Feathers and Ashes in the Valley of Childhood
I can remember seeing a feather, impossibly black against a blue sky. I must have been four or five and I was standing in the parking lot behind my apartment building. I seem to be four or five in all my memories of that parking lot, as if all my years there were one endless summer. The parking lot was a place of light, ringed by dark, mountainous, apartments painted brown. I lived at the far end; by the alley; a dry moat separating us from the house with the giant tree, and the boy who lived in its branches.
The best part of the parking lot was a weed choked plot behind the convenience store. It had a morning glory covered hill to climb with tiny stalks of white flowers with heart shaped leaves perfect for bouquets. We called it the dump and made up stories about things that had been thrown back there. Hand dug holes dotted the hill where we would look for bugs. We were sure that they would be mutated by chemicals we believed had been poured there. My brother was chased by just such a creature, a mutated spider that could not be killed. We decreed that the area was off limits until the spider was no longer a threat. Later we were climbing the hill, the spider forgotten as we battled monster vines and tree sized weeds.
Only cautiously did we leave our hidden kingdom to pick blackberries and see the burned carcass of a house down the street. The cops drove by often and we amassed a fortune of plastic badges whenever they stopped in the alley. We wore them proudly and took turns wielding a rusted machete, dropped by pirates, as we chased each other over the faded black asphalt that never seemed to hold any cars. The adults watched us from the perimeter, only able to make brief strides into our land before being propelled out and back into the fortress of apartments. From lazy afternoon till the sun started to set that lot was our own.
I learned to ride my bike while in that parking lot. It was there that the training wheels came off, turning the black field into a racetrack. My first kiss was there, underneath a discarded a truck topper with the boy who lived in the tree. It was hot and smelled of sweat and fiberglass, a little island at the center of the world. We said that kiss would be our secret. On another day I would kick him for being mean, ruining relations between our two territories.
In the years since my brothers and I left that parking lot behind, I have seen the building I once lived in. But the apartments, though painted the same brown, had shrunk and become distorted. I didn't go into the parking lot. After all, I was no longer a kid and wouldn't be welcome. But I remember my time there, hands open to catch that glossy black feather. Only to have it turn into black ash that disintegrated into an oily stain at my touch.