This story is by Katie Grace and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I would miss the trees. And, I’d miss the stone wall that ran along the edge of the yard. We had a week to move and I was standing outside, procrastinating, remembering the 20 years we’d lived here. I scanned the half acre behind our house. The colors were at their peak now, mid-October. One maple tree stood blaring red among masses of yellow river birches. The oaks kept green leaves close to the trunk and changed leaf by leaf to orange-brown. The pines, never fading, filled in the spaces with green. Chimney smoke wafted through the crisp air. I wanted to walk through the woods one last time before I got lost in the boxes and tape of moving, but Peter said we needed to pack one room a day to be ready for the movers.
I looked at the old stone wall across the back of the property. I loved these walls. Here in New England they were everywhere. The gray boulders, once neatly stacked, now tumbled in places. Covered in lichen and vines, they lined many of the old roads in this small town. When we hiked the trails nearby, we found them, forgotten, in the middle of the woods. There were so many. How did these settlers know how to build them? How did they get all these stones from their fields to the edges of their property? Did they expect them to last for three hundred years?
I had never ever crossed our wall. It would be a wonderful hike. But, there had always been something else to do. The woods beckoned me now but I turned back to the house and sighed. I still had other things to do.
We had accumulated so much since we’d moved here. This house was supposed to be our last so we still had silly things, like school papers from our two boys. Craig and Peirce visited as soon as we’d announced the move and they took the things they wanted. This was just a pile of old junk to them. I chose a few precious pieces of their childhood before I moved the boxes to the recycle pile. I could keep it all if my husband hadn’t gotten this job offer… but, he had. And now, I had to pack.
I went to the study. It should have been the easiest room, mostly books. I debated every volume I picked up. North of Boston by Robert Frost, I didn’t read it for college English. Would I ever? I picked it up and felt the linen cover. This wasn’t a first edition but it was old. I turned a few of the stiff pages and inhaled the old book smell. The introduction to this edition was a long essay about Frost’s place in American literature. That might be interesting. I could never find this essay again, I thought, and laid it on top of the pile of volumes I couldn’t give up.
When Peter came home, I was sitting with equal piles of boxes on either side of me, one stack to donate and one to move. That was all I had done in the 10 hours he’d been gone. “Hi, Hon. How’d it go today.” He said, stepping gingerly across the books and papers to give me a kiss.
“Horrible. We’ll never be ready. Do we have to move?”
“I can’t pass this up, it will finally pay off the boys’ school and we’ll be set for retirement.”
“I never went exploring in the back woods.”
“The wild, wild woods? Remember how the boys would play back there for hours?”
“Yeah, they loved to dress up and run around out there. But, I never let them cross the wall. I was afraid they’d run off back there and get lost…” I started to cry. Peter lifted me from my nest of papers and hugged me. He brushed the hair off my wet cheek and looked at me with his gentle brown eyes.
“We will make new memories,” he said, “Craig is getting married next year. Before long our new house will be teeming with grandchildren.”
“I guess so,” I said, feeling like a child myself.
“How about I go grab a pizza and we’ll see what we can get done tonight. You can walk out there tomorrow morning.”
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years and I have never gone back there. You don’t think there is a reason, do you?”
He gave me his tolerant smile. “Hon, it’s just a bunch of trees.”
“You’re right. Go get that pizza. I’ll keep packing.”
We finished the study and moved to the boys’ bedrooms. I was glad Peter was with me because I wanted to keep every art project and memento they’d left. “Listen, Hon, they moved everything they wanted into storage. They don’t want any of this junk.”
“I know, but Peirce collected these rocks on every trip we took.”
“Yeah. He was convinced that piece of asphalt was a meteorite for the longest time.”
We finished their rooms and fell into bed, exhausted, after midnight.
“I guess we can do this. We made a lot of progress tonight. But, I’m taking an hour in the morning for that walk. I earned that.”
“You earned a lot more than that,” Peter said, snuggling up to me, “But I’m too exhausted to reward you tonight.”
I smiled, “I expect a rain check for tomorrow.”
“Done,” he whispered and in a minute I heard him gently snoring.
That night it rained hard. I woke to drops pelting the window, the clock blinking 12:00 and Peter still sleeping next to me. I shook him, “Sweetie, check your phone! What time is it? The power’s out! You’ll be late to work!” He rolled over and smiled, pulling me close.
“It’s okay,” he said in a scratchy morning voice. “The office called earlier. We lost power. It’s closed today.” He looked over at his phone, “It’s 10:00. Nice to be able to sleep in this morning. Now, how about that rain check?” He said, grabbing my waist as I started to get up.
“Tonight. Right now you’ve got other work.” I wiggled out of his embrace. He pouted and I kissed him on the nose and got dressed.
By the end of that day, the attic and the basement were packed and we’d brought two car loads to donate. The power came back in the afternoon so we worked another late night.
Friday morning I woke up on the floor in a sleeping bag. It had rained all week. Everything was in boxes ready for the movers the next day.
I walked through the empty house. “So many memories,” I said out loud to the echoing rooms. “And just one more night here.”
It was sunny outside and I went out onto the deck. A warm wind swished through the woods. Leaves covered the ground. The heavy rains had knocked them all off the trees, and for a minute I was glad to be going. At least I didn’t have to rake. I admired how the light on the wet carpet of leaves made them glisten.
I walked across the lawn, along the path through the scrubby yellowed ferns to the edge of the woods. The full grown pines framed an open space. This was the boys’ adventure space, within sight of the house but under the trees. Next to the stone wall.
I walked beside the wall, imagining the man who had once farmed here. What was his life like? Where had he moved from? How did he come to own the land? It was as difficult to picture his life in the past as it was picturing my life in the future.
The wall was only two feet high, just a visual boundary really, and I easily climbed up and over it.
There was no path on this side so I walked in a straight line. I felt safe as long as the house was still in sight.
It was a peaceful, quiet walk and I felt refreshed and satisfied. I had finally ventured out of my comfort zone. I was ready to move now. I turned to go back to the house but tripped on something hidden below the slippery leaves. I fell and blacked out.
I opened my eyes and saw a strange man. “Are you okay, ma’am?” He said. He was wearing a linen shirt and suspenders. “Why are you out in the woods by yourself? Let me walk you to the house and Mary will get you some dinner. It’s getting late.”
I looked up to the sky and saw a canopy of green leaves blocking my view. I sat up and looked toward my house. It wasn’t there. I saw trees and a wooden wheelbarrow full of rocks next to a half-built stone wall.