The Song of the Trees
The trees always seemed to beckon me with their eerie, forbidden splendor. There was something so mysterious that drew me in; something so foreign that it mocked me. I would get up from my bed, early in the morning, before dawn could melt away the darkness, and crept to the borderline. For five years I repeated this pattern. Even at seventeen, I had not succumbed to the village's standards of who I was to be and what I was to do. I was young at heart. There, I would sit in the tall grass contemplating on the day when I would have enough courage to venture across. The stories didn't scare me. Those We Don't Speak Of were not figures that marred the sleepy pages of my dreams, in fact I had had dreams in which I was at peace with them. To announce this to my people would invoke a judgement that would swallow me whole. I knew I wasn't normal – I wasn't at all like my people who feared the trees and Those We Don't Speak Of with a fear that burned and never wavered. I never had possessed such a fear and perhaps I never tried to. I wasn't willing to give up my dreams of answering the trees' call. I was sure that if I gave up such a thing I would deprive myself from the true gift of freedom. Never would I give up freedom.
My parents were good to me. They seemed to notice my depth and they nurtured it instead of shunning it as many others in my village had. I never told them of my plans, my hopes to journey through the trees and perhaps even the towns; they were respected elders and though they themselves would have dealt with my high spirits with gentleness and understanding, it would bring shame to them and I would never do that. My mother, Ivey, loved my father, Lucius, with a love that inspired me to be strong. They were older now and my father was weaker. He had never been very strong, at least as long as I had lived, and my mother told me it was because he was hurt in an accident before they were married.
"What accident?" I had asked with sincerity and curiosity.
"He fell from the orchard tree." And then she would turn her head and pick up her laundry to fold, cueing for the conversation to close. Her blindness never hid the truth that radiated from her eyes as if she could see in full.
Now, in my world Emmett Griffin was a tyrant. There was no boy in the whole village who could taunt me so. He had always been the thorn during my social existence, using every possible opportunity to cause me grief and earn a laugh or pat on the back from one of his friends. He would point out my quietness, my freckles and my lack of friends.
"Mouse," he would call me. "Quiet, little mouse; do you ever speak?" A chuckle would follow from him and from one of his friends.
I had learned to ignore it, but that never meant I was not affected by it. My mother had noticed, as mother's do, and let me rest my head on her shoulder as she stroked my hair and told me of young boys and their senselessness. My father would give a cunning glance in our direction.
"Careful, Ivey Hunt," he would whisper.
She would smile.
I woke up even earlier one particular morning and found my desire for adventure curiously strong. I chased after it and crept out. My mother would be a sleep for at least another hour and my father usually rested in bed a little longer than her. This was the time of day that I chose to search out myself more than anything else. But even in the darkness I felt another's presence. Whoever or whatever it was, it was now my closest confidante. I crept up to the tall grass, just before the border and laid down, my elbows holding my upper body up as I bit my lip and let go. Let go of what? Who really knows; everything, I guess. It was my time to hope, to dream. It was my time to not be disturbed.
I jerked my head in surprise. There stood Emmett Griffin with a long wooden stick in his hand a lantern in his other.
"What are you doing?"
I stood up and straightened my nightdress. I blushed. "What are you doing?"
He smirked. "Did you really just speak, little mouse?"
I frowned. I hated how he found every possible way to mock me.
His face changed as he raised the lantern to mine. "I was just teasing."
I turned my face away.
"Why are you so close to the trees? Are you not scared?"
I shook my head.
"Not at all?"
I shook my head again.
"You lie, Mouse."
I clenched my jaw. "I do not lie."
"Of course you don't." He lifted his eyes to the tall trees. "It's mysterious isn't it?"
"I come out here to get away for a bit."
His voice, his persona, was different. I craned my neck to look into his eyes and see his joking manner unleash itself, but it didn't.
"There's something missing, isn't there Mouse?" He grinned again. There was an awkward silence as I stared at the grass. "Well, good morning." He left, just like that. I sighed and furrowed my brow. My bones had ached with bitterness towards him, but there was something different tonight about his demeanor. I shrugged it off and made my way back home.
"There's something missing, isn't there Mouse?" His words confused me and I tried again and again to erase them but they seemed to stumble through my head over and over again. Something missing…
"Where were you?" my mother's voice carried to the steps from the kitchen.
I hesitated. "I was out for some air. You are up early."
My mother didn't reply. I could hear my father's coughing and it sobered my mood. What a dreadful cough he did catch often. The sound of it tore at my mother; I could tell from within her eyes. She was strong, and had always been, but when father was unwell, her strength seemed to dim. She was feeling her way around the table to the water pitcher. She picked it up and poured a glass, spilling only a drop. My mother was not a charity case just because she was blind; she was capable and confident and everything I wanted to be.
"Could you bring this in to your father?" she asked as she stretched out the cup.
I took it.
My father was pale this morning – though he often was – but his smile surfaced when he saw me. He took the cup gratefully and managed to sit up a bit with a few more coughs. He took a sip.
"Thank you. Just what I needed."
I left the room quietly. Another coughing fit ensued from behind me.
"Addie?" my mother asked. She paused. "It's good to hear your sweet voice."
Either my mother gave these random compliments as a result of her good nature or as a hope to encourage me. Whatever the reason, the compliments she gave were usually effective – they were sometimes the only encouragement of my day and I was grateful for them. Today's compliment was different. It was true, I could tell she meant it, but I could see fear in her unseeing eyes and whatever assurance could have arisen did not. Father was not well. Not in the least.
Two weeks had gone by and my father still was bedridden with a menacing cough that seemed to grow worse and worse. My mother had stiffened since in that two weeks. Her mouth had been set in a fine line of perseverance and fear. I had tried my best not to break out in tears. No one had to tell me… No one had to say a word, for I knew of his condition's severity. Never in my life had his cough become so horrific, and never in my life had his skin become that pale. I was seventeen and no fool – my father would not be long here on this earth and as much as I was going to miss him, I feared my mother's reaction more. I knew where he stood with peace in God… it was mother's heart that I ached for. Of course I was going to miss him, miss him to my core, but death was a familiar face in the village. I knew I had to be strong. I had to be grown up. I had to protect my mother who would be hopelessly heart broken.
We had one last week with him. It was a week of pain and gratitude. The tears were cried by the whole village, but even every tear combined could not match the tears cried by my mother. Yes, she was strong, but her support had been taken from her. She would come out of the darkness, I knew she would, but it would take a lot of time. Time. Oh, how I wished I could have given it to her just like that.
I crept to the border even earlier the morning after his funeral and brought his old, leather bound Bible. The air was colder now. I wrapped my shawl around me tighter. I chose to forget about Emmett finding me. He hadn't since, so I prayed that trend would continue. I found a spot in the tall grass and sat down. I didn't open the Bible just yet – I let the peace surround me as I traced the leather with my index finger. I sighed and flipped it open.
"Papa," I muttered. "I miss you."
The trees whistled.
"God? Why did he have to leave now?" I whispered. I closed my eyes. "Why did he have to leave?" The tears found their path down my face.
The wind blew gently, comforting me with unusual warmth.
"Help her. Please help her." My tears were now for my mother.
The wind again carried warmth that I can hardly explain. I let it take me away for a minute.
I was dragged from my escape. I turned my head and noticed Emmett. I wiped my eyes furiously with my sleeves and before I could gather up all my anger and bitterness I noticed his tone and his sullen expression.
"Forgive me for intruding." His words were honest. "I had to tell you how sorry I am."
"I didn't get a chance to see you at the funeral." He took his seat beside me.
I sighed; there was no avoiding him.
"I really am sorry. I can't imagine how you feel."
I nodded and sniffed.
"You know Mouse, you don't have to keep it all inside."
I studied the grass.
"I know you're strong though."
I looked at him.
"I will miss him." He looked up at the stars. "But I know that he's looking down and he's so proud of the daughter he raised. I can see him in you, Mouse."
That's when I broke down and the sobs that shook me were inescapable. I didn't even care how I looked. I didn't even care what I sounded like. I didn't even care that he had brought my head to rest on his shoulder… I didn't care. The scariest thing was that it felt so good. It felt so good.
I don't how long the crying lasted – maybe a full hour, maybe ten seconds – but I do know that God sent me Emmett, of all people, to be the support I so desperately needed.
"I-I'm sorry," I stammered through tears. "I just can't help myself."
He gave me a sympathetic smile and stretched his hand out to lift my chin. "Why are you sorry?"
I sniffed and wiped my face with my sleeve again.
"I am sorry," he began. "Sorry for all those years when I singled you out. I hope you know that it was because I liked you."
"Right…" I shook my head.
"I know, it sounds stupid, but I only wanted to be your friend."
"You're right. It does sound stupid."
"I know it does. Forgive me?"
Forgive Emmett Griffin… "Yes." What? I swallowed my shock.
"so we're friends now?"
He seemed quiet and I looked over.
"Can I still call you Mouse?"
His question made me laugh. Did it ever feel good to laugh.
"Mouse, do you think about beyond the trees?"
The sentence stopped my laughter.
"Someday I'll go. I have to. I will never be satisfied if I do not go," he whispered. I could hardly hear him. "Do you not try and stop me, Mouse?"
"Why should I?"
"What a question."
I licked my lip. "I do not see the fear that the village does. I do not defend them."
He turned to look at me. A smile danced on his lips.
"Are you shocked?"
He paused. "I cannot say. You are the first person to be so blunt, though."
"I heard of a story once. I heard that a man ventured past the border and was unharmed by Those We Don't Speak Of." He cleared his throat.
A chill traveled through my spine. He spoke of my father. "He did. He is my motivation." I choked back the tears.
"As is mine." He stood up. "Let's do it Mouse. Let's really do it."
I shook my head. "My mother needs me."
"In time, Mouse. Can't you feel the passion?" His smile reappeared. "Let's go beyond the border someday. Let that be our pledge."