The fog laid across the road like a velvety, living blanket with a million spindly fingers popping up from it, as if reaching for the unknown. Brooklea Turner wasn’t used to seeing fog like this, especially so often. But then, she used to live in the city. Now she was out in the sticks. The road was clear up to this point, and then it was all of the sudden before her like a barricade. It had a definite beginning and she was almost afraid to cross the line. Almost like a snow drift made of air that came out of nowhere and decided to land in front of her. She looked over towards the sunrise to her left as she drove South down county road 237 and the fog laid in the fields like white paint swirling in water. The sun was up over the trees now and shining bright, and the mist on the ground almost sparkled, like a super fine glitter on top. She stopped the blue Hyundai she was driving on the side of the road and took a picture. Brooklea was always able to take pleasure from the splendor of nature…even though Mother Nature was an ill tempered, cruel woman sometimes…but what beautiful women aren’t? I’m not. She thought to herself, as she continued down the gravel road. It was almost the perfect setting for a scary movie, except the sun was shining there on top of the mountain. Nothing moved but the kids that would lift their heads up and continue chewing the long grasses hanging out of their mouths. Their wicked eyes not too worried about what she was doing there. Every other field or so, she could just make out some cows, or some large haystacks rolled up with Jack-O-lanterns and smiley faces painted on them next to old farm houses with white cracked and peeling paint. The tires on the Hyundai spitting out rocks as she drove along the gravel road were the only thing that made any noise…well that and all the various items in the back of her mother’s car. They were doing a lousy rendition of “shake rattle and roll.” Where is Elvis when you need him, anyway?
Brooklea had a truck of her own, but the gas mileage it got was horrible, and her mom was willing to let her drive the little blue car, so she tried not to get too annoyed by the accumulation of various things her mom was always leaving in the car that would invariably vibrate, rattle, clank and shudder as she drove along the road leaving plumes of dust behind her. It’s not like my truck is spotless; mom would sure complain about all the dog hair if she was in it.
Brooklea reached the blacktop at the end of county road 237 . She only had two choices. East or West? She contemplated running away again, but she didn’t really want to. In fact, she liked it here in Arkansas. If someone told me even a year ago that I would ever move to Arkansas, I would have laughed them right out of the room…after I slapped their face and told them to quit doin’ drugs! She never thought she’d leave Colorado, or at least the mountains she loved so much. She had lived in places like Kansas, New Mexico, and even California before, but she was decidedly a mountain girl.
The mountains in Arkansas are nothing like the ones she was used to after spending so many years in Wyoming and Colorado. Nothing. There were times she wondered if the peaks in Colorado would be offended that these….steep hills…that had the audacity to think of themselves as mountains! I guess they ARE mountains, but they ain’t no fourteeners. She decided.
Yet, the mountains here, though decidedly different, had taken a place in her heart all their own. They had a beauty that made her heart melt. Could it be I love this place more? Would that be a betrayal?
She breathed in the fresh clean air and took in the many trees hanging over the road. So many different species and shapes and sizes. In Colorado, you mostly saw pines of some type, and Aspens. Oh, there were other types of trees there too, but not like this. This was like being in a candy shop of trees. She’d imagined that pretty much any tree a person could dream of could probably be found there as she drove through the Ozark National Forest. The landscape had now drastically changed from field after field of various plant life and farm houses to nothing but a windy road before her and walls of trees on each side of here. What she had always known to be a forest before, was a place filled with pines and Aspen trees. Now, it was a plethora of trunks and leaves in every shade from green to red imaginable. Some of them were now such a brilliant shade of deep orange, it took Brooklea’s breath away.
Brooklea thought about how the Aspens in Colorado have probably already changed and fallen off their branches, but here the trees were only beginning to turn. She remembered how she used to load her dad up in the car and drive for almost an hour from the city into the mountains in hopes they could see the changing of the Aspen, or “quakies” as she and her family called them. That, she missed. The way the leaves would shimmy with just the slightest breeze, making an almost tinkling sound as they quaked on their fragile stems. She missed the way the sunlight would play on the leaves, and the brilliant gold they would turn in the fall…and taking a day long drive with her dad just to find the patches in the pines up on the mountain tops.
Despite the fact that the Aspen is the larges living organism on Earth, they were not near as plentiful here in these parts. Supposedly Ancient Greeks were wearing crowns made of leaves of aspen because they believed that the Aspen possesses magical properties, and Brooklea understood why. In her opinion, they were the most amazing tree, but specifically, the most beautiful. Mostly, she wondered about Aspen actually growing in Greece. She was only familiar with them in her quiet mountain settings. I may have to take a trip there one day, just to see if they are really there.
Of course, now her favorite may just be the new tree she has planted out in her new yard. The Paulownia tomentosa, or Royal Empress tree, is touted as the fastest growing tree in the world; which is why she bought it. The humidity here was AWFUL and the heat astounding, so she was looking for shade as soon as possible. The brag line that it would grow at least six to ten feet a year sounded very attractive when she ordered it. At a max height of fifty feet, it would be full grown in about 5 years! Plus, she always liked trees that flowered, and this one was supposed to bloom with purple flowers, which she had decided long ago: you can never go wrong with purple. It’s the color of royalty, after all!! Once the tree with it’s huge leaves was delivered, Brooklea did some more research on the tree online and found it a truly fascinating and beautiful thing. It’s actually hollow on the inside, like bamboo. It does hail from central and western China, so maybe they’re related? She had found a video of a man who made furniture with it and the wood was extremely beautiful, with the same qualities of Cedar. I bet it doesn’t smell as good though. She read further and found that the leaves would be bigger than her head and the purple and white flowers were like that of the foxglove. Made for an intriguing tree, she thought. She was very excited to see what it would do when she planted it. And just as promised, it grew like a weed! Of course, everything out here does. Except the weeds…they grow FASTER than weeds!
The heart shaped leaves on her new tree were large, though not bigger than her head yet….more like the size of her hands. It looked more like a plant…but, it was a beautiful plant. It grew two feet in almost as many months. She had just recently gotten a single, sweet smelling bloom even, and it made her smile with hope for the coming year. She has a spot for one more tree she needs to plant, and though not completely decided, is leaning towards another one.
Brooklea drove along mindlessly, letting her mind roam and before she knew it, she was getting closer to a town because the scenery changed once again to fields, and farm houses, and barns in various shades of red. She decided that there was only one shade of red ever painted on a barn, but the various shades of red you saw, were solely dependent on how long it had weathered the sun and storms of the lives living in the houses next to them.
She drove over the Illinois River and thought about how where she used to live, it was the Arkansas River that ran through town. Now she lived in Arkansas. Lord, I don’t want to move again to Illinois. I don’t want to move again period! If you wouldn’t mind, of course. Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks….plus, I do believe I love it here….she said, almost as an afterthought.
“Turn left onto Viney Grove Road.” Her phone said. She braced herself for the buses and cars lined up like dominoes ready to start a chain reaction of mixing paint and loud scratchy noises with grinding metal at any moment, but somehow never do. How in the hell do you get into the parking lot?!?! There were cones blocking off the entrance and a sign that said ONE WAY. She had subbed here before, but the cones weren’t there, so she snuck in anyway. Now they had the orange guard dogs out.
The cars were coming around front from behind the school and dropping the kids off, and the parking lot was inaccessible from the street she was on. This was not unlike the school she worked at in Lincoln last week. I never DID figure out how all those cars got in that parking lot! I know there’s a secret road that goes behind the school. And one day, when I’m actually not running late, I will find it! Secrets be damned! They can’t keep hiding these things from me!
The cars in front of Brooklea seemed to be driving on past the school, so she made a quick decision to follow them. She had no idea if these were people also trying to get in or if they just had bad luck and got caught in the traffic, but it seemed her only option at the moment. She drove on past the school behind two buses and a few cars and when they turned right at the next corner, she did too. She felt a little twinge in her gut of worry. What if the buses are just goin’ to the bus barn and these other people are going to work? Where the hell are we? They drove on up a bit and then after they passed a house, there was a paved road that went off to the right. The cars turned in, and then both of the buses. After rounding a short curve, Brooklea could see the bus barn on the right. Grrrreat! She waited patiently as the bus in front of her sat waiting for a guy in a red Bronco to pull out of the drive. He was turning around. At least I’m not the only one who doesn’t have a clue what’s going on around here….but could you hurry the hell up?!!? I may need to turn around too!
Once the Bronco pulled out of the drive and the bus in front of Brooklea entered, she could see the road continued to curve towards the back of the school. Oh thank goodness! The least they could do is post signs or something! Sheesh!
Brooklea waited behind the cars that were dropping off kids until she could get into another lane for through traffic and go park the car. She drove around looking for a spot, and it didn’t look as though she’d find one. Then as she rounded the turn into the next lane of cars, she saw there was one right on the end. She pulled the car up, and then back in reverse a little so she could make the sharp turn into it. She put the car in park and checked herself in the mirror once more. Her eyes were as green as the forest she’d just driven through, but they no longer sparkled like they used to. She never used to get bags under her eyes either, but now she often had them. She was tired before she even got out of bed most days anymore. She tousled her long burgundy hair one last time and tried to hide as many grey roots that were peeking out from her scalp as she could, before she reached toward the dash and turned the engine off. She fumbled to get her book bag, her purse, her lunch sack, her coffee, and her water bottle and get out of the car at the same time. She stood and straightened her skirt and her top and looked down at her shoes. She hoped everything was in it’s proper place.
She weaved in between cars with trepidation in hopes no one would be too distracted by their young kids in the cars and accidently hit her, until she reached the sidewalk and ambled slowly towards the office door.
She found the book to sign in and turned waiting for her turn to ask the receptionist where the classroom was. Sometimes they were real friendly and helpful, others, not so much. She hoped for the latter of the two since she was feeling kind of of crummy. The lady behind the desk let her know that while she was still going to be doing 6th grade Lit, it would only be for half a day, and then they wanted to move her to help out with the 8th grade. She was an older gal with a thick southern accent and big oval glasses. Brooklea could see the grey roots of her hair coming in under her burgundy red tresses. Well, we have THAT in common Toots! She smiled up from the desk at Brooklea apologetically and Brooklea smiled back.
“Not a problem. I’m here to help!”
“Do you know where to go?” She asked sounding relieved.
“I subbed across the hall last week. I know exactly where it is.” Brooklea smiled again.
“Oh, good. I will just leave you to it then.”
Brooklea walked briskly out of the building and down the sidewalk that led into an adjacent building, and into another hallway. It was lined with lockers painted a gawd awful teal color and full of yelling sixth and seventh graders. They were gathered together in spots like clusters of grapes, and the boys would smack each other on the shoulders or backs, while the girls would giggle and act annoyed at the same time. She made a right turn, and then a left. Then she walked all the way down to the end and made a quick left turn into the classroom where she was needed.
The room was filled with desks, set together two by two-facing each other, and when the kids filed in, she found it amazing that for the most part, they also sat boy-girl in each set of two. Makes sense, the girls are less likely to encourage the boys to misbehave and hopefully will calm some of them down. Not that the girls never misbehave, they just aren’t as overt about it. They are much more passive and sneaky than the boys are.
Brooklyn surveyed the room and the kids as they swarmed about the room. She had only been subbing a few short weeks. Not long enough to be an expert, by any means, but enough now, that she could spot the ones that were going to be trouble pretty much right off the bat. She had been learning quickly how much they like to take advantage of having a sub in the room, often sitting where they aren’t supposed to, being rowdy, and doing all sorts of things they would not ordinarily do if their regular teacher was there.
Brooklea had subbed for sixth grade math across the hall the week before, so she recognized several of their faces. Some of them (mostly girls) greeted her with smiles and asked her if she remembered them, and she affirmed that while she may not remember their names, she did remember their faces and how sweet they were. They seemed to be pleased by this. Brooklea eyed a loud boy with dark brown hair in a green shirt sitting in the middle of the room and another one off to the side of the room to the right of the teacher’s desk. She put her bets on those two.
Mr. Brimmer was behind his desk preparing the sub plans for her and she walked over to him and said hello. She had also met him the week before and remembered him, but was not sure if he remembered her or not. He showed her where the MP3 player was for the reading portion of class, gave her the roll sheet for second block and instructions for both blocks and advisory period.
As usual, the students preferred to talk instead of doing their work, and this often annoyed Brooklea. But even though she had spilled coffee on her white shirt, had trouble finding parking and her back was hurting, she was in good spirits. She asked the class who was still working on the assignment Mr. Brimmer had left on the board. A bunch of them raised their hands. She informed them that with that much talking going on, she would have no choice but to assume they were done and move on to the next item at hand; so if they still had work to do, they should probably not be talking.
This goes on and on….in every class. You remind them that they are being too loud, and then they are quiet for a little bit, and then they start talking again. So, you remind them again that they should be working, not talking. It’s like a really bad song on repeat, and equally annoying. It also annoys you more each time it plays.
It was time for them to get out their Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, and Brooklea struggled to find the right track on the MP3, but finally got it playing on the track that went with the chapter they were on. It was an audio book with the voice of a young male adult reading, and not that well, I might add, the story aloud as the kids read along. This was the only time they were quiet.
May as well go with it.
Just as she suspected, one of the shorter boys sitting in the middle of the room kept chanting “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” after she had instructed them to focus up and work on their assignments. He did not seem as though he was going to stop and the other kids were being relatively quiet, so Brooklea, without looking up at him said, “Whoever keeps saying shut up, you might want to take your own advice.”
“Ooooh BURN!” The kids shouted as they laughed.
He laughed too and wasn’t sure what to do.
“They said I look like a jalapeño!” He blurted out loudly. “Do I look like a jalapeño?” He asked, but obviously feigning offense.
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Brooklyn quipped back with a big grin.
One of the boys on the other side of the classroom blurted out, “Oh we need her to sub more often!” While others laughed about how Brooklyn had “burned” him twice in only a minute.
Brooklea told the kids that she did have a sense of humor and would like for the class to be fun, but there was a time for it, and this was not the time. The kids nodded and started doing their work.
After a while, the loud speaker came on and kids were called to the office. Over to Brooklea’s right sat the other attention seeker who had blurted out earlier that Brooklea should sub for them more often. He seemed to have a comment for everything anyone said. He continued in this manner as the lady read off the names and made her announcement. Brooklea waited patiently for the speaker to go silent, then she looked over at him and said, “You seem to have a comment for everything. You should go into TV or radio and be a commentator.”
He smiled really big and puffed up his chest.
“That would be putting my skills to good use, huh?” He said very proudly.
“Yeah, except you first need to make sure you are making comments somebody actually wants to hear. Otherwise, you won’t get paid.” Brooklea taunted, as she winked at him.
The class again roared with laughter as the boy shook his head and chuckled.
“AW! Ya got me too, Ms. Turner! You should be on that show where they roast people!”
This, of course, began a discussion among a few students as to if they had seen the show and how incredibly funny it is, etc. Brooklea reminded them that they weren’t going to have a convo about it, because they had work to do that they had not finished.
A little while later, one of the boys on her left stood up and asked her if she could do this thing where you hold your arms up and put your nose inside the elbow of one your arms. She didn’t quite understand what he was calling it, and it didn’t make any sense to her.
“Why in the world would I want to do that?!” She replied.
“I just want to see if you can do it.” He answered.
“I could if I wanted to, I have no doubt. But I can also moon walk, and I am not going to do that now either.” She said with a grin.
A few of the kids giggled, and he pointed to the commentator across the room and explained that he could moon walk too. The kids began chatting again about Michael Jackson and Brooklea reminded them…again…that they had work to do. Their behaviors are not about you. She reminded herself.
The day went on as such. From block to block with kids insisting they are allowed to chew gum and wonder the halls at random; then high school boys in ALE who continued to throw wadded up pieces of paper at each other and giggle at basically nothing. Finally, the last hour of the day, 8th hour English. The class only had maybe ten people in it, and they were all working on writing a novel or an essay. Not a single issue with any of them. Not one. Brooklea was sure to tell them that they were the best class she had all day and thanked them before they left.
She gathered all her bags and her coffee mug and water bottle and headed through the oceans of eight graders and back out onto the sidewalk that led back to the admin building. She signed out and headed for the parking lot; only this time she knew where it was and how to get there. She started the engine and removed the sun shades from in front of the windshield and tucked them between the passenger seat and the console. She took a deep breath as she put the car in drive and rolled the windows down.
It was beautiful outside. Maybe seventy-five degrees…in mid November. She contemplated hitting the library before going home, but it was a tad bit out of the way. She decided she would be in town one day this week and have the opportunity to stop by then. She headed for home.
As she drove down the gravel driveway, she could see the John Deer lawn tractor sat out front just like it always did. Only now the grass wasn’t growing so no one had to mow. She had ridden that thing plenty of times to mow the acreage, and it takes about five hours to get it done. She could only imagine what it would be like if they had to use a push mower. Out in the yard the yappers were at it; making sure to announce her arrival to anyone and everyone who may be within earshot. Two Doxies named Fudge and Athena; and a Min Pin named Roxie wagged their bony little tales as they waddled up the steps in front of her into the house.
Inside the house she found her best friend, Andy, waiting for her. A German Shepard mix who excitedly waited for her to open the gate in the hallway so he could say hi. He wriggled and jumped and did his dance, and then ran down the hall into Brooklea’s bedroom. She entered the room to find him on her bed with his head down and his butt up in the air, tail wagging…big brown playful eyes…just waiting for her. She laughed out loud upon seeing him when she crossed the threshold.
“You are such a silly boy, Andy!” She said as she walked over to him and he wriggled around on the bed excitedly as she scratched his back and rubbed his belly for him. I’m the one who should be getting a backrub by all counts, I think. She took him out in the yard and sat on the porch a bit to let him run around and get some sun. He pranced around the yard sniffing and then watering where he must have felt things were a little too dry.
They went back in and Brooklea made dinner and fed Andy his dry dog food. He knew he’d get scraps, so he would never eat that stuff until much later. Still Brooklea did her job, knowing he’d get to it eventually. He was not a dog to gulp his food. He often even left some in the bowl. But Brooklea fed him twice a day, regardless.
She cleaned up the dinner dishes and made two sandwiches with turkey, cheese, Miracle Whip and mustard. She stuck each one into a Zip Lock baggie and put them in the fridge for the following day. One for breakfast, and one for lunch. She walked over to the coffee maker and put new grounds in the filter and water in the reservoir. She pushed the button for the timer before she walked away.
She called out to Andy and asked him if he wanted to go outside again, and he ran towards the door and sniffed at the cracks as he waited for her to get there. She opened the door and he bolted out into the yard, as if he knew there was something he had to run off, but he wasn’t sure what. Sometimes, there would be a rabbit that would run as he chased it until it hit the wire fence and it would bounce off of it; and then run again in the other direction. Andy would chase it across the yard until it hit the fence again on the other side and bounce off of it. Brooklea wasn’t sure Andy would even do anything to the rabbit if he did catch it. He still hadn’t so far. She sat on the steps watching him as he sniffed around and walked the perimeter. He would perk up his ears and listen closely once in a while, then give her the look as if to say, “all clear.”
After a while, he came over to the steps and walked up them and then turned around and sat next to Brooklea. She put her arm around his back and they both looked out over the yard. She rubbed the wiry hairs on his chest with her hand and told him what a good boy he was, and they both sat there listening to the birds and the chickens and not really looking at anything, and everything.
Brooklea watched as the sun began to fight it’s fall behind the trees. The clouds displayed an array of colors that reminded her of orange and raspberry sherbet. I must need desert if I see ice cream in the clouds. She mused.
The two of them sat there in silence, as they often did on nights like this, until well after dark. The solar lights around the yard would flick on and so would the big security light overhead at the end of the drive. The tree frogs and crickets were gone for the winter now and she missed their serenade. A neighbor’s dog would bark in the distance here and there, and the coyotes would yip and yowl down in the valley, as if rounding up for a hunt.
“Well, Andy. That was so much fun, I think we should do it again tomorrow.” Brooklea said to the dog; and he looked back at her as if he agreed.
“Let’s go in and get ready for bed.”
She got up and they both went inside closing the door behind them. It was just another ordinary day. Or was it?