August 2021 short story of the month
When he tried to express himself with words, he could never get it right. But with his hands, he could shape things, mold things, and make things. He had discovered that gift as a young boy when he fell in love the first time.
He was only six, and despite his young age, he fell in love with Cheryl. She was his nanny, and much to his liking, she was younger than the previous ones.
She always played the games he liked, and she sang him to sleep. But the reason he fell in love with her was that she made cookies with raspberry jam on them.
He drew her pictures that she proudly displayed in the toy room. He sang her songs that she learned by heart and sang back to him.
She began working for his family in the spring, and she joined his family as they spent the summer at their beach cottage.
It was the best summer of his life. They would spend all day at the shore. Some days he swam, and others they would build elaborate sandcastles.
One afternoon in addition to himself and Cheryl, there were some young men loitering at the beach. They were loud and Cheryl seemed distracted by them. She kept smiling and looking in their direction. It never occurred to him that he was her job, and she really wanted to frolic with people her own age.
One of the beachgoers approached. He was smiling from ear to ear.
“Hi there,” the newcomer said to Cheryl.
The child watched the exchange between Cheryl and the young man with interest. How could he get Cheryl to bat her eyelashes and smile at him like that? He knew Cheryl loved him too; she had too.
Cheryl talked and flirted for several minutes with the young man. At the end of their conversation, she made plans to meet him later.
“It’s a date,” she said as her new friend walked off to rejoin his cronies.
The rest of the day the child was inconsolable. Nothing cheered him up. The lunch wasn’t the food he wanted. The sun was too hot, and the water was too cold. He wasn’t tired and didn’t want to nap. He didn’t want those stories read to him. And no, he didn’t want a song.
The next few days Cheryl was distracted and prone to daydreaming. Sometimes she didn’t even answer when he asked one of a thousand questions.
He was losing her. He knew it. He needed to do something that would impress her and win her heart back.
As the days passed, he couldn’t think of anything. What was he supposed to do? He was only six.
He sulked and fussed with Cheryl even though he wanted her to like him.
Summer started to wind down. After that first date, Cheryl sometimes took days off.
On the days she returned, the child was always at his worst. He couldn’t help it; he knew he was losing his tenuous hold on her.
He needed to do something, anything, to win her back.
One day, near the end of summer, he was made to stay near the house. The sky was an unsettling shade of grey, and the clouds were unfriendly.
He was allowed to go outside, but he had to stay in the yard. He walked in circles around the house. Cheryl sat in the back prepping vegetables for supper.
After walking around the house so many times, he was creating a path in the yard, he stopped to play in the dirt. He was not within eyesight of Cheryl. She would have stopped him. If he got dirty, he would have to be bathed before dinner.
He dug a hole about the size of a dinner plate and dug down and down until he had a nice little pile of dirt. He intended to keep digging. He was trying to get as dirty as possible. The more dirt, the more time Cheryl would have to pay attention to only him.
As he reached his hand into the hole to scoop out another handful, the texture of the earth was different. The dirt he’d already removed was a chocolate brown color with little grey pebbles throughout.
This new layer was stickier somehow and the color was lighter. He had to push harder to move it out of the hole. Once he had a handful, he held it up to examine it.
It even smelled different.
It was clay. He’d seen a pottery studio on one of their walks through the beach town. The sign in the window said the pottery was made from locally sourced clay. And he’d found some of his very own.
He scooped out more and more until he had a pile in his lap. Then he closed his eyes and pictured one of the vases he’d seen in town.
He wanted to make Cheryl a vase. She would like that. She liked flowers, and if he made a vase, she would think of him every time she put fresh flowers in it.
He moved his hands around the clay molding it the way he imagined it should look. In his mind, he was making a beautiful curvy vase.
When he opened his eyes, he was disappointed. It was still just a pile of clay.
His brow furrowed. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes again. He had to make a vase. He was desperate. The summer was almost over.
When Cheryl hadn’t seen the boy for several minutes, she walked around the yard until she saw him playing in the dirt. She didn’t want to disturb him. He looked so content.
She would have to give him a bath before dinner, but it was worth it for the few minutes he was not behaving like a brat.
She went back to prepping vegetables on the back porch. After some time had passed, and it was nearing time to take the boy in, he appeared holding the most beautiful vase she’d ever seen.
“Where did you get this?” Cheryl asked.
“I made it,” he said proudly, sticking his chest out.