Jennifer Haig Cooreman
and Tony Ellis

Tony Ellis
Inspiration piece

Hanna’s Wanderings
By Jennifer Haig Cooreman
Response

From the time she could walk, Hanna explored her world. Before she went out, her parents buckled her into a life preserver for safety’s sake, because Hanna couldn’t swim. They were then free to spend their time playing cribbage or making apple sauce while their small daughter went on adventures. She collected pine cones, or sat patiently in the grass watching for frogs no bigger than her thumb. Hanna sat close to the water’s edge, separating clam shells from thick, black lake muck, swirling until all was clean. When she opened the shells gently, their pearlescent insides remained exposed but unbroken, and they looked like butterflies. Hanna saved them carefully for her big sister, Lila.

Hanna’s parents called her home at after a long day’s adventures with an old fashioned cast iron triangle. It never failed to startle the neighbors, making them slosh their coffee, wresting them from dockside’s peaceful evening dreaming. But Hanna’s parents said the triangle made them feel brave, like homesteaders or rustic pioneers. They never knew how close their daughter was to their front door, or noticed the neighbors glaring at them from their screened in porches and wicker backed rocking chairs.

Hanna did not delay when her parents called. Suppertime was her chance to see her sister. Lila hadn’t been the same since she’d taken up sailing and fallen in love with a boy from across the lake. Lila’s world was suddenly veiled to her little sister. She’d departed abruptly, closing the door firmly behind her. Hanna wondered if her gingham sun hats, tied snugly beneath her chin, were one reason her sister didn’t allow her along anymore, but she was too shy to ask.

Hanna was lonely without her sister. She introduced herself to her neighbor, a tiny Navajo woman named Shima, whose grandmother walked the Trail of Tears. Hanna imagined Shima was a fairy trapped in her damp cottage that smelled like baking cookies and mildew. Shima didn’t look like an Indian to Hanna. She looked like a miniature, white haired wood sprite who’d lost her wings and magical powers. Perhaps she’d given them away in trade, so she could marry her shuffling husband.

Carl puttered off in his battered aluminum fishing boat each morning before dawn. He came back with blue gills for Shima to clean with a scaling knife on a sticky stump in the yard. That didn’t seem like a proper life for a fairy or a Navajo, and Hanna thought Shima had made an awful mistake. But she never said so. Shima was kind and patient, and taught Hanna to make elderberry jam, how to rid her garden of slugs and copper heads, and when to tie up new tomato plants so they wouldn’t drown in the spring rains.

Hanna’s spirit of self preservation glowed in her like tiny white hot stars. But her exuberance and endless curiosity sometimes made her weary. When she played outside and pressed flowers, she calmed a bit. But she perceived too much when her sister locked herself away. All because of a boy. Problems without edges or endings made Hanna especially tired. But only a true wood sprite could have perceived the depths of Hanna’s raveling thoughts. Hanna, with her halo of tangled curls, clear eyes and questioning smile, was careworn and afraid, even as she hummed and made milk carton boats and fairy houses till the sky reflected pink, gold and darkening blue, and the fireflies flashed warnings from between the tall trees.

Everything beyond the verdant borders of Hanna’s yard made her feel unsafe and unseen, yet her parents scooted her outside every morning to face the unknowns without her true companion. Without Lila, who was always sailing off on a breeze, or closeting herself in her room.

Once, without Lila, Hanna ventured down a wooded path and made an awful mistake. Just a few berries from the bottom of her tin pail, swallowed quickly, not knowing, and without thinking. All because she was hungry. Then there was retching down the front of her eyelet sundress and over the tops of her sandals. The dirt road began to tilt and sway, and the black dog from the house on the corner scented the fear and vomit and stalked her as she stumbled towards safety.

Her parents were angry she’d eaten poisonous berries, and they were afraid. She realized she must be more careful. Her mother was easily overwhelmed. Hanna vowed to stay close, and never worry her mother again. Mr. Marsh’s dog wouldn’t chase her if she stayed in her own yard. One less monster to nip at her heels and prowl in her dreams then, too. Nightmares sent Hanna on wild journeys while she slept, wandering across the frozen lake without a coat or shoes and no one to call her home.

Doors flew open for Hanna when she learned to read proper books. When it rained, she’d stick a giant umbrella into a soft spot in the yard and drape a tarp over it. Underneath, she’d nestle into a blanket and fill her mind with friends and places unseen. But Shima told her umbrella houses weren’t safe in certain weather, and made her come inside when the sky filled with lightning. Shima gave her a key to the third floor of her cottage, which had deep, dusty, fabric covered window seats and hidden nooks with tall wooden cabinets. Hanna was allowed to use Shima’s third floor any time reading outside felt wrong or too big. Shima always left her front door unlocked, but Shima and Hanna held the only two keys to the third floor. This made Hanna an honorary sprite, and she realized she now had her own private door to hide behind.

Hanna still saved treasures for her sister, although Lila didn’t like them. Still, Hanna wrote her sister letters, drew pictures and created secret codes which she translated in separate notes decorated with leaves and flowers. She taught herself to make origami birds, lotus flowers and boxes with hearts inside, and she left them on Lila’s pillow. Using a pen knife, she spent hours whittling little carvings. First a bird, then a ball inside a box, and finally, the links of a chain. Hanna made gifts with whatever she could find, and the hours spent wishing for her sister’s return made her a patient and loving artist.

The outside world still made Hanna feel unsteady and lonely, but Lila’s world frightened her most of all. She couldn’t know for certain if Lila closed herself behind her door by choice, of if she had been trapped there by some strange accident. So Hanna continued to seek her sister, knocking softly, in case she needed rescuing. If Hanna ever willingly entered Lila’s world, she realized there would be no one to come looking for her. Hanna was wary even of Shima’s third floor, with its beckoning privacy and deep nests of pillows. If Hanna happened to have wings she hadn’t yet grown, she certainly didn’t want to lose them in that cottage, as Shima had.

Everyone Hanna loved spent their lives inside, behind latched doors. Hanna did not know if they shut the latches themselves, to nurture the flames of their desires and dreams, or if they had been tricked and imprisoned by false hopes and lies. She left gifts and encouragements, and hoped each of them would emerge into the open. She might know then, once and for all, whose world was the safest.

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One Comment

  1. Mo
    Posted March 1, 2014 at 12:14 pm | #

    Wonderful . . .

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