by Hannah White
She hears the call of a songbird, drifting in the lazy early-June breeze. The wind snakes coolly across her skin, kissing it and leaving goose bumps; Nice chills that raise and then vanish almost as fast. She closes her eyes and takes in the shadows that dance through the light behind her lids. The warm, fire-like tones subtly interrupted by black; shadows of the things that move around her. She takes in a breath, letting the air fill her lungs and tastes…nothing.
Clean air that hasn’t been filtered.
Clean air that’s never been touched by city pollution.
The water of the creek slaps lazily against small rocks. They’ve been rounded and smoothed, broken and smoothed again. She reaches blindly, eyes still closed, and grabs one of the small stones. No bigger than her thumb, she rolls it around in her hand and feels the many pathways in the stone. The side that had been resting is slightly cooler. She turns her face to the sound of the water, her ear pressed against the ground, and places the cool side on her head.
Taking an odd comfort in the slight weight on her temple- letting the cool seep into her skin. She sees a flash of shadows, smoke, pavement, and rubble in the back of her mind- she pushes it away. Resisting the tug of memory, she counts silently in her mind the things that she feels around her.
“One.” She whispers, noting the weight on her temple.
“Two.” A blade of rough grass grazing her resting hand.
“Three.” In acknowledgment of the breeze.
“Four.” The hair that tickles her face.
“Five.” Her heart beating slowly in even pulses.
She moves her hand silently and slowly across the grass and rocks. Touching and counting what she feels as she goes.
“One.” Each tiny petal of a dandelion.
“Two.” The many different shapes of the many different stones.
“Three.” A handful of dirt and grass now crunched in her limp fist.
“Four.” The creek water licked the fingertips of her opposite hand.
She takes her hand from the creek, releases the dirt and grass, and lays them across her stomach. She takes a deep breath and her head swims.
“One.” The sweet smell of wildflowers.
“Two.” The earthy smell of the dirt and grass.
“Three.” Perfume, her mother's.
She turns her head to the right, eyes still closed toward the sky, and feels the rock slide off her temple. She listens.
“One.” Two songbirds now; they call each other.
“Two.” The hushed cascade of the creek.
She finally opens her eyes, shocked at the sudden light. She twists her head slowly, letting it loll first to the left where the creek lays, then to the right.
She breathes. She stares. She sits up slowly and feels the heavy weight of her head back on her shoulders. She turns slightly and leans out, reaching towards a large stone – the only one. Her hand stops just before the stones surface. The sun has passed its highest point from when she first laid down. Though the breeze has died, her chills resurface for one…two…three…five seconds and subside.
She repeats the word to herself. Creeks of her own slide ever slowly down her cheeks. She doesn’t touch them but lets them run and drip…drip...drip. Tears hit a dandelion as that one word echoed through her head. She turns away from the large stone. She doesn’t need to feel it to know the pathways that will never smooth out.
“One.” The grave of her mother.