In the Woods

Your distinguished oak trees shelter me from raging storms, still

the darkness between I fear.

 

Photo courtesy of Artur Rukowski/Unsplash

Bad Apple

Amanda traded her pencil skirts and Manolo Blahniks for jeans and faded leather boots, and her high-paying career as an attorney in New York, for solitude on the farm.

Walking away from her New York life was easier than expected, but then again…

***

She stared at the sun setting behind the rows of apple trees. Most apples were likely to never get harvested. Instead, they would rot and fall to the ground or be ravaged by beetles. She vowed to breathe life back into daddy’s orchard, no matter the cost.

The last happy memory she had of that place was picking apples with him. She longed to hear his voice again, reminding her the proper way to choose fruit for harvesting, to watch him smile as she tried to grab the branches just out of her reach.

But her daddy never was the same after her mama died. It was so sudden. Suicide, they said. After her death, he let everything go, no longer paying the employees, or caring for the trees.

Her fingers touched the chipped paint on the porch railing. A bit of white peeled off and fell to the ground, starkly standing out against the green grass.

The glimmer from her wedding band caught her eye and Amanda hastily pulled it off, ripping the skin on her knuckle. She swallowed the bile rising from her belly, and walked down the splintered stairs, stopping just before the trees. With a look of disgust, she tossed the two-and-a-half carat ring into the hole. It bounced off the gun, making a tink sound.

Using her daddy’s favorite shovel, rusted from years on the field, she filled the hollowed ground with soil. One pile at a time was scooped and dropped until she finished burying her secrets beneath the pale moonlight.

Amanda wiped the sweat from her brow and tossed the shovel aside.

***

…She preferred boots, anyway.

Photo courtesy of Rico Bico/Unsplash

Shayla’s Choice

“I’ll drop you here,” Chris says, parking his blue pick-up next to a meter, three buildings down from the clinic. Downtown has few skyscrapers. Instead, most streets look like this one, with rows of older two-story brick buildings, iron fire escapes hitched sideways against the windows. As a child, Shayla imagined running down them as they lowered to the ground.

“Okay,” she whispers, “but I’m scared.”

He has cheated on her more than once, but she chose to stay. She tries to find something resembling love in his eyes, but he remains focused on the crumbled road. Crews had yet to patch the streets after the harshness of the winter, leaving it broken, like their relationship.

“Go. And call when you’re done,” he says. Shayla brushes a tear from her eye and climbs out of his truck, shutting the door behind her. Chris drives off without a second glance, and the rush of June air his truck leaves behind smells of river water and exhaust fumes. A wave of nausea sweeps over her body.

She grips her stomach and turns in the direction of the old warehouse. A dozen angry protesters separate her from her future. With no one at her side, she swallows hard, never feeling more alone. Her heart begins to palpitate.

“Why didn’t I tell my mom?” Shayla asks herself. She exhales and steadies herself before walking towards the door. Her pale fingers clutch her purse close like a shield against the name calling.

Baby murderer! Killer!

Somehow, she pushes past the protesters, and pulls the door open. Its heaviness reminds her of the consequences she would face for this mistake.

After checking in with reception, a small boxy room with messy stacks of paper piled up in every corner, the clerk points her towards the waiting area. Pine floors stretch the length of the old warehouse, and vintage flower-patterned couches and Venetian rugs placed at odd angles attempt to create definition. She finds a spot on an over-sized beige couch full of soft lines and maroon flowers, and settles deep into its broken cushion. There, she finds a familiar comfort of home.

“Shayla Hutchins?”

Shayla looks up, adjusts her cross-body bag nervously, and smiles at the girl standing in front of her. She glances at the nametag – volunteer. She stands and follows the girl back to a small room with nothing but an exam table and a strange looking machine.

“Change into this. The doctor and I will be back shortly,” the volunteer hands her a hospital gown.

After she closes the door, Shayla changes, and watches the clock.

Knock, knock.

“Come in,” Shayla says, startled.

The doctor and the volunteer file in quietly, and shut the door. The doctor explains the procedure, but Shayla can’t seem to comprehend what she is saying. Everything sounds muffled the way it does after a snowstorm, distant.

“Would you like me to stay and hold your hand?” the volunteer asks. Shayla looks down at her hand, outstretched; her caramel-colored skin looks soft and inviting.

She slowly nods yes, and the volunteer smiles warmly.

“I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”

“Thank you,” Shayla manages to say.

“You’re welcome. And you’re going to be okay,” she says. Her eyes are hot chocolate with a sprinkle of cinnamon, bringing warmth to Shayla’s numbness.

The doctor turns on the contraption and a loud hum fills the room. Shayla closes her eyes, grips the volunteer’s hand, and stifles a scream through gritted teeth.

***

The volunteer rubs Shayla’s shoulder like an old friend and ushers her back to the couch.

“Remember, you are worthy of more,” she says, catching Shayla by surprise. Her cheeks flush.

Shayla sits and dials Chris. He answers right after one ring.

“Meet me at The Twisted Hanger,” he tells her.

“Three blocks away?” Shayla hisses.

“I’m grabbing a beer. Meet me out front in ten.”

“You are unbelievable.” Shayla hangs up.

***

No longer afraid of their words, Shayla easily walks past the protesters. What’s done is done. Rays from the June sun warm her shoulders, and the words from the volunteer replay in her head. Worthy of more.

One foot goes in front of the other until she reaches the blue pick-up. But instead of stopping, she keeps walking, fishing around in her bag until her fingers find her phone.

Shayla dials and listens to the rings.

“Hello?”

“Mom? I really need you. Can you come get me?”

 

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io/Ashton Bingham

Canyon

The space between us is a canyon that has been weathered by storms of time.

Days gust past with dust from yesterday’s squall and I reach to you; my fingertips grasp at nothing but the breath from your lips. The crevasse is so wide, my voice couldn’t reach you. Shouts come out sounding like warm breeze.

I’ll fill this canyon with tears and I’ll swim to you, no matter the swiftness of current. I’ll pray for an earthquake to shake the soil beneath our feet, reminding us of our journey.

I love you, no matter where the dust takes us.

Photo courtesy of Kalen Emsley/Unsplash

First Chair

The cool air pressed firmly against her skin between the layers of warm cotton. Despite the mountain’s familiarity, her teeth still clanked together from more than just the cold.

“I can do this,” she said.

Exhaling, she watched her breath form a tiny cloud in front of her face. She pulled her Burton mittens farther onto her hands and strapped her feet into place, heel after toe, with two loud clicks.

Using her poles, she pushed towards the wooden seats rotating up towards the sky. Her confident posture returned, gliding on the snow.

Ready for first chair of the season.

Shelter

“We will be safe here,” I said to the twins as I opened our cabin door, nestled deep in the woods.  The cabin was my grandfather’s fishing cabin, a place I visited often as a child.  I hadn’t spent much time here with the kids, but had been going frequently without them to prepare us.  And I knew we could ride out the fallout for at least a couple months with the supplies we had on hand, but was hopeful we wouldn’t need to.

I looked at the dark sky one last time before shutting and dead-bolting the door.

My shaky hand carefully lit an old oil lamp, illuminating the small space around us.  I placed it in the center of an old trunk, used as a make-shift coffee table, and watched my twins look around the room with furrowed brows and thin lips.

There was a small kitchen on one side with an old poker table and four vinyl chairs, for dining.  A mustard-colored velvet couch and matching chair occupied the other side with a small television and the pine walls were decorated with several large trophy fish, caked in layers of dust.  The doors to the two small bedrooms and single bathroom were closed.  Jimmy found the remote control, and sat down in front of the television on the floor.

“But no TV or lights,” I warned the boys, taking the remote from Jimmy’s hand.  Todd booed and Jimmy folded his arms in response.

“That’s not fair, Mom!” Jimmy shouted.  Only seven, they were the spitting image of my grandfather with large green eyes and dark hair.  They were my everything.

“At least for now, until I know more.”  I raised my arms in defense, then went to rummage through a drawer.  Eventually, my hand retrieved the beat up deck of cards I was searching for.  “Here,” I said, tossing the cards to Jimmy and Todd, “you can play with these.”

“Why are we really here, Mom?” Jimmy asked, picking up the deck to examine it.  “And where is Dad?”

“Yeah,” Todd added, “when will he get here?” Todd was second out, and always on Jimmy’s tail.  He plopped onto the couch, tossing his Star Wars backpack onto the floor beside him, which kicked up more dust.  There was plenty of cleaning to keep me busy, to keep my mind off…everything.

“We are here because we have to be.  It’s not safe at home, anymore.”  I opened cabinets to take a quick count of food.  Everything was still there, untouched.  I grabbed some bottles of water and handed them to the boys.

“And Dad?” Jimmy repeated, as he took the water from my hand.  Jimmy has always been the stronger one, my type A.  He will be more difficult during this.

“I’m not sure,” I lied.  I avoided eye contact as I went about locking the windows and closing the drapes.

They weren’t ready for the truth.

Photo courtesy of Vidar Kristiansen

Morning Flight

Photo courtesy of Llywelyn Nys

The rising sun had yet to meet the sky, and hues of pink changed the clouds to delicious cotton candy.  She shut the door quietly, trying not to wake her father, then flipped yesterday’s braids behind her, and tiptoed quickly off the deck.

Wet grass slipped between her bare toes as she ran toward the towering tree.

Once there, her small hands tugged at the ropes, pulling herself to sit on the wood, hand-carved by her papa.  She tipped her head, purple nightgown soaring behind her like a cape. Her toes touched the coveted sky.

Often, she dreamt of flying.

Electric Moves.

It was day three of Movement, and everything was upside down.

The crowd around her was a sweaty, bulging mess; moving in rhythm, but somehow each at his own pace.  As the music charged through her soul, the bass vibrated her chest and sent shivers down her tattooed back, racing to reach her toes.  Her short black hair was wet and matted to her forehead as beads of sweat dripped down her cheeks bringing smudgy eyeliner along for the ride.  Her eyes closed tightly, and the music intensified, nearly bringing her to her knees.

In that moment, she was electric.

Photo Courtesy of Resident Advisory