by Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber
They were trotting through the woods, the little woods at the end of the block, on trails along the brook. Little skinny legs flashing past the skinny trees of the understory, on a thread-thin trail of dirt framed by the lush ferns and softly invasive, softly green nut sedge. Sedge trembles daintily two-beats when the runners pass and three-beats as they land; sedge rustles in the faint current of air along rich clay banks. Little slips, little smooth slips of little delicate feet make little slashes. They skim these paths at dusk and at dawn, stopping to check shaded puddles for tadpoles, for skimmer bugs, for silver winking minnows in the sunlit water.
Up high, there are cross-boards zagging loosely up a tree, but they keep their eyes down, looking for skimmer bugs and soft forest lettuces and seedlings. Little mouths, little velvet tongues, licking at soft clay and nudging skimmers.
The world was fragrant with clay, the good Passaic, making a good brown tea in the small sparkling shallows by the tender brook under the canopy. Sometimes there was orange, so bright in the morning, in the evening, in the understory, against the canopy. Don’t panic, use those skinny legs, mama said, use those skinny legs and lay down catty-corner away from orange. Then watch for skimmer bugs and dream of warm milk in the warm dappled light in the little woods. Mama said, my love for you is a winking silver thread in the sunlit air. Close your eyes and learn to know my pull. It’s a light tug, a soft pull, a shimmer.
From the pharmacy on Holland Street, to the haul up Mountain Avenue, then down the hill on Valley Road, along the old Leni Lenape trails through the woods, where the nut sedge shudders and the mamas stow their fawns, there is a box of Playboys from the 1980s. Hustler, too. The box is soft and broken, saggy and warped and spotted with black blooms of mold.
All the way down the Indian trail, atop the old trail along the line that persists because the good Indians used ribbon-thin deer trails, boys pedal from Holland Street on darting bicycles with sharp pumps of their skinny little legs. Soft haired and sinewy, their teeth coming in large. Making flick flick noises, the playing cards pinned at silver spokes are sharp clicking tongues. It was the eldest’s scout project, to make a hopper that drops a pill every tenth pump of the pedal. It’s on his back fender. He leaves a trail of candy-colored pills.
It used to be they would drop pretty pills from coverall pockets. White and pink and yellow and green and blue, round and oval and diamond-shapes. They left a trail of pretty pills so that mama would find them. Mama loved to find them.
They make tadpole songs in voices, sweet-clear voices like weak tea:
A baby fell out of the window,
You’d think that his head would be split,
But good luck was with him that morning,
he fell in a barrel of… Shhhhhaving cream!
They look at the little tumble of pills as they laugh verse after shaving-cream verse, fingernails full of clay and, there, cupped there in a palm is a silvery darting minnow in a cool clear tea. The pill spreader on the fender continues flicking out pills until they are gone. They close their eyes and don’t imagine women who are soft and torn, saggy and spotted. It’s a soft morning, it’s a summer, just one clay-scented whisper, one sweet August shimmer in all life.
Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber has recent/forthcoming stories in SmokeLong, New South, Tahoma Literary Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and she is a Best Small Fictions 2016 Finalist. She is assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel, and writes reviews for Change Seven Magazine. Follow her @AEWeisgerber, or visit anneweisgerber.com.