In times of peril:
Let the earth embrace you
and feel her breathe beneath your
Let the atmosphere wash away your fear
in a downpour so strong
you feel reborn.
Let the ocean cradle you
and leave a long trail of kisses
across your cheeks.
You’ll feel an adoration so pure
from the mother that made you.
Let the wind curl its fingers through your hair,
admiring every lock,
and whisper how beautiful you are
into your ears as it passes.
In times of peril:
Let the unspoken universe pour the love back into you
that you have poured into her
With the light of summer’s first fireflies
glowing in the fresh mountain air,
with the soft dirt kicked up from a hole
dug by a little girl looking for dinosaurs,
with the bumps of the Penske truck
moving down the unknown road,
with the smell of paint
and football game food,
with the touch of nature’s wet kiss
from streams flowing through my sandals,
with the laughter of a dining room table
filled by just us three,
with the happiness of a million good lives
smooshed into nineteen years,
with the amount of love
some kids only dream of knowing,
I love you two / I love you too / I love you two
Daisies on the counter. Through it all, there were always daisies on the counter. Not every day was easy, but they were all good nonetheless. Anabelle’s mom worked on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so that she was there to play outside after school every Tuesday and Thursday, regardless of the weather. Jump rope was Anabelle’s favorite, but her mom wasn’t too good at it. She jumped still. Her dad rarely came home, and that was the way they liked it. Peaceful, loud with laughter instead of loud with anger. On the days her mom worked, Anabelle always looked forward to helping make dinner. Her mom let her cut up the celery for chicken noodle soup every Monday, and defrost the hamburger buns for turkey burgers every Wednesday. They always went out on Fridays, usually just to a fast food joint, but when her mom’s paycheck came through the third Thursday of every month, they made sure to go somewhere special the next day. Life was organized and predictable for them.
When Anabelle turned twelve, things started to change. Her mom ran out of breath quicker when playing jump rope, and one Thursday she actually turned down the game. It didn’t make sense, life was predictable for them. Her dad came around more and more, but it wasn’t like it used to be. The past five years when he would come home it was awkward, quiet, tense. Now it felt kind, longing, forgiving. From both of them. Nobody wanted to explain to Anabelle her father’s sudden appearance. Although she wanted to know, she didn’t want to ask. So she observed. She watched how he would come over at night, join the two of them for their planned weekly dinners. How he would stick around after Anabelle’s bedtime, how she heard her mom crying when she was supposed to be asleep. There were still daisies on the counter.
On Wednesday she came home from school to find both of her parents sitting in the living room. Tears in her mom’s eyes. Fear in her dad’s. Paperwork on the table. With a gentle explanation that felt everlasting, they told her about her mom’s ovarian cancer. She glanced at the daisies on the counter. They were wilted.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays Anabelle’s dad took her to St. Mary’s to visit her mom. They played cards instead of jump rope. On Mondays and Wednesdays they sat beside her hospital bed as she struggled to work from what would, for the next few months, be her home. On Fridays they cried in private. On Sundays they prayed in public. There were daisies on the altar.
The woman closed her eyes and picked up the first photograph. Feeling was something she could trust, so she took her time moving her wrinkled hands around its edges, searching for marks of imperfection. The corners had softened with age, and one was folded inward like a dog’s ear. The surface in the middle was laced with more crease lines. The woman traced her fingers along each one, and in the absence of vision, she thought they were beautiful.
When she opened her eyes, a monochromatic child was smiling back at her. The girl had freckles dotting her forehead, nose, and cheeks, but they faded when they reached her chin. She was standing outside, presumably in a backyard, and the sun’s glow was bright on her skin. A crease beginning in the photograph’s top left corner stretched down and across the girl’s forehead, making it look like it was separate from the rest of her body.
The next photograph was folded like the first, but it was fully colored. The freckle-faced girl was taller here, older and leaner too. Her hair was woven into a long auburn braid that matched the flower tucked behind her ear. Dressed in a loose white gown, the young woman’s face was turned toward the man on her left. The photographer had captured the two in a moment of pure bliss—lost in each other’s eyes, oblivious to the world around them, and smiling like it was a moment they’d never forget. His dark hair was cropped short, and though his eyes were nearly hidden by a crease in the photograph, their startling blue color was clear.
The woman holding the photograph paused for a moment, looking deeply at the man’s eyes. There seemed to be something familiar about that blue, but it couldn’t be. She was looking at the face of a stranger.
The third image, besides a small tear in the bottom corner, was flawless. The woman marveled at its smooth edges, its glossy finish. Though her touch was already soft, she cradled it like a fragile glass vase.
Here, the freckle-faced girl was fully grown. The dark-haired man stood beside her, his youth abandoned in all places but his eyes. They each had an arm around the other like they were steadying themselves. If one moved, the other would be there to keep the balance.
In front of them stood three children, each with a feature that directly resembled their parents. A daughter with auburn curls spilling across her shoulders. A long-limbed son with freckles covering his cheeks. And the youngest, a daughter with eyes like the summer sky.
The photographs each captured a moment across a lifetime, preserving stories of the past and carrying them into a timeless present. But they were stories with no beginning and no ending. Each was a rung on a time-traveling ladder, but what filled up the empty space? How did the girl grow up? When did she meet the love of her life? What were her children’s names?
The woman closed her eyes again, pondering at the timelessness of these connected yet divided moments. The freckle-faced girl would forever be locked in her black and white world, her skin warmed by ageless rays of sun. She would grow and marry her love, but they too would freeze, always living in a world of their own. The family in the last photograph was where her journey seemed to end, but how could she know for sure?
The woman opened her eyes and looked at the man sitting across from her. There was a glimmer of hope in his gaze as he watched her stack the pictures, one placed carefully on top of the next, in chronological order.
She reached across and placed the photographs next to his hand, which was resting palm-up on the table. He had been fidgeting with the ring on his finger, but he took his hand away quickly when he saw she had finished with the photographs.
“Thank you for coming.” She spoke softly, carefully examining the man’s face as he continued looking at her. Time had carved wrinkles in his skin, much like the oldest photograph, but his eyes were still bright.
“Of course, Hope. It’s so good to see you,” he replied. He paused as if he would say more, but he let his mouth close instead, waiting quietly for the woman to respond.
“You tell a lovely story,” she said, smiling. “I do wonder, what happened to that little girl? Will you come again and tell me the ending?”
The man’s jaw clenched, eyes lowering to look at his hand. He opened and closed his fingers into a fist a few times before tucking the stack of photographs into his satchel.
“I’ll come again,” he said. His words were tight, voice breaking, but he struggled not to show it. “I promise.”
The woman smiled at him as he stood to leave, marveling at the way his eyes caught the light. He walked away, nursing his left side with a slight limp. When he disappeared from view, she closed her eyes, letting the image of his gaze remain in her memory for a few abiding moments. There seemed to be something familiar about that blue, but it couldn’t be. The memory faded, and she relaxed back into her chair.
She had been looking at the face of a stranger.