Note: This was written in dedication to my mom who is one of the Vietnamese boat refugees of the 70’s. It was a perilous trip and many people died. Americans sponsored both of my parents to come to the U.S. Fortunately, it was a blessing in disguise.
Dark violet clouds drifted across the red orange hues in the sky. Professor Aiyana Bellefeuille was captivated as she gazed at the shadows of the birds flying towards the glowing sunset in the horizon. The band and the Pow-Wow dances at the festival were beginning to wrap up for the evening. She decided to call it a day early as she liked to get a head start on grading her students’ papers. Her hips move down the sidewalk leading to her car as her hair is swaying in the breeze.
When she finally opened the door to her home, she was grateful for the one hundred candles that were burning in various rooms throughout her place. Ever since she was a young girl, Aiyana has suffered from Raynaud’s syndrome in which she feels perpetually cold. The slow flow of her blood has caused pain, numbness, and tingling in the past. Her fingers can easily turn white within minutes of grabbing things from the freezer. Praying for a simple solution, salty sweat dripping from her breasts as a result from all the candles was a much better alternative all things considering.
It wasn’t like she was begging or anything, but when she received the opportunity to teach in Maine, she was jumping up and down with joy. She debated whether or not to accept her appointment because of the wintry climate, but decided to take the plunge anyway. She was passionate about her field of expertise, and teaching at a school founded from Native American roots was very meaningful for her.
She placed her keys on the counter of the mirrored side table against the wall near the entrance. Aiyana was silent as studied the ominous painting titled “The Beast Inside of Me” above the table. As an art aficionado, her tastes were quite varied. “Let me love you to death,” she cooed as if talking to a baby. She appreciated the monochromatic scheme of how darkness was portrayed and enjoyed the interplay of various types of paint strokes. Aiyana also wanted to decorate her place for the season of Halloween, and chuckled at the thought of her friends walking into her home to immediately be greeted by this cloaked figure.
Aiyana grabbed a bottle Valserrano Rioja Crianza from the closet and uncorked the bottle of red wine and poured herself a glass. She took out a stack of papers from her rolling suitcase and took a seat by the dining table. She gazed at the first assignment regarding the “Trail of Broken Treaties”, a twenty point manifesto that was adopted by Native American activists who demanded for reparations on October 31, 1972 in Minnesota.
Anticipating a stack of fascinating essays, she subtlety licked her smooth lips and took a sip of the spicy, aromatic Rioja. Aiyana’s black lipstick stains her glass as she sets it down. She closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. She whips out her rolling ball pen and begins grading the papers with gusto. She hungrily studied the essays with vigor losing track of time. “I can feel what these students are saying. They are trying to prove their claims.”
After a few hours, she rolled her neck to both of her shoulders stretching her muscles and looked out the window. It was a beautiful moonlit night as the stars were shining. She smiled as her dog howled at the moon, “Always thinking she’s a wolf that one is…“Needing a break, she took out a pack of Virginia Slims, when all of the sudden she hears a voice.
“May I light your cigarette?” A well dressed man donning white gloves handled a lighter with a dancing flame.
Shocked by this intruder, Aiyana immediately reached for gun from her school bag ready to defend herself, “And you are?”
Unaffected by her defensiveness, he replied, “I am your servant. Your wish is my law. The Sinclairs are bounded by loyalty to your family. Your father sent me here after you moved away to Maine. Is that answer good enough?”
After finishing the last reading for a customer, Ciaran gently kissed Aileen as he told her of what happened during Eliza’s reading. Aileen furrowed her brow, “Burning bridge? Could it be?…” Her ears perked up as she listened to the opening theme of the rock band that was playing. “Let’s take a break!” Ciaran ventured. Aileen closed her eyes as she swayed and danced in Ciaran’s warm embrace struggling to remember…
So cold. The ventilators were humming quietly, and the stars twinkled in the clear dark sky. Aileen’s eyes shot wide opened. She writhed in pain. She was laying in an army cot suffering from severe injuries. She examined the environment around her, and didn’t recognize the glade in which the campsite was located.
A few soldiers sat around a camp fire eating canned sardines outside the tent where she stayed. Alarmed, she tried to get up but her head falls back and a wave of nausea and dizziness overwhelmed her. The medic ordered her to rest as he held a tin bucket for her to vomit in, and administered a high dose of morphine as she began to doze in and out from fatigue.
Searching through the hazy fog of her memories, she thought to herself, “Well, I’ll…be…damned! My team abandoned me. I would have freezed to death if it wasn’t for them.” She looked up at the medic who was busy making her comfortable and impatiently asked, “Who are you people? Where am I? What happened to me? When can I go back?”
The medic looked at her with concern, “Calm down. One thing at a time. We are a humanitarian disaster response medic organization. We recently arrived on site taking in account of the casualties and gave immediate care to the survivors.”
He hesitantly continued, “We found you near a burning bridge lying in a 6 foot trench with a 200 pound backpack knocked out cold a few miles away from one of the village sites. We had to remove some of your tactical gear covering your mouth to treat some of your facial wounds. We discovered that someone or something gave you a concussion that may have given you mild amnesia. Someone also shot both your legs and your flesh is suffering from 3rd degree burns. Our medics are also studying these mysterious bite marks on your neck. We’re not sure if they’re animal or insect bites.”
There was a long moment of silence as the medic took a few deep breaths. “The combatants bombed and burned several villages down when we were informed that their intelligence couldn’t locate a dangerous spy carefully hidden in the refuge of these farming communities.”
Aileen, inflamed with a sense of justice, was broiling with anger when she found out that these villages burned to a crisp. There was no need for these farmers to die especially during the harvest season of the cool weather vegetables, a rewarding time for all of their hard work.
The medic noticed the shift in Aileen’s expressions and responded, “You must be desiring some sleep right now. Why don’t we rest, and we’ll see how you’re doing the next day so we can catch up.” The morphine was kicking in full force now numbing the pain. “Okay, we’ll do that, but I still have plenty of questions”, Aileen said as her eyes closed and she tried to dream of pretty autumn leaves falling into the darkness.
Morning mist disappeared as the afternoon rays of the sun shone over the festival at the university. Firecrackers were set off on the concert stage, and the drummer yelled into the microphone as the speakers reverberated out to the growing crowd, “ARE YOU GUYS READY TO ROCK?” The crowd shook their fists into the air. The drummer egged the crowd on, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU! I SAID…..ARE YOU GUYS READY TO ROCK?” The crowd gave a thundering applause of approval, stamping their feet, and yelling the band’s name in adoration.
The drummer began showing off his skillful technique juggling his drum sticks into the air as if they were batons. Suddenly, he struck his drums with precision and rolled away with a catchy beat. The guitarists soon joined in after their band mate’s impressive intro and strummed their guitars hitting an array of notes with fast fingers.
With the caffeine from their morning coffee running in their veins, the band was excited from the mounting adrenaline rush of the crowd’s enjoyment. Unable to resist the concert, the Renowned Duo put up a sign outside their booth, “We’ll be back in 30! ❤ Aileen & Ciaran”, as they took off their vermilion robes and made a bee line into the crowd until they disappeared.
Meanwhile, many curious parents walked with their children who were happily munching on some snacks and circled around the Pow-Wow dance that was taking now taking place in the grassy fields next to the pumpkin patch away from the band. Incense and smoke filled their air as the drums’ regular beat connected singers and everyone surrounding the dancers together. A lead singer with an opulent, feathered headdress passionately sung a traditional tune from memory.
A Native American historian set up her stand next to the haystacks outside the Pow-wow dance. The historian is also a professor that teaches Native American Studies at St. Kateri’s and will be promoted to head the department soon. Professor Aiyana Bellefeuille pushed her black frames up the proud ridge of her nose as she silently and incisively perused an excerpt from the authors of “Nothing But the Truth: An Anthology of Native American Literature” John Purdy and James Ruppert.
She glanced up to see curious individuals grabbing some pamphlets off her table who decided to ask about Kateri’s life. Aiyana spoke about how Kateri contracted smallpox when she was four years old which left scars on her body but the outbreak wiped out her family which then led to more questions. Professor Aiyana smiled at their level of interest and continued the discussion.
Unable to leave her spot due to the wave of incoming customers, Eliza watched the activities from her booth after she wrapped up the jewelry that the last customer bought. It was a bracelet with many charms of blossoms on it. It reminded her of one of her friends, Penelope, living back in LA. “She just wants to be beautiful,” Eliza thought to herself.
“GIRLS! GIRLS! IT’S SHOWTIME!”, the fashion show director called out to the models.
Penelope stood behind the curtain with the other models slightly nervous about her first time on stage in front of a large crowd. Oh, she don’t see the light that’s shining…yet. Despite her first time jitters, she craves attention. The music began to play, and she began to walk as the spotlight suddenly glared in her face. It didn’t matter though, the catwalk was ingrained in her through hours of practice.
Thanks to an invitation from Penelope, Eliza was seated in the audience in the front row outside of the runway. Flashes from the paparazzi nearby flooded the room. Eliza smiled as Penelope walked on stage amazed at her fearlessness and confidence. As Penelope turned and sashayed, her violet metallic dress swished around, and her bare backside revealed a brilliant tattoo of blossoms on a branch. Even though Penelope looked like she didn’t need it, Eliza was there for emotional support, and she was glad to be there. Eliza stood up and yelled, “No better time for your shine, you’re a star!!” Penelope looked back, winked, and gave Eliza her dazzling million watt smile.
Penelope and Eliza first met in the locker room after working out in the gym one gorgeous morning during the springtime. Blossoming flowers were budding on the trees in the median as bikers rode past the gym.
Penelope was training hard to meet the physical requirements that the modelling agency expected from her. She knew no limits and she was willing to do whatever it took. She has dreams to be an envy, so she’s starving because you know, cover girls eat nothing. “Just 10 more pounds, Penelope, and then we’ll let you go public.” her agent drilled into her. “Beauty is pain and there’s beauty in everything. What’s a little bit of hunger?” Penelope told herself as her stomach was growling. She headed into the locker room.
Like most people, Eliza had some New Years resolutions and one of them included fitness goals. She was going to work hard to trim the weight that she gained from frequently indulging in the cooking recipes her grandmother gave her. Eliza just finished a two hour long boxing session and was ready to hit the showers. She grabbed a towel to wipe off her sweat and headed to the far stall, and pulled the shower curtains aside.
Eliza saw the faint shape of Penelope in the dark curled into a fetal position on the bench slitting her wrists with a shaving blade pried apart from a Gillete Venus razor. Her blood dripped from the bench, mixed together with the water that was dripping from the shower faucet, and swirled down the drain. Penelope sat there frightened in a daze. She tries to cover up her pain and cut her woes away.
Eliza was stunned. She saw an incredibly physically attractive young woman with golden tresses falling past her shoulders. Penelope’s sparkling blue eyes suddenly poured tears as she softly cried. Eliza instinctively sat next to Penelope, but decided not to ask anything. Penelope looked straight ahead and spoke to no one in particular, “I’m tired of being sculpted by a sculptor.”
Eliza looked at Penelope and thought to herself, “She don’t see her perfect, she don’t understand she’s worth it or that beauty goes deeper than the surface.” Eliza has swam in the depths of despair before and asked a simple question, “What’s your name?”
Penelope looked up at Eliza for the first time, taking in her pink hair and her delicate face, and sensed an inner strength there that she herself seemed to have lacked at times. “My name is Penelope.” Eliza carefully held Penelope’s hand. “Well Penelope, my name is Eliza. Whatever you’re going through, I just want you to know there’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark. You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are. And you don’t have to change a thing, the world could change its heart.”
Penelope cocked her brow and looked at Eliza with skepticism, “What world does this woman come from?” Eliza suddenly took her towel and patted the Penelope’s blood dry.
“Why don’t you come over for dinner sometime later today? My parents are cooking from grandma’s recipe book. Trust me, you won’t regret it!” Eliza out of the blue invited Penelope to her family’s home.
Penelope weighed the pros and cons of eating a possibly high carbs, fattening family meal with Eliza’s family and decided to head over to her place. After all, she was grateful that Eliza was here at this moment in her life.
From that fateful day in the locker room, these two women became inseparable.
“Why don’t we get matching tattoos, Eliza? One of a blossoming tree to commemorate the day we first met?” Penelope suggested as they both waited in the lobby of one of LA’s finest tattoo parlors. Eliza peeked behind the counter and studied the expressions of another customer who was getting inked. “It looks like it’s going to painful. Maybe it’s going to sting a bit!”
Eliza shook her head. The pain was worth it. Their friendship was worth it. “Let’s do it!” Eliza showed a cropped picture of the morning blossoms outside the gym she took on her phone a few months earlier to the tattoo shop owner. The tattoo shop owner studied the photo for one moment and excitedly looked through her own portfolio and found something similar that she has been designing for some time. She invited Penelope and Eliza to the chairs, and began working her magic.
After she and another associate finished both girls, the tattoo shop owner warmly smiled at Penelope and Eliza, “Let me be your mirror, and help you see a little bit clearer the light that shines within.” The warm tones in their complexions brought out the liveliness of the bright blossoms that bonded both of them.
The tension that Eliza felt earlier didn’t compare to the electrifying shock she was feeling now. The hairs on the back of Eliza’s neck raised. She looked down at the crystal ball. The burning bridge was gone. She abruptly pushed her chair back and glanced back up at Aileen’s now green eyes who were gazing back at her.
Ciaran attempted to lighten the stifling atmosphere and shrugged, “Well, we all got relationship issues, don’t we?” Aileen began to speak, “Eliza….” Eliza cut her off and politely gave her farewell. “Nice to meet you Ciaran and thank you very much Aileen! I….I gotta go check up on my booth. ” Eliza was shaken as she pulled back the curtains and hurried out of there before they could respond.
Eliza thought to herself as she ran back and stumbled into her booth. She felt beguiled going in there to be entertained thinking that it was just going to be some vague fortune. Instead, she’s got a starter prompt for Instagram hashtag trend #FlashbackFriday. “What the hell was that? A relationship in my life I need to mend? A way to critique it without being hostile? …. BUSINESS PARTNER??”
She breathed in deeply trying to catch her breath. Her anxiety simmered down as she she rubbed the pink and black beads on rosary necklace her grandmother gave her. “God, I miss her.” Eliza’s memories wandered off to the days that she spent with her grandmother during the summer months as she gazed at the beautiful statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha protectively peering over the courtyard in a state of bliss.
Eliza quietly thought to herself about her origins, where she came from, and pondered on her past relationships. “I feel no shame. I’m proud of where I came from. I was born and raised in the boondocks. It’s where I learned about livin’. Its where I learned about love. Its where I learned about working hard, And having a little was just enough. It’s where I learned about Jesus.”
Before Eliza’s parents moved the family out to LA, Eliza formally lived in the boondocks of Maine. Miles of lush wood lands surrounded her and her neighbors’ cabins. She enjoyed playing hide and go seek with her friends. When the weather got foggy, she felt like she was in a mystical wonderland, a woodland fairy fluttering about from tree to tree. As she got older, she enjoyed going out on dates gazing at the constellations of all the stars in the dark sky while afterward making out with the handsome boys in the shadows of the trees. I can hear that lullaby of the midnight train….
“Eliza, be a dear! You get a line. I’ll get a pole. We’ll go fishin’ in the crawfish hole. ” Grandma Gigi loudly called out from the kitchen as the train passed by. Eliza loved night-time fishing with Grandma Gigi. She would share all sorts of hilarious stories as they munched on some s’mores by the fire next to the crawfish hole. Camping with her was a blast. Her grandmother taught her many skills to survive in the wild as they sucked on honeysuckle blooms while avoiding its poisonous berries. “I can taste that honeysuckle. And it’s still so sweet when it grows wild.”
She was the proud owner of Corlanke’s Bar and Grille where her team eagerly served many types of margaritas, beers, and wine, fresh sirloin steaks, whiskey BBQ pork, deep fried clams and shrimp, salmon, tilapia, swordfish, pasta, salads with a healthy palette of vegetables and fruits from the local market, apple crisps, cheese cakes, and delectable pies (mmm…. Grandma Gigi’s specialty). Satisfied customers left for the night. The waiters and waitresses were busy closing down for the night counting change from the tills, washing dishes, and sweeping the cherry wood stained floors. Eliza occasionally helped out by wiping down the glasses or wrapping silverware in napkins after school.
Eliza opened her eyes and woke up from her flashback. “One thing I know. No matter where I go, I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks. It’s why I’m back in town. I knew that I’d eventually come back.”
The rosy hues of dawn gradually transformed into shades of blue. The sun began to illuminate the cerulean sky that was flecked with white clouds. Eliza Corlanke took a look around the mystical St. Kateri Tekakwitha University campus as she began to set up and decorate her booth for the fall festival. She was studying for a masters in business administration at St. Kateri’s school of business and was grateful for the relaxing day. Rays of the sunrise created the sensation of luminescent leaves on the trees that graced the sidewalks. Brilliant shades of red, orange, gold, and brown nourished the campus in a warm morning glow. Playful stone angels peered down at her from the top of the buildings. Despite their empty gazes, they seemed to frolic with the cardinals and blue jays that made their homes here in Stonington, Maine. The squirrels, long-time residents of St. Kateri, were unfazed by all of the vendors setting up their booths as they gathered acorns and nuts from the forest and chattered amongst themselves.
Unlike St. Kateri’s comfortable furry residents, Eliza recently moved into town from Los Angeles, California, upon learning that her grandmother recently passed away and decided to study at St. Kateri’s, her grandmother’s alma mater. Snug in her favorite studded black leather jacket, she gently placed her pink hair behind her ears as she began to unpack the box filled with bold colored scarves, shimmering shawls, and spunky little ornaments that she crocheted throughout the year. After she folded the scarves onto the display tables, she began to hang up her jewelry on her metal racks. Her delicate facial features hid a resolve to overcome many challenges, an unconventional, resourceful mindset, and behind her tough demeanor was a heart of gold. Eliza’s shop was popular in the conservative town Stonington, Maine where the winters were below freezing. Many of her creations attracted many families and tourists to shop for gifts and souvenirs. The elderly stopped by after their morning walks with their dogs and bought some crocheted doilies for their paperweights and bookmarks for their friends. Teenagers stopped by after school and began to set new trends with her jewelry. She hung her ornaments on the wooden right side plank of her booth and suddenly observed her neighbors in the booth next to hers.
A man and woman were dressed in vermilion velvet robes that reached their feet. Their waists were cinched with braided golden ropes. The tassels dangled from their belts as they took out decorations for their booth. The woman’s long jet black hair swayed with the gentle morning breeze. Her stoic expression was difficult to read as she took out various crystals. She spoke a few words to the man next to her and the man surprisingly let out a hearty laugh. Her fingers combed through his tousled ginger-colored hair, and he pulled his forehead towards hers as they share an inside joke. “So, it looks like she DOES have a sense of humor!”, Eliza thought. Suddenly aware that someone was watching, the woman looked up and her green eyes locked with Eliza’s. Like a deer in headlights, Eliza dropped her crocheted fox ornament, and stopped in her tracks. Alert by his partner’s change in expression, the man looked up as well, but immediately relaxed as he was bemused by Eliza’s gawking face. He gave Eliza a friendly wave that snapped Eliza out of the locked gaze.
The man walked over to Eliza’s booth and introduced himself, “Hello there! I’m Ciaran and this is my wife, Aileen!” His warm handshake energized Eliza’s cold hands on a cool autumn day, and his sapphire blue eyes gazed at her with curiosity. Aileen resumed her stoic expression but gave a curt wave nevertheless and followed her husband towards Eliza’s booth. Eliza was just as fascinated by this couple. Eager to continue breaking the ice in the conversation, Eliza invited Ciaran and Aileen around to display table, “Welcome to my shop, the Crimson Passerine!”
Aileen suddenly inquisitive after peering at Eliza’s eclectic collection of crystal jewelry, asked Eliza the origins of the name of her shop. Eliza paused to recollect her adventures in Peru. Eliza laughed, “Well, I was hiking with a tour group in the Andean cloud forests of Peru five summers ago. I took my binoculars out to get a closer look of this bright crimson bird that looked like it had a large mullet, and asked the tour guide if he knew what the name of this bird was. Smiling at the prime opportunity, the tour guide loudly told everyone in our group, “Everyone, Eliza has just witnessed our national bird from the passerine family, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock!” Embarrassed, I imagine my face turned into the color of my hair here as the adults in our group chuckled aloud while the teenagers and children roared with laughter. Captivated by the sight of that bird and my experiences in Peru, I decided to name my shop the Crimson Passerine to symbolize the bright new horizons I was exploring in my craft. Pardon my moment of inappropriateness, but for some reason, I think naming my shop The Crimson Cock-of-the-Rock would have been misleading and attract another sort of clientele that will be looking for products I DON’T have. “
Intently listening to Eliza’s story, Ciaran failed to suppress his laughter, gave his wife a flirtatious look, poked at his wife’s shoulder, and nudged her. Aileen’s stoicism melted away as she slowly smiled, “Well, Eliza! That’s quite a unique story you have behind the origins of the name of your business. Tell you what, for your entertaining story, why don’t I give you a complimentary fortune before the crowds arrive for the festival?”
Eliza was slightly puzzled and joked, “I take it you’re not going to give me a million dollar inheritance anytime soon.” Ciaran laughed again and explained, “No, my wife’s day job as a business/forecast analyst, a type of economics specialist, can be quite stressful. So, she likes to be a fortune teller on our days off and occasionally we will create a booth for fortune telling at a variety of events like this festival here. She really relishes the time to relax at venues like this. ” Eliza was somewhat relieved that Ciaran mentioned this fact of Aileen’s life. They suddenly felt more down-to-earth and approachable. Aileen beckoned Eliza to come on over to her and Ciaran’s booth.
As she pulled back the dark curtains, Eliza was momentarily transfixed by the contrasting décor. She took a seat on a soft floral chintz chair. The table separating Aileen and Eliza was covered in a blue and white chevron pattern tablecloth. On top of the table were two golden lamps on either side and a crystal ball in the center. “Okay Eliza, I sense that you’re feeling apprehensive, but I want you to take a deep breath and relax. It’s not like I’m going to prognosticate how you’re going to die or anything like that.” Ciaran stood behind his wife massaging her shoulders as they waited for two whole minutes. Eliza wished the tension in her own shoulders will disappear.
All of the sudden, Aileen’s green eyes became blank and the crystal ball featured a burning bridge, and she spoke in a monotone voice, “SHE REMEMBERS BRIDGES, BURNS THEM TO THE GROUND. RESURRECT THOSE BRIDGES WITH AN ANCIENT GLANCE. ALL THE STONES THAT ARE THROWN ARE BUILDING UP A WALL. THE BITTER TASTE IS CUMBERSOME.” Eliza looked at Ciaran who glanced at Aileen surprised by this uncharacteristic deadpan voice. Aileen regained consciousness and said, “Eliza, there’s a relationship in your life that you need to mend. There’s a way you can critique an aspect of this relationship without being completely hostile. If all goes well, this individual will soon become your business partner.”
“I’d like to believe we could reconcile the past Resurrect those bridges with an ancient glance But my old stone face can’t seem to bring her down She remembers bridges, burns them to the ground” -Lyrics from Seven Mary Three’s song Cumbersome Seven Mary Three’s Song | Cumbersome