Our featured fiction by Sherry Rossman
If those red bricks weren’t so firmly mortared into place they’d be weapons. But they just stayed where they were, formed into walls that saw a love-war every day.
A blue bird joined me on the porch, watching the fight from the rose bush that perfumed my mornings. The yellow fringed petals fought the fierce sun rays every year, but, like me, they were resilient. The bird gave me a song and I noticed a black smudge around its eye. It reminded me of an old Victorian postcard I kept on the fridge.
“I shall call you Vicky,” I whispered so I wouldn’t scare her.
The usual people started to gather in front of the brick building, signs in hand, anger in place. There was the redhead, looking as if a volcano fueled her morning ritual. She took her normal spot in front of it all.
I sipped my lemonade, waiting like I had been for the last ten years for God to give me a nudge.
“Oh hello, Jazz.” My grey tiger looked at me with whiskered contentment as he slinked out of the kitchen door. He joined me on the porch swing and did laps around my legs, long tail sweeping my face until he finally settled next to me. The moment he spotted Vicky, his ears sprang back and he became focused, like a gray bullet waiting to be released. “That’s Vicky, and if you chase her away you’ll go right back in the house!” Vicky flitted to the honeysuckle climbing up the shed.
The redhead started chanting to a girl rushing into the brick-framed door about God and His great love for mankind. I don’t think she paid attention to real love, but she seemed to think that she was divine representation. She quoted scripture skewed with anger. Her companions held up signs that went unread.
On the other side of the sidewalk, a different group held up their own signs, all in the name of the same kind of love.
Vicky kept up her dance around the yard, staying clear of Jazz and the porch.
“Lord, if only you’d send that redhead to my porch for awhile.” I held the lemonade to my cheek, thankful that I added the ice.
A dark haired woman, caught between pinchable cheeks and fine lines, walked with eyes on the sidewalk in front of my yard. She glanced at the red bricks and the redhead and continued walking, oblivious to the song Vicky was trying to sing to her from the honeysuckle.
A breeze lifted the hair off of my neck and brought a prayer to mind. With a pause to wonder if my imagination was toying with me again, I closed my eyes and sent a query with the breeze.
Vicky joined us again, little feet on the yellow blossoms. She lifted her head, but stayed on her perch as the young woman walked by again, this time stopping behind the myrtle tree. Clutching her arms she peeked at the building from her hiding place. Two women in scrubs walked toward the building, heads down and pace quickening past the chanting crowd. A man in a safari hat joined the redhead and yelled scriptures about loving life with a voice that painted hatred. He grabbed a sign and thrust it in front of the women’s faces.
The woman behind the myrtle tree turned in a run, but her escape was thwarted by the sidewalk raised by roots searching for their own escape.
She fell, hitting her shoulder on the crumbling curb. I ran to her and helped her up, holding her so she could cover her ripped sleeve turned crimson. We walked back to the porch.
“Come with me, honey, I have lemonade.” A hand fluttered to her middle as she sat on the swing.
Jazz eyed her in feline judgment, walking across her legs like he does to everyone. Finally, he settled down with a head resting against her belly. The woman stroked his head while her face got lost in a loosened ponytail.
“Thank you.” She took the lemonade and drank like it was living water. I cleaned up her shoulder while Vicky sang us a sweet tune.
We sat there, watching the picket line swarm like bees in the spring. I saw Jazz loving the strange woman and knew he could feel the pulse of a broken heart.
“You’d think they were mad at the world, wouldn’t you?” I said.
She just nodded and watched as the redhead launched into a song about life and love.
“Do you believe in God?” The woman asked.
“He is here enough for me to be convinced.” I stood up and lowered the porch blinds that my son had installed last summer. Sometimes the sun was welcome gift; sometimes it was an invasion.
She glanced at the crowd and let sorrow slip down her cheeks. “I suppose you hear about Him often.” I handed her a tissue from the box on the flower stand.
“I hear from Him. But not through them.”
She looked at me through brown hair. Jazz nudged her with his head, receiving an absent scratch.
I breathed in, deep and wide like the fountain of eternity, waiting for words that were better than the ones I knew. I sat in the swing next to her and longed for the breeze to prompt me.
“He’s my best friend.”
Her shoulders slumped like I had just read it to her from the signs across the street. “How do you know? And how does anyone know, really? He is supposed to love and yet I see His words shoved in the faces of women who are scared. What is that about?”
I set down my cup and watched Vicki make friends with another bluebird. They made a chorus that was much sweeter than the angry hymn in front of them.
“I take the time to listen. He doesn’t speak from behind a picket line. Love doesn’t do that. He walks beside you, and showers down grace for your journey.”
We sat and watched the protestors sweat through their cause, loosing momentum as the sun made its way toward the hills. Vicki left with a group of friends, while Jazz went on his daily inspection of the yard.
“How do I know what He’s saying?” The woman pulled her hair back into a ponytail and walked to the rail where a handful of people in scrubs left the bricks and mortar.
“You become His friend, and just listen. For me, it’s the breeze.” My thoughts turned to my late husband, Arnold, and I felt the ache of loss pulling on my heart. Greedily I drank in the memory that flitted along my mind’s eye like Vicky does around the yard. From deep within my belly, a spring of laughter rose up and pushed its way out of my lips, long and full.
The woman looked at me for a moment. I could tell she was contemplating my sanity, so I got up to raise the blinds again, to gather my thoughts back to the porch.
“My late husband used to hear from Him in dreams. One night after our wedding, he woke me up at three a.m. to tell me about the two boys we had. When he finally realized it was a dream, he laughed and we both continued to laugh until two and a half years later found us with two beautiful boys, unplanned. That’s when we learned to pay attention to his dreams, knowing they may be telling our story.”
The woman smiled and watched the sky as a few stars woke to the night.
A cricket began its performance before she left her seat. “I better go. Thanks for the lemonade. And the kindness.”
Most days after that, Vicki, Jazz and I continued to watch the redhead and her band of misguided warriors, hating others in the name of love.
Two weeks later, the young brunette returned to the brick building, free from the redhead and her chorus. She walked toward the door while I sent prayers on every breeze that came across my porch. Four feet in front of the entrance, she stopped when Vicky appeared on the doorknob and offered her the same tune we heard on the porch a few weeks ago. The woman sank to the ground as Vicki stayed with her and shared a story the bricks had never heard.
As Vicki and our brown-haired friend communed with God, the redhead approached them, ready to pounce. I met her at the myrtle tree.
“Good morning, ma’am. You always look so worn out by the end of the day – would you like to sit awhile on my porch and sip some lemonade?”
The sun caught her hair and for a moment, framed her face in a halo.
“Did you say something to that woman? The clinic is not open yet, and she’s leaving.”
Sure enough, the brunette walked back down the street where I first saw her, but not before she looked at me with a hand over her heart. I blew her a kiss and welcomed Vicki back to the yellow roses.
“Are you disappointed?”
“I…how did you do that?” She let her sign fall to the ground, the breeze taking some of her anger with it. “I’ve been marching for weeks and all you do is sit on your porch and watch. What did you say to make her change her mind?”
“Honey, I didn’t change her mind. It’s just a little quieter on my side of the street.”
“So? Since when does silence teach anything?”
I walked her to the porch and sat her down next to Jazz. He gave her an inspection and then settled on her feet.
“It allows you to hear the love.”
With hair like a flame down her back, she moved to the rail, watching those gathering in front of the clinic as the bricks absorbed the war once again.
I brought out some lemonade while the sun perched above us in accordance with the daily rhythm. And I listened.