I had several minutes to prepare, but I spent them fretting rather than focusing. How others could saunter in to the classroom, set down their pads, and settle to their desks like they were on a sofa sipping warm chocolate and reading the latest Tawargachi novel escaped me. I slid my pen into my breast pocket a second time. I took it back out because I needed something to hold. The pen clattered to the floor when I attempted to spin it over the back of my thumb.
Professor Sog—yeah, I know—backed through the door as he chatted with a colleague in the hall.
“After class,” he said. “I have hours till 2:30. Good, good.” He saluted the colleague good-bye with a stack of hard-copy tests then turned to face the class and smile. He was wearing his yellow plaid exam shirt; the class sighed…or, “Oh’d”…or somethinged. The class reacted satisfactorily at seeing he hadn’t neglected to wear the same shirt he wore at every exam he’d ever given. Not just this semester, all of them.
Last semester, at the Fall mid-term, one of the older boys who sat in the second row had asked, “Do you always wear that yellow shirt on test days?”
“Yellow, huh?” Professor Sog asked in return as if he hadn’t quite heard the boy speaking, but we knew he had.
Unable to summon the courage to ask the question twice, the boy demurred. The exam thus proceeded normally.
There was nothing normal about today’s exam though. This one was our last for the year. Since I was a Senior it was my last ever. And, for me at least, its outcome would determine if I lived or died.
284 words on day 726
Read this first if you haven’t already.
“He will not be easily found that one. Speak his name to these and they will aid you.”
Grandma’s words felt like a memory or a dream compared to the unexpected firmness of her grip. She gave me other instructions I think—maybe something about employing them before they became brittle and maybe something about speaking to the redder ones first. I know for certain, because I can still feel the matte texture of her dry tin fingers, I no longer underestimate her power.
I packed the leaves into an empty film packet from my vest. Grandma picked up my camera bag and offered it to me with the flap folded back. I placed the packet into an unoccupied slot and buttoned the flap down and told the camera not to peek into the packet.
“Thank you, Nonni. I’ll remember you to him when we meet.”
“It’s no bother. I won’t forget like I used to when I was a kid.”
“Don’t. I don’t want your brother to think on me at all.”
She may have sat down at the bench. She may have walked into the woods. She may have vanished in a puff. I got on my way and she on hers and I never told my brother.
Word count: 215
The unifying theme for the week will be “The Bringer of Mist”. Check out the ‘bringer‘ tag for more. I’ll step off from a post from day 51: “Grandma has a Wolf’s Heart“.
The newly fallen leaves stacked poorly in her hand. These red and yellow and gold leaves retained their suppleness. This natural, nearly flesh-like offering, contrasted her brittle metalic fingers. The leaves’ tones wavered through the various shades of autumn. Their organic patterns occasionally punctuated with a spot of green or a tear or an insect-made hole. Haphazard symmetry drew my eyes to the web of veins branching from larger to smaller paths and out to the rim. The brown wind-worn edges showed the future for each.
Her knuckles were stamped and folded tin. I hadn’t seen a tinker of this generation outside of picture books. I would have expected a rime of [chemical name here] darkening the simplistic joints, but she seemed greased and newly made. I knew she wasn’t. Her arthritic posture and shuddering movements betrayed her age. The gleam of her naive but precise frame was the result of care not recent making.
When I did not immediately take the leaves, she spoke.
“Take them or I will unmake you.”
I felt my seals dry and crack in that instant. I imagined the golden fresh lubricants from my recent tuning bleeding out and staining my distal framework. I would overheat next and lock-up. Grandma would move on with her elegant hunched gait, but I would be here, under this tree, till the mist came.
Then the world came back to the present.
I wiped my greasy hands on the canvas flap of my bag and dropped it to the ground. I rolled my hands from anterior to posterior looking for any grime or foreign material that might taint the leaves. Finding none, I took the leaves singly with my left hand and stacked them in the opposite order of Grandma’s in my right.
As I reached for the last leaf her tin hand grasped my brass one like a bird lighting on a branch in a storm: practiced and without fail.
Word count: 150