Guest post: Wider Than an Ocean

Map: New Mexico, setting of “Wider than an Ocean” by Lauren Ayer

This is a guest post from Lauren Ayer who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is New Mexico. Enjoy.

It’s hot outside. Uncharacteristically humid. As the sun beats down on the front adobe wall of my casita, a small fan stirs in air from the cooler back yard.

I never thought I’d leave the ocean, the waves lulling me to sleep every night through windows shut tight against the cold, damp fog. It was the New Mexico sky that convinced me — wider than those oceans and much more than twice as deep. I wanted to drown in it. Instead I watched the birds dip and dive like dark fishes.

In this warm air I tear fabric into strips the way my mother taught me. It is quicker than cutting and keeps the edge true to the grain. I made my first quilt when I was ten years old from fabric left over from other projects—a dress, a napkin, another quilt. Nothing goes to waste.

It is August and too hot for quilting, but here I sit letting my hands work and my mind run free. The tiny green birds that peck at unripe apples wouldn’t know from looking, but it isn’t just fabric I am stitching together. I have built myself broad white wings and shimmering leaves to shade my head. Today, I’m mending a broken heart. Helping someone remember someone else loved but lost.

The word “brown” was unexpectedly insufficient for the spectrum of earth and stem and rock that this land is built from, while most greens are only hinted at indirectly. When I came here my brother told me to look for the purple in the desert. For a long time all I could see were the periwinkle flowers of Russian sage. Now I see it everywhere—in the sunrise, in the distant mountains, in the dark flesh that surrounds the base of a cholla thorn.

I have never made a quilt without pricking my finger like some sort of sleeping beauty and bleeding on the fabric. It isn’t art until I’ve stitched myself into its very threads. Just like this place has woven itself into me.

At this altitude, under this scorching sun all but the most essential is burned away. To see. To live. To make. I fold the unused fabric and save the scraps for another day. I tip the last swallows of water from my glass onto the rosemary plant. Thunder rolls in the distance. I look up at the cobalt sky with hope, yet knowing thunder doesn’t always mean rain.

Lauren McLean Ayer is a San Fransico-grown poet who moved to Santa Fe to find peace in the desert. Her poems have appeared in Gargoyle Magazine, Santa Fe oneheart, Adobe Walls, and online. You can find more of her work on her blog, Lauren McLean Ayer.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Map: Massachusetts, setting of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" creative nonfiction by Dina Honour on Andrea Reads America
Map: Massachusetts, setting of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Dina Honour

This is a guest post from Dina Honour who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” first appeared under the same name on Wine and Cheese (Doodles) in October, 2013. The setting is Massachussetts. Enjoy!

Autumn brings a whiff of homesickness. A scent of smoke and leaf color and longing and nostalgia. I forever miss the vibrancy of the New England autumns I grew up with. Even in New York fall was muted. Outside of the Northeast, it is like watching the season unfold through nearsighted eyes; but travel to New England in October and it is as if a myopic veil has been lifted. The colors are sharper, more intense, there are more of them. I miss my father stockpiling firewood and boxes of kindling for the stove. I miss the stove itself, sitting in front of it, hogging the heat it threw out, my back to the warmth with a book splayed on the floor in front of me. I miss the long stretch from the humidity of August into the quiet snows of a Massachusetts winter.

My memories of autumn go deeper than leaves of gold and apple-smoked air.  Fall is high school football games on cold, metal bleachers, scalding hot chocolate and cheers shouted between gloved hands. Fall is speech bookended by the frost of breath in the chill of an afternoon.  It is foot stamping and blankets and fervently hoping the game doesn’t go into overtime. I cannot explain the allure of high school football for Americans, but it is pervasive and palpable.  Not just in the deep south where it is a quasi-religion, but even in small towns way up in Yankee territory. Perhaps it embodies the lost dreams of fathers who are desperate to rekindle their glory days in the end zone or of mothers who recall the swish of pompoms and the hoarseness of cheer squads.  The whys don’t matter so much.  Football was a big deal.  It was part of the collective consciousness of the school, of the town, of the time. Even I got caught up in the whipped frenzy of pep rallies and big games.  No jock, I tagged along to my fair share of football games.  And the school dances that followed.

Couples were made and unmade in those dim cafeteria nights. A shy glance under the lashes, a whisper from a friend of a friend.  Teary break up postmortems took place in the girls’ bathroom, and I’m sure that whispered confessions still echo in those pink and white tiled walls.  In between swipes of Bonnie Bell and spritzes of Aqua Net the names of crushes were spilled, gossip spread, blue eyeshadow reapplied and bangs re-feathered.  It smelled of wishing and nervousness and hairspray and young love. Of unyielding hope and sweaty palmed nervousness.

We called it slow dancing, but really it was just swaying in time to the music; draped casually over one another, her hands on his shoulders, his hands on her hips–A Frankenstein stomp. My sophomore homecoming, I was part of a couple.  I borrowed a purple, cowl necked sweater-dress from a friend and the quarterback and I slow danced to Whitney Houston, my nose buried in his neck.  I went home smelling of joy and Obsession.  There were group dances to Ozzy Osbourne and Twisted Sister, there were the white boys who did their own version of breakdancing (which I thought was great until I saw the real thing later in NYC), but it was the slow dances that I remember.  The way his arms slung down over my hips and linked up in the back, just above my tail bone.  The way he smelled, the song that played, how good I felt.

Of course I experienced the other side too, the soul stomping of watching the boy whose name is all over  your book covers shyly approach only to blurt out a stuttered invitation in the direction of your best friend. O trodden and pock-marked heart, how you still beat is a miracle.  The disappointment of getting into a parent’s car at the end of the night, alone with thoughts and dreams of crushes that crashed.  The jealousy of those girls who had a steady stream of dance partners, but even more, the ones who had the same one dance after dance. The ones who went home smelling of Drakkar Noir from make out sessions in the corners where no one could see.

Always though, the smell of longing, seeping through the pores of children poised on the brink of young adulthood.  The smell of chance, of luck, of prayer mixed with a woodsmoke and leaf rot.  The smell of wallflower nervousness mingling with the self confidence of a cemented couple.  The smell of lust coming off of young bodies in waves in between sips of Pepsi and the coming winter chill.

The music’s changed, but I bet those smells still perfume school gyms across New England come autumn.

Dina Honour is an American living abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. She writes about parenthood, family and her observations of America through the lens of expat experience on her blog, Wine and Cheese (Doodles). She is currently at work on her first novel, which draws on her experiences growing up in a small, New England town. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @DinaHonour.

Guest post: Remembering Zelda

Map: Michigan, setting of “Remembering Zelda” by Carol Sanford

This is a guest post from Carol Sanford who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Michigan. Enjoy!

“Her? She was very strange. Down right weird.”

That’s what one of our classmates recently said about Zelda as a child. He thought of her as withdrawn, even implied mental illness. For seven years he and others who lived south on Shepherd Road had walked with Zelda to and from our country school, a mile each way. That’s a lot of time spent. My house was a mile east of school on Nine Mile Road, and I only knew Zelda during school hours. She was an Indian, which meant we lived separate lives. My parents didn’t think much of several local Indians—nobody said Native American then–and that somehow carried over to all Indians. That I liked her so much was my secret.

How could Zelda be weird without me knowing it?

Smart and nice, that’s how I remember her. A girl not much different from me. My main memory of her, in fact now that I think of it, my only solid memory of her, is how we sat with our desks pushed together in order to color world outline maps. We were good students being rewarded for finishing an assignment early. I know for certain she enjoyed as much as I did swishing the tips of sharpened pastel colored pencils back and forth to make England, Europe, Russia and Africa—all in different colors—beautiful. It seemed that life could take us to one of those places someday. I don’t mean together.

Zelda wasn’t considered beautiful. If I squeeze my eyes half shut, she’s wearing a spotless white short-sleeved blouse and a dark blue skirt. She’s slim and broad-shouldered. Her dark brown face is set with high cheek bones, wide nose, small eyes. Her raven hair is braided, like mine, but long. She walks quietly.

It’s cliché to say memory is slippery. It is slippery. For many years now, without giving a thought to conversations Zelda and I may have had, I assumed we talked. Did we? It’s not likely one of us said, “What did you do Saturday?” or “Do you still play with dolls?” We may have said, “Let’s make South America light blue.” But I can’t recall a single word. And I don’t remember playing with her at recess. How I hope I did!

Thirty years ago I wrote a poem about sitting with Zelda to color world outline maps. Last year I wrote an essay about our country school, which for lack of use has deteriorated like a dead body and ought to be razed. Zelda is in the essay. When I write about her, she shines for me. I want her to go on shining. It seems impossible that she wasn’t who I thought she was when we were young. Were we friends or acquaintances?

Zelda died up north when she was in her forties, and someone told me she had married, divorced and was an alcoholic. I heard all this years later. My grief mixed with guilt. When consolidation swept like a plague over country schools in Michigan, she and I were sent as eighth graders to the same school in town, but soon lost track of each other. That’s how I used to think of it: We lost track. Actually I thrilled to the bigger school setting and the opportunities it offered me, and hardly gave Zelda a thought. Her picture is in our senior yearbook so maybe she graduated, but I think she probably dropped out. The classmates I’ve talked to aren’t sure.

I’m the one who ought to know.

Carol Sanford lives in the village of Sanford, Michigan, where she writes nonfiction, short stories and poetry and teaches memoir workshops. On line her work can be found at Ragazine, The Zodiac Review, and Newversenews.