Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 8

In the back of Tiffany’s metallic gold convertible, which Zera had dubbed the Barbie-Mobile, Zera watched the suburban scenery speed by as rock music pounded through her silver hoop ear-tunes. She’d found the hoops in her jewelry case, in a bag on the back seat, along with a lunch sack holding a vitamin bar and a can of diet soda, Tiffany’s idea of a sack lunch.

Zera glanced at Tiffany and her uncle. Tiffany had been chattering nonstop since the ride began. Zera tried to listen in earlier, but with the car’s top down, it was impossible. She decided to listen to music instead.

Half an hour out, she texted Abby. Abby was the only thing that she’d miss in Piker (although Jake and his smile, and eyes, had flashed in her mind more than once since leaving the school). She hoped Abby would be a little disappointed that she’d left so unexpectedly. A few minutes later she received a reply: “Sad for me but SOOOO HAPPY 4 U!!! Hope u get 2 stay! Sorry haven’t been around as much lately. Miss u already!” A panorama of grasslands replaced tract homes as they flew across cattle ranching country. Herds of cows, heads bent down to the grass, tails swishing, seemed oblivious to all but their world of sky and grass and biting flies. Zera wondered if any of them were destined to end up at American Burger Depot.

As the heavy metal beat of Metallica drummed in her ears, the landscape changed again. The car now climbed toward the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the road winding through boulder-strewn meadows and forests of white-barked aspen trees mingling with fragrant pines. In some areas it was beautiful. In others, where they’d had wildfires over the last few years, blackened sticks of trees covered hundreds, sometimes thousands, of acres. The sight of that devastation made Zera shudder, especially when she thought of how Nonny said it was mostly due to global warming and that it would get worse. As she spotted the white tip of Pikes Peak, the tallest mountain in the Chipita Range west of Ute Springs, her mood changed again. A wave of happy anticipation coursed through her. Home. It’s been so long. Will it all be the same?

Two hours after leaving Piker, they arrived. Driving under the street-spanning “Welcome to Ute Springs” banner, Zera remembered that the small town had been named for its mineral springs. They were called “healing waters” by the Ute and other nearby Native American tribes who sought them out eons before white settlers arrived. Back then, the site had been a sacred place. Now it was a popular tourist town, though remnants of its mystical past clung to it. Many artists and musicians, including Zera’s own parents, had made Ute Springs their home, and most of them said they could “feel the energy” in their surroundings.

As they drove into town via Ute Avenue, Zera took in the familiar landmarks: brick and clapboard buildings lining the streets and hilly side roads, the town clock, cast iron streetlights that looked a hundred years old but were actually installed during the previous summer. Townspeople worked in flower-filled yards, walked down the sidewalks, visited with neighbors. She found herself smiling, and couldn’t stop. There was Nell’s Coffee House, on the corner of Ute and Pawnee. A huge coffee cup, made out of wood and tin with a swirl of carved steam, hung above the door. Across the street, on the roof of Doc Dennin’s Western Wear, reared a full-size fiberglass palomino horse, golden with white mane and tail. The horse’s mouth was open, as if snickering with the same glee that bubbled within her. She saw Sadie Hawkins’ art gallery, the Carnival Arcade, the Hemp Shop, the Happy Goat Cheese Store, and the Hopi Age Bookstore. On Canyon Avenue was the burnt-orange tiled roof of her old brick elementary school. It’s all still the same! Zera glanced up at The Toad and Tiffany, to make sure they weren’t looking at her in the rear-view mirror. Years of memories flooded her mind, memories of her mother and father, her grandmother, her home.

They were driving slowly when she heard Tiffany’s comment. “Here we are, Hippie Town.”

“You know,” quipped The Toad, “in New York City they like to carry Gucci bags, but in Ute Springs, they carry bags of goat cheese.”

Tiffany laughed, and Zera couldn’t help cracking a grin in spite of herself.

“It’s been a while,” said Tiffany.

“Yes, it has.” Her uncle’s expression was now somber. “Now, when I come into town, it always makes me think of . . . Sally and Ewan’s memorial service.”

“I remember it well,” said Tiffany. “Guinevere nowhere to be found, off on one of her ‘spiritual quests.’ It’s lucky you were there for Zera.”

Zera stared hatefully at the back of Tiffany’s blonde, ponytailed head. Lucky? she thought. The only luck I’ve had since that day is right now, getting the chance to get away from you.

The Toad made a left turn and the Barbie-Mobile crept up seven blocks of steep gravel road, past a candy box assortment of Victorian homes in various stages of grandness or dilapidation, to Nonny’s home. Zera’s home.

Hidden from the street by a wild tangle of chokecherry shrubs and evergreens, the property came into view as the car turned into the driveway. The landmark of the grounds was Cache Mountain, a nine hundred-foot-tall colossus in back of the two acres. The mountain gave the space a protected, nest-like feeling. A sense of well-being swept over Zera as the car edged into the driveway.

Details of her home always faded with absence, and it stirred her to see it again. Besides the main house, there were six other buildings on the property. Zera searched for the small, robin’s-egg blue cottage with its attached greenhouse/solar energy collector. It had sat at the far north end of the property, barely visible from the driveway. This house, nestled amid apple, sour cherry, and plum trees, was Nonny’s home, or at least it had been, when she wasn’t “adventuring.” But the house had been standing empty for a few years now. After Zera’s parents died, Nonny had moved out of the cottage and into the main house so she could better take care of the dogs and chickens.

A trio of tiny buildings sat on the other side of the driveway. Once they’d been two-room vacation cottages, rented out to tourists, but by the time Nonny bought the property they’d been empty for years. One became a chicken house. At its door hung a sign Zera made when she was six, “Fresh Eggs,” written in childish white letters on a green background and sprinkled with glitter. Her mom had praised her artistry. “It’s perfect, honey, a masterpiece.” Zera’s mother had treated every piece of her artwork as if it were a Picasso or an O’Keeffe.

Next to the chicken coop was her mother’s art studio, the lavender cottage. In front was a fountain, a seven-foot-tall metal flower. Below the petals four fairies had been welded to a rotating rim. As the sun-powered fountain ran, the fairies appeared to fly beneath the flower, just out of reach of the glittering “rain.” Purple lilac shrubs grew on both sides of the doorway and were still in bloom.

The last cottage, painted pink and green, was Zera’s childhood playhouse. On its small brick porch sat a life-size bronze figure of three-year-old Zera, chubby hands holding a bouquet of wildflowers.

Off in the distance sat a low-slung barn which was never used for livestock by their family, but had been used for parties and concerts. Another barn, this one taller and built of stone, stood near it: her father’s music studio. Zera remembered playing outside as classical, jazz, or rock-and-roll music drifted from the building. Memories came in waves, crashing through her.

Tiffany stopped the convertible in front of the stucco main house. Two stories tall, it was painted barn red with a stained wood balcony extending across the front. The lower floor, dominated by a huge wrap-around porch, was furnished with comfortable wicker furniture and enclosed by rose-covered trellises. Hundreds of fat, pinkish-white buds swelled among the green leaves. Zera’s mouth dropped open. The roses, how could I have forgotten them? That perfume. Without thinking, she took in a deep breath, as if she could smell them now, before they even opened.

Tiffany stopped the car, and the front door of the home opened. Out flew Alice, Zera’s Dalmatian.

“Alice, stop!” yelled Nonny, following Alice, but the command was useless. Alice leapt into the back seat and on top of Zera. Whining, the dog covered Zera’s face with canine kisses. Alice increased her whining in volume when Zera cried out in pleasure.

Tiffany leapt out of the car and threw open the back door. “Oh, that dog. That dog!” she screamed. “She’s probably scratching the upholstery! Out of my car! Now!”

“I can’t get up,” Zera said, laughing. “She won’t let me.”

Tiffany grabbed Alice’s collar and Alice growled. Tiffany let go.

“Theodore, do something! My upholstery!”

Zera said, “I’ll get her.” She eased out the door, one hand on the dog’s collar. Alice, pressed against her as if attached with glue, left the back seat happily.

“Good girl, Alice.”

The dog whined in reply and stuck her nose firmly into Zera’s palm.

Nonny, wearing a sunshine-yellow skirt and denim shirt, surveyed the scene from the porch, then, as fast as her turquoise-topped cane allowed, hop-hobbled down the stairs to her granddaughter. Cato, Nonny’s elderly black Labrador retriever, accompanied her with a matching stiff-legged walk. Within seconds they were at Zera’s side. Cato trembled with excitement at the sight of Zera, even while staying protectively next to Nonny.

“Hi, Cato!” Zera said. Nonny’s hair, now completely white, shone in the sun. Although Zera had seen her a half-dozen times since she’d been living with The Toad, and through v-phone and v-mail many times, she still hadn’t gotten used to the dramatic change of Nonny’s now pure white hair and deeply-lined skin.

Nonny took Zera’s heart-shaped face in her hands. She kissed both cheeks and then her forehead. “Zera Katherine . . . my angel. How I have missed you! Look at this, you’re now taller than I am. And your hair has grown so long.” Nonny brushed a strand from Zera’s face.

“Nonny,” said Zera. The word was muffled in a bear hug and Nonny’s scent, a rich mixture of honey, sandalwood, and rose.

Nonny turned her attention to her son. The Toad gave his mother an awkward hug. As she squeezed him tight with one arm, she placed a generous smack of a kiss on his cheek. “It’s so good to see you, Ted. You too, Tiffany. Goodness,” she said, two fingers gently probing one of his biceps, “your arm is as big and hard as a tree branch. Have you been working out?”

The Toad looked embarrassed. “Yeah, actually I have.”

Nonny raised her eyebrows. “It’s certainly paying off.” She took Zera’s hand and began to lead her up the stairs. “Let’s go in, honey.” Over her shoulder she said to Theodore and Tiffany. “You two come on in. And, Tiffany, I’m so sorry. I do hope Alice hasn’t left any nasty claw marks on your upholstery. Ted, maybe you should check the back seat, sometimes when Alice gets excited she tinkles just a bit . . .”

“Hummph.” Tiffany straightened her black skirt. “Dogs!”

Nonny led Zera and Tiffany to the kitchen and offered them lemonade.

“No thanks,” said Tiffany, as she eyed with distaste the big kitchen’s glass-fronted cabinets crammed with dishes and the slightly-beat-up refrigerator. “We’ve only got a few minutes. We’ve got a plane to catch in Piker.”

“I have a couple of questions, Tiffany,” said Nonny. “Sit.”

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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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