Open Your Eyes: A Tale of the Miracle Season

#Episode 1
Beth (August, 1991)

“Dude, are you over here? I’ve looked just about everywhere else, but I probably should’ve started here.

Seriously, man. Stop hiding from me.  Are you…?”

          Irritated, Beth looked up, the skin around her nose scrunching in the precise way her mom always warned her might freeze if she kept making a face. She watched with a sigh as the sleeping fawn she’d been trying to sketch for the last hour stood on its wobbly legs and did its best to flee into the underbrush as the unseen boy continued to ramble loudly. She’’d gotten the drawing probably two-thirds done before she was interrupted, fine pencil lines and charcoal smudges floating as guides around the fine-tip pen she’d decided to use to ink. Thanks to the preteen’s rampage, her subject had finally found its footing well enough to disappear deeper into the forest. She’d have to see later tonight if she couldn’t recreate what was missing from memory.
          Getting up, she dusted the grass off the legs of her charcoal cargo shorts and put her sketchbook in the small messenger bag. Carol liked to encourage her artistic impulses in a way her father refused to; in fact, her first set of pencils five years ago had come from her aunt. She’d gotten the bag and her current sketchbook as her birthday present last year. Given all that, it wasn’t a surprise that Aunt Carol was her favorite relative. What was surprising was how well her father and her aunt got along, considering how difficult Beth’s own relationship with the man had become. Carol would come over often and share a beer with her father on the small deck that spilled out of the sliding glass doors in the family room, trading horror stories about their work and the yard work her aunt always claimed she was doing but somehow never finished.
          Her father worked for a small local ice cream company, wrangling the few drivers the place could afford to employ to deliver across upstate New York. They’d had a few write-ups in some of the foodie magazines in the last few years, but they hadn’t blown up as a result. Her mom had worked as a receptionist at the other elementary school across town for as long as Beth could remember, but she had recently gone back to school to try to get a business degree. The Kendalls didn’t have extravagance, but both she and her brother were well taken care of. Their house was small, but tidy. The neighborhood wasn’t the best, but it was safe. The life her parents had built for her and Josh was efficient, practical, and ruthless with the few pennies the family managed to save. In the current economy, it needed to be.
          Beth understood that, of course. Yet, she’d wanted to draw since before she could pronounce words. Art wasn’t practical; it wasn’t going to pay the bills. Maybe teach art in school, her father offered. The world always needs teachers. That’s a career you can count on.
           In some ways, she’d inherited her father’s practicality. She understood the years of future financial insecurity and disappointment her father worried she might endure. She wasn’t a daredevil; it wasn’t the risk that excited her. It was the feeling she got when she captured something she had seen on the page. It was permanence, stability in a different way than the kind her parents, especially her dad, craved. It was the world seen through her eyes, made manifest on the page for everyone. The moment she captured would be recognized as the way she saw it. Then there was the strange sense of serenity she’d find within herself as the seconds ticked into minutes and hours as she drew. She felt more at home sketching than, well, at home.
          Home was a noisy, cramped place. Unlike many of her friends’ families, her parents insisted all four of them eat together at the dinner table, with the television off and nothing but conversation to entertain them. After meals came dish duty, which oftentimes ended up being Beth’s chore. She didn’t mind it terribly, as it kept her from whatever show her parents decided was the family’s choice of television viewing for the night.  She usually curled up on the floor or the end of the navy damask couch with a book, doing her best to ignore whatever was on. That was difficult, because Josh provided an endless commentary on everything he saw and asked a seemingly endless series of questions about all of it. Beth did her best to let the words in front of her mask his voice, alongside her mother’s exasperation and her father’s angry ramblings as he let go of the last of the stress from his day at work.
          She’d needed a place of her own, somewhere removed from her normal life, to give her a chance to focus and see whether she really had what it took to succeed at this art thing. Hiding out at Elena’s house, with her best friend’’s mother’s penchant for redecorating the small ranch every other weekend, only worked for the first week or so as the weather had warmed.
          After that, she’d taken to long walks in Finn’s Wood, the nature preserve that abutted their housing development. She’d taken to slipping away without a warning to her parents, given that they often saddled her with Josh duty if they spotted her. She’d always been a wanderer around the neighborhood, so they never worried much if they didn’t see her around for a few hours. She’d taken such care to not let Josh ever come with her into the woods—indeed; she hadn’t shared this spot with anybody in the hopes that she could keep it to herself. These days she took whatever few moments she could get away from the rugrat. She loved her little brother, but his constant need to tag along and comment on absolutely everything could push her last nerve.
          One day, when he’d been especially clingy, she’d fled the house, as her mother put away the lunch dishes and Josh dumped his Lego box onto the floor to play, and gone exploring in the edge of her development, traipsing through the woods and the wild raspberry bushes, and found several spots where wildflowers had taken root. Sometimes it seems that they were actually flowers she’d seen in people’s yards, but had somehow broken free—rambling flowers traveling the woods like a biker on the highway, anxious to explore every sun-dappled part of the forest floor they could find.
          There were a few trails that four-wheeling teenagers and casual walkers had made through the underbrush at the official start of the preserve’s property and she’d spent only a day or so wandering on them to realize they were far too busy for her purposes. She’d found herself just sort of aimlessly wandering further into the woods, sometimes with the help of a deer path she’d spot and sometimes just charging head on into the underbrush, just to get herself away from the potential interruptions she was trying so hard to avoid.
          Other kids played in the woods, of course. That’s why a month or so ago she’d gone farther than she’d remembered ever going before and stumbled across this slow moving stream. Plenty of flowers grew on or near the banks, clusters of sky blue flowers crowning tall, straw-thick stalks as well as others that looked like croci but were a buttery yellow stood out against the thick spread of flowering weeds. The trees and bushes were pretty dense along the river’s path, so she’’d taken to bringing tall socks or leggings for her treks to keep her legs safe from ticks and other less than friendly biting insects.
          That day she’d stopped to sketch some of the flowers she hadn’t seen before when she heard a splash a bit farther upstream. When she did her best to silently step through the greenery in the direction of the noise, she eventually saw two beavers emerge from the stream’s gentle current, tousling with a large wet branch in the water. She crouched slowly and grabbed some pencils from her bag and did her best to keep her head and upper body as still as possible—a challenge, as she wanted to look at what she was drawing. She did her best, however, and as the stream drew them closer to her, she quickly started to try to sketch the larger one closer to her.
          That was the start of one of her favorite summers on record. She’d come to the stream most days she could get away, sketchbook in hand, and always seemed to find something new waiting for her. If she were lucky, like today, she’d have some sort of animal visitor appear to take a drink or rest by the bank of the water. Even on the days when she wasn’t as fortunate, though, she was content to explore the foliage on the banks of the water and the endlessly shifting pattern of the sun on the water itself. Half her sketchbook was full, and she fully expected it to be filled completely by the time school started up back in the fall. That is, if some loudmouth wouldn’t go and scare away all her subjects.
          Beth could still hear the boy shouting periodically in the distance, but she couldn’t tell from what direction. She dreaded having to give up this spot as she had the others closer to the development—why couldn’t the boys just leave it alone? All packed up, she headed east, following the stream deeper into the forest in hopes of avoiding whatever interruptions the boy and his friend might initiate.

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