The next day I decided to go over. Why not? Just to say hi. I can’t help myself. The dirt road curved through the trees with various turnoffs, driveways, pulling left or right. And in all of one minute I began walking down the Lowdens driveway. Looking forward all you see is the road disappear behind a turn. You look left or right and you see nothing but forest. Not too dense but full and limited with diversity. Green bodies and brown legs. Life teaming out of every pore. The sound my steps made even brought a warmth to my heart. Then soon a cottage revealed itself, hidden in the forest as if no one knew, as only a few did. Paneled red siding still held up the sides with some aging to show for it. The grey shingles went to the green side, slightly molding with moss and providing a nice sunny spot for the fallen branches and twigs. The squirrels and chipmunks would often cause fire from above, you never know when you’re gonna get an acorn in the head. And just then I saw a red squirrel jump off a branch above the house, land on the roof, and run and jump onto another branch. Wow, life. The chirping of the birds then came into presence as well. This place was full of it. I felt as if I was spinning and possibly was. The air, the song, the dirt, the taste, the feeling. Wow, this has to be what it is. My eyes peeled back and I began to float. Yet my toes barely left the ground when a car door popped the balloon.
I walked closer and saw their car. It’s lights turned on as the engine turned over and began backing up towards me. And I don’t think they see me. I quickly stepped aside with the drivers side mirror flicking my shirt sleeve. The car passed and I saw only Adam inside. When the car stopped, and he finally noticed me, his eyes nearly popped out. He pulled forward and lowered the window.
“Gordo… good to see ya.”
Not even close, dude. “Jacob. But yes, good to see you too, Adam. I was, uh, just coming to say hi… to you guys.”
“Oh, that’s nice. I was just going into town…” Long pause. “Need anything?”
“Nope, nope, thanks. I’m good… And so, um, I’ll come back later then. Yea?”
“Oh, no. Don’t be silly. Margaret’s just inside. Go say hi. We’ve just finished lunch, maybe there’s something leftover for you?” he smiled. I hate his smile.
“Oh, you sure? I don’t want to… be rude.”
“Of course, I’ll be back in half an hour or so. We’ll see you later.” His smiled faded quickly as he drove away.
And my heart doubled in pace as I faced the cottage.
She must have been expecting me… I was trying to expect her…
Her voice vibrated through the walls and around my skin.
“Hello?” I replied.
“Come in, the doors open.”
Come in? Did she even know who it was?
I pulled open the door, closed my eyes, and wished for the best.
“You must be Jackson.” Her smile made you feel seen. Made you feel loved. I could have given her a big hug before I’d even said anything. She wore a dark green t-shirt with small rips along the bottom that brought her sweet brown hair together so that she nearly resembled a tree… By far the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. And what’s with all the J names?
“Hi, yes. Well… Jacob, actually. I’m just at the cottage a couple over, that way. You must be Margaret?” I tried my best.
“Oh, Jacob! So sorry, dear. Please come in.”
The cottage looked not much different than ours; other than the wooden stove, extra bedrooms and spacious living area. I took off my shoes by the door and approached. She was just finishing up the dishes when I’d walked in. She wiped her hands with a small towel and kept her smile radiating throughout her orbit. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.” Her hand was moist and soft still, slightly cold. “I’ve seen you from our dock. And I’ve heard Adam has already visited you… Been coming up here a lot have you? Since you were a boy?”
“That’s nice. Mmm. When did you get up?”
“I just, uh, arrived say three, four days ago. Not too long.” The closer she got the more blood pulsed. The more intimidating she became.
“Not too long, eh? Fortunately, I hear you’re staying the rest of the week. I was saying to Adam we should have you over for dinner, I want to taste you so bad. Please put it in my mouth.”
“What?” We stared at each other for a second or two. “We’d just love to have you over for dinner. I said. I want your taste on this knocchi I’ve been working on. Adam says it’s great, but he’s just a sweet-talker. And this is only if you’d like, of course. No pressure. You don’t have to try my knocchi.”
She had this welcoming disposition that I’ve rarely, if ever, seen. Totally accepting of whoever the hell you were. For I’ve been known to fall quickly but it is not without fully thinking it through and knowing in my heart what’s true. And since I barely knew her, there wasn’t much to think through. And the moment we met eyes already secured the loss of my heart. Little did she know that despite pleasantries and smiles there was literally nothing more I wanted than to try her knocchi.
“That would be really great,” I said.
Her sweetness unbearable. I told her where I was from and how my uncle was selling the place so I’d come up to say hello and farewell. She said that was sad and gave me a hug. Kept my hips distant. And at the end of the hug she smiled and then did this thing where she smiled further, then turned away to the living room.
“You ever have mango salad?” she asked, looking back.
I shook my head.
“It Hal’s recipe. Showed it to me second year we rented.”
She looked at me up and down, her eyes seeming never to lose radar on mine.
“How come I’ve never seen you before? Eh?”
“I’ve been away.”
She looked down and up at me. “Away. Away. Of course, away. I know that! What were you doing away?
A bird hit the window. Margaret looked quick, unconcerned, but curious, then sad. She frowned. She looked at me and said to come outside. A bird flapped its wing, lying on the deck. The true blue only shown a sliver as the lighter blue and white under belly stuck up with popsicle sticks. Flapping one wing and either dead or stunned, Margaret crouched slowly before it, looking like she might about die herself. Yet she had no tears when she turned, having picked up the bird with the kitchen towel. Her face was slightly redder, but dry.
“Dear, thing…” she said. “How do we get you better?”
Just as she finished the bird stopped flapping, now utterly motionless. I watched both her and the bird. At first she didn’t want to believe it. So she slowly moved her arms up and down… nothing. Her face gasped without sound. God she was beautiful.
“The bird’s dead?”
I poked it. “Yea… the bird’s dead.”
“Oh, my heart,” she said as she clasped her hand to her chest.
I followed her off the deck and down the engraved stairs of logs and dirt to the lakeside. An opening into the woods hid behind the shed that stored the two-stroke engine oil, the four-stroke engine oil, pool noodles, buckets and sand castle tools, and a fridge full of beer and six hard pink-lemonades. As we entered behind the world closed in and it felt like it was just us – more than it was the second before. The branches crouched us lower, with the gentle tide blowing smells of purity and mud throughout our bodies. Every step lent us further and further into wonderland.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
She looked back and stared, I tried not to glance at her butt in parallel. “We’re going to bury it, obviously.” The first look of disdain I’ve seen on her thus far flashed quick before she turned, resuming walking and picking up the pace.
Sure enough I’ve been down this way before? The entryway behind the shed was familiar, but the farther we got, and the narrower the path, the more I questioned what the hell was going on.
“How far are we going in?”
She stopped and looked again. “Scared?”
I felt my tongue turn to metal and drop through to my feet, but I regrouped quick and used it to deepen my voice. “A little…”
“There’s this place I want to do it… C’mon.”
The subtle orange of dusk started showing its motion into the dispensed grey clouds. The shadows grew larger in the details around them. The night was beginning.
I began imagining I was following her to my death, or wonderland to see Alice – could be the same thing. She just kept going… I was thinking of turning and walking back without saying anything. Why not? She seems to know her way around… Why am I still following this lady in the first place? You barely know her, fuckstick. Just because she’s hot? Gorgeous, actually. She could kill you. Have you met her husband?
I smiled to myself and kept on walking.
And almost without noticing until it was right beside me, there was a cabin.
What the fuck.
“That’s new,” I said.
“I guess it is, for you.”
I followed her up the incline to where the cabin sat, nestled in the trees, settled and comfortable, looking like the wood was reused and could use some more stain.
I asked, “Are you gonna kill me or something?”
She giggled so adorably my tension eased, she laughed enough to make me laugh.
Her hair running circles in the mind, eyes sending you home.
“I would never. Kill you?”
She looked at me with a sincere kind of confusion. I didn’t know what to make of this woman.
“This was made, I think, at least six years ago. The Lowdens… Adam helped a bit.” She moved her hand down the rotting wood, patched with varathane, a few chips fell from her fingers, the bird still tucked away with the other hand and towel. “It’s their little cabin in the woods,” she smiled gayly.
Pretty much just a top-pointed box on cinderblocks with two windows on either end, a chimney, and a door. The only thing that wasn’t made of wood was the couch and the river stoned fireplace, the black chimney pipe running straight up. The counter, the sink, the table, the chairs, the spoons, the hooks, the knives, the buckets, the frames, the fire logs… all wood, all trees – light with a clear stain and hard knots for character.
“It’s sweet, joyous, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “The sweetest.”
I gave it all a good look over, it was nice. Better than the outside. Barely anything creaked as you walked, the ceiling boards were tight, the fireplace stones were puzzled successfully with absolutely zero blackening around its windows, and nothing but a bit of dust on the window sill, maybe a strand of a cobweb too. And then I inevitably watched her, just walking around in the smallest of steps, looking up and appreciating the place with her lips slightly loose, still holding the bird to her abdomen.
She then sat on the couch. “Carrying this thing in was, a, bitch.” She shook her head. “Mm mm. Not the way we came, obviously, there’s a road closer by.”
“Are you not going to bury that bird?” And why didn’t we go that way then? Creepy dead bird forest girl?
Surprised, she looked down then back up at me and smiled. “I guess that’s why we came all this way, eh?” She got up quick. “C’mon, hehe.”
We went outside and walked three or four steps. “You bring a shovel,” she asked.
“Did I bring a shovel?”
“Well, we don’t have one out here so someone’s got to use their hands…”
The dried leaves formed a thin protective barrier over the cold and heavy dirt, no longer holding the sun’s warmth. I felt a slight comfort as my fingers moved through the soil, small rocks and clumps and leaves and moss, feeding into my body. I escaped for a moment, then realizing someone was still behind me watching, her eyes surely on my back, or maybe not? She ignored eye contact like flirting to caress me to dig. These subtleties had to be for a reason… It excited and scared – the two so far being always paired when with Margaret. The cute gestures and her innocence tied to a sexy, mature, childishness, who wouldn’t love this woman. She’d make any person as excited and as scared. Remote cabin, location unsure, illusive woman, the bird? But to be honest, I was nervous and scared back when we started walking. Now I was just holding onto the part that doesn’t care what happens next.
I dug a deep enough hole…
“Uh… a little more…”
And then some more. I stood and she was behind me I could feel her breath on my neck. Good, she said, and went and put the bird in, then standing without covering him yet. She stood and stared at the bird, rigid and soft, not moving a muscle. What the hell was she doing? What the hell is going on?
She looked at me, “You going to say anything?”
“Oh, yea, uhm… well… um… I… I don’t know. What am I suppose to say for a bird?”
She scoffed at the sky and trudged to the cabin. I waited bewildered and feeling quite cold. I thought of leaving once more. It’s been at least an hour. Adam is probably going to show up any minute. He wont like this, and even if he did, I don’t trust him. She came running back with a book in her hand, stopped and smiled, and then held it out. Something from what I’d say an ordinary book exactly looks like. Brown hardcover binding, almost fabric like, and an engraved golden title, The Voice of –-, the Call of –-, Natur–- –-edy. Most of it was rubbed away till the fibres from the next page grew through. I looked at her then back at the book a couple of times before taking it… handing me a book that I don’t know the title of to read to a dead bird? Not a fan… Who the hells voice is calling who? Or what of what? Or why of when?
“And you want me to read to it?” I glared dismally back.
“It’s the voice of nature, the call of the trees. It’s supposed to be read. Why are you worried? Just read the first few lines on page twelve, paragraph two.” Her two showing fingers might as well have been up my ass. I turned to page twelve and turned to the bird, waiting for it to turn back to me.
Then I began, “The moment we see ourselves is when we become one with her. We gain the losses of others, as do they. We see how man has changed into de…monic… culture. Taking without giving. We gain nothing but do notact in isolation… It is everywhere… It is inside you.” I looked at Margaret, she had her eyes closed and her head rested. She then tilted her head, waiting for the silence to end, then opened one eye… then the other. She threw her palms up and egged me to keep going. I shook my head, “Uh, it is… it is… the very thing you think of when you know not what to think. It is that indescribable feeling. It is her as she welcomes you’re return to her womb, with all its remedies for you’re suffering. The nature of it being… the return to us, so we no more have to be.”
The end of the paragraph was hopefully sufficient. Margaret, still with eyes closed, honoring the bird, nodded to herself and smiled. Slowly she opened her eyes and turned to me, still holding the small crescent with her lips. “Thank you.”
I smiled and nodded to the end.
“Can you just finish it with the last line on page sixty-one, I believe? It’s a proper send off for a fellow bird. Please, please, pleeease?”
Fuuuuuuuuuck. “Okay, okay. Last line.”
I turned to page sixty-one and scanned to the bottom.
“Just the last two lines,” she added.
Just the last two lines. “Mmmmm…hmm, see… see the hope in the virgin beginner….echm… Wash the blood we all must cry. Until we dine and wait for dinner. And consume the grudge that makes us die.”
Margaret snapped her fingers by my ear. The last thing I remember were several hands holding me while I fell.