Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 12

Tuesday, June 3

“UR UR UR UR Urrrrrr!”

“URRR Ur Ur Urrrrrr!”

First one bantam rooster crowed, then the other, as if they were challenging each other in a raspy barnyard duel. The racket came in through the open window.

What the heck . . . Zera turned over in her bed, pulled the quilt up to her chin. Crowing? She opened her eyes and for a moment couldn’t remember where she was. Then a sensation, bittersweet, swept over her. Bitter because of the lost time, sweet because for the first time in what seemed like forever she didn’t feel disappointed upon waking up and realizing where she was.

The room glowed with the dawn. A chilly breeze pushed through the open window and tousled the curtains. Zera got out of bed, pulling the quilt off and wrapping it around her as she made her way over to the window to close it.

She stopped at the view. The lower mountains surrounding Ute Springs glowed dark purple, blue, and green. Several miles in the distance, Pikes Peak loomed, its snow-white top shining. All this in an Easter egg sky of pink and turquoise . . .

Her gaze traveled to the box of plants sitting on top of her suitcase. Something about them . . . another dream. She couldn’t remember what the dream was about, but she recalled a soothing voice, the comfort of feeling looked after and safe. She was glad they were there with her. I need to find perfect places for all of you today.

Zera dressed and hurried downstairs. In the living room, Cato and Alice wagged their tails in greeting from their sleeping spots on the furniture.

Through the large pocket doors leading into the kitchen, Zera saw Nonny.

“Good mornin’, Sunshine. You’re up with the dawn, just like I knew you’d be.”

Zera grinned back as a ritual, nearly forgotten, came back to her in perfect clarity. “Mornin’, Grandma Moon,” she answered. For as long as she could remember, they had greeted each other by those names in the morning — Sunshine and Grandma Moon.

Nonny nodded toward the dogs. “Still spoiled rotten, as you can see.”

“As they should be,” Zera said.

Nonny took a sip from her coffee mug. “I told Hattie we’d come by and see her today. She called yesterday evening while you were outside and invited us to lunch. Is that all right with you?”

“Sounds great, Nonny.”

*     *     *     *     *

After a morning of chores, tending to the animals, and unpacking her clothes, Zera moved her plants.

Nonny suggested “giving them a summer vacation too,” so Zera brought all but Sunny to the porch. Knowing that they, like people, could be sunburned, she chose a lightly-shaded spot until they got used to being outdoors. The Venus flytrap, whose natural home was in a bog or swamp, stayed upstairs in her room near the window on the table.

Nonny insisted they walk to Hattie’s.

“Are you sure?” Zera said uneasily, thinking about the steepness of the streets and her grandmother’s handicap. “Uncle Theodore said you had a special-equipped car.”

“I do, and the car works fine. So do I. My dear, if people can run the Boston Marathon on one leg, I sure as heck can handle a few blocks.”

Through no fault of Nonny’s, it took them over an hour to get to the bottom of the hill. A half-dozen neighbors spotted them during the seven-block descent, and they all wanted to welcome Zera back and chat for a few minutes.

It seemed to Zera as if the early June morning was beautiful just for her; the temperature pleasantly warm, the sky dotted with white clouds suspended like fat cotton cushions. Zera delighted in them, so close overhead. Her heart, for a change, felt as free and buoyant as they looked. Never had the sky seemed this bright in Piker.

As they walked down Ute Boulevard, the door of Nell’s Coffee House opened. It’s Cosmic Dan! Dan was lanky but moved elegantly. He always wore jeans, usually with a cotton, button-up shirt and cowboy boots. He wore his hair naturally, in a medium-sized Afro, and his exotic features, combined with the fact that he was a virtuoso electric guitarist, reminded not only Zera, but everyone who met him, of the rock legend Jimi Hendrix.

Everyone in town knew Dan’s story. He happened through Ute Springs long ago, on his way to college in California, but he fell in love with the town and stayed. Dan abided by a personal philosophy of “love, live, and learn as much as you can.” He’d sampled twenty professions so far in his life, a new one almost every year, and he’d done it all for fun. He’d been everything from bank teller to ice cream truck driver to city councilperson. Cosmic Dan had also been one of Zera’s father’s closest friends.

“Well hello!” said Nonny. “Look who I have here.”

Cosmic Dan appeared uneasy as he took in Zera. “I knew you were in town, you know how word travels.” His voice sounded strange. He cleared his throat, rubbed the back of his neck above his aqua cowboy shirt. “My goodness, girl, if you don’t look just like your mother.”

Zera beamed. Her grandmother had said exactly the same thing at least three times yesterday. It gave her more pleasure than sadness; she’d always thought her mom was so pretty, and she rarely thought of herself in that way. She went over to Dan and gave him a hug. “Nonny told me about all your help. Thanks.”

Dan looked a little embarrassed. He rubbed his chin. “It was nothing, and I mean nothing.”

The two smiled at each other in silence and Zera couldn’t help but notice, with a little sadness, that Dan’s afro now had some gray hairs.

“How’s your Uncle Theodore doing?” Dan asked.

“Fine. He’s in Los Angeles, at a job interview.”

“I see. Where’re you two headed?”

“To Hattie’s.”

Dan laughed. “Oh yeah, Hattie mentioned that last night. I saw her at the grocery store. Ben was with her and she teased him about all the questions he’d been asking about you.”

“Like what?”

“Not sure, exactly. If I know Ben, he was probably nosing around, seeing if you have a boyfriend.”

“Oh.” Zera didn’t know what to say. Or what to feel, either.

Thankfully, Nonny interrupted. “I hate to rush off, but I told Hattie we’d be there for lunch, and we’re already late, over a half-hour.”

“You’d better get to Hat’s then,” said Dan. “She’s probably about to come looking for you.”

At the end of Ute Avenue they made a right turn up Pawnee Road and began to climb a steep sidewalk riddled with cracks. Nonny Green moved more slowly now, and Zera saw that she was tiring. Zera tried not to worry but had to ask, “Are you all right?”

“It’s only another block,” said Nonny, working her silver cane. “Don’t worry, I’m a tough old bird.”

Zera’s lungs, unaccustomed to the higher altitude, were laboring to fill themselves by the time they reached the wood and stone house at the top of the hill. Parked in front was Hattie’s beat-up old red Toyota truck, Ladybug. Covering the back of Ladybug was a multitude of bumper stickers. One said, TREE HUGGING DIRT WORSHIPPER, another, Lord, help me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am. These were joined by: Love Your Mother (Earth), Who Owns YOU?, Follow Your Bliss, and Skateboarding is Not a Crime!

They climbed the porch’s greenstone steps, and Zera saw Ben’s skateboard near the door. The sight of it made her a little nervous. She’d seen Ben only briefly in her visits back to visit Ute Springs, and when Dan said Ben had been “nosing around” asking if she had a boyfriend . . .

Before she had a chance to finish that thought or knock on the door, the door opened. A tall woman with a full, but not heavy, figure and waist-length, tawny tresses streaked with gray stood before them. Hattie was one-quarter Ute and it showed in her wide nose, dark eyes and generous mouth. She wore a floral print dress, wood jewelry and flip-flops, her finger and toenails painted a glittering cobalt. The expression on Hattie’s face turned from thrilled to concerned as she looked at Zera, then Nonny. She glanced out at the street in front of her house.

“Guinevere, do not tell me you walked here!” Zera was surprised at her upset tone. “What were you thinking?”

“I’m fine, Hattie. Just fine.”

After an exchange of greetings and hugs, Zera and her grandmother followed Hattie’s musky-spice perfume of patchouli through the house and out the back to the enclosed garden.

The soothing sound of Aspen Creek, running along the back of the property, filled Hattie’s garden. Following an elliptical stone path, they passed a compost pile and rabbit hutch before entering into the depths of a half-wild fantasy garden. Metal sculptures and stone statues stood tall among potted blooming tropical plants and vines. Carved faces of beasts peered down from a ten-foot-tall totem pole. In one corner was a tiny pond, surrounded by tall grasses, with a hammock under a cottonwood tree; at another, next to the back fence, stood a picnic table covered with a tablecloth. As they drew nearer, Zera saw their lunch: stuffed pita bread sandwiches, fruit salad, a pitcher of lemonade, and a chocolate cake decorated with real scarlet nasturtiums.

“Mmmm.” Zera murmured. Her stomach growled, loud enough for Hattie to hear.

Hattie chuckled. “Worked up an appetite, eh?”

That was a little embarrassing. “Yeah.”

“You’ve certainly outdone yourself,” Nonny said.

“Guinevere,” Hattie said, placing a hand on Zera’s grandmother’s shoulder and continuing to emanate an aura of concern, “you know I can’t cook. I didn’t make any of it myself, except the lemonade. Jean down at the bakery made the groovy cake. Didn’t even charge me for it. Everyone in town is thrilled you’re back, Zera.”

“Where’s Ben?” asked Nonny.

“At his father’s. He said he wanted to see Zera, but then he took off. I think he got nervous waiting around. He’s a little shy about seeing her. Ah, adolescence.” Hattie winked at Nonny.

“Boys,” said Nonny. “They try to act tough, but . . .”

Zera felt a blush creeping into her cheeks. She had never thought of Ben in that way, aside from that brief moment in fifth grade when he almost kissed her on Valentine’s Day. When she didn’t let him, he acted like it had been a joke, that he didn’t really like her in that way. Though she knew he did. She could tell by the card he had given her. It wasn’t a funny card, or a card featuring some superhero that the other kids traded, but one with a pretty illustration of a heart surrounded by flowers and birds, bought at the drugstore. It was awkward for awhile, but they were still kids, still friends, and so they got over it. When she thought of Ben, memories of summer days flooded back: riding bikes together, building forts from sticks and mud down by the creek, chasing lizards, and eating wild raspberries.

They sat down to eat, using Hattie’s mismatched floral dishes, blue glass goblets, and worn silver-plated cutlery. Everything even tastes better here, Zera thought, as she relished her first bite of sandwich. She didn’t know what she enjoyed more — the company, the food, the garden, or the waterfall sound of the creek.

While enjoying the cake, Hattie said, “Zera honey, your grandmother shared some v-mails about Tiffany. She sounds like a real pain in the butt.”

“I think it bugs her that I’m not one of the popular kids at school,” Zera said. “We don’t have much in common.”

“You’re not mainstream, honey,” Hattie said, “and, believe me, that’s good. Don’t ever feel bad about being true to yourself. It’s kind of sad; Tiffany must be very insecure, or she wouldn’t push so hard.”

“True,” said Nonny, “but I can’t help but to be furious every time I think about how she suggested that Zera change her name.”

“It would never happen, so don’t be furious, Guinevere,” said Hattie, “it’s not good for you.” Hattie raised her glass to Zera. “Here’s to having you back.” As she took a sip of lemonade, Zera noticed how Hattie’s fingernail polish matched the glass. How cool. No one Hattie’s age in Piker would wear blue fingernail polish.

She wondered what her uncle was doing today, if he had even thought about her. She had thought of him several times. Might as well face it, he’s only into himself, just like Tiffany. I don’t want to go back. Ever.

Hattie offered them another piece of cake. “This is so weird. I just remembered that Sally mentioned something about Tiffany changing her name.”

Zera’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“This was a few weeks before the accident, when Ted and Tiffany had just started dating. Sally said Ted told her that Tiffany changed her name when she got out of high school. That she was poor or something, wanted to change her image.”

“I never heard that,” said Nonny. “Do you remember what it was?”

“No,” Hattie looked up at the treetops, “I can’t think of it. Maybe she didn’t tell me.” She looked at Zera and her eyes shone mischievously. “Maybe it was something really weird, like Zera!”

“Maybe it was Hattie,” Zera teased back.

The conversation turned to the amazement they felt at Zera’s spur-of-the-moment return.

“Maybe the two of them will elope in L.A.” Hattie speculated.

“Now, that would be interesting,” Nonny said, “but I don’t get the vibe that Ted really loves her.”

“Things can develop,” Hattie said.

“I suppose anything’s possible,” said Nonny, “though I think I would have noticed something when they were over yesterday.” She sighed and took another bite of cake.

Zera poured herself more lemonade. No matter what Hattie said, she did not think it possible that her uncle and Tiffany would ever get married. She’d seen true love with her parents; there was no comparison.

Nonny changed the subject. “Ted insists that Zera find work this summer. He suggested the North Pole, which is peculiar since he hated working there as a teenager. Too much fun and frivolity for his serious nature, I suppose.”

“I remember that,” Hattie said, swiping a stray piece of chocolate icing off her plate with a finger and licking it. She winked at Zera. “Didn’t he get fired by Santa?”

“Yes. Ted told the children it was all fake, just to be spiteful. It was the summer after Ted’s graduation, right after that girl he was dating broke up with him.”

“Oh, I remember her, the cute little granola.”

“Granola?” Zera said. “What’s that?”

“Oh, that’s what Guinevere used to call hippie girls way back when. Remember, Guinevere?”

“Yes. Back in the Stone Age. I was one of the very first, with my leopard-skin headband.”

Hattie grinned. “They wore only natural-fiber clothes, no makeup. Ate only health food, you know, like granola and yogurt when they first came out . . . it was a word we heard when we were young. Boy, the fact that we thought those foods odd really dates us both, doesn’t it?”

Nonny nodded, an eyebrow raised in agreement.

“Uncle Theodore went out with someone like that?” Zera asked. “Sounds like the opposite of Tiffany.”

“Your mother adored her,” said Nonny.

“Sally used to mention her once in a while,” Hattie said. “Her name was . . . dang, I can’t remember it! Get in your late forties and things get fuzzy. I know it was a sweet, old-fashioned name.”

“Whatever happened to her?” Zera was curious to hear about a part of her uncle she never knew about.

“Don’t know. She left for college and then her parents moved away to another state. Everyone kind of lost touch. It’d be interesting to find out.”

“Yes, it would,” said Nonny, “but it’d break her heart to find out what Ted’s up to, creating Beefy Fries and who-knows-what other abominations.” She took a sip of lemonade. “Lily Gibbons. That’s her name.”

Zera thought she recognized the name but couldn’t remember where.

“Lily. A beautiful name. What a memory, Guinevere. Hey, not to change the subject, but I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you let Zera work for me this summer?” She turned to Zera, “What about it? How’d you like to be a part-time gardener? It’s hard work, but fun. And you’ll learn a lot.”

Zera’s eyes sparkled. “I’d love it! I’ve been studying gardening and plants since my birthday.”

Nonny and Hattie exchanged a glance.

“Another gardener in the family,” Hattie said. “It’s in the blood. You know, Zera, it’s been rumored that the Greens have the gift of being able to talk with plants.”

“I talk to mine all the time.”

“But do they talk back?” Hattie kidded.

Zera laughed, an odd laugh that the women didn’t notice. She thought about what she’d heard — or, she reminded herself, thought she’d heard, now more than once, that they were talking to her. Best not to bring that up, or they might think I’ve got psychological damage from being around Tiffany.

Hattie took Zera on a garden tour. At the water garden, Zera spied a submerged pot of horsetail. The hollow-tubed plants looked exactly like a clump of two-foot-tall, bright green, pointed straws. She admired how thin black and gray joints divided the stalks into horizontal sections. “Those are really cool. The name is Equisetum something, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Equisetum,” Hattie said. “You do know your stuff. It’s Latin for horse. Equisetum hymale.”

Equisetum hymale.” Zera let the words roll over her tongue as she knelt down for a closer look. “What a cute frog.” She put her hand under the water stream coming from the spitting amphibian statue. The water felt cool, and Hattie’s fancy butterfly goldfish, fat-bodied and unwieldy, comically wriggled up to the surface to see who was visiting.

“I love horsetail,” Hattie said. “But it took me awhile to figure out why they called them that. They’re not hairy at all, not the ones I’ve seen anyway. Then someone told me that many of the species get whorls of tiny stalks growing out from the joints of the main stem, and that those look bushy, like little horse tails.”

“I saw pictures of those in a book,” Zera said, teasing the gulping-mouthed goldfish with her fingertips. They are quite the little beggars. “Aren’t they one of the oldest plants on Earth, around even before the dinosaurs?”

“Yes. They were here over a hundred million years before conifers — even, you know, cone-bearing plants, like pine trees. Horsetails are the granddaddies, about four hundred million years old, the ancestors of grasses and rushes.” Leaning over, Hattie touched a stalk. “They’re so primitive they don’t even produce flowers. And they used to grow as huge as trees!”

Zera tried to imagine what that would be like, living among giant ferns, horsetails and dinosaurs. She drew in her breath. “Who is that?”

She stared up at a ceramic plaque, partly hidden among grapevines near the pond. It showed the green face of a man. A face made of leaves. I know this face. Her mind flashed on her plants, and a familiar voice echoed in her mind, “It’s okay. You’re home.” That voice . . . yesterday in the garden . . . Those moments perched on the border of her consciousness like unseen birds. A vague joy surged through her, a budding sense of power that she didn’t understand, a power that held a tinge of fear.

“That’s the Green Man. Haven’t you heard of him?”

“I don’t think so. But he looks familiar.”

“Oh, Zera, the Green Man is awesome! He’s an ancient symbol of man’s oneness with the earth.” Hattie went to the sculpture, and moved aside vines so Zera could see it better. “In Europe, carvings of the Green Man are in the architecture of many old churches, some nearly a thousand years old. No one can tell when he first came, or from where; it’s like he’s been a part of mankind forever. He’s ancient, mysterious, sacred — and very cool.”

Zera could not take her eyes away. Distracted, she dropped her hand into the pond and the goldfish brushed against her fingertips fondly. Unseen by Zera and Hattie, a water lily bud pushed up from below the water’s surface and opened fully into flower.

“He’s just so . . .”

The gate creaked open. The spell broken, Zera and Hattie looked over.

“. . . interesting,” Zera finished.

“What’s interesting?” Ben walked through the gate and went right over to the pond. He stood next to Zera, almost close enough to touch. A thrill went through her as she looked up at him. Dark eyes and hair, tan . . . he looked so much taller than when she saw him at Christmas. He’s changed so much! He’s so . . . cute. The thought embarrassed her. She had to force herself to tone down the big, stupid smile she knew was on her face.

“Hey there,” Hattie stood up. “Zera and I were just talking about the Green Man. How groovy he is.”

Ben grimaced at his mother, and then grinned at Zera, a grin that caused Zera to look away.

Ben’s attention suddenly focused on the tree next to them. “Green Man? Ugh. Any cake left?”

Hattie insisted on driving Zera and Nonny home in Ladybug. Hattie had arranged with Nonny that Zera would work three mornings a week, plenty for someone her age who needed to make up for lost time with her grandmother. Going up the driveway, Zera’s heart raced as she thought how Hattie told her Ben would be helping out this summer too. Ben had been really sweet at Hattie’s, teasing Zera about life in “the big city,” and answering her questions about all the kids she’d known in Ute Springs. He is so cute, Zera thought for the umpteenth time. She thought about his jokes, his smile, about how tall he’d grown.

As Hattie stopped the truck, an intoxicating scent enveloped them. All three knew the source of the scent, even before it came into view.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Nonny said. “They were just buds this morning. Some not even near opening.”

Zera, pulled out of her daydream, jumped out of the truck, and ran to the porch.

Nonny and Hattie followed her and they stood in the driveway, staring in awed silence. Nonny shook her head in disbelief.

Every rosebud covering the front porch had opened in the few hours that they’d been away. The trellis, the porch columns, even the stair railing, were all draped in voluptuous, creamy white roses. The air was filled with a lemon-rose perfume.

Finally, Hattie spoke. “I’m a firm believer that plants are intelligent, and, who’s to say, maybe they even have a will.” She looked at Zera and her expression was serious. “They’re welcoming you home, honey.”

* * *

To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.

Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.

GreenwomanPublishing

Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.

First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved

ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)

Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.

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