Baruch She’emar

Who knows what worlds might spring from a single word?

And who knows what worlds might collapse?

Therefore, let Your words come to me.

Let them well lup in praise and frustration.

Let them overwhelm the page, my heart, my eyes.

Let them wash away any undue pride or fear.

Let them be my wings, carrying me ever higher;

Farther from a sense of the ground, yet nearer to true groundedness.

Let my words create as You create–

Who spoke and the world was.

Paper Cup

the wind is just
too fierce sometimes

it sweeps down alleyways
shuffles debris

like old men’s feet
trying to keep up

it snatches leaves from living trees
tosses and swirls them like dust

no wonder my paper cup
went sailing

off the patio table
empty and abandonned

Tire Swing

if I push off

just right

from the tree’s sturdy trunk

if I look past

dangling apples

the Abandoned Bird nest among leafy clusters

I find myself

flying

working the wind like an extra muscle

totally oblivious

of the rope

connecting me to rooted things

only somewhat aware

of birds

winging their way across the heavens

but if I dangle

head and feet

from opposing sides

my donut swaying

me back

and forth through space

the wind

doing its best to spin

my flimsy craft

blurring

the world

and dizzying my senses

grass and sky

dissolve

and I become flight

Rosalie Goes To The Mall cont’d

4

Carry was up early. Before noon. As I unwound the electric cord for the vacuum cleaner, braced myself against its shrill scream which always set my teeth on edge. She appeared in the doorway.

"I’m going to the mall," she declared, "need anything?"

I looked at her. "Already?" I asked, "No breakfast?"

"You know I never eat breakfast," she sighed.

"Lunch then. It is nearly noon." I re-wound the cord, closeted the vacuum.

She sighed again.

"Actually," I pulled her into the kitchen, "would you mind waiting for me?"

I was in a hurry to not let her go alone. But how could I warn her? At her age, she was convinced that all her parents knew was not worth knowing. If we knew anything at all.

"Will you be very long?" she pulled the refrigerator door open. Moved things around. Closed the door.

"Just let me do my hair."

She moaned. This was my joke. At forty-three, I liked my life simple. Especially my hair. Short-cropped. The gray unashamedly evident amid the blonde. The very symbol of my philosophy. Simple. Natural.

Outside, the day was fresh. Cool with spritsing rain. Typical for the Willamette valley in late December.

The mall was busy. Parking was a challenge. But Carrie managed to find the last slot in the covered area. We had to walk outdoors anyway. had to cross Commercial to get to the door she prefered. The door nearest Meyer and Frank.

I reeled in my too-long arms as we zig-zagged up and down the narrow aisles. Glassware. Picture frames. Photography equipment. All over-priced. All extravagant.

Then we were moving through waves of shoppers. Darting around toddlers loosed by their elders.

How could they? I wondered. How could they not hold the little hand? Enjoy the little pull of anticipation?

I thought it all the time. At the zoo. The grocery store. And suddenly, my spine was electric. All those disappearances.

The little boy collapsed to the floor as I reached out and grabbed his sleeve. He was three. Maybe two. He looked at me. Not too alarmed.

"Please don’t run," I smiled.

Time passed. A long moment. Another. Finally, he pointed with a chubby finger and said, "Mommy."

She hurried over. Snatched his hand from mine. Frowned angrily. Too many rings, I observed, too many rings to be careful.

To me: "What are you doing?"

Her packages shifted. She let his hand fall. She let his hand fall.

To him: "You mustn’t talk to strangers."

Then she was gone. With a rush and a rustle. The little boy hurried to keep up. I watched in disbelief as he trailed after her into the crowd. Into the crowd.

Rosalie Goes To The Mall cont’d

2

The news was full of her. Mandy Masters. Only child of Paul and Sandra. Mandy Masters, who besides singing, played soccer and was learning ballet. Mandy Masters, small and sweet-faced, with short, dark hair and big brown eyes. Hour by hour, newsmen and women recounted every known detail.

The last time she was seen: standing on the far left of the first row of risers.

Her apparel: dark jeans and the Honor Choir T-shirt, sneakers.

The last person to speak with her: Sandra Masters, who kissed her daughter as she followed the parade of singers to the school bus.

Or was it?

No one on the bus remembered seeing her. No adult charged with supervising the trip. No fellow-student, giddy with the excitement of the occasion, the season.

Only afterward. Long afterward. When Sandra Masters arrived at the school to pick up her darling Mandy to learn new ballet steps, Mandy did not appear. The other children filed onto buses, waved to each other, hurried past. Not Mandy. When Sandra went inside looking, Mandy was not there.

"Isn’t she with You?" they asked her.

"We thought a parent took her from the mall." she was told.

"Perhaps her father?" they suggested.

And time dragged on.

Television pictures showed the darling hand-crafted ornament Mandy brought home from school two days before her disappearance. Pine-cone and pipe-cleaner reindeer with spindly antlers and tiny eyelashes. Mandy hung it as high as she could reach. It hung now in lonely vigil. There in the middle of the magnificent Scotch Pine. Lonely amid store-bought ornaments. Lonely on its artificial Scotch pine branch. Waiting for Mandy.

Pictures of her parents. Over and over. Crying. Voices trembling. Silent beside the tree that cradled Mandy’s pine-cone reindeer.

Then silence became complete. Deafening. Definite.

Christmas came and went. Spring clothes suddenly appeared in the mall. Bargains and more bargains. The Masters and their absent child and the tree and the pine-cone reindeer…?

3

Long dull days of Christmas week. Between one holiday’s glitter, and another’s gayity. The house still full of noise. Teenagers, and music. More late night movies than ever. For them, it meant time to sleep. Time to waste. Time to shop.

"These are the cutest shoes," our daughter squealed, looking up from the newspaper ads.

Nineteen years old. Home from college in Corvallis. Carry. Our oldest. The one who made parents of us.

"Do you really need more shoes?" my husband asked. He pulled a section of the paper out from under her page.

I leaned forward, inspected the ad.

"They look just like the pair you’re wearing,” I mused.

"They’re not the same at all," she laughed at my lack of style-discrimination.

"Do you really need more shoes?" the query repeated.

"You can never have too many shoes," I taunted.

My husband said nothing. I was expecting more jabs about our daughter’s footwear frenzy. He was reading the paper. Too much rustling as he looked for the next section of the story. Then he folded it and looked away.

"Do you mind?" Carrie was asking.

He looked up then, shaken.

"If I use the car. Go to the mall." She was talking to an idiot, perhaps.

"Not today," he said simply.

For once there was no dispute. The look on his face was unsettled. Unsettling.

"Tomorrow then," she declared on her way upstairs.

I moved closer to him. Tried to sense what was troubling him. After twenty-one years of marriage I can usually detect his concerns. This time there was nothing.

"She is a good driver," I prodded.

Silence. He left the sofa and walked into the kitchen. He turned on the tap, filled a glass with water, drank. I watched. His hand trembled. Just slightly. After a moment, I went to him.

"Something is going on at the mall," he said quietly.

"It figures," I replied, “All the kids are home for break. What is it? Some big opening of a music store?"

"No, something is happening." His eyes burrowed into mine. Now I was the idiot. The words meant something. Something more than themselves. Something I was not detecting.

He sighed. Put the glass on the counter. Took my arm. Led me back to the sofa. When I was settled, he put his arm around my shoulder, and looked at me again.

"What? Tell me, Joel ," I implored.

"Little stories keep coming up. In the paper. I never see them on TV. Something about the mall. People disappearing."

"You mean that little girl a few days ago? “I asked blankly.

"She was one of them," he said.

"One? How many are you talking about?"

"Rosalie," he shook his head slowly, "you should read the paper once in a while. You should–"

He was lecturing me. Amid telling me about people disappearing. He was frowning over his glasses, shaking his head slowly. Amid warning me of danger to our community. Our children.

"Oh my God," I gasped.

"Shhh," he covered my mouth with his hand. The hand was shaking again. Not so slightly.

Hands are what I notice most about people. People talk with their hands as much as their eyes. More than their mouths. They express fear, confidence, excitement. They express what is beyond words. Beyond thought. The use of them to touch, to scold, to gesture.

It was what I loved first about Joel. His hands, strong and skilled. Calloussed from work as a machinist. Capable. They are always ready to interact, always gentle.

I looked at him, calmer. The hand withdrew.

"Tell me, Joel."

"I’ve counted," he began softly, "the number of missing persons, mysterious disappearances. I didn’t mean to count them." He was nearly apologetic. "I couldn’t help noticing them."

I waited. His words were soft, washed over me like warm, slow tide. They pulled me into awareness. Into his fear.

"How many, Joel?" I nudged.

"In the last six months, since I noticed," he paused again, five people."

"That’s nearly one a month," I gasped again. "And that little girl, Mandy Masters?"

He nodded. "Number five."

I could not look at him. I could barely think. Numb was what I felt. Numb and cold, and the shivering would not stop.

"Everyday," he droned on mechanically, "everyday I look to see if any kind of investigation is being conducted. To see if anyone else is counting them like I am. Everyday there is nothing. People are disappearing. Children, old people. At the mall, near the mall. Just inside the mall."

"Are you sure?" How could such a thing be possible in our quiet, unremarkable town?

He nodded.

Colleen rushed into our midst. Words and worries were put aside. The mall was suddenly more invasive into our quiet, home-centered existence. But it stood nearly six miles away. Colleen, the other children, our life throbbed immediately at hand.

(to be continued)

Rosalie Goes To The Mall

Rosalie
Goes To The Mall

1
I seldom go to the mall. The people, the materialism, the sense of stuff pushed at a person from every direction. Even in Salem, where the pace is somewhat slower than the big city malls we knew in St. Louis. Even in Salem Oregon, where a single highway leads north to Portland, south to Eugene, the mall is where I most hate to go.

There are other places to shop. For things you need, not as
recreation, of course. Downtown Salem, if you call such a thing “Downtown”. Specialty stores. Boutiques. department stores. The aversion of the mall is never quite an inconvenience. To me, it is more like my life goal.

But at Christmas– that season that seems to stretch from somewhere mid-autumn way past the first of the new year– at Christmas, who can possibly avoid it? Everything promotes it. Every tentacle of marketing and fund-raising pulls toward it. Even the schools lure parents there with the promise of seeing their darlings arranged in harmonious rows to sing for passers-by. The conspiracy is
irresistibly contrived. And I was willing, at that season, for my own darling, mine and Joel’s, to comply.

She was lovely. Her long copper hair French-braided down her back, her face shining up from the middle of the second row. Colleen. our youngest daughter. Our youngest child. Somehow her soprano tones were always more discernable, more retrievable amid the other voices, the shuffle of parental feet, the rustle of shopping bags. Colleen. nine years old. Midway between birth and adulthood. Our youngest.

Of course, the program must include holiday favorites. “Silver Bells” and “Jolly old St. Nicholas”. Something Christian, “Silent Night”. Something Jewish, “Shalom Chaverim”. A Black Spiritual: “Let It Rain.” And the grabber, the song about children singing, and the unity of the world, and love for all Mankind. So I shivered with the emotional pull, but managed to fight back my tears.

At last, the sixty children from area elementary schools filed out in their matching T-shirts, black with sky blue writing announcing their affiliation to McNary High School. And the parents pushed forward to catch one last glimpse of their innocent darlings. One last glimpse of our last darling.

But the news that night was shocking. After dinner. after homework. after Colleen’s shower and hair-brushing. After the older two, the teenagers, retreated to their rooms to do whatever. After Joel and I were settled into the hush of fatigue, the lull of mundane living.

One of the singers, one of the darlings had not made it home. One of the little girls in the McNary Area Honor Choir was missing.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“Not really,” I was told. “She’s from Smith Elementary, I think.”

But the hugs became tighter that night, the push toward bedtime not so urgent. One of the darlings was missing. It wasn’t Colleen. It could have been.

(to be continued)

Hide-n-Seek conclusion

oh Sweet seeker

when night embraces you

–overwhelms

your senses

cloaks your eyes and ears

until your throat throbs

with anonymous voices

–when emptiness

fills you

and impossible light

spills

from your touch

your smile and embrace

you will find them

the scattered ones

the lost ones

find them at last

and you will all

run home together

laughing