My upstairs neighbor’s son passed in a car crash yesterday. She came by crying and told us to forgive her for the family commotion upstairs. I told her not to worry, that I was there for her, but I didn’t mean it – not because I didn’t want to mean it, but because there’s nothing I can really do. I only learned her name this morning. I baked the family brownies and brought them over. She had hair rollers and was smiling.
This is the second son that’s died in our apartment building this year. I didn’t know them, but I’ve been thinking about them both all day. That’s all I’ve got for the Coffee Log. Tell your friends you love them.
There was a patch of trees between an old motel, the fire-hose plant, and the house I grew up in. Eventually, they demolished the motel and the plant became a plumbers operation. The trees were cut and burned. It’s a car park, now, city trucks.
I remember two things about those woods: sledding through the trees in seldom NC snow and being watched by The Beast that lived there.
The house on the corner was lived in by a few kids and their grandparents. Off and on, their parents would be there, too. I can’t remember their names or faces, only that we played together. One day, the kids went away. They started showing up only sporadically, the way you catch the moon coming in and out of clouds. My parents told me something had happened. I saw dark looks on the kids’ faces. They had a tree fort we played in. The walls were painted blue. Later, I learned one of their parents had killed themselves.
The Beast was faceless. It had brown fur, dark and hard to get your eyes on like sesame oil. It stayed hidden in the day but stalked our neighborhood at night. Any stray cat that died was taken by it. It’s nose could smell you through brick walls, especially when you were sleeping. In the mornings, sickly white mushrooms grew in its footprints.
The Beast had two rules: 1) Never look directly at it; if you broke this rule, the punishment was that it would take three steps closer, a direct line to wherever you were; and 2) Leave an offering every New Moon, something significant, like a clean sock, or fresh mulberries, or a bit of your dog’s fur. Without the offering, The Beast would have free choice over what it took from you.
Eventually, the kids stopped coming altogether. I don’t know where they ended up. The grandparents lived on for a long time but we never talked to them. Finally, they moved too, or maybe passed over; death and departure are indistinguishable when you’re young.
The woods kept on while new residents moved in, and the old blue treehouse stood for a long time. As I got older, I stopped looking in the forest so much at midnight. I stopped catching eyes with The Beast. I was leaving little messes everywhere as a teenager, beautifully important things I cast off and couldn’t claim back, and I’m sure it took a few of them for offerings. But eventually it was gone. I can’t pick out the exact time, but somewhere between then and now The Beast had left us for good.
No-one remembers what happened in those woods. And maybe that’s just as well.
Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand
The rain took the heat away, then the rain went away too; packed-up houses. I took my daily walk in the space it left.
Tonight, I saw: a new family. The mother and father were both taller than me; their son was twig-high. He was toddling, dressed in a red tee. They held both his hands when he needed it. The three walked the parking lot searching for sticks and acorns. He picked one; he wasn’t satisfied.
“They’re better by the playground,” Dad says.
“Yeah,” says the toddler.
There’s a bend in the neighborhood that obscures oncoming traffic. The rain washed the tires of an SUV loud enough for me to dodge. My downstairs neighbor drove by. She waved. In her wake, I saw a mother and daughter slogging toward recycling. Mom was stern. She had handfuls of wood and cardboard. Her daughter was sterner. She pulled a pink wagon full of broken boxes.
Trees look best in a storm; your first love coming out the shower. I snapped a few pictures, even the sewers looked nice.
At the dog park, wet fluffs were yapping. They had death in their lungs but cuddles everywhere else. Their owners chatted across the fence. The dogs weren’t happy. Both were fat, still hungry.
The last stretch goes by the office, the pool, there’s a deck that’s always open and a guy in a dark armchair who’s always watching TV. We see each other often but look away when our eyes catch.
I took the new bridge across the stream. I saw the family again, only the Dad and son this time. I waved. Dad waved. The kid ran circles, he was scared of me; I’m no stick, no acorn. I said “Hi Hi!” to red shirt, folding my best paper-plane smile.
“Say hello,” said Dad.
“No!” said his son.
He ran away to find more fairies. I wasn’t hurt; summer storms are enticing company.