Short Story: "A Green Woodland for a Gray Heart"


Proud, thick oaks, pungent pine, strong, young maples and the occasional dying birch kept close company in that wood, as unplanned and scattershot as any forest in the area, trees birthed by seed carried on the wind, soft grasses hiding the forest floor, ferns mingling with autumn olive bushes in the underbrush.

Tangled though it was, it provided her sanctuary, a place that would always be there when she needed solace.

Now, a world apart, Mariah thinks of that wood often. When she walks down city sidewalks littered with trash on her way to the bus stop, she remembers the fresh scent of the dark earth underfoot in those days, how clean, rich and fragrant it smelled compared to the streets of this dirty college town.

Mariah remembers finding inspiration in that forest, hiking to its very edge, reaching the clearing, sitting on the broken split-rail fence and looking down onto rolling hills and snug homes below. When resting in that clearing, with the wood at her back, the green valley below and the sky above, it was easy for Mariah to remember her calling. In that wood, the words would fairly come to her unbidden, the poems would spin themselves into existence in the golden air. Her only task was to remember them long enough to get back to the house and write them down.

Today, trudging over dirty sidewalks, alert to angry, honking horns and a cheerless office waiting ahead of her, Mariah clings to the memory of that flourishing wood.

Once, when she was 13 or so, she'd brought a friend to see the woods, and he'd told her all his ambitions while sitting next to her on that split-rail fence. He wanted to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force like his grandfather had been, but he could also see himself as a pastor or a lawyer. With so much time ahead of him, and so much confidence, she'd thought, he could probably be all of those things. She'd just wished he'd stop fixing those bright green eyes on her and keep his gaze on the horizon.

Another time, even longer ago, her parents invited some old friends from out of town, and Mariah was asked to entertain their daughter, a girl her own age, while the grown-ups played cards. They'd hiked in the woods all afternoon. Her guest intently scoured the ground for signs of animal life, taking out a copy of "Tracks, Scats and Signs" for young nature detectives and poring over each paw print and poop pile, completely engrossed.

While she loved the woods, Mariah couldn't care less about scat, so she'd slipped off to that ridge for a few minutes' solitude, to let the sights and sounds wash over her and carry her away. 

By the time she woke from her reverie, the sun was sinking and a chill had crept through the forest. The guest had given up on Mariah and gone back to the house, where four inebriated parents still sat at the card table, laughing and plunging their hands into the snack bowl every so often.

The office is buzzing today. HR and upper management have been leading executives through the plant and giving them a tour of all the corner suites. Mariah doesn't try to edge into any of the huddled, whispered conversations at the watercooler or in the break room, as co-workers speculate on a possible merger. It's all too obvious, and she doesn't care. So she goes straight to her cubicle and tackles the mountain of work waiting for her from last Friday.

A photograph taped to the corkboard behind her monitor keeps her heart light. It's a snapshot taken looking out over that green ridge bordered by trees, with the cozy rolling hills and the snug homes nestled against the earth. 

She's going back very soon.

Read more of my short stories here.

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