Daughter of the Wood (a YA Short Stor...
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|Thu, 01-31-2002 - 12:41pm|
Daughter of the Wood (a YA Short Story...Critiques, please!)
and any bloppers you might catch...Thanks loads, girls. kat
Stepping out onto the house-wide porch, the wind blows the tops of the evergreen sentries surrounding our cabin, and I’m blinded for a moment as a blast of sunlight hits me full in the face.
“Amy! Get back in here and finish these dishes,” shouts Helena.
I leap off the porch like a jackrabbit and I’m running as fast as I can to get away. I’ve walked this path a thousand times. Sometimes at night Mom and I’d go swimming in the lake. We’d know to step over the fallen tree, and to stop at the top of the narrow path then carefully make our way down to the shore. I’m out of breath, and slow down to a walk. When I reach the ridge I see the reflection of the snowcapped peaks in the lake. Summer arrived about a week ago, and so it is a matter of days before the mountaintops are only spotted with white patches. I don’t want Helena to find me so I follow the ridge until it slopes down to the sandy beach.
How could Dad have let that woman come live with us, and so soon after Mom’s death? I will never learn to like her. She is nothing like Mom. She’s tall and squared off at the shoulders giving her torso a wall like appearance that sits on two skinny pedestal legs that have obviously never hiked a mountain. Her straight long black hair that she always ties into a ponytail hangs down the middle of her back. I’ve yet to see anything soft and knowing in her eyes–nothing familiar there.
That crap she gave me about wearing Mom’s halter top, that it’s too mature for a 12-year-old girl, what does she know. Mom told me I could wear her clothes, her long full skirts are my favorites. I grew four inches last year, and now they fit me perfectly. Helena can’t stop me from wearing Mom’s clothes. I wish Dad would get home soon.
What was that? There are two boys on the rocks that jut out at Deadman’s Point. They have their backs to me and their bottoms glisten in the sunlight. I thought Mom and I were the only ones who swam naked in the lake. I drop to my belly as the blonde boy turns in my direction.
The prickly pine needles find their way through my cotton shirt. Placing my chin on the back of my hands, I watch intently. They’re both tall and skinny. Their bottoms glisten in the sun. Each one runs for the lake shouting and laughing as they leap and curl into balls cannon balling into the lake. Their squeals break the surface as they appear like porpoises out of the water. They climb onto the rocks and wrap their arms around their freezing pink bodies. They’ve not stopped laughing. I giggle too. The blonde boy dives in head first. He makes a beautiful arc as his toes stretch to a perfect peak just as the water swallows them. I’ve never seen them before. Maybe they’re here for summer break.
“Amy! AIM-EEEEEE, where are you?” Oh God, it’s her.
The boys look at each other, and for an instant, appear frozen in their decision. Then they run for shore, and rapidly begin putting their clothes on. I, too, am up and running, circling back to the road until I’m sure I’ve ditched her. As I stroll along the road I spot a patch of Columbines. They’re Nana’s favorite flower. Nana came to stay with us just before Mom died. That’s when she told me they looked too exotic and delicate to be a mountain flower. “Just like you Amy,” she’d said.
Nana’s the only person who ever called Mom Charlotte. Everyone else including Dad called her Char. Mom once told me she was born to be a hippie; wearing her hair either a tangled mess of long golden ringlets or braids.
In 1975, at a Sierra Club rally in Eugene, Oregon, Mom was one of 262 people to form a human-linked fence around a parcel of land that would become the home for a manufacturing plant that Dad’s architectural firm had designed. It also happened to be the same parcel of land in which a rare flower grew attracting a declining population of Monarch butterflies that flew all the way up from Mexico. On the day of the protest Daddy was there to meet with the surveyor. And that’s how they met. Dad won Mom’s heart, but the threaten Monarch’s lost their breeding ground.
Dad accepted a job in Denver because Mom wanted to live in the Rockies. That’s how we ended up outside of Laramie, Wyoming, in the Snowy Range. For Mom, Dad agreed to drive the two and a half hours to Denver once or twice a week to pick up and deliver his designs. Last spring, Dad and I were sitting on the porch having a glass of lemonade. We’d been fishing down at the lake for most of the morning. Dad watched Mom pull weeds from her garden. You could see the outline of her small breast through her rose colored blouse as she bent over. A slow sweet smile spread across his face, and then he said without looking at me “Amy, I think your Mom is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” These are some of the memories that rush over me like a tsunami, and make me miss her more.
Mom’s been gone for three months, and that she-woman is trying to take her place. What Helena doesn’t know is Mom is everywhere. The night Dad and I scattered her ashes in the ponderosa grove a windstorm blew up from Texas along the Front Range, and roared through the trees nearly blowing the roof off. Lying in bed listening to the tree boughs moan and the roof creak, I knew that Mom’s ashes would split and split again, and the finer they became the more it assured me that she would fill every nook and cranny in her forest. With that thought I fell into a deep sleep. The first time since Mom became really sick with ovarian cancer.
Dad tried to explain why Helena was staying with us. He’d said it was so I could stay in my home, my school, and with my friends. He told me he’s known Helena since college. She’s some sort of counselor for inner city kids, and has taken a leave of absence. Doesn’t he see I’m old enough to care for him and myself? Mom taught me all I need to know. How to grow a garden, wash clothes, and bake her famous frittatas and chocolate silk pie. I’d like to see Helena build a mulcher, worm a lure, or run out a raccoon that has taken up residence under our house.
As I approach the cabin, I automatically look for Mom sitting in the porch glider. Not there, nor in the garden, neither. I’ll ever stop expecting her to be there. A Blue Jay screeches in the tree above me reminding me that I’m in trouble. As I step into the cabin, I’m halted by Helena’s stance. She’s standing me down with her hands on her hips.
“Amy, where in the hell have you been?”
“Helena, there’s no need to curse at me…”
“AMY, who do you think you’re talking to?”
“Why to you HEL-ena!”
“That’s it, Amy! You and I are going to have this discussion when your father gets home this evening. I’m sick and tired of trying to care for you when all you do is fight me at every turn.”
“That’s the point Helena, I don’t need you to care for me. Just go back to Chicago and care for your inner city kids, or whatever you call them. I am sure they need you.”
“We’ll talk when your dad’s gets home! Right now, I need to lie down. I’m sure I’m suffering heat exhaustion from traipsing around the forest looking for you.”
Helena turns and heads for her room, or rather what used to be Dad’s study. Serves you right Helena, I never asked you to come looking for me.
After she closes her bedroom door, I slowly turn in a circle examining my house. The dishes are still piled in the sink. I walk to the sink and turn on the water where the splashing sound reminds me of the boys at the lake, and their laughter. If Mom were here, we’d make up all kinds of stories about those boys.
Later that evening, lying on my bed reading Call of the Wild for the zillionth time, I hear Dad’s car pull up the drive. I ease off my bed and quietly step out of my room where I crouch down by the railing. As Dad opens the door, I peer over and see Helena pouring two glasses of wine.
In a tired voice Dad says, “Hello.” His usual smile, gone. It’s been missing for a long time.
“Hi Mark, how was the drive?”
“Not bad now that the roads are clear of winter sand.” He reaches for the glass that Helena is handing to him and asks, “Where’s Amy?”
“She’s up in her room.”
“We had another run-in today. You know, Mark, I don’t know what to do. I thought I’d be able to help her with the adjustment, but now I don’t think this was such a good idea.”
“Helena, she needs time. She and Char were very close. Having you here so she’s not alone is enough for now.”
“I know, Mark. We’ve been over this before but I’m at a loss.”
Dad sets his wine glass down on the kitchen table and walks toward the stairs. “I need to clean up before dinner. I’ll be down in few minutes.” On my hands and knees, I sneak back into my room, climb onto my bed, and pretend to read my book. I’m counting his steps up the stairs.
“Hey Aim, how’s my girl?”
I sit up hoping he’ll come over and hug me, but he stands in the doorway. The minute I look in his eyes he looks at my book. “Call of the Wild, huh?”
“You know me, I can’t put a good book down.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Yea, I made stew.”
“That sounds great. Let me change and we’ll eat.”
He turns and walks down the hall. I drop my head to my knees, and blink back the tears. I hear him shut off the water in the bathroom then he steps out of his room. “Coming?” he asks from the end of the hall.
“I’ll be down in a minute. I’m starving.”
As I start down the stairs, Dad’s hand wraps around Helena’s as he takes a bowl from her. “I’ll dish up my own.” I say, as Helena begins filling another bowl. “Fine,” she says, without looking up.
I walk over and take a seat at the table. “Amy, you just told me you’re starving.”
“Well, I’m not now.”
Dad sits up in his chair. “Amy, Helena’s here to help you.”
I jump up slamming my chair to the floor and shout, “I don’t need her help. I do everything here as it is. This is not her home. I never said I needed help!” I spin away from the table, dart out the door, and into the forest. I head for the ponderosa grove. There in the middle of the grove is an ancient Ponderosa Pine. I climb onto its exposed roots and curl up at the base in a large worn knot trying to stifle my sobs. “Mom, I miss you so much.” I look up and see through a hole in the tops of the trees the night’s sky filled with a million stars. They’re beautifully vibrant and remind me of sleeping with Mom on summer nights in front of our cabin when Dad would go away on business trips. I stay until I can’t stand the cold any more then I head back to the cabin.
As I step into our house, the light left on in my bedroom allows me to see my way up the stairs. Quietly I climb the stairs and walk to my room. I change into my nightshirt, turn off the light, and crawl into bed. With my knees tucked up to my chest, I wrap my nightshirt around my cold feet. I hear Dad open his door then his padded footfall coming down the hall. He stands in my doorway for a moment. I clutch my pillow as he walks back to his room. The emptiness expands my heart until I think it will burst.
I awake the next morning to the sun filling my room, and the weight of last night’s memory sitting in my chest. I roll over and check the time…9:52 AM! I haven’t slept this late since I was five and had the flu. My head hurts and my stomach aches. Climbing out of bed, I feel wetness in my panties. I hurry to the bathroom and discover I’ve started my period. Great. I search under the sink, and find a box of tampons. Mom never told me how to use these. Reading the box I’m frightened to even consider such a thing.
“Amy, are you OK?” Helena’s voice asks through the door.
Standing there with the box of tampons in my hand, I look up and see Mom—her blue eyes and frizzy golden hair with lights of red woven throughout. But the image fades into me, but not me. My face has become sharper—my cheekbones and chin more prominent. I look into my eyes hoping to see her again, but Helena’s insistently knocking at the door. “Amy, I was wondering if you wanted some breakfast?”
Tentatively I open the door just enough to prevent Helena from coming in. I can’t look at her. I’m trapped. With my head bowed, I notice Helena's red painted toenails. Encircling her tiny right ankle is a thin silver chain. I’ve never seen that before. As I look up at Helena, she’s spotted the box of tampons in my hand. Avoiding her eyes, I focus on her ankle bracelet.
“Amy, is this your first period?” I nod my head in agreement. “I have some pads. You may want to use those at first until you get comfortable with this business.”
“Helena, is my Dad here?"
"He had to go back to the city today, but he'll be back tonight."
"I really don’t feel very well. I have a terrible headache and my stomach really hurts.”
“Why don’t you soak in the tub for a while. I will set the box of pads outside the door. Just let me know when you’re done.” She turns and disappears down the hall.
I close the door, and sit on the toilet, then lean over to turn the knobs that release the rush of water. Lifting my nightshirt off, I slowly slip into the steaming hot water. I sink down and scrunch my body until my nose sits above the waterline. My hands gradually rise and hover like the eyes of a crocodile waiting. My long hair floats aimlessly around my shoulders and small breasts. I hold my breath to still the water, but my heavy heart keeps beating making ripples in the water. I close my eyes and imagine that I’m floating away.
When the water begins to grow cold, I open my eyes and see Mom’s purple chenille robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door. I climb out of the bath and wrap its soft, warm weight around me. I quietly open the door and there’s the package where Helena said it would be.
I step out of the bathroom and lean over the rail. Helena sits in the rocker reading a book. She must have heard the door open because she looks up after a moment and smiles.
“Yea, but now I think I’m hungry.”
“Well that’s good news. How about some tea and powered sugar donuts?”
“Sounds good. Could I have them in my room?”
“Terrific idea. I’ll bring them up in a minute.”
I climb into my bed and pull my knees up to my chest along with my covers up to my chin trying for a more comfortable position. I can’t believe I’ll ever get use to this new strange feeling. Helena walks into my room balancing a tray, and then hesitates. As she looks around, I flatten the bedspread so she can set it down. “Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll come and get the tray.”
“This looks great. Thanks, Helena.”
She begins to walk out of my room, “Helena?”
“What book are you reading?”
“Alaska, by James A. Michener.”
“Is it any good?”
Helena steps back into my room, and I move the tray to the other side of my bed so that she can sit down. She smiles and takes a seat on the edge of my bed. “Actually, I’m enjoying it very much. It’s not the kind of book I typically read.”
Helena’s dark eyes remind me of last night’s sky. They’re beautiful and vibrant.