“What’s that sound?” Cari’s eyes widened.
William took a kind of pleasure in knowing something his granddaughter did not, this child of the city, this child of gleaming buildings and pavement and subway trains. “Woodland chorus frogs.” He paused, listening. “Grey tree frogs. Spring peepers.” He watched her looking around and felt himself filled with love for a child he barely knew. “Look there.” He pointed to a rotting log where a line of turtles sunned themselves before slipping into the water at their approach.
Cari’s yellow boots were smeared with mud. The hem of the dress she’d insisted upon wearing was black. She’d lost the ribbon he’d tied into her hair after breakfast. “You look just like your momma, when she was a kid.”
“A regular tomboy, she was. Could climb trees better than any old boy. Just shimmied her way up quick as a wink.” William knew to tread carefully, to find the right balance between the beauty and the pain of memories.
“I can’t climb trees.”
“Oh, you never gave it a try, now, did you?”
“Father wouldn’t allow me.”
The man never had been a father to his child. To him, Cari had been an accident. A mistake. A bad reason to marry and haul his daughter–a child of the woods–to the big city.
William made a show of looking about the woods. “Do you see him around?”
Cari ran her thumbnail along the bark of an old oak tree.
“That tree’s older than me,” William said. Now, the situation had reversed itself. Here he was, yanking a child from the city to…
“Father says trees are dirty.”
“Dirt washes away.”
“When he comes to pick me up, he’ll punish me for having gotten dirty.”
“He must have seen something in your momma, even beneath all the dirt she wore.” William winked. “Your mother planted all these flowers in the woods before she met your daddy.”
Cari knelt before a green-blue sedum, glistening with the morning’s rain. “Before she got sick.”
“Yes.” They fell silent, each in the remembering. William felt in his pocket for his pipe. Reassured by its presence, he continued. “Your father was thinking that you ought to try going to school here in the fall.”
“I like my old school.”
“Maybe you can try something new?”
“My father’s not coming back, is he?”
William shook his head. “No.” He cleared his throat “I’m sorry, honey.” Dirt washes away. Scars do not. They merely fade with time, slowly disappearing, perhaps into understanding and forgiveness, perhaps hardening into bitterness and regrets.
“I’m scared,” she whispered.
Cari fell stood, fists clenched, and stared straight ahead. When she turned this way, William didn’t know what to do with the child. “Look, you’ve got to be brave, like these daffodils here.”
“Daffodils don’t have to be courageous. All they have to do is grow.”
“Course they’re brave. Every spring, they peek their heads out of the ground, not knowing what may come. Takes a good bit of bravery forging ahead when you don’t know the outcome.”
“It’s instinct. The soil warms up, the plants begin to grow.”
He nodded. “But there’s still a thing of beauty in it, isn’t there? What is instinct, but the ancient remembering? The recollections of the universe? The music of the generations?”
She smiled. Father says you’re crazy.
William laughed. “Perhaps I am.” He fished in his pocket for a rubber band and fixed Cari’s hair back into a crooked pony tail. “Hungry?”
She took his hand. “Yes.”
And as they left the woods and headed for home, the woods continued growing, following the thread of ancient memories set down by the generations.
I took a walk today and heard all three frogs, saw the turtles all stacked up in a row and nearly stepped on a snake in the woods.
I haven’t been posting/writing as regularly lately, as I’m working on a larger non-fiction piece. I think my fiction writing is suffering because I’ve been ignoring it Hope to get back to my routine next week.
This was written for The Woven Tale Press linkup. The word was rigorous.
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