Avril's Phoenix | Verso.ink

Avril's Phoenix

By Michelle Harris-Genge

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Chapter 1

In my twelfth summer, the stark realization that innocence is fragile hit me like an undercut to my tiny chin. I learned quite young that life doesn’t always desire to be subtle. The road less travelled isn’t necessarily a choice. Sometimes life cuts you off, forcing you down a path that is dark and unwieldy. That summer, like all of the summers of my youth, my family stayed at my uncle’s place for a couple of weeks. My mother’s brother was a retired freighter captain who lived close to the ocean but inland enough that you could only smell the sea when it was really hot outside and the wind was blowing eastward. He still lived on the water, though, on a large glassy pond where he went fishing in the evenings.

The Captain didn’t have any children but he tolerated us fairly well for someone who was used to no mess and a lot of quiet. Mom, Dad, the Captain and my aunt would gather around the fire pit in the evenings to discuss politics or other topics of no interest to kids. We had free rein in the mornings when all of the adults were sleeping in from the previous night’s activities. My siblings would wake me up every morning at the break of dawn and we’d slip down the dewy lawn to the deck on the lake that had a swirly-slide mounted to its ledge. We would catapult off the slick, circular slide like a long line of maniacal penguins, electrifying our taut bodies as we hit the freezing water. One by one, we would pop up out of the lake, laughing, choking and screaming with joy. Over and over, we kicked and swam to the slide for another turn until we melted into the deck with sheer exhaustion, the smell of the sun-warmed cedar deck surrounding us like a comfortable blanket.

The Captain hired workers to make pathways around the property that were amply lined with edible treats – fruit trees we ate breakfast from, bushes we had dessert from, and berries with spiky vines that tripped us while they cut our arms and legs. As we got older and braver, we ditched the groomed trails for full-scale woods exploration. The property extended sixty acres in total so it was immense enough that if we ever ventured onto a neighbour’s property, they never complained because no one was ever the wiser.

We also had access to all of the boats and kayaks that were otherwise locked in a fancy blue barn when we weren’t around. The property came alive and started breathing when we were there. The land welcomed us as it gasped with exultation that someone finally relished and experienced its beauty instead of just looking at it through storm windows or a camera lens.

This is where my sister, my brothers and I truly bonded as a family. It was our haven. Other kids went to camp; we went to the Captain’s. We didn’t even mind that our friends weren’t there to enjoy it with us because this was our time. Something inside of us knew this was precious. Just around the bend, we’d be doing separate things with different people when we ultimately grew up.

One Saturday morning when my siblings were uncharacteristically sleeping in, I slipped out of my bed and went down to the dock. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to paddle or kayak, but in the end I chose the rowboat for a leisurely solo adventure. I loved the sound the oars made on the pond while they splashed in the water against the brisk morning light. I remember the boat was red with white trim. When I rowed, I could envision a shadow of pink on the water, like someone spilled a drop of oil paint on a glossy, wet canvas. I rowed out far enough so that the boat was close to the clay road bordering the Captain’s property. I imagined how lovely it would be to get lost down the dirt road before gradually sauntering back to civilization. A couple of trucks drove by, but none stopped to appreciate the view. I was happy because I enjoyed my solitude. I didn’t feel like making conversation with strangers, even if they were friendly ones.

I noticed something hovering on the cusp of the water a few feet away from the last of the weeds. I rowed closer and saw a black garbage bag. At first, I didn’t think too much of it. I wasn’t even being adventurous when I put my oar underneath it. I didn’t really care what was in it. I was just traveling beside it, so I touched it. But then, because I had already made contact, I started to become interested in the guts of the bag. I fiddled around with it until the top of the bag unfastened and the contents rolled over the bottom of my oar. I screamed, then immediately shut my mouth because the foul stench of partially furred, decomposing kittens hit me like a savage punch to my face. I started rowing back at a frenzied, uncoordinated pace to get away from the smell and the sight. I stopped around fifteen feet away then watched, frozen, as the bag started to take on water and unceremoniously dropped to the bottom of the pond.

I returned a different person than the girl who began her trek that morning. By the time I got back to the Captain’s, my siblings were awake and ready for the next adventure. I said nothing about the kittens because I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s day or bother the cranky adults. I think I told my sister years later, over margaritas. But by then it wasn’t as monumentally tragic as it was the moment I realized reality can quickly switch when life haphazardly leaves baggage for others - even children - to deal with. And unfortunately, there were children like me who weren’t able to deal with the weight, even after we became adults.

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About Michelle Harris-Genge

Michelle Harris-Genge lives deep in the woods of beautiful Prince Edward Island with her husband and two amazing children.

Michelle had been writing in her work-world forever, but only recently plunged into the realm of sharing her creative writing. Michelle keeps busy co-writing The Terra Obscura Chronicles with her husband, Geoff. This is her first solo effort. Michelle also writes the pause2effect blog online.

Michelle enjoys biking, skiing and finding new keto desserts. She is hoping to get a gym membership soon. Her body isn’t pleased with being scrunched over a computer screen for entire days on end and is starting to revolt.

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