Like a Princess
by Daphne Rice
Tall firs reach toward summer’s sapphire sky. Something moves, and I sense someone near. Turning toward the cooler, shadowed drive, I whirl back again with an "Aha!" to catch his wide-eyed stare and surprised open mouth.
Almost fifty years ago, I met Johnny. We’d moved to the forested lot next to Grandma’s house, far from our trolley-stop home in Milwaukee. I was four, he was five. Closing my eyes on this hot August day, I can still smell hot dirt and fir sap, feel a cool breeze sneak past at the edge of the heat. I see sparkly blue eyes and blond cropped hair sticking up in the back where he has a cowlick.
My summer of love. Isn’t that silly? How can a four year old think she’s in love? Where does a child get such an idea? I’ll tell you:
Mamma reads fairy tales to me. Princesses always fall in love with handsome princes. My mamma married the most handsome man in the world. When I tell her I’m going to marry Daddy when I grow up, she smiles and gently strokes my hair. "No, little one, you must find your own handsome prince."
So, Johnny. He is the man of my dreams. We become fast friends. By week’s end, he shows me the hiding place beneath the weeping willow and introduces me to his seven siblings. We play with his dog. I learn where scotch broom for stamping down into forts is best. We pick juicy, ripe blackberries, coming home with stained fingers, purple mouths, and darn few berries in the bottom of a tin can for our mothers.
We are inseparable for a year. He teaches me to fish in mud puddles with a safety pin, a stick, and a piece of string. We search for agates on our gravel road. With spit, Johnny makes the dullest rock shine like a gem.
On his first day of first grade, Johnny waves from the end of the gravel road, then again from far across the scotch broom field. I have to stay home. My heart is hurting.
I ask Mamma what time it is all through the day. When Johnny trudges up the hill in the hot afternoon sun, little dust clouds puffing from beneath his sneakers, I run down the road to greet him.
"How was school? Do you love it?" I ask, out of breath.
Johnny smiles, "Oh, yes! I have a girlfriend and her name is June! She has long, beautiful hair, just like a princess!"
My pixie cut, which I thought made me look like Audrey Hepburn, is no longer magical, and my heart breaks right in half.
When I retired this June, photos from my childhood, from college, from the past thirty years of classes, adorned the gym walls. In every picture my hair is long, past my shoulders, like a princess.
I Sing of You
by Patricia Boies
I was still sixteen, a freshman like you, when we met, you who would become my first love, my first lover. I had a crush on you from the start, your thick curly dark hair exploding under the wide brim of your black felt hat, your smooth olive skin that needed no shaving, your crooked front tooth, your long lean body, the battered cane you carried because of your knee operation. I was shy and you were shyer, so even though we spent months hanging out with the gang, my eyes on you as the joint passed and the music played in all those dorm rooms, at all those concerts, even though we hitchhiked from Boston to Ithaca in the middle of winter, huddling close in the phone booth after the state trooper threw us off the highway, it was not until April, spring breaking out all over, that I told your best friend how much I liked you, and he told you, and so it began.
We would walk into the dining hall for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, and the guys would tease us, it was so obvious what we had been up to, feeding each other in ways beyond what cafeteria food could provide. The narrow dormitory bed seemed vast, it contained multitudes, as we breathed each other in, hearts and bodies humming.
We would hitchhike into Harvard Square and take the MBTA over the Charles River to Park Street, constantly touching, fiddling with the soft braided leather bracelets we had fashioned for each other. We made love under the willow tree in the Public Garden, and on the terrace of the Fine Arts Building in Cambridge, and in dozens of places with no name at all. We marked our territory wherever we could lie down together. I wanted to get to the bottom of you, wanted nothing to be off limits. I told you things I had never told anyone, and you showed me your own scars. But mostly we celebrated the moment, our bodies our bible.
First love has a strong grip.
After our time together, it mattered to me that we stay friends. Years later, when you met the woman who would become your wife, I was glad that I liked her and that she liked me. I changed the day of my departure for India so I would not miss your wedding. As you stood waiting by the altar, I blew you a kiss, and you acknowledged me with a nod.
When my daughter was born in Seattle, I wanted you to meet her, this new love of my life, this new testament to living in the present. After your son was born, and our two families, each with one child, would get together from time to time on one coast or the other, I imagined our children falling in love some day.
When my daughter died suddenly one April, just after her tenth birthday, you flew across the country to come to her celebration. It mattered to me that you came, that you were present at this unimaginable threshold. I stood at the altar and spoke of life with my daughter, and of life without her, and of the song that was still in my heart. You are part of that song, as you have been since I was sixteen, as you always will be.
A Letter to Penny
by Luke Beling
Penny, I thought of you today as I listened to our favorite song play over the radio. I was rolling stones to cover your father’s grave when the stereo waves stirred my memories with a haunting melody.
Do you remember when we buried your father? When we thought our days were old? His death was as sudden as first frost, his absence as costly as the cold. The gravel above his head comes loose once in a while when the cattle cross to feed in the southern pasture. He wanted it that way, you know: to be in the earth, surrounded by his years of labor.
The day he left us was a day I’ll never forget. You held my hand over your heart and reminded me of my pledge to keep you safe. Although you were frightened, your beating pulse was consistent, like a grandfather clock. I knew you trusted me then. The words you spoke are still near, like your photo in my wallet. If only I had cared more then about your heart than the fields and animals of what had become our farm, perhaps you’d still be with me.
This morning, when I was cleaning the chicken coop, the cattle sang. It was my first time to hear them. I confess, I never did believe in the sounds you heard. A farm is a factory of noise, noises that are impossible to identify. But I know now that what you said is true: "Listen with ears of the city and you will hear concrete, cars, and murder. Listen with ears of the country and you will hear animals sing, rivers dash, and the life that is constantly giving birth."
On the day you left, record rainfall saturated our farm. I have no doubt that you felt it, curving "Meyers Bend,"as surely as the tires of the old Bantum did. I prayed for you, and asked God to keep you out of harm’s way, while feeling guilty for allowing those smooth tires to stay on so long. The screaming water on your windshield did not convince you to turn around. Even it could not wash away your fury and heartache. I am still haunted by the irony of that day, but with it came perspective and revelation. Our love, or lack of it, was hardly about the prosperity in our barns. You left, and the rain rescued our farm, and the rain drowned my heart.
Would it serve me well to tell you that I have changed? I disagree with the impersonal taste of clichés, but it’s all I know to write. I have become a man of substance. When you knew me, I was the scarecrow in our cornfields. Today, I am the feed in my hand for our animals at first light.
Do the bright city lights cover the darkness? Do the busy streets and noisy engines silence the voices of regret? I stumble in the daylight, and I live with a backwards clock. Our farm is sunless without you, and disappointment is laced into the wild dandelions that grow on lonely meadows. Neighbors frequently ask where I hide the light that was once in my eyes. Unfortunately, I do not hide it; the light has disappeared. The green in my pocket does not hold it. The blue in my heart stole it.
Penny, I will not bother to write you promises that fade in the sun. Words are only words, when held by paper. I have written you more letters than I can count. I have held more tears than the Atlantic holds salt. My love for you will cease only when my heart is buried deep below the earth.
If these words find you well, then pardon them. If they find even a small space in your heart that keeps my face or memory, then welcome them. In the night, I will continue to keep the front light on, and in the morning I will pour two cups of tea, as I always have, one with honey, one without.
The Nose Fits!
by Sam Turner
Sammy, we forgot the ice cream mixer. Will you and Ruthie drive back and get it?" my father asked innocently.
"Sure," I gulped.
There was a twinkle in his eyes.
There was jubilation in my heart!
Our families had been visiting a friend's home deep in the Kaibab forest. Ruth would be alone with me for a round trip of ten miles. I had never sat this close to any girl, let alone sparkling, thrilling Ruthie! Her crinoline skirt crunched against my leg. Concentration on my solo drive was difficult.
It was dusk when we loaded the mixer into the trunk of the '49 Chevy. Ruthie slid in on my side, requiring me to crowd next to her. She may have been younger, but Ruthie proved more experienced than I.
The winding curves forced me to move the wheel so that my right arm continually brushed against her soft sweater. Right curves were best! She leaned against me.
I searched the wall of ponderosas for the break indicating a turnout. Once parked, I worried how this thing would happen. What should I do first? Do I lean over and peck her on the cheek?
Ruthie took charge and firmly planted her lips on mine. I heard buzzing. My eyes were closed, yet I saw lights of silver and gold flashing. Was that my heart—or hers—beating against my chest? I removed my glasses.
"Don't lose those, Sam, or we'll never get back!"
The second kiss was less frantic. This time, I could feel the softness of her face next to mine.
"What do you know? The nose fits!" I blurted. Now, she would surely know that I was a beginner.
"Of course. See?" And once again our lips touched. I couldn't let go. But, as if on a signal, we broke apart. She sat up and, somehow, I found my glasses.
She snuggled next to me as I drove. One stop wasn't going to be enough. We parked outside the gathering. The kiss was long and sweet. Again, there were bells, buzzing, and fireworks. Taking a tissue, I wiped off any traces of lipstick. We carried the ice cream mixer in together.
I took the first servings out to the guests. Everyone smiled at me. Ruthie smiled with a blush. People knew something I didn't. I looked at my maroon shirt. It was covered with fuzz from Ruth's white Angora sweater!
Retreating to the kitchen, I brushed the telltale evidence off. Putting his arm around my shoulder, my father said, "I wouldn't brush it all off, Sammy. You can wear it with pride. She's a fine young lady."
I gave him an embarrassed smile and continued brushing. But I saved the fuzz in my pocket. The strains of "My Buddy" came from the living room. But I heard a different tune playing in my heart: one that sang of love and the thrill of my first kiss.