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Stephen R. Clark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
Joined June 1996


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Snow Flowers

A warm, pre-storm summer breeze exploded the dandelions, heavy with seeds, painting the air white. "Stephanie! Look! Snow flowers!" cried the amazed little boy, drawing the attention of his sister, as he zigzagged chasing this way and that.

He ran through the yard, dancing, giggling, mindlessly pursuing the dandelion snow, a butterfly that had floated into the mix, and nothing in particular, all at the same time. He was four and she was his teenage baby-sitter, 14, on this beautiful summer day laced with his gleeful laughing.

Both were blonde and fair. His eyes were blue like the clear summer sky above them. They seemed to smile all the time. Hers were a haunting emerald green, perfect for looking meditative or bored, as the occasion suited. This was a bored, or at least semi-bored moment.

It was hot. July. 1981. The small radio by her side was oozing "Ebony and Ivory" in accompaniment to her little brother’s pirouetting. Clouds were just beginning to edge the incredible blue sky. A sky that was like a huge smooth ocean over their heads.

She would sometimes lay in the middle of the back yard and stare up into the sky for an hour or two at a time. Soaking up sun and letting her mind reel out, up into the big blue expanse. Her imagination like a helium balloon on an endless string, climbing higher and higher into the possibilities and wide wonder. Her dreams sailed on the sea of the sky.

But not today. Today was the day to baby-sit the kid. Today of all days. Her girlfriends had thrown together a spontaneous beach outing, where they were now, traipsing the sand in their unrevealing bikinis, flirting with the skinny boys, giggling over their favorite TV show episodes, slathering each other with tan oil or sunscreen, and cooling off with an exquisite lemon ice from the vendor with the big, authentic Italian looking mustache. No lemon ice from any other source in the whole entire world could compare. Not that she’d been anywhere else in the world.

This was her world here. Today it was closely defined by the boundaries of their raggedly manicured suburban yard. The grass was mostly green, but yellowed here and there. Dad mowed but didn’t water. Mom gardened but only on occasion. But still it was a nice yard. Just big enough for her when she was little to play in and feel like she was exploring endless vistas of space and time. And now, Jaz was loving it, too.

James "Jaz" Walter Riley. A big name for such a little freckled kid. He was cute, though. Cute enough that she’d drag him along sometimes when she went wandering with her friends. The other girls would coo and fawn over him. He loved the attention.

Tomorrow he would be five. It was Saturday. Mom and dad were out shopping for last minute birthday gifts and decorations. The whole family was coming over. Five was a big occasion with the Rileys. The entire extended family came. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Grandmas and Grandpas. Many were people she rarely if ever saw and could never remember what branch of the tree they hung from. But they were all pretty nice and nearly all brought presents. Her fifth was quite a to-do and she’d hit the mother lode when it came to presents. She felt a slight twinge of envy toward Jaz.

Tomorrow he’d be a year older  and loaded down with presents. Tomorrow she’d have lost a whole gorgeous summer day baby-sitting the spoiled brat for free, and would still be just 14. She was dying to be 16 and then wanted to skip straight to 18 quickly followed by 21. Fourteen was a nothing age.

Time stretched out into the dizzying distance of the unimaginable day that was today.


Her mind slowly waking from the memory to reality, Stephanie stared into the distance, her green eyes glazed and set in red, tear-soaked sockets.  Jaz was 24 and living on his own in New York City. He was just starting a new job in a new building. His first day was his last day in that job. It was September 11, 2001.

She had been awakened that morning by a phone call from her mother, frantic on the other end of the line. Stephanie was home taking a vacation day. "Turn on the TV!" her mother nearly screamed. "Your brother’s building has been hit by a plane! It’s on fire! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!"

"Mother! What is it? What’s going on? What are you talking about?" Stephanie wasn’t a morning person so waking up into consciousness took her awhile. The urgency and despair in her mother’s voice, however, was like having caffeine injected into her nervous system. She jolted wide-eyed.

"Another plane just hit the other building! Oh my God! Stephanie! The towers are both on fire! Turn on your TV."

Stephanie got up and did just that. The images that crackled into focus stunned and sickened her. The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were both burning from huge jagged, gaping holes. The commentator was describing the terrific scene as it played out live from various angles. Her mind was numb, uncomprehending. It must be some sort of movie or really bad joke, she thought. What was it she was seeing? What was really happening? This wasn’t real, surely. It couldn’t be. Her brother’s office was supposed to be where there was now a smoke-belching hole.

"My God. Oh my God," she heard her mother repeat over and over on the phone. And then the images began to repeat over and over on the TV.

She watched in horror as ash and papers fell from the buildings. Yet, surprisingly, eerily, in her soul, in her heart, she could her Jaz’s voice whispering to her, "Stephanie! Look! Snow flowers!"

She shuddered, got dressed, and headed to her mom's house.


They never found his body. Some days after he died she was able to make her way close enough to Ground Zero where she collected some of the ash and dust into a jar. She imagined it was ash from his incinerated body. God, she hoped he went fast. Some, trapped and knowing they were going to die, jumped from the building to a quicker end instead of waiting for the flames. She hoped he went quick and as painless as possible.

Everyone came to the funeral. All the relatives from all the branches and far flung twigs of the family. And the friends. And others who came just to share in the grieving. Everyone was in grief. Everyone had been touched by this, this monumental act of evil. No one could really make sense of it.

Stephanie grieved. But she also took comfort in knowing that where Jaz was now, there were no flames to burn him or terrorists to harm him. She knew, the whole family knew, Jaz was with Jesus. But it still hurt to not have him here. He was supposed to be here. She wanted him here.

Stephanie saw Hannah across the room, the living room of her mom and dad, where the family had come to grieve and remember. Hannah was Jaz’s fiancée. They were getting married next June. Stephanie and Hannah embraced and cried in each other’s arms. Both sobbed then wiped their tears and sat down to talk and to rest a bit. They were both exhausted but at peace.

"Jaz really loved you, Steph. He always looked up to you, his big sister. Every time we were together, he would always talk about you."

Stephanie nodded and smiled. Hannah rambled, burdened by the irrepressible need to talk about Jaz, as if speaking enough words about him would somehow bring him into being again.

"There was one thing you did for him that he especially admired. It was on his fifth birthday."

"Really! All I got him was a yo-yo that he lost barely two weeks later!"

"No, Steph. It wasn’t that gift. It was actually the gift you gave him the day before. He talked about it all the time. He could never understand how he deserved such a wonderful sister!"

"What did I do?" Stephanie was quite confused and trying to think what had taken place that day.

"You spent the whole day with Jaz instead of going with your girlfriends. He said he didn’t really understand it at the time, but a few years later he was talking to Suzie Hollister who told him that he had spoiled the best day of the summer for you that year. She said that she had stayed with him instead of going to the beach and that because of him, Janie Peters stole your boyfriend, Lewis Belzer, who was at the beach that day."

"What? So that’s what happened with Lewis! I never knew why he broke up with me or why Janie never spoke to me much after that day. I thought she was just mad at me for not going with them. Wow. Jaz thought I’d given my day up just for him?"

"Yes. And he said it was one of the nicest days he had with you, that you played with him and kept him company all day long. It was the first time you’d ever taken so much time just to spend it with him. It was very special. He said it was the best birthday gift he ever got."

"Wow. I, I don’t know what to say. The truth was that I hated having to sit with him. It wasn’t my choice, mom and dad made me. And I was so bored the whole day. I can’t believe that Jaz would think it was such a special day."

"It was to him," Hannah said softly before fading out into memories of other moments with Jaz, avoiding thoughts of a future without him.

After that Stephanie was lost in her thoughts, replaying the memories from that summer day over and over, trying to decipher what Jaz had experienced. All she could clearly recall was the annoyance she'd felt over her lost summer day.


It was now another hot midsummer day, 10 months after Jaz died. Stephanie was in her backyard reading a book while her son, Sonny Jaz Wilson, age 5, played with the neighbor girl, Shelley, a friend from his pre-school. Her brother had been thrilled when Sonny Jaz was born and flabbergasted they named the boy after him. 

She was glad the yard was fenced in so she could focus on her reading without having to expend too much time paying attention to the kids. They couldn’t go anywhere and their yard was completely child-proofed. She focused on her book.

The iPod siphoned oldies directly into her head through the headset she had only half on her ears. She left the ear buds loose so she could also sort of listen for any troubling sounds from the kids.

She was thoroughly engrossed in her book. It was hot. The iPod was oozing "Ebony and Ivory" as dandelion puffs suddenly floated in front of her face. She looked up at two seriously giggling kids who were blowing the puffs directly at her from handfuls of dandelions. She was just about to scold them and tell them to leave her alone while she was reading, when Sonny blurted out, "Look, Mommy! Snow flowers!"

They didn’t see the tears behind her sunglasses, but shouted for glee when she put down her book, chased them into the yard, and began dancing with them among the dandelion fluffs beneath the huge, blue smiling summer sky. This dance is for them, she thought, and for you, too, Jaz. And for you, too.








Words For Summer: A small collection of writings for the season

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