“Grandma, would you please tell us a story?” Mazy looked up from playing nurse with her cloth doll from their perch on the third glossy pine step. Her deep green eyes glittered with delight like the Emerald City of Oz.
“Yes, pleeease. We’ve been so good today, Grandma.” The little boy rolled over onto his stomach, spreading his arms in a belly flop pose, gazing with puppy eyes at the straight-backed matronly figure in her worn rocking chair. She could easily pass for the queen of Iowa, no, of the whole world without so much as a crown from the quarters of her large veranda.
“Is that so, Max?” Grandma threw a wink at the splayed figure, looking up from her latest project. She continued her knitting, the needles sliding in and out of tiny knots with uncanny ease and precision, and chuckled a little, showing glowing white teeth.
“Wow, those go so fast!” Mazy’s mouth hung open as the flat, metal tools hummed rhythmic measures under the steady creaking of the old rocker. “Do you ever get tired? And Max is right, Grandma. We were extra good on our long walk with you today and we didn’t even throw pebbles at Mr. Peter’s old dog.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Grandma ran a strong hand over her sculpted chin. “Let’s see here. . .” The bronze skinned sage furrowed her lineless brow and contemplated.
“I have an idea!” Max interjected. “I want to hear a story about knights and goblins and buried treasure.” He mimicked an attack of a castle on a wayfaring beetle with his faded green army men.
“No, I want a story about princesses and dragons. Oh, and candy.” Mazy compared the length of each of her braided, blonde pigtails. Her head snapped up, small wisps of untucked hair flying in every direction. “Can we hear something new?” she added.
“You children get me every time.” Tiny crow’s feet were the only visible wrinkles on her face; Grandma’s muscular shoulders shook with amusement at the differing requests. Perhaps she could mix a little bit of both. Children of any age always enjoy a good story, after all, she almost whispered towards the ears of the cornfield that touched the house. A spring breeze shook the new husks and threw baby dust particles in the air as nature’s confetti.
Yes, that’ll do quite nicely. But are they ready? Grandma nodded with hesitant approval and joined her grandchildren on the planks of the porch, tucking her lightweight skirt close under her polished knees. They have to learn eventually. I might as well be the messenger.
“I think I have just the story. Darlings, come sit a little closer to me.” Grandma beckoned the bouncing bundles of joy and they bounded an inch from her smooth, bare feet, promptly sitting crisscross applesauce. Story time was no time for messing around.
“Shh Julia,” crooned Mazy. She held the green skirted plaything close to her chest and positioned its face towards the grand storyteller.
“Get comfortable now. There you go.” Grandma brushed with strong, supple fingers the haphazard halo of bleach blonde curls that sprung from Max’s head, away from the forest in his eyes. She then rearranged the endless strings in her lap and folded her unblemished hands like the cherry on top. “Are you ready?” Grandma settled into a comfortable position and both children nodded and clamped their mouths shut. They were about to go on an adventure.
Ah, the smell of rain. It’ll surely help break the wretched heat we’ve had these past few days. What a wonderful morning! The young girl meandered the dusty path home with her hands jammed in her whitewashed overall pockets, her bare feet skipping every fifth-and-a-half step. So many corn fields, she thought. Around her stood acres and acres of ripe corn ready for harvest. Mmm. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a juicy cob. She looked longingly at the husk enclosed plants, almost feeling the warm butter running down her chin and dripping into her lap. Her favorite part was popping the plump kernels coated with salt and giving her taste buds the time of their lives. The familiar tinge of lye soap and aftershave overpowered her nose, wafting the scent overtop the pointed husks.
“Well if it isn’t Ella Bella,” sang a high tenor. A teenage boy about Ella’s age appeared from behind a dilapidated wagon on the side of the road.
“Joe, you should really lay off on that aftershave, you know? I can smell you a mile away.” Ella fixed his ruffled bangs and creased the collar of his plaid shirt. “Orange looks good on you.” She caught a glimpse of faint pink in his cheeks.
“Is now better?” said Joe as he leaned into Ella’s personal space. He flashed a telling grin.
“Nah. This is better.” Ella playfully shoved him out of her bubble.
“Hey, I have something to show you,” Joe said when he recovered his balance. “It’s this way.” He waved her to the left side of the road and into the cornfields.
I wonder what he found this time. I hope it’s something nice and cool like water. It sure is hot today, even with the rain coming, she thought.
“Wowee, Joe. Those are some perfect specimens of corn kind.” Ella stared at the stalks in an especially large field a few plots over that reached to the sky, tanning their earthy green husks in the sun’s penetrating rays. “Not a brown one among them!” Every stalk seems to be in the prime of its life.
“It’s in here.” Joe pointed to that field, the healthiest in sight, and walked in.
“Wait. You know we can’t go in. That’s trespassing.” Ella shook her wavy blonde hair in disapproval and crossed her arms.
“C’mon, it’s fine.” Joe rolled up his sleeves even higher past his elbows under the shade of the mammoth stalks.
“I don’t know.” Good thing I chose my white shirt today, she thought. As the sun ascended to its zenith, Ella noticed the sweat trickle down her back while the dust between her toes became a humid kind of stuck. She peered up at the bright blue sky but couldn’t catch any wisps of clouds for miles. Yuck. Whatever rain there was evaporated right out of the sky.
Joe tapped his foot in the dust and pleaded her on with his eyes. “Ella, it’s so hot. Just a quick break, please? Then we can go right on home.”
I feel like a baking pie, she thought. But trespassing—such a dishonorable thing to do! Ella expected her skin to be cracked and flaking like the white paint on the outside of her house and was surprised to find it still intact.
“Okay fine, but just for a few minutes to get out of this blistering heat.” Ella wiped the glistening drops from her forehead onto her dusty thighs. I guess it’s not trespassing if you don’t know who it belongs to, right? She followed Joe into the sea of green and felt immediate relief from the heat wave.
“Grandma, I’m hungry.” Max rubbed his stomach as the grumble of gastric juices gurgled from his abdomen.
“Maaax, you interrupted!” Mazy pouted and folded her arms. “You can’t just stop Grandma’s story because you’re hungry.”
“Says who? You’re not the boss of me,” Max said.
“Well I’m three minutes older so you have to listen to me,” Mazy gloated. She flipped her braids in his direction and smiled that triumphant smile so becoming the eldest child (albeit the luckier of the set by birth order).
“Well, I’m a boy so I automatically win.” Max smirked over his trump card.
“Boys are losers!” Mazy stuck her tongue out at him and wrinkled her nose.
“Now children, stop that nonsense. We’ll have no more of that today, do you hear?” Grandma looked each child in the eye and stood to her feet, towering over them like a powerful oak tree. “I think a snack break will do us good.” The next part is the most important anyway, she thought.
Grandma strode into the house and reappeared a minute later with a brimming bowl. The children cheered and Max squealed with delight.
“Oh, Grandma, is it the caramel kind this time? That’s my favorite.” Max tried to peer over the edge of the bowl but was unsuccessful.
“I hope it’s just plain buttered popcorn—that’s the best kind.” Mazy leaned Julia against a porch post and rubbed her hands.
Grandma’s laugh sounded like the light clinking of a windchime. “Yes dears, I brought both of your favorites out.” She munched on a few puffed kernels herself and placed the bowl in between them. “Make sure you share now, or story time is done.”
“Yes ma’am.” They agreed and took fistfuls of the airy treat.
Grandma sat down on the porch again. This is the best part. I wonder if they’ll understand.
Ella breathed a sigh of relief. It must be 15 degrees cooler here, she thought.
“Right this way, madam.” Joe interlaced his fingers with Ella’s and walked her through the straightest rows of corn her eyes ever saw.
What wonderfully rich earth. Freshly tilled too. Ella breathed in the sweet smell of a hidden corn crop accented by the musky soil.
“Tah dah!” Joe pushed through the giant leaves and came to a small clearing in what was probably the middle of the field.
“Aw, you trickster. Is this for me?” Ella gestured at the picnic spread, barely containing her blush; the blanket was laid just so, the ham and swiss sandwiches carefully cut.
“No, this is for us.” He led her to the array and tucked a loose strand of silk hair behind her freckled ear.
“Joe, I--I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you like it,” he replied with a smile, bringing her calloused hand to his lips.
“Oh, I do,” she breathed. She looked all around and then at the food. “Let’s eat! I’m starving.”
They sat down on the blanket and Joe served the lunch.
“You’re not hungry, are you?” Joe teased.
“What?” Ella managed to reply with half a sandwich already in her mouth, shrugging her powerful shoulders and throwing a questioning look at Joe.
Joe cut his chuckle short. “Did you hear that?” He looked up at the burning sun for some reason.
“Hear what?” Ella stopped mid chew and listened.
“It sounded like a crack or something. There it was again.” They strained their ears and heard slight pops in the distance.
There it was again, but louder. Ella and Joe stared at each other, puzzled. The sun beat down with extraordinary intensity that threatened the shade of the cornfield.
“Hey, look.” Ella pointed to the bulging husk of the nearest stalk. Joe and Ella stared at each other, their mouths gaping open. “Not possible,” she breathed. Before their eyes the corn cob inflated and sent its kernels flying into the air like mini balloons that floated to the ground. As it hit the sunlight, every kernel in the entire field crisped into popcorn!
“I don’t believe it!” Joe pinched himself while Ella rubbed her eyes. The popcorn fell in drifts as snow falls, each cob ripening in succession.
Ella laughed and ran around the clearing, attempting to catch the golden fluff in her outstretched arms. “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. It melts in your mouth. . .mmm.” Ella closed her eyes and shoveled nature’s treat into her mouth as Joe finally caught up. I could eat this forever, she thought.
“Uh, Ella.” Joe’s tone concerned her, so she opened one eye and peeked at him. “You’re glowing.”
She laughed out loud. “Oh, Joe, you’re too sweet.”
“Uh, no. Like you’re actually glowing. Look.” He picked up a handful of the stuff on the ground and tried it.
Ella stared at her hand, shocked. She was glowing. “So are you!” She pointed to Joe’s vibrant cheek. I feel amazing, so full of life. Hunger always has a way of making you feel down, I guess.
“Do you feel different?” Joe asked. “I feel like a thousand bucks right now!”
Ella nodded her consent and twirled in multiple circles. “I feel invincible!” She beckoned Joe closer and took his hand. They gawked at each other with clear eyes and unblemished faces.
“Let’s get as much of this stuff as possible,” Joe said. “Here, use the blanket.”
They gathered enough for a feast and returned to their picnic.
“Can you believe this stuff is still popping? This field must be twice as big as it looked from the outside.” Ella closed her eyes and let the popcorn hit her face the way one would stand vulnerable in the rain. So soft and light, she thought. We must be eating spun air.
“Let’s stay here a while,” Joe said. “I mean, if that’s okay with you?”
Ella’s eyes twinkled with joy. “Let’s.”
“Aw Grandma, is that really the end?” Max rolled onto his back and felt around for his scattered army men.
Mazy stared at the empty bowl of popcorn in amazement. “Is that really how we get popcorn, Grandma?” She brushed the crumbs onto the pine planks, and they disappeared. “I thought it was a good story.”
“But what about the goblins and dragons and stuff? I think I missed that part.” Max shook his head and squinted, trying to remember all the details.
“Ah, children. I’m afraid that’s the one I have for today.” Her eyes laughed as she watched them finish the afternoon snack. If anything, they looked happier and brighter, she thought. Stooping down to pick up the empty bowl, thick, golden locks fell around her shoulders and framed her face. She stood up straight with ease and maneuvered around Max’s sprawled limbs. My, how she loved these grandchildren of hers, even if they didn’t quite understand the story. Before turning into the house, she contemplated a cornfield a little ways off and smiled. Am I a Ponce de León? The world may never know. With that she walked into the kitchen and started supper.