The Wind in the Willows-Katherine's Spring

Written in response to: Write a story titled 'The Wind in the Willows'.... view prompt

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Romance Contemporary Sad

Katharine dangled from the apple tree, her golden hair sweeping against the grass. The rough bark would have been painful against the inside of her knees if she hadn’t been wearing her denim overalls, the ones embroidered with colorful little flowers at the hems. The breeze tossed her hair and the branches of the trees, showering white blossoms to the ground. On the branch beside her, a boy twirled on the rope swing, kicking up dirt.

Spring, the most glorious time of year. The perfect time for frolicking outside, breathing in the fresh wind. Katharine lived for this season. 

Who better to spend it with than Garrett?

She brushed a strand of hair out of her mouth. “You know, everyone thinks we like each other.”

A moment of silence. The leaves whispered in the trees. “Well, I am handsome,” the boy said, after contemplating. “And you’re beautiful.”

Katharine thought. And she could think of nothing to say in response, so she smiled at him.


* * * * *


The air inside the house–it was stale. That was the problem.

Not the emptiness, or the silence. Katharine told herself she was used to that, although she had grown up with seven siblings and for the first year of her married life she had struggled to sleep without the sounds of nine other people in the house. Nine other pairs of feet, sliding down hallways in the dark, tip-toeing to the sink for water. Nine other mouths, breathing, giggling at late-night jokes, whispering in hushed tones so low only the S sounds could be heard. Little ones crying every now and then.

Katharine was used to silence now, the silence of empty houses.

All she needed was fresh air. That was all. That was the problem.

She stepped out onto her porch, closing the maroon door behind her. Her home had a view of the street, with the pretty little houses on the other side and their blue shutters, and the streetlight that stood on the edge of her lawn. It was a lovely area. Coveted, really. The realtor had been ecstatic to find it. 

A lovely neighborhood, with lovely neighbors, and lovely children who rode bikes in the road after school, enjoying the wind in their hair and the speed of their travel. 

They passed by now, whooping in the street. One of them waved to Katharine–a little girl, Marie, who still rode a tricycle and a helmet while the other children went bare-headed. She lived across the street.

Katharine raised her hand in return, smiled, and decided very firmly to forget about Marie and her chestnut curls and pearly white smile.

The For Sale sign on the lawn swung in the breeze.

There. The air wasn’t so stagnant anymore. 

Didn’t she feel so much better now? Yes. Yes, she did. Fresh air in her lungs, that was all she needed. 


* * * * *


Garrett chuckled, feeling along the edge of the old swing. 

“Remember this old thing?” he said, and his laugh made Katharine break into a grin. 

“Oh my gosh, and my branch!” she said, giggling. “I haven’t been here in so long.” She climbed up easily, each little notch in the tree familiar to her fingers. “I remember it being a lot higher up, though.” And the dress she wore didn’t protect her against the bark, either. It scratched at her legs.

“Yeah, and I’m not sure if this’ll hold me anymore,” Garrett said, tugging at the rope swing playfully. “Probably won’t try. I don’t want to snap it.”

“Yeah.” Oh, it was so beautiful, that breeze. It refreshed her soul.

“It’s overgrown. The tree. Apple trees are supposed to be trimmed, that way they stay healthy.”

“Hm. Didn’t know that.” She looked over at him when he didn’t reply.

He was smiling at her.

“What?”

He shrugged. “I love you.”

Her heart fluttered. The first time those words had ever escaped Garrett’s mouth. 

She couldn’t think of a response, so she beamed.


* * * * *


Her mom’s battered SUV pulled up to the sidewalk. Katharine went back inside the house, briefly, just to grab the bags that sat against the wall in the living room. She was just about to step outside again when her mother appeared on the doorstep, car keys in hand.

“Oh, I thought we would meet in the car,” Katharine said, shuffling with her luggage.

“I just wanted to see the place one last time. That all right?”

Katharine nodded.

“Can you get your stuff in the car okay, or do you want help?”

“No, I got it.”

“Did you say goodbye and everything?”

“Yeah, I’m good.”

Luggage, in the trunk. And her backpack in the backseat, just in case she needed it. House, empty. Air, cool.

Katharine sighed.

Such a pretty house. The Sold sticker on the sign seemed to mock her, and she hated the tears that suddenly stung her eyes. She blinked them away.

As they finally drove away, Katharine in the passenger seat, she tried to burn away the memory of little Marie Reeseridge-Brown.


* * * * *


“Hang on, watch your step.”

The blindfold prevented Katharine from seeing anything except black, but Garrett’s firm handhold and his voice guided her over the rough ground. 

“Oops,” she said, as her foot caught on a stick. “Ouch.”

“Sorry. Almost there.”

Another minute of blind fumbling around, and then Garrett stopped her. 

“Can I take it off now?”

He slid the bandana off her eyes.

The apple tree glowed with a hundred little lights, strung up on its branches, illuminating the flowers and casting odd, whimsical shadows against the leaves. 

“Oh! It’s so pretty!” Katharine’s hands flew to her mouth. “Did you do this?”

“I had some help. Look at the swing,” he said, as she marveled. 

“It’s amazing,” she said, although the swing looked very much the same. He hadn’t done anything special with it. She turned around. “Did you–”

He was kneeling on the ground, ring in hand.

For the first time, she knew exactly how to respond.


* * * * *


“Where’s dad?”

“Shopping. He’ll be back before dinner,” Katharine’s mother replied, looking through cabinets. “You got everything out of the house, right? Didn’t forget anything?”

“I don’t think so.”

“That’s okay. We can call if you did, I’m sure the new people won’t mind.”

“No, they won’t. They were very nice.”

Lovely people for a lovely neighborhood, one that she could not be a part of anymore. 

Katharine shook herself. That was a childish way of thinking. 

“Did you sell all the furniture?”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Her mom nodded, and Katharine couldn’t see the expression on her face. “Would you help with dinner? Lasagna. Was thinking of going out for ice cream later, too. Gianna and Matthew gave me the idea,” she said, turning around with a little laugh. Her glasses framed her dark eyes.

The laugh lines on her mother’s face were beautiful.

“I’ll help. Might skip on the ice cream, though.” Katharine climbed up off the couch, tying her gold locks up in a bun. “Just not feeling it.”

“Totally understand.”

“Do you mind if I open a window?”


* * * * *


“Oh, no. It’s dying.”

“Hm.” Garrett sighed. 

“Was it the trimming? Does it need trimming?”

“Probably.”

Katharine contemplated the overgrown branches, the lack of leaves, the missing blossoms. Garrett’s hand squeezed hers, and she felt his ring press against her fingers.

“Thanks for bringing me here,” she whispered. “I love it.” She went up and traced the ridges in the trunk, smiling to herself. “Better not try the swing,” she joked. That particular branch had no leaves on it at all, and to her dismay it looked like it was already lifeless.

But she looked again at the swing. 

Children loved swings.

Maybe this tree was too old and weary for romping children, but the one back at the house wasn’t. The forest in the backyard had the perfect tree for a rope swing. 

Maybe Garrett was thinking the same thing. He took her hand in his once more.


* * * * *


After her family left, Katharine sat alone on the couch. 

It smelled familiar, homey. Stained in lots of places and a little worn out, the furniture bore all the marks of having endured the antics of a full house. 

But the rooms were empty again. Maybe it was a mistake staying home alone.

“Just some air,” she muttered to herself, crawling off the sofa and grabbing the other pair of car keys. She stumbled out the door, locked it behind her, and climbed into the little blue sedan that had been her first car. 

Driving with the windows down, Katharine followed the old roads, almost without thinking. Her mind was blank. Not numb, really, just tired. Stagnant, like musty basement air.

She would move on.

Some lady had told her that, at the funeral. “You’ll move on.” It took Katharine aback, and her sister had touched her arm right after the words had left the woman’s mouth, but neither of them argued. They just stared at the lady, eyes wide, mouths open in surprise.

But Katharine would. She would move on. 

Already, she was moving.

She was at the apple tree before she had time to realize where she was headed. There it stood, over near the pond, where across the rippling water the willow branches swayed.

She parked the car in the old driveway. Her childhood home was empty now–for sale, as the sign out front said. Katharine thought of her home–Garrett’s home–and something inside her crumpled.

In April she had been here with him for the last time.

Now he was as intangible as the very wind that had once tossed his hair–that had once propelled him on the old rope swing. She realized with a sob that it was still there, hanging from the old limb.

A child. A child, and then a teenager. A boyfriend, a fiancé, a husband. Her husband.

And now? Katharine was utterly, bitterly, gut-wrenchingly alone.

She let the tears stream down freely, unafraid that anyone would see. Stumbled to the tree, knelt at its trunk, pulled her knees up to her chest and buried her face. 

Where are you?

Why aren’t you here?

Why–why–why–why?

The tears hadn’t fallen since the funeral. 

I love you I love you I love you.

I didn’t tell you enough.

I’m sorry.

She tried to imagine what he would say, but the idea of his face only made her coil away from the rest of the world, into the shelter that was the trunk of the apple tree. Hiding from his memory.

And Marie, the memory of Marie, and the children she would never hold.

The rough bark dug into her back. Her neck ached from her awkward position. Her arms were cold in the spring evening. But still she did not move. Her grief would not let her, and she was succumbing.

It was growing dark when she finally lifted her head.

The branches stretched over her, silhouettes against a periwinkle-orange sky. And sprouting from those crooked, bowing limbs, were blossoms. She could make them out even through her tear-streaked vision.

Hm.

And she had thought the tree was dying.

With reverent silence she stood, fumbling a little as she brushed dirt from her jeans, and stepped back to admire the little flowers. 

She would trim it. Yes, she would come back, and she would give it exactly the care it needed. Time. It would take time, certainly.

And maybe in time empty houses would not scare her.

Children would make her smile without any regret.

She would not have to make excuses about needing fresh air, because she would breathe freely wherever she went.

The willows and the apple tree danced.

And the tears were still wet on her face, but they had stopped falling.

                                                     

* * * * *


“What’s wrong?”

Katharine shook her head. “I was just thinking.”

“Yeah, but what about?”

She faced him. “I don’t want to die.”

He knew all about those thoughts that bothered her so much. They kept him up at night–well, she did, with her endless prattling on about her existential crises. She knew that he would brush the thoughts away easily. Garrett lived in the present. It came easily to him.

“You’re not dying right now.”

“Everybody has to die sometime.”

The statement warranted a quick moment of silence. Reflection. 

“It’s not the end, Kat.”

“I know! I know that!” 

He crossed his arms. “Is it actually the dying part you’re afraid of?”

She paused. It wasn’t the pain she ever worried about when death came to her thoughts. “No,” she said, “not really the dying part.” 

“What, then?”

“I won’t have you with me.”

“But you don’t need me.” His arms wrapped around her shoulders and he planted a kiss on her hair. 

But she did need him.

And she didn’t.

Her eyes fell to the crucifix on the wall, next to the pictures of her smiling parents and the family dog. 

“You’ll be okay,” Garrett said, and he reminded her, “There won’t be any more tears.” And he stroked her hair. 


* * * * *


She was still stuck in the tearful place. It was him who went before.

But as shattered as she was–and she was shattered, she felt it in every bone of her body–there was something odd that surfaced in her soul. 

Peace?

The wind tossed her hair.

Peace.


May 04, 2024 00:52

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2 comments

Alexis Araneta
07:41 May 05, 2024

Milly !!! What a story that pummeled me in the heart. The enduring love between Kat and Garrett was so beautifully described. The flashbacks were so skillfully employed, as well. Smooth as silk. Masterfully done !

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Milly Orie
17:25 May 05, 2024

Thank you so much, Alexis!

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