We were all crammed around the dining room table, four to a bench at least. Shoulders touching shoulders, the cold weather outside making everybody seem closer. Lou and my brother were passionately debating topics of economics—or was it engineering?—while the rest of the table sat content in conversations of their own. I was more concentrated on the droplets of rain on the surface of the window and the smacking of the breeze against the bird feeders outside. I began to drift back into the depths of my mind, the synapses in my brain firing at rapid speeds. The sounds around me started to become elusive. I was becoming here but no longer present.
My sister came up behind me, placing her hand on my shoulder. Her fingers were cold, flushed with a faint pinkish hue. Looking up I could see that the traces of salty tears lay prominent upon her pale complexion. She looked older. I mean, she always has, but it was no longer a distance of a few years. Her hands worn and cracked, her face mature and aged, though the likeness that we shared still remained. I took comfort in that. She looked beyond me and following her gaze I too rested upon a landscape glazed by the sun. I really didn’t want to do this. I had been avoiding it for so long, it had just become one of those things that’s easier to forget than to dig back up. I guess we can file that under one of my nasty habits. It was becoming apparent that this was something I could no longer run away from. My mother had made it, my sister had made it, now it was my turn.
My feet were raw, legs threatening to give way beneath me. At this point it felt like I had been walking for hours, disoriented. Nothing around me looked familiar. I had long passed the house where I had seen my aged sister, now completely surrounded by a vast open space littered with trees. There was no warmth about this scenery. The clouds hid the sun, shedding thousands of tiny droplets onto the earth. The entirety of the space was covered in a filter of gray. My steps were silent as I continued to climb up the hill, the damp ground absorbing my weight. Finally reaching the top there was no sigh of relief, just silence. I scooped the length of my skirt, and sat, water bubbling at my sides, on the damp wooden bench. The detail of the skirt seemed a bit strange to me. I am not a skirt person. Everybody knows this.
Reaching down I fiddled with the laces on my boots. The fabric was frayed and the mud had caked the fibers onto the surrounding leather, making it difficult for my cold fingers to pry the laces free. Hands shaking, I removed the boots, gently slipping my feet free and embracing the cool air on bare skin. Cream colored socks that reached up to my ankles, cinching with white lace at the top had been dyed a dull red. The discoloration was unpleasant but not unexpected. I winced, slowly peeling away the fibers joining the sock to my red and swollen toes. With both socks and shoes removed and placed beside me, I pushed my feet into the sodden earth, welcoming the sensation of the wet soil. It was all so visceral. So real.
“It’s been a while”
I kneaded the ground with my toes watching as the water puddled and reabsorbed into the earth. The wind whipped light sprinkles of rain around, landing millions of tiny needle-like droplets across my skin, leaving damp hair clinging to my face. A most unpleasant feeling. Brushing the wisps aside, and reaching into my jacket pocket I brought out a small tangerine. It was bruised on one side, a consequence of my lengthy journey.
“Almost five years now”
I rotated the small fruit. The dimpled surface registering upon my fingertips. Its vibrant hue reflected what little light was able to escape through the clouds.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have come here sooner…”
I felt my words trailing off. I had been muttering; I hated that. I continued to pass the tangerine between my palms. The clouds murmured and packed closer together. Their closeness reminds me of something. Shoulders against shoulders. For a minute I was stuck, but the wind howled, lifting the dry ends of my socks and trashing them in the air, bringing me back to here, to now. I looked back down at my toes, coated with dry earth, wounds already scabbing over.
Leaning back, my gaze fell upon the tangerine, its supple flesh glistening with droplets of water. My hand lunged forward, piercing the skin with force, ripping its rind from the fruit. A fine mist of citrus rose as my finger peeled away its topmost layer. Its sweet nectar flowed freely down my thumb and forearm.
“I brought your favorite,” I said, scouring the remaining pith from the fruit. The words spilling from my mouth before I could stop them, filling the space of echoing loss. I winced. “Do you remember the tiny sapling you gave me? I said it would never grow. You know I am not good at this stuff. But you gave it to me anyway. You were convinced that I could do it. You and mom both. Do you remember? You were right. You always were… always…” I felt myself losing voice again. It had begun to crack. It felt tight. This wasn’t going to be easy. Why would it be?
Another gust of wind danced across the field, wrapping itself around my frame. Tiny streaks of water slowly dripped down my face and neck, the rain sounding like droplets against a window pane. Weird.
“Do you remember…”
Hands shaking, I pried the fleshy segments of the tangerine apart. Something about the tangerine stole my words; I couldn’t bring myself to say more. Shadows danced across my face as the sun began to set, the water reflecting the heaven’s rays. Even the wind died down. My hands fell into my lap, shifting the stiff wrinkles of the skirt. The tangerine, rolling out of my grasp, landed soundlessly beside me. Reaching down, I tugged the damp, blood stained socks over my feet, pulling the boots on over them, dismissing the feeling of wet socks.
I collected myself and stood up, wrapping a jacket tight around my body, an attempt in warding off the cold misty air. Though I welcomed the feeling the weather spurred within me, it was melancholic. I took a breath and began to walk back towards the way I had come, back to where I left my sister, the subtle lights of the house acting as my guide. Leaving the tangerine carcass, glowing orange, behind.
I knocked on the door, the faint glow and chatter coming from inside seeming so familiar. As if I had skipped the entrance, the hallway, and the beginning of the dining room, I sat firmly between two people. My sister, to the left of me, took on her younger appearance once more. The conversation of economics, or whatever it had been, had now shifted I was missing moments. What I noticed most were the shifting glances of those around me, with each pause of the conversation a glance was stolen. There was curiosity in their eyes. I was confused; I had done nothing to deserve such interest. Nor was I the only one abstaining from the conversation, so that could not be it either.
“Where did you go?”
I was tired, too tired to question them; it felt like I had walked a great long while.
“Where did you go?”
I felt this pull inside of me, I had something to do that was not here at this table. I was riddled with the yearning to speak to my mother.
“Where did you go?”
Strange. Was someone stuttering?
My focus returned to the table, where I found Lou staring directly at me, no longer submissive in his gaze. He had always been so observant, so aware of those around himself. It’s no surprise he found me first.
“Where did you go?”
I had been here the whole time, yet the moment those words entered my mind I knew that it was a lie. It became an instant of careful deliberation, but I felt strangely grateful for the curiosity and excitement in his voice, and maybe that is what opened my mouth.
“Somewhere here but not here. It’s all very hard to explain. I think I was in the past this time. No, the present, maybe… or the future.” I was struggling; my sister had seemed so much older, though my feet still ached as if only a few hours had passed. “I was just outside, walking. It was raining as it was now. I mean, I can still feel the sharp flicks of rain on my cheeks.” I lifted my hands to my face. My cheeks were cold and I needed no mirror to confirm their flushed appearance. The cold winds had left their mark. “I was meeting with someone.” I choked those words out. Meeting. Not a very fitting word for what had happened atop that hill. I was encrusted by nostalgia once more, and no longer wanted to speak about my experience. It felt like I was giving it away. In that moment I feared that if I were to continue I would lose something important, something that was meant to be given to another.
I was hesitant to meet his eyes. I mean, what kind of answer was that? I felt so embarrassed; I knew I was making no sense. Reluctantly I looked up though my rain- matted bangs. To my surprise Lou was just sitting there, drinking up every word I had said. I knew he was eager for more. Sitting back in his chair he closed his eyes, rocking ever so slightly. I had failed to notice that the whole table had become an audience, ears perked. But I had no more to give. What was left was mine, and hers.
I excused myself from the table, the rush of unfinished business strangling me. I traced my fingers against the rough brick of the fireplace as I walked towards the front door. Opening it felt so familiar. I had just been out here minutes ago. I think.
Taking out my phone, I dialed my mother. Each chime of the numbers echoed in my ears, relieving bit by bit this desperate feeling lurking within my body. It had been ringing for what seemed to be an eternity before she picked up the phone. I was greeted with her usual tone of voice, calling out “hey stink.” I felt like tearing up but did not have the means to do so. So the rain did it for me. A perfect mask. I would have to thank it later.
I was hit with the urge to tell her everything, for somehow I knew this belonged to her as well. I opened my mouth but all that came out were three words, muffled by the wind and rain.
“I said goodbye”
Now she knew, and I knew. The melancholy feeling fading fast, replaced with relief and satisfaction. I turned on my heels, entering back into the warm lit house for the third and final time that night.