The following is based on a prompt from the WriteNow folks, as an exercise for today’s ZerotoHero assignment…Comments welcome.
They burned all the wood they had in the fire pit, and then started chopping down trees. We watched them through an old pair of binoculars I inherited from my father, left in the cabin alone with two dusty quilts and a wooden mallard. I handed the binoculars to David and he sighed.
“This is bad,” he said.
He scratched his forehead, a sign I learned to interpret as complicated fear – he was thinking it through, this fear, and working on an action plan, aiming for control. I saw him scratch his forehead through the bathroom remodel in our first house, when the pricey tiles we had placed on the wall so carefully came tumbling down, fracturing his patience and our bank account. His right hand scratched his forehead while his left hand rubbed my forearm during the birth of our only son. I remember this vividly, worrying then that he knew something was wrong before I did. He scratched his forehead every time our son banged his head against the wall, those torturous decades when our home was wired with landmines and we learned to avoid stepping, speaking, seeing; we memorized the danger zones like outlines of our own silhouettes.
“Who are they?” he asked, though he knew that I didn’t know any more than he did. They appeared two days ago, setting up camp on property owned by a couple from Chicago. We didn’t know the couple well, had only exchanged hello’s during the Fourth of July gathering at the lake six months ago.
A man, dressed in fatigues and a green woolen cap, and a woman, wearing a long blue skirt and a white blouse, under a brown coat, a Mennonite bonnet on a blond bun. The meadow, more than a football field long, that joined our cabin with the Chicago couple’s gave us a clear line of vision to the edge of the woods, where we first spied smoke and smelled the roasting of a small mammal – squirrel, rabbit?
David picked up the phone receiver again, held it to his ear, shook his head. “Still no line?” I asked. He didn’t answer but I knew.
It was supposed to be a gift to ourselves – an adventure in the woods we knew and loved so well, deliberately and willfully leaving technology thirty miles away. We hiked in along the crooked roads and the sandy trail beside the lake. We took our time. The cabin was stocked in advance. I wanted to do this. It was my idea.
“We’re being paranoid,” I said. “Maybe they’re homeless. Maybe they’re friends with the Chicago couple. I wish I could remember their names. Stockdale…Steinman…Stork? Probably not even an “s” name. I always get that wrong—when I can’t remember a name and I think it begins with a certain letter, I’m always wrong.”
My nervous tic was prattling. I talked and talked. Every thought in my head found my voice, vocalized, validated my being. I’m still here. I’m speaking.