Roots

“It was here,” Abigail muttered as she paced back and forth over the clearing.

“You should have seen it, Jesse. The branches were so thick that you couldn’t even see the sky when you sat by the trunk.” She paused, wiped away a tear, and looked up at the sky.

“I left a piece of my soul here,” she whsipered, and sat down in the dirt.

I looked down at my watch. Dusk was beginning to fall around us. A lightning bug flashed to my right, and a mosquito bit into my arm.

“We only have a little longer before it’s too dark to see anything, Abby. Maybe we should just head back,” I said.

She didn’t respond at first–just stared at a blade of grass she twirled in her hand. When she began to speak, her voice trembled with sadness.

“This place was so different a decade ago. I used to come out here all the time by myself in the summer. I always preferred to be alone. There is something about the sound of the forest when you are the only human in earshot. When you are still for a while, the animals begin to trust you. They emerge from their hiding places and walk right by you like you aren’t even there.”

“Except the mosquitoes,” I muttered bitterly.

“Yes, except those.”

She sighed and I sat down next to her, surprised to find the ground hard beneath me. Before I could say anything, she continued.

“One morning, in my early twenties, I came out here with a mission. A man who claimed to love me had given me a necklace with my birthstone in it. I remember thinking it odd since he always forgot my birthday. When he left me, I kept it for weeks, hoping he would return. He didn’t, and with each passing day it became heavier around my neck.

I buried it at the base of my favorite tree with a note for the person who found it that said something like, ‘I hope this necklace brings you joy, because it has only brought me sorrow.’

I left, and life began to move so fast that I forgot to visit again until I saw you sitting in the coffee shop last week. I couldn’t take my eyes off your necklace. I knew I’d seen it before, but I had to be sure.”

My hands instinctively went to my throat and touched the small charm. She turned to me, her eyes searching mine for an explanation.

“The tree isn’t here, Jesse. I left the necklace, and every trace of who I was is gone.”

I took her hands in mine, fighting the urge to cry myself. I did not owe her, an almost perfect stranger, any explanation. Yet, we both spoke the language of heartbreak, and letting go was a choice I could not make for her.

“I’ve only had it a few years,” I began. “It was a gift from a hiking buddy of mine. He always wanted me to go on long hikes and camping trips with him. He couldn’t stay in one place. On his last trip, he decided to spend a few weeks on the Applachian Trail. It was right after the first hurricane of the season, and the trails were damaged in several spots. He wasn’t prepared for that and got lost. They found his body a couple of weeks after he was supposed to check in around Bristol. This is the last thing he gave me.”

I lifted my hands to unclasp the necklace, and passed it to Abigail.

“And as for your tree,” I added, patting the ground, “It may be gone, but the roots are still buried beneath us.”

Abigail’s eyes widened and she placed one hand on the soil next to her, frantically feeling the remaining roots of the missing tree. Then, she threw her arms around me and pressed her face into my shoulder. When she pulled away, the necklace was around my neck once more.

“I’m so glad,” she whispered, “that everything with a past has the opportunity to start again. How blessed are we, Jesse, to witness that?”

We left, hand-in-hand, both stunned to silence. The stars balanced on branches in the night sky as we made our way back to our cars. Crickets sang, fireflies danced, and the heart of the forest continued to beat.

 

(Writing prompt from http://www.thinkwritten.com: Pick a few words from the start of an article in a magazine and write a story or poem about it. This story was written in response to an article in the October 2018 issue of National Geographic (page 26) that began, “A fallen tree in a forest may seem unremarkable…”.)

Advertisements

Sanctuary

Iridescent lights play a game of tag with the cars passing through the wet supermarket parking lot.
I am six years old, sipping a Dr. Pepper in the backseat of my grandparents’ Oldsmobile. Winter has arrived in all of her splendor and chaos, and my grandpa is smoking a cigarette outside the car while my grandmother chats on about the upcoming snowstorm and how she hates to drive at night.
I stare out the window, looking for the stars until my grandpa’s face suddenly appears in front of me. His thumbs are in his ears, his fingers are wiggling, and his false teeth are protruding from his mouth.
I let out a squeal of delight, and my grandmother nearly jumps out of her seat. She catches sight of him and yells, “Allen!” in mock admonishment. He winks at me.

I don’t want to leave.

____

I have a silly habit of forgetting my jacket this time of year. The store where I work is warm, and my heater in the car works better than the AC. On any given day, I can be found rushing from the vehicle to a building in school clothes or my work uniform, cursing the 30 degree temperatures.
I will never be more alive than I am at this moment, waiting on a text from some guy I want to believe will be around for the rest of my life, but who I secretly dread will forget me within the next couple of years.
I will also never be more alone.
Snow begins to fall from the sky just as my shift ends. I race across the pavement, snow stinging my bare arms and face, and shiver as my car heats up. My phone buzzes, and I check it, hoping it will be the boy wanting to see me before my curfew.
It’s my grandmother. Text us when you get home. We love you.
I cry off and on for the thirty minute drive home, past his darkened house. I can’t remember the last time I called them, but I can remember all the times he didn’t answer his phone when I called. I pull into my driveway, wondering if he thought at all about me as the snow began to fall.
I text them from my car, dry my eyes, and run across my snow-covered lawn into the safety of my home.

________

“I have to go away for a while,” I say aloud to the Taco Bell sign.
It’s February, and the parking lot is mostly empty.
The supermarket is now a Kohl’s, and the shoe store that taught me how to rebuild my life from all its broken pieces stands empty.

Everything changes.

I’ve told nearly everyone about my upcoming move, including my grandparents, but I couldn’t just vanish without telling the ghosts.

I don’t want to leave.

I know that before I pack the first box. I know it, in fact, as soon as my husband says his job has transferred him halfway across the country.
Yet, leave I must.
I know now what I did not know at ages six, seventeen, and even twenty-five. The world does not revolve around me.
It’s a simple concept, but it has taken me years to understand that this is not my story alone. I am background character to every person who has passed through this parking lot in the last twenty-eight years.
And for my greatest roles thus far–the wife, the grandchild, the daughter, the friend, the happy little redhead in the back of a big, grey Oldsmobile?
Well, there is a lot left to write.

I climb out of my car and sit directly on the pavement. The parking lot breathes. It’s library of fascinating and heartbreaking stories. The cold creeps into my bones and I close my eyes to drift once more.

I am six.
I am seventeen.
I am twenty-eight.

A page in a book, a loved one’s sleepless night, or a car in the parking lot. It’s all part of the same storm.
“Stay,” the ghosts whisper, but it’s more comfort than invitation or plea. There is a restlessness in the air that feels both dangerous and familiar.
It’s time to go.
The writer in me aches for the chance to drop stories like bread crumbs across the miles, and races against a clock I cannot see–if only for the chance to remain rooted in the ground long after the asphalt is gone.

 

Prompt: Creative nonfiction about a writing sanctuary (www.pw.org)