life. He wrapped his arm around my naked body and held fast to me in his sleep.

I crept back to my own room long before anyone was awake and I didn’t feel dirty. I didn’t feel regret. Not at all.

Oh! If I could go back to that moment cuddled up with him! My memory carries me through the cold years back to that early morning. It warms me to remember, even now. But it makes me want to cry too. Because it’s just so far away. And no matter what, I can never get it back. Ever.

Eddie taught me to draw, Elaine taught me to blend, Eloise taught me to capture, and Ethan, well, he taught me how to love.

It would take a library to reveal every sweet moment. Full of wisdom that each Moonshower taught me. I could never understand why in the world they chose to live the way they did at first. Cut off from the world when each and every one of them deserved fame and legacy in their own right. Eddie and Eloise deserved to show their works in a museum. While Elaine could own a string of five star restaurants by now.And Ethan deserved to have his voice and poetry blasting from every radio channel. Why, why not?

Here’s a fable about a vase Eddie told me on one of our early morning fishing trips: it sits on the edge of a table. You know inevitably it will fall and shatter into a million pieces. There’s nothing you can do about it. But what you can do is appreciate it for its beauty this moment and only now. And that is beauty for beauty’s sake.

Because a moment later it will shatter.

Before oh! Before it all broke! Waking up each morning in ethan’s arms knowing I was safe. Creeping back to my bedroom before anyone caught us. Catching a giant bass and Eddie’s applause. Elaine teaching me how to clean it and season and fry it in her cast iron skillet. Eloise gobbling it up with extra lemon juice then bounding off to finish her watercolor of the ocean. Sitting all together on the porch as the sun sank and everything was pink and orange, then blue, then black. We listened to whatever Ethan had written that day and closed our eyes. Dreaming but still awake. Transformed and transfixed by the depth of his songs.

Around midnight Ethan would throw a pebble at my window or slip a poem scratched on the blank corner of a newspaper, and we’d sneak into the canoe to our favorite place. A pond framed by willows with tufts of Spanish moss. The lightning bugs illuminating dots in the dark. We talked about everything. I told him things I had never told anyone else before-including Frances. We had our own inside jokes. He made me laugh. And when I told him of my dreams, it made him cry. “That’s all I want! To create beauty everlasting.”

“Me too, Ethan, me too.” But in all our talks and debates neither of us could figure out how.

We would make out and sometimes until the night turned blue and the morning chill settled in our bones. He touched me. In every lovely way a young woman longs to be touched.

Next thing I knew he was stumbling yet again into the kitchen. Only Elaine was awake. I wish that night never happened. I wish I didn’t have to tell. It all happened too fast. Just like getting arrested did a lifetime ago.

I lay in bed unable to sleep when he burst in. My love. He carried a mighty load on his back, I could tell.

“I’m leaving. We’re done.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I can’t breath here. And you...you’re a child. You color in your scrapbook like some kind of kindergartener.” He spat and slurred.

“You’re drunk, baby. Just come sit with me.” I reached for him and he tugged himself away.

He left the room and slammed the door on his way out to his boat where he chugged cheap liquor and smoked a cigarette. I crept downstairs to find Elaine dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.

“Is...is Ethan sounding belligerent to you?” I hoped it was just the drink and nothing else.

“He says he’s leaving for good. Back to the city and God knows what.”

My heart beat fast and sank and ached and did a million more things. Still I choked out. “Then let him.”

Elaine began to sob. “I’ll have to wake Eddie then. He said if he ever saw Ethan like this again he’d take him in to the police himself.”

Ethan bounded back into the house, straight to his room and slammed the door shut. I followed and knocked gingerly before stepping inside. “Ethan...you have to calm down. Your mom says your dad is going to bring you in if you don’t get a hold of yourself!”

“Let him!” He shouted. And before I knew it, he grabbed Jacob's gun from under his mattress. “They’ll never take me alive anyhow!” He grinned and it brought me no peace. He bounded down the stairs to the living room where his mother sat.

“You think I can be locked up!? I’m free! Fucking free!” He screamed and pointed the gun at his temple. Pulled the fucking trigger.

“Oh God! Oh God!” My mind screamed from where I stood on the stairs.

“Ethan, nooo!” Shouted Elaine.

The gun didn’t go off. And Ethan laughed. Then he pulled the trigger again. Like some fucked up version of Russian roulette. Again my soul begged God as adrenaline rushed to my bones. We were spared the bloodshed yet again. And yet again he laughed. That’s when I remembered it was Jacob's gun. The one Ethan had stolen from him and removed all the bullets from. Words can’t describe my relief. But poor Elaine didn’t know that and neither did Eddie who had walked into the living room unforeseen, grabbed the gun from his son’s hand and hit him hard across the face.

“You get your stuff and get the hell out by tomorrow!”

Eddie spotted me frozen on the stairwell.

“I’m really sorry you had to see that. It’s not the first time he’s gone off the deep end. But it sure as hell will be the last time. In this house at least.”

I figured I’d find Ethan back in his room stumbling as he packed his bags. Instead it was empty. I found him in my room with a pocket knife to his throat. Slicing away.

“Ethan!”

I grabbed the blade from his hands as he cried “I want to die! I want to die!”

I didn’t know what to do. His parents had checked out, apparently ready to disown him. There was no one I could call for help. “Ethan, you need to sleep now. Just go to sleep.” I hid the knife under my pillow and he folded into me sobbing. “Shhh...just go to sleep. Please. Let’s just sleep.”

By three A.M. he was gone. At four A.M. my door burst open.

“Get up!” A voice hollared. A rough hand grabbed me from my bed and pulled me upright. He led me out of my room, through the hall, down the stairs to the living room. There stood Elaine and Eloise. Shaking in their nightgowns. Hooded figures grounding them in place.

I felt like Jonah. It was my fault! It was my fault! If only I could call upon God to save us! But they asked my name.

“Tell us the truth!” And then I realized the voice. Jacob Abernathy.

He hit me hard across the face. I had never been hit before and the sensation is one I don’t know how to describe except for the taste of blood in my mouth and nostrils.

“We know! We know who you are and what you did. Did you know there’s a reward out for you? We intend to cash in on that reward.”

“Okay. Take me. But please! Don’t hurt anyone else!”

Jacob took his torch and lit a cigarette. “They’re just as guilty as you. The law says harboring a fugitive is punishable. It’s called aiding and abetting a fugitive.”

“They’re good people, Jacob!” I shouted. “Just bring me in and leave them out of this!”

Jacob wouldn’t hear me at all. “Fellas, light the place up.” Elaine screamed. Eloise broke free from her capture’s grip and clung to her mother.

They tied them up. Together with one rope. Sat them down on the velvet green couch as they doused the cottage with gasoline.

I realized I was screaming, berating, fighting the solid grip upon me the whole time. Jacob pulled me outside onto the deck and flicked his cigarette onto the ivory white floorboards. As he did, he didn’t know I grabbed Elaine’s knitting needles pointing out of the yarn basket.

“Jacob!” I shouted. “Don’t do this...please!!!”

He uncovered his face and looked at me with a grin. “I’m not doing this, baby, you are.” He held me in place with his arms and planted a grimy kiss on my lips. “Too bad ol’ ethan isn’t here to save you.”

My eyes flooded in pain and anguish. I slipped the knitting needle out of my bra. “Too bad I can save myself.” I pierced his eye, deep into his brain. He screamed and fell into the swamp swallowed up by the weeds. I rushed into the house where Jacob's cigarette had already set the place ablaze.

His comrades were laughing on the porch. “Where do you think you’re going, lovely?”

One of them barked. “Hey Jeb! It’s Jacob here! He’s floating!” Like a dead fish. Belly up.”

You bitch!” Jeb screamed, hit me across the face, knocking me to the deck. I didn’t care. As long as I could get to Eloise and Elaine. But the house was fully ablaze now. I didn’t hear crying or screaming. I knew it was too late. They were gone. Two of the dearest friends I ever had.

I couldn’t think clearly. I just ran. Got into the canoe and pulled the oars as hard as I could. I was on the run again. Sometimes the events of the night slapped me hard in the face like the waves against the boat. Sometimes I glided through them like the front of the boat into the current.

Random thoughts passed through my mind during those hours. What would Frances have looked like wearing the dress? If it caught fire while she wore it, she could just jump in the water. But then she would drown again.

Frances and the dress were gone in fire and water. Two opposites are equally destructive.

What about the cat? She liked to hunt in the night and return to us with a squirrel or mouse at the doorstep. Do cats cry? What would she think when she returned to find her resting place burnt to a crisp and that nauseating smell of ash?

They burn sage to purge the air don’t they? I thought of the herbs hung all around the house always about our heads. Framing frames of exquisite art pieces all created by the Moonshowers. All with love. All gone.

If Jacob’s posse went to the police and told their own version of the story, I’d be wanted for murder. If not, they’d still be after me. All of them to avenge their monster of a friend. By morning light I was miles away. Far from the image of the burning cabin. Far from little Eloise’s cries. Far from Elaine’s sobs.

I would keep them away from me for as long as I could. At least until I found a safe place to cry. Are there still safe places left in this world? I hardly knew if I could face the answer.

Ethan? Was he safe? Did they get him and Eddy too? On their way into town were they caught by surprise? Strangled or drowned in the river. Did Jacob and his buddies wait for just the right moment when the cabin was at its most vulnerable and pounce like wolves upon rabbits? Would I ever know?

I wish I could say I stumbled upon another cabin. That they took me in and wrapped me up in a towel and rushed me into a hot bath. And I sit there and feel safe once again…

No. Never again I supposed.

Instead I found myself under a bridge in Brooklyn days later. Sobbing my heart out. Nobody notices you though they see you in the city. Everyone is headed somewhere, much too focused on the task at hand to glance around. And even if they did, not many are curious and kind enough to do anything. I was safer in New York City than I ever was in the Baijou.

I had a dream sleeping under that bridge my first night. It was of my mother and my father. They never took to me like they did to Francis who was also there So were all the Moonshowers. I kissed Ethan right in front of them. We were having dinner even though the table shook and went lopsided from one corner of the room to the other. All of our delectable dishes fell onto the floor but not before we each had eaten our fill.

I awoke in the dead of night. Not disturbed, somehow comforted.

It must’ve been 3:42 am. Too late or early for the monsters of the night to be awake. I crept from my solace under the bridge and found a grimy wall before me. But in that wall I saw a dance. I saw flowers, trees, water, princesses-everything good and beautiful. The only tool I held in my hand, Elaine’s knitting needle still smudged with blood. I wiped it into a patch of dirt. And out of dirt I “carved the angels from the marble”.

And in that night, my heart was complete-though it ached until the ends of the earth.

I don’t understand how I thought I appreciated every single moment with him. Snuggled up in bed. Feeling his warmth on my back or my breast. But somehow I still took it all for granted. I wished, I wished I felt his arm pull me into him as we slept-even just one more time. I didn’t understand how I felt as if I wished it hard enough, he could materialize and I could just feel his strong sweet body against mine. For the last time. And this time I knew I could never take it for granted ever again.

There aren’t many ways to make money on the lam. You can beg, steal, or sell your body. I managed to do all three in one by becoming a phone sex worker. No background check required.

I didn’t know the first thing about dirty talk. All I knew was the language of love. And while many got frustrated at me for refusing to call them “daddy” or protesting that I would slap them if I had the chance when they called me a “good little girl” many more were surprisingly pleased and dare I say comforted by my feisty yet loving angle.

It was easy. All I had to do was pretend I was talking to Ethan. And it was the most difficult thing in the world, for as soon as I hung up, the realization flooded me that none of those people were Ethan.

But to the ones who liked what I was saying, I began to realize how many of them just wanted someone to talk to. Someone to make them feel safe. Someone to love them. I pitied them until I realized that that’s all I wanted too.

I had a dream one night. I don’t remember the details. I only know he was next to me where I slept. And in between dreaming and waking, I reached out my hand to feel Ethan next to me. Instead it touched air.

Lying under a bridge, in a hostel or a homeless shelter. No matter where I found a place to lay my head. A park bench. I would find myself shocked every morning that he wasn’t right there beside me.

And so that’s where my art began. From the emptiness, the loneliness, the aching and the longing to have him with me.

The homeless shelters offered chalk and crayons for the children. I took them. I’d walk out at three am with a hand-me-down coat brimming with rudimentary art supplies.

I’d find a naked wall. Sometimes it was just his eyes I’d color. The eyes I couldn’t forget. Their color made me wonder. They always sucked me in. Brown, one would think at first. No, green, you’d tell yourself. And the finest gold flecks sprinkled in. Hazel eyes. That’s when I wrote my first poem:

Hazel Eyes

Hazel eyes

Running to me

Done with other guise

No longer gloomy

I want to drown

In his pools of green and brown

Hazel eyes

Keep on shining

Hazel eyes

Weeping, pining

I’m all alone

From deep stars into the unknown

But hazel eyes

Hold me softly

Hazel eyes

Their gentle rocking

I want to die

To his spark I’d say goodbye

But hazel eyes

Urge me strongly

Those hazel eyes

“Live” they tell me

Sometimes it was a mural. Dawn and dusk over the sea. In chalk like Eloise taught me. Colors blended deep into one another. An angel floating over the sea. In a billowing dress flying in the wind. Full of air, light and thin.

Sometimes all I could afford was a charcoal drawing. The silhouette of a family burned into ash. A father a mother a sister and a brother. To the side I’d draw one more girl. She could never touch the family molded together. Only stand to the side, head turned toward them.

Sometimes my heart burned too much to continue, which gave the pictures an unfinished quality. A few times at first I almost got caught which contributed to their unfinished feeling too.

Sometimes I saved up enough money after paying for rent in some crusty, old, forgotten room and maybe a banana or some chips and water, to buy real paint.

When at first, I could only afford the paint, I used my fingers. Then I scrounged up enough to buy some horsehair brushes. Using cardboard, I figured out how to carve a mold outline with a pop top of a beer can and slice the outline of my painting into it. Then I saved up some more quarters and bought myself some spray paint.

I was always on the move. A new name every town or city or farm I came across. No one really looks at wanted posters anymore and those that do have far too many faces to remember. Not one person I came across questioned my persona. To men I was dark and mysterious. To all I was just a stranger passing through. To Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco. Small towns you forgot the name of in between. Suburbs you’d rather forget.

A blizzard on Christmas Eve kept me stranded in an old fashioned motel. Unfashionable and outdated and raggedy, it was clean none the less. A real treat for me, as mostly I made my bed under the stars or some bridge. I used opportunities like these to take a shower and then a bath and scrub my hair with the complimentary, filmy 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner. Then after answering a few calls, snuggle in my own arms and pretend for one night that I was safe and clean.

My hair dripped and ran down my back sending a chill down my spine as I reached for the ringing phone. “Hello?” I said alluringly. “Hi.” Replied a sad familiar voice. At least I thought it was familiar. It can’t be, I reasoned.

“John Smith.” How original.

“What can I do for you Johnny.” I had learned to make any question sound seductive and to carry my voice anyway I wanted it. He would never distinguish it.

I could tell by his voice he was crying. “I just want to talk” he sobbed, “To somebody-anybody.”

I kept my words coy and flirtatious with much effort. “Well, that’s what I’m here for...tell me what’s on your mind.”

“I feel like I’ve got the world on my shoulders. I haven’t been able to talk to anybody about any of this. You wouldn’t even believe me if I told you.”

I sighed heavily. Not prepared for the weight of his coming words. “Try me.”

“My family is dead…” he sobbed “and it’s all my fault!”

Tears escaped and dripped off my chin. “I’m-I’m sure that’s not true.”

“Yes! It is!”

My mind began to race. “Why do you say that?”

“I drink too much...I can’t quit. I know I’m escaping but that’s the point. I drink when I’m sad and I found out, when I’m like, really really happy.”

I didn’t understand his rabbit trail but remained silent so he would continue.

He said my name like a prayer or a daydream. I almost shouted, “Yes! Ethan! It’s me! Where are you? Come find me!” But something held me back.

He continued, “The most beautiful and most dangerous name I’ve ever loved. I remember the first time I ever heard of her. Haha it was on the news. She was wanted for burglary. I was on lunch break at some diner and the boys behind the counter said she certainly looked like a thief. Someone who could steal hearts. Cheesy right? But I remembered that face. Those deep brown eyes. I remembered her long after the news forgot her. When my dad called me up a few weeks later, right before my yearly visit and told me they had a guest staying with them, someone not exactly at rights with the law, something in me just knew. And the first time I laid eyes on her in person, her eyes were shut tight. She was sleeping peacefully in the morning sun. So I got out my guitar and played her lullabies. I wanted to kiss her and make love to her from that very first day. I was so excited, I got drunk. “

“Took her to my buddy’s place. I thought I could trust him! We grew up together! But Jacob was way too curious about her from the beginning. At first I was jealous but then I began to realize, slowly at first, that he was looking for a payout. She and I got close. I fell in love with her. I never told her that. I was too scared because I worried that she would be taken away. And there was nothing I could do.”

Once she told me my bed was the comfiest she ever slept in. I never found it comfortable until the night we first slept together. When I was with her, I suddenly understood what peace and happiness and beauty meant-for real.

She was always in awe with everything we (I mean my family) and I created.

Dad with his drawings, Ma and her food, Eloise and her paintings, and (somehow) me and my music.

You know when my poems took flight? When my music really mattered? When I was talking to her. When I wrote all those stupid fucking songs that only mattered cause they were for her! You know what? I never even told her they were about her. Every last one.

When I sang about the sun, I meant that she shined on me! When I sang a sad song about dehydration in the desert or a ship on the stormy sea it was because she didn’t laugh at a joke of mine that day. And when I sang about love and loss it was because it was the fear that pounded on the back of my head.”

I had to put the phone on speaker and bury my face into the cold pillow in my suddenly cold room. Soon I warmed the starchy fabric with my hot tears.

“You there?”

I pulled the pillow away and sniffed only once into my ratty, long sleeve sweater.

“Ya...I’m here. Go on.”

“You know how they say nothing lasts forever? That’s what my parents taught me. It’s been drummed into my head since before the day I was born. I realized Jacob was coming for her and not just her. All of us. I knew there was nothing I could do about it except make a last ditch effort to save my family.

Drunk as hell, I went to Jacob’s that night. Told him it was too late for him to get her. I had already gone to the police. I was lying of course. I meant to tell Jake that and wake her up and run away with her. Far away where no one could get her.

But Jacob Abernathy was sly. “The police will be just as interested in the people that hid her for so long.”

That’s when I knew I was the biggest idiot in the world. I meant to protect the woman I loved and completely overlooked my family’s safety!

My only choice was to get drunker and tell her we were through. Force her to run on her own. I’d stay to look after my family. But I got too drunk and my dad, he took out his shotgun intending to march me back to a mental institution. Anything I said to try to explain, dad took as a manic expression. So he forced me into the boat trying to explain that this was all for my own good. The harder I tried to explain the crazier he thought I sounded.

‘Pop, you don’t know what you’re doing!’ I pleaded all down the river.

‘Son, I care about you...I can’t lose you too.’ And then the bright flashlights shone in our eyes while Jacob and his posse rowed up on either side of us.

“They shot him! They shot my pop.” His voice cracked. “They we’re gonna shoot me too. One of his buddies rested a foot on he edge of my canoe and it turned over. I can hold my breath for a long time. I didn’t come up for air until I was outta site downstream.

I made it home the next morning. All I found was ash. I prayed that she and my momma and sister weren’t cremated in there somewhere. A few days later I found their bodies downstream. They’d been tied up. I could tell by their wrists and ankles. Severely burned too. They must’ve gotten out of their ropes and jumped out the window- but only too late.

I never found my father’s body or her’s. I guess they both sank too low and too far downstream for me to ever find them.

I made my way into town and went straight to the police and learned three things. One, Jacob was dead from a shot through the eye-a ‘hunting’ accident.

Two, Jacob’s buddies had all given eyewitness accounts of me and my girlfriend with my father’s shotgun. My family screaming. Three, we were suspects in my family’s murder.

‘Listen Ethan.’ The deputy, a friend of mine hushed his voice. ‘You better get outta here. Far away. I know it wasn’t you, man, but the legal system, they don’t know you. So my advice to you, run.’

So I did. I’ve been running for years it feels like. I get by doing odd jobs here and there. And busking. The only thing I took with me was my guitar that I found where I left it in the barn out back and the cat I found meowing like hell. Tomorrow I’m gonna have to pawn off my guitar.”

The tears stung my eyes now. I covered my mouth like a victim in a horror movie. The weight of everything he said overwhelmed me.The thought of Eddie, Elaine and Eloise’s bodies berated by the current. Bloated by the fluid..the way Frances’ had been.

“No. Don’t sell your guitar. You love that thing. If you have nothing else...you’ve got your music.”

He sounded surprised to hear me say that. “I...I don’t have anything anymore.

You know what? She’s famous now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I know she’s alive out there somewhere. I slept in the park one night, or tried to sleep, under a tree. I got up and walked around and right there in the moonlight i found a mural. A family: a father, a mother, a son, daughter, and a cat. They were getting sucked up into a spaceship ufo. Shiny and clean. And below them in a field, a girl ran after the beam. ‘Take me with you’ her words bubbled out. It was beautiful.”

I remembered that one. In Chattanooga, in the dead of night, I polished the stone wall with pastels and chromes.

“What would you want to tell her, I mean if you could speak to her now?”

“I’d want to say ‘come home’. But there’s no home for her to run back to.”

I thought about how he himself could’ve been my home.

He continued, “Everywhere I go I run into the murals. I can feel her. Her style, her essence, her beauty. And now the newspapers have noticed too. They’ve been printing her work. Journalists and art critics are calling her some kind of phenomenon. But nobody knows who she is. I do though. I know it’s her.”

This was news to me. I didn’t exactly have the time to listen to the radio or watch the news or read the newspaper these days.

“So you’ve been following her?” I began to hope.

“At first, yes. Now, no. Wherever she is I know she doesn’t need me. Whatever she’s doing, I would just slow her down. And if she ever saw me again, I don’t know how we could move forward after everything I’ve done.”

I opened my mouth to protest when suddenly it hit me. Everything he said was true.

I couldn’t go on any longer. I needed to hang up. I needed to cry alone. I dropped my fake voice and my real one shook. “I will always forgive you. And I’ll always love you. Goodbye, Ethan.”

As I slammed the phone down I could hear his faraway voice, “Wait!”

I could go on and on about how much I cried that night, but it would just be redundant. Oh, I longed to call him back. I didn’t have his number. How I longed to hold him just one last time. I swore I would never take it for granted. I would make the most of that one night. I painted it in my mind. He would run to me and we would kiss for moment upon moment. He would tear off my clothes and I would do the same to him. We would make love. It would be too much to talk about how much it would mean. We would fall asleep together after that. We would both dream the warmest of dreams and wake up a few hours later. The night would be deep upon us but neither of us would be scared. It would be quiet and peaceful as we snuggled up to each other. For the last time, but neither of us would notice that.

Do you know how it feels? Do you know what I mean when I say his touch could comfort me more than anything? I could write a poem and I thought I would.

Ethan, apple of my eye

Ethan, we must say goodbye

Ethan I lost you to

The world of lost souls and you

Loved me as best you could

Did what you thought you should

Oh Ethan

I’ve lost you at last

My Ethan

What’s past is past

Goodbye Ethan

The only one I love

So long Ethan

We pushed, we shoved

Until the last of it

The past of it

Is gone, is gone

And you too

Are done, done

Oh Ethan,

My reason

To keep on and on

My Ethan,

The season

Is gone and gone

Goodbye Ethan

I, for one,

Am done

Three a.m. So late or early that all the monsters are fast asleep. I scrounged up enough change that day to buy two spray cans of paint. Green and brown were the cheapest. I stood in front of a concrete wall urging myself to show some imagination. “Green and brown...the color of…shit…” I sighed. Maybe a tree? Yeah. A tree full of leaves. Branches that leapt into the concrete sky. Bursting with life. Full of promise. I reached deeper into my backpack and pulled out a plum colored paint marker. Figs. A fig tree!

By three-thirty four I had decided to add mold to some of the figs. By three-forty five some had dropped to the ground. Fodder for the roots of the tree. The paint swam onto my fingers and the mist brushed my face. I was connected to this piece. I couldn’t imprint myself on it more than if I scribbled my face onto each piece of fruit and flighty leaf.

“Nice.” I swung around to the voice behind me. A girl (I guessed). She or he was dressed in all black.

“So you’re the unknown artist.” They had a laid back, lazy kind of voice that set me at ease.

“I suppose I am” I smirked, “haven’t been caught yet.”

“Well,” they took a step into the yellow lamplight, “you have now. But don’t worry, I can keep a secret.”

I never had a lot of friends but Hazel, as I found out their name, over many late night/early morning conversations and collaborations forged their way into my heart. I usually didn’t stay in one place too long but I stayed in that town for weeks.

We worked until the air turned blue one early morning. Hazel said, “We gotta wrap it up. It’s getting light out.”

“I know, I know...let me just get these eyes right.” The light always pointed out the imperfections I didn’t have time to see when it was dark.

“It looks great!” Hazel urged, “Let’s go.”

Just then a cop car pulled up and an officer got out.

“Run!” Hazel and I took off into the woods where the cover of darkness shielded us from the bright white flashlights.

“I’ve always wanted to show you where I live. Now you get to meet everybody!” Hazel expertly weaved their way through the maze of trees and bushes while I stumbled over roots and rocks behind them.

The sky was pastel through the branches above us when we finally stopped to catch our breath. “And here we are.” Hazel panted, “Let’s get some water.”

Standing imperiously in front of me was a mansion-or what used to be one. A jungle house covered in vines. Overgrown weeds and hedges. Wildflowers.

We stepped up the crumbling stairs onto the porch where I noticed two hammocks hanging.

“Hey, hazel.” A boy rubbed his eyes inside the hammock and made me jump.

“Jack!” Hazel remonstrated, “You scared our guest! You fall asleep in the hammock again?”

Jack giggled “Yeah. Red wouldn’t let me work in our room. Said the light keeps him up.”

They were a family of outcasts, misfits, and runaways. Hazel’s father kicked them out for being trans. Jack and Red ran away from their abusive foster home. I loved each of them the moment I met them. They opened their arms to me without question, just like the Moonshowers did a lifetime ago. Only this time, if one of us was in danger, we all were. Together living-not surviving. I didn’t know how long we could protect each other. How long the dilapidated, yet beautiful and mysterious mansion would hold up and remain undiscovered by the world outside of the forest. So I treasured each and every moment as if it were the last.

Three a.m. in the town square. Something drew me over to the pawn shop window display. There, propped carelessly was his guitar. Ethan’s oaky acoustic with mother of pearl inlays. And that feisty sticker slapped on. The dark weathered leather straps. My eyes leaked and I wiped them with paint-stained hands streaking my face with war paint. There are some things you simply cannot let go of...I pressed my wet, red hand to the glass. The guitar was beautiful. I knew I could easily pick the store lock. I could hoard the instrument in my room. I could hide it away where no one could find it but me.

...There are some things you simply must let go. I pressed my forehead as close as I could to this artifact of a love long lost. “Ingrid!” Hazel called. “We gotta hurry. It’s getting light!” Without looking back, I stepped across the street into the park. Paint can in hand. And for the first time in forever, I was no longer heavy.

Adventure
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