She couldn’t take one more turn on the old rope swing Steve had put up when they first learned they were expecting. Like buying a football and a new tricycle, it meant there was a future, that there would be a child, that they would be a family.
She set her feet firmly and resolutely on the unmown grass and stood up from the swing, letting it lap against the back of her thighs, then turned slowly back toward the house and the realtor’s brand new, cherry red mini-van. The upstairs windows were open and the voices of that other family drifted down to her. She could hear the children, a boy and a girl, running through the empty halls, the mother yelling at them. The realtor was pulling back the gauze curtains to display the view that had sold her initially, out across the eight acres to the pond and beyond the pond to the grove of redwoods and beyond that, the ocean.
Steve had decided not to come this time. He hadn’t been back to the house since they spent the three months in the hospital. Three months of hope and planning. He would shuttle from the house to the hospital with Polaroids for her of the work he’d completed. He took several panoramic shots of the view from their bedroom window and she had propped them up against her stomach, memorizing every mote of light and planning when she could be back in the big bedroom with the fireplace and the basinet.
He hadn’t told her about the swing. That had been a surprise. She’d found it when she returned alone to the house, to pack it up after the baby was gone and after Steve was gone. And every time since, whenever she’d come back, she’d stop at the swing and sit down and push herself back and forth. It was comforting. Swing time was time standing still. As long as she was on the swing, Steve was cooking dinner on the backyard grill, the baby was napping upstairs and she was making plans for the future. When she stepped away from the swing, she had to walk back into her new reality.
Peg, the realtor was practically skipping out across the driveway toward her. “I think we have a live one,” she said, about to explode.
“Great, that’s great.” She felt as if she was smiling with all she had at Peg, but Peg’s face wrinkled up.
“What is it? Having second thoughts? You just say the word and I’ll drive them right back into town, no problem.”
She felt Peg’s hand on her arm as if someone was trying to reach her from far away, as if she was in a boat that was slowly drifting out to sea and a voice somewhere back on land was calling to her.
“No, I’m sure.” She tried for the right words, the words to describe the mood she was not feeling. “I’m thrilled you’ve found a buyer. Really. This is exactly what I want.” She watched carefully as Peg’s face lightened. “I really appreciate all your help in getting it sold.”
Peg squeezed her arm, then turned and rushed back in to continue shepherding her buyers.
Maybe if she just sat right down here for a moment, yes, that would feel good. She turned back around toward the meadow and instead of sitting down she started walking. The sun was hinting it might be about to go down. Somewhere fog was rolling in, she couldn’t see it, but she could feel the chill in the air, feel it envelope her face and start to cut through her summer dress. She wondered if the water in the pond was chilly, if the fish were out of hibernation, if the foxes had gotten to them. She wondered if the woods were full of hunters, if she walked into the redwoods would they completely block the sun. And if she lay down in the underbrush, would her body make an impression, would the needles cut into her flesh and leave a tattoo.
In the distance, something like a horn honking, maybe some voices. She quickened her pace. When she got to the pond, she took off her sandals and waded in up to her thighs. The water was cold and murky. She could feel small fish swimming around her ankles, brushing up against her skin, taking nibbles.
She waded out the other side of the pond and headed into the woods. The sun became streaks of light stippling the ground, her face and everything around her. She put a hand out and stripped off a piece of redwood bark, held it up to her nose and took in the clean, earthy smell. Then she came to the place she had seen in her dreams, a circle of redwoods with a perfect bed of new growth needles below. All was in shadow.
The night they lost the baby she made up her mind to come to this place. It was the only thing to do. The one good thing to do.
She looked up through the arms of the redwoods and watched as the light drifted away. She gathered fallen branches and loose needles to cover her arms and legs, then turned her face to the night sky biting down on the bark. It turned into flowers in her mouth. Redwood seedlings sprouted up between her fingers. A family of mice took up residence in one of the large pockets of her cotton dress. A pair of western tanagers collected strands of her hair. A red fox chased away a vole that had taken up residence in one of her discarded sandals. He pushed his nose up against her cheek and closed his eyes against the coming cold.
About Cheryl: Cheryl Diane Kidder’s work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was also short-listed on storySouth’s Million Writer’s Award. Her work has appeared in two anthologies: Ava Gardner: Touches of Venus, and Meg Files’ Write From Life. Cheryl has a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: CutThroat Magazine, Brevity Magazine, Pembroke Magazine, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Penduline, Dogzplot, Watercress Journal, The Northville Review, JMWW, Identity Theory, Map Literary, The Atticus Review, The New Purlieu Review, Eclectica, Word Riot, among others. Her blog is Truewest, and she’s at Poets & Writers.