I’ve always hated the expression “if walls could talk.”
In my experience, walls are remarkably unobservant and rather square. The way they go on, you’d think they were the greatest thing mankind ever invented. Not so, my friend, not so.
Sure, walls are important for holding up roofs, keeping out the elements and such. But the things that make the heart of a place, that hold a home together, are not walls.
The family has come and gone for decades now, visiting the cabin now and then to escape the clinging city air. My favorite season is summer, when the sunlight from the east window is warm and makes my face shine as I mark the seconds, minutes, hours, days. Summer is when the family spends the most time up in the mountains and away from it all.
Since the cabin was first built and the furnishings moved in, I have kept careful record of time. 42,076,809 seconds passed between the furnishing of the cabin and the day the Samsons brought little Ben for the first time. One year and four months, approximately. He was just an infant then, but he already had quite the temper. After Ben there was his brother Jacob, and later, their little sister Marie. They visited the cabin every summer. I heard their parents say once that they grew up fast.
Really, it was only 6,723 days after that first summer before Ben became an adult and ownership of the cabin passed to him. And only another 1,194 after that, he brought a wife and a child of his own to visit.
Of all the people who have ever stayed in the cabin, Willa was by far my favorite. When she was in the house, the walls themselves reverberated at the rhythm of her footsteps. Her dark curls shone with sunlight and song, and her smile spoke of mischief.
Willa liked to lean against me and tap the floor in time with my pendulum when she was bored, which wasn’t often, or when she was in trouble, which was a common occurrence. In those still moments, we would stare out the wide eastern window together at the sight of the clouds kissing the mountaintops. I would chime the hours softly then, like a lullaby, so as not to startle her.
Never, before or since, have I been tempted to slow down time. Only with Willa did the seconds seem too precious, too few. When she was around, I kept time, but I did not control it. Time was a wonderfully wild thing which I could hardly bring myself to tame. Much like Willa herself.
If the walls could talk, they would tell you that the last time she was here Willa left the cabin in disgrace. As I said before, they’re rather unforgiving. But I digress.
It was winter when she arrived, alone, and brought the cold in with her. The time was 5:43 pm. I remember watching her struggle to start a fire, watching her wander around lighting candles to keep the dark away. She was nearly grown then, a young woman of seventeen years, two months, eight days. I had never seen her cry before, not like that.
It nearly broke me to see her, sobbing deeply on the frigid floor, clutching to the thin blanket she used to carry around when she was little. In those moments, keeping time was agony, as if the passing of each second somehow made her pain more real, etching it into history.
I know very little of the world outside of the cabin, but I know that it took too much from her. Perhaps that is why she felt that she needed to take something back.
Willa cried herself to sleep and dreamt fitfully until the fire died out at 2:11 am. She struggled to light the kindling in the dark. Once she got the fire going again, she stayed awake, staring into the flames as if they held the answers to life itself.
At 4:04, she began to sing to herself. Something about troubled water and silver girls and bridges—I didn’t catch it all, but it was beautiful. I chimed the hour in harmony with her. When the song was over, she got up and began rummaging around the cabin.
Willa returned to the fireplace, holding a photo of her mother so tightly I thought the glass in the frame might shatter. She packed it carefully in her bag and turned to leave without a backward glance or goodbye.
I never saw Willa again.
504 minutes later, at 12:32 pm, Ben arrived at the cabin, frantically calling his daughter’s name. He scoured the cabin for her while I marked the seconds, which must have felt like hours to him. After a fruitless search, he stood by the fireplace with his head in his hands.
He looked strangely like a child in that moment, and I recalled the days when he ran about the cabin with his siblings, when his world was simple. Time is a tricky thing. It seems to me that it takes more than it gives.
Ben began to cry. His silent tears shone in the bitter January sunlight.
“I never should’ve told her to leave,” he whispered to himself.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tried to make a call—a useless endeavor, as the cabin has never had service. Finally, he rummaged around for a piece of paper and wrote a hasty note, which he left on the shelf beside me:
Willa, if you’re reading this, come home.
I shouldn’t have said what I did, I didn’t mean it. I’m not mad, just sorry. So sorry.
Please come home. I can’t lose you, too.
He left in a hurry, and I had a strange sinking feeling that we would not see the Samson family again. The cabin took on a melancholy air that hung heavily about the walls and the furniture and the last of the fire’s embers.
A few months later, the cabin was sold to a young couple, the Gregorys, who are utter strangers to us. They came to us, talking of renovations and moving furniture about, and shattered our peaceful existence. Nothing has felt right since.
The walls hold it against her, you see. They say that if it weren’t for Willa running away, breaking what was left of Ben’s grieving heart, the cabin would have stayed in the family. But this cabin is so full of memories, and grief is a hard thing when it’s held too close.
I think it was only a matter of time.