A general misconception about countryside homes is that they are beautiful and bright; I am basing this off of my personal misconception of the same kind. Countryside homes - they are like any other place on earth. They harbor equal shadow and light. Light is not always a fearless defender, you know. It does not chase away shadows. It is not on your side. More often than not, and always in real life, it shares space with the darkness. Nothing is fighting for you but yourself. It’s just the way things are.
I understood that as a common law for life and never tried to reach further. Everything touched by the light will have a dark side, because there’s just not enough light in the world to protect you from that. Walking through the hills will make you feel a certain way too. Either like a precious forest princess or like Ted Bundy escaping from prison the second time, which is maybe sadistic, but it’s also true, and fantasy has no place in reality, I say.
I make my way through the woods in the dusky evening, fire coating my lungs, and there is such ugliness in it all. Charred branches are strewn about the dirt like spools of thread. Leaves crumple like ash - or perhaps they are ash, I can’t tell - and the flowers, well, you can’t even see the colors with the way they were trampled so. Flowers, dying of thirst, dying in such humanlike nature. Under the smoke we are all the same. Nothing can change.
Especially when all my mother really wants for her birthday is her childhood back, which the doctor says is her mind distracting her from the present. I suppose it can’t be helped. The closest I can get was a baby aspen. Lately she’s been speaking of nothing else.
“Baby tree, baby tree,” she’ll warble endlessly, waving her hands in the air like a conductor. “I took care of one when I was little, you know. My big brother found it for me. I took care of it. So much care. It lived forever, you know. And I want to be- a mother again.”
So maybe that made me feel a little guilty. So what.
And that is why I am up here. In an effort to be a good daughter, possibly to make up for lost time. Why is it that following your dreams must always be so offensive?
Well, damn. Now that I think of it, it’s about love, probably. Don’t even know what that is. Not really.
The sun is dipping below the earth and the sky fades through the trees. To me, love is like that - like the eerie green of the clouds after sunset, always tinged with fear. The sky is fading through the trees and the world is turning dark and the cabin on the other side of the hill is neither sunny nor beautiful, no sir. No animals prowl in this unhallowed wasteland. There is nothing to fear, and yet. Somehow there cannot be enough light to clear out all the darkness, but night can black out all light. Like I said, it’s just like that sometimes. It just is what it is.
The house grows nearer, and it’s not really a house even. More a cottage. Well furnished. A vase on the table, the flowers alive and breathing, the water fresh. And there are shadows covering everything, hiding beauty like a spoon fallen behind the counter. The windows don’t reflect anything. Not the glasses stacked neatly on the shelves, not the sink filled with dirty dishes, not my tight oval of a face, nothing, and I think perhaps this is the first time in my life that I have felt lonely while being alone. (Loneliness thrives in crowds.)
Someone lives in here, maybe several someones. Maybe they are living here peaceful. Maybe they are living here angry. Maybe they ran away; maybe they went for a camping trip. Though I wouldn’t understand why you would camp when you’re practically Daniel Boone anyway. The flowers in the vase are hydrangeas. My favorite.
I can’t describe it, but the house, with its sad, shrinking walls, feels like a memory. A lost memory. The type you discover in a dream. It feels like a lifetime I should know. It feels like my mother and the perfect love we could have had if I’d just tried a little harder. If I was a little softer, a little more selfless, a little kinder. If I wasn’t always asking how was it my fault it if I grew too old to have a mother. If I learned how to quiet my mind from screaming how was it a sin to love words better than people when all anyone ever patted me on the back and told me they hoped for me to find was “true love”. If, if, if, right.
I feel around the sharp corners for the door but instead I find moonlight. Moonlight beaming through a window and illuminating the bodies of the dish users, the flower-pickers, the people with the good taste in furniture.
A lovely couple. With white hair. Wreathed in darkness yet giving light, reflecting everything, all of the room, the blanket with ducks on it, their clasped hands. Their clasped, cold hands, with the veins blue and bulging passionately. Nobody found them before me. Nobody knew. They died together, and I can’t decide if it’s beautiful or horrifying because they are not being mourned. I wonder how long ago they died. I wonder if they are loved, up here.
And all I can see is my mother. Dying alone and yearning only for a tree that I can’t bring her because I’m stuck here, stuck up here in the country and letting her down again and asking my God, what am I doing here? What am I doing here? I’m collecting a tree for a woman who won’t even remember asking for it, who will create a new childhood the next day anyway, and the next day, and the rest until she dies. I am doing what I can to make it better, even though I say nothing can change. I say that hope is only a way to be disappointed, and yet here I am giving all I can. A very little. Not enough, surely.
So I dial 911. They will come up here with their flashlights and their stretchers, and the loneliness will be shattered, and the exhaustion will swing heavily like clouds full of rain, and the windows will reflect like stage lights.
Because everyone deserves to be missed. I guess we all do mean something after all, whether I choose to see it or not.
I mean, look at these people. I, the one with the stone heart, was able to feel regret. And this couple didn’t even have to do anything to spark it except lie there. It doesn’t take so much to change.
Memories are like shadows, like looming threats. Our lives are nothing but memories; we, too, are nothing but memory, nothing but shadows, running away from our bodies like they’re Peter Pan’s and simply hoping that before the end we might find our way back. That we might say I’m so sorry, I missed you; please take me back, I’ll do anything.
Finding yourself. Imagine. Though now I wonder that maybe trying has to be worth something, at the very least, just because it hurts so bad.
A tiny aspen grows a little ways beyond that field where the cottage stood. I dig it up carefully, keeping the roots safe, and carry it like the baby it is the whole way home. My arms are full; and in my hand a small vase is gripped with its hydrangeas keeping it company.
Back home I sit with my mother, because I can. I hold her hand, because love doesn't have to be perfect to make a difference. And I open the window so that the sunlight plays over her bed. On the nightstand, hundreds of petals wave cheerily, and my mother says hello to them every morning. Their shadows fall on my knee.
I guess something I’d never really thought of before this was how flowers had shadows, too. Because I’d always just thought of flowers like everybody else: dainty, airy, lovely. Darkness had no place in a thing of such beauty. But darkness is always there, isn’t it? And we still do always think flowers are beautiful.
So maybe there is beauty in the blackened as well.
There’s a thought.