“I’m leaving for my appointment now” Marta said, setting a disorderly stack of files on her boss’s desk. “Here are the files.
“You see my email?” he asked.
But Marta was already out the door. She made it all the way to the car before realizing her keys were missing. Not in her purse, not in her pocket;
Marta dashed into the office, heart racing. She grabbed her coat from the back of her chair, relieved to hear keys jingling in the pocket.
“Back already?” the boss called as she passed his office.
She didn’t stop.
Outside, across the parking lot, into her car. The engine roared to life.
Something was beeping.
Not now, Marta thought, scanning the dashboard. No alerts illuminated. Then the beeping stopped. Good enough. Marta sped out of the parking lot.
It wasn’t till she arrived at the clinic that she saw the missed call and voicemail.
<Hi, this is Julia calling from Dr. Mossadegh’s office. I know it’s last minute, but the doctor is going to have to cancel your appointment. He’s very sorry, but of course we’ll reschedule as soon as we can.>
She stared blankly at her reflection in the phone and sighed.
“Can you take a look at something for me?” Maple asked.
Fir creaked out a flat response. “Do I have to?”
“Please?” Maple asked. “I think I’ve got something on my trunk.”
A sigh of falling needles. “Like what?” Fir asked.
Maple rustled their branches impatiently. “I don’t know; that’s why I want you to look at it.”
“Fine,” the evergreen said..
Maple leaned with the wind, branches parting to give a clear view. Fir leaned as well, bending closer to inspect the trunk.
They spotted the source of Maple’s concern immediately. The growth, or whatever it was, was impossible to miss. Broad, blunt branches ringed Maple’s trunk, there was a lot of discoloration, and several vines hung down from their lower branches. Then Fir spotted the infestation. They were used to this sort of vermin of course; but it was extremely unusual to see so many climbing in the branches of a tree all at once. The squat, hairy little things were all over Maple’s branches, letting out shrill squeals as they scurried about. Fir straightened up with a shudder of revulsion.
The sudden flash in the heavy blackness caught her eye like a shooting star.
She made a wish. It was a sort of morbid tradition she had.
Her father had been a smoker and a drinker. She was six when he first burned her with a cigarette. Sometimes she still saw that smouldering prick of fire and ash coming toward her face, and since then, the pain of her burns would return whenever she came anywhere near fire or smoke.
At sixteen, she had been driving at night for the first time. Her father was in the passenger seat yelling about something. She wanted him to stop—stop shouting, stop hurting her, stop making her miserable.
Then—a flash of orange cinders
She had never seen a cigarette thrown from a car window before. It flew at the windshield, and in a flash of sparks she smelled tobacco and burning flesh, and felt her scars ache.
her father shouted
and she was just wishing he would stop
and they were flying
Then all was still. And quiet. Just her breathing and … nothing else.
Now she wishes on cigarette butts. Because of guilt. And maybe hope.
Silence filled the space between the mage and his client. Alden knew his craft well, so it was very rare that he had repeat customers, and neither he nor Perin felt comfortable navigating the situation. He moved to the northeastern corner of the house, knelt at the base of the corner post and began carving the rune of binding in the freshly sawed boards.
“It’s a good house,” Alden offered over his shoulder. “Well built. The carpenters outdid themselves. I don’t know if you’ll even need magic to keep this house standing.” Receiving no response, Alden bent back over the rune to begin his spell.
“You said that last time,” Perin commented. It was true of course. Alden made that remark to most of the new homeowners who hired him. It usually made them smile. But Perin was frowning deeper than ever. “The old house is still standing,” he said. “The carpenters did their job well and so did you. I’m the one who ruined everything.”
Alden hesitated, “What’s broken can be mended. It’s not my magic, but maybe it’s yours.
Perin’s eyes shone, but he answered, “No. She deserves that house. Maybe now it can finally be a home.
I almost didn’t see it, a thin, blue line peaking out of your shirt sleeve just above your wrist. “What’s this?”
“What? Oh, just a tattoo.” Your voice was nonchalant, but your hand still crept away from mine.
“Can I see it?”
You were tense, reflexively twisting to hide the telltale mark. But you nodded, surrendering your arm to my eager exploration.
I pulled back the cuff of your sleeve to chart the curving path of that blue line and found it joined by several others: blue, green, lavender, orange. “What is this?” I asked again, shoving your sleeve up to the elbow. You didn’t answer, nor did you object to the migration of my fingers across your supple skin. The lines grew bolder, curved, branched, interlaced in a complex pattern that covered your entire arm up to the shoulder and beyond. “Where does it end?” I asked, when I finally managed to pull my eyes away from the mesmerizing lattice of color.
Blushing, eyes shining, you were already unbuttoning your shirt. “I haven’t let anyone see the whole thing yet,” you explained, smiling at my sudden silence. “I’m still nervous, but I’m also glad that you’ll be the first.”
Inside the shed, he found mostly what he expected: rotting wood, cobwebs, dust-covered tools, and in the middle of it all, a patched up, rusty canoe. “Hello, ugly. Ready for one more trip?”
It was a four hour drive up to the lake. He made only one stop, just like when he was a kid, at the combination gas station and soda parlor that still smelled like stale cigarettes. Despite the October chill, he left the windows of his Ford Tempo cracked so that the bungee cords and twine could loop through and keep the canoe secure on the roof until he arrived.
Frosted fallen leaves crunched beneath his feet as he dragged the boat to the water’s edge. On its surface was reflected a blaze of orange, brown and yellow leaves. By the time he reached the middle of the lake, there were a couple inches of water in the bottom of the canoe. He opened the cooler beside him, no bait, no fish, no beer, not even ice. Instead, he withdrew an urn. “Shoulda just dumped you in the boat and let the whole thing sink,” he muttered. Then with shaking hands, he lifted the lid. “Goodbye, dad.”
“You can keep playing outside while I make the Jello, but you have to stay on the porch, okay?” The three-year-old’s face broke into a wide grin as he nodded. It wasn’t fair for a kid to have such cute dimples.
Kelsey went inside and set a kettle on the stove. She took a quick peek at the front window and saw her son pushing a rock across the porch rail like a race car. It’s fine, she thought. He’s fine. It’s good for both of us to practice a little independence.
Moments later the kettle whistled. She turned off the stove, poured the boiling water into the glass dish with the gelatin mix, began stirring absentmindedly until another tone caught her attention.
A car horn.
Panic rising in her chest, Kelsey ran to the front door, terrified of what she would find outside. A car was stopped right in front of their house. The driver was standing outside the vehicle, looking at something in the street.
Her son. Where was her son?
A dark shape on the ground shifted.
A small scream. Kelsey’s son stood beside her on the porch.
The poor guy needed a distraction, so I approached table eleven with my most reassuring smile. “Would you like to put in an order for an appetizer while you wait?”
“What? Uh, no. Thanks.”
“Well hang in there,” I offered. “And just flag me down if you need anything.”
A vacant nod. Eyes drifted back to his phone. A frown. He’d been waiting nearly 45 minutes for his date. I wondered what it was like to be that infatuated.
A gust of wintry air entered the restaurant. At the door, a bright, rosy-cheeked woman scanned the room. I felt a strong surge of relief when this newcomer scurried directly for table eleven.
I gave them a few minutes to get settled, then once more approached the table. The girl was chatty and upbeat, asking a whole stream of questions about the menu. But whenever she tried to pull her date into the discussion, he responded with a flat one or two word answer.
Another surge of relief when I could finally walk away with their drink orders. Table eleven was now tense and silent. I wondered if either of them could tell how much they both wanted to be together.