The path became confusing suddenly, blocked with branches. The upper part of a fallen tree lay across it, so immense she had to climb through, stepping between sideways limbs with clammy leaves still attached. Would he find his way through this, or would the wall of branches turn him back? Her heart bumped around at the thought of losing this one sweet chance. Once she'd passed through, she considered waiting. But he knew the way. He said he'd hunted from that turkey blind some seasons ago. With his own friends, no one she or Cub knew. Younger, his friends would be.
She smacked her palms together to shuck off the damp grit and viewed the corpse of the fallen monster. The tree was intact, not cut or broken by wind. What a waste. After maybe centuries of survival it had simply let go of the ground, the wide fist of its root mass ripped up and resting naked above a clay gash in the wooded mountainside. Like herself, it just seemed to have come loose from its station in life. After so much rain upon rain this was happening all over the county, she'd seen it in the paper, massive trees keeling over in the night to ravage a family's roofline or flatten the car in the drive. The ground took water until it was nothing but soft sponge, and the trees fell out of it. Near Great Lick a whole hillside of mature timber had plummeted together, making a landslide of splintered trunks, rock and rill. People were shocked, even men like her father-in-law who tended to meet any terrible news with "That's nothing," claiming already to have seen everything in creation. But they'd never seen this, and had come to confessing it. In such strange times, they may have thought God was taking a hand in things and would thus take note of a lie.
The road turned up steeply toward the ridge and petered out to a single track. A mile yet to go, maybe, she was just guessing. She tried to get a move on, imagining that her long, straight red hair swinging behind her might look athletic, but in truth her feet smarted badly and so did her lungs. New boots. There was one more ruin to add to the pile. The boots were genuine calfskin, dark maroon, hand-tooled uppers and glossy pointed toes, so beautiful she'd nearly cried when she found them at Second Time Around while looking for something decent for Preston to wear to kindergarten. The boots were six dollars, in like-new condition, the soles barely scuffed. Someone in the world had such a life, they could take one little walk in expensive new boots and then pitch them out, just because. The boots weren't a perfect fit but they looked good on, so she bought them, her first purchase for herself in over a year, not counting hygiene products. Or cigarettes, which she surely did not count. She'd kept the boots hidden from Cub for no good reason but to keep them precious. Something of her own. In the normal course of family events, every other thing got snatched from her hands: her hairbrush, the TV clicker, the soft middle part of her sandwich, the last Coke she'd waited all afternoon to open. She'd once had a dream of birds pulling the hair from her head in sheaves to make their red nests.
Not that Cub would notice if she wore these boots, and not that she'd had occasion. So why put them on this morning to walk up a muddy hollow in the wettest fall on record? Black leaves clung like dark fish scales to the tooled leather halfway up her calves. This day had played in her head like a movie on round-the-clock reruns, that's why. With an underemployed mind clocking in and out of a scene that smelled of urine and mashed bananas, daydreaming was one thing she had in abundance. The price was right. She thought about the kissing mostly, when she sat down to manufacture a fantasy in earnest, but other details came along, setting and wardrobe. This might be a difference in how men and women devised their fantasies, she thought. Clothes: present or absent. The calfskin boots were a part of it, as were the suede jacket borrowed from her best friend Dovey and the red chenille scarf around her neck, things he would slowly take off of her. She'd pictured it being cold like this, too. Her flyaway thoughts had not blurred out the inconveniences altogether. Her flushed cheeks, his warm hands smoothing the orange hair at her temples, all these were part and parcel. She'd pulled on the boots this morning as if she'd received written instructions.
From Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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