After fifteen years it was still broken. A hole right underneath the latch that opened the door. Not very safe, I know, but it was only the screen door after all. No one cared much about it and we had other things to fix. The refrigerator, the air conditioning, the roof after the hail storm; the screen door was just at the bottom of the list of things to do.
I was partly glad it wasn’t fixed. For me, it served as a reminder of my childhood.
When I was 10, we played a prank on my older sister, David and I. David figured he could attach a string just right so that when Gwen pulled the latch to open the door, a bucket would pour water all over her. It worked. In fact, in addition to the water coming down on Gwen’s head, so did the bucket and everything else that David and I used to create the contraption. Gwen slipped and pulled the string down with her, ripping the screen door in the process. My mom scolded us both and claimed she was going to tell David’s mom that we should both be grounded, but she started laughing before she could complete her threat.
I began to use the hole in the screen door as a passage for notes and letters. I would puncture a piece of paper onto the sharp edges of the broken screen and wait. Depending on whose name was on the front, either David, my brothers, or sometimes even Gwen, would take the note and write a reply. It was our sacred letter system.
David made use of the hole in other ways. If he wanted me to come outside, he would whisper my name through the hole. Except, if I wasn’t in close proximity, the whisper would become louder and louder and eventually turn into a shout that wouldn’t cease until I appeared. Momma could never get David to knock after the screen broke.
That was before Gwen got married, before my brothers had their own homes, before Mom and Dad needed help with the property, and before David left town.
Before I was left alone.
Now, I fiddled with the screen door.
“Did you ever think of replacing this door, Dad?” I asked,
“Sure, but you kids used to have so much fun with it we decided to leave it alone.“ He was sitting in the front room. “Besides,” He chuckled, “the car needed a new battery.”
“Hmm.” I sighed and looked out into the huge front yard. The ash tree in the yard was limp and naked, but the grass was trimmed and the weeds were kept at bay, something my mom always insisted on doing.
“Gwen called today.” Dad said, “She asked about you.”
“Did you tell her I was doing fine.”
“Yup, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s the truth.”
“You know it is.”
I walked out and slammed the screen door before he was able to finish his sentence.
Out on the front porch, the cold air bit at my bare arms. I walked over to the porch swing, which sat on the far right side of the front porch, and sat down. It creaked and groaned under my weight on account that it had not been used in quite some time. Momma considered it a safety hazard, but it was another thing that was too far down the list of ‘to-dos’ to ever be taken care of.
I had made my choice to stay, no one made it for me. I knew I would never leave my home. It was where I grew up, did school, survived college, and made friends. Only, after college everyone else decided they would have a better future somewhere else. Anywhere other than this little town.
David tried to convince me to leave. He wanted to travel the world, he suggested I do the same. His father had always expected him to be the best in everything, or else. David had taken all the pressure he could handle from his family and decided it was time to leave.
I struggled to make him understand that I was content to stay here. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t try to create a different future for myself if I had the chance too. In frustration, he pounded his fist into the porch banister and left. That was five years ago.
I tried to contact David two years ago, but I had lost him to the big wide world. In no way did I regret my decision to stay. I was not restless or unhappy here; only dreadfully alone.
The next morning, the landline rang as I was flipping pancakes on the griddle.
“Momma, the phone is ringing.” I yelled. No answer. They were probably in the garden out back. I sighed and picked up the phone. “Ridley residence.” I spoke into the phone.
“Ava, it’s been such a long time!” Gwen’s familiar lilting voice sang.
I almost dropped the spatula. “I guess it has.” I laughed nervously.
“How are you? I talked to Momma and Daddy yesterday but they never tell me much about you.”
“I’m fine.” I said shortly.
“That’s like saying you’re just surviving,” Laughter blasted over the phone, “do you get out much?”
“Like I said, I’m perfectly fine.” I said through gritted teeth.
“Well, if you ever need a break from that huge empty house, feel free to come by whenever! I know it can get boring in our hometown, and—”
I clapped the phone back on the wall and realized I had burnt the pancakes. I threw the black ones away and put fresh batter on the griddle.
My knuckles turned white from gripping the edge of the counter and I realized I was breathing hard. I bit my lip and tried to focus on the pancakes sizzling on the pan. They became brown and then blurry. Only when I blinked back my tears did I notice they had turned black once more.
“Dang it!’ I shouted and threw them away.
Why couldn’t anyone understand that I didn’t want to leave? What was so terrible about loving my home? I only missed the people.
The way Gwen would tiptoe up the front steps. The way David would take the stairs two at a time. The way my brothers would stomp and pound and run through the house. They promised they would visit, but everyone who said that was a liar. No one ever came back.
Heavy steps sounded on the front porch.
“Pancakes are almost ready.” I sniffed and poured another batch onto the stove.
“Ava” someone whispered.
The whisper sounded again and my hands became cold.
The whisper grew louder.
A voice was calling me.
I walked carefully to the front door and opened it.
In between me and the broken screen door crouched a man. A tall man who looked silly on his knees whispering through the hole in the screen door. A man who was dressed in military uniform and had crutches laying by his side.
“David?” My voice came out as barely a whisper.
“I was afraid you were going to make me start shouting.” He smiled and stood up, favoring his left leg with his crutches.
“What are you doing here?”
“I tried traveling the world, but I didn’t find what I was looking for.”
“What were you looking for?”
“Something fulfilling and exciting, I guess.” He laughed ruefully, “Something I suppose I always had, but didn’t realize I had it.”
“After five years of no communication, you’re here standing on my front porch.” I was still gripping the doorknob for fear I would lose my balance without its support.
His countenance turned down-cast, “I’m sorry, Ava. I tried so hard to leave my past behind. I didn’t stop to think there might be some good things I was also abandoning.”
“What made you think I would still be here?”
“I was just hoping, I suppose.”
“I don’t understand.” I felt a tear slide down my cheek and tasted salt as it made its way to my lips.
“After I left town, I decided to see the world with the army. I was stationed in Alaska for a while, but I’ve spent the last three years overseas.” He sighed, “I saw the world alright and I saw it all by myself.
“Thousands of people surrounded me every day but almost none of them knew my name or where I was from, or what my favorite food was, or what I liked to do. I burned all my bridges when I left this town and that’s my greatest regret.
“Last month I found out that, because of an accident, I’m permanently handicapped in my right leg.” He touched his leg listlessly as he continued, “I realized then that I had nothing. No friends, no family, no home. I had disconnected with everyone I had ever known and isolated myself like an idiot.
“In that moment I remembered what it was like to sit here in the sunshine with you and your family. I remembered what it was like to sit in the huge dining room and eat together. I remembered what you told me before I left you all those years ago.” David‘s eyes were red, “After I tried convincing you to leave, you squeezed my hand and said, ‘If you never find what you’re looking for, you can always come back. I’ll be here.’” He choked, “And here you are. You kept your promise even though I broke all of mine.”
I made a noise that sounded like a sob, a choke, and a laugh altogether and threw open the door. I rushed into his arms with tears streaming down my face.
“I’ve missed you so much.” I burst out, sobbing.
“I’ve missed you too.” David croaked. Then he laughed huskily, “but I’m going to lose my balance soon.”
I jumped back, “Oh, I’m sorry!”
“Ava! It’s smoking in here!” My mom appeared at the front door, “Why on earth did you….” She faltered.
“Nice to see you again, Ms. Ridley.” David smiled sheepishly.
Momma gave a whoop and rushed outside almost toppling David over.
“Charlie never mind about the pancakes, our boy David is home!” She shouted.
“What?” Dad almost ran through the screen door, “You’ll have to forgive us, son, all we have is burnt pancakes.”
I had tear stains on my cheeks, but I laughed and smiled because I was home.
Thats all it took
To take a peek
And get a
His eyes were
His lips were
In an evil
I thought to
Villian beyond my
Spook me to my
By standing in the
What more could he do
He could laugh as a
Mainiac does when
He's got an
He could come up with
That make you
Shake in your
This villian on the
Threshold of my mind
Stepped in without
He strutted with
Raised his hands and said
"At your service."
What's his name?
I know not yet
I must not let it go
It cannot get away
Excuse me as I take my pen and
Invite my villain to stay.
The Stars in our Hands
It’s one thing to dream about the stars, another to hold the stars in your hands. When she dreamed about the stars, she never dreamed it would become reality, until she began to reach for the sky. Finally, after many years of reaching, she held the stars in her hands. She discovered that our dreaming is never in vain.
It went by faster than I thought
But know that I stop and see
I know that you were too far gone
To see that your ignorance
Would lead you to the place
You swore to yourself you would never be
I've always wanted to tell you
That you hurt me in more ways than one
I've always wanted to scream
Ask you why you shunned me
But now I understand
You wanted to be notcied
So you forgot everyone else
You wanted to be loved
So you loved only yourself
You wanted to be praised
So you forgot to be humble
While I was standing alone
Looking for the reason
No one would look at me
Now our roles are switched
with one exception
I know to look for the little guy
The shy girl in the corner
Becasue I've been there before
So now I want to tell you
Thank you for the lesson
I know now that it was important
For me to feel lesser
So now I can understand
That it is important to
Watch for those people
Who felt like I did
And show them that they matter
They don't have to be a popular kid
The Perfect Remedy
"They're bringing over a surprise."
I had been sitting on the couch and scrolling through Instagram like I had every other Sunday during quarantine when my mom told me. I had just decided that I was going to sit on the couch for the rest of the day and now I had to get up.
"They are going to put it at the front door and tell us when to come out." Mom said. My sister went to look outside from the front window. "No peeking!" Mom scolded.
I closed the shutters and waited. I wondered what they could be bringing. I ran through a list of possibilities in my mind.
I mentally scratched each item off of my imaginary list, my friends were being far too mysterious for those things.
"She said we could come out." Mom finally announced.
My whole family trooped outside, my parents just as unknowingly as us kids.
On our front step was a large cooler. My friends car was parked in the front of our house. Their parents sat in the car with large smiles on their faces while the kids stood lines up outside of the car.
I prepared myself for battle.
"Your husband has to open it!" My friends mom called out.
Slowly, Dad opened the cooler. It was filled with water balloons.
Instantly my friends ran behind the car and started pummeling us with water balloons and spraying us with water guns.
Staying behind the car, we threw water balloons back.
It was a full battle zone. No neighbor would have wanted to be caught in the crossfire. Water baloons flew across the front yard, splashing onto the sidewalk and onto my clothes. By the time we were done, all of us were soaked and I no longer had a desire to sit on the couch all day.
Everyone was smiling and laughing and trying to get spray the last bit of water at the enemy. Who knew that water balloons were the perfect remedy for a bored and lonley soul.
"Why?" She stares at me with her gypsy brown eyes.
Why? Such a complicated question.
I watched them from a distance. I was not thinking anything in particular, but I could feel my face heat up. I pulled my mask off. My heart started pounding and my mind started racing. Can I do this? No, don't think like that. You've got to..... But why? Don't you have enough? Never.
I replaced my mask and drove out of the ally and started to follow their car. The summer night air was thick and heavy. I rolled up my window and turned the air conditioner up. The cold knob felt soothing against my sweaty fingertips.
Left, right, straight, stop, go. Breath in, Breath out.
They halted in front of a house. A nice house, blue trim, white paint, porch swing, a blue door. I parked on the corner of the street, Fools Gold Drive, weird name. I heard a car door close.
There he was, walking down the sidewalk toward me. I drummed my fingertips against the leather steering wheel. Don't show weakness, be brave, this is what you have to do, hide-
"You have what I need?" He whispered leaning against my car.
"It depends, do you have what I want?" I said softly.
He handed me an small box. I calmly opened the top and fingered the antique jewelry inside.
"Now, what I was supposed to give you?" I said, mocking him.
"The money." He hissed at me, turning to look me in the eye.
"Oh, yes, that." I pulled a pistol out of the middle of my consol, "I decided that I could use that for more profitable purposes." The cold metal froze my clammy hands. Don't shake, don't back down.
He pulled out his own gun, "We robbed the shop for you, man, you owe us."
"I never own anybody anything." I growled. I stepped out of the car. He backed off.
"You accepted this job, you are going to finish it."
"What are you talking about?"
I heard the noise of faint sirens. "This case won't be closed until the police catch the thieves. That would be you."
He lunged at me, but I was ready. I knocked his gun out of his hand and kneed him in the stomach. "You should be more prepared next time." I said through my teeth.
Then I looked up. She stood there in knee high black boots, jean shorts, and a black leather jacket. Frozen right outside of the car door, she just stared at me.
"James?" She mouthed the only name She knew me by.
Don't feel, don't react, hide, run.
"Sorry, darling, gotta run!" I shouted. I aimed my gun and shot a hole in the back tires of their car.
I jumped into my car and sped off into the night.
"Because I had to." I say, giving the simplest answer.
"And I thought I loved you." She whispers, her face inexpressive, "But you were just fools gold."
The police man replaces the cuffs on her fair wrists and leads her back to her cell, leaving me more stone cold than ever.