A Little Less Complex
Mill Valley, CA
Tamalpais High School
Crawling on our bellies through the tall, biting grass, elbows and knees making deep grooves in the warm earth beneath us, we stalked our prey. We were starving lions, watching the two gazelle in our field of vision selfishly shovel chocolate chip cookies and pretzels into their gullets. Or, perhaps we were secret agents, undercover spies looking for the villainesses that had murdered our brothers all those years ago. Blackberry thorns and creepy-crawlies tore at my disheveled clothes in a desperate attempt to halt my mission. But I was persistent. Sweat dripped off my forehead in fat droplets, oozing its way into the creases in my face, the salty sting entering my eyes and mouth. I wore my special shorts that day, plucked from the Goodwill shopping racks for the sole reason that they matched Jane Goodall’s. Or, were those the shorts I got for hiking Masada? Perhaps, on this specific mission, I had my “Everything Bag”, filled to the brim with magic tricks and broken walkie-talkies, hanging by my side instead of deep khaki pockets. I can’t quite remember now what it was, but I suppose it doesn’t matter; the story changes but our mission was the same. Wasting away in the summer heat of the African Savannah, we were CIA agents on a mission, with Mary-Poppins-style purses or “Everything Bags” or shorts pockets with us, housing all of our basic CIA secret agent needs. We bid our time, hours passing as the African mobsters, who looked quite a bit like our older sisters, chittered inside the air-conditioned house about boys and friends and their latest math quiz.
Storytime, always the highlight of my days as a child, consistently ended with picture books shut in frustration and an impressionable mind devouring plotlines and cliff-hangers single-handedly as parents left the room in a huff. From a young age, I have been enamored with storytelling. Spinning tall tales about everything that crossed my train of thought, from strangers we passed on the street to the ladybugs residing on our tomato leaves, I could never get enough. Some, like my father, unaffectionately call it “lying”.
The first time he accused me, I was livid. How could I be lying about something that felt so real? A cocky, full-bodied laugh rose from his seat at our make-shift dining room table, either on Morning Sun or Tamalpais, the specifics I can’t seem to quite recall. The gargantuan windows fogged with the steam rising off our not-so-secret pasta recipe and the heat radiating from my flustered cheeks. I tried to refute his claim, my amateur vocabulary coming up with countless reasons why the time I had tap-danced in front of my mother’s house, not been so careful, tumbled down the twenty-three concrete steps, but miraculously survived without any injuries had 100% happened. He just didn’t remember. The date? December 10th, 2009, exactly a month and a half after he moved out. The reason? The excitement of seeing him home again, and wanting to give him a reason to stay. The culprit? Those damned flats from Gap and my lack of tap-dancing training. He laughed again, chortling at my “impeccable” memory, his wily hair and familiar eyes taunting me. I guess I am my father’s daughter after all; the more evidence I shored out, the more unsure in myself I became. But of course, I could never let him know that.
The next time, he told me that my sister had never really told me the fib about astronauts that I remember so vividly. But it had to have happened, that night as recent in my memory as the thick yogurt I had for breakfast just this morning. Candles burned low, long into the night, as snow, no, rain, fell in sheets outside. The world outside the comforts of the dining room was so dark that the only image in the windows was the face, nose and up, of a small girl with smaller curls and rosy cheeks. Greedily, I tiptoed to the counter and snatched a chunk of perspiring Challah from underneath the protective covering. My father, too intently watching his latkes fry to perfection, missed my expert pickpocketing skills in action (although he claims that the Challah was whole when we sat down to the table that night). As our parents stood around the kitchen discussing the recent (or was it upcoming?) election, we sat by the fire, stuffing our faces with sufganiyot. Our impressionable minds mused over the pros and cons of the future occupations we had chosen earlier that day. I crawled into the bed that once belonged to both my mother and father later that night, belly bursting and eyes fluttering shut, in an attempt to keep the peace throughout the long winter night. Cradled in my mother’s strong, tan arms, I muttered something incoherent about how I was going to be a farmer, not the astronaut I had promised earlier that day. I was too afraid of being thrown into the sun.
We are in the car now, he and I. Squished between day old chicken from Trader Joe’s and my sister’s old floral skirts that we can never be too careful with, we recount old memories nearly faded from both of our minds. I’m not sure that I trust every word that comes out of his mouth, and I am certain he feels the same about me, but alone in the truck, Simon and Garfunkel provide an apt soundtrack for the two of us to mourn over our shared loss and snack on hummus and celery. We are both far too tired and far too lonely to argue with the intoxicating stories starring my sister that we share, whether or not they’re reliable. I realize, watching his familiar eyes light up, as he recounts a time when she may or may not have fallen off a skateboard and sprained her arm, managing to go three whole days without letting any of us know about it. We both know that it was really a roof, that the passing time was closer to 15 hours, and that the reason was more than likely a bottle of five-dollar wine and a passive 7-11 cashier. But driving through the pitch darkness, heading into the loneliest time of my life with nothing but roadside Denny’s to accompany me, I’m thinking that allowing stories to take over might make reality a little less complex.
"A Little Less Complex" illustrates childhood and a girl's relationship with her father in ways too lyrical to describe. References to Jane Goodall seal the deal in making this piece fantastically wild, and the author's imagery steals the reader away into their literary world. An excellent example of short fiction.
Hannah Kahn is a recent high-school graduate from Tamalpais High school in Mill Valley, California. When not writing, she can be found reading, crocheting, embarking on cooking experiments, drinking excessive amounts of coffee, or getting lost on long hikes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR