This story begins with me sitting in a tree. I was resting on a springy branch, peering down at a finch’s nest. Silently observing the newly hatched chicks who lived there, I marveled at their slightly wrinkled, pink bodies. How adorable they were!
My all-time favorite part of finding a nest of new babies had always been watching their mother bird fly back to her home. She’d introduce herself to her chicks and feed them one by one. I heard the soft brushing of wings flapping in the distance, and excitement fluttered within me.
Here she comes. I whispered to the babies.
I was bursting at the seams with anticipation and almost didn’t notice the weighted feeling that had begun flourishing in my core. It was an all too familiar sensation that I was quite upset to be feeling at that moment in time. I hunched my shoulders and folded my arms like a three year old in mid pout mode. There I sat, perched indignantly as something unseen pulled me up into the air.
Dangling like a marionette in the atmosphere, I began to dissolve into a thick, pearly mist. In no time at all, I was but a swirling fog — moving counter clockwise into a stretched spiral.
Believe it or not, this sort of thing had been happening a lot lately, and unintentional evaporation was now a commonplace event. I could no longer remember if the first time I dissolved occurred years ago or yesterday, for the details of that event were becoming muddled and faded with every passing moment. I could recall, the first time, being in a somewhat sterile environment, and the feeling of love.
I was laying on a table with the color blue all around me, and a man was holding my hand. His callouses and dry skin against my fingers felt familiar and comfortable. Then I was expanding out — widening, flattening — turning into a steam substance that shone with color like motor oil in the sun. I found myself to be everywhere at once — in the room and out, up and sideways, looking down at the man who was upset and being escorted out through double doors.
Starting with my toes, I began to spin faster in midair. Sometimes this part could feel dizzying and I closed my eyes to minimize the unavoidable discomfort. In an instant there was a familiar pressure against my lower back, and my entire being felt caseous. Once the spinning sensation subsided, I opened my eyes and saw a light blue, cloudless sky. I was laying on the edge of what must have been a forty foot cliff. Sitting up, I felt a recognizable light headed haze float through me before gradually normalizing again. I pushed myself off the ground and naturally shook my limbs to ensure I was all together again. Finding myself standing at the entrance of a cave, I decided that I was meant to forge through it. Sometimes, I just know things.
The cave’s interior walls were maroon colored, smooth, and glistened in places where veins of water trickled downward into puddles on the ground. I was standing on dark green moss that carpeted the cave in sporadic patches.
Walking further, I heard an odd sort of sound that hid itself amongst the dripping of water and insect activity. It was the sound of… I heard… a cry. I stood still and listened more carefully. There it was again, sailing through unseen tunnels, bouncing off walls, there it was tapping on my ear drums — soft and sobbing.
That sound was important, I was connected to it somehow. I knew that even if I was standing in the middle of a football field during the half time show, I would still be able to hear its soft vibrations over the band and the crowd. It would wrap its fingers around my heart and pull me toward its maker, as it was doing now. I followed its pull to a nook off to the right of the cave, and found myself occupying an area where vines dangled from the ceiling. To the right of the nook seemed to be a cave in of sorts, and debris lay around a large pile of rocks. Then I heard the voice again, only this time, the crying had turned into mournful singing:
“In a canyon, excavating for a mine, lived a miner, forty-niner and his daughter, Clementine.”
I followed the voice through the vines and piles of rubble until I came to a boy who was pinned under the cave-in. He was a beautiful boy, about seven or eight years of age, with blue eyes lined with long lashes. His skin was pale with freckles speckled across his nose and cheeks like the shell of a quail egg. His features were pointed and could only be described as elfin. Earth and rock was heaped on top of his lower half, and his legs weren’t visible as far as I could tell.
“You were lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry Clementine.” The boy tried to continue singing, but his voice cracked and he began to cry.
Do you need help?
The boy didn’t hear me, because it had been so long since I had spoken to anyone that I thought the words instead of speaking them out loud.
Outward speaking… with a voice… I told myself.
I closed my eyes to better concentrate on remembering exactly what that entailed.
“Boy child.” To speak so he could hear me took more effort and energy than I was expecting.
He jerked, clearly startled, and craned his head to look around the cavern.
“Hello?” he called.
“Do you need help?”
“Yes! Please! My legs are stuck.”
I walked to him, and tried unsuccessfully to free him from the mound that held him down. Dark clods of dirt fell from the collapsed walls and ceiling, rolling down into the boy’s face. With fresh tears in his eyes, he wiped his cheeks clean with his long sleeves.
“Please hurry.” he pleaded.
I stepped back, taking in the entirety of the mound that sat on his lower half. It was too much for me to move alone. Not to mention the medical care that would be needed if his legs came out broken. I knew nothing of how best to mend a human body.
“Boy, I will need to go get help.”
“My name is Brian, and my daddy is camped at the bottom of the trail that comes up to here.”
“I‘ll go get him. Can you be very brave? I’ll be back before you know it.”
More tears escaped from his fear filled eyes, and he nodded.
“Please hurry,” he almost whispered.
“I will, Brian. Promise.”
I made my way out of the cave, and noticed the salmon pink color of the sky. The sun was setting, and I knew if it became too dark, Brian’s dad might not be able to find the cave. There were too many twists and turns along the path, and the cave’s entrance was fairly hidden. I needed to get to the bottom fast — I needed to fly.
Though I had only ever attempted flight once, and failed miserably, I closed my eyes and leaped off the cliffs edge. Several moments went by before I gained the courage to open my eyes, and was shocked to see that I was not altogether whole. My fearful feelings were plunging down below me, and my hair was floating above. Arms were to the left of me, legs were to my right, and various other parts were flaking off as I fell to the ground.
I closed my eyes once more, in order to better focus on gathering myself together. I felt my pieces being pulled back to my core. As far as I could tell, arms, hands, nose, eyes, and hair were all pulled back to their rightfully designated places. Then I hit the earth with a muted thud.
Lifting my face out of the moist soil, I attempted to sit up. Then I realize that my lower half was comfortably slumped against a tree, three feet away. I reached for them, trying commands that would make them get up and walk back to me, but they stubbornly refused. On elbow and fore arm, I crawled to them, cursing them for disobeying, and cursing myself for attempting flight again at a time like this.
I smacked my right leg, when I finally reached it.
If you could cooperate, it would be greatly appreciated. I said, pointing to the area of my body where my legs should have been attached.
I blinked, and they were once again attached. I stood, testing them out, pacing about on the pine quills that littered the ground.
Thank you. I said, deciding they were indeed in proper working order.
The sound of shouting rang out through the trees — it was several voices calling for Brian.
“Where are you?”
“Let us know where you are!”
The help I needed was about thirteen feet away, walking past the trail head that would lead them to Brian.
No! Go back! I shouted.
Again, I realized I was not speaking in a way they could hear me, and they continued moving away from the path. Summoning all my energy and concentration, I pushed the words out in the clearest way possible.
“Wrong way. Go back.”
They still did not hear me and continued in the wrong direction, calling for their lost child. I closed my eyes, and tried projecting it as thought into their minds.
Trail head, trail head, take the path to the cave. Trail head, trail head, TRAIL HEAD!
I opened my eyes to see if it worked, and found myself standing on the trailhead. Disoriented by the sudden change in location, I thought about Brian and the strange connection I felt with him. I remembered his terrified, watery eyes and the stoic face he tried to wear when I left him. A surge of power began rocketing through me — such as I had never felt before. It was as if I had been struck by a bolt of lightning, and I began to glow with radiant, blue light. The static around me began to build in such abundance that the pebbles and sand around me lifted weightlessly three to four feet into the air. They moved in orbit around me like I was the sun to their planet.
I flicked a stone that was rounded and quarter sized, forcing it toward the searchers. It made a thhhunk sound as it soared and hit a man in the back of the head.
“Ah — Shit! What the hell?” he rubbed his scalp vigorously before spinning around.
He looked oddly familiar with his choppy, brown hair and brown eyes. The color drained from his face when he saw me, and he went slack jawed.
“Clem?” he said.
The others turned to see me — glowing and surrounded in my own mini dust storm. I pointed to the trail and pushed out words so they could hear.
“In the cave.”
My light flickered out, and the electric pulse I held within died. I faded out into the atmosphere — a translucent gas, levitating back to the mouth of the cave.
He called me Clem… Didn’t he?
The song from the boy, and the name from the man, stuck in my brain like peanut butter on the roof of one’s mouth.
Faint and weak, I found myself pondering many things as I drifted to the boy I loved so deeply. I rested in the air, weightless above him, and marveled at all that he was. His hair shone in the dying light and curled out at the tips. He was perfection — a masterful creation — a capsule of all that is innocent and full of infinite possibility. His chin quivered, and he took in sharp breaths before sobbing again. I studied his miniature hands that were clasped together across his chest, and I longed to hold one. I wanted to comfort him and tell him that he wasn’t alone. Though he couldn’t see or feel me, I reached out wispy tendrils and rested what would have been my hand onto his forehead.
The moment I touched his skin, I fell through him and landed in a lake of his memories. Fragments of his short life swam around me:
Learning to ride a bike
Buttoning his shirt for the first time
Cutting brightly colored paper into tiny, satisfying chunks
They were all swirling in recurring loops.
Having never been in a pool of memories before, I had no idea how to how to get out.
Hello? I called into the surrounding darkness.
“Brian, can you say ‘hello’ to Auntie Bea? Hello, hel-lo…” said a voice from behind.
I turned around and saw a large, cherry haired woman with boxy glasses. She was a holographic projection hovering just above the water, and her voice vibrated the pool’s reflective surface. The scene before me played on repeat with Brian’s Aunt Bea speaking loudly through lips lined poorly in uneven, bright lipstick. She kissed his chubby infant’s hands, coochee-cooed over him, and I surmised that this must have been his first memory related to the word “hello”.
Clem — uh — Clementine. I said, getting a spark of inspiration.
The picture of Aunt Bea leapt into the water like an Olympic athlete and circled with the other memories. The water began to splash and curled as if a large fish was swimming to the surface, and an image of a man sprang forth from the liquid.
It was the man I had hit with the rock earlier, except he looked younger. He was carrying a black folder in his right hand, and I heard Brian’s voice ask the man why he had brought the folder along.
“‘Cause it has your papers in it,” the man said.
“What papers, Daddy?”
“Oh — shot records, your birth certificate, and all the other things you need to start school.”
“Can I see my birth certificate?”
“Maybe when we get ourselves inside.”
I watched through Brian’s eyes as the two walked hand in hand through the double doors, and were greeted by an impossibly happy woman.
“Hi,” she said, “how can I assist you today?”
“Hey — uh — we’re here to get my kid enrolled in kindergarten,” the man told her.
“Oh! How exciting!” the woman said, clapping her manicured, bejeweled hands.
She leaned over the counter and peered down at Brian.
“Oh! Aren’t you so precious! How old are you?” she asked.
Brian looked up at his father, who nodded at his son, and Brian turned back to the woman.
“Five,” Brian responded.
“Oh! Five is such a good age. Are you excited to start school with us?”
“Umm… yes… uh — huh.”
“Well, good! We’ll be glad to have you,” the blonde woman said before handing Brian’s father a packet of papers. “I will need you to fill out these forms, please, and then I will need two forms of legal ID from both of you, his up to date shot records, and something that can show your proof of address such as a water bill — please and thank you!”
Brian’s father handed him the black folder, picked a flowered pen out of the pen holder, and began filling out the forms. Brian opened the folder and looked at the papers inside.
“What‘s this one?” he said, holding up the first paper he saw.
His father, busy with his paperwork, did not notice that his son had asked a question. The woman leaned down for a better look at the document.
“Oh,” she said over enthusiastically, “that’s your birth certificate! See,” she gently took the document from Brian’s small hand, and pointed to a word at the top. “This says ‘birth’. Bah — earth. Cer — tif — i — cate.”
She pointed to another spot on the paper.
“And right here, it says your daddy’s name is Robert, and your mommy’s name is… um…” She turned the paper toward her and squinted her eyes to look closer at the name. “Clem — Clementine.”
Brian gasped excitedly, “That’s the song daddy sings for bedtime!”
“Oh, yes! That is a song isn’t it?” she said emphasizing the word ‘is’.
“Yeah. It’s a good song.”
“Does your mommy like that song too?”
“No. I don’t have a mommy anymore,” Brian said matter of factly.
“Oh.” The woman frowned for the first time.
“Yeah, she’s died.”
The memory folded itself up and retreated to the water with a splash. I rested my hand on my lower abdomen. I used to carry something of great importance there. A baby. Yes — I was a mommy, and my name was… Clementine Reeves.
I remembered my husband, Robert. His bright smile and boisterous laugh filled me with joy every day. We used to lay in bed on Sunday mornings, holding each other, and he would sing to me Oh My Darling Clementine. He was incredibly excited when I told him he was going to be a father, and was adamant that the baby would be a boy.
“He’ll be a crazy, wild child, and we’ll name him Brian after Dad,” he would say, before asking if that would make me happy also.
Brian — my baby — Brian, I’m here.
With these things held firmly in my mind, I closed my eyes and felt a jolt as I was pulled back to Brian’s side. I appeared to be solid once more — as solid as one such as I could be — and the cave had turned pitch black. Brian was shivering, and had his arms crossed over his chest, with his hands tucked into his armpits. He was not looking well at all, as he was clearly in pain, and maybe in the beginning stages of hypothermia.
Robbie, where are you? Come get our boy. Please hurry.
I laid next to Brian, and listened to his slowed breathing for a moment.
“Brian, can you hear me?”
“Who’s there?” he said in a terrified voice.
“It’s me, I was here earlier remember? I -“
“Is Daddy coming?” he interrupted.
He suddenly burst into tears, and wiped his eyes with the back of his hands.
“I really wanna get out of here. Please help me, my legs hurt, and I feel super cold.” he sobbed.
He struggled against the weight that was pressing down on him, and dirt fell in his face. He brushed it away, returning to a calmed state.
“I can’t help you — it’s too heavy. It’s going to be just fine, little one. I found your daddy, and he’ll be here with lots of people soon. Hang on a little longer.”
He looked around the dark cave, not able to see it the way I could, for I could see through the darkness.
“Why can’t I see you?”
“It’s probably too dark in here.” I lied.
“I don’t like the dark.”
“I never did either.”
“Molly said she doesn’t like the dark either. She’s my friend from school. She says she likes me, but I don’t like her.”
“Because she’s a girl,” he said emphasizing the word girl. “I don’t like girls. They’re boring!”
He was thoughtful for a moment, and said, “She’s super pretty though.”
“Yeah, and she plays good soccer.”
“It sounds kind of like maybe you like her.”
“I don’t!” he grumbled.
“Okay, okay, you definitely don’t like her.”
“I don’t! My other friend is Cody. He’s a good drawler. He just can look at a something and drawl it. He’s cool.”
“He does sound like a pretty good friend.”
“Yeah,” he said, sleepily.
He was quiet for a while, and his breathing became slow and shallow between shivers.
“Brian, don’t fall asleep, okay?”
“Is daddy close?” he said, sounding irritable, and annoyed.
“He should be.”
“How much longer?”
“Soon. He’ll be here soon.”
“… Yes… promise.”
There was another momentary silence as Brian started to fall asleep again.
“I’m awake.” He sounded groggy.
I could feel my energy and control waning with every word spoken. I was trying my best to remain whole and present, but I felt my hands begin to dissolve.
“Lady, what’s your name?”
“My name… is…” I tried to push the words, but they wouldn’t be spoken aloud. I was not strong enough to say anything further.
“Lady? Are you there?”
Yes, I’m still here.
Though I fought to keep myself together, my arms and shoulders were beginning to unravel.
“Lady?” There was panic in his quavery voice, and his call was so loud that it bounced off the walls.
Don’t be afraid, little boy, Mommy’s here. Try to be happy and strong. I’ll love you always.
“LADY!” he shouted,crying once more.
Then, I heard hopeful voices, shouting and talking at the opening of the cave.
“Brian! Are you in here?”
Help had made it in time.
“I’m here,” Brian shouted, “I’m in here!”
“Brian!” Robert’s voice echoed, sounding closer this time.
A beam of light danced around the cave and landed on Brian’s anxious face.
“He’s here,” Robert yelled to the others, “I found him! Over here!”
Robert stumbled toward his son and knelt next to him. He took Brian into his arms and held him tight against his chest as he fought back tears.
“Daddy, you’re squishing my guts.”
“I…” Robert’s voice cracked, and his face turned red until he let his emotions escape. “I thought I lost you forever!”
Robert’s voice sounded squeezed a strained. He loosened his grip on Brian, looked into his sons face, and embraced him once more before his breathing normalized. He regained composure, and studied the rubble that covered his son.
“Looks like you really got yourself into a heap of trouble this time.” he said, releasing his hold on Brian.
“I didn’t mean to, Daddy. I thought I saw gold in the wall, and I was trying to cut it out so I could buy ice cream from the camp store.”
“I could’ve bought you ice cream.”
“I know, but I wanted to buy you ice cream this time.”
I longed to hug them both — to feel their touch and be swaddled in their unconditional love would be heavenly. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t ever be a part of their little family or hold them again.
So many things — wonderful things — about my life went unnoticed and unappreciated when I was alive. I wasted time when time truly mattered.
My energy had been depleted completely, and I dissolved entirely. I rose to the ceiling, spreading thin and wide, trying to stay with them for as long as possible. I tried swimming back to my family by kicking and slapping at the air, but I only managed to disperse my gaseous form further. I felt the familiar pull from my core, and I found myself praying to whoever or whatever it was pulling the cord.
Please. Don’t blink me to somewhere else. Don’t take me away now. Don’t make me forget again.
I gathered all the power I was capable of holding, and focused on pushing out five words.
“Good bye, I love you.”
“Clem?” Robert asked.
I began to swirl and I could say no more, as I was being sucked to a new location. I closed my eyes to minimize the disorientation and I heard, “Thank you, Clem,” whispered on the air far behind me.
I felt sand press into my back, and the world around me was still. My parts were settled in this peaceful place, and I could tell that I was whole. Opening my eyes, I found that I was laying on a beach with waves that ebbed to the left of me. They made a soft phhhhhssshhh, phhhssshhh sound as they swept across the polished sand.
I sat up, lightheaded, and heard a familiar voice call out to me.
“Clem!” it said, joyously.
I looked around, and saw an older man standing behind me. He was in his late sixties or early seventies, and his skin seemed almost out of focus.
“Clem,” he said again, “I’ve been looking all over for you.” He smiled brightly, and I understood who the man was.
“Robert?” I asked.
He nodded, and his eyes crinkled, he was smiling so big.
“You can see me?” I asked.
He nodded again.
“How? I’m not even trying?”
He walked toward me, and folded me into his arms. “God, I missed you,” he said before kissing me passionately.
He placed a warm hand on my face, and looped a strand of my hair around his index finger. It had been so long since I could remember being touched, that nervous energy bubbled in my chest.
“What about Brian? Is he okay?”
“Yeah, he’s all grown up, and has a family of his own.”
“And he owns a pretty successful construction company. He’s doin’ good.”
“I’m so proud of him, but I feel guilty, Robert. I wasn’t there for him.”
“That’s not your fault, love. He never blamed you.”
“I just wish things could’ve been different.”
“I think things ended up just the way they needed to be.”
“What does that mean?”
He avoided answering my question by taking my hand and giving it a kiss. I traced the wrinkles on his face with my fingertips, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“How is this possible?”
“I think I died, Clem.”
“So… then you don’t have to leave again?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“We can stay together forever?”
“For as long as forever lasts.”