The Morning Place
by Mary Brunini McArdle
You may differ with me on the meaning of "morning." My biorhythms interpret it as beginning around nine-thirty and ending at two. But when I discovered the "morning place", I realized the word has nothing to do with biorhythms and everything to do with perception.
My name is Andrew Sheffield. No one has ever called me "Andy", which is fine with me. I'm nineteen and in my first year of junior college. I work part-time at night in a movie theater running the projectors. The hours suit me all right, but there's one thing that is a big disappointment. I don't have a girl friend, at least not right now. It would be nice to have a girlfriend to keep me company in the projection room and I imagine most girls would appreciate seeing all the new movies free.
I decided one weekend to take a walk in a wooded area near my parents' house just before noon. The late February day had warmed to a comfortable temperature. Most of the trees were bare, but a few weak and underdeveloped blossoms had appeared. My shoes crunched on sparse bundles of dead leaves and sticks. The natural debris was scattered and looked as though someone had forgotten to finish cleaning up.
I felt -- lonely. I was usually at ease with myself, but today I would have welcomed some female company. Girls my age aren't often attracted to a guy who wants to become a high school English teacher. Obviously I wouldn't make much money.
Only I don't think I would have found the morning place if I hadn't been alone.
February had been dry. I headed for a small stream which to my surprise was nearly overflowing. The water had a golden tint, and the other side of the stream was shrouded in a tantalizing mist.
I could see the bottom; the stream was only about three feet deep. With a rush of abandonment, I sat down and took off my shoes, bent on wading across. When I got to the other side I became aware of something that was more of a feeling than an observation. I actually felt the grass softening its hue, I felt a difference in the sound of the stream's music, I felt the atmosphere altering its substance. I stood at the far edge of the stream and rubbed my eyes.
Then I looked up. The sky was a pale canary and there were four suns in it. One was almost overhead, orange and swollen -- surrounded by a halo of yellow-orange. The other suns were lined up much lower on the horizon, one similar to Sol but larger -- the other two tiny, far away, and a brilliant white. Yellowish light spilled over the landscape touching everything, while glittering reflections bounced off the rocks, the leaves, and the soil.
I understood I had received a gift, a celebration of solitude that belonged exclusively to me. I sat down on the plush grass, running my fingers through it, and laughing when I encountered a bright green spider with quizzical yellow eyes. He jumped over my hand, ran around in a couple of dizzy circles, and took off.
Is it morning here? I wondered. I would think so, judging from the position of the sun -- suns--and the light. But where is "here"? Should I stay a while? Should I see what afternoon and evening will bring -- or should I try to go further -- explore? What if I can't find my way back?
Defiantly I scrambled to my feet. But I could go no further; the more I walked, the less progress I made. The horizon receded, the mist reappeared in the distance, but I could still hear the stream bubbling behind me.
I turned back and sat it its edge with my toes dangling in the water. Ice blue fishes swam around my feet and pink crabs with spotted claws foraged on the sandy bottom.
Something nudged the back of my arm. Standing on its hind legs was a cream-colored rabbit with a lavender tail and ears and whiskers that spangled in the sunlight. He allowed me to stroke him, whiskers quivering with delight. Then, like the little spider, the rabbit skittered away.
Am I in Wonderland? I thought. But Alice followed a white rabbit, not a pastel one that smacked of Easter eggs.
I stayed where I was until the suns began to sink in the sky, the white dwarves disappearing below the horizon, the other two growing huge and round and deepening into a soft melon and a deep crimson. Reddish streaks ran across the sky from one sun to the other.
I thought I'd better leave before full dark, or I would probably get lost and never make my way back. That is, if I even wanted to. . . .
But eventually I would get hungry and then I would need to sleep. Where was the woven blanket to cover me and the banquet to be served me beneath the foliage?
Was this another world or another time? A physical place or a designated hour? The White Rabbit led Alice to other worlds; the Looking Glass distorted time as well.
With reluctance I stood. I heard a low voice from behind, calling me. "Andrew?"
I turned around, and there she was. A girl my age, lovely, with long sandy hair waving to the side and light brown eyes. She wore a simple white dress, reflecting yellow and orange in the folds of the skirt, and sandals with slim straps.
"Who -- who are you?" I stammered.
"I am your future," she replied, and faded slowly into the sunset.
I waited a full twenty minutes, but the sky darkened to a deep red-violet. I crossed the stream, retrieved my shoes, and set out for the house. Will I have forgotten all this by tomorrow? I wondered. Or will another morning bring me to this place again, peopled by even more engaging and friendly creatures? Would that beautiful girl honor me with another visit?
I don't know if something simply happened to me or if I could purposefully put it into motion again. There is no map, no secret code -- only the proximity of the woods to my parents' neighborhood, but I never noticed the stream before. And it hasn't rained -- really rained, for weeks.
Now, as the stream recedes from sight, the grass grows coarse and dry again. The vegetation, still weedy and brown from winter, will not support the kind of life that inhabits the morning place. The only colors here to break the barrenness of the season are my clothes.
I fumble in my pocket, hoping to find a pen and paper. If I could just write down some of the details of what I have experienced ... The pocket comes up empty. As empty as the mind that is rapidly losing the memory of where or when I have been.
I'm late for work.
It was evidently going to be slow at the theater -- there wasn't much of a line when I got there, but an attractive girl with short black hair was outside consulting her watch. As I approached the entrance I always used, she looked up and smiled toward the parking lot. Someone was coming to join her.
My mouth dropped open -- the prettiest girl with long sandy hair and light brown eyes greeted the brunette. The girl with the light hair had delicate features, a trim figure, and slender hands. Her face looked soft in the early evening light.
"We're early," the brunette said.
"Let's go ahead and get our tickets," the newcomer replied. "We can sit in the lobby for a while."
I summoned the nerve to speak to them. "Hi, there. I think you two are in for a really great movie."
"Oh, do you work here?" the brunette asked. Her companion smiled.
"Part-time at night, running the projectors. To help pay my tuition at the junior college."
"Oh," the sandy-haired girl put in. "I took a year off after graduation to work full time and save money. I'll probably see you there next fall. What are you studying?"
"English. Have we ever met? You look so familiar."
The two girls looked at each other and laughed. "That's a line if I ever heard one," the black-haired girl commented. "You are kind of cute, though."
I ignored the last remark. "No, no, I wasn't using a line on you. That one's so old -- I think I could have come up with something better. I really meant it -- you do look familiar."
"I don't think we've actually met," the sandy-haired girl replied. "But I love English Lit -- one of my favorite subjects. I haven't decided on a major yet. I think I'll take some basic courses and see what fits. By the way, my name's Jen and this is Carol."
"Andrew," I smiled.
"Tell me, then, Andrew, do you like it there -- at the junior college? Are the teachers good?"
"Some really great ones, especially in the Liberal Arts. Love to talk to you about it sometime. Right now, I'd better get on in to work."
"Why don't we exchange phone numbers real quick? I'll call you."
I feel so drawn to that girl, I thought, as I readied the equipment in the projection booth. Am I glad to have her phone number! I don't think she's in deep with anyone else. She seemed receptive. And sweet. And she likes English Lit!
I may have found my girl friend. That would be so grand, as they'd say in the old musicals. We'll be at the same school too. But I'm definitely going to call her well before then. Ask her for coffee or something.
I don't remember much about the movie that night. Of course, I'd already seen it. But even though I had to run it three times, it sure went by in a flash.
Then I had to join the staff and sweep the aisles free of trash -- we pushed it all to the sides between showings because of lack of time -- and finished up after the theater closed.
Even then I was so absorbed in my own thoughts the time raced by. I was off work almost before I knew it.
I found myself brooding throughout the movies and the whole time I spent sweeping about the girl I had just met -- Jen. Wondering where she worked, wondering where she'd like to go for coffee, wondering about her family and where she lived. Did she have a favorite color? Did she have a pet? She probably lived at home too, to save money, just like me.
It'll be morning soon, I remember thinking as I started my car. The start of a new day.
© 2007 Mary Brunini McArdle
Bio: Bio: Mary Brunini McArdle has published in small journals and won prizes in fiction, poetry, essays, and short plays. She has published online in such journals as BEWILDERING STORIES, COMBAT MAGAZINE, MYTHOLOG, THE TRUTH MAGAZINE, SACRED TWILIGHT, GATE WAY, and two of her stories have appeared in Aphelion: Miranda Solves the Case (September, 2006), and Foray (February 2007).
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