Rainbows Arc


Rainbow’s Arc

By Marco Etheridge

     Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. A small shrine huddled at the foot of it, ringed with burnt out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy stuffed animals. One word of graffiti filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!

     One sodden teddy bear lay toppled on its back, water-logged by an afternoon thundershower come down off the mountain. Solemn glass eyes stared up at the night sky, their emptiness reflecting the myriad bright stars gleaming in the blackness. Another set of eyes peered from behind the rumpled head of the teddy bear, amber yellow eyes that were very much alive. The eyes vanished as a glare of light swept over the concrete wall, tires hissing on the dark roadway. The threat passed, and pointed ears rose from behind the wet pile of acrylic fur, then the amber eyes, wide and searching, and finally a long black nose, sniffing for clues borne on the night air.

     The young fox shifted her back leg, felt a stab of pain shoot through her quivering body. The injured leg spasmed and then went limp, leaving her afraid and panting. This was a bad place, but she could not walk, could barely crawl. Headlights stabbed through the night, shadowing her head against the block wall. She ducked her head from those horrible lights, the lights that had tried to kill her.

     The terrible lights had caught her on that wet roadway, caught her sprinting across that dangerous darkness, the sudden glare from nowhere, the thud, sharp pain as her body spun into the air. She tried to run again, fell, crawled, wormed her body against the shelter of the dark wall. A human smell hung over the place, rank and repulsive, but she was drawn in. Tucked against the warm concrete wall, pain rocked her body and darkness engulfed her.

* * * 

     The kid swayed in the driver’s seat, his thumbs drumming out a beat against the steering wheel. The music was good, the night was good, and the last pizza was delivered. The rain had washed everything clean, so clean. The morning would be fantastic, bright and crisp. It was good to be Theo the Pizza Kid, living large and happy. Tomorrow would be a perfect day for a hard hike in the rocks before another night of seeing people smile as a hot pizza was delivered to their doorstep.

     The truck whined as Theo downshifted for the turn, slowing the truck as he neared the shrine. There was not another vehicle in sight. Gravel crunched under the wheels as he eased the truck onto the gravel shoulder. The headlights illuminated the rain-soaked memorial. Yes, Theo my man, things need a bit of loving care after that storm. You can light a few candles, make things nice again, maybe gather up some flowers tomorrow.

     Theo killed the engine, left the headlights on, and stepped into the cool night. His boots crunched against the drying gravel as he walked forward. Theo felt the sadness through the soles of his feet, felt it in the night air that coursed into his lungs. Ah, Man, that poor woman riding her bike, a stupid kid, drunk, driving too fast. Rainbow, that’s what people called her, one of his regular deliveries, the veggie special. A nice woman, a yoga teacher, always gave the Pizza Kid a bright smile and a good tip.

     The vixen heard the footsteps in the gravel, smelt the rank human smell on the air, sensed the presence of danger. She raised her head, amber eyes narrowed against the bright stab of light. A shadow cut through the glare, a shadow moving toward her. Fear coursed through her, raising the red hackles on her neck, telling her to run, run now, but her legs would not answer the call. Her head sagged and she closed her eyes against the light.

     He felt her before he saw her, felt the creature’s pain and fear as if it were a band tightening across his chest. Then Theo’s eyes saw her move, saw the fox’s sagging head sag, her long tail limp against the wall, the tip white in the headlights. The tall young man lowered himself into a crouch, forearms resting on his knees, rocking slowly.

     Rhythmic sounds began rolling into the night air, soft and deep and resonant. The music rose and fell, emanating from the kid’s throat, music as deep as a clear pool of water. Words came into the chant, words meant to ease the suffering. In his song, Theo called her Little Sister, told her not to worry, to have no fear. Still chanting, he began to move toward the fox.

     The strange sounds flooded over the vixen, unwinding the tight spasms in her body. She knew she should be fighting, baring her teeth, snarling, but she was so tired. She saw the human approaching, closer and closer, but instead of struggling, she gave herself over to the sounds he was making. Lulled by the rise and fall of the song, her eyes closed.

     The terror and pain of the night were washed away by a vision of flying. She was gliding over the human roadway on a strange machine. She held the machine with human hands. Her beautiful coat of red fur had vanished, replaced by pale white skin. The sun was low in the west and cast long shadows over the cracked pavement, distorted shadows of a human riding a rolling machine.

     Then there came bright lights and screeching, acrid smoke and a terrible crash. The world cartwheeled around her. She was tumbling through the air, catapulted towards a wooden tree with no branches, its trunk covered in bright colors, and behind it human symbols on a concrete wall. Her strange new body broke against the tree and then there was darkness. 

     She opened her eyes and was a fox once more. The human was crouching in front of her, still crooning in that sing-song voice.

     Ah, Little Sister, it looks like you tangled with something out on that bad old road. No need to fear, Theo the Pizza Kid is here, but we are going to need to get that leg looked at, yes we are. You stay here and rest, Little Sister, while I get something to wrap you up in, something nice and warm, okay?

     The Vixen watched the human walk away into the lights, then relaxed as the bright lights faded out. She heard his footsteps returning, a smaller light bobbing as he walked. He sat on the ground within reach of her body, but she was too weak to flee or fight. He made more of the human sounds, and the sounds took shape in her brain: Blanket, home, safe, food.

     The night disappeared again as she sank back into the delirium of pain and exhaustion. The hurt and fear were gone, fallen away, and she was framed in bright sunlight. She stood upright and tall; her smooth body almost naked. The vixen was no longer a fox, and she stood inside a human building and was not afraid. Her mouth moved and the human sounds spilled out of her. She moved the human hands that hovered in the air before her and the hands obeyed her commands. Rows of humans sat at her feet, listening to the sounds she was making, following her movements. Then the room faded to nothingness, replaced by the night and pain, and this human, so close, too close. 

     The vixen felt her body being wrapped in something warm and soft. The human lifted her body from the ground. He crooned at her as he carried her in his arms.

     Theo cradled the bundled fox, leaning the weight of her against his chest, speaking soft and low to the frightened beast. Here we go, Little Sister, nice and slow. He moved with care, gentle and slow, calming his own fearful thoughts of what her sharp fangs could do. You take it easy on Theo, now, keep those beautiful teeth of yours peaceful and quiet. Ah, you are doing fine now, yes you are, and look at this, we’re almost there.

     A last spasm of panic passed through the fox as the human carried her to the truck. Instinct told her to fight, to bite and snarl, but it passed like a distant memory. She felt the rising and falling of his voice through the flesh of his chest, through the warm blanket wrapped around her. Instead of being afraid, she experienced a sense of comfort, accompanied by an image of saffron robes and the imagined sound of guttural chanting.

     Theo slid the fox into the passenger seat, tucking the blanket around her body, crooning to the injured creature all the while. There you go, Little Sister, all ready for our ride, but now that we are friends, you’re going to need a proper name. How about Rainbow, do you like that? I think that nice yoga teacher would have liked that too. 

     Rainbow watched the glow of lights sliding past the windows, felt again the sensation of flying. The human was making the sounds that had meaning, talking to her. Theo, he made that sound, and it seemed somehow to be him. He moved his hand and in the flow of his words she heard Reggae, followed by a music that filled the space around them. The music matched the gentle swaying of the truck as they rolled through the night.

     When the ride ended, she was lifted again. The kid slid her body onto a soft pile of clothing among the boxes in the garage. He pulled an old coat over the top, creating a cave that emanated the sweetness of powdered old ladies, and the faint earthiness of children now long grown. The mixed scents teased something in the deep recesses of Rainbow’s ancestral brain. 

     The pizza kid lifted her head to help her lap water from a hubcap. He broke bits of pepperoni and crust into bite-sized pieces and left them where her tongue could reach them. Much later, she heard him practicing his orations like songs. Like monks chanting in the distance, they were a comfort.

     Rainbow awoke to the interwoven threads of multiple scents, and a flood of sunlight pouring through the windows of the garage door. The odors of musty cardboard mixed with the perfume of old lady clothing, and behind these the fresh sweat smell of the pizza kid. Stronger than the messages on the air was the urge from her bladder. Rainbow struggled to her feet, driven by her mother’s imperative to never soil the den. A few halting steps away she saw loose soil spread over a crinkly white surface. A human word triggered in her brain: Paper.

     Theo watched the young fox emerge from the makeshift den, happy to see her able to rise on her own. He spoke to her with soft words, encouraging her. Good morning, beautiful Rainbow. That’s right, that’s the spot for you. Don’t you mind me, I’ll turn my back and give you some privacy, but I want to tell you about our plans for the day. First, you are going to have breakfast, good food to make you stronger. Then we are going to pay a backdoor visit to my friend the veterinarian, get your leg looked at. Don’t look so surprised, the Pizza Kid knows everyone. I know the good lady vet, I know the cops, I even know the monks up at Shakashan, because Monks like pizza as much as anyone. 

* * * 

     Theo carried Rainbow from the truck to the back of a human building, where a woman dressed in white stood smiling and waving. The woman greeted Theo, made soft cooing noises at Rainbow, and led them into a small room with a tall table. The room was white and smelled of strange odors, clean and sharp at the same time, strong scents that pulled memories of other white rooms from the shadows of an unremembered past. Rainbow felt Theo’s hands on her head, gentle and reassuring, his familiar voice murmuring soft words. Another human was there, running her fingers over Rainbow’s injured hind leg. She trembled under this strange touch, but she did not snarl or bite. Theo’s hand gripped her head and there was a sharp prick of pain in her flank. The bright white room softened, faded, then spun into darkness.

     When Rainbow opened her eyes, she saw the shore of a small lake and mountains rising beyond. She trotted along the rocky shore, her legs whole and strong. A craggy outline of rock cliffs shimmering across the mirror of still water. Rainbow raised her nose and snuffled the cool morning air. She smelled water and earth and, behind these, the sharp tang of human. She turned her quick steps in the direction of the human scent. 

     A woman was sitting on a boulder near the water’s edge, her auburn hair blazing in the sunlight. As Rainbow drew closer, she saw the woman was young and strong. The woman turned her gaze away from the water, smiling at Rainbow, her words as clear as the mountain air: Good Morning, Beautiful. It’s good to meet you at last, even though we already know each other.

* * * 

     Theo sat beside the tall stainless-steel table, his fingers stroking the fur between Rainbow’s long ears. Through the tips of his fingers, he felt her stir under the anesthetic, saw her forepaw twitch. Theo experienced a wave of relief as Rainbow returned, and with that relief came an increase in his heartbeat. He slowed his breathing to calm the excitement, just as he had done to control his fear.

     Rainbow’s eyes fluttered open and Theo’s face broke into a wide grin, his words light and happy. Welcome back, Rainbow. While you were sleeping Doctor Janet made a cast for your leg. You have a simple fracture, nothing more than that. Doc says that you are a very lucky girl. As soon as you’re wide awake, we need to slip out the back. You’re sort of a secret patient, not officially supposed to be here if you know what I mean. We don’t want to overstay our welcome.

* * * 

     The world was coming back into focus as Theo carried her to the truck. Her left hind leg was awkward and stiff, but Theo managed to get her settled on the passenger seat. The cast felt very strange, but it was far better than being dizzy with pain. As Theo began driving, Rainbow sniffed at the white coating on her leg, then touched her tongue against it. Theo’s hand rumpled her ears, chiding her with gentle words. No licking the cast, Rainbow, it’s still fresh. Rainbow gave up her examination and contented herself with watching the outside world slide past the truck.

     Back in the garage, Theo began building a truck seat for his new copilot. Rainbow sat on the floor watching him work, her new plaster leg sticking out to one side. He folded pieces of heavy cardboard, lashing the sections together with duct tape. Theo fit pieces of neoprene camp mat into the cardboard and stepped back to examine his work.

     I think this will work just fine once we attach it to the truck seat. We can’t have you sliding all over the cab while we make our deliveries. That’s right, Rainbow, you’re going with me tonight. The pizzas have to be delivered and you can’t stay here all by yourself. If anyone asks, we’re going to tell them that you’re one of those Japanese dogs, a Shiba Inu. I know that’s a lie, so don’t tell the monks, okay?

     Theo laughed out loud, settling himself cross-legged next to Rainbow. You never know with the monks; they might think it’s funny. Their idea of humor is different from other people’s, but they love their jokes. One time I asked Rinpoche what happens when a monk, you know, sees the light. Do you know what he said? Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. They all laughed like crazy at that one. So that’s what we are doing, we’re getting ready to do our work, chopping our wood and carrying our water, except we carry pizzas.

* * * 

     After that first night, Rainbow came to love the routine of riding through the town’s quiet streets, heading for the next delivery. With Theo sitting next to her, talking over the beat of the music, she felt safe and protected. When they arrived at their destination, Theo would ruffle her ears, slip out of the truck, and pull hot pizza from the oven in the bed. Rainbow would sit up to watch him climb the stairs, the door opening, flooding the porch with light, happy smiling people taking the steaming pizza boxes from Theo’s hands.

     Folks got used to seeing her silhouette in the passenger seat, the pointed ears and long nose of the pizza kid’s new copilot. If anyone doubted the kid’s story, they kept it to themselves. The second night of her new career, Theo’s boss came out to the truck, cradling pizza boxes for a big delivery. He got a good long look at Rainbow through the window of the truck. When the oven was loaded, he stood beside Theo looking into the cab of the truck. He nodded his head. A Shiba Inu, huh? Now ain’t that something. Don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those before. Then he patted Theo on the shoulder and disappeared back into the busy kitchen.   

     The cast on her hind leg was awkward, but before a week had passed, Rainbow was learning to hobble about. Theo still had to help her in and out of the truck, but once she was on the ground, Rainbow could walk on her own. She swung her stiff leg out to the side with each step, which caused her hindquarters to roll like a hobby horse, but she followed Theo eagerly. 

     A month slipped past and the summer began to wane to autumn. An August moon had set before they finished their last delivery for the night. Back at the garage, Theo lay atop a sleeping bag on the floor, nestled close to Rainbow’s den amongst the cardboard boxes. His voice was quiet and low, meant only for himself. It’s almost time for that cast to come off, my beautiful girl. Sleeping in her cozy den, Rainbow’s ears flicked at the sound of his words, then went still.

* * * 

     The truck rolled past the outskirts of the town, into the rocky foothills. Rainbow sat upright, watching the open country passing the window. She swayed in her seat as Theo turned the truck off of the paved road, steering it under a heavy timber arch decorated with strings of small flags in bright colors. This is it, Rainbow, Shakashan Monastery, our special delivery. The monks are having their monthly party, the day when they get to eat whatever they want. 

     Beyond the archway, white buildings gleamed in the late summer sun, and at their center rose a white dome tapering to a sharp point high above the rocky ground. Four wires ran from the ground to the tip of the spire, and along the length of the wires a rainbow spectrum of flags flapped in the breeze. Theo stopped the truck in front of the largest of the white buildings, where a knot of men wearing saffron robes were gathered. 

     Theo reached a hand to Rainbow’s head, running his fingers over her soft fur. There’s nothing to be afraid of, Girl, these are good people. He slid from the truck and walked to the passenger door, helping Rainbow to climb down from the cab. Theo turned to the gathered monks, smiling and bowing. They bowed in return, laughing, smiling at both Theo and Rainbow. As if on cue, the monks began unloading the pizzas from the oven and carrying them into the building. An older man stepped up to Theo and Rainbow, silent and smiling. Theo lowered himself to the ground beside Rainbow, and the older monk sank to the ground in front of them. Greetings, Rinpoche, this is Rainbow. The man nodded and extended a bare arm, setting his hand gently on Rainbow’s head.  

     At the touch of the Abbot’s hand, Rainbow’s world fell away. She was in a sun-drenched kitchen, in it and of it, as if she encompassed the room. An auburn-haired woman sat at a table, steam rising from the cup in front of her. Beams of light flooded over windowsills laden with green plants growing in pots, and the air was thick with the smell of herbs. The young woman reached for her mug, then paused, her hand hovering in the still air. Dust motes floated in the shafts of sunlight pouring into the room. The woman’s eyes followed the bands of light, as if looking for something, a small smile playing across her face. Then the room vanished, and Rainbow was sitting on her haunches on rocky ground, the smiling face of the Abbot floating before her. 

* * * 

     Doctor Janet moved through the white room, amongst the clean sharp scents, but Rainbow was not afraid. Theo stroked her neck as the human woman sliced the dirty cast from Rainbow’s hind leg. The last pieces fell away, revealing the bandage beneath the cast. The woman’s deft hands unwound the bandage and Rainbow’s leg appeared. Her fur was matted and strange looking, but the leg looked sound. Doctor Janet ran her gentle hands from paw to haunch, smiling and nodding.

     Theo watched the fox as she trotted to the truck, her gait almost normal. His mind replayed the Doc’s parting words, and his own response. Another week and she will be good as new, Theo. Doc Janet’s kind eyes held his, the question unasked. Okay, one week, I got it, Doc. Then things have to be put back in balance. Thank you so much for all of your help, and Rainbow thanks you too, don’t you, Girl? The fox’s bright eyes had looked from one human face to the other, breaking his heart.

* * * 

     The short days ran to autumn, their passage marked by the healing of Rainbow’s leg and a new growth of red-brown fur. Theo piloted the truck through the evening streets, with Rainbow his sharp-eyed copilot. He spoke to her as he drove, savoring the opportunity. 

     It’s a special day tomorrow, Rainbow, a day without chopping wood or carrying water, and no pizzas to deliver. We’re going on a hike, just you and me and some good mountain air. What do you say to that? 

     Theo ran his fingers through her ruff and Rainbow twisted to push her muzzle against Theo’s hand. The pizza truck rolled under the streetlights as Theo steered them toward their next delivery.

     Rainbow watched the rows of houses roll past, tidy bungalows whose windows glowed with welcoming light. Then she saw a gap in the line of lights, one house dark under overhanging trees. The darkness pulled at her and she peered into it. For an instant, her eyes cut through shadows, pierced solid walls, and she could see inside the house.

      She saw an empty kitchen with potted herbs withering on the windowsills. A single vacant chair stood pushed back from a bare oak table scarred by the rings from countless cups of hot tea. Rainbow felt the sadness of the lifeless kitchen, and something more behind the sadness. Then the truck rolled on and the darkened house slid from her sight and vanished.

* * * 

     Theo closed the backpack and cinched up the straps. He turned to find Rainbow sitting on her haunches, her head cocked to the side, amber eyes watching him with sharp intent. He tried to make his words playful and light. Look at you, Rainbow. Are you ready for a hike and some mountain air? 

     The narrow trail was little used, a climber’s path to the rock cliffs beyond the foothills. Rainbow frisked up the path with delicate, dancing steps. The only remaining sign of her injury was the odd look of the fur on her left hind leg. Theo followed with the smooth, efficient steps of a person accustomed to mountain travel.

     A light morning breeze fluttered the aspen leaves and drifted over the rocks, carrying messages to those that could read them. Rainbow’s sharp nose pulled the scents out of the air, out of the air and earth and stone. The dry dust smell of lizard on warm rock, the musk that badger left crossing the trail, and the food smell of mice that skittered in the brush.

     Two hours of hard climbing brought the fox and human to a last switch back, and a sharp pitch to a narrow slot through a wall of massive boulders. The barrier of basalt and andesite climbed up the valley on either side of the trail. Theo looked at the rock face, bright in the late morning sun, and slowed his steps.

     Rainbow’s paws danced up the trail, climbing the switch back above Theo. He smiled to her as she passed above him. She surged toward the dark cleft in the rocks, her nose in the air, ciphering all the news carried on the morning air. The white tip of her auburn tail flashed once in the sunlight before she disappeared into the narrow passage.

     Theo stopped on the trail, leaned into the steep slope, and watched the beautiful fox climb above him. He saw her illuminated in sunlight, swift sure steps carrying Rainbow to the rock wall, and then she was gone. The pizza kid waited with a sharp pain in his chest and the voice of his thoughts. Theo, it’s time to rejoice for her, to let her go, you know that. He drew his breath with care, counting each inhalation, each exhalation, until the stab of pain eased. Theo turned away and began his descent. The tears that coursed down his cheeks sparkled in the sun like liquid diamonds.

     The shadowed passage through the rock wall opened onto an alpine meadow bordered with shimmering groves of aspen. Rainbow’s swift steps slowed, stopped, her senses alive to everything around her. The mirror of a small lake gleamed in a wide bowl below her, its bright waters surrounded by a rough meadow of heath and lichen-coated rock. Rainbow’s eyes turned to watch the dark cleft behind her, but Theo the Pizza Kid did not appear. The scents on the air were powerful, calling to her, pulling her forward; earth and water, plant and animal. Rainbow hesitated, then answered the call, her auburn coat a sunlit blur as she bounded off the trail and descended the long slope into the valley.  

     She leapt over small rocks and wove past larger boulders as her agile paws found the soft heath. Her sharp nose led her on, towards the cool smell of water and the warm scent of sun-drenched rock, and behind it all the strong tang of human. 

     Rainbow saw the woman standing near the water’s edge, her human body translucent in the bright light. Beams of sunlight passed through the woman and she shimmered like the waters of the mountain lake, smiling, her eyes bright, auburn hair gleaming. As Rainbow trotted past, the woman joined the fox, floating beside her with a fluid, animal grace.


About the Author

Marco Etheridge is a Pushcart Prize nominated writer of prose, an occasional playwright, and a part-time poet. He lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. His scribbles have been featured in many lovely reviews in Canada, Australia, the UK, and the USA. Recent credits include: Prime Number Magazine, Smokey Blue Literary, In Parentheses, The Thieving Magpie, The First Line, Cobalt Press, and Literally Stories.