ALICIA LAWRENCE

Tomorrow Promises

 

I used to find robins’ eggs. They were paper thin, faintly spotted shells, Easter blue and frayed around the edges where they had been pressed by needle sharp beaks and had then crinkled open. The half-caps fit neatly over my curious fingers, the brittle outer shells would flake to expose a transparent gauze skin beneath.

I found them in parks, at the base of trees, forgotten amongst a medley of bark chips and pinecones and moss. Or I would find them in the dirt pockets between reeds of tall grass at the edges of untended fields. They were objects worthy of wonder made from living things, and painted brighter than the colours in any box of paints or pencil crayons. They were bright enough to draw my attention away from rainbow-hued candy, from dime-store jewelry, from the scratched and worn black dots painted onto the unblinking eyes of my stuffed toys. These frail eggshells were a small sea, a small sky, the casing that had held a world inside.

I remember my first visit to the playground at the elementary school. Initially enthused, I ran toward rough weather-greyed wood beams. Children filled every available space. My parents waved goodbye from a sprinting distance behind me.

The bars and beams over my head made a net against the early autumn sky. As I reached for a set of metal bars, I became hesitant inside the maze of objects. I thought of how ultimately unresponsive the bars and logs and bolts and sand that composed the playground were. They moved when pushed and pulled and pressed on, but always swung back to a static state. My steps forward across a wooden plank bridge were awkward. My hands grasped at the sting of frayed rope guides and ladders.

I noticed that the other children were mostly older, and their stares were unusually silent and severe. The tall girls on the tires, hair pulled back and tidy sweaters, snickered when I passed.

I looked past the playground to the field beyond, feeling lost, and a pale crystal colour of blue outstretched above me with mercilessly unanchored infiniteness. This sky was unlike the blue of the robin’s eggs. Those were a powder blue that beckoned from the serenity of the egg’s womb to the exhilaration of flight into a sky soon cozy as the feathered down that gently warmed against the robin’s skin, a sky that would wrap around the robin’s body the way a soft shawl tightened around the shoulders and stretched slightly to fit. This sky was a stranger.

 

Summer arrived. The kinder-garden children had transitioned through their first year, cross-legged on the cool grey classroom carpet, our circle more like a huddle, the teacher less like our parents.

Sports day was intended to signal our end-of-year celebration. All of the elementary school kids were divided into teams, while flags in primary colours were used to demarcate our places to line up on the field. Each team had smaller groups, and a few of my classmates were distributed amongst each. With an older student as the leader, we moved from game to sport to competition. A cone marker on the clean lawn indicated relay with a ball, a baton, thrown in water and returned, rope on the ankles and hop, one by one, in pairs, leapfrog.

By mid-afternoon, each group returned to the coloured posts at the front of the field. We sat on the grass lined up two-by-two, waiting patiently for the principle to announce the day’s winners. Our group leader hushed us, entreating us to be complacent and still by puckering her lips and pressing her hands against the air. Her eyes were wide and her expression urgent, as the principle’s indistinct words floated to us across the field in a murmuring jumble of pointed tones.

The elementary school children, lined straight and facing forward in colour-coded rows, were less a sea of faces than a grid. The lawn that stretched out behind us transformed seamlessly across the fenced boundaries of the school ground into the depths of a sprawling residential suburb. All I could think was that this was not freedom, that I wanted to leave.

“Go quickly,” the leader advised in whispered permission, after I stood and walked to the front of the row. As I walked past the staring children, the disapproving teachers, I felt as though I was being pumped full of the same needles that had made me faint at inoculation. I escaped inside the elementary school, seeking refuge in the familiarity of my home classroom. I walked through the slick halls, mine the only footsteps.

At home, my brother and I would play on the carpet in the living room, the atmosphere comfortably languid. Tiny blocks and scattered toys were the places where I could build my world. I stacked the pieces together, but always to an equation that crumbled. I lost interest over lack of resolution. I stayed on gentle tiptoe under my stepfather’s eye, and never questioned the occasional day home from school when he would watch us play. He saw snares in dreaming on fairy dust, and it was no wonder that the equations wouldn’t work. I explained, learned to give instructions, orders.

 

Barely a teen, I shared a plot of grass next to the beige siding of a housing complex with a group of classmates. Front doors faced away from the street and we rested with the forlorn backs of homes to us. This was someone’s neighbourhood, this place that was bit by cold comfort. As the others talked, I watched the sky extend above me. Clouds traced the line of my vision. I searched for the promised inclusion that had made us decide to spend the afternoon here. I heard light laughter, and sharp elbows jostled my ribs, “She’s in space!”

Together, we seemed objects to one another, collecting cruelty as coin. We had already been well taught to see ourselves through others’ eyes, and too told who each of us must be. I became aware that tomorrow was not promised to me.

 

It was a semi-desert interior summer. Four of us sat crushed next to one another in the cab of the truck that drove us to the outskirts of town and up the off-roads, past tumbleweed and scraggly trees to where spiky yellow tall grass blanketed the otherwise barren landscape. When we climbed out of the cab to stand at the top of the hills, the solemn sky was a greying dusk. Warm air embraced our skin while the dark clouds that loomed overhead steadily overwhelmed tentatively gathering spatters of stars.

We stood in a group and looked around at others standing in twos and threes next to their cars. We gazed down from the promontory at the field of urban lights in the valley below, while the fierce wind blew our hair in tangles, and the air crackled with the strange dry shock of no rain despite lightning streaks several miles away.

Pulling my sweater around my shoulders, I thought I would never tire of the dialogue between lightning cloud and tangled bramble. I decided that this was the place where people were dreamt, this place where the landscape breathed its own form of life, where the only people in the world were the ones facing me, where anything could be told. I could have stayed until morning, and I hid my soul in that earth that the floor beneath my feet would always be just across from those very hills. As if two halves of an eggshell closed together, the soft lines of the surrounding landscape dimmed and night swallowed the horizon. I remembered that the world was not mundane.

 

BIO: Alicia recently graduated with an MA from the University of Victoria department of Pacific and Asian Studies.

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