Tina Marlene Goodman

The December Selected Writer is Tina Marlene Goodman

Feel free to email Tina at: augustina29@gmail.com


by Tina Marlene Goodman

During mealtime in the house, Amber’s place was across the table from Mama and Papa, and the window behind them. That meant she had to face not only Mama and Papa, which was fine, but also the window, which was not fine. The trees outside the window wouldn’t stop looking through it, and at her.

In the past, Amber had asked for changes. She had asked if the curtains could be closed during mealtime, but Mama had said her appetite favored sunshine. Then she had asked if Mama and Papa could sit closer together, to block the view, but Papa had said they couldn’t, he needed the elbow room. Finally, Amber had asked if she could change her place altogether, but Papa said no.

“What about the trees?” Amber asked.

Papa said, “Everything’s fine. Just go to the boulder and you’ll see.”

Amber hasn’t gone to the boulder. In her mind, the boulder was mesmerizing and chatoyant, like the tiger’s eye bead on her bracelet, with shifting stripes of brown and gold. In her mind, the boulder has grown higher and wider so that it’s at least three times larger than the house. At bedtime, she dreamed of climbing the boulder and never reaching the top. But she sensed that once she’s up there, at the peak, she’ll find something great….but the boulder lays beyond the trees.

She remains in the house, unwilling to visit the boulder, because getting there would mean taking the path through the trees. And she didn’t want to be among the trees.

So Amber sat across the table from Mama and Papa, and the lurking trees which she tried not to see. She looked down at her dish, for the most part, as she ate, but sometimes she just stared at her lap. Occasionally she looked over at Mama, or at Papa, just to be polite.

She’d learned not to look at their shoulders which sometimes shifted when reaching for the bowl of food, which allowed the trees to dart into her sight. Instead, she aimed her gaze at their faces and blinked during the space it took to turn from one parent to the other.

“This cantaloupe isn’t ripe,” Amber heard Papa say. She lifted her head and watched him wolf down his melon, crunchy rind and all.

Amber looked down at her own watermelon, which was perfectly delicious, and offered to share it. But Mama and Papa wouldn’t hear of it, or maybe they couldn’t, because just then a foul odor came into the room. Amber sniffed then yelled, “That’s disgusting!”

Somehow a stench had sneaked into the house. Perhaps it had floated down the chimney, clinging to a wisp of silver ash. Or, maybe it stole a ride from a breeze and burst through the attic vent. Other than the chimney and the vent, the house was sealed as tightly as a house could be.

“What’s that rotten smell?” Amber looked at all the heaps of food on the table, then at Mama and Papa, forgetting to blink. “Has something gone bad?”

Mama and Papa looked at each other, shrugged and shook their heads. Amber saw a blur of trees then quickly focused in on Mama.

“Perhaps a starving mole has come up from underground and died near the boulder?” Mama suggested. “We’ll excuse you from mealtime if you want to find out. If there is, you could examine it, and take notes of its decay.”

“What? A dead mole? But, Mama, I don’t want to go searching for death. And how can you stand to eat? Can’t you taste it? The smell is smeared all around inside of my mouth.”

“If you’re offended,” Papa said, “the boulder’s the ticket. Go there, and you’ll no longer be troubled.”

But Amber didn’t want to cower among the trees on the way to the boulder and possibly encounter a dead mole. So, she lied. “The smell’s gone. I must’ve imagined it.”

Papa looked stone-faced at Amber. “Don’t allow nuisances inside your head.”

“Yes, Papa.” Amber continued feasting but had to force down every single bite.

After mealtime, Amber followed Mama and Papa into the chair room. Papa eased into his leather recliner then leaned back to reach his favorite incline while simultaneously raising his feet. Mama sunk into her massage chair, and had her body caressed and pressed by a multitude of plush, mechanical fingers. Instead of sitting in her small rocking chair next to Mama, Amber stood in front of the TV. She was the appointed channel changer and she took the position seriously because Papa didn’t believe in remotes.

Amber turned on the set, expecting to catch the introduction of the after-mealtime family film. Instead, she heard sirens and saw a man standing near some trees. He was holding a microphone and yelled, “The dying are everywhere! Necessities are lacking! Disease is spreading!”

She saw arms reach for the man. And she saw mouths opened wide. Then the yelling man, and the reaching arms, and the open mouths, suddenly disappeared from the screen and all that was left were trees. Then the word  HELP! flashed on the TV.

“I guess our movie’s not on today,” Mama said. “That’s a pity.”

“Change the channel,” Papa said.

Amber stood and gaped at the TV for a while, wondering about the man with the microphone. What had the arms and mouths done to him among the trees? Then, she turned around to her parents and said, “Something’s wrong, weren’t you able to see?”

Papa grumbled. “It’s just a crock of hyped-up sensationalism. They’ll do anything for ratings.”

Mama sighed. “TV is so dull these days. Change it to a shopping channel.”

“Put it on a sports channel.” Papa shot out his words like granite shards. “Then move out of the way.”

Amber changed the channel to one showing a football game, then turned and looked at her parents. Papa nodded at her. Mama picked up one of her catalogues and flipped through the pages.

Then Amber sat in her rocking chair, next to Mama, and started rocking. She closed her eyes and thought about the trees outside, and the smell in the house, and the panic on the television. She rocked faster and faster. She tried to rock away the trees and the smell, and the dying that were everywhere, with their spreading disease.

Suddenly the rocking stopped. Amber opened her eyes and saw Mama’s pale, solid hand holding down the arm of the rocker. “If you have so much energy to burn, why not take a stroll to the boulder? It’ll settle you down.”

Instead of walking out to the boulder, Amber lit all of Mama’s aromatherapy candles and placed them around her. Then she put headphones over Mama’s ears and turned on her recording of white noise.

“My, isn’t this nice?” Mama said and turned another page of her catalogue.

After that, Amber sat still in her chair and watched the football game. Then she watched the entire replay, the highlights, and hours of commentary, until it was bedtime.

During bedtime, Amber couldn’t fall asleep in her bed that was just right. Her head kept turning on the fluffy feather pillow, medium loft. Her skin felt clammy under the puffy duvet. Her heart was now too heavy for her perfect mattress to bear.

She got up and crept to Mama and Papa’s comfort-controlled split bed. Papa lay stretched out on the firm side, and Mama lay curled up on the soft.

They are perfectly still, like statues, or the dead, Amber thought. And then she screamed.

Mama and Papa woke up, angry. They sent Amber outside, into the night, where the smell was even stronger, and gave her a flashlight. They said there was no other choice, she must visit the boulder, if she wanted to live in the house.

She knew they were right, but still, she wished they could’ve waited until the sun came up, and she desperately wished the path to the boulder didn’t wind through the trees.

She aimed her flashlight at the center of the path and followed its beam of light. She kept her head down. With each step, she felt the trees leaning closer toward her. She quickened her pace and listened. At first, she heard the snapping of twigs and the creaking of branches. But then came a great thundering as trees toppled over, and a great shaking, as trees tumbled over each other and rolled on the ground.

She darted to the boulder, no longer minding the center of the path that was clear. She ran into a branch and flung it aside, then each branch that after, low and high, swung out and slapped her. She felt the sting of needles as they sliced her arms and face, and tasted them, mixed with the blood inside her mouth.

Then she ran straight into something that was blocking her way. It was a big rock sitting in the middle of the path, so she walked around it, then was surprised to see a thick wall of trees. She got up on the rock and searched with her flashlight for the boulder or signs of a trail, but couldn’t find a thing, except more trees.

Realizing her mistake, she climbed down to the ground and looked the rock over. It was about five feet wide and came up to her shoulders. It was a dusky blue shade and not what she expected, but now, at last, she realized she had made it to the boulder.

She stretched her arms across it and placed her head against it. Then something came over her and she knew the boulder was special, and just what she needed. She yearned to stay with it forever, even though it was deep inside the trees. The trees.

That’s when she remembered the trees. How could she have forgotten them? It was as if they were no longer there, almost. She could barely hear them; there were just a few echoing snaps. She shined her flashlight at them; they were still there, all around. But she realized there was no call for concern, or action. And with there being so many of them, what difference would it make? Even the smell had nearly faded away. Mama and Papa had been right all along, all she had to do was visit the boulder, and then everything would be just fine.

Yes, the boulder was very special, and she wondered what it was made of. She knew it wasn’t tiger’s eye, with colors that floated and shifted as she turned her gaze, but it could possess some kind of optical property.

She stepped back and shined her flashlight at it, and as she moved the beam slowly across the surface, Amber thought she saw movement. It looked like there were two nubs pressing outward, one bigger than the other, and two circles sucking inward.

Amber stared as the circles grew and stretched into ovals then closed. Then they opened and closed again and again. Then something else protruded near the larger circle and moved up and down in synchronization. Amber studied it, amazed. She thought its curved shape was just like Papa’s earlobes.

She thought about the distorted pressing and sucking shapes too. Then she screamed.

There were noises behind her, so she turned and saw Mama and Papa hurrying along the path and was relieved to see them. She turned back toward the boulder and shined her light on it for Mama and Papa to see. But the faces were gone.

“What’s wrong?” Papa asked. “Why’d you scream?”

“I thought I saw the boulder change. I thought you were both inside it.”

“Never mind, everything will be fine now,” Mama said. “We’ll have mealtime, chair-time, and bedtime, as always, inside the house.”

Amber smiled at Mama and kissed her cheek. It felt cold and tasted kind of like chalk, but she shrugged it off; she was eager to get back inside the house.

“Did you spend enough time close to the boulder, as close as you could?” Papa asked. “Enough time for everything to be just right, and for you not to scream?”

“Surely, she’s clung long enough to merge,” Mama said. “It took me hardly a moment.”

Amber turned and focused her flashlight beam on the boulder again, then slowly aimed it at her father’s eyes, and her mother’s. Their eyes, she saw, were pebbles, carved from the same slate blue stone.

So, Amber ran from Mama and Papa, and the boulder that made things just right. She went deeper and deeper into the trees, searching for the senses of humanity.

Blood of the Chitwood-Crawford clan throbs through Tina Marlene Goodman’s veins. Her ancestral land, Chitwood, Oregon, once a thriving community, is now a decaying ghost town. Sometimes, a misguided soul will venture into Chitwood to gawk at its red covered bridge which is at risk of disappearing into heavy, moist-laden air, or being sucked down into rain-saturated sludge.

Tina lives in Boise, Idaho, with her teenager, Atticus.

She can be found at Facebook under her own name and at her Amazon Author page.