Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 10
Zera and her grandmother watched the Barbie-Mobile’s gold rear-end disappear from the driveway, leaving a trail of dust.
Zera put her cupped hands to her mouth. “Good-bye!” she yelled.
Nonny laughed. “Those two.” She slipped her arm around Zera’s shoulders, “Phony baloney all the way through. I guess I’ll have to get the story from you, if you know it.”
Zera shrugged. “I don’t know a thing, except it seems like he might be getting a great new job. I think it’s an interview. This has all been a surprise to me too.” As is learning that you’re leaving in three weeks, she added to herself, her heart sinking, Just when I get back. Then what?
“We won’t worry ourselves about it. Not now at least.” Turning to go back inside, Nonny Green spied the box of plants sitting on the porch next to Zera’s suitcases. “What a lovely collection of plants! And your Dionea muscipula has really grown.” She peered closer and made a face. “She looks marvelous, except for that one burned trap. What on earth happened?”
Zera and her grandmother sat close together on the front porch’s big wicker swing and talked all afternoon. They cried a little, remembering Sally and Ewan and how they missed them, yet, at the same time, always felt their presence. They laughed, remembering the good times.
Zera’s head rested on Nonny’s shoulder. Her eyes went to the heavy silver bracelet encircling Nonny’s left wrist. It was engraved with thick leaves, interspersed with strange symbols that Nonny once told her were some kind of Celtic tree alphabet. Nonny said she didn’t know what the symbols meant, that the bracelet was a family heirloom. Just seeing it brought another good feeling; she’d never seen Nonny without it. The closeness of the moment made her think about something she’d wanted to ask Nonny for a long time.
“When you lost your leg in Tibet,” she began, in a voice barely above a whisper. “Theodore and Tiffany said you fell off a mountain.” She looked up into her grandmother’s dark blue eyes. “I never asked you about it, and you’ve never really told me what happened either . . .”
Nonny smiled, rubbed Zera’s hand. “Never be reluctant to ask me anything, or tell me anything. Life’s too short.”
Nonny told Zera that yes, she’d been in Tibet, after finishing a three-month stay at a Buddhist monastery.
“I was trekking across the Himalayas, on my way to India. A young guide named Hani accompanied me.” Nonny looked off into the distance, as if searching for that time again. “We were going across a narrow mountain passage when my donkey — Daisy, I’d named her — was spooked by a snake, a Himalayan pit viper. Daisy lost her footing and we both went down an eighty-foot ravine.”
“Oh, no.” Zera didn’t realize she was squeezing her grandmother’s hand. “Sorry.”
Nonny’s gaze focused on the mountains. Zera, too, observed the silent giants and felt that they were listening, and waiting for Nonny to continue. The day had turned dark and cloudy and the smell of an afternoon thundershower hung in the air. Nonny’s far-away look disappeared with a nod of her head. “Daisy didn’t make it, the poor dear, but I was luckier. Hani was so incredibly brave! He risked his life getting me up the side of that cliff. I had a concussion, four broken ribs, and a shattered left leg.”
Zera sucked in her breath at the picture of Nonny, crumpled and broken. Nonny continued, “Somehow he got me to the closest village, and there I stayed, first fighting off a terrible infection in my leg. Ultimately, there was just too much damage. They got me to a hospital and the leg had to go. Then began the long process of healing.”
“That’s why they couldn’t find you for so long after Mom and Dad died.”
“At first they couldn’t send word about what happened to me because all my identification and money, in my backpack, had been lost during the fall. But the hospital was in the city. I was there, recuperating, when I heard about your mom and Ewan.”
“It must have been horrible! Stuck there.”
Nonny was silent and Zera knew something was off. “Darling, I wasn’t exactly stuck there,” said Nonny. “My leg was gone, but I’d been in the hospital a month when Sally and Ewan died. I thought Tiffany probably told you; I could have gotten home for the funeral.”
“What?” Zera couldn’t believe what Nonny was saying.
“I couldn’t face it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It was too much. I’d just lost a limb, then a daughter and a son-in-law. I felt like I had nothing left. Coming home was not going to bring them back.” She hugged Zera. “I can’t imagine what you think of me.”
I needed you, thought Zera. I needed you so much! You still had us. Me and your son! She said, instead, “It was hard for me.”
“I know, dear, I know. I am so sorry. It’s no wonder Tiffany steamrolled the custody thing, influencing Ted not to even consider me as a guardian because of my artificial leg.” Her brow furrowed.
“Tiffany wants to marry Uncle Theodore, but I don’t think he feels the same,” mumbled Zera. Her mind was reeling from the disclosure; everything seemed wrong. How could she stay away?
“It doesn’t hurt?” She gestured to her grandmother’s leg.
“Not usually. Sometimes I still get ‘ghost’ pains, but not often. It’s strange because it still feels like it’s there, sometimes it still itches. Those odd amputee things you hear are true, I can attest to them. But there are benefits too.” She winked. “Now I can go as a peg-legged pirate on Halloween, something I’ve always had a secret longing to do.”
Zera didn’t feel like laughing, but she gave her grandmother a smile.
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance and within seconds a flash of lightning ripped through the sky at the base of the mountains. Cato, lying a few feet from the porch swing seemed oblivious (the poor guy was mostly deaf), but Alice started to whine. Drops began pelting the metal porch roof.
“Let’s go in,” said Nonny.
After a dinner of pasta salad, Zera confessed to Nonny something was bothering her. “It’s about Theodore. I feel kind of bad about it now. He is your son and my uncle . . .” Zera stalled, carrying their dishes to the sink. Her heart beat a little faster as she hoped Nonny wouldn’t think she was awful. “When he got fat, I nicknamed him.” She blurted it out, “I nicknamed him ‘The Toad.’”
“Hmmm.” Nonny hobbled over to Zera and patted her hand. “A sometimes inappropriate sense of humor runs in this family. He’s kept us apart for three years, and that’s hard to forgive. Most people spend their lives fighting their inner dragons; it’s sometimes not easy to tell what lies in their hearts. And we’ve all been grieving, and grieving is different for every person and can be a long process. I’m just thankful you found ways to keep that sense of humor through all this! Even if it is a little mean.” She looked away for a moment. “You know, I always told him all he had to do to get rid of those warts for good was rub a raw potato on them and bury it under a tree during a full moon. But he never believed that. I noticed he still has them.”
Zera didn’t say anything. She’d heard Tiffany mention “Nonny’s Weird Wart Cure” once, when her uncle was thinking of following those very instructions. It had caused an argument, ending with Tiffany vowing to never take him seriously as a scientist if he considered it. To Zera, the wart cure sounded strange, but she’d read a lot in books lately about things that seemed impossible; it pushed her to keep an open mind.
“Maybe I called him that because Tiffany hated my name. She said Zera sounded like a gypsy or something. When Uncle Theodore told her it meant ‘seed’ in Hebrew she thought that was even weirder.” Zera shut the utensil drawer a little too hard.
Nonny shook her head and frowned. “I remember you v-mailing me about that. That she even suggested you change it, a little while after you moved in?”
“She kept hinting, telling me I could ‘reinvent’ myself if I wanted to, have a ‘new start,’ a name I picked out if I wanted. I was thirteen years old! Uncle Theodore got so mad. Then she dropped it.”
Finished with the dishes, the two walked over to the window to watch the rain, which had slowed to a soft shower. “Tiffany’s also mentioned how ‘bizarre’ it was that Dad took Mom’s last name when they married. She said she couldn’t understand why any man would take his wife’s surname. She always acts like the Green family is made up of the world’s biggest weirdos.”
“It’s a pity Tiffany doesn’t have a better imagination. Maybe we are kooky. So what? I once heard a story about a woman who lived alone most of her life on a small island off the coast of Scotland. She spent her life studying plants and made several important discoveries. One day a journalist, interviewing her, said he’d heard her called a crack-pot by one of the townspeople. Well, this lady looked the journalist right in the eye and said, ‘Perhaps you’ve got to be a little cracked to let the light come through.’”
Nonny laughed. “We should put that on a family crest. I just wish you could have known Ted when he was younger. Before his father died. You know Ted’s father was much older than I, don’t you?”
“He was twenty years older, Zera. It was so hard on Ted, losing his father when he was only eight years old. Sally was seventeen, and she had a hard time too, but Ted was devastated.” Nonny’s eyes softened and a darkness swept over her features for a moment. “Well, did you think up one for Tiffany? A nickname?”
“No,” Zera said, still a bit embarrassed. None I can say out loud, anyway.
After the rain stopped, Zera went back outside alone. No more than five steps away from the porch, Nonny’s Siamese cat, Merlin, surprised her by leaping out of a lilac bush. He circled around her ankles, purring.
“Merlin, how you’ve grown! Where have you been?” She picked up the cat and nuzzled him. Mmm. Hay. Definitely the barn. Merlin closed his blue eyes and purred louder.
Zera put him back on the ground and began to walk down the long gravel driveway, checking out the gardens on both sides. Dusk was her favorite time of day, when all the colors looked intense, and tonight the air smelled fresh and sweet from the rain. Zera breathed in deeply, savoring that sweetness. Looking around, she noticed a tingling sensation going through her, the unmistakable feeling of déjà vu. For a moment everything looked as it had before, years before. How can it be possible that everything looks the same; the vegetable garden, even the window boxes on the cottages? It’s like I’ve been in this exact moment; even the air smells the same.
As she neared the chicken house the odd feeling grew, and she also had the distinct sensation that someone was watching her. Her eyes went immediately to the vine-covered side of the cottage. That was weird, the light seemed to shift. It looked like a . . . that’s silly, for a moment I thought I saw a face. She checked above her, expecting to find dark clouds that had changed the light. No, everything was the same. She shook off the impression. As she got nearer, it was obvious; nothing could be there but the vines. All the excitement, and I’m getting tired, I guess.
Zera entered the coop and recognized two hens, Flora, the golden Silkie, whose barbless feathers were fluffy, almost like fur, and Athena, the auburn Rhode Island Red. “Hi, ladies,” Zera said. The hens sat calmly on their nests, following Zera’s every move with tiny, bright eyes. Nonny had said they still had about a dozen bantam, or miniature, hens in all, but most were still out in the garden, scratching for bugs or taking a few more dainty pecks off weeds and vegetable leaves before bedtime.
With a jolt, Zera recognized a plant in its hanger near the window. A fuchsia, with dark green leaves and hot pink and white drooping flowers, bloomed as one had years ago in the very same spot. Where did Nonny find one just the same? She remembered something about the plant from one of her books. Over a hundred years ago, back in the Victorian Era, the plant was nicknamed “lady’s eardrops.” It fits. They look like old-fashioned dangling earrings. But I’m sure it’s not the same plant that Mom bought. It would have grown too large. She touched one of the velvety flowers and it swayed.
Thinking of her mom and how they’d taken care of the chickens together brought an emptiness that Nonny could never fill, no matter how great it was to see her again. Zera directed her attention back toward the chickens. It’s funny that they didn’t cackle when I came in. Normally, their feathers would be ruffled when someone unfamiliar entered their territory. But they’re acting as if they remember me too, just like Merlin did, as if I’d never left.
Zera turned to leave. Behind her the blossoms on the fuchsia vibrated and swayed, all on their own, excited by an unknown energy.
Shutting the door to the chicken house, Zera headed to the barn. Out of sight, on the vine-covered side of the chicken house, something stirred. A green countenance, a male face made of leaves, an entity both human and vegetable, watched Zera. The face of leaves wore an expression of kindness and gentleness, ancient wisdom and ancient songs, songs older to the world than the human race. The Green Man smiled.
Zera stopped, turned around. Was that . . . a face? No, silly. You’re just jumpy, imagining things, because it feels so unreal to be home! But she definitely heard something, felt something. A faint murmur in the leaves and grass, a tender rustling of leaves in the breeze, and the distinct feeling of being watched. She looked all around her, strained to listen. A voice, voices even. I can almost hear them. Almost. That particular sensation of being watched by a loving gaze was one she knew. She’d experienced the sensation many times as a child, often while playing outside. And each time she would look up to find her dad, or mom, or both, watching from a window, or elsewhere.
She turned around expectantly, and searched the windows of the house. Blind eyes reflected light, but there was no one there. She turned to the vine-covered coop, blinked. It’s just leaves, you weirdo. Wow, it’s not like me to be spooked by chickens, a fuchsia. She took a deep breath, rubbed her goose bump-covered arms. It’s getting late, the temperature’s dropping. I’m freaking out from being back home; I’m imagining all these things. It’s because I’m wishing Mom and Dad were here, too.
Shaking it off, Zera made her way to the barn, walked around, peeked in the windows, and then headed back.
Relaxing again on the porch swing before bedtime, watching a nearly full moon rise in the east above the house, Zera asked her grandmother how everything managed to stay the same.
“Honey, your mother and father had a lot of friends in this small town, people who truly loved them, and who love us. While we were away, those friends saw to it that everything was taken care of. They continue to help me out a lot. And Hattie Goodacre has been a godsend.”
“Mom always loved Hattie,” said Zera, imagining the tall, exuberant woman. “She was her best friend.”
“Hattie keeps this property up, now, as far as the plants. She comes for half a day on Saturday, usually with Ben, if he doesn’t have school work.”
“And of course you remember Cosmic Dan?” said Nonny. “Well, anytime I need house repairs, he’s there. You would not believe the love that surrounded me when I returned home and the support I’ve had these three years. Incredible.”
It was nearly midnight when Zera and Nonny went to bed.
Zera kissed her grandmother goodnight and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. It, too, was exactly as she left it. One side of the room had a reading and study area with a computer. On the floor in front of the bookshelves her father built was a multi-colored braided rug, and upon it sat an antique desk and chair. A table and two chairs upholstered in a chenille fabric of colorful peacocks on a white background stood near the windows.
In the other half of the room was a brass bed covered with a floral quilt, an oak dresser with an oval mirror, and shelves filled with musical instruments, dolls, and toys. The walls were papered in a pattern of large cabbage roses in pinks, reds, yellows and whites, their twining leaves and stems in three shades of green.
It’s been so long, thought Zera. She looked at the cloth and china dolls lining one shelf. I was still a kid. But just who am I now?
She put on a white cotton nightgown and climbed into bed. As she lay there under the covers, she looked up at a ceiling that twinkled with glow-in-the-dark painted constellations — yet another memory of her mother.
She started thinking about what Nonny had said, about going off to South America in a few weeks. She didn’t know I was coming until yesterday, Zera reminded herself. Then she thought of Nonny saying that she actually could have come to the funeral but didn’t. “Everyone’s different, has different needs,” her grandmother had said. Still, the hurt of it all seeped in. She heard Tiffany’s voice, in the car, “Guinevere was nowhere to be found, off on yet another one of her ‘spiritual quests.’ It’s lucky you were there for Zera.”
Nonny had always been a big part of her life, but now Zera remembered that Nonny had been gone a lot. Most of the time, Zera admitted. Zera also remembered her mother saying that when she and Ted were kids, their mother had been gone a lot, though she hadn’t given any details. Did I finally make it back just to be left again? Couldn’t Nonny change her plans this once? She was home, but felt lonelier than ever.
As she began to drift to sleep, soft words echoed in Zera’s ears.
“Welcome back . . . you’re home now.”
The voice was soft, sweet and feminine, both familiar and comforting. Zera was so close to sleep that she only half heard it, like a whisper in a dream. It came from the corner, from the top of her suitcase — where Zera had placed her box of plants.
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.
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.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.