Cheryl Diane Kidder has a BA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work, nominated twice
for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared or is forthcoming in: CutThroat Magazine, Weber—The Contemporary West, Pembroke Magazine, Tinge Magazine, Brevity Magazine, Brain, Child, Identity Theory, In Posse Review, and elsewhere. For a full listing see: Truewest.
She could never get enough of the way the ocean came up to the shore and then receded again. It’s not that it was so complicated or unusual, it’s that when she was walking at the edge of the ocean and the water would come up and down that way, not only in the heat of summer, her shoulders smelling of coconuts, but even in the coldest months with a black knit scarf covering her mouth and neck against the fierce whip of the wind, that was the only place her heart beat slower, her breathing came easier and she could take the whole vast expanse of the world in with her eyes into her lungs and hold it there, and love it and keep it close and understand every poem and every song ever written about the water. She understood mermaids and sailors. She understood the mysteries of walking out across a beach and not stopping once your feet hit water and continuing on down and out to meet that cold body and allowing it to take you, the salt on your tongue, the wet, cold wet over your knees, your hips, your shoulders, your chin until your eyes were full with it and then you didn’t have to remember anything any more and you belong to it and it belongs to you and nobody can ever take that away.
She’d always been afraid of fire, wouldn’t touch matches, light candles or incense on her own. Her father was constantly lighting his pipe though. He used a lighter. The lighter he used to use for his cigarettes before the heart attack. It was stainless steel. He’d click it open holding the pipe in one hand and then with the other, turn the lighter sideways so that the flame was forced down into the bowl of tobacco he’d just spent some serious time tamping down. When it was lit he’d click the lighter shut and suck hard on the stem until the bowl gleamed with burning embers and the smoke filled the air. Then he’d sit back in the kitchen chair and cross his leg and hold the pipe in his mouth, the smoke curling up around his head and through the gingham curtains behind him and look exactly as if he was conjuring up the most difficult, complex questions of the universe. If he was, he never told her any of them. She’d sit across from him, her half-finished dinner still on her plate, the Salisbury steak chopped into mouth-size bits, the lima beans still piled up on the side and the mashed potatoes completely gone. And her mother would say something like, finish your dinner, stop lollygagging, only it would take about three times to get through to her because she’d be too busy wondering what her father was thinking as he sat in silence smoking his pipe in the kitchen, his chair pushed back, his khaki-panted leg propped up on his knee and a small whiff of a smile on his face.
It was never hard for her to make things grow. Her mother showed her how to start a garden, how to make the rows even, which seed packets to buy, how to prop up a small stake at the end of each row with the empty package screwed onto it so you could remember what you planted where. But she wanted something more than squash and green beans and tomatoes. She wanted to grow an apricot tree. So she asked her mother and her mother just laughed at her and told her they didn’t need any more apricot trees, there were three in the backyard already and they ended up throwing away apricots every year as it was. What would they do with another apricot tree? So that summer, once the cots were ripe on the tree, she pulled a few down and took them in secret to her bedroom where she ate the sweet fruit off the pits then washed the pits clean and packed them into a ball of wet paper towels, packed that bundle into a cardboard box and slid the box under her bed. After a few days, she pulled the box out and without letting her mother see, took the now dry bundle out of the box and into the backyard. She decided to plant three pits at the base of one of the existing trees, that way they would get the same water the tree got, the same sun. She dug with her hands until she had a hole about two inches down, just big enough for the pits. She took the pits out of the towel, put them in the hole and covered them up with dirt. She packed it down and made sure it had enough water for the first few days. As the summer went by, she forgot about the pits. She helped her mother gather green beans and even plucked a couple of small tomatoes reddened by the sun. The squash took longer. When the weather turned cold, the plants withered on the vine and her mother didn’t let her go into the backyard when the rains started. The apricots turned brown with rot and finally all the leaves fell off the tree and she forgot about the buried pits all together.
She used to always dream about flying. When she was awake, she was afraid of heights of any kind, even on the escalator at the mall, she wouldn’t look all the way down and had to remember to open her eyes before jumping off at the bottom. All her friends had two story houses, but they had a ranch and she was glad they did. Several times she’d wake up out of a dream because she’d been falling and freeze under the covers not sure if she was alive or dead. Little by little she’d recognize her toes, then her arms, then look around her own room and be thankful that it had just been a dream. She was certain that in another life she had been in a plane crash because she knew that feeling of falling from a great height as if she’d experienced it. The only time she was really happy was when she was riding her bike. It was a good kind of flying, because you never had to leave the ground, everything rushed by you in a blur and you made your way through space and time and the wind would catch in your eyes you’d be going so fast, but you wouldn’t care, you’d be smiling the whole way.