©2020 by Canvas Literary Journal

Published by Cosmographia Books

Background art “Submerged” by Amelia Ao

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Childhood Days

Alyssa Chen

Autumn 2018

 

Best of the Net 2019 Nomination

That day was like honey— 

Sweet, sticky, and golden, 

The sun pouring pastoral ballads 

Atop the bushes and the trees, 

And the mosquitoes swimming lazily through the skies, 

Their lethargic buzz electrifying the humid air 

Bubbles frothing in champagne. 

That was the day she found the rock. 

She pulled her copper hair behind pink shell ears 

And tiptoed 

A ballerina on satin toe-shoes 

Curiously 

From the tangled vines of the forest 

Into the edge of the open meadow 

Where she spotted it: the huge rock. 

It was grey, brushed 

With flecks of moon, 

Almost as tall 

As her plump skirt-clad legs, 

Almost as big 

As the squealing pup that lay on her bed 

On the farther side of the woods. 

Digging her fingers 

Into the damp, pungent dirt underneath the rock, 

She heaved with all her youth, 

Fingers trembling under the weight of the world. 

And as the great lump of stone toiled towards the heavens, 

A breeze suddenly swelled 

Rippling her chiffon blouse 

Taking the fabric in its firmly gentle hands. 

And as the mask of mineral 

Lifted to reveal the laughing face of the earth, 

She saw. 

She saw mighty creatures – fat worms, dancing ladybugs, 

Slouching slugs 

And inching centipedes, 

Beetles blacker than the cruel void of night, 

And fiery ants trembling under the raw weight 

Of their own worlds. 

She saw color – here and there, 

Tufts of emerald grass grew 

From the chocolaty soil 

Like birds twittering to their mothers 

From cracked eggs. 

A butterfly who was perched on the nearby ground 

Suddenly sprang into the sky, 

Tickling the little girl 

With flutters from royal purple and rosy crimson wings. 

She saw even smaller rocks underneath – 

Pebbles lying 

In pointed beds of grass knives, 

Hiding their own mysteries under grey façades, 

Waiting. 

“But for what?” the girl wondered. 

“For whom?” 

They didn’t answer. 

The little girl fell to her knees, 

An apple 

Falling from the tree of childhood. 

She leaned forward with anticipation 

To listen the orchestra of creatures tuning to life, 

To watch the creations of Gaea 

Revealed before her inquisitive blue eyes. 

After an eternity of quiet observance, 

A grasshopper, its slim pencil of a body almost translucent, 

Darted onto her open palms for one held breath 

And when it darted back 

Into the strange and wonderful obscurities of the world 

The only trace of its mere existence left behind 

Was a tender smile 

On the girl’s face. 

Thirty years passed. 

She was visiting her parents on summer holiday. She tapped her foot as she held her daughter’s hand in one hand and a bag in the other, waiting for the doorbell’s call to be answered. She gazed far into the woods, past the trees and the vines and the deer, into the clearing she remembered being so thrilling and enchanting. A flurry of movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention as the door opened. 

“Ma! Pa! How are you doing?” she said, dropping her bag to embrace the familiar cotton scent of her parents. 

“As good as ever,” her mother said cheerfully, taking the excited toddler into her arms. “The weather has been hot, hot, hot, though! Haven’t seen this kind of heat since you were a babe.” 

Her parents smiled fondly at the memory.

“And how are you, Mary?” her father asked. 

“I’m doing well, though little Sarah here had a bit of trouble getting out of her bed at dawn. Didn’t you, sweetie?” 

“Yeah,” Sarah said in a quiet voice, smiling bashfully at the attention. 

“What an angel!” her mother said. “You’re turning four soon, Sarah?” 

“Yeah.” After a thought, she added shyly, “On September 3.” 

“Well, enough chit chat,” her father said. “You two better come in and get settled before we eat lunch.” 

The house was smaller than Mary remembered. She had been too busy in the past few years working and caring for Sarah to visit the home. As she stepped into her old bedroom, a cloud of dust and a whiff of musky wood rose from her footstep - her ghost of the past, reminding her of. . . When she glanced at the small fireplace, her eyes began to tear as she recalled the days when a dog used to lie there, happily snoring. He was gone now. 

After a delicious lunch of chicken, sandwiches, and homemade peach lemonade, Sarah asked if she could go outside and explore the area. 

“She certainly has your love for nature, Mary,” her father said, laughing. To Sarah, he said, “Of course you can go out, but I think it’s best if your mother takes you.” 

“Can I, Mommy?” She looked up at her mother, who smiled. 

“Yes, but promise you’ll wash up afterwards.” 

“Mommy, why is this creek all brown and shiny?” 

“Ma, where are all the animals?” 

“How come there are no deer?” 

Mary didn’t want to answer that innocent face. Well, it’s not that she didn’t want to. She didn’t know how. She never remembered that creek being so greasy – no, she remembered wading in clear, cold water in her too-small bathing suit. She remembered the deer, too. She used to chase them, thinking that if she tried hard enough, if she ran fast enough, she wouldn’t lose sight of the creatures and their snowy white tails. She always did, though, stumbling over roots in her stubborn haste to keep up. 

 

Through the trees, past the leaves, across logs and bridges. The woods came to an end, and suddenly, mother and daughter were pushed into a spacious field of long grasses. A light sparked in Mary’s memory – she realized that she has been here before, as a little girl. A little girl who loved adventure and nature and peace. 

Sarah tugged her mother’s skirt, and pointed. 

“Mommy, look at that huge rock! What’s under it?” 

Mary jerked back to the present, and she saw a little girl not unlike her own younger self. A little girl who loved adventure and nature and peace. 

Sarah leapt to the rock, delightfully intrigued. She heaved with all her youth, and the great lump of stone toiled towards the heavens. Mary stood at a distance, her skirt fluttering in the wind, a tall, lonesome figure among smaller grasses. She remembered, she watched, she feared. And she saw. 

She saw that she should have come back, 

That she would have felt in her heart 

That something was wrong. 

She could have cared for the stone, 

Nursed it from illness, 

Watched her old world regain life 

And plants and animals 

And beauty 

And happiness—

Instead now 

She sees her child 

Innocent, young 

A love for life flowing through her 

The warm flow of blood through charged veins, 

Lifting the rock, 

And finding 

Nothing. 

As of the Autumn 2018 publication of this piece, Alyssa Chen was now a freshman at Harvard potentially studying Comparative Literature and Physics.