“Haze, I know you don’t understand, but I need to do this. It’s only for a couple of days, ok?” April pleaded as she gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. The last thing she wanted to do was to hurt the one person who has been her rock for the past twelve years.
"I’m trying hon, I really am, but why did you leave in the middle of the night?”
Before April could answer, she stated, “I know you’re upset about your mom’s passing, and I want to be here for you. I can’t if you won’t let me though.”
April took a deep breath, trying to find the words to help explain how she feels. “You’re my everything, Haze. I’m not doing this to hurt you. Please know that.”
“I do, and I’m not mad. Honest. I’m sad that I don’t know how to help you with this.” Hazel accepted defeat.
“I don’t even know that this will help. I’m hoping that being at the cabin will help me find some peace, because” April sighed. “I’m a mess.”
“I’m here if, or when you need me. I love you, April.”
“I love you too, Haze. Thank you for understanding.”
April pressed the red phone symbol on the steering wheel to end the call, and static flooded the speakers from her favorite radio station.
“Time to find a different channel.” April pressed the up arrow for the tuner. The first station that came through clearly was playing the chorus from Here I Go Again by Whitesnake.
“Shocker.” April rolled her eyes.
This song had a knack for playing every time something big happened in April’s life. The first time she heard it was when she turned 18. Her mom kicked her out of the house in dramatic fashion by throwing her whole wardrobe into the front lawn. April wasn’t surprised that it happened, in fact she kind of expected it. Why would she be any different than her siblings, even if she was the youngest.
When April was outside picking her clothes up off the ground, she turned to face her mother, “I’m not like the others mom. If you do this, I won’t be back.”
Her mom shrugged before replying, “so be it,” and slammed the door. April gaped at the door for what felt like hours before walking to her car and tossing her clothes in the back seat. She slunk into the driver’s side feeling defeated. She turned the key in the ignition and the radio began to play the song that had become her life’s anthem.
Snapping back to reality, and thankful the road was devoid of traffic. April looked at the clock. 7:25 AM. To help take her mind off all the emotions she had about her mother, she began to sing along with the songs playing on the radio. She realized how tense her shoulders were and shifted in her seat as much as she could to stretch out her neck and back. She looked around at the scenery in front of her and decided to turn off the radio to take in the views supplied by nature.
The sun peeked in and out from behind the trees as it crept higher into the sky. The state of Wisconsin was beautiful this time of year with the leaves changing colors. Nature brought a sense of peace to April; she treasured being outdoors. Her mother used to talk about how she loved the change of seasons in the Midwest. It was one thing April knew they had in common, if nothing else.
April reached her destination and pulled into the dirt driveway. It was a small, one room rustic wood cabin with a separate bathroom, but it had just enough space for both her and Hazel. They cherished being outdoors, but their jobs were demanding and made tent camping increasingly difficult to do. Having a cabin that was already set up with some of the same amenities of home made it worth the investment.
April got out of her black two-door Jeep and stretched. She inhaled, taking in all the fresh air she could drag into her lungs and exhaled. She snatched her duffle bag from the back, along with a ragged leather-bound photo album she received from her brother after the funeral. It was an old photo book titled “The Baddon’s Family Album” and headed inside.
“Here I go again” April snorted before grabbing the handle and opening the door.
The cabin was exactly the way they left it a couple months ago. The blankets, sheets, and pillows were secured in jumbo sealable bags, lying on top of the storage bin that held a few pots, pans, and the beloved percolator. She turned on the lamp that perched on the small wooden desk just inside the front door and placed the photo book on it.
She stood in the doorway taking in the calming feel their little cabin provided. She walked in and pitched her duffle bag onto the large wooden chair that sat adjacent the fireplace. A short-legged stool that served as an ottoman. The fireplace was surrounded by smooth brown and gray stones that complimented the rest of the country decor.
April quivered from the slight chill, “Glad I bought that half cord of wood last time.”
She grasped the log tote that hung next to the fireplace and went outside to grab some wood and kindling to build a fire. They were all piled underneath a large green tarp that was held down by a one large stump on each side to keep it in place. After gathering what she would need for the rest of the day and night, she replaced the tarp and headed back in to build the fire.
After the flames started to roar, April made her way to the one-counter kitchen and began to unpack the bin. The stove was only 20 inches wide with two burners, and the fridge was a small 50s-style Westinghouse that Hazel found on the local marketplace app.
April grabbed the percolator, the last of the items in the bin. She prepped it and placed it on the stove. When the pot began to whistle, she removed it from the heat. While waiting for the coffee to brew, she grabbed the blanket that laid on the back of the oversized chair and tossed it around her shoulders. When the coffee readied, she snagged a camping mug from the four-shelf unit she had made last summer and filled it half-way. She walked and snatched the album from the desk and slid into the comfy chair, propping her feet up on the ottoman.
With bated breath, she folded back the album cover. The first photos were of her parents. Both were black and white. Her dad was on the left. His shirt and garrison cap revealed that the photo was taken when he joined the army. His clothing looked like it had been pressed with starch, and his smile reached his eyes. He and April’s mom had just gotten married, and looked as if he were ready for a lifetime of adventure.
Her mom’s photo looked like an old school picture. April knew that her mom only went to the ninth grade, so she guessed that she couldn’t be older than thirteen or fourteen. Her hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun, and she could see tiny little flowers on the ends of a frilled collar. April rarely saw her mom smile, but in this image, she had a smile that illuminated her eyes.
April half smiled and a sting of pain crept into her chest, “What happened that made you no longer smile that like?”
April rested her head on the back of the chair and stared at the ceiling. Her thoughts drifted to all the times she tried to ask her mom about her youth, but she gave the same excuse every time. “We don’t need to talk about my life, April. It’s doesn’t change anything about today.”
April felt herself slump and realized she must have dozed off. Not wanting to sleep the day away, she put the album down on the chair and headed outside. There was a narrow path that followed the river that flowed behind the cabin.
The walkway travelled passed a gray wooden pew cemented to the ground. As April approached the bench, she noticed a small older woman. The woman sat staring out at the flowing water, and April’s hopes of maintaining her solitude waivered. April paused to gaze at the river and debated whether to keep walking or go back home when the woman spoke.
“Beautiful. Isn’t it?” the older woman said without looking at April.
Not wanting to seem rude, April cleared her throat and replied, “it is.”
The older woman scooted over and patted the seat next to her. “Have a seat, if you’d like. I won’t bite.”
April chuckled at the thought of the old woman trying to bite her and sat on the pew. “Thank you.”
“You from around here?” April inquired as she made a side glance towards the woman.
“Just down the way there.” She said as she pointed upstream.
April peered in the direction the woman’s hand pointed and then looked back at her new companion. There was something familiar about her, a sense of comfort in her presence. Her hair was dark with thick strands of gray. April decided that she must have seen her before at the farmer’s market or somewhere else in town, and she looked back out at the water to stop herself from staring.
“Do you live nearby?” The woman questioned.
“I don’t live here, but my wife and I have a cabin about 200 feet back that way.” April nodded her head back the way she came.
“The quaint little rustic cabin? It’s adorable.” She looked at April with admiration.
“That’s the one.” April answered with pride.
The woman smiled. “My name is Dolores, but my friends call me Dee.”
Before April could answer, the woman began coughing a deep chesty cough. Dee noticed the look of concern on April’s face and elucidated, “Pardon me dear, I’ve had this cough for ages. The doctors say I have a pulmonary disease, but I’m not contagious.” She gave a weak smile in hopes of giving some assurance. Maybe that’s why she seemed older than she looked, April thought to herself.
Dee began to adjust uncomfortably as she started to cough again, “These old bones get stiff if I sit too long.”
“I have a fireplace in my cabin? Would you like to come see the place? I could make you some hot tea for your cough, and you can warm yourself by the fire.” April sounded a little desperate as she realized she didn’t want to be alone after all. There was something about this woman that made April feel at ease. With all the turmoil she felt surrounding her mother’s death, it was nice to have some sense of harmony for a bit.
“My name is April, by the way.” April smiled and offered her hand.
Dee gripped her hand. “It’s nice to meet you April, and tea sounds lovely. Thank you for the offer.”
April rose from the bench and offered Dee her hand.
As Dee took April’s hand, she asked, “what’s your wife’s name?”
“Haze, or Hazel actually, but I always call her Haze. We bought the place for our five-year anniversary. A place to get away and regroup occasionally.” April beamed as they started to walk side by side.
“What brought you out to the lakes? Trouble in paradise?” Dee queried.
“No, nothing like that. I just,” April hesitated, “needed to get away.”
“You know, they say that talking to a stranger can be better than confiding in a friend, and it’s cheaper than therapy.” Dee gave a kind smile. “If you want to talk, that is.”
April thought about it for a minute and blurted, “My mom passed away last weekend, and I have a lot of anger towards her. I came here because I needed some space to figure out how to deal with it all.” April grimaced, hoping Dee wouldn’t find her to be callous, but it felt good to get it out.
She was relieved when Dee’s eyes shown compassion rather than judgment.
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. Why are you angry at her? Are you mad that she died?”
“Yes. No. Kind of. I’m not mad per say.” April thought of how to explain without giving all the gory details. “She was mean, and not the kind of mean that made you do chores or grounded you for staying out past curfew. She was the kind of mean where if Family Services knew, we could have been taken away.”
Dee’s face fell as she began to contemplate how to reply, “Do you know anything about her past? Her childhood or upbringing?”
“I desperately wanted to know her, but she had this impenetrable wall. I attempted to help even though I didn’t know how, because I knew she was unhappy. I wanted to know what made her tick, but she shut me out. She shut everyone out.” April’s eyes filled with tears but wiped them before they began to fall.
April took a deep breath before continuing, wrapping her arms around herself, “I know that her mom died when she was young. Her dad became an alcoholic, and she moved from place to place until she met my dad. My dad said she wasn’t always this way, and to have patience.” April scoffed. “It’s tough to have patience with someone who is smacking your head against a wall for whatever reason. She was unpredictable, and I eventually learned to stay out of her way as much as possible.”
Dee was listening intently, and April could tell that she was thinking carefully about what she had said.
“Anyway, she died last weekend, and I don’t know how to feel about it. I’m sad that she died, but I’m angry that she died. She never apologized for any of it, and now she never will.” April rolled her eyes. “I must sound absurd.”
“Not at all.” Dee lightly patted April’s arm to show support. “It sounds like she might have been struggling with some sort of depression, which could provide a reason behind her anger issues.” April nodded while listening as Dee continued. “Therapy wasn’t always so readily available, nor did it come at a price everyone could afford. I’m not making excuses for her, mind you, but maybe she was trying to work on her issues privately.”
“Meaning not at all?” April quipped. “I’m sorry, but she could have told someone. She had to have known that abusing her children wasn’t ok,” April stated matter-of-factly.
“Earlier you said her mom died when she was young, and it doesn’t sound like she had anyone else she could turn to until she met your dad. Especially if she moved around a lot.” Dee opposed.
“My dad’s parents died when he was young too, but he was kind. I wish he would’ve stood up for us more, but he never hit us. He was there when we really needed him to be.”
They reached the cabin, and as April went to grab the door to open it, Dee placed a hand on her arm. “Not everyone knows how to break the cycle of abuse.”
“No, I guess not.” April shrugged and opened the door. “Make yourself at home. I’ll start the kettle.”
Dee made her way to the fireplace and put her back towards the flames. “Your cottage is charming, April.”
“Thank you.” April smiled appreciatively.
April noticed the direction of Dee’s eyes staring at the photo album. “My brother gave me that at the funeral. I’ve never seen it before. I started to flip through it today but decided on a walk instead.”
“Mind if I…”, Dee started to ask as she stepped toward the chair.
“Sure, if you want to.”
The kettle signaled that it was done, and April prepared their tea. She placed a mug on the tray table next to Dee and stood by the fire. Dee looked at the photos and paused at her mom’s photo.
“She looks happy here. Her smile reaches her eyes.”
Dee continued to flip through the pages, asking questions about who different people were. April shared stories about the people and special events. They laughed and cried a few times throughout the afternoon. It was surprisingly healing to talk through her memories with this stranger. The light in the room began to fade.
“I should head out before it gets too dark.” Dee stated as she stood.
“I can drive you, if you’d like.”
“No, it will do me some good to move around a bit.”
As Dee was about to leave, she turned toward April with a final thought. “Don’t let your mom’s behavior destroy your peace. She was your mom and she loved you, even though it was not in the way you deserved. Her issues belonged to her, and only her.”
“Thank you, Dee. I can’t begin to explain how much better I feel after today.”
April shut the door and walked toward the fireplace. The album was open to the last page. April gasped as she looked at the picture staring back at her labeled “Dolores”.
April ran across the room, flung open the door and ran outside looking for Dee, but she was nowhere to be found.
April walked back inside, sat on the oversized chair, and hugged the album to her chest.
“Thank you, Grandma.” And the healing tears began to flow.
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Goosebumps at that ending! That was a really heart-warming ending to an otherwise sad tale for the main character. I really enjoyed it, Ryan! I see that it's your first post here, and you really brought your "A" game! Good luck this week, and welcome to Reedsy! :)
Thank you so much. 😊