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SIX MONTHS OF JUNE

     I stared, empty-eyed, as hammering rain lashed at the windows, running down the latticed panes until the shapes outside streaked together like a Cézanne painting caught in a torrent.  It was only 6:00 pm, but the pitch black of night had settled early, casting a bleak and ominous impression on my world. 

     “Hush a bye, don’t you cry … go to sleep my little baby …” I crooned softly, absently rocking back and forth in that innate, age-old rhythm that every mother possesses.    

     “When you wake, you will see … all the pretty little horses …” 

     The pendulum-like motion had become such a part of me ever since the baby was born, that I sometimes feared I would instill an unquenchable desire for perpetual motion in my little charge.

     “Blacks and bays, dapples and grays … all the pretty little horses.”

     I closed my eyes against the storm raging outside and brought my focus inward; to the quiet of my soul, to the warm weight in my arms, to the melodic vibrations thrumming in the back of my throat as I drew out the lullaby.

     White lightening and a resounding CRACK! jolted me out of my trance, illuminating my closed lids and reverberating throughout my ear drums.  Bat ears, as my husband calls them, can be an asset when listening for a baby’s whimper in the night, but sudden, deafening blasts are a curse altogether and I shrank back from the assault. 

     Frowning at the darkness, I changed my tune, nonsensically thinking that by mere words alone I could impact the course of the weather. 

     “Rain, rain, go away … come again … NEVER!” I finished defiantly, swaying away from the window and making my way towards the stairs. 

     I paused to stroke a stray wisp of strawberry blond hair away from the protruding bottom lip of my little girl, eliciting a sigh that smelled faintly sweet and milky.  Leaning down, I breathed deeply, inhaling the scent which is unique to baby’s breath.       

     Another flash illuminated the window, followed instantaneously by yet another cacophony that plunged the house into complete and utter darkness.  I froze, motionless, not trusting myself to circumnavigate hazardous obstacles – such as remotes, couch pillows, and carelessly discarded shoes – with a sleeping baby in my arms.

     Faced with the dilemma of calling out to my husband and risking a serious disruption of the REM sleep cycle, or inching my way, blind, to the upstairs nursery, I breathed a sigh of relief when two flickering candle flames bobbed their way towards me like a pair of disjointed eyes in the night. 

     “Hi, Sweetie … I’ve come to rescue you,” my husband whispered, glancing down at the bundle in my arms.  I could hear the smile in his voice and returned it with one of my own, acknowledging the chivalrous gesture, be it ever so domestic in nature.  

     “It just so happens we’re in need of rescuing,” I murmured, leaning in to meet his kiss.

     As we neared the top of the stairs, I was surprised at how well my eyes had begun to adjust to the dim lighting, but the reason for this soon became evident.  Aidan had strategically arranged a path of lighted candles leading into the nursery, setting the fairies of Pixie Hollow to flight as their iridescent wings seemed to flutter in the candle glow.  An oil lamp shone like a beacon on the knotty pine dresser, warming the wood with a soft aura of light.

     “Get Ellie tucked in and then join me downstairs,” he said softly, rubbing the soft down on his daughter’s fair head.  “We’ve got a few hours before she wakes up, right?” he asked, oh-so-casually.

     This time I suppressed the smile that was hovering around my lips, and raised my shoulder in a slow, deliberate shrug.  “Perhaps,” I replied ambiguously, indulging myself in a bit of mischief at my husband’s expense.

     It was true though.  While sleeping through the night may be a far off reality yet, we did, in fact, have some time on our hands.

     Glancing at the noisemaker lying silent and useless on the crib side table, I conceded that, if nothing else, the rain lent a much more natural element to the night; a pulse of nature that no device can accurately simulate.  As if deferring to a sleeping baby, the thunder and lightning had begun to diminish in both ferocity and volume, now casting only occasional flashes and mild rumblings from a safe and reasonable distance.  Quietly, I reached for the oil lamp as I tiptoed from the room, blowing out candles along the way and leaving the fairies cloaked in darkness.     

     From the direction of the kitchen, I heard the whoosh of a gas burner coming to life, followed by the muffled clunking of earthenware.  I knew any effort to investigate would only thwart a well-intentioned plan, so I chose, instead, to stand as sentinel at the window once more, as if my watchful presence could somehow keep the storm from re-asserting itself. 

     Warm breath ruffled my hair a moment before strong, plaid-covered arms wrapped carefully around my shoulders.  I accepted the steaming bowl of Masala chai with gratitude, relishing the heat of the stone against my fingers. 

     “Penny for your thoughts,” Aidan offered, nuzzling the hair at my temples.  His breath was warm and earthy; smelling of cinnamon, clove, and ginger root.

     “Oh, just  … thinking,” I answered evasively, bringing the bowl to my lips.

     Not satisfied with my response, Aidan shifted around to the window seat in front of me, drawing me onto his lap.  For a moment, we didn’t speak; eyes on the retreating storm as we drank in silence.

     “It’s the rain and gloom, hmm?” he asked, tenderly running his finger down my cheek.  “Too long in a season without sun.”    

     His perceptiveness, as usual, hit the mark and I nodded wordlessly, reluctant to surrender to my complaints.  Inside, a battle raged, but I fought against the urge to rail against a cold, wet winter devoid of sunlight and warmth. 

     Aidan drew me in closer, until I was leaning back against him.  “Tell me what you wished for.  Tonight – looking out there.”

     It was a fancy of mine, wishing on stars.  Not that I placed much stock in the outcome, of course.  In reality, it was the actual stargazing that gave me pleasure; the sheer enormity of out there.  The window seat had been my anniversary present the year after we had moved into our home … a comfortable place of my own to look into the vastness of the heavens. 

     “I couldn’t see any stars to wish on,” I managed, trying to force some semblance of a smile, but failing miserably.  “I can’t even remember the last time I saw the stars.” 

     “Ahhh,” he said knowingly, turning my head to look me in the eyes.  He held me in a strong, steady gaze.  “What is it you want, my love?” 

     Not knowing if his question was literal or rhetorical, I merely shook my head and answered tentatively, “More vitamin D?”

     Aidan chuckled at that, gently rocking me with the rumbling of his chest.  “Yeah, I suppose so … but I was thinking of something more … whimsical.”

     “Whimsical?” I repeated, trying to engage in the gist of his thinking.    

     Setting our empty bowls aside, he took me by the hand, drawing me away from the gray cast window and the cold shadows beyond.  “Sit here a moment,” he said, patting the couch, “and close your eyes  … and no peeking!” he added with mock sternness.

     After much shuffling, drawer thumping, and muttered oaths, I was finally allowed to open my eyes to behold his creation.  I sat, mouth agape, at the wonder before me.

     The room fairly pulsed with the life of every candle I was sure we owned, fluttering to its own rhythm in the primitive dance of raw flame.  We sat ourselves among the plethora of pillows that had been heaped around the Karastan rug, and I was instantly transported into a circle of warmth and light.  I was thoroughly enchanted.

     Reclining back against the cushions, Aidan laced his fingers with mine, bringing each of my fingers to his lips in a show of tender affection before expounding further.

     “Now …think whimsical,” he prompted, returning to our previous conversation.

     It was, admittedly, easier to enter into the mode of ‘make believe’ with such a captivating setting, but I was still hesitant about joining Aidan on this magic carpet ride of an amusement.

     “This is silly,” I protested, shaking my head in refusal.

     “Of course it’s silly,” he agreed, “but that’s the point, isn’t it?  To take our mind off the gloom of reality and imagine … ”

     “I know – whimsical,” I replied, finishing his sentence. 

     I was rewarded with an encouraging grin, which turned out to be mildly contagious. 

     Responding with the first idea that came to mind, I blurted out, “Six months of June!”

     “Six months of June?” Aidan wondered aloud, prompting more elaboration. 

     “Six months of June,” I sighed blissfully, contemplating the fairy tale that would embody.

     I inadvertently slipped into an imaginary realm of perpetual green grass, daisies in bloom, a garden bursting with bounty … T-shirts, flip flops, and lazy days at the lake.  Picnics, lemonade, crickets at night … berry picking, dust under my feet … and stargazing out of doors.

     “Would that make you happy?”  Aidan’s question broke into my reverie, derailing my escalating train of thought.

     His smile was still in place, but looking into his eyes, I saw it.  Deep down, past the smile.  Beyond the thick, black lashes.  Beneath the beautiful shade of moss green irises flecked with brown; it was there. 

     Fear.  Fear of failure.  Fear of not meeting my needs.  Fear of not being able to fix my discontentment.  A fear that should never be his to bear.   

     Would that make you happy? he had asked, but insinuating so much more!

     “No,” I answered, searching his eyes to see if it would go away.

     “No,” I stated again, this time with conviction, in response to Aidan’s questioning gaze.  “Six months of June would not make me happy.  It was a fanciful notion, nothing more.  Besides, that is much too big a responsibility for just one month!” I added playfully, fingering a strand of hair before brushing it back off his forehead.      

     Then more seriously, “You … this,” I said pressing my hand firmly against the strong beating of his heart, “Ellie, our home … ” I breathed in heavily with the weight of my words.  “That is my life’s blood and I am happy.”

     “Life’s blood,” he echoed softly, as if weighing the implication of the words.  Then his mouth curved into a slow smile, “I like the sound of that – did you get it from one of your books?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

     “Maybe,” I replied, blushing at being caught red-handed in the act of romantic plagiarism.  “Still,” I countered, “I meant it, so it has to count for something!”

     “Oh, it counts,” Aidan assured me, inching closer.  His five o’clock shadow gave him a roguish appearance, heightened all the more by the flash of white teeth in his curving smile.

     “Actually, it counts for everything,” he whispered, voice catching on the sentiment of his words. 

     The rain was still falling through a sky dark as coal, but the feral intensity was spent, a reflection of my own, inner well-being.  I became aware of a subtle, internal shift as the anxiety drained from my body and I absorbed the tranquility of the moment; emotional osmosis, no doubt – the ultimate balancing act.      Come what may, I resolved to embrace the time and season of my life, re-discovering peace, joy and contentment in those things that give it value beyond measure.  After all, what is six months of June compared to a lifetime of treasured memories, shared with those you love?

WRITER’S BLOCK

     I pulled the brim of my khaki boonie down fractionally in an attempt to buy a few moments of precious time before the sun broke out from behind the cloud cover.  I figured I had one – maybe two – attempts, and I was pretty darn sure this opportunity wouldn’t be knocking again any time soon.  Make it count! 

     Tucked into a vertical crevice of craggy overhang, my elevated vantage point set me up for a clear mark that the competition lacked.  Granted, the distance exceeded optimal, but if I controlled my breathing and steadied my hand, I just might have a chance.  Taking my eye away from the glass, I blinked in rapid succession, mentally cursing the incessant spray of salt mist that was wreaking havoc with my ability to focus.  No doubt about it, this was going to be challenging. 

     Deep breath in … slow and complete exhaleRepeat. 

     Drawing my focus inward, I absorbed the mounting tension of the throng; listening and feeling in turn.  An impression of pent up, charged energy exploded in a collective rush, and at that moment my suspicions were confirmed.  My target was approaching.  With deliberate calm, I closed my eyes and expanded my chest, filling my lungs to capacity before releasing my breath once again … and hold.  Drawing from years of experience, my sequence of moves was executed with calculated and mechanical motion; no faltering, no vacillating.  I simply heard the voice in my head whisper, and I responded.  Take the shot.  

     Although my first instincts shouted for me to vacate the area and beat a straight path back to base as the crow flies, the disciplined component of my brain forced me to disassemble my gear and compartmentally stow it away for safe keeping.  Task completed, I hoisted my field pack onto my shoulders, ensuring that no webbing or paracord straps had worked their way loose during the rigors of my mission. 

     Maneuvering down the jutting outcropping was a task that I could have carried out blindfolded, and my desert tan Outriders gripped the rock and held me fast.  I jumped the last six feet or so, landing in a crouch and allowing the sand to absorb the impact of my two hundred pound frame.  From there, I hit the beach at a lope and didn’t stop until I glimpsed the signal light, floating orb-like against the shadowy curtain of a descending night.

     Grinning, I sprinted the last fifty yards, overcoming the last incline with a calculated series of leaps and bounds.  I tagged the orb before collapsing in a wheezing heap, shifting the pack from my back as I fell. 

~ ~ ~

     It was perfect.  Picture perfect!  Those were the exact thoughts running through my head as I stepped out onto the multi-terraced, cedar-planked deck that fanned out from the western side of my beach cottage rental.  From there, I could enjoy the expansive, oceanic view, which overlooked the iconic monolith of basalt rock jutting from the edge of the northern Pacific like a rugged testament of an ancient and primitive epoch!  At least that’s what the property management advertisement boasted; a depiction that certainly sounded more glamorous than ‘from the deck you can see Haystack Rock’! 

Yes, this was just the sort of place where a fellow could find his focus; really dig in, hunker down, and let the world go by.  No obligations, commitments, or – might as well come out and say it – relationships!  Put it all together with a bow on top and what do you get?  Freedom!  A man’s best friend! 

     I whooped out loud, raising my fist to the storm-darkening sky in a symbolic gesture of masculine autonomy.  An invigorating rush, akin to some primordial awakening, began to quicken inside of me, and as if of their own accord, my hands began drumming out a steady, tribal rhythm against the wooden rail.  I had a beat, I had a groove, I had . . . an audience.     

     Had it not been for the over-sized, hollowed out sockets that housed the largest and saddest eyes on the planet, I would have mistaken the pale, dome-shaped knob for an exotic shell.  The kind they bleach and then light up with a candle to produce ambiance or some such nonsense.  This particular shell was backlit by a hurricane lantern, producing a halo effect and causing me to do a double take. 

     “You’re an urchin,” I guessed, thinking I had labeled the shell correctly.

     “Oui, I have been called that before,” the creature answered, rising up slightly above the rail of the adjacent deck to peer me full in the face.

     “Oh, I mean … no, not that kind of urchin!” I quickly asserted, jamming my hands deep into my denim pockets and trying desperately hard not to stare.

     The boy appeared to have a bioluminescent quality about him, but I suppose that was the glow of the lantern reflecting off his milky white skin.  Creepy.  

     “You have not seen many childreen with thee cancer, non?”

     “Uh …n-no, I guess I haven’t,” I replied, fighting to maintain composure.

     “I deed not think so, Monsieur,” the kid stated matter-of-factly, walking over to a bench and donning a knit beanie.  That was better! “So, I weel do something or you – yes?  I weel put on my hat so that you are not … how do you say … embarrassé?”

     “Embarrassed?” I asked, trying to follow his accent, which was proving to be somewhat of a stumbling block to my Yankee Doodle English.  “I’m not embarrassed, kid, it’s just kind of … ”

     “Awkward?” he supplied with a knowing look. 

     Apparently this wasn’t his first rodeo, and I decided to drop the façade and speak my mind, although I couldn’t quite meet his eye.  “Yeah, well, there’s a storm blowing in and, not to be rude, but don’t you have to – you know – take care of yourself better?” 

     He lifted a single shoulder in a casual shrug that seemed to dismiss my concern as an insignificant factor in the equation.  Somehow, the gesture seemed so very adult and so utterly … French. 

     I cleared my throat, feeling sheepish and crass; quite the far cry away from the self-determining man of a whole 10 minutes past.  I needed time to debrief.  Heading in, I called over my shoulder, “Hey, what’s your name, neighbor?”

     And then it happened … right before my very eyes.  He smiled and I swear that for a second – a split second – the urchin transformed into a boy.  Not a pitiful creature, but a happy, healthy, honest-to-goodness boy!

     “My name ees Gilen,” he replied, lifting a hand in parting.

~ ~ ~

     “You’re late,” a small voice scolded.  “And eet took you eight jumps to get to thee top – I counted.  You’re geeting slow. ”

     “Dude, you’re killing me!” I protested, groaning as I rolled over to face my accuser.  “Do you have any idea how far I just ran?”

     “A marathon?” and then as an afterthought, “you’re not going to die, are you?”

     “Gee, I appreciate the concern and all, but … hey! you’re not wearing your hat!” I chided, taking in the sight of the boy as he stepped into the glow of the emanating light.  It never ceased to unnerve me … seeing him without his hat.

  Idiot! I berated myself, watching his face fall as he furtively touched a hand to his bald head before shoving it into a corduroy pocket.  The last thing the kid needed was a lecture, and I cursed my insensitivity.

     “Ahh … well, hats are overrated,” I replied affably, extending the white flag.  “Besides,” I said conspiratorially, “I have more important matters to report back to you.  Matters concerning … ”

     “Your mission!?”  Gilen interrupted.  “Eet was … a …a …” he faltered, failing in the attempt to produce the proper English word.

     “A success?” I provided, nodding as the kid’s eyes doubled in size, if that was even possible.  Despite the dim light, I could see them bulging ever so slightly, and I chuckled softly.

     “Success … ouic’est ça!” he agreed emphatically, voice breaking into an alarming high-octave squeak.

     “Wow!” I winced, palpating my ear.  “Right – well, let’s rendezvous back at base camp in T-minus 10, after you check with your dad.”

     “Copy that!” the boy agreed, snapping a smart salute and clicking the heels of his slippers together.

     We both knew that keeping his father informed was mere formality; a courtesy that I extended entirely for Gilen’s sake. 

~ ~ ~

      His back-story was simple.  And tragic.

     As if the kid hadn’t received a raw deal enough in the form of leukemia, God decided He needed another gentle soul in Heaven and took Gilen’s mother just two months ago.  Grief-stricken, the boy’s father took his son and fled France in pursuit of a place to forget. 

     As it happened, his flight landed in a cottage on the Pacific Coast where he took up residence in the back room, sitting night and day.  Under the pretext of writer’s block, Gilen’s father would now stare, trance –like, at his laptop screen, waiting for inspiration to reach out and rip through the shroud of anguish that had rendered him paralyzed.  Once a prominent free-lance writer, he was now reduced to an empty shell of a man, haunted by death, both in memory and pending; confined to a prison of his own volition.

     “I call it thee oubliette,” Gilen had responded when I finally mustered up the nerve to ask one evening.  “A place to forget … or be forgotten,” he explained.

     Well, one thing was sure – Gilen had been forgotten; an innocent casualty of war.

     Our paths crossed often over the next couple of months, and it wasn’t long before I discovered that the kid demonstrated a keen appreciation and a critical eye for detail, challenging my skills and pushing me to exceed my own expectations.  Now it was time to see if my efforts had paid off.

~ ~ ~

     I flipped the master switch and immediately the room was flooded with light – all converging upon a central, rectangular table.  Gilen clambered up, sitting cross-legged in his usual spot, astutely observing as I unloaded my pack.  Dramatically, I removed the memory card from my Canon, covertly aware of Gilen’s rapt fascination with cameras and all their paraphernalia. 

     “Ready?” I asked, waving the chip in front of my duel-screen laptop, teasing my little friend.

     “Ouioui!” he clapped, bouncing with unchecked anticipation.

     I smiled, “K then, here goes.” 

     I’m not going to lie, it was a pivotal moment for me.  I could feel the sweat break out against my scalp as we hovered in front of the screens, noses practically touching the glass.  In a matter of clicks, there she was … an alabaster beauty of a Humpback whale in full breach, back arched with flippers fully splayed!  The spray of sea water fanned out in perfect symmetry against the silver-lined clouds, all overlaid against the glorious hues of a rose-tinged sunset. 

     Gilen gasped and his hand reached for the screen, stopping just short of touching the magnificent creature.  “Eet is a masterpiece, oui?”

     Chuckling, I assured him that it was indeed.  My pièce de résistance.  I ruffled his little bald head, envisioning the cover of National Wildlife with my whale on the cover for all the world to see!  There would be phone calls, interviews, speeches at conservation benefits, awards … hey

     My mind was careening recklessly down the path of prospective opportunity when it abruptly collided with a most logical inspiration.  I would need a journalist to write up an inspirational exposition to accompany my submission.  A prominent columnist familiar with the art of creative prose.

     I turned to regard my protégé, his eyes eager and responsive to my palpable energy.  “It’s time for a jailbreak, kid!  You and me – we’re going to bust your dad out of his oubliette!  This is no time for writer’s block … I think we just found something worth writing about!”

 The End

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The Deliquent Blogger …

Hey, so I’m going to admit this right up front … I’m not much of a blogger. I suppose that’s something I should aspire to improve on. Maybe. In my other spare time. Along with updating my FB page (and the list goes on). Most likely, I’ll just stare at the above picture, drooling over the cappuccino and panettone bread! (Anybody got a great – and by great, I mean easy – recipe?)

Seriously though, if I’m going to sit down and write, I need to push on with my current novel, The Raven’s Breath – second in the North Star Chronicles. Besides, if I leave my characters alone for too long, there’s no telling what mischief they’ll cause. (You think I’m joking!)

I’ll try and stay in touch along the way, but if you don’t hear from me, feel free to check in!

**NOTE**
If you’re looking for writing advice, don’t forget to check out my tab, Targeting Writers. When I find interesting blogs with helpful tips, I’ll stick them over there.

Also, if you’d like to read my short stories, there are links to each one on My Books tab that make them a little easier to navigate! 🙂