Candy Apple

The concrete sighed under the relief of darkness as the day’s heat gave way to the sticky softness of humidity riding on a slight, cool breeze. The young boy, wide-eyed, his senses overwhelmed, peered down the vibrant street with its neon storefronts and pulsing crowds. The cacophony of chatter and slow-moving cars buffeted him like the waves of the pool had earlier in the day.

He looked to his left and right. His parents stood on either side, walking slowly to accommodate his short legs. His mother smiled down at him. She seemed so tall to the short boy. His dad rustled the boy’s curly hair with his free hand and chuckled. The sparks of copper brilliance didn’t shine so much without the sunlight, but occasionally a street light or the glaring lights of the store fronts would hit his head just right and set off an explosion of brilliant reds.

He bounced as he walked, a relic of his toddler days, and with him his hair bounced too, a fluff of curls tightly entwined in an erratic wave that ran from his forehead down to the back of his neck. His dad pulled his hand back and smiled. With his other hand, he put a cigarette to his mouth and took a long drag before he exhaled up and away from the child. The small family walked toward the din of the busy shops awash in tourists looking for souvenirs or searching for a late dinner.

Unfamiliar and familiar smells greeted the young boy. Sunscreen, sweat, taffy, popcorn, and chlorine stolen from the surrounding hotel pools all converged upon him at once. His dad’s cigarette smoke, as common as the man’s aftershave, wafted above him. He inhaled, and the memory of the smells solidified itself in his mind. He would forever associate the mixture with the time he spent with his parents on a rare vacation.

His mother held his tiny, pale hand in hers as they walked and looked through the store windows. The warmth of her hand conveyed a protectiveness and maternal love that he innately understood. Content and happiness rolled over him. Each store front brought new surprises, visuals, and smells that he quickly catalogued in his mind. He looked on in wonder as a man demonstrated a tiny puppet suspended from invisible wires. The man smiled and gawked at the young boy, but his parents weren’t interested in the pitch.

They continued their stroll down the street as the young boy looked back at the puppeteer, disappointed that he couldn’t have his very own puppet. A few more windows passed, some interesting, some not. The boy perked up when he saw the next window. Inside the smudged plate glass, large, caramel-colored apples floated on a carousel. The sweet smell of the honey-brown goodness greeted him. An eagerness swelled within him. His eyes pivoted expectantly from his mother to his father. An initial unwillingness gave way to acquiescence, and the boy hopped in excitement.

His father approached the counter and paid for a candy apple. The boy watched the old man behind the glass case carefully place the cash into the register and slowly retrieve a treat from the carousel. Anticipation overwhelmed the young boy as his mouth watered at the prospect of biting into the tangy sweet apple.

Finally, his father handed him the treat, which dangled from a wooden stick driven into the core of the fruit. The boy balanced the weight of the apple in his small hand and took an outsized bite. Caramel smeared on the tip of his nose and around the edges of his mouth, but he didn’t care. He took another bite inhaling it like it was his last meal.

His mother dove in between bites with a napkin to wipe away the residue on his face, but her fruitless efforts were greeted with more caramel spread on his cheeks and, eventually, the front of his shirt. She shook her head at his father for the mess he had created, but he just smiled in between puffs on his cigarette. The boy looked up to his parents and smiled too from behind a mask of sticky caramel as they continued their stroll among the crowd and the shops with a messy little boy in tow.

Kites of Spring

The young boy stood at the mouth of the trail, a wide berth at the end of a long winding path shrouded in large oak trees and wispy southern pines. The trail had been relatively dark as the large, flat leaves of the great oaks had beat back the sunlight, but the field beyond the path bathed in the warmth of spring, reclined and relaxed as if it were wrapped in a warm, comfortable blanket.

The sky above, a deep azure reminiscent of the royal blue finger paint he had used just days before, arched over the trees that surrounded the field as far as he could see. Not a cloud smeared the perfect sky. A slight breeze tickled his face as he stood there momentarily taking it all in. Spring days were the best for many things, especially flying a kite.

His dad motioned for him to follow him, and they began their climb to the top of the small, terraced hill in the center of field. Tall grass buffeted him like ocean waves lapping against the bow of a boat. The thin blades danced to the tune of the breeze much like the shaggy copper hair that sat atop the young boy’s head. The sun set his hair ablaze in its glorious light, and it sparkled as he traipsed up the hill behind his father.

The field, a large clearing amidst the canopy of thick trees, stood half a mile wide in either direction once they reach its pinnacle. The terraces, the only remnant of farming that had long since ceased, looked like steps for a giant who may have once played on this very field, or so the boy thought. Now, only cows grazed along the wide steps, but none could be seen at the moment. The boy scanned the horizon until he located a small number of the herd against a fence in the distance.

His dad unwound the kite that he had carried into the field as the boy watched in heightened anticipation. He loved the spring, but he especially loved the sweet breezes of March that invited him to fly a kite. He loved to watch the kite soar up into the sky and mount the breeze. No matter the physics behind it all, kites enthralled him. He wished he could fly with it. It must be wonderful to float in the air so high above the trees.

The kite stretched wider than the boy was tall. Its white plastic flapped in the wind as the stern eagle emblazoned on the front stared at him. It’s talons perched at the bottom of the kite as if it were descending on some unsuspecting prey. The eagle momentarily frightened the boy, but such fears were lost in the excitement of flight. He grasped the handle that held the spool of string, looked at his father for the all clear, and bounded down the hill with the kite in tow.

The kite flapped and tittered as if it were afraid to fly. The tip shot up and did a full circle back to the ground. It threatened to crash nose first before a gust of wind grabbed it and saved it from almost certain annihilation. The boy looked back with a smile so big that it consumed his face. The flowing copper locks pursued him down the hill as the kite ascended higher and higher. The boys short legs reached maximum speed and he thumped down the hill and across the uneven terraces like an aimless baby rhino.

His breath escaped him, and he slowed down, but he could feel the familiar tug of the taut string at his hand. The kite had reached its maximum altitude and fluttered in the wind as it tugged on the anchor. The boy stopped and turned around to look at the object of his affection. The eagle stared back with fierce determination as if it battled the wind to stay in flight. He imagined that it screeched its approval. He chuckled at the thought and tugged at the spool to steady the kite. The breeze licked his face. His smile refused to recede.

His father loped down the hill much more slowly than the boy had descended, but his long legs took him farther with each step, and before the boy could settle into the groove with his kite, his father stood at his side. He coached the boy, and the boy followed his directions, steadily guiding the kite in the wind. Father and son sat on the ground amidst the tall grass and watched the kite together. The sun brightened their faces, but it paled in comparison to the moment they shared.

 

A Moment in Time

A slight, spring breeze ruffled the thin curtains that covered the high, rectangular window in the bedroom. The faint light of the early morning squinted in the darkness revealing a sleeping, young boy who lay half-covered in his small bed. The chill nudged him awake and he reached for the edge of his blanket, pulling it up to his neck without opening his eyes. He rolled over onto his left side and then onto his stomach. He tasted the stale fabric of his pillow, smacked his dry mouth, and slowly opened his heavy eyelids.

Half awake, he peered at the dark, paneled wall next to his bed as his eyes adjusted to the faint light. He kicked his feet beneath the blanket and took a deep breath. From the down the hallway outside his bedroom, he heard music playing, faint and indecipherable. The succulent smell of bacon cooking wafted into his room along with the other smells of morning. His mother must be up, he thought, as he swung his tiny legs over the side of the bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

For a brief moment, he sat on the edge of his bed donned in his summer pajamas – a thin shirt and a pair of loose-fitting shorts. He rubbed his face and ran his tiny, pale fingers through the twisted, curly mass of copper hair that shot like flames from his head. He slid off the bed and dug his toes into the golden shag carpet that covered his bedroom floor and most of the tiny trailer in which he lived. The carpet tickled his feet, but he liked the way it felt when he rubbed his feet on it. Sometimes, he’d scrape his feet along the carpet and shock himself when he touched the door knob on his bedroom door.

He shuffle-stepped to his door and peered down the long, dark hallway momentarily frightened by the darkness. The door to his parents’ bedroom stood ajar, but darkness swallowed that room, too, He instinctively knew his parents were up. He could smell his mom’s cooking and hear the faint sounds of parents carefully enjoying the solitude of a sleeping child – hushed words, soft steps across the floor, and restrained laughter.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the dark hallway and hurried toward the light at the end. Visions of monsters and other creatures of the darkness quickened his step, but he stopped short just inside the kitchen to take in the happenings on this morning. His mom stood at the stove, her back turned to him, stirring a pan of succulent gravy and scrambling a batch of eggs. Bacon sizzled on the griddle, and biscuits rose in the stove. The boy inhaled the smells of homemade breakfast and his mouth watered. He sighed contentedly and his mother turned toward the noise.

Seeing her only child standing there, she smiled broadly and closed the gap between them enveloping him in a hug. Her soft robe bunched and encased the young boy’s head as she pulled him into her. His vision went white for a moment and all he could breathe was the floral detergent scent from her robe. She gave him one last squeeze and kissed the top of his head. The boy caught his breath and then smiled basking in the warmth of her love before he wandered into the living room to find his dad.

His dad hunched over a console record player that stood along one wall of the living room. He didn’t notice his son at first as he fussed with the turntable in the belly of the console. He adjusted the record and carefully placed the needle on it before he stepped back to see if the song he wanted would play. He stared wistfully at the record as it turned, so focused that he didn’t see the little boy watching him.

Gauzy, sheer curtains hung over the window above the console filtering the early morning sunlight as it struck the man, brightening his young face. The little boy thought his dad glowed, but he failed to notice the slight stoop of a long night’s work. His dad simply wanted to relax a little after the night shift before he wandered down the hall for some sleep only to repeat the routine yet again the next night.

The music started to play and its sweet melody filled the living room. The dad stepped back a little and rubbed his hand through his thick, wavy hair. He wore a white t-shirt that bustled at the chest and arms, a powerful countenance that spoke of the work he did with his hands every night. His dark, blue jeans hung from his thin waist and splayed out above bare feet that dug into the golden shag carpet. Like his son, he enjoyed the feel of the carpet on his toes.

The man turned and saw his young son now, staring at him adoringly. He smiled and waved for him to join him. The little boy ran to his father and hugged his leg, and the man patted his head before he picked him up into his arms. He kissed the boy’s cheek, and the boy giggled at the tickle of the man’s mustache. They sat on the couch together to listen to the song that played.

The song started out slow and gradually rose until it reached the chorus. As the chorus played, the man sang along with his son leaning into him. The little boy felt the warmth of his dad next to him and inhaled the smells of a good night’s work – sweat, aftershave, and cigarette smoke – a sweet mix that he would forever associate with his father. He loved it when his dad sang along to the songs he played. Even at such a young age, he knew people sang when they were happy, and he loved it when his dad was happy.

His dad put his arm around him and hugged him a little closer, and the little boy lay his head on his dad’s broad chest. He could hear him breathing, and when the chorus came around again and his dad sang, the little boy listened to the echo of his dad’s voice in his chest. He loved the way it sounded. It made him feel close to his dad. At that very moment, he understood how much he loved him, and it made him happy. He didn’t want that moment to end. He wanted to sit there with his dad all day while he played his beloved records repeatedly, but such moments weren’t meant to last.