T W O S P R I N G S
Part One: Easter Tuesday
The Easter Monday tradition in the ex-Soviet bloc country where Carl was living as an American transplant called for the boys to chase the girls, soak them with cold water (fortunately they used water guns now instead of the icy creeks that served the same purpose generations ago), and whip them with thin braided branches. The girls showed their gratitude for this treatment – which was meant to beat beauty and fertility into them, meant to make them even more appealing to the boys who whipped them – by rewarding the little boys with chocolate, and the older boys with shots of the local plum brandy that was indispensable at all celebrations and rituals here.
When his wife first told Carl about the Easter Monday wetting and whipping custom, he hadn’t given it much thought; but this year, watching their own little three-year-old son get ready to participate for the first time, he felt odd. He tried to share his qualms with his wife, thinking, if I ever have a daughter, would I allow her to be wetted and whipped this way?
But his wife scoffed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “on Easter Tuesday the tables are turned and the girls get back at the boys with practical jokes, among other things. And believe me, on Easter Tuesday, we girls always come out on top.”
So now Carl was watching his happy, sweet, boisterous son Billy trying to menace his shy little cousin with his whip of braided branches. Billy was dressed in his best Easter outfit and his round cheeks were smeared with chocolate and he couldn’t stop smiling. His father couldn’t help but smile too, but the clench in Carl’s stomach wouldn’t go away.
Because he knew.
He knew as he watched the girls’ eyes widen in surprise as the jets of cold water shot from plastic guns shaped like cartoon forest animals hit them between the shoulder blades; watched the girls’ eyes squint as the whipping dutifully followed; watched the girls’ eyes harden as they received vigorous slaps from the older boys. Carl watched the girls’ eyes as they handed over the chocolate or plum brandy to the boys, the girls’ backs still stinging and bodies still shivering, and he knew.
The wetting and the whipping of her girlhood had made Carl’s wife beautiful and fertile, yes; it had also made her determined to come out on top, to be in control. Even though he’d never got his share of chocolate or brandy out of it, Carl was paying the price now. His wife grew up promising herself she’d never be wetted and whipped and made to thank a man for it again.
Carl was living every day with his wife as if it were Easter Tuesday.
He felt a sudden overpowering urge to take Billy, scoop his son up in his arms, clutch him to his chest, and run; run with only the clothes on their backs, run to some place where he could catch his breath and his sanity and think of a way to save his little boy from the life of endless Easter Tuesdays that might loom in his future, too.
Then his wife was by his side, slipping her arm around his waist.
“Carl,” she said. “I’m pregnant. I think it’s going to be a girl this time. Isn’t it wonderful? A little daughter, just for you.”
Just then there was a commotion. One of the smaller girls was sobbing, her face wet from cold water shot from a cheerful plastic turtle by a little boy who couldn’t stop giggling. The girl bit him hard on his chubby calf, sending her mother into a fit of scolding, and earning the girl a slap on the bottom, which only made her cry more. A bigger girl – her older sister, maybe? – picked her up and smoothed her hair and whispered something in her ear.
Carl couldn’t hear what the older girl said, but he imagined she whispered a single, comforting word:
Part Two: The Lilacs
Ten years ago – that was the year Carl decided he had to leave home. He didn’t like to think of it as running away, as his mother called it; he liked to think of it as taking a leap into a grand and adventurous future. Now that it was a decade later, part of him had a disturbing tendency to agree with his mother. But the rest of him clung to the notion of adventure.
That year winter had gone on and on and Carl, among all his friends and colleagues, had barely noticed it. It hardly registered that the lilacs bloomed so late they overlapped with the summer flowers. Not that he was the type to notice such things anyway; but she had been, the woman he loved back then, so he should have noticed for her sake. By the time the lilacs reached their full sweet-scented glory that late, last spring, she’d married his older brother, and Carl… well, he decided he needed to leap off something. Tall bridges being scarce, he took a leap into his future instead. He moved from upstate New York to Europe, took a job at a business college in a former Soviet bloc country, teaching English to young students whose parents thought they needed it to succeed and were willing to pay for it.
Now married and raising a small son in a place so far from the one where he grew up, Carl noticed the lilacs again. They were different here, scragglier and less richly scented, but a lot more tenacious. They filled up hillsides almost like weeds, and they were all the same pale purple, no variety of special colors resulting from careful human intervention. If he was the kind of person to think about things that way, he’d notice how the lilacs mirrored his own experience: being one kind of person at home and another kind of person here, but somehow being the same person all along.
Maybe his ten years here had made him more tenacious and resistant to human intervention, too. Maybe he liked that about himself.
Although his mother always liked the sweet-scented white lilacs best.
My name is Elizabeth Fountain. I live in Ellensburg, WA; my past careers include therapist, university administrator, day-camp counselor, and very bad barista; now I’m a faculty member and a writer. I write short and long fiction and creative non-fiction that finds the strangeness and unintentional humor in everyday life. My completed novel, Nearly Impossible and Completely Absurd, is trying to find a publishing home; it is the story of Louise Armstrong Holiday, the last person on Earth you’d expect to risk everything to save the human race. But in the face of a half-baked plot concocted by stupid but brutal aliens trying to create the largest cyborg army in the galaxy, Louie launches herself on a journey that takes her from a suburban Seattle business park to an ancient European castle, and ends in her own forgotten past. Helped by a mysterious co-worker and a blind mini-Schnauzer from Mars, she must conquer her worst fears and her oldest enemy, if she will ever find her way home.
Two more novels are underway: You Jane, the story of a woman whose ability to write fables that come true wreaks havoc in her life and the lives of her best friends; and The Life and Death of St. Guinefort, a tale about what happens when Death tries to retire early. All my work reflects my motto, of sorts, taken from singer/songwriter Chris Rea: “every day, good luck comes in the strangest of ways.” You can read more of my work on my blog, Point No Point.
Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Fountain