“Brrring….Brrrring…” The sound ripped through the silence of the empty house and startled James so completely that he was jolted from his anger. “Brrrrrrrinnnng.” He found its insistent intrusion offensive and crossed the kitchen quickly, intent to make it stop.
“He’s not here right now. This is James.”
“Hello James. This is Mrs. Fervish. I’m sorry to trouble you, dear, but the reason I’m calling…” she hesitated, uncomfortable speaking with the boy about his mother so soon after the tragedy “…a dress, dear. We need a dress for your mother — a favorite of hers…something for the viewing. Will you please let your father know we need it today?”
James agreed, numbly, and hung up the phone.
Wherever his father was, he didn’t care. He was angry again for being left alone; angry for having to take that call, angry even at his mother for being the kind of mother that would climb a tree like that. Mothers weren’t supposed to do that kind of thing. If only she were like the other mothers. The thought pierced his heart and he instantly regretted having had it. The kind of mother that Jane was was exactly the reason he loved her so much.
James burst through the screen door and bolted across the yard, running fiercely toward the forest. He needed his mother…needed to be close to her. James was headed toward the spot where his mother’s spirit last existed in this realm. He would sit at the portal, the place where the last remnants of her essence seeped into the earth as she crossed over into the unknown. Tears streamed across his cheeks as he ran and his heart pounded hard in his chest and his breath came in short gulps as he sobbed. Absorbed in his anguish, his feet moving deftly along the path, James arrived at The Tallest Tree unprepared for what he would find.
There, among the gnarled roots that reached out across the ground, sat his father. He was silent and his gaze was fixed off into the distance, as if seeing only memories. James felt the anger drain from him and he was numb again.
John did not respond. He didn’t blink. He didn’t move. James wasn’t even certain he was breathing.
A gentle breeze blew though the forest and the leaves rustled on the trees. It was the only sound and, for a moment, James imagined voices on the wind; faint words spoken in the rustling of the leaves just barely beyond his understanding. And then another sound…the low rumble of a growl…and he felt Keeper beside him, leaning into him slightly, guiding him backward.
John turned, slowly, and looked at his son, the recognition on his face barely perceptible. Overloaded and ill-equipped to handle more, James refused to take in the entirety of the situation and grasped for anything that would distract from the growing sense of unease surrounding him.
“A dress, Dad. They need a dress. Mrs. Fervish called and said they need a dress for Mom’s viewing and they need it today.”
Keeper pressed harder against James, urging him further back from the tree. The wind picked up, swirling around them and filling the forest with the sound of leaves that roared like waves of the ocean, the voices louder now and growing clearer. James could almost make them out and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He was torn between the urge to run and the desire to understand. John reached out toward his son; a far-off look still consuming him. Keeper was barking now, something he rarely did, and James, surprised, heeded the warning and ran. He ran furiously back through the forest, pursued by the wind that bent the trees along his path, their branches reaching for him, grasping and scraping as he ran.
When he reached the edge of the yard, James collapsed onto the grass, confused and exhausted. Out of the woods now, only a faint breeze gently blowing, the voices only an imperceptible murmur fading into the distance, James lay still and collected himself. As he tried to make some sense of what had just happened, he found himself distracted by Keeper’s insistent scratching at the greenhouse door and he felt compelled to open it for him. Keeper stepped inside and headed directly for the leaky spigot, pawing at river stone below. James, thinking him thirsty, turned the faucet on and water poured from the hose onto the moss surrounding the stone. The tiny blood-red flowers sitting atop their delicate thread-like stems pulsed ever so slightly as the water quenched the moss from which they protruded. Keeper dug at the stone, his claws tearing at the moss, destroying the flowers and upsetting James.
“Keeper, stop it.” James turned off the water and looked at the muddy mess. One more slight he could ill afford at the moment. He was out of his element…he was only 11…he wasn’t meant to deal with everything that now occupied his reality and his mind grasped for focus and normalcy. The dress.
James crossed the yard and headed back toward the house to look for a dress. Protected by the numbness that mercifully persisted, he stood in his parent’s closet and chose a dress he thought appropriate for the occasion before calling Joe. Joe was his father’s friend and had helped James ready his attic room when they’d first moved in and he was the only adult James could think to call. There was Mrs. Fervish, she was the one who had called this morning for the dress, but James preferred to avoid the sound of pity in her voice and so he called Joe instead. Joe was more than willing to come and get the dress and save John the trouble…James couldn’t find the words to explain the situation with his father and so he simply thanked Joe and hung up the phone. James returned to his parents’ closet. Standing there, in the middle of all their things, he inhaled the faint smell of his father’s aftershave and the sweet scent of his mother’s perfume that lingered on their clothes. He held the dress as if it contained all the memories he had of her and he felt the numbness slipping away and a dull ache creeping in to replace it and his knees grew weak and he remembered how tired he was and he folded himself, and the dress, carefully to the floor to wait there, in that place that still smelled of his parents, for Joe.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015. Artwork by Carne Griffiths.
**This story inspired the creation of more art. Take a look. But first…
Want to explore what else this blog has to offer, receive emails when I post new stories, or send me a private message? Just click on the menu icon near the top right corner of the page.
But before you go…scroll down if you’d like to share your feedback about this story or see what others are saying.
*Reading this story from within an email? You’ll need to click here first to be able to see the menu icon, to scroll down for comments, etc.
Become a Patron and get audio versions of all new stories! Click here to learn more.
Not ready to become a Patron? Please consider making a small, one-time donation in support of all the time and effort that goes into creating the stories you enjoy. Thanks!