“SpaceX’s successfully launched four astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Nov. 10, 2021. They will arrive at the station Thursday evening.
Known as Crew-3, the mission will mark SpaceX’s fourth crewed spaceflight and will ferry NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron and European Space Agency Matthias Maurer on a six-month mission to the space station.”
I find it rather startling that anyone would want to get into a space ship, blast off Earth, and live on a space station for any length of time. Isn’t life precarious enough? Don’t we have problems a-plenty that need to be solved right here?
Yet that has never been the human trajectory. Rather like a seed that is not content to stay under ground, we must break through the soil of our ordinary lives and reach for stars and the possibility of alien life in a reality we can’t fully comprehend.
As I deal with the most recent trial in the form of my father’s death, I have to face the fact that part of me would like to take a ride to a far-off uncertainty than deal with complex, often unpleasant, experiences here on Earth.
Perhaps that is why I enjoy writing science fiction and enter a different world with problems that aren’t mine. It is also why I enjoy writing poetry. A poem can get to the heart of human experience without any actual bloodshed. It wiggles between the barbs of misunderstanding, flounces right past correct judgment, and digs deep into shared truth.
Poetry is in a class by itself, bucking the system from the get-go. Though not always considered classy, rhyming poems offer me more than common-everyday prose. I like their feel and sound. I enjoy the challenge of finding words to fit a theme. But most importantly, I like how poems mean something even when they appear to be hanging upside down from a tree branch. In a poem, I can’t really be wrong or out of style, stupid or ignorant. I’m simply seeing. Feeling. Living through words. Becoming more than just me in a we-centered communion.
Perhaps that is how astronauts feel while circling the Earth. They literally are “above it all.” They fly hi and see what they can see. Learn what they can learn. Like explorers of old, they take the human imagination into new territory. Writers attempt much the same. Reaching up on our tiptoes and then taking a leap into the air, which can’t possibly sustain us, we move from certainty into the “what if?” unknown. Though we can’t touch the sun or—as of yet—an alien hand, for a brief moment, we can see ourselves, our earthly existence, from a new perspective.
So, though I’m not heading out into space myself, I get it. Precarious as our lives may be, full of troubles aplenty, we’re also an amazingly strong, brave, inventive, creative, determined race of beings who can—on occasion—rise above.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
As a child, I wanted to know who the “good guys” were as opposed to the “bad guys.” Angels and devils jostled for position while I searched for my place in the world. The irony is that the bedrock of my identity, despite far more mechanized systems and the honest recognition of hidden realities, is clearer to me now than ever.
Growing up, robots were a part of the fiction genre. Though from the 1960s into the 1990s some form of “robots” did exist, they certainly weren’t a measurable influence in my daily life. I never thought of them or considered them “real.” Today, I can hardly live without them. Since bots typically imitate or replace human behavior and more than half of all web traffic is generated by bots, I depend upon them in innumerable ways on any given day. From bot managers that protect my website to chatbots, social bots, shopbots, web crawlers, and others, I wouldn’t even be able to get the answers I “need” from the Google Universe if they didn’t exist.
Does my world now sit on a bot fulcrum? Good bots assist my search needs, but bad bots hijack human credibility and try to steal my credit card info. Bots are a fact of life, a fiction story that has come true.
Once upon a time, “facts” seemed measurable and trustworthy. Robots were controllable. We knew where they began and we ended. Or where we began and they ended. Or… But now there are days when I answer the phone, ask a question online, or interact on social media, and I wonder—Who am I talking to? What am I talking to?
Is it any wonder that human beings stumble over who—and what—we are in response to this brave new world of ours?
I’ve never considered myself a mere human being existing in a natural world. Perhaps it is my Catholic upbringing which, though not particularly well-informed, nevertheless kept my head tilted in the up position—staring at the stars for a glimpse of the beyond, the life I could not see and didn’t expect to truly comprehend. I have always believed that I am part of a supernatural reality. My existence here on Earth feels more like a temporary exile than a home-sweet-home.
When television shows offered science fiction stories like the Twilight Zone, I was okay with that. As far as I was concerned, life here has always been a twilight zone. We see but a veiled reality, flashes of truth, splintered fragments of each other’s wholeness.
Before you cart me off to the nearest Shady Side for the Mentally Unmoored, allow me to say that I am at peace with bots as well. I find it ironically amusing that we have created mechanical assistants who like angels and devils assist or haunt every step we take.
Truth, for me, is not found on Google. Certainty does not revolve around my limited human identity. I started writing about my human journey in a series of posts as my husband faced the end of his earthly existence, dying from Leukemia in his early 50s, and while I raised my young kids as a single mom. My Road Goes Ever On, Spiritual Being, Human Journey is not simply a plaintive catalog listing, “Boy, life sure is confusing as heck!” examples, but rather the tentative steps of a person attempting to find her identity, her purpose of existence, her value as a human being—and something more—in a world ever more dependent on unfeeling, non-human, mechanized systems.
During the years I wrote those posts, I experienced a great deal of pain and joy, disaster and triumph, but the person that made me, me, remained much the same. Now, I see that as a good thing.
I have gotten to know myself on deeper levels and learned to trust my intuition and judgment. I am a better informed, perhaps a more completely formed, version of myself. And happily, I accept our bot-run reality as just another facet of our current twilight zone existence. If anything, it shows, ever more honestly, that there is more to life than facts, and fiction tells the truth in a world that we cannot fully see.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
July decided that it wanted to make a name for itself before August elbowed its way to the front of the line, so the temperatures sky-rocketed in the latter half of July. It was weird to see empty fields where rows of corn and beans used to dominate the summer landscape.
Sure, families had planted gardens, but they were tiny compared to what I was used to seeing. What the winter would look like, no one could tell. I shuddered to think about the spring. Few people had supplies to last that long.
My zucchini was all but done, and only one giant sunflower lifted its head against the bright blue sky. The lettuce had bolted, though I pulled the last few tough leaves off the thick stems to add garnish to every meal. All the potatoes and onions had been pulled and hauled inside. I was rather proud of the cardboard boxes layered with my homegrown produce. I shifted the boxes onto a dark shelf in the basement where they were sure to stay dry. I planned to use lots of white onions when I made salsa. Just waiting for the tomatoes to do their thing and ripen in a big bunch to make a canning day worth the effort.
Feeling a tad lonesome, I let the oldest cat, Earl, into the house where he slept on the chair in the living room most days. His rickety old body could hardly jump the distance, and I knew there’d be a day when he’d fall back to the floor in cat disbelief. But for now, he was someone to talk to. Even if I knew full well that he was dreaming his last days away.
With the high humidity and heat, I didn’t feel terribly hungry mid-week. I had spent most of the day clearing out the back shed in the expectation that when Liam and the kids did make it home, we’d have to think seriously of getting a couple of cows and expanding our chicken run. We’d have to store hay for the winter and figure out how to grow our own feed grain. Other people were making adaptions—necessitating the use of every old barn and shed in the county. Wood and metal for roofing were going for a premium price. I had to make the most of what I had. And that meant clearing out the dusty space and shoring up the frame so it wouldn’t collapse over the winter.
Hot, sticky, and fearing the revenge the spiders would perpetrate on me for wiping out their webs, I trudged into the kitchen planning on nothing more than tomato slices and a glass of water for dinner.
I nearly had a heart attack when I saw a man sitting at my kitchen table. My first thought was that Liam had finally made it home, but then I realized that this guy was much too young.
He stood up and faced me, not a hint of a smile on his face. “I’ve got bad news, Mrs. Oxley.” I swallowed and gripped the kitchen counter. I didn’t want him to tell me…
I Had a Spirit
The temperatures continued to zig-zag right into August, but a storm front promised cooler temperatures soon. At least, that’s what Ben said when he returned with Dana and Juan following at his heels like lost puppies.
I was too depressed to care if an arctic winter was in the forecast. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I’d never see Liam again. That I had missed his last days, his last moments. His burial.
The tomatoes and peppers had ripened nicely, and with the pile of onions I had stored away, I had enough fresh ingredients, with bartered cilantro from a family in town, to make a decent batch of salsa. Luckily, I had stocked up on vinegar last year. The extra gallon came in handy with all the pickling and canning I was doing.
After washing the five gallon’s worth of tomatoes, I sat on the hardwood bench at the kitchen table and cut off the bad parts, and sliced the juicy red goodness into tiny pieces. Next, I worked on the pile of bright red and green peppers, and finally, I faced the dreaded onions. I didn’t need a reason to cry. I had plenty.
Flies swarmed the pots and dove into my face, adding to my frustrations. Hot and sticky with a storm front pushing the humidity into the unbearable zone, I worked mechanically. Focusing on one step at a time.
Grab an onion by the tail
Slice one side.
Chop into rings.
Turn and chop into cubes.
Drop the pile into the pot.
Wipe my stinging eyes.
“You want some help?”
I looked up. There was Dana reaching for a knife and settling across from me at the table. Guess I didn’t need to answer. She could read my mind. Or so she thought.
I sniffed back stinging tears and lost my rhythm. I was supposed to be cubing, but I went to the sink and splashed water on my face instead.
After patting my eyes dry with a towel, I looked at my daughter. Why was I so angry at her? She hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, she had done everything right. Found her brother. Made her way home. Gone off and looked for her dad. And found him. And buried him.
“Mom? You okay?”
I stared at the onions. I wanted to hate them. But I couldn’t. “No. Not okay.”
Dana stopped chopping. “Me neither.” She had dropped her head onto her chest and I could tell by the heaving action that she was either sobbing silently or about to throw up. Or both. Maternal instinct to the rescue, I ran over and…
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At precisely noon, my brown kitchen light dimmed to black. The clock blinked off. The internet disconnected. The refrigerator stopped humming. The hot water heater stopped heating. The freezer stopped freezing. And I couldn’t get a dial tone on my phone.
Discombobulated, I knew I should be freaking out, but a strange calm flowed over me.
The crunching of a car heading down our gravel lane broke the silence.
I stepped out on the porch and waved.
Our neighbor, Josh slowed down. He rolled down the window and came to a stop. A perplexed grin spread over his face. “Something funny’s going on, Rosie.”
I shrugged his concern away. “Just a power outage. We’ve had ‘em before.”
He blinked and shook his head. “I was at the café in town, sitting around with the guys talking, and Mark said his daughter was having a brown out, just like we were.”
Six of my aged hens crossed the driveway, heading for the pine woods behind the woodpile. I watched the collie out of the corner of my eye. She liked to bark at them, thinking she could scare an extra egg loose. “Well, it’s no—”
“Mark’s daughter lives in Australia.”
I snorted in disbelief. “Coincidences do happen.”
So, Ray called his brother in Anchorage, and would you believe it? But they’re having power issues too.”
Another car came up behind, Josh’s wife, Linda. Under normal circumstances, I’d have waved Linda inside for a cup of tea, but the look on her face told me that she knew I wasn’t going to be heating up a pot of anything soon. Her eyes, wide and scared, sent prickles down my arms. “Hey, Linda. Don’t look so worried! You’ll scare your husband—”
Linda ran from the car to her husband’s cruise and practically tore the driver’s side door open. “The power is out in every town and city as far as anyone knows!”
“But you can’t know.” I shoved fear away, as far as I could with every ounce of logic that my brain could muster. “So, there’s some power outages across the world. That hardly means that everyone is out. Could be a weird sun thing. A grid failure that knocked out a bunch of places at once. Perhaps there’s an internet virus.” I shrugged. “Give it a few hours. There’s no way we won’t get this fixed.”
Linda turned on me and for the first time in our friendship, I realized that I didn’t really know her.
“You’re being stupid, Rosie. Completely stupid!” She stalked back to her car, yelling over her shoulder. “Get home, honey. We better prepare for the worst.” She slammed her car door and opened the window as she passed, following Josh. “Just be glad your family is with you, Rosie. My mom is three states away, and Jared is working in Indiana. I just hope to God that they can make their way here before things get bad.”
Without the least regard for one of my cats ambling across the road, Linda raced after her husband. I knew I wouldn’t be inviting her in for anything any time soon.
But as I made my way toward the house, her words rang in my ears. “Before things get bad…”
Failed to Send
There was nothing to do but finish making bread. It seemed like the most reasonable course. Besides, whole wheat bread straight from the oven soothes even the most troubled soul. I ambled back to the kitchen, put the loaves in the oven, and turned it on low to help them rise.
The oven didn’t respond.
I nodded. So okay. Not a brilliant move, but I wasn’t about to be thrown off by my first setback. I placed the loaves on the counter. They would rise eventually. On impulse, I texted my sister. Sarah always maintained an upbeat disposition under the most trying situations, and besides, I wanted to know what happened to poor Bill. He wasn’t really poor. The guy made more money than Liam. I dashed off a quick note.
Failed to send.
Then my heart started to race. I dashed off a text to Liam.
Failed to send.
I tried calling Dana.
I tried Juan.
I stared at my phone like it had betrayed me…really let me down.
Now I knew what being lost at sea must feel like. The ground had fallen away, and there were no walls to grab onto. No ceiling. Nothing but a world of non-functioning tools and toys.
I looked at the stovetop to see the time, but, of course, that didn’t tell me anything. The house was quiet. Even the road was silent. I walked outside and strolled into the backyard.
The sun perched high and the birds were singing their pretty little heads off. I wanted to talk with someone, but town was a couple of farm fields away. A long walk.
My stomach clenched into a tight knot.
The big maple outside my bedroom window sported seed pods that helicoptered to the ground. It usually seemed amusing to watch them whirl about and land in masses, covering the ground. But they didn’t seem particularly funny now.
I told them the hard truth. “Most of you won’t make it to the next season—you realize that don’t you?”
Well, that was morbid.
I shivered in the sun. A big wooden swing set that Liam had arranged under the grape arbor beckoned, so I made my way over and perched on the edge. The garden beds had recently been turned over and potatoes, onions, even lettuce seeds had been planted. The tomato and pepper plants still sat in flats on the front porch. Liam would get to them next week.
My fingers inched toward me phone, so I pulled it out, leaned back on the swing, savored the earthy garden scent, and imagined the story I would tell my beloved—once I got ahold of him.
I tapped his number. Nothing. I texted. Failed to send. I squinted in the strong light, trying to make out how much battery power I had left. About half.
I rubbed the back of my neck.
A couple of vultures circled overhead. Thanks, guys. Really. Can’t you go intimidate someone else?
Before I knew it…
For more episodes, visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey.
Trees, in their giantess of spirit, talk to me on a daily basis. Thank God, or I don’t know who I’d go to for advice.
It’s the end of a long day—a Monday to be exact—and as hectic, overflowing Mondays have the uncanny habit of following slow, afternoon-nap Sundays, I fight the desire to head out to the edge of my property and simply be with my dear friend. No words necessary. Oak always understands.
I wouldn’t have to go into the tedious details concerning the weird dream where I painted a dirty wall then promptly tossed a blanket over a messy box that really deserved to be cleaned out, but, in dream-world impossibility, the blanket would simply have to do.
No need to explain the emails. How does one respond to sincere attempts to communicate in a world where opinions rampage like charging horses in a medieval joust, and it’s frankly disloyal—perhaps even disingenuous—to cheer?
Gordian knot, you’re playing with me.
Today’s foraging through the shops demanded keen instinct—keep to the designated list despite the fact that items left over from the holidays were practically a steal. Who wants to steal holiday decorations when looking forward to spring? Yeah, sure, there’s always next year… But tonight’s dinner quandary demanded my attention more. Fruits and vegetables. A last stand between winter and spring festivities. That or admit that ol’ Oak and I have more in common than I’d like to admit in matters of girth.
Noon found me strolling. Oak greeted me, always the gentlefolk, waving last seasons crumpled brown leaves, rustling a soothing tune. I still had a story to write, online school plans to cajole, money matters with which to contend, and dinner to devise.
Oak didn’t mind a bit of it. The wind blew. Clouds scuttled. With plaintive meows, cats arched their back in invitation, and dogs raced like puppies. A red bird shot onto the woods, a blue bird flashed by, and an eagle soared. If I wasn’t one with nature, it wasn’t for Oak’s lack of trying. Steadfast par excellence.
Pasta with two kinds of toppings kept the kids’ bodies and souls in happy coexistence. Presently sage and citrus incense burn over the glowing heater while Henrietta hamster daintily chips away at her carrot. I am staring at dark windows, knowing full well that Oak is still and quiet this time of night. He doesn’t need to speak. He just needs to be.
Maple out my bedroom window wakes me each morning with waving branches, seasonally decorated. I’m waiting for the spring-fairies to visit. Any day now. Pines pierce the sky, tossing their still-green branches in see-what-I-still-have proud display. A forgotten nest sways, unbroken, a hopeful reminder of summer guests.
In a time-is-running-out reality dotted with doubt, my arboreal familiars offer more than words can say. They speak in rustles, rough texture, variegated colors, off-white tones, but most honestly in their very existence. To be is their way.
No proof. No judgment. No certitude or pride.
To have been created says all. Alive. Perhaps not always perfectly. Rot infests the best of us. But speak, they do well.
Advice is best offered after sampled, and so, I find it true.
“Sucked into Black Holes During Sleep, They Share Their Darkest Secrets.”
Bruno read the headline twice, promptly running his cart into the store shelf. Stunned, he jerked his gaze off his phone.
“Hey, not supposed to read while driving.” A woman, fifties, blunt-cut, short hair, laughed with shining eyes.
Shocked, Bruno stashed his phone in his pocket and shoved his cart alongside the shelf, a guilty child trying to hide the evidence. He forced a grin. No words forthcoming.
She sidled up, her smile dimming by degrees. “Sorry. I tried to warn you. But you were so intent—”
He scratched his head. He didn’t want to have a conversation. A lie formed before his conscience could object. “I had to check a text—”
She lifted a hand. “Not my business. I was being stupid.” Her gaze took in the contents of his cart.
Dang, it. An extra-large bag of his dad’s Depends and a bright blue denture cleaner box bared the naked side of human misery. In revenge, he snuck a look at her cart. Red hair dye and blue nail polish. He glanced at her. Grey hair, fingers unadorned. He frowned.
She grimaced. “My mom’s dealing with that crap too. She was at Wayside, but with everything, I brought her home and got home healthcare. It’s better, but not really good, if you know what I mean.”
Relief, like a spring breeze, washed over Bruno. “Dad’s still on his own, sort of. Lives in the apartment above me. Neither of us can give up our independence. But…”
She snatched up the box of dye. “She gets bored and depressed. So, every couple of months I do a new treatment. This month—” Her lips flapped as she blew a puff of air. “Rad red! I’d like to take her out to eat or something—”
Bruno shrugged in compassionate understanding. “Hell trying to keep ’em on their feet.”
She snorted but a smile crept back into her eyes. “It was easier with a toddler. I could toss them into a cart and strap ‘em in.”
“My twins gave me weekly heart attacks, but they grew out of their hijinks.” Bruno tried not to let the next thought tear his heart out.
With a commander’s wave, she redirected her cart. “Well best of luck then, and keep an eye out for where you’re heading.”
“Ha. I’ll be more careful.” I’m not going anywhere.
Bruno flipped three grilled cheese sandwiches and then stirred a pot of creamy tomato soup. “Lunch is ready, Dad.”
His dad hobbled in. Using his cane with deft power, he nudged a kitchen chair aside and plunked down at the table with a long sigh. “Smells good. He stretched his neck, peering at the pot. “You add something extra?”
“Lots of garlic salt.” He slid one sandwich onto a plate and placed it on the table. Then he poured the soup into a wide bowl and set it alongside. He fixed his own meal, grabbed a couple of spoons, and dropped them into place. He plopped down on a chair across from his dad, folded his hands, and bowed his head.
Hurried sign of the cross, a quick prayer, and they started in.
Slurps and clanks of metal on glass accompanied their chewing and swallowing.
The old man glanced up, wiped his chin, and huffed. “Anything new in the big world?”
Bruno shrugged as he swallowed his last bite. “I ran into a shelf and some strange woman laughed at me.”
His eyes widening in horror, the old man spluttered. “The wretched—”
Bruno grinned. “I wasn’t looking where I was going, and she was nice enough.” He pulled out his phone. “I wanted to check something, and I got stopped by a headline—something about people falling into a black hole. Caught my attention at a weak moment. Smack. Hit the toothpaste shelf full speed.”
Grinning, the old man rested his spoon on his empty bowl and tucked the used napkin underneath. “Good thing you didn’t hit a middle aisle. You could’ve set off a cascade of cat food.” He frowned. “What were you checking?”
A blush burned Bruno’s face. “There was such a variety of adult diapers. I had no idea.”
Dropping his gaze, a flush darkened his dad’s cheeks. “Aw, hell. I wish—”
“Don’t, dad. It’s not so bad. Everyone has stuff to deal with. That woman’s mom is depressed and needs a new perm every month.” He leaned in and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “And likes to have her nails done. I’ll take a bag of Depends over that any day.”
The old man’s hand shook as he reached across the table and pressed his son’s fingers.
Though dark clouds scuttled in from the north and the temperature was dropping, there was still enough time to get in one more lap around the park. Bruno shook the last vestiges of tension from his shoulders and focused on a pair of squirrels chasing each other around a tree.
He promptly bumped shoulders with a woman jogging by on his left.
Huffing, she scowled and stopped. “Hey! Look where—”
She looked strangely familiar. Embarrassment and dripping sweat sent an uncomfortable chill down Bruno’s back. “Sorry. I was—”
“Oh, you again.” A smile quirked her lips. “But you’re not texting and driving, at least. Thank God for that.”
A park bench behind the central swing set beckoned.
“I’m ready for a break. You?”
She nodded. “Sure. Mom’s napping, so I sneak out on the weekends to get in a little R & R.”
Trudging across the dead winter grass, he puffed a laugh. “You call running rest and relaxation?”
She plodded alongside. “Don’t you?”
He waited while she brushed broken twigs aside and plopped down.
They breathed freely for a few moments, gazing at the quiet park.
A trio of squirrels scampered past.
Bruno wagged his finger. “It was their fault, really. I got caught up in their drama.”
Laughter filled the park. A happy sound. She settled into a giggle. “Yeah, it’s always something, isn’t it?”
He turned. “How’s your mom doing?”
She blinked and swallowed. “Okay. Not really thrilled with the red. She wants to go back to being a blond, but with her wispy threads, it wouldn’t be pretty. Need something to distract the eye, if you know what I mean.” Changing course, she clapped one mittened hand over the other and focused on him. “And your dad. How’s he?”
“Scarfs down my grilled cheese and tomato soup like it’s going out of style.”
A fresh laugh, softer, but honest and appreciative.
Two plump robins hopped nearby.
He nudged her and signaled with his eyes.
She smiled. “Wish I brought something. Breadcrumbs…”
She cleared her throat. “You ever bring your dad out to eat? Like to your kids’ place or—”
He tipped his head. “I would, but they live in California. An airport would be a nightmare.” He cut his glance aside. “Yours?”
“Naw. They’re not very patient with her. Nice enough when I do everything, but they’re mostly eat-outers.”
Like a bobblehead, he just nodded a bit.
The clouds parted, and a ray of sunshine illuminated the park, bathing the playground in golden light.
“I have a ramp up to the kitchen door. A neighbor helped with it. Got treads and everything.”
Two of the squirrels perched on a branch, sitting amiably. The third bounded toward the swings.
“Your mom likes grilled cheese?”
Though her head stayed down, a smile lit her face brighter than sunshine. “She loves it.” She looked over, shifting in her seat, getting a firmer position. “I make a fantastic beef stew. Really easy to chew but nutritious as all get out.”
“Really?” He pulled out his phone. “You know, I read that black holes have been catching people while they sleep. Thought maybe you’d like to help me keep watch out for ‘em.” He cleared his throat, scrounging up his courage. “Maybe we could have dinner together sometime—your mom, my dad—us.”
A glimmer entered her eyes as her smile widened. “Oh, yeah. Got to keep our eye out for those pesky black holes. They swallow people alive, I hear, unless we help each other out.”
He stood and pointed across the park. “My place is just there. Dad’s got his own ideas about things—but he’s feisty enough to keep black holes at bay. Care to meet him?”
She stood and squared her shoulders. “Only if you’re willing to meet my mom. God knows what color her hair will be.”
He laughed as he nudged her forward. “Long as she hasn’t been swallowed whole—she’ll be all right with me.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
Shailyn jerked upright in bed, jolted from the other world back into her own. The usual, odd discomfort dogged her as she peeled back the heavy bed covers, then trod to the bathroom for her daily ablutions.
I belong there haunted her thoughts as she tugged on her jeans and a heavy sweater, though she knew, realistically, she couldn’t live there. As a between-worlder, she was powerless to pick a permanent lodging.
Shivering in the cold morning air, she plodded to the kitchen and gratefully poured herself a cup of steaming coffee. Her daughter, Win, always got up first and made sure that the pot was full and piping hot before she left for work. Bless that girl.
Retreating to the comfort of the living room, Shailyn added a log to the burning embers in the woodstove and sat on the sturdy rocker before the big bay windows. February rain slanted across the glass as pine boughs swayed against the gray sky.
Misty, her daughter’s tiny pup, scampered into the room and leapt into her lap, squirming with all the energy of young life.
Struggling to keep her coffee from spilling, Shailyn nudged the quadruped to a comfortable spot on her lap, took a sip of the dark brew, and then sat back and closed her eyes. Dream images of herself traipsing along the muddy bank of a beautiful lake, a distant, untidy cottage, and a huge water bird charging with flapping wings over a line dug in the earth while intoning, “Stay where you belong!” sent confused sensations rippling over her body.
Pounding steps echoed down the staircase. Her eldest, Morgan, tromped to the kitchen, splashed coffee into his oversized mug, and then meandered to her side. His hair disheveled and dressed in dark jeans, a pullover sweater, and boots, he peered over his cup as he took his first hurried gulp.
Shailyn waited. She knew what was coming. Just like she knew what her answer would be. Though she’d have to gather strength from somewhere else to make her words believable.
“You’ll be there to pick her up, right?”
“Absolutely. Once I get my old bones ready to face the day.”
“May’s going to need all the help she can get, but I have to handle the newest crises breaking out at work.”
“You take care of your business, and I’ll do mine.”
A snort turned Shailyn’s gaze from the tears streaming down the window pane.
“Technically, she’s not your responsibility. She’s my stepdaughter.” He shook his head. “If only—”
“Stop!” She couldn’t handle if-onlys today. There was no changing the past. No bringing the dead back to life. She glanced at her son’s weary, wounded soul peeking through his gray-green eyes. “She’s all our responsibility—everyone who has a heart to love, should.”
“It’s a lot to ask—by all rights, you’d be in retirement now, enjoying your last days, not taking care of a disabled kid.”
The wind picked up as rage surged through Shailyn. “She’s not a disabled kid! She’s a wounded child. Just like you’re a wounded man, though your wounds are on the inside.”
Chastened, Morgan swallowed the last drops and eyed his mom. “Most are.” He trod to the kitchen, placed the cup on the counter, and called out as he yanked open the door. “She’d be ready at ten. The nurse will have all her stuff packed, and they’ll fold and load the wheelchair for you, so don’t mess with it. May can walk into the house with help. Just get her settled downstairs. I’ll do the rest when I get home.”
The picture of May’s imploring, chocolate brown eyes following her as she puttered around the house sent shivers down her arms. She frowned and bit her lip.
A glittery box stuffed into the bookshelf caught her eye. Jessica from church thought that she’d enjoy an “epic puzzle” in her old age and had sent her one with a thousand pieces. She nudged the pup’s warm body from her lap and rose to her feet. She waved to her son through the window.
The box-cover picture, a fairy child plucking a blue flower under the umbrella of a wide, red-spotted mushroom, while raindrops splattered against the sheltering roof and vibrant grass stems bent in gentle perfection, soothed Shailyn’s soul.
May pressed a border piece into place, her eyes shining at the mighty accomplishment. “I got this side done.”
“You’re quick. I’m only halfway through my edge.”
“They gave me lots of puzzles to do at the hospital.” May’s gaze traveled to the couch loaded with stuffed animals and three colorful blankets. “Giving me stuff makes them feel better, I think.”
Shailyn held a corner piece and considered her options. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to help. Or attempting to make you feel better.”
“They couldn’t keep mom alive or fix my back.” She shrugged. “Not in this world.”
Shailyn pressed her piece into place and sat back. She rubbed her cold hands. “I’m going to stoke the fire and check the stew. You want anything while I’m up?”
“You have any chocolate milk?”
“I’ve got milk and cocoa packets. If I get wild and mix them—well, we’ll see what happens.”
A grin peeked through May’s eyes.
Darkness had laid the landscape still and silent by the time Morgan slipped in the back door. He shoved the wheelchair against the wall and unfolded it, ready for action.
Shailyn met him in the kitchen. “There’s stew left. Though you’re lucky. May managed to work her way through two bowlfuls, much to my amazement.”
Staring through haggard eyes, Morgan pulled off his coat and tossed it on a chair. “She always amazes me. Like her mom. Resilient beyond belief.”
Until she wasn’t.
Shailyn shook her head. “Sit down and take a rest. I’ll get it for you.” She glanced at the ceiling, giving due notice to the room above. “She went to bed at eight-thirty. Not a peep since.” Shailyn pulled a plastic container from the refrigerator and poured the chunky liquid into a glass bowl. She placed it in the microwave and hit two.
Morgan leaned on the worn wooden table, resting his head on his hand. “She do okay? And you—it wasn’t too much?”
“Define too much.” Shailyn shrugged. “She put half a puzzle together at the speed of lightning, slurped down a large chocolate milk, put away two bowls of stew, and agreed to my syllabus for home school for the rest of the semester.”
“Ma, you sure you want—”
The microwave beeped repeatedly, warning that it could keep stew hot only so long.
Morgan stood and waved his mom off. “Sit; relax. I’ll get it.” He pulled the hot stew from the microwave, rummaged in the cupboard for bread, and plunked down on his chair, ready to dig into his assembled meal. He took a large scoop, savored it, and then stared at his mom, his eyebrows finishing his question.
Shailyn peeled a banana and sat opposite. “I’m hardly the best teacher in the world, but I can help her through her online classes. We don’t know what next year will look like, but for now, this is where she should be. You and Win manage this big, old rambling house; I keep it stocked with healthy dinners and fun snacks. We’re family. What else should I be doing—putting bigger puzzles together?”
“You could be traveling, seeing the world, visiting friends…”
“I could be laying in the cemetery, cold and stiff. Lots of could be’s. All fantasy. What is—makes the world go around. I’m right where I belong.”
His shoulders relaxing as the weight of a grievous month lifted just a bit, Morgan offered a lopsided grin.
After dressing in comfortable, warm sweats in the quiet of her room, Shailyn stretched out on her bed, turned off the light, pulled her blanket over her shoulders, and slipped into dreams that would take her away but could never keep her.