Sweet Pea

Submitted into Contest #37 in response to: Write a story that takes place in the woods.... view prompt



She's lived in the woods as long as she can remember, and so did her mother, and her mother's mother before her. She wonders if she'll have a daughter that will live in the woods - right now, the prospect of birthing and caring for a child is unappealing, but she wonders if that will change.

She doesn't have a schedule or job - today, she gathers herbs by the river flowing past, tomorrow, she may collect berries or tend to her flower garden or make a poultice from the herbs she collected today. The future is uncertain, but she can catch glimpses of it through her minds eye.

She doesn't have a name, either: her mother called her "sweet pea" or "flower" or "little witch", and the villagers that live on the fringe of the woods, the ones that mark the barrier between wildness and civilization, call her Pea when they go to visit her to ask for a potion of a healing charm or a salve. They know her well, and she knows them all by name. Sometimes they visit her nearly three times a week, sometimes only once a month. The memories of the past mingle with each other until they become faint and uncertain.

Now, she plucks a spray of honeysuckle and places it in her basket. The basket is old and worn - she made it when she was just a child, when her mother was still with her. Now, her mother lives in the dirt in the grove of birch trees near her cottage, her eyes still open, staring at the soil that presses down on her. Daffodils that Pea planted grow above her. The sun warms the earth.

Pea takes another shoot of honeysuckle. The sound of the river nearby and the buzzing of the bees makes a gentle music that's soothing to her. She has a beehive next to her house, and sometimes the villagers take her honey, in exchange for seeds or dried fruits and flowers.

There may be a villager there right now, waiting for her to return, and there may not. The possibilities of the present when you aren't watching are many, blending together until the present is complicated and hard to comprehend. Pea takes a breath to calm her suddenly racing heart and pulls a few dandelions from the ground. She knows that they have healing properties - her mother taught her how to make tea with them, and she often drinks it on the steps outside her house as she watches the sun set. She places them in her basket and stands, walking down the path home.

There is indeed a villager waiting. She gives him a jar of honey, and he gives her a thyme plant in a little bowl. She thanks him, and he leaves. She turns to go back inside to tie her herbs into bundles to dry. Dry herbs last longer - her mother taught her that. Maybe she'll go to check her snares later and see if there's a rabbit, and if there is, maybe she'll make a stew with the herbs she gathered. Then again, maybe she won't. Each tick of the old clock her grandmother made marks another moment of her indecisiveness.

She stands, suddenly overcome with the desire to see her mother. She takes an old scarf she knitted years ago and walks out the back door, shutting it softly behind her. She hikes through the woods, stopping to pick some marigolds and lilies - "flowers for the dead" as her mother taught her.

Each step she takes towards the place where her mother sleeps brings back more memories. Memories of the wo of them melting down beeswax to make candles. Memories of her mother's hands on top of her own, guiding her as she stitches closed a hole in her skirt. Memories of her mother teaching her how to find the patterns in the stars that form constellation, and memories of her mother telling her stories each night as she went to sleep.

Eventually, she gets to the grove where her mother lies and pauses outside, observing the stillness and the calm. Now that she's here, Pea almost doesn't want to go in, but she does anyway, stepping over the sprouting daffodils she planted last spring and under the branches of the birch trees that form a tapestry, a roof over her head. The birch trees have been here forever. The grove feels ancient to Pea. The pale bark on the trees seems to glow in the soft light.

She sits by her resting place - she doesn't like to call it a grave, and puts the flowers on top of the rock she placed to mark it, and tears run down her cheeks. Even now, the loss of her mother is an ache in her heart, though it's duller now than it was when her mother first left her. She misses her mother, but knows better than to ask her to come back.

She arranges the flowers so they look nicer, and then leaves the grove. There's too much sadness there - too many memories. The past is a pool that's easy to drown in.

By the time she gets back, the sun is setting, so she stands and lights some of the beeswax candles she made, murmuring a little prayer each time she lights one - "to keep away the shadows", as her mother told her.

She finds a wheel of cheese and a loaf of crusty bread in the pantry, and eats some of it for dinner. She goes outside one more time, to watch the fireflies and the moon and check on her bees, their buzzing soft now, before going to her living room and lying on the couch, resting her head on her arm.

Tomorrow, she may go to the place where the blackberries grow wild and pick some to make a jam, or she may gather mushrooms from where they grow in the shade. Right now, it doesn't matter. She listens to the music of the wind and watches the shadows the pinpricks of starlight make on her wooden floor and fades into the quiet darkness.

April 11, 2020 15:48

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