At a Loss for Words
The clearing between the pines was brown with decayed needles covering the floor. Looking out, the milo grew high and power lines hung loose. There were gun shots in the distance, coming from the farm further down the mountain. As I moved out of the clearing, the soles of my boots sunk into the soft ground and my hands glided over the tall grasses. I followed the trail further up the mountain and when I glanced back, the roads were far away. Another shot echoed in the distance. I could imagine the smell of powder as the emptied shell dropped to the ground. I adjusted my hat to block out the sun, sinking behind the peak. As dusk turned into evening, the shots ceased firing and the winds died down. I rubbed my hands together and breathed into my palms. It had snowed earlier in the day, but it had only made the ground moist instead of white.
Back home, the family would be huddled around the wood stove, while the dogs slept at their feet. Once in awhile, my father would murmur to my sister that the fire was low and she would bundle up and head out, bringing in an armload of split wood. My mother would be reading by the firelight, only looking up when my father spoke. They had wanted me to stay when I told them that I was going for a walk, but they didn’t say anything. They had only nodded as they stoked the fire and watched over it. They understood I needed to go.
I couldn’t make sense of all that had occurred the night before. We had walked along the side street but after awhile we sat on the curb and talked. I never looked into her face. My chin had rested on her head and held her close as she soaked my shirt in tears. She talked of the emptiness she felt, the mask she hid behind. She had asked me what she should do.
“Live day to day,” I had said. “Could you do that for me?”
I felt her nod.
“Pain never leaves with time. It shouldn’t have to. It’s okay to feel the way you do. You are a strong woman.”
“I don’t feel that way,” she replied.
I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t try. I wasn’t going to tell her some bull**** story that I didn’t believe myself. I didn’t know if she would see her sister again in another life, or anyone else for that matter. All I could do was hold her for as long as she needed. As I combed my fingers through her hair, I watched the cloud of moths hover around the lamp lights above us. Their shadows fell on us as she shuddered in my arms. She sat back and looked at me. Her tears had stained her face and as I tried to wipe them away, she quieted down. She was tired.
I found myself staring at the tops of the moonlit trees as they swayed in the distance. The opposing mountain side seemed so far away, just as the memory did. Looking down at my hands, I found them wet with tiny droplets. I wiped them away on my coat for the time being. There would be more as the years went by. There was no moving on without looking back. It never worked any other way.
“Will you always be around when I need you?” she had asked me.
“Always,” I replied. “I’ll never leave you.”
She smiled. It was weak, but there nonetheless. It was real, not the face she hid behind for so long. I hoped it would last but I couldn’t see that far. Perhaps it was better that way. As we headed back, I watched our shadows under the lamp lights fade into darkness.
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