I left town straight after the funeral. I needed to find somewhere else to live anyway – there was precious little of our house left, just blackened timbers standing starkly against the skyline.
I could tell the townsfolk didn’t know what to make of me, of my reactions to the tragedy. I knew that for the moment they’d assume my veneer of indifference was some manifestation of shock and that they’d expect something else from me in time. Something that wasn’t there to give…and never would be. Better to leave now, I thought.
The sheriff said I could stay with him and his wife for a while, just till I got back on my feet, he said. He was a good man; he’d looked out for me in the past. On the rare occasion I was allowed into town on my own, generally to get more booze for Dad and my brothers when they were already too drunk to drive, he’d sometimes stop me on the street. I’d feel his eyes on my bruised arms, the marks on my neck, and he’d say gently “is there anything you want to tell me, Louise?” But there wasn’t.
During the few days I stayed with them after the fire, I could feel his eyes on me again, pondering the same question but not putting it into words this time. I think he knew the answer.
I found an apartment and a job in a town several hundred miles east, but later had to return to complete formalities on the sale of our land. I didn’t visit the ruins of my home, nor did I go to the Garden of Remembrance either, where the remains of my father and brothers, a deadly concentration of evil, were safely confined in a cast-iron urn in a concrete chamber.
There was a place I needed to see though, before I left the town for good.
After the cremations I’d retained a handful of their ashes to blend with compost before patting the mixture into the holes I’d spent hours digging in the mossy forest floor.
Then I’d planted six trees, one for my father and each of his five sons. I wanted something good to emerge from who they’d been, and from what had happened to them. I wanted to give something pure back to the world, in place of the evil that I’d erased on that day when I’d finally snapped.
When I reached the clearing where I’d planted the saplings in a circle, my heart lurched and for a moment the breath seemed to be squeezed from my body.
The young trees dipped and swayed in the cool summer breeze, their branches tossing vigorously, their glossy leaves glittering in the sunlight. And then the breeze dropped. It seemed the boughs turned towards me, reaching out.
I stumbled from the forest, and never returned there again.
There’s just no way those trees should have grown to a height of forty feet in six months.
I didn’t submit much work throughout the latter half of 2013, and I’ve decided to make a bit more of an effort this year. Whilst searching for a bio line to use on new submissions, I was surprised to come across this story of mine that had been published in June 2013, unknown to me. Nice surprise! 🙂 To see the photo prompt for this story visit With Painted Words, June 2013.