Guest Barista M. Mariah Voutilainen-Beach Creatures

Mama, I yelled, making a dramatic entrance, I saw an alien princess in the hall today!  I sprawled on the floor, my snowy boots making a puddle on the laminate flooring.  I was six years old, my hair a white halo escaping from my itchy woolen cap.

Mama came from the kitchen.  She had flour all over her black turtleneck and wet raw dough encased her hands.  They looked like strange molting insects to my eyes.  I wanted to pick the dough off and eat it, revealing her white fingers.

What did the alien princess look like?  Her eyes were serious as she rubbed her hands together, ignoring the slivers of dough that rained to the floor.  Did she have a crown?

I thought for a moment.  Yes, I answered, equally serious.  She has grey eyes and tree-colored skin, and her crown is silver wire.  I started to take my boots off.  It was so difficult and I felt like giving up.  But that’s not what six-year-olds do, I told myself, sounding like my mother.

Mama went back into the kitchen.  That doesn’t sound like anyone we know.  Your alien princess must not live here.  She went back to the bowl on the table and struggled with the dough for a few more minutes before pulling her hands away with a loud, sucking sound.

Later you can bake the bread.  I smiled, the holes in my mouth leaked air when I breathed.  I had lost four teeth this year and they were taking forever to grow back.  I finished removing the boots and wool socks.  Laying back on the floor and staring at the ceiling, I imagined my alien princess.  I knew she must live in our building because I saw her every afternoon when I came home from school.  But I said nothing to Mama.

The next day, my alien princess was outside of the building, throwing bags of trash into the dumpster.  The muscles of her strong arms were visible with each heave, and she had several bags.  I wondered how she could be so strong but so beautiful; maybe she was like a workhorse, I thought.  Horses were strong and beautiful at the same time.  She smiled at me.  Greetings, she said, as she tossed the final bag.  I have a lot of trash, don’t I–and it’s too cold to be outside without a coat, isn’t it?  I nodded, blowing air through the gap in my mouth.  I lost four teeth, I boasted.  I don’t know when the big ones will come in, and I have to chew with my side teeth all the time.  I tried to whistle for her benefit, but it only sounded like spit.  She laughed.

Each day after that first chat, I saw my princess, whose name was Cherie (I called her Cherry, but in my mind she was always my alien princess).  She would always have something interesting to tell me:  Something about the bird on her windowsill, or the cake she had with her coffee that afternoon.  I would tell her about my six-year-old life.  Sometimes I would ask her about her clothes or her hair, which often billowed out in an explosion of curls from beneath her woolen beanie.  Once, in a fit of bravery, I even asked her if she had antennae tipped with silver balls, like a Martian from TV.  She could barely contain her laughter, covering her mouth and looking sheepish when she snorted.

And then, strangely, I didn’t see her for a long while.  It seemed like months, but perhaps it was only days or a few weeks.  But I missed talking to my alien princess, Cherry.  Her cheery manner and bright clothing; the way her white teeth stood out against her the dark bark of her skin.  In my whole life I had never seen anyone like her.

One afternoon, my mother and I went to the lakeside.  The snow was still pretty thick on the ground, so she pulled me on the sled.  Every once in a while, mama would turn around and scold me:  Don’t drag your hands in the snow.  Sit forward so you don’t fall out.  You know when you do that it hurts my back.  You’re very lucky that I pull you so you don’t have to walk.  I didn’t really listen to mama.  I was looking at the lake and wondering if the water under the snow was frozen.  Okay, okay, mama, I yelled, both so she would hear me and also so she would stop complaining.  It was hard being six years old.

Mama stopped near our favorite bench.  It was covered in a thick and crusty bar of white snow, so frozen that I could sit on top without breaking through.  My overalls and coat were soft and stiff at the same time as I tried to scoot back.  I didn’t feel like playing, and mama didn’t complain.  She pulled out a thermos of hot chocolate and a bag of little biscuits.  Your mittens are dirty, darling, she warned me, don’t eat the cookies with them on, I’ll feed you.  So she pulled off her gloves and poured me a cup of the hot chocolate, which I could hold in my pawed hands.  After I took a sip, she popped a cookie into my mouth.  The sandy texture gritted in my back teeth and across my tongue.  I wished I could eat some snow to clean it away, but I dutifully drank from my cup instead.

There on the far side of the park at the playground near the iced-over swimming beach, I saw someone moving.  The person was dressed in black snow pants and a red jacket.  A bright blue hat for a crown.  Dragging snow, piling it high in oddly shaped cylinders.  Grabbing spindly sticks that had fallen to the ground beneath the bare trees.  From a bag an eruption of brightly colored hats and scarves, mittens that dangled from the twiggy arms on the tubes of snow.  The person was very careful, taking time to compare combinations of colors.  I smiled at the sight, the ghosts of my missing teeth twinging with nerve pain in the cold air.

The person looked up.  Eyes sharp and full of humor.  It was my alien princess, and she waved when she saw me.  I waved back.  I turned to my mother.  See mama?  That’s the alien princess over there.  She’s building a gaggle of snow people.

A gaggle?  Isn’t that a group of geese? My mother laughed, and I was surprised because she laughed so rarely.  And where’s this alien princess?  I turned back to see Cherry, but she had disappeared behind the trees, leaving the silent snow creatures in their riot of color.  I dropped my cup of hot chocolate, my boots sinking into the snow as I tried to run the short distance between the bench and the vanguard of the gaggle.  As I neared them, their button eyes winked at me, their stubby carrot noses dripped snow.

My alien princess was no where to be seen.  After much discussion and cajoling, mama managed to get me back into the sled and we went home in silence.  I wondered if I would ever see Cherie again.

The snow finally melted, but Cherie never came to the beach to collect her snow creatures’ clothing.  I picked up my favorite set and hid them in my closet to remind me of those months.

Not too long after that, I had my seventh birthday and my teeth grew in.  They were straight and sharp.


i was made, born and raised in the usa, and call seattle, washington my home. now almost three years into a temporarily permanent residency in the land of the finns, i make english language poetry and prose by the light of the midnight sun.

(re)imagining the mundane is my reason for writing.  even the most simple can be imbued with marvel, and that is what i attempt to do from this northern latitude, nestled somewhere between the forest floor and the sky.

i revel in midwinter midday darkness lit by candles and snow, and am occasionally convinced to partake in a snow-fight or two with my three finnish-american children and husband.  i can always be convinced to eat dessert, especially if it’s mämmi.

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