October 8, 2011

Read One Of My Short Stories: Next Door

Anna pulled aside curtains of long branches, lightly moving the twigs to reveal more jade stalks. While playing on her porch, she had heard a door open and feet scuffle, noises from the house next door. But a tall, dense wall of hedges blocked the neighbor’s house from view.
She had decided to explore.
And now, Anna was lost in a green sea, drowning in scratchy leaves.
She hadn’t meant to go so far in. Curiosity made her push a few stalks to the side, trying only to catch a glimpse. Nothing could be seen, so she kept inching forward until she was here—standing in the middle of a green forest with no notion of how to get out. It was as though she were trapped in an emerald gem—a beautiful prison.
Pushing and pulling against the branches, Anna forced her way forward. Tiny twigs scratched her face, leaves entangled themselves in her hair, and the ribbons of her dress trailed behind her, trapped in the foliage. Her interest in the noise next door had given way to a desire to escape and Anna spurred onwards, uncaring of the direction, ignoring the crackling of breaking twigs and the munching of her shoes stomping on leaves.
Growing nervous, Anna reached out her hand, but met only empty space and no more pesky twigs. A smile broadened her rosy cheeks. She had reached the end.
Excited, she ignored her judgment and jumped through the opening, catching her ankle on a branch. Twisting in midair, she landed in wet grass with a thud, finally dirtying her dress beyond repair. But that didn’t matter. Above her, blue stretched across a cloudless sky and there was no sign of a green anything.
She was free.
Giggling with mirth, Anna stood and began to clean herself off—pulling at the little stems in her hair and plucking the bush leaves that had attached to her knotted brown tresses.
“Excuse me?”
Anna straightened immediately and turned slowly towards the sound.
A boy stood behind her with his weight resting on one leg and his head cocked inquisitively to the side. He had shaggy black hair and deep brown skin made warm by the sun. Next to his feet stood a stack of pristine white paper, ruffling slightly in the breeze but held down by a rock. In his hand, resting between relaxed fingers, was one bright sheet, luminous in the sunlight. It was tightly folded together in the shape of a triangle.
“What are you doing?” Anna stepped a little closer.
She had never been so alone with a boy—her mother was usually around, and in school, she only played with her friends. During summer, the hedges of her vacation home usually held her trapped.
But not today.
“What am I doing?” He asked, while looking at her strangely, brows scrunched and lips slightly upturned.
“Yes…with that paper?” She was hesitant, nervous to talk to him and wondering if she should just fight her way back through the hedge.
“Making paper airplanes,” he said with a shrug and then slowly creased the sheet with his thumb.
The boy didn’t ask why she had come, and Anna didn’t know what to do. He had turned away from her, back to the project by his feet. So she just stood for a moment, unsure, watching him fold the paper. Her eyes flicked around the yard, a nervous habit. Over his shoulder stood a towering house, just like hers, with a wrap around porch and peachy walls. So familiar. So foreign.
Anna looked at the boy again. He was still ignoring her, working on his papers, so she sat down next to him to watch. He folded one side, then flipped the paper quickly around and folded again, flipped again, folded again, and suddenly he held a perfectly formed plane in his hand.
But could the paper fly? Anna wondered, itching to test her question.
The boy silently handed her the plane.
The paper was smooth against her skin, folded firm and hardly bendable. So unlike anything she was used to. Anna bit her lip, waiting for her next queue, hoping to soar.
But the boy just grabbed another sheet and started to fold again, ignorant of the anxiety churning her stomach. And yet, maybe not.
As he pushed down on his last fold, the boy lifted his hand close to his eye and suddenly thrust it forward, releasing the plane. The paper sailed at Anna, almost skimming her face as she watched it fly passed, mesmerized.
Anna grinned and turned to the boy, who shook his head. He took the first plane from her lap, and nodded, raising his eyebrows as if to ask, are you ready? Anna sat straighter, alert, and he loosed it into the air.
Instinctively, she snatched it from the sky with her ready hand and they both smiled. She giggled nervously. The boy went back to work, face determined as he folded, pressed, and flipped all over again.
After a few minutes, a mountain of airplanes sat between them. Each one was different—every style created a unique flight path. Some raced, others slowly arched, and some gradually circled in little loop-d-loops towards her open hand.
When he was finished with his work, the boy held a plane out to her. “Do you want to try?”
Licking her lips, Anna took it. Her fingers felt fat, stupid, as she lifted the paper close to her eye. Her heart pounded. Her palms began to sweat, moistening the plane, warping it. Scared and excited, she met the boy’s encouraging stare and launched the paper forward, forcefully.
It spun to the ground and lodged there, nose first.
Anna sunk with it.
“Here,” he said again, handing her a new plane.
Again, it dropped from the sky.
The boy walked behind her, covered her hand with his and placed a brand new plane in her palm. Shifting her fingers, he showed her how to hold it. With one gentle squeeze, her thrust their arms forward, higher and slower than Anna had done.
Together, the plane soared.
Anna laughed, and then smiled at the boy, her heart fluttering. He held her hand a moment longer, meeting her gaze. His fingers were warm. Like his eyes, Anna thought. But then he stepped away and sat back down, the mound of planes between them.
Anna picked up a new plane, holding it the way he had shown her. This time, the little white airplane soared, flying across the space between them and smacking the boy right in the chest. He jolted, shocked, but Anna just laughed and grabbed a new plane. The boy looked on, eying her curiously. 
“What’s your name?” He asked, separating the planes into two piles as he spoke.
“Anna,” she replied as she watched his hands quickly move, flying through the air like one of his planes. “And yours?”
He filled his arms with one of the piles and walked over to drop the planes on her lap, and then shuffled back to his place. She tilted her head to the side questioningly, but he would reveal nothing.
Suddenly, he grabbed one of his planes and threw it straight up into the air as high as he could. Without stopping to see where it went, he threw up another and another, barely pausing for a breath. Anna quickly caught on and threw all of her planes into the air. The little white papers swiftly disappeared in the glare of the sun, winking out of existence.
Anna looked up, waiting for them to come back down.
Landen moved closer, his eyes also on the sky.
His nearness made her nervous, causing her attention to shift just slightly. Her right side tingled, and Anna fought to keep her eyes pointed up. A thrumming noise sounded in her ear, light at first and then faster.
Her heart, she realized.
The tingling grew stronger. Anna bit her lip and gave in, letting her gaze shift ever so slightly to the side.
Into his eyes. 
They straightened, eyes locked until a white plane fell swiftly between them.
Anticipating more, Anna looked at the sky as tiny white specks began to appear. She flung her arms out to the side and spun around, glee bubbling under her skin. Energy zipped through her body. It had been wound there for a while, waiting for something to set it free. A boy. A plane. Anna didn’t know. But now she was spinning so fast it didn’t seem like she would be able to stop.
Planes slapped against her hands as they dropped, and Anna laughed as the sky fell all around her. The more she spun, the faster her laughter came and the faster the planes seemed to fall. She spun and spun, and when streaks of whiteness no longer surrounded her, she fell to the grass in a heap, crunching planes and leaves below her.
Her body shook with mirth, and she rolled to the side, unable to stop herself. Landen was still standing, but she couldn’t see his face. The sun was caught behind his head, silhouetting his features, but she knew he was looking down. Anna laughed more, her sides beginning to ache, but she watched as Landen walked around her, picking up the planes that had scattered across the yard.
When he had finished, Landen sat down beside her and began to fix all of the planes that had been crushed under her weight.
Quiet now, Anna rolled over to watch him work. The brilliant white paper, pearly against his bronze hands, highlighted his every movement. Slowly, he smoothed his fingertips along the creases, crisping each fold. She took one of the planes and began to work alongside him, following his movements precisely. Her own hands nearly blended with the paper, she realized while running her fingers along the fragile plane.
Landen reached out to help her, his hand touching hers softly. Flustered, she broke the contact and picked up a plane, letting it soar aimlessly across the yard. The white sheet drifted along the hedges, visible against the deep myrtle backdrop as it fell slowly towards the ground and sifted to a stop in a deep patch of grass.
Jolted from her thoughts, Anna looked into the bushes, trying to spot her mother across the way.
“Anna Marie!”
She jumped up and raced back towards the hedges, stepping through the small hole created by her fall into Landen’s yard.
“Bye!” Anna spun quickly for one last look at Landen. He was sitting quietly on the grass with his head slightly down-turned as he watched her go, surround by his paper airplanes. Some crisp. Some crunched. All waiting for her to come back.
Another day, Anna silently promised.
Blinking, she turned back around and reached her hand through the hedge, separating the sea of green before her.
“Anna! Where are you?”
“Coming, Mom!”
Leaves scrapped her face as she forced her way past large branches and tiny twigs. But already, this little path felt worn and traveled. A secret gateway. A private tunnel.
Through little breaks in the shrubbery, Anna saw the side of her apricot home. Her mother stood on the front stoop with her hands on her hips and an apron around her waist. Anna stumbled out of the hedges, slowing herself, trying to be as quiet as possible to remain hidden for just a few more steps.
But her mother’s acute eye whipped towards her anyway. Bowing her head, playing ignorant, Anna walked over to her mother.
“And where were you, Anna Marie?”
“I lost my…my ring and I needed to go look for it in the… the hedge.”
“Inside the house now, young lady. Clean up and then come downstairs. Dinner is almost ready,” her mother ordered while smacking Anna’s bottom with a spatula.
Anna knew her mother wasn’t really angry with her, but raced up the steps regardless. Once in her room, she opened her curtains and peered out the window, trying to see into Landen’s yard. The hedges stubbornly blocked her view. Anna could see nothing of the yard or the boy she expected was still sitting there surrounded by a pile of paper airplanes.
Reaching into her pocket, Anna pulled out her own remnant of the afternoon—a crumpled plane. She cradled it carefully, preciously.
Anna looked up, accidentally catching her reflection in the vanity mirror across the room. Leaves were still tangled in her hair. Little twigs were caught in twirls of knots. Faint pink scratches lined her cheeks, dragging from the corner of her lips all the way to her ears. Her summer dress was caked with dirt, smeared with grass stains, and spotted with little holes.
Anna admired herself, turning slightly to see her backside, pleased in some way by the untamed look she had brought home. Moving from the mirror, she grabbed some tape from her drawer and stuck the little white plane to her pink wall.
In a daze, Anna washed her face, changed into a clean dress, and walked back down the stairs. Her family was already sitting for dinner, and she took a seat beside her older sister. Her mother was bringing the food in from the kitchen, her father was still in his coat and tie, and her sister sat with her university boyfriend’s pin gleaming from her chest. Anna sat up, matching her sister’s posture, and listened to her family speak.
But the more her father droned on about his workload, the more Anna’s posture slowly slackened and the more tuned out she became. Instead, Anna looked out the window, imagining a pearly paper plane drifting past and thinking of the boy who might have thrown it.
“Anna?” Something poked her left leg and she turned toward her sister.
“Are you alright? You’ve been staring out the window for about half an hour.”
“I’m fine, I’m just tired is all.” Anna replied automatically and finished her turkey.
Once their plates were cleared, Anna helped her mother clean the dishes. The radio played softly, slow tunes that matched the quiet tempo of the evening. She sang along as she washed and tried to clean out the dirt still under her nails.
When her work was done, Anna left the kitchen, climbed the steps and walked back to her room. Looking at her wall, she noticed the paper plane reflected blue in the darkness, catching the moonlight. She opened her window, letting in the cool summer breeze, and curled up under the covers of her twin bed.
That night, she dreamt of paper airplanes, hundreds of them, filling the air and fluttering down to reveal a tanned boy with dark hair folding more paper in his hands.
Anna woke feeling as though she were still there with him in the sun. Not yet wanting to rise, she reached her hands above her head and arched her back, stretching. A breeze swept into her room, ruffling her things. Anna caught some movement on the bed.
As her waking eyes adjusted, growing stronger, Anna smiled at the surprise. Sitting right there on her chest was a paper airplane, bright in the light of the morning sun. 

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