Merci and her box made their way beyond a Sunday pasture. The little chest tucked nicely against a sundrenched dress with pockets for her interests. Worn leather shoes crunched dried winter and new green as they passed a lake that would soon be surrounded by cattails and bellowing toads. The water ran the length of a thicket of trees where it suddenly ended at a muddy intersection of hoof prints and a makeshift footbridge. Merci clutched her companion tighter as she drew closer to the edge and eased her way onto a board.
“And here we meet again, Miss Merci!” trilled a voice from somewhere in the trees.
A crown of copper braids weighed the charm that hung thick like the tart of early apples and the smell of deerskin.
“I can’t stop today, Alfred. You’ll have to show me your lines another time.”
Branches extended across the opening of Merci’s pathway and she paused just long enough to ease herself under a broken limb. Her cheeks flushed as bitterness took the shape of a reflecting glass dangling from silver ribbons.
“Now look here. You take this on home. It’ll fit just fine—just fine. Wouldn’t you like to try it on?” Alfred pleaded holding the necklace up for her to admire.
“You’ll be ruined forever,” Merci called as her sturdy legs stepped past the offering, “if I tell you what I really think.” She hurried on towards the other side of the bank and jumped onto a dry, smooth stone.
Merci’s gaze traveled to the tips of the saplings and giants that spread out before her. The contrast of her form against the wall of darkness silenced the juncos whose beady features watched her slip into the woods and disappear. Her feet never slowed as they descended farther into the dense forest until full-yellow was wrapped in a neat clearing dotted with bloodroot. Merci’s warm smile focused on a girl and her box pacing on top of a felled oak. Her figure was clothed in sky and fresh daisies with a handsome bow tied neatly around her waist.
“Benny!” Merci called.
A gentle face edged with earth-colored curls and curiosity beamed towards the amble of her name from Merci’s lips. Benny was the youngest of six daughters. Her parents had wanted their last child to be a boy. “I showed them,” she would say laughing. She had believed her title a jest against her feminine frame until she met Merci. The way she spoke Benny’s name made it sound anything but boyish. The two hugged briefly with their eyes and seconds later, continued down an inconspicuous trail that ran throughout the thicket. Their pace finally slowed when the opening before them laced itself with golden hues. They watched in awe as the silence flickered with the beating of wings. Life-whole was suspended in momentary flashes of color as eloquent rays revealed once invisible secrets. An escaped sigh rested gently on Merci’s shoulder and she untucked her little chest from its traveling place.
“I have them,” Merci mouthed reaching her hand into the moment. Finding the depths of her pocket, eager fingers balled into a fist and carefully withdrew its contents.
“How many?” Benny asked.
“Two. I was able to get two.”
Benny’s cupped palm felt the weight of nothing as she clasped the small object and slid it into her own dress pouch.
“Well then—” Her words caught unexpectedly in her throat. “Well then, I guess this means we’d better get started.”
“How far do you want to walk?” Merci whispered knowingly.
“Until the birds sing. I want to walk until the birds sing.”
Hollow bells of white crowded the path as the two girls moved on. Spears of rainbows darted in every direction and the birds were soon forgotten.
“Tell me again what you love, Merci.”
Merci grinned as her scuffed toes kicked at the loose rocks playing underfoot.
“I love the first tinge of pink on ocean skies. And you?”
“Flaming cedar…but I don’t like to sleep next to it while it breathes.”
Merci glanced at Benny but she was lost in blank days. Her little box was still nestled
firmly against her body. Merci’s lyrical voice opened,
“We ache to discover where fences roam,
far into the closing moan of seasons;
stretched across a sphere in quest of a home,
sharp steel gouging earth for selfish reasons.
A breadth of green that dares to reach under,
running hard up the flex of naked skin;
tasting a thought beckons tainted wonder,
unseen verse weakens the muse from within.
We see nothing but the passing of time,
through prints abandoned on an open ledge;
a faulty attempt at writer’s sublime,
pitted marks placed at the end of a pledge.
Words born will scale until voicing a creed,
finding solace in lines built to impede.”
Emerging from her trance, Benny stared at her friend. “You always know what to say, Merci. How do you do that? I wish I was like you.”
“If you were, we couldn’t be friends,” Merci quipped. “Do you know what I love more than anything? Forgetting people and remembering them in pictures.”
Benny studied Merci closely.
“What?” Merci asked.
“I like that,” Benny nodded as she listened to the hush of rustling grass. “The forgetting of people.”
A woven fence emerged from raw ground and the girls began to climb over a ledge of sandstone. Tumbleweeds linked their bodies along the enclosure and Merci sparred with them as she struggled to find the gate.
“You know why I loathe tumbleweeds?” she said glaring at the splinters protruding from her exposed legs. “They’re crass, like Ms. Gordon.”
“Oh, Merci! And here I thought you marched right past the noble Alfred today,” Benny said in a mocking bow.
“I did. He and his ridiculous glass,” she said striking even harder at the unwelcome debris. “His attempts to hold me captive with trinkets will never end,” Merci said as her hand finally found the latch it was searching for. “But,” her words came out heavy from wrestling with the gate, “I was never meant to be confined by anything. Cages are for unlucky birds. That I am not. If I could, I would set them all free.” Merci noticed Benny intently picking at the yellow plumes of a desert shrub.
“Well, if you didn’t stop and talk to Alfred, then what’s wrong?” Benny said.
Benny stood upright. “You’re what?”
“I’m quitting,” Merci repeated as she wrenched a bent frame off its hinges with her free hand and crossed into rows of seedlings.
“Merci! You can’t!”
“It’s already done,” she said heading to the far side of the garden where snake-like shoots ran up the sides of a lean-to. Merci’s father cursed the winding growth every spring as severing its head did nothing but send out an ambush of new climbers. While she would never tell him, Merci saw their wildness as enchanting. The vines made her imagination leap and lent an air of mystery to the girls’ hideaway. Ducking inside, she slipped her box into a nook above her head and tugged at a large wooden board propped up against a cedar post.
“I have been born…at last,” she huffed.
Benny stuffed her own box next to Merci’s and together, the girls heaved the awkward slat onto four stumps. Dust filled the space and they backed out of their retreat to brush themselves off.
“I don’t understand why you have to quit though. You’re good, Merci! Really, really good!” Benny argued.
Merci tilted her chin toward her life-long friend and brushed at the wet smudges of dirt collecting on her cheeks.
“I despise poetic things,” she said matter-of-factly. “Ms. Gordon has ruined me! She wants the truth laid bare but set in pretty words. ‘Analyze this! What do you think of that?’ Stop asking! Stop asking! STOP ASKING! I have spent every day of my life observing the world in my own strange ways. Maybe I don’t want to do that for someone else. Maybe I want to be plain.” Merci’s voice grew quiet as she went back into their sanctuary and spoke into the emptiness before her, “Should a poet even write when everything around her seems dead? Should she even think a thought when her mind sees in nothing but silhouettes and childish fantasies?”
“What about Robert? You love his works. He was a simple man.”
“No, Benny. He wasn’t. Simple words don’t make simple people,” she said sliding a basket across the table. “Simple words make profound people.”
“You’re writing her a letter?” Benny said as she stared at the metal tips and wax sticks wedged next to yellowing paper.
“Unless you have a better idea,” Merci said jamming a bottle of liquid black onto the plank.
“Fine but I’m doing the writing.” Benny took a point and forced it onto a carved wooden dowel. Her loose curls shook with the container and Merci cast her a pleading glance.
An amused expression passed across Benny’s face. “I’m not upset with you, Merci. I’m just trying to decide if this is a good idea. Do you remember what happened last time?”
“Let me see. Your mother and my mother sat in Dr. Kates’ office while he read them the most profound—,” Merci smiled.
“And profane,” Benny interjected.
“—garble of verse ever written. They were truthful declarations, Benny. And today…today we will write the sequel!”
“Maybe it should be the conclusion,” Benny advised. “Because after this, I’ll never see you again.”
“Ah, but wait!” said Merci in her most patronizing delivery yet. “We shall not know until the heart and mind embark on the mincing of words and unrealistic ideas.”
The girls laughed and scooted their appointed crates up to the desk. Merci patted her pocket, questioning Benny.
“Umm…I say we wait ‘til the wax is dry,” Benny said.
“So, it is! Dried wax and then we celebrate!” Clearing her throat, Merci assumed a grave tone, “Dear Ms. Gordon,
It has come to my attention that you have a knack for redundant compositions.
Perhaps this was a reasonable idea for the wandering Israelites but the for the artist?
The horror of the thing! Your previous request, dated this past Wednesday,
strangled the last sliver of inspiration out of your pupils. I have it on good authority—”
Benny paused, “Ack, no! Cliché, Merci! The shame!”
“You’re right. Let me start that sentence over. ‘I swear on my dear Sainty Virgi’s—,’” tried Merci.
“You’d better leave your grandmother out of this one,” suggested Benny.
“Fine. No grandmommy. ‘I swear upon my dear Theo’s final bark—’”
“You had a dog named Theo?” Benny interrupted again.
“No, I wouldn’t even involve my dog in this. I made it up.
I swear upon my dear Theo’s final bark, slew by Carzilla God rest her soul, that
your students are suffering at your superfluous hand. Has the invaluable sheathe
of education falln’ blindly—” Merci stopped in reflection, “Now make sure you spell
falln’ like this: f-a-l-l-n.”
Benny’s scratching paused, “Falln? That’s not even a word!”
“Exactly! It’s a lovely fit. Trust me.” Merci continued, “Has the invaluable sheathe of education falln’ blindly on the undeserving?”
Benny hesitated and stifled a giggle, “I will NEVER see you again after this but carry on.”
Merci grinned at her in delight,
“If you expect said pupils to gorge themselves on thick words and ancient
philosophies, then is it not conceivable to first share such things before thrusting
the Gauntlet of Analyzation? Or are you lacking? These impoverished artists have
been violated again and again by your resounding and tedious projects. I must
ask: Are you committed to send forth the beauty of creative thought into the
world or more monotonous muddle?”
“Ooh, redundant letters! I do love a good alliteration!” Benny cried as she fed the point of her pen.
“Why, thank you!” Merci concurred. “As I was saying,
Are you committed to send forth the beauty of creative thought into the world or
more monotonous muddle? If the latter is true, and your schooling has instructed
you to kill the imaginations of your pupils, then bravo, my dear lady, count them
dead! In closing—”
“Well now you’ve just broken all the rules!” Benny cheered.
“And so, I have!” Merci resumed her dramatic end,
“In closing, let me speak in plain but meditative language: Your requests are not
informative but stupid and I, just one suffering pupil under your tutelage, will no
longer comply. I would rather speak into the wind than write with a chisel.
PS Something you show none of.”
“Ouch! You split the marrow with that last one!” Benny said as she wrote the final lines and handed the smudged paper to her friend.
“I’m doing the lady a favor. I, for one, don’t want her to get dirty when she’s six chapters deep in that direction,” Merci replied pointing downward.
“Oh, Merci, Merci!” Benny said as she covered her mouth in pretend shock. A few seconds later she had produced a thin, grey firestick, and struck it towards the wick of a candle. After several attempts, a small flame pitched a dim light onto the table, and she held a rosy wax stick over it.
Merci skimmed the letter with approval, “As always, you have the most gorgeous handwriting, Benny.” She folded the paper carefully and snatched a metal lid out of the basket with the imprint of a sparrow. Laying the correspondence flat on the desk, Benny dripped streams of wax on its close. When the rose-colored pool began to drift, she grabbed the cap, and pushed it into the hot liquid until it slowed its escape.
Pleasure draped itself across the opening of the little enclosure and Merci patted her pocket again.
“I would say celebration is definitely in order,” Benny said sliding her hand down her leg. When it returned, there was a slim, white cigarette in her palm. An elegant ring ran its way around the base.
“What are we smoking to today?” Merci asked.
“That’s an easy one,” Benny said mischievously. “To dead poets who aren’t really dead!”
“Hear, hear!” Merci replied as she inserted the end of her cigarette into the flame and promptly inhaled.
“Anything you want to add?” Benny asked poking her fingers at the rising circles above her head.
“To Jonathan and David!” Merci declared.
“Hear, hear!” Benny said tracing an engravement on the table. Her face suddenly overcast, she watched as her friend leaned over in quiet remembrance. Trails of wax began to seep into the gouged letters as Merci’s lips murmured their sounds.
“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself…but David had mental illness.”
Merci’s cigarette rolled across the board and fell onto the ground. She stood up and noted the dust all over her dress and shoes. A small tear ran down the seam on her shoulder. She pulled at it absently until her eyes locked with Benny’s. The sky-wrapped, daisy-cloaked young woman had blown the dying flame out on the table and picked up the letter. She put the basket with all of its fun back into the corner, and wordlessly helped Merci move the board onto its side.
Leaning down, Merci took what was left of the ember, and gently dropped it into her waiting pocket. The little coal immediately licked at her filthy dress until a black hole appeared next to a pattern of others.
“Merci! Your dress!” Benny exclaimed snatching a wad of fabric and shaking it upside down. “You’re going to burn yourself!”
Merci let Benny finish fussing with her dress and grasped her little box. She nestled it safely against her body and waited for Benny to fetch her own. Merci’s gaze rested on the green sprouts thrusting themselves out of hard ground. She wondered at the split seed. How did the sun and spring showers coax it from the earth? Would it sit alone forever, as a closed thing, without them? What if the seed’s desire was only to amuse itself? Perhaps its real strength lay not in what it became but the idea of what it could become.
“You’re doing it again,” Benny called from the gate. “What about dead poets?” she offered. “And new births?”
Stepping past the neat rows, Merci followed Benny out of the door. Wisps of pink clouds sat waiting to touch navy and she knew she would soon be missed.
“I haven’t quit myself,” Merci said taking the sealed offering from Benny’s hand. She slid it into an unblemished pocket and a knowing embrace passed between them. Leaving her friend’s side, Merci turned towards the forest. She slowly raised her face to the falling shadows and gave a lyrical whistle. The echo was consumed by the approaching giants and Merci wanted nothing more than to hear the birds sing again.
Krysta Mayfield was born in Texas, and spent her childhood on the plains of North Dakota and in the woods of Virginia. She attended college in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is currently an undergraduate studying English Literature at the University of Texas Permian Basin. She writes both poetry and fiction. Ms. Mayfield currently lives in West Texas.