Devoted exclusively to the creative process. Here you will see photojournaling, poetry, prose, an occasional review--journaling or philosophical writing can be found on our other blogs. This is our attempt to use our imaginations. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Persistence of Longing

The road to Sarah and Lisa’s had become overgrown over the years. He would have missed it this time too if his eyes had not stopped, and if the memory of a road had not risen up from the prairie grass, elms and oaks and faded years and drawn him into the wood.

It had been a dirt road once, and never well traveled, but wide enough for a car to pass, and sometimes two if both went very slowly and squeezed close to each other. Now it was nothing more than a foot path, and in places a weaving bike trail, going deeper in, ending who knew where.

He had been this way before, and after the first few steps his feet seemed to know where to lead him. Once on the path, he questioned how he could have forgotten this place. Had he stopped looking, stopped expecting what lie at the end of the trail, had his mind buried it deep in disappointment, waiting for nature to follow suit?

The narrowness of the road irritated him, and he got on his hands and knees and pulled out clumps of grass and small tree saplings, smacking the clods angrily against the ground, shaking loose the dirt and widening the road once again so he wouldn’t forget it next time. It was hot work, and slow. He began sweating freely. It was taboo work for a Sunday, but who would see him or think to look this way? The work was for him and him alone, he guessed, a private penance for letting the weeds grow up where footprints should have been. So he worked on because it must be done. Because it seemed the right thing to do. Because he needed this.

As he made his way through a clearing, into darker woods and around a bend, the two houses were still there, right where they should be, standing side by side, lonely sentinels huddled close together. It was the house he had left as a boy, and their house, only this time no longer abandoned, no longer owned by another man, no longer rented out and then boarded up. It stood as it once had, and light poured out from the windows.

He went around to the side door, the entrance for friends and family and never strangers or unwelcome guests, and lifted his hand to knock, but then the door opened and he didn’t need to. Brown-haired Sarah stood in the doorway, and before he could say anything she grabbed his arm and pulled him inside.

“You should have come sooner,” she said, clearing shoes from the entryway.

“I tried,” he said.

“Not hard enough.”

“But it was years.”

“A little longer. You always did quit too soon.”
“That’s because I never liked the games you would pick.” He stopped, and smiled, then looked squarely at Sarah. “But you weren’t here. You never answered my letter. The letter came back. It said you’d moved.”

“Odd,” she said.

“That you’d moved?”

“No, the letter. As I remember it was mostly about the dog.”

“No reason not to answer.” He paused. “Is Lisa . . .”

“Here,” she said, before he could finish. She smiled faintly. “She’ll be glad you’ve come.”

He tried not to seem too eager, but he brushed past her, a little too abruptly. She stepped back and let him pass, accepting why he had really come, no matter how hard he’d tried to be cordial and pretend otherwise, how hard he’d tried not to look over her shoulder or how hard he’d tried to listen to her without voicing his question. He’d come for Lisa.

Lisa stood at the sink, blond hair shorter than he’d remembered, arms buried in soap suds, but when she looked up she smiled, then quickly dried her hands on a towel and ran a hand through her hair, and turned toward him. Her stomach had become rounder, her face less defined, her hair a little duller, but none of that mattered like it used to. To him she was beautiful.

He pulled her to him and their lips met, a warm, familiar kiss. She squeezed against him for a moment, then pulled back. Her arms went slack and she pushed away. “Stop,” she said. “He’ll see.”

“Who?”

“My father.”

“Why does it matter?” He searched the blue depths in her eyes.

“It just does.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t try,” she said, and before he could bring her back she left quickly from the room. He had a moment to notice the room, the spare orderliness of it, the towel hung neat and straight next to the sink, the swept floors, the stool tucked snugly against the wall. The china in the cabinet, behind glass, in perfect symmetry. The clock above the doorway, catching the last light of the sun across its face held an empty orderliness to it all.

Sarah entered the room, and he saw her like he hadn’t before. What he had remembered was the short girl with limp brown hair, metal braces, and spotty complexion. Now the braces were gone, revealing straight, white teeth. The skin, while not remarkable, was unblemished and bore a healthy, peaceful warmth. She looked happy; she looked content.

“You never met my husband, have you?” she said simply.

“No. Who is he?”

“He’ll be along soon. His name’s John.”

“Any children?”

“One. A boy. Takes after his father.”

“Congratulations. And Lisa?”

“Never married.”

“Why not?” For the first time Sarah shot him an annoyed look, but let it pass. “Father needs her.”

“Since the divorce?”

“Yes.”

“Can’t he let her go?”

“He could, but won’t. She’s his right hand. And he’s fiercely jealous of her.”

He tried to speak, but couldn’t. A tightness formed around his eyes, and Sarah took his hand and squeezed it warmly. “Let it go,” she said, and there was a soothing gentleness in her words.

He heard the front door open then, and heavy booted steps across a wooden floor, and the booming rough voice of their father. “It’s time to go,” Sarah said, and quickly pushed him out the side door.

* * *

The road led away from the house, and he stepped onto it, following it blindly, letting one leaden foot carry him further ahead. The forest closed over the road behind him, but if he had noticed, it would not have mattered. In the distance, the light in the window from Sarah and Lisa’s house winked out, and the house became a silhouette, then faded into mist, and then the house next to it followed. The woods had grown dark, but a light shone in the distance and he picked his way along the trail, trying to head for it as best he could. While the journey in had seemed to take hours, the journey back only took minutes. He stepped out of the woods, onto a concrete paved road with a median. In the center stood a street light. He looked up at it, and beyond it he could see a few stars.

7 comments:

Cocaine Jesus said...

good use to gaps that extends a mystery over the tale. also great use of dialogue. real. i enjoyed this story especially the 'misty' end.

Cliff said...

Thanks CJ,

I read your Toffee Love last night around the time I posted. I enjoyed it and saw relationship elements in both stories. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments.

Enemy of the Republic said...

Wow! This is awesome, Cliff. Good work.

camera shy said...

nicely done

i especially enjoy the care with which you describe the relcaiming the trail

"and he got on his hands and knees and pulled out clumps of grass and small tree saplings, smacking the clods angrily against the ground, shaking loose the dirt and widening the road once again so he wouldn’t forget it next time."

the feverish race toward the limits of the characters patience here is wonderful

Cliff said...

Enemy,

Thanks for reading it. Always nice sharing this with you.

blog this,

Thanks for reading and nice. I also enjoyed your "Boy at the Coffeehouse" piece, and your attention to detail in description. Very well done, and I think I'll be learning some things from you.

Cliff said...

Enemy,

Thanks for reading it. Always nice sharing this with you.

blog this,

Thanks for reading. I also enjoyed your "Boy at the Coffeehouse" piece, and your attention to detail in description. Very well done, and I think I'll be learning some things from you.

transience said...

i'm completely enamored. and because i have a curiosity that could kill a cat a thousand times over, i urge you to continue this. a second installment would be wonderful, cliff.

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