This is another old story of mine that recently resurfaced. I am looking for feedback and corrections on it.
The morning came across the sky in a whip of clouds. Dawn eased the land to its feet, and mine were already out the door. Sarah had left the screen door open last night. We had listened to the falling rain, and let the night seep on to our skin. With the feed pail in my hand, I headed to the pasture and the goat shack. The moist ground felt welcome under my bare feet. Each foot step left a small indent in the forgiving earth. I unlatched the gate on the West side of the field. The goats were already waiting for me. Holding the bucket above my head, I eased my way in and closed the gate. As always, Honey rubbed her face against my thigh in anxious expectation. I waltzed over to the feed trough and slung the bucket down and across it. Instantly the goats were upon it and almost on me. It was the same routine every morning and Honey knew it. I stepped back, and Honey lifted her head to watch me as I left the pasture.
Back at the house Sarah was waiting for me. Hanging the bucket from a nail on the porch, I went inside. Sarah was sitting cross leg-legged on the wooden floor of the kitchen. She asked me about the goats. Laughing as I told her about Honey. I sat down at the table, and Sarah climbed into my lap, I cupped my hands around her small round face and held her close as she snuggled into my body. I wondered what she would grow up to be. Had I raised her to be strong and independent or sheltered her by living for myself? This and other questions flooded my mind as she played with my braids. She had the happiness of a child’s free spirit, yet I couldn’t help pondering if she really was free. There were so many secrets that the walls had kept over the years, and for a moment, I feared she could hear them. She slipped down from my lap, and I knew she wanted breakfast. Getting up to go to the stove, I pushed the chair in, and gave her a hug. Singing while I made a pot of oatmeal, swirled with honey, dusted with cinnamon. I served it. Sarah ate quickly, asking if she could go outside. Before I could answer she was holding the screen door open, knowing what the answer would be. It was the same one everyday. Yes, I told her, and she sprinted into the woods, letting the screen door slam shut behind her. I washed up the dishes, and tidied up the house. Even on a Sunday, there were chores. By eleven, I was ready to start working on the quilt. It had started as a gift, but as time grew on so did the quilt. When Sarah was born, I knew I couldn’t let it or her go. I had put to much into both to see them taken from me.
Dusk settled over the farm quietly, and the musk of a summer day eased in through the screens. I had a pot of collards, black-eyed peas and rice boiling on the stove, a simple meal, which I considered comfort food. Sarah had spent the day playing in the trees. She loved to climb the tall pines and sit in the crooked branches feeling the wind rock her small body. I remember craving that experience as I grew older, having to work instead of play. I envied how carefree Sarah was, I still dreamed of feeling the wind touch my skin and feeling vulnerable and safe at the same time. Once when after Sarah was born, I had tried sneaking from the house at night and climbing the tallest pine. Looking up at the tree sent worry and fear shivering down my spine. I had so much that I couldn’t bear to loose, Sarah, the house, and the farm. I couldn’t risk it. Still that feeling of longing for past freedom has never left my body. The first time Sarah asked me if she could do it, I nearly cried from the thought of loosing her. So much of me wanted to say no, to tell of the dangers and make her fearful of the height. The stronger part of me willed her to go. I wanted to see her climb into the magic. I knew that in a shorter time than I cared to think, she would slowly loose her childhood, and I vowed not to take it from her. Someday, I know I will sneak to the tree again, but until then I stare, bracing myself as she disappears into the branches and reaches out for the sky.
All these memories and many more came as I finished cooking. I called Sarah, and she came inside with a brimming smile. We ate, after which I cleaned up the dishes and put away the leftovers. When I finished, I sat down and Sarah crawled into my lap. She clung to me and smiled. As we had done so many nights before, I asked her to tell me a story. Sometimes she would tell me about what she saw from her perch in the tree, and other times it was an imagined adventure. Tonight’s story, she said, was a dream. She told me she was scared and looking into her eyes, I could sense she was terrified. I held her tighter, and hoped to ease her into a sense of safety. She told me of a man. She said that he and I were together, and I hugged him. She said he had a beard but the rest of him was just a shadow. She continued to tell me that we had an argument, and she trembled as she spoke. I hoped that this day would have come later, why now? Sarah said the man told her how much he loved her. He wanted to take her and protect her, us both. He knew though that I wouldn’t have it. I didn’t want that lifestyle. So he left, and we stayed behind to recreate our lives. Sarah looked into my eyes and asked me if that really happened. In that moment, I wanted to say that it had been a bad dream for us both. However lying would only hurt the very pieces of the past that I had salvaged and wanted to save. I chose my words carefully. I told her that the man was her father, and that we had loved each other very much, but that he and I were different people. He was an artist at heart, but had a practical mind that got the better of him. Already I knew I had said to much. She didn’t care, but I did. Sarah looked at me and shook her head, what do you mean, she asked me. I paused for a moment before explaining that when she was a baby, we got a divorce. He moved away to further his career, and wanted to take you with him. I couldn’t let him. He wanted us both to go with him. I told her that I loved the woods and the country. He on the other hand thrived in the city. That was years ago I told her, and her dreams were just memories mixed with a good imagination. Sarah lifted her gaze from the floor to my face, tears welled in her eyes and her lips trembled as she hugged me. I knew that she needed comfort, so I let her stayed curled in my lap, until she relaxed into sleep. Then I carried her to her bed and lay her down, kissing her forehead and making sure the door was left open. I went to my own room, lay down thinking if I had done the right thing, and if I’d said the right words. I would stay in this state until the morning.
I awoke from my hazy sleep of confused dreams, to Sarah lying beside me. She looked at me and said that she needed me to sleep. We lay there as the sun came streaming in from the East window. I slowly eased from the warmth and left Sarah to enjoy the safety of my bed while I readied myself for the day. Sarah seemed her usual self, when she came to breakfast. She still asked about climbing the pine, so of course I said yes. When I went to visit the goats and bring them their feed, Honey greeted me in her usual way. As I left, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had forgotten something. In the distance I could hear the sound of an old van or truck. For a moment I figured that it had just taken a wrong turn, but I soon realized that this was not the case. I listened and could hear it approaching the driveway.
This was an odd event, because besides UPS and a few friends and neighbors, nobody knew where we lived, and none of the people that did, drove a truck or van. I walked quickly back to the house. I washed my hands and made sure I was presentable, thinking that it could be someone from the county. I called for Sarah to come inside. Within moments of closing the door after her, I heard the rumble of an engine. I knew the front gate was chained and locked, so what was I so worried about? I waited, usually the guys from the county would call or honk. I heard the engine stop and a door slam shut. When I didn’t hear anybody call, I thought maybe they were lost or needed directions. What willed me to walk to gate was a feeling beyond reason, it was something of fear and curiosity churning without rest. Walking towards the gate, I racked my mind for who this person could be, surely they must know me. That was the fear, if they knew me, did I know them? Then it hit me. The closer I got, the less I wanted to keep going forward, and the more I wanted to turn and run.
I should have figured he’d come around one of these days, but why now? I certainly didn’t have anything to give him, especially money, and he knew that. Secretly I had a hunch of what he was really after, my daughter. I wasn’t interested in entertaining the idea in any way shape or form, that she was our daughter. She knew me, and that was all she needed to know. I was the one who had given birth to her, breastfed her, and was raising her. He only saw her as a baby and as far as I felt, that’s how he saw me too. When he left me, he’d reached a point where all the things he cared about slipped out of hands. He let our relationship shatter on the rocks, He left Sarah to wonder about a father rather than have one, and until now, he had completely vanished from our lives.
The front driveway meandered through the woods before coming to the street and the gate. If I was so frightened why didn’t I just dash into the woods, I knew them well. Many times I had run into the woods, sometimes it was to hide but mostly it was to feel the air rush upon my skin. Now I knew that for some reason, I needed to keep moving towards that gate. It had been years since I had last seen him, and I wondered if seeing him would erase the faded image in my mind.
Nearing the gate I felt a softness return to my mind, my heart almost seemed to long to see the man I had loved. Was it even true, and could I bring myself to admit that I had actually loved this man enough to start a family with him. As I turned the corner, I half expected to see him resting his arms on the gate, with his head in his hands, like he always did. Those hands; when I knew them they were calloused and rough. Maybe in time they, and he had softened. Things had been so splintered at the end. Yet something in my heart yearned to hear his voice and feel his touch. Yet, I scorned this man. I slowed down and paced my thoughts and steps. Feeling as though I could wait no longer because of nervousness, and anger. I walked straight toward the gate, with a determination that had once frightened him.
To my surprise, he wasn’t there. Well, the brown van was there, but he wasn’t draped over the gate like I thought he might be. Instead I spied him leaning against the side of the old beat up van. I wondered who would call to whom, or if we would just stand and stare. The gate was useful, I knew I was locked in and he was locked out. I walked to the fence and stood with my arm propped on the post. After waiting sometime, He finally turned toward me and spoke.
“Hey Caty long time no see.”
“Yeah,” was all I could manage to say.
We hadn’t seen each other for years, yet he still used my nick name. When he left, I made it a point to separate myself from anything that bared a memory of him, including using the name Caty, instead of Catherine.
He seemed ragged and older than I remembered, but still smelled like cigarette smoke. A torn flannel plaid shirt hung loosely over a stained and holy tee shirt. Part of me hoped that I had changed, even if he hadn’t. He took out a package of cigarettes and a lighter, but quickly put them back in his pocket, instinctively knowing that I would probably object and leave. He was right.
I finally found the courage to speak and asked a dangerous question.
“What brought you back to these parts?” I said.
He fumbled around before telling me that after he left he couldn’t get rid of me from his mind. Then he added he couldn’t stop thinking of us, or her. When puzzlement covered my face, he said, “Our daughter, Sarah”. Hearing her name roll off his tongue made tears of sadness and anger come to my eyes. Why did he suddenly care for her, why didn’t he say that years ago. I wanted to run, but part of me feared he would chase me.
So, I stood there, and kept my eyes shaded from his view. I remembered that Sarah was back at the house alone. I debated whether to let him into my home, or if it was better to let him know I despised him, and how I had prayed that he would never bring himself to drop by.