Your Conspicuous Absence

10/28/2020 6:01:06 PM
Followers: 0
Following: 0
 1
 87
 1
 0

When Barbara entered the house for the first time but firsts are relative, aren’t they; how much time has to pass for a first to come around a second time? she believed she had been there before. She believed she had stepped upon the cracked marble steps and twisted slowly the tarnished knob on the heavy oak door sometime in her more recent past. She believed that the creaking complaint of the hinges was one she was hearing not for the first time, and that the shadow she was greeted by was one she was not unfamiliar with. All this Barbara believed, and all this she wished she didn’t quite know.

As she pulled the car to a stop before the house’s white-painted brick, she tried to remember when she had indeed been here last, tried to conjure the feel of sure bare feet on freshly painted floors, the smell of summer just before, just after, a rain. Petrichor. He’d told her the word like a secret, sitting on the wet lawn as the sun went down one of those long ago nights. She had been six, maybe seven. Big words were magic to her then. Petrichor at the gloaming. It sounded like a spell, something to scare away the light and let the shadows rest in peace. Nothing to be scared of, after all, in the dark. Nothing that isn’t there in the light. Did he tell the others? She wondered. They mightn’t have cared. They certainly wouldn’t now.

For the second time since she’d arrived back on the island, she wondered if she should have called her siblings. Confirmed the meeting time. It was three that they’d agreed to be here, yes? Yes. And it was three o’clock now, wasn’t it? It was. Yet all the same, she knew she was alone at the old house as she tensed to step out from behind the dash. Knew no one was sitting on the lawn now to hear the grind of tires against the drive, or the reluctant clunk of the car’s engine as it quit and the door was opened painstakingly.

She got out and let a hand linger on the half-rolled window. Should she close it full? Maybe it would rain soon… There’d been no word of rain, of course. None for a while now up here. All part of the season, she supposed. She shivered. God, wasn’t it supposed to be warmer today? So much for July. But it was like this, she reminded herself, here by Mount Desert. Always a little chiller than it should be from the water, the trees over in Acadia watching from their distance. Maybe she’d go visit the park when all this was done. They didn’t have such a thing, further south. The closest she could get was that silly little puddle she had to call a stream behind her apartment. Sometimes she could stand next to it with her eyes closed, listen to the half-convincing sound it made and ignore the green film on its surface, more mud than water running through it, and remember a time when closing her eyes to the world felt like a sin.

Standing on the dock last night, waiting for the lot to clear so she could drive her car off the ferry, able to look at the shore and hear the waves all at the same time, she realized how much she’d missed having real things so close. She steadied her foot, tapping in earnest against the gravel. One two three one two three.

But wasn’t it cold? And it seemed so late now–she’d wanted to come sooner in the day, get all this over with before it began to mean something, but her sister had never been one for mornings, and her brother had never been one for caring either way. Out of impatient habit she swiveled her wrist, but of course it was bare. She hadn’t worn a watch in how long now? Remember having that crisp tan line from the wristband over summers? Part of her envied whatever older rendition of herself had the luxury of turning her arm and knowing just when she was. She let the thought go quickly. She’d never been one for jealousy.

She dropped her hand from the car’s window and stepped towards the door of the house. One step, two, and up and forward. Like a dance. She wondered who her partner was. Wondered if whoever it was had forgotten to tie their shoes right like Stacy Montblanc had at the Senior Prom; wondered if they’d fall on their face at the drink table like him too, would have to leave early because if their father found out they’d ruined the tie they was a goner.

Her feet hit the front step, pattered a quick ditty on the stoop with her toes, her heels, hardly feeling them move. Her hand hesitated above the doorknob, brass dirtied and brown lemon and baking soda to give it its shine back. She didn’t move to open it though, instead let her gaze wander back behind her to survey the gravel drive. Didn’t her green hatchback look so wrong in front of the small house, all the latter’s faded trim and dead-eyed windows glaring out at the plash of offending color. Come to rob it, it thinks. Come to judge. And is it wrong?

One two three one two three, her feet counted.

How long had they waited to come up here? How long had it sat vacant, waiting for the three of them to get their shit together? Three weeks–and to think they’d actually been able to decide anything for the funeral…just a few days between him dropping in the garden and them planting him himself. But his stuff–All of it, she thought but there can’t be much left, really.

The cousins who still lived in town had come by to do a sweep already, she knew. They’d phoned ahead, asked her because the other two hadn’t answered their damn phones, if it’d be alright to take a few things. They’d handle the old man’s clothes for them maybe, too. Would that be a help? She said it would be. Certainly it would be. She imagined most of it had gone to the Goodwill on the mainland. She imagined all those trashbags full of his old things. Sweaters he wore every day and navy blazers that never left their hangers. Black bags bulging with shirt-sleeves and trousers and dress shoes and ties and undershirts and socks and glasses and Stop, there wouldn’t have been that much. But all of those bags went tumbling down the drive in her mind’s eye anyway. Maybe I’ll see someone wearing that awful leather jacket he loved so much. Maybe I’ll be minding my own business one day and there it will be, just as red as it ever was because it’s been cleaned and made to look worth a buck and the person wearing it will wave and say How’s it going? and I’ll not be thinking and I’ll say What gets up eventually goes down because that’s what he always said when he wore that jacket. Or maybe the person wearing it won’t say anything at all and I’ll not be thinking and I’ll just believe I’ve walked by him even though he’s–

Her car didn’t have room for a whole lot anyway. August would probably take most of what was left, some of the furniture, maybe, in his truck, either to repurpose or sell or both. Aria would take the little things, the things that sat on the mantle in the parlor that no one looked at except to dust them. And Barbara? What would she want? She’d tried to think it over on the drive up, thought about the chipping paint on her old headboard everyone kept forgetting to repaint though every morning she woke up with blue flakes in her hair; the broken spoke on the little desk chair with the boats stenciled on the back; the trick third step on the stairs, one inch longer than the rest, that visitors tripped on every time. Maybe she’d take the print of seagulls he’d hung for her over her bed if it was still here. The one that fell once when she was ten in the middle of the night and caught her on the forehead with its corner, woke her up to a lot more blood than there should have been and Aria screaming murder.

One two three.

She wondered how much longer Aria and August would take to get up here. The house wasn’t so far from town, but maybe the ferries were delayed. That happened more often than not, didn’t it? The people up here liked to talk, and they didn’t pay much mind to timetables. Island Time, he’d joked. Something she’d not quite forgotten and was surprised by all the same when she arrived yesterday. But sometimes that was good, wasn’t it? Sometimes you could stand to wait half-an-hour to pick the smooth path across the Narrows in the shoddy little vinyl seats the ferry offered, but not today. No, not today. She wished they’d hurry.

Returning her attention to the door, she had a nervous thought, removed her hand from over the knob where she’d held it still; knocked instead, affecting a sound too heavy and too hollow for any occupied residence.

One two three.

Silly, aren’t we. All ceremony aside, she knew no one would answer. With a small sigh of self-reflection, she opened the door to the shadow.

Inside, the faded fibers of the carpet ushered her in but did not offer to get her the drink she felt she very much needed and certainly did not volunteer to take her coat. Wouldn’t she be leaving soon enough, of course, and so why bother with removing her jacket? Foolishness that was, wasn’t it.

She took a few steps into the gloom and felt the door begin to swing behind her of its own accord. Allowed it to shut in full. A life all its own, he used to say when the floors would creak and she’d wake up crying in the night. It’ll bite you if you don’t watch it close. She thought now that maybe the reassurance shouldn’t have comforted her small self, should have scared her more, but then it’d made the house into something else. Something she could see. Could know. Something that didn’t want to consume her, just wanted to exist alongside. So when the wind washed in from the sea and rattled the roof, the noise was a herd of deer rushing by her bedroom; the howl of a winter storm over the island was a wolf seeking company; the rain on her window was the scurry of foxes with their kits to their dens.

A life all its own. A life with which to do something, presumably. She often wondered what it wanted to be, if a house could be anything but. She, for example, had wanted to be a teacher of small children, until, of course, she’d decided to be the floor manager at her local Springfield’s Home Goods. Which Springfield? the ferryman on the ride last night had asked. I told him Massachusetts, but sometimes it’s Missouri, California, Texas–never Maine. Of course, never Maine. Too many people to find out otherwise. But maybe the house wanted to be a teacher, since it never seemed to mind taking care of all them. Maybe it wanted to be an explorer, an anthropologist–another word he’d taught her, that one at the kitchen table over that ridiculously overlarge dictionary that she could hardly lift. Or maybe it wants to be nothing at all, or just what it is. 

One.

The walls in the hallway were grey, though she knew they would be yellow in the light. Her hand found the switch, tested it. Nothing happened. The bulb in the overhead had probably burned out years ago. At the end he wouldn’t have known the difference anyway. Blind as a mole, he’d called himself over the phone last year. She had offered to come back, no one could say she hadn’t, but he hadn’t been ill aside from the eyes going and she had her job to think about and August and Aria certainly didn’t seem concerned: Got all we need, here. Nothing worth worrying about me, and she’d believed him because she thought she had to. Now, she imagined the dust that would be caked into the carpet below her feet, ground in over decades Though surely he vacuumed? Surely. Her eyes followed it down to the end of the hall, traced the open frame into the kitchen.

Remember that stupid dog he bought that summer? It ran down the hall and through the screen door out the back after a squirrel. Or wasn’t it a chipmunk? A weasel. No. Do we have weasels up here? Maybe we used to. Maybe they used to run rampant and then he bought that dog and they all ran to Arkansas. I hear they have a lot of weasels in Arkansas. Or wasn’t it Kansas?

Two.

She came back to her slow progression, abandoning thoughts that led to the end of the hall. Had to go step by step, didn’t you now? Couldn’t jump ahead, skip any chapters. Back to the beginning now, following the scratch marks along the baseboards, the torn edge of the carpet Those damnable rabbits he used to scream, the one time he’d get real angry, passing the wedding portrait of her grandparents on the right hand wall. Never quite sure they weren’t at a funeral. Who would wear a black veil at a wedding? The left opened into a modest living room Come into the parlor, Barbie dear, the walls dripping with lacy patterns of wrinkled wallpaper and floral printed chairs.

She didn’t go in. Did she back then? She must have some time. That woman was insufferable. How she raised him, even God might not know.

Three.

Alright: now the kitchen. It emerged from behind the narrow doorway and an awkward slant of the ceiling Surprised Aria never got concussed all the times she ran into it full tilt and exploded out in a starburst of turquoise paint and a metallically embossed backsplash. I didn’t think August and Mother were actually serious about plastering that silver stuff up, and knowing how much he hated it when he got home.

There was light in this room that didn’t exist elsewhere in the house, the back wall composed of windows, long and narrow and hung with short rounded curtains that shaded a relatively pleasant view of the backyard. The stove was black with rust He never did care for the appliances, and the bookshelf in the corner was covered in the vestiges of torn, empty manila envelopes, half-used stacks of sticky notes, more dust that clung like dandruff to the shelves. Several books sat stacked neatly along the middle one. A post-it note stuck out the side of one copy nearer its cover; from here she couldn’t tell which way the book was meant to be oriented, whether he’d been nearly through or had just begun to read whatever it was before he’d lost his eyes.

An ornate mirror hung on the front wall, its glass bubbling up around its top, setting everything in fisheye, the room spinning out around her through its lens. She watched its center cautiously, the light from the window behind reflecting in little explosions through the warped surface. Like waiting for something to walk up from the corner keeping her gaze on her own eyes as they surveyed the room from their confused angle But what would actually happen if something did? Would I move at all? the closeness of everything there–all those unread pages pressed so suffocatingly tight in the shelves, the intrusive silence of those little curtains in the windows–she turned away from the mirror. Stepped quick through the space, an unarticulated urge to see the outside again, to breathe air not hung with motes, chasing her from the entry, overtaking her from behind.

The hinges on the screen door at the corner squeaked when she opened it in a hurry. How many stories did he tell us sitting at that old picnic table he built? What had happened to that–August broke the bench, didn’t he...those friends of his jumped too hard on the boards just to see what would happen...he never had gone about fixing it.

A coolness traced her ankles from behind, and she turned her head slow, don’t provoke whatever it is. Nothing was there of course. She was still alone.

One two.

Gently gently. Take a step, just one at a time, now. Her foot caught the busted lip of the threshold and she fell into the edge of the half-opened screen. It rattled dangerously under her weight and she hurried to step down onto the split wood of ancient stairs. She felt the peeling plank start to give as she imposed herself upon it and quickly stepped the rest of the way down to the overgrown yard below.

No one had maintained it these last weeks He was the one who always took care of that, and the cousins had done it of late, hadn’t they? Bertie, maybe, said he’d been stopping by, and the grass had turned weedy and wild again from the sunlight. The tree line edged cautiously around the shed at the back of the yard The things we used to see in those shadows and the roots burrowed deep as if standing their ground from something. I wonder if that grizzly is still around…though he said it stayed down by the pond, mostly. There were no signs of anything that wasn’t hidden under the grass and she took some hopping steps towards the little slatted building which called itself Shed even in its darkest hours in which the name Kindling would do.

Uncle Paul built that up later, I remember he said. Was never here before when we were small. The boards along the edges caved with rot, the foundation sinking at startling angles into the soft earth. He would have done a better job, besides, making sure those walls stayed up.

Hiking her way through the dew-stained overgrowth Jungle Searchers in the Bush, we used to call ourselves after Cousin Bertie came back from Australia; or wasn’t it New Zealand?, she fancied she felt a knick on her foot, something tapping lightly to get her attention. Looking down for the culprit, only a ladybird perched on a grass blade ignored her, her boots looming glacially beside it. There’d been creatures here once, squirrels and rabbits and robins that would run to the safety of the trees, look back like they knew something you didn’t. He made them houses and feeders and little wooden versions of themselves, didn’t he? Hid the little likenesses in the grass–we’d step on them and they’d bruise our feet if we weren’t careful. Had to watch out for them, pay attention.

Where’d he put them? and she stepped out towards the tree line, remembered once-were paths guiding her feet. A twinge of pride that she didn’t have to think about the route ran through her, prickled her core; flitted away faster than it’d come when her feet stopped suddenly just in the forest’s grasp. They didn’t know the way after all, she realized. They’d forgotten. Or they aren’t telling. A hollowness lodged itself in her gut. Where’d he put them? She scanned the closeness of the trees in what would have been called desperation had she gone so far as to admit the importance any of this had, the trunks playing tricks, merging their barks, pulling her eyes up up up until she was once again small. Once again searching the forest for faeries.

What do you think, then, little Bar?

He was the only one who could make that name okay. No Barbie no Barb no grating cumbersomeness of all those syllables Bar-Ba-Ra.

Can you find them?

She took a slow step into the trees, let her foot linger over the ground before letting it fall, feeling it drop softly into the moss run rampant over the roots, the black earth. Her feet still didn’t take the initiative and lead her on as she hoped they would. Just one step. It was a game. She peered through the undergrowth for little hints. Breadcrumbs. He used to say Hansel and Gretel were silly for using breadcrumbs, all the birds were sure to eat up the trail by the end. Where could they be?

Another quiet step pressed the dirt. Another.

Look for the sun, little Bar.

The shadow was chill here, the trees reaching together, making the sky irrelevant. She shivered down into her jacket. Even from here she could almost register the scornful entryway carpeting reaffirming its conviction that she need not have taken her coat off inside. She needed it now, after all, didn’t she? The forest was always colder.

Another.

One two three.

Where were August and Aria? She flipped her wrist again. Looked up. Time never worked right in the trees, but look there was a flicker through the branches, breaking the canopy, reestablishing notions of the sky.

Good. Another.

There was a big storm the summer she was eleven, bigger than she’d ever known; likely not the biggest the world had known, but even now, she couldn’t be sure of that. The wind wracked the trees, sent them bending like licorice towards the ground. The ocean rose up in angry swells, ate up the docks, flooded the little beach down the way, cast rocks into the road, tree limbs out to sea. In one night, the world inverted, set in negative. And remember how he got us up real early even though no one had slept just to watch the sun? And remember how clear the sky was, how empty, and that one little cloud lost in the dawn, like the whole sky had breathed real deep, sighed out everything it had and that one little cloud was all it could bear to keep.

She remembered the pale tracks that ran his cheeks that morning, too, though it’d taken her a while to put together what had made them. Funny, how he got us up for the sun but not earlier in the night to see Mother off, though maybe she’d told him not to. Maybe she wanted us to think of her as a ghost, something run off or taken… Regardless, she’d seen the headlights of the taxi pull up around the drive sometime in a lull in the rain. The sound of the engine was subsumed by the noise of the storm and she’d pulled the covers back over her head, conjuring the deer and the wolves and the foxes running rampant around the house, pretending the beacons were echoes of lightning as they retreated back into town, leaving an empty place at their table once the deer and the wolves and the foxes finally rested. Never there in the first place. Not what they really were.

But where did he put them?

She tiptoed further, trying to snatch confidence from the sharp grass, caught the blades leaving little damp trails along her boots even this late in the day, the sneaking light trapped in the marks, bleeding from the dew. Her toe caught something, gently, sank back from the disruption, crushed the grass. She peered down. Hello? A small point of wood stuck up from the ground, peered up at her. Mystery. She reached for it, plucked it up. Found you.

The first thing he’d ever made for her from the trees was a little girl, like her. It had large eyes and an open smile and small feet. Its ears were wide and its little chin was pointed. It was heavier in the head than in the bottom and it fell over whenever she tried to stand it up on her bedroom window sill. After a time she had to bury it half in the soil in the garden so it’d stay upright. At night she’d whisper softly to it from the dark distance to let it know she was still there; in mornings she’d bring out her breakfast and sit in the early air, keep it company, feed it bits of toast if it happened to be hungry. She remembered the day it ran away, when she’d gone outside and found its little hole vacant, evicted. She couldn’t bring herself to use the word abandoned, though she admitted it had crossed her mind. He said they did that sometimes, tried to make it on their own in the outside. But I remember thinking she was so small and wouldn’t she get eaten up by whatever was out there? Eaten by the grizzly? Drowned in the pond?

This little creature she held now had small, closed eyes, a head like a ripe fig, a pair of sturdy bulbous feet. This one could stand up on its own for sure, she considered. This one could make it on its own, if it tried. She wished, just for this moment, that he’d made this little imp for her instead of the pretty little girl. Then it could have stood on my window and watched the outside safely. Wouldn’t have run away. Wouldn’t have worried me. She held it close. Considered putting it down, tapped its nose in thought. Stuck it snug in her pocket.

One two three.

It didn’t run away, silly. The first one. Some animal took it. Some squirrel for its nest. Some owl for its dinner, thinking it had a heart. Leave this one out here any longer something’ll take it too.

One two three.

She’d had a boyfriend in college. A nice enough kid from a philosophy class. She’d not quite known how to handle him, she remembered, not quite known what to tell him, what to keep. She experimented with facts and stories, telling him all about a fictional girl named Barbara who would swim from the shore of her home island across to bigger Mount Desert because the ferries were too slow, who liked reading Thoreau sitting on the beach before dawn, who once rescued a seal pup from the jaws of a rabid coyote. Or she’d tell him about the real trip to Ireland she took and how she’d nearly fallen eighty-five feet head first when the man holding onto her at the Blarney Stone lost his grip. How the tour bus had left without her and a friend at the Cliffs of Moher and they’d had to figure a way back through the wilds of Connemara on their own. She liked the way he would nod along while she told him stories, like he was riding the smooth current of the inlet, happy to go where it did. She liked that he didn’t smile unless she made him laugh, liked that she couldn’t know exactly what he was thinking even when he told her. She remembered when she told him about the little wooden girl, the even look he kept, the nod. She remembered the way he’d pursed his lips, teased his earlobe like he was thinking real hard when she had finished. Couldn’t you have kept the doll inside with you? he’d asked. Couldn’t you have asked him to make a little stand or something for it? Or just balanced it with some books or something? Then maybe you wouldn’t have lost it if it meant so much.

She couldn’t remember what she’d said to him then. Maybe nothing. She didn’t have to have said anything, did she? She remembered how she couldn’t quite look at him afterwards though. Like he knew everything, like he knew anything, coming up with simple solutions like that. Just like that. She couldn’t quite remember either if they said they’d break up later. Who had done it if they had. Probably him. She couldn’t imagine herself making such a decision. Maybe they’d just decided without a word to stop seeing each other. To say hello on the green, in the campus center, but nothing more. She couldn’t remember, but wanted to say it was after that she’d started kicking the ground, when she was nervous, when she was bored, tapping the floor with her heels no ruby slippers though as if trying to dig through to something. As if her feet were buried and this might let her walk but where to?.

One two three.

August and Aria should be close. Still, no crunch of gravel in the drive betrayed their arrival, no cheerful calling distrubed the silent house. She glanced back at its shape through the trees. Shadowed, asleep. Tired, maybe, at the least. Envervated. Where’d she learn that one? She remembered him using it, a little bit older, remembered him moving slow as if miming its meaning for her, remembered him holding the whittling knife close between his fingertips, nicking his thumb, daubing the little round of blood onto his jeans. It’d gotten on the wood, colored the little face of the new creature, A little rouge for the wee beastie, he’d chuckled. He’d started making lots of them by then, by the time she was twelve. Lots of little fae folk, not quite people, not quite not, each one more expressive than the last. This one’d had narrow devilish eyes, a puckered mouth, smooth, sly fingers. It’s up to things, she’d told him when he was done. Then we’d better keep eyes on him, little Bar.

That one lived in the kitchen, watching from the bookcase shelves. Its gaze lingered as she’d do schoolwork, as she and August and Aria’d play endless rounds of Monopoly, of Scrabble, as they’d all sit in candlelight when the power went, when the deer and the wolves and the foxes raged.

She grew to loathe the little bookcase devil. She imagined what it schemed in the nighttime, what it was he had created. Whether or not he knew it. One day, early, when everyone else was gone, she plucked it from the shelf and carried it into the forest. Placed it gentle into the grass, nestled in the moss, in the roots. Left it.

The next morning when she checked again, it was gone. Run away or taken, she didn’t care, was just pleased, was just calmed. He never asked. Never suspected. Or he did, but didn’t mind.

She’d started moving again, hardly feeling her feet. How far? But the sun looked just the same through the trees, the ground just as uncombed. Careful, slow. She hesitated, felt her head tense to look behind her, had a thought, dismissed it, carried on straight. Nothing is there, silly. But what if nothing really is there? What if everything is gone and I’ll only know if I turn around to see it’s not there?

One step, two. Let me know when you find what you’re looking for, and I’ll let you know where it really is.

Three.

Once, before she left this place the first time but firsts are relative, aren’t they?, she asked him what it was he’d wanted to be in his life, when he was young like her. He’d looked at her funny, kindly, surprised, like she was a stranger to him but he was happy to make her acquaintance. I’d like to be a person, he said. I wanted to be a person then too, when my face had fewer lines. Yes, but what had he wanted to do? But he didn’t answer that one. Had shaken his head with a chuckle, had turned away. She remembered thinking she’d been cheated out of something by his silence, but also knew she’d cross some kind of line if she pushed him.

Careful, don’t trip.

She let her foot hang midstep, suspended is something there?. Brought it down slow again, watching the ground rise up to meet it.

One.

She had wanted to leave like she’d wanted to get braces. Knew it’d probably be good in the long term but would hurt when the wires got tightened. It hadn’t been her plan to stay away forever, but August had moved and then Aria too and then he didn’t talk much when she called to check in. Soon it felt like she was tethered to a dock that had broken from the shore. Maybe making the trip every now and again would have made that okay, but it always seemed so far. It was always easier to stay where she was and pretend the time wasn’t passing so quickly.

Two.

There was a hole in the earth here, her foot as she placed it fit smoothly in its center.

Three.

It was in the middle of a development meeting that Aria called her those long few weeks ago. Matilda Someone really has that name?, her manager had been talking about new online customer services guidelines when her phone went off, buzzing with frightening urgency inside her jeans’ pocket. She’d bit her lip, held her breath, prayed it’d go away, prayed no one else could hear it. When it finally stopped an eternity had passed, and when she finally listened to the voicemail in the parking garage later, all that time seemed to catch her up. She imagined a big cartoonish clock face stopping to listen as Aria’s voice sniffled from the earpiece, imagined it sighing in relief or shock as she put together what had happened. Felt it fall back into place with a jolt and carry on as she put a hand on the steering wheel and tried to remember how to move. Fallen, she said. Fallen in the garden. Sounds like a song. A sad song. Do I know it? What are the words? Fallen. Fallen and he’ll never get up, call though you try to he’s too far to hear you now. As far as you can go, he’s gone.

She tried to think what she could do, why Aria had called her at all What an awful thing to think, he’s your father, of course she called. But then again Why did she know first?

She was never one for jealousy.

The sound in her sister’s voice had sounded pleading, like maybe she could do something about all this. Maybe she could fix it. Dear Barbie. But what could she do? And she tensed. Stepped out of her car.

You used to be a brave little thing, didn’t you. A wee little beastie fit to run and play and hunt with deer and wolves and foxes. And when you went away, run away or taken I’ll not ask, you left behind the earth that held you, that ground that held you upright and strong.

The soil was a soft thing always the softest thing, and the sun had fled again behind the trees. She could feel heavy clouds overhead, registered the familiar scent of the air Summer air. Maybe she should have closed her car windows after all, and she smiled at the thought of the rain-spotted seats, the cool steering wheel. There’d been no word of rain, of course, and yet she knew it had come regardless.

Far away, the sound of tires ground down the drive. Two car doors slammed in succession. One voice called out a fearless greeting to the empty house. Quick steps crossed the rocks and touched upon the cracked marble steps. Slower, longer steps proceeded and the front door could be heard swinging open from the distance.

“Barbie!” Aria called, a patter of heels like hooves running through the hall. Barbara, still standing by herself, absently raised a hand as if her sister could see her, would come into the trees and stand too. Absurd, silly. What ridiculous ideas you have. She laughed at herself and turned back to the house. Where she knew the house was. Not far. The feet of the little creature in her pocket tapped her side as she stepped from her hole in the earth, walked the once-was path back to the treeline. The house was still there, Aria and August peering through the kitchen window now. They didn’t seem to see her as she reentered the yard, but peered closer around the trees as if they believed she was there all the same. Barbara raised her hand once more. Waved once.

“I’m here.”