In The Grip

Written with the prompts:  springtime, accepting limits but pushing for more, wonder about the ivy, there is always a little girl standing in the corner just staring, Maddie in the grip

Maddie is in the grip of a good story, her pale face illuminated by the blue light of her Kindle.  It is winter inside the story, and the characters wear puffy jackets, knit caps, and scarves.

In Maddie’s story there is a little girl in a sun dress at a California zoo, standing near the Red Panda’s habitat.  She says nothing to anyone.  Children wander by her.  They are entranced by the pandas, some munching on bamboo leaves, others napping in the branches of red maple trees.  Adults—parents, teachers, docents—they notice the girl.  “Are you alone, honey?”  “Are you lost?”  Where’s your Mom?  Is your Dad here?”

The child says nothing because she is merely a cypher, a memory that has taken form like a reflection on glass.  She cannot hear the chatter, the questions, the sharp cry of lemurs, the insistent roar of lions.  She is floating in an imaginary springtime, a forgotten hope.  All she sees is the thick, comforting fur of the Red Panda; it looks so warm.  She wants to touch this animal:  is she allowed to do that?  She may stroke a cat and pat a dog, even offer a handful of grain to a cow or horse, but she has been warned away from possums, skunks and raccoons.  She readily accepts these limits but she is aching for more.  These poor zoo animals dwell in a limbo between domesticated and wild.  Surely no one will mind if she snuggles up in the fur of this cozy-looking hybrid.  It looks so friendly.  Is it?

In Maddie’s story there are ghosts everywhere, the ghosts of reckless children who ignored the warnings of the wise adults.  But this quiet girl has been given some kind of a reprieve.  She and the smallest panda disappear into the invasive English Ivy that creeps along the walls at the zoo year-round.  Girl and panda emerge on an island, somewhere in the South Pacific, a place where Westerners like to believe there may still be a bit of primitive purity.  On their island the hibiscus blossoms are deep red and as big as the moon.  They will live a happy arboreal life.  They will eat nothing but sugar cane and yellow melons.

Maddie liked the story better at the beginning when the animals in the zoo dwelled in the tranquil January fog, the sky white and furry.  Maddie imagines her favorite snow leopards with their thick coats and heavy feet would finally feel comfortable in the chilled air.  Maddie herself craves cold weather because it feels so real.  In the valley heat, the landscape blurs and she fears she will melt.  But in the cold she feels crisp.  She likes the tingling of her hands and toes, her cheeks and chin.  She likes the stiffness of her face in a cold wind, the startling sensation when she attempts to smile, or when she opens her mouth wide to shout at her little brother.

Maddie has a little brother.  He is not a ghost, and neither is she.

Photo by Valentin Petkov on Unsplash

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