Twenty-two years ago there was an earthquake. A part of the world hiccuped and stretched. The world settled after a while, like seashells in a bucket, swinging from the arm of a girl who has collected seashells all of her life.
This girl Kathryn, lived through the earthquake. She was two at the time. Kathryn was born in Balqash, Kazakhstan. They lived on the western edge of the only water in that part of the world. It was 1980, the entire house shook and collapsed. Nails screeched as they ripped from planks. Plaster cracked and dusted the living room , covering the paisley weave rug. The colors of the rug were dim under the dust, like it was in a shadow. When rescue workers arrived, they heard a faint cry from the rubble. A board was propped up against an ancient Zenith television. Under the board was a crying toddler. The crying toddler was an orphan. Her parents perished in the quake. Her four-year old brother also died. The Associated Press printed this story.
Kathryn was adopted by a couple in Skokie, Illinois, Bob and Emily Goldberg. Bob was an attorney and Emily was a high school teacher. They read the NEWS article and wanted to adopt the baby. The AP writer got a sniff of the story and set the Goldbergs on a flight to Istanbul. Once there, they would fly to Kazakhstan. Then, they would hop on a bus that was really a diesel truck with a flat bed in the back. Plywood floor and an iron rail a foot off the deck on both sides made the bed. Twenty people at a time crowded on there, rolling over dusty roads, rubbing aches. Finally, they arrived at Chiganat on the southern tip of Lake Balkhash (Phonetic). It was beautiful. The salt flats of the lake rippled on the shore like permanent flotsam. The wakes of the lake were frosted with sunlight and ripples with each earth breath. Bob and Emily were put in a tent with a mosquito net the size of the tent interior. Emily insisted that they use the net despite the freezing temps outside. Bob laughed at the absurd quality and thought of himself as a chrysalis ready to wake. He was in paradise and the sunrise said so every morning.
When they arrived in Balqash, the baby was handed over almost immediately and they got back on the 'bus'. The driver stopped outside of town and they ate at a roadside stand. The baby was hungry and fussy. The couple ate undercooked chicken with brown snow peas. The mushrooms were at least three inches in diameter, sliced. (Oh, and pepper too). The woman brought out a glass of milkish liquid to feed the baby. She just grabbed the child out of Emily's arms and nooked her in and fed her the bottle. Then the baby ate part of a sandwich and some noodles. Grand ol' time.
The Goldbergs got back to Skokie and began to raise a child. They bragged to their friends about being in the "Soviet Republics" and how they went to 'rescue' their daughter, who they named Kathryn. Their friends were impressed and Kathryn turned out to be the most wonderful child. Aren't they all.
Bob and Emily weren't hurting for cash. They had a big house and a carriage house, and a landscaped yard they had toiled over for twenty years.
They had toiled over Kathryn too, they had given every bit of repressed love they had.
Later in life, now in her late twenties, Kathryn abandoned her adoptive parents. She thought what they had done was absurd and selfish. She wanted to feel sorry for them but she could only squelch her laughter. They were fools, holding onto a dream of making her life better. The moment after thinking these thoughts. Kathryn would fold up into herself and scold the ogre that inspired the awful, angry part of her. The hurt part. She was so wishy-washy, Kathryn felt like a fishing cast of no reward.
Kathryn ended up in Minneapolis. She loved the city. In the spring, she would take a nightly walk around the Lake near her apartment. People walked their dogs and bumped over cracks in the path all the time. Kathryn walked to the same bench every day. She would sit there, and as the weeks rolled by; she would watch the goslings grow, and the reeds shoot up all green, and the carp breach, and the fledgling herons take dive bombs to the earth, only to lift wafting wings and glide into the frog orchestra marsh.
One day, she whimed to pick all the dandelions in the vicinity of the bench. Her circle of picking grew in gradual circles. A boy on a bike rode up, skidding in the flooded marsh.
"What are you doing?" He asked.
"Picking flowers," she responded.
Ethan sat there, straddling his bike. He starred at this girl's ass as she bent around the bench and plucked dandelions. What a rush. It was heartshaped and cruel, stretching her white cotton tennis shorts. Her auburn hair curled in the humidity and she could feel his feeling her breasts swell. Ethan felt like the sky turned white, fading into a blue.
Kathryn walked up to Ethan drunk in the comedy. She tucked the dandelions into her shirt, folding it over, showing her olive oiled belly button.
"Bye," she said, holding the dandelions in the pouch of her pink tank top.
"Bye." Ethan mustered, without any mustard.
For a moment, Ethan smelled a lingering fragrant of the girl. It soaks into him. He sat on the bench he sits on every day, and watched the trees across the inlet grow full.
Kathryn runs home and laughs at a "Kill your Television " bumper sticker on the black bumper of a Subaru. She crashes into her apartment and grabs a bottle of water out of the fridge. The fridge 'hums' "Hello", the magnetic plastic seal huffing off the vacuum. She cracks the plastic seal on the bottle and removes the top.
Her skin is warm and salty, she gulps the cold water and dumps the flowers out of the bulge in her shirt onto the kitchen counter. They are a bundle of green butter, wilting while the sepals close for the night. She runs her fingers over the mass, the ceramic tiles radiate cold to her fingertips. Kathryn presses the red blinking button of the answering machine as she walks to the bathroom.
"Hi Kathryn. This is David Leaserest. I'm in town for the weekend and was wondering if you wanted to get together." Give me a call."
He sounded more relaxed now, cultured, marinated. She wanted to call him and have him take her out for sushi and drink sake. She wanted to fake laugh and flip her hair and watch his white face nod and smile and blush red. He adored her. He was a pothead and a nice guy and she at least enjoyed his company. An air of jealousy always had hung between them. He wasn't ugly but bald and a hairy chest. His face was symmetrical , but you could tell he was a Scot drunk because his nose and ears were always red. Kathryn stepped into the cold shower and thought that it wouldn't be so bad and she wanted to eat some Ahi Tuna and Avocado. She sticks her right foot over the edge of the tub into the stream of cold water. It feels good and she jumps in. The cold takes her breath away and she smiles at the relief from the constant humidity of this early July. She wants air-con with Ahi tuna. And Sake. Then dancing.
They did just that and she pecked him good-night on the lips when he dropped her off. When Kathryn got home, she let the air-con overtake her and lifted her skirt in front of the blower. She shut the door and ran to the bathroom. She splashed water in her face and brushed her teeth.
It was so quiet and the melodramatic white noise hum of the air-conditioner made everything smooth. She fell asleep.
When Kathryn took a walk the next day after making toad eyed eggs, she stopped by her bench. She sat and stretched and watched the reed crab grass grow under the webbed feet of bachelor mallards. As she scrambled on the weathered, wood planked seat, a corner of white folded in the wind between the boards. She reached under and ripped an envelope secured by two strands of duct tape from the underside of the bench. On the front of the envelope were two words,
She tore the envelope open and there was a wilted dandelion inside with a short note on a third of tattered mead notebook paper. It said,
"Write me back."
Kathryn felt her heart stop and she knew she was too awful to have a secret admirer. She was ugly and absurd and afraid. She walked home crying at the most simple things; a baby in a carriage, a birdhouse and a Labrador
. She got home and washed the sticky humidity off. Her skin had faded darker in the sun It was hazel
brown and it glowed like her eyes. She felt happy and made spaghetti
and thought of creative ways to return his letter.
She filled a nice note with seaglass and rocks. She rubbed the parchment on her skin and waved perfume at it. She walked to the bench and tied it underneath the middle board, with bow-tied red ribbon. Then she waited. It was the same time they met yesterday. The Lake rippled and the wind blew in a storm. Kathryn walked home. Every day she returned and the ribbons still held the letter and seaglass and rocks in place. The reeds and crabgrass grew tall and the goslings looked like mange covered prehistoric beasts beating their stubby down wings.
Leaves started to change color.
The ribbons were still there, but the letter had fallen to the concrete marker underneath the bench. Mowed grass baked in the sun and soaked by the rain caked to the rippled face. The ink to him had run, growing like snowflakes into the parchment. Kathryn finally found the letter like this and she pulled it out. The caked grass stuck to it, so she just pressed the rocks and seaglass through the paper into her hand, Carefully, slipping them into her pocket. There. They were all there. All accounted for. She brought each out of her pocket and threw the stones and weathered glass into the lake.