By Emily Little
The sky was a creamy purple. It reminded me of lavender milk. Through the branches of the budding tree line, I could see the rising of the moon. From where I was sitting, it looked like a full bowl of creamed corn, soft to the touch. On nights such as this one, there was something tender, almost silky, about the moon. It looked warm and as if it would melt in my hands. If I didn’t wake up in a cold sweat almost every morning, I might have thought it was pretty. But the moon wasn’t pretty in my dreams.
If I closed my eyes now, I could hear the whispers and feel the breezes that make my teeth grind. If I closed my eyes now, I could see the moon for what it really was and how it laughs at the tears in your eyes. I couldn’t remember how old I was when the dreams started, but I remembered what they were about, and the moon can be nasty. The moon can be scary. It tells you things you don’t want to hear. It shines on things you don’t want to see.
For most of my young life, I was afraid of the sky. I was afraid that the things I saw in my dreams were always floating about me, ready to snatch me. To avoid them, I kept my focus on the ground, playing with the ants and bees that hung out in my father’s garden beds. The chipmunks and moles kept me occupied enough, convincing me that I didn’t need to see where a chickadee went when it flew off the feeder in the morning. I found comfort in keeping my eyes downcast.
It wasn’t until I met someone who asked about the sky that things finally changed.
The roar of the blue waterfall caused my heart to pound. The mist that was drifting from the iridescent water made my skin crawl. I felt eyes on my back, but whichever way I turned, the blue mist was all I could see. Whatever was watching me had the advantage. I glanced back towards the brilliant blue pool of water.
“Why is the water glowing?” I whispered as I stepped towards the rocky shore. My voice was raspy. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like what I saw in the water either.
At the bottom of this mystic pool, a full blue moon was gaping up at me. It had the face of a baby. It had the prettiest eyelashes and cutest tiny nose and I’d never seen eyes sparkle so bright. I forgot about the presence behind me and found that I was blushing.
When I woke up that morning, I knew I’d had one of those dreams again. Most of the bedsheets were shoved towards the side of my bed, telling me that I’d been thrashing around in my sleep. I must have been running from something.
It was a Saturday, which meant I had to go to the farmer’s market. My bedroom curtains were drawn, but when I glanced out the kitchen window I wanted to cry. The world outside was covered head to toe in fog. So, rather than putting on my walking boots, I stepped into my slippers, swept the floors, and started washing the dishes. There was no chance of birdwatching as I filled the sink with water. The fog was so dense that I couldn’t even see the feeder that was supposed to be only a few yards away. May was proving to be the foggiest month so far. Steam began to rise as the water warmed up.
All of a sudden, I felt it begin to happen. “Not again.” I couldn’t blink and I could no longer feel the bowl that was in my hands. It was the running water that caused a memory to flicker in my mind, causing me to vividly remember my dream. Now, instead of the silver view I had outside the window, all I could see was blue.
The moon had a face this time and it was staring at me. It was making fun of me.
“What are you doing? The market’s going to close in twenty minutes.” The click of my father’s Zippo lighter made me jump.
The colors out the window returned to normal and I wanted to cry even more when I looked into the fog. The water had reached the rim and I quickly turned it off. Breathing hard, I turned to my father who took a seat at our small table. He was in the middle of lighting a cigarette.
“Can it wait until next weekend?”
“Can what wait?” he mumbled with the cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.
“Your butternut squash.” I turned back to the sink, my face burning, and began mindlessly scrubbing at the bowl that I’d forgotten I was holding.
He cleared his throat and I gave him a sideways glance. He took a drag, his eyes squinted.
“I need it today. Why would you even ask that?” He stretched his legs out and leaned back in his chair. Dried mud flaked off his work boots onto the linoleum floor that I’d just swept. Another silence hung between us. He finally let out a sigh. “Ro, don’t tell me this is about you still being afraid to walk in the fog.”
I shivered. Drying my hands off, I made my way towards the broom I’d left in the corner of the kitchen. “Forget I asked,” I mumbled as I swept the dirt from under his boots. I collected it in the dustpan and emptied it out the front door. I shivered again as I looked out past the front yard and down the dirt road. The pines that lined our driveway looked like alien spiders.
He chuckled. “Is that why you’ve been doing all these random chores this morning? Were you trying to butter me up so that I wouldn’t want my butternut squash? Well, Rosey Red, that just isn’t going to do it.” I hated when he called me that.
I never felt lonelier than I did when I was walking in the fog. I hated it. The fog made me feel closed in and stuck. The mist on my face and arms felt as if I was being covered in spiderwebs and that it was only a matter of time before I’d be trapped. It was only a ten-minute walk to town from our house, but it felt like hours when I was scared.
I did anything I could to distract myself from looking around. I did whatever I could do to avoid remembering any of my dreams. I watched the stones skip out ahead of me as I made my way up the slope. I cracked a stray pine branch in several places between my fingers and whistled during every exhale. I clicked my tongue to the beat of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and bobbed my head to the music I was frantically forcing to play in my head.
When I thought I heard leaves rustle, I started to hum the song out loud. This was my tactic for survival. It had been for as long as I can remember.
Since I was a little girl, I had firmly believed that God would never end your life when humming a song. It was unfathomable to me that he’d interrupt. By the time I found myself crossing the empty intersection that consisted of my driveway and the only road that led out of town, I was singing the song word for word. I reluctantly looked up above the tree line and saw the lonely silhouette of the bell tower. The fog was still thick. The moon’s face was there every time I blinked.
The farmers market took place in the old soccer fields, which were just a few blocks off of the main street. The sidewalks were nearly empty on Saturday mornings when the farmers market was open for the season and I wished that wasn’t the case. For one, I felt like I was walking in a deserted town and for another, I had to see everyone in one place.
I didn’t like having to see familiar faces after everything that happened. I was tired of their sympathetic expressions and ingenuine “how do you do’s.” There were times I just wanted to yell in each of their nosy faces,
“I KNOW YOU HEARD.”
“YES, SHE’S GONE.”
“YES, THE GUY WAS A LAWYER.”
“YES, THEY ELOPED.”
“YES, I GUESS SHE’S HAPPIER.”
“NO, HE ISN’T AS HANDSOME AS MY FATHER.”
But I never did. Instead I walked from stand to stand with a shy smile on my face and answered whatever questions they felt the need to ask, no matter how much my cheeks burned. I wondered who was going to make me uncomfortable today.
Would it be Sue as she shoved her homemade blueberry bread in my face?
Or Donny sitting behind his pyramids of maple syrup?
Or maybe Ron as he pressured me to buy five jars of jam rather than two?
I balled my hands into fists inside my pockets, and the change my father had given me jingled. Sue’s tent was the first in the line, and I kept my gaze down as I passed. Luckily, she was with Mr. and Mrs. Trolley and would be for a while. Those two always had something to go on and on about, whether it be how their twelve-year-old beagle hadn’t been using the bathroom regularly or how their grandson never sent them thank you notes.
I just needed to find Mr. Stanley, his sky-blue tent, and the crate of butternut squash. I liked him the best because he never asked any questions. My mother liked him a lot too. On our way back home one time a couple years back, she’d said to me, “He’s very understanding of your quietness. You two must come from the same tree.” I didn’t know what to think of that. Now I feel like I understand more of what she meant. He had common courtesy. He wasn’t nosy. He didn’t pressure me to talk.
With my eyes still scanning the frosted grass, I continued to meander my way through people. I could hear familiar voices but refused to acknowledge any of them, and no one acknowledged me. How perfect! I was being left alone! My little burst of excitement brought a smile to my lips, and without lifting my eyes, I headed straight for where Mr. Stanley’s tent normally was.
When I finally looked up, instead of the musty smell of dirt and hay, I was greeted by the rich aroma of blooming flowers. Instead of crates of cucumbers and zucchinis, there were vases filled with brilliant tulips and azaleas. Most surprisingly, instead of Mr. Stanley’s comforting and wrinkled grin, there was the cocky charming smile of a boy I had never seen before.
His teeth looked bright against his tanned olive skin, and his curly hair reminded me of the color of bark when it’s wet. There was a smiling rose staring back at me on his red t-shirt, and it made me feel even more stupid as I stood there frozen. I wanted to run, but before I could, he extended his hand to me.
“Hi!” He wiggled his fingers as he waited for my hand. “Welcome to my flower stand.” His voice was as light as a feather.
I cleared my throat. “Hello.”
I took his hand slowly and was immediately mortified when we just held our hands still in the air between us. I tried to shake, but he wouldn’t budge. When I glanced up, I found him looking at me, his smile somehow bigger and brighter. I pressed my lips together and, not knowing what else to do, I squeezed his hand.
Oh Rosemary! I hollered in my head and braced myself for the silence. But he laughed and it was the loveliest laugh I had ever heard. He squeezed back.
“I’ve never done this before,” he said in between bouts of chuckling, and without even realizing it, I started giggling too, covering my smile with my other hand. I looked around at all the flowers and realized I was no longer nervous. I felt comfortable breathing in the smell of the red and yellow tulips and laughing with this perfect stranger. I felt like I had when I’d stepped into my slippers that morning instead of my walking boots.
I let go of his hand first and put my fist back inside my pocket. “Your flowers are pretty.”
“Thank you,” he said, “I grow them myself. Don’t feel the need to buy any today. Although, flowers are always something nice to bring home. Your mom would love the surprise.”
Should’ve seen that one coming. I avoided further eye contact by poking at the petal of a yellow tulip. “I’ve never seen you around here before.”
“I moved here back in April. I live in this big yellow house a little ways out—”
“Oh, you live at Moor’s place?” I raised my eyebrows.
“I guess so.” He shrugged. His eyes were pretty. They reminded me of wet, shiny stones.
“It’s a nice place. I’ve always loved the willow tree in the—” Now he was raising his eyebrows at me.
“—Front yard,” I finished.
“So, you know exactly where I live?” He crossed his arms over his chest, hiding the dumb smiling rose.
“I guess so.” I smiled. “I won’t tell anyone else.” I remembered Mr. Stanley and turned to search for his tent.
“Before you go, I have a question.”
I laid my eyes on the crate of butternut squash across from us. Great, now I have to explain my backstory.
“What kind of day do you think it’s going to be today?” There was a smile in his voice.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Here, I’ll show you.” He walked around his stand and stood next to me. He smelled like his flowers and potting soil. Still smiling, he pointed up. “Look up with me.”
My mouth fell open as he stared up into the sky. He looked so sincere and content. I wanted to feel that way too. After a shuddering inhale and a moment of disbelief, I looked up too.
“See all this fog?” I heard him say. “It’s waiting to unveil the day. You can ask yourself, what does the sky feel like doing? is it going to be blue? pink? are there just more clouds hiding up there?” He nudged my arm and I smiled. “It can be anything. I like the mystery.”
I shrugged, stepping away and rubbing where he’d nudged me. “Never thought of it like that.”
“So, what do you think?”
“Pink. I think it might rain later.”
“Oh. I say blue.” He returned to his place behind the stand, that cocky smile returning.
On the way home, I thought about how he hadn’t asked me a single question about myself. I also thought about his smile and the easy way he laughed as the fog broke and revealed a brilliant blue.
My shoulders slumped when I looked out my bedroom window the next Saturday. The sky to the grass to the silhouettes of the trees were all grey. The fog wasn’t going away. I groaned as I stretched my arms above my head and rolled out of bed. I hadn’t dreamed since the last weekend, which was unusual.
I found my father sitting at the table, this time leafing through bills. “I need two cucumbers today and a big green zucchini. I’m going to make us zucchini bread for dessert.”
“Can’t you come to the market with me today? It’s getting pretty old being the only one to make the weekly Foster appearance.”
“I can’t help it that I need things and want to feed you well,” he said without looking up. “And I’m not making you go to make this family look good. I’m not keeping that shit up.”
“I know.” I made my way to the sink and peered out the window. I couldn’t see the bird feeder. “It would just be nice to have the company.”
He sighed. “I can’t this morning. I’ve got some extensive weeding to do.” He got up from the table and put on his green hunting coat. “I want to make sure my red roses bloom well for my Rosey Red.”
You come up with the best excuses, I wanted to say but didn’t. I moved past him and slipped into my walking boots.
I wasn’t scared walking through the fog that morning because I was frustrated. I knew that I needed to be more understanding, but I didn’t appreciate him using me as a shield. Despite what he said, I felt like he wanted me to skip around and exclaim to everyone, “Look everyone! Rosemary Foster is still showing up! My Dad wants two cucumbers today because he’s fine! We’re fine!”
My fists were balled so tight inside my pockets that my knuckles were turning white. I pressed my lips together as I made my way through the crowd once again. Hot petty thoughts steamed inside my head. I’ll buy you your zucchini, Dad, but I’m not having a single bite of your damn—
“Hi! Hey you!” I had completely forgotten about the flower boy. When I heard that soft light voice call out to me, I stopped fuming. His tent had been set up in the same spot.He was waving both his hands above his head.
I gave him a small wave and immediately headed towards him. In the process, I almost tripped over one of Marian Brown’s kids. The little girl squealed and fell at my feet and as I helped her up, I shook my head.
After I apologized and watched her scamper away, I looked back up to find him shaking his head too.
“Geez, be careful!” he mouthed, and I started laughing. “You’re a force to be reckoned with this morning,” he said aloud as I stepped under his tent. We were surrounded by purple flowers of every shade. They made his hair look darker. Or maybe it was just his black sweatshirt.
“You just surprised me. I’m not used to unfamiliar faces around here.”
“Or maybe it’s because you were so excited to see me. Isn’t that why you’re here so early?” He had his hands behind his back and was bobbing up and down on his tiptoes. He looked like a five-year-old and I had the sudden urge to slug him.
“Oh, you’re funny!”
“I’m pretty cute too,” he said through gleaming teeth and gave me a wink. He was shameless. I looked back at Mr. Stanley’s tent so he wouldn’t see me blush. “Also, I won the bet last weekend.”
“What bet?” I raised my eyebrows. “I wasn’t aware of any bet.”
“The sky was blue. Wasn’t pink.”
His hands were on his hips now and his smile was beaming. I didn’t know how to deal with someone so pleasantly forward.
I cleared my throat. “So, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying I won. So, take a flower.” He cast his hand around the tent as if he were showcasing diamonds. “Any one you’d like.”
He nodded eagerly, dark tendrils bouncing against his forehead.
I shrugged. “You make no sense,” I said as he continued to nod.
We fell silent for a while, and strangely enough, I found comfort in that. My cheeks didn’t burn. I ran my fingers over a couple of his flower arrangements. Each flower was a different shade of purple, and they reminded me of thunderhead clouds. I poked at a big fat one. It was bigger than my whole hand, and I wanted to squeeze it. “This one is huge.”
“That’s a peony. Do you want that one?”
“Do they come in other colors?”
“Oh, several. I have just about every color blooming now.”
“I’d like to see the others before I make my decision.” I was just stalling. I didn’t want to take anything.
“Well then, answer me this.” He picked the peony out and handed it to me. “What’s the sky gonna do today?”
I rolled my eyes, but a shiver ran down my back. “I don’t know.” I took a step back and glanced up into the brightening mist. “I’ll say blue.”
“If you’re right, come over to the Moors’s later.”
I was still watching the fog float above us. When I returned my gaze to him, I couldn’t help but smile. With both hands shoved into the pocket of his hoodie, he looked so small as he looked up into the sky. Like a little boy. For being the new guy in town trying to run his own tent, he sure seemed fragile and naïve.
I let out a long sigh. “You don’t even know my name and you just want me to show up at your house?” When our eyes met, I raised an eyebrow and sniffed my flower.
He hit himself on the side of his head. “Oh, how rude of me.” He extended his hand like he had the last time and I took it. “Jet.” He squeezed my hand.
“Your name is Jet?” I squeezed his hand back. How fitting for a boy who was always wondering about the sky. “I’m Ro.” I had never introduced myself with my nickname before.
“Your name is Ro?” Jet mimicked in a high voice, and I squeezed his hand harder. He was wincing as a couple of older women came wandering under the tent. I smiled at him as I listened to their “oh’s” and “ah’s.”
“I will leave you now.” I let go of his hand. I put the purple peony back in the vase.
“No no no, please take it.” He grabbed my wrist. “It’ll be your reminder when the sky turns blue later.”
I entered Mr. Stanley’s tent giggling, twisting the flower between my fingers. I was comforted to see his grinning, dirty face and gave him a quick wave as I began to search through the cucumbers. “Well don’t you seem as happy as a bird this morning. What do you got there?”
“It’s a peony,” I said. And I did feel as light as a bird.
The sky was so blue that we had no idea it was going to rain, so we thought we had the whole afternoon. Once we found the old footpath that led up into the woods behind his house, we made a run for it. I could still hear his Aunt May screaming from the back porch, “Jet, you get back here! Jet, what are you doing? I don’t need you getting lost!” We giggled as her yelling drifted further and further behind us. After a while, he grabbed my hand, pulling me into him, and we laughed so hard that we startled a robin from its nest.
For the next couple of hours, we strolled under the canopy of seemingly ancient trees and patted the heads of countless mushrooms. I was terrible at balancing on the thick dead logs, and he’d give me a round of applause each time I’d topple to the ground. I covered my face every time, hoping he couldn’t see how rosy my cheeks were. Jet seemed to be good at everything in the midst of that dense patch of woods, from balancing on the end of every downed tree to climbing to the middles of towering red pines. With a breathless chuckle he called down to me, “I think I’ll bid you farewell and join the squirrels!”
We were blissfully unaware when the sky began to darken as we chased and swatted at each other with pine branches. It wasn’t until we heard the first growl of thunder close over our heads that we realized we’d made a mistake and wandered too far from the house. When it began to pour and we started to run back towards the footpath, the glowing pink of the wild roses caught my eye.
I stopped mid-sprint, no longer feeling the chill of the rain soaking through my jacket. The blooming flowers were a sad sight. The bush looked as if it was being suffocated by the surrounding brambles, and I felt an urge to free it.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Jet to realize that I was no longer clumsily running behind him. I didn’t even realize that my mouth was hanging open until I felt his hand go under my chin and close my gaping jaw.
“You’re collecting too much rainwater,” I barely heard him say. “I think we’re close to the house. Let’s not stop now!”
I pointed to the pink roses. “You like flowers, don’t you? You’ve never seen these up here before?” I squinted at him as rain kept getting in my eyes.
“Wow, wild roses!” He used his hand as a visor to shield his eyes from the rain. “I haven’t explored the property yet. This is my first time.”
“Why haven’t you?”
“I didn’t want to come up here alone.” He put up the hood of his black sweatshirt. “I’d get lost.”
“Your Aunt May won’t take a look around with you?”
He laughed at that. “Please, she gets frazzled just stepping out on the back porch.” Thunder rumbled above us and he gave me a worried look. “Can we go back now? She’s probably having a heart attack.”
“I think we should do something with that bush.” I pointed at the roses again.
“I’ll think about it. Let’s go.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me along with him. I waved goodbye to the roses, promising that I’d be back.
I thought about Jet a lot the week after I visited the lovely yellow house, how he never asked me questions, and how much I appreciated it. The purple peony was still doing well in a glass of water on my bedside table. I sometimes wondered if it was a dreamcatcher because I hadn’t had a dream about the moon in almost two weeks.
In the spring, I helped my father out in the yard during the evenings, and I took that time to let my mind drift. I didn’t know if I should tell him that I’d met a new boy who liked flowers as much as he did. I didn’t know if I should tell him that I wasn’t afraid or nervous to be around this boy at all. I believed my father would be thrilled to hear this, but I was too scared about the possibility he wouldn’t. So I just let these thoughts swirl inside my head.
On top of that, my father didn’t seem to notice my lifted spirits or me at all. All of my casual questions and phrases were answered with a halfhearted “huh” throughout the week. I knew he was thinking hard about something and that it was pointless to ask. He was never one to answer big questions such as “how are you doing?” even when he was in a fine mood. So I waited.
When Saturday came around, I smiled when I drew back my curtains despite the fog outside the window. “What do you need at the market today, Dad?” I put on my flannel jacket.
He was standing at the sink now, his hands on his hips. I slipped into my boots. “Did you hear me?” I asked.
“I don’t need anything. You don’t need to worry about being scared of anything this morning.”
I stopped tying my laces and stared at him. “Dad, I’m eighteen years old. I am not that big of a baby.” When he turned around to look at me, he wasn’t smiling. “Ro, you’re scared of the fog and you’re scared of talking to people.”
“Okay, well—“ I stood there, dumbfounded.
“And that’s why I make you go to the market alone.”
I quickly put my hands in my pockets and made them into fists.
“I’ve wanted to keep you busy like I’ve been keeping myself busy.” He shrugged. “And now I wonder if I’ve been making it worse for you. I know it’s something you always did with her.”
“Dad, you don’t have to worry about—”
“So I won’t make you go anymore. I need to accept the fact that this has been hard on you. I need to quit pretending you’re fine.” We stood there for a long time looking at each other. My face was hot, and I dug my nails into my palms. His face looked aged and tired. You can tell me. You can tell me you miss her. I walked up to him and grabbed his hand.
“Come to the market with me today,” I said instead.
The fog felt good against my face, and we fell quiet as we neared the old soccer fields. I could tell he was nervous, because he wasn’t making as many cringey jokes as usual. When the tents came into view, he put his arm around my shoulders, and right away people noticed who I had brought along.
“Why, isn’t it Reggie Foster! Finally coming out of the woods!” Sue called out. She waved both her arms above her head, causing her bracelets to rattle. A couple of older men waved to him too.
“Is she still selling her blueberry bread?” my father whispered. I nodded. He squinted his eyes at me and sighed, “I’ll go say hello then.” I covered my smile with my hand as I watched him lumber over. The taller of the two men gave my father a pat on the back while the other shook his hand. In a matter of seconds, the tent was filled with his hearty laughter.
“You’re fine,” I murmured as I watched Sue give him a long hug.
“Who’s fine?” I felt someone’s breath on my ear, and I yelped and jumped away, running into Mr. Trolley and causing him to drop his bag of tomatoes.
“Goodness!” he shakily exclaimed. I knelt down to my knees and picked up his bag. I could hear sweet and familiar laughter from behind.
“I am so sorry,” I said as I gathered up his goods. “I got spooked.” I looked behind me to find Jet keeled over, laughing to his heart’s content.
“Miss Foster, you ought to be more careful.”
“I know, Mr. Trolley. I’m sorry.” Jet snorted and I tried not to laugh myself. “All your tomatoes seem okay, sir.” I handed him the bag and got to my feet.
He huffed a response, shuffling on his way, and I turned around to find Jet wiping tears from his eyes with the ends of his sleeves. I shoved him.
“You’re really something. I barely know you and look at what you’re doing.” I brushed wet grass blades off my jeans.
“I make you nervous. I get it.”
“Stop talking like that.” I stood up straight and let out a long sigh, closing my eyes. “You just keep surprising me. That’s all it is.”
He winked at me and then pointed towards his tent. “I have something to show you.”
The fog was beginning to break. Rays of sunlight shone here and there across the field. The surrounding hills were already in the sun. Neither of us bothered saying anything about how the day was going to turn out. We knew that another clear day was before us.
“Now I’m really excited to hear what you think of this idea I have.”
“And what’s that?” I asked as I waved to Marian Brown, her bright magenta cardigan catching my eyes. She and my mother used to gossip in my living room all the time. I wondered if she missed her.
I tried to wave to her daughter, but she shook her head and grabbed her mother’s hand when she saw me. Before I could do anything else, Jet put his hands, covered by the sleeves of his black hoodie, over my eyes. I gasped, gripping his wrists.
“No peeking!” I felt his breath against my ear again, and this time I blushed. “Trust me, trust me. We’re almost there.”
“I swear, if you shove me into someone or trip me up over something—” I trailed off when he removed his hands.
At the center of his stand stood a milky white vase that was home to a single wild rose. Droplets of morning dew glistened on its petals and deep green leaves. Beside the vase, there was a piece of loose-leaf paper and a pencil. “What do we have here?” I asked. His hands were resting on my shoulders.
“A garden,” he whispered and gently moved me forward. I picked up the piece of paper and found a messy drawing of what looked to be a floor layout. In the middle of the box was a scribbled little circle with the word “bush” pointing at it. From there, he’d drawn garden beds and even a tool shed that surrounded it. At the corner of the sheet, he’d written, “Perimeter= Wooden Fence.”
“You really did think about it.”
Jet picked the rose out of the vase. With a charming smile, he placed it in my hand. The petals looked as if they were sparkling, and my heart began to race. “So what do you think?”
I placed the paper back on the table and extended my hand to him. When he took mine in his, I gave it a good squeeze. “I say we have some work to do.”
My cheeks felt warm as he squeezed my hand back.