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Remember to Write
Something is wrong. What a statement to cause a person to forget what is right. It’s a subtle jab that points at nothing…yet somehow everything.
My razor caught roughly on my skin. Color swirled down the drain and matched the strained eyes intently fixed in the mirror. A deep rose blooming on my cheek, I froze.
Time is moving forward…without me. It is silly to stand with this symbol of manhood woven between ghostly fingers. Outside, a woman is knee-deep in knives of ice, her heartbeat is drumming heavily on my door, and I am only a boy who cut himself shaving.
Do I remember that day, so long ago, under the hum of glaring lights? The scent of paper crept through cold wafts bursting through every opening of the door. My fingers felt dry around the paper; I gripped it tightly, red creeping through my fingertips.
When the postal clerk called me…why was I nervous? As the desk grew nearer, my years were diminishing. I guiltily slid the envelope over the print-stained surface, and from behind bars she took the letter and smiled at me with disingenuous eyes, her hand sliding sharply along the edge. Drops of ink-like red fell from her fingertips. Alarm was pulsing behind her eyes, but she apologized with a subtle laugh.
A quiet whisper, the sight of blood, and I was suddenly transparent. No. You see, I had to escape.
A splash of cutting-wind and the crunch of salt beneath my feet smarted on the rawness of panic. I didn’t even let my engine warm-up before jamming it into gear and skidding off the highway and onto the obscure, grinding river of graveled slush snaking through pines.
Goose-down flurries rested on my windshield. My mind fixed nervously on the shrinking high-way, but my eyes were on the deep tire-ruts violently rocking the vehicle. The engine’s rhythmic cough brought solace to the minute as I smoothed a crease at the edge of my mind. Logically speaking, I had only mailed a letter. Maybe, one or two weeks later I would receive an envelope in return.
A drifting newspaper blew suddenly before my vision and I swung the wheel erratically to the side, pine branches scraping glass. There was a *thud*, a padded canopy of blanched needles, and a contracting laugh in the wind.
Black became white and my hands were cold. I held my breath for the sound of blood pumping furiously throughout my body. My vision was cleared and rhythm restored with every quiver in my chest. Tingling in reawakening muscle, I squeezed the handle and the door fell open. I tumbled and let crystal snow pad a throbbing cheek.
The wind bobbed pine branches against the dented metal hood. My bare hands were numb against the coarse prickle of the branches. My limbs faltered as I pulled myself to a stance and I listened to the tick tick of the bleeding engine. The damaged vehicle was sagging pitifully beneath fallen snow, and the tires would only spin helplessly in the ditch. Two or three miles more and I would have been at my own, snow-fallen driveway. I cursed the inconvenience. Snow crumbled beneath my feet and I slid into the gray slush and twisted sharply to break my fall. My palms bled. Pulling my arms closely around my body, I stumbled along the road.
I was aware of houses generously dotted amidst the tangle of trees, but driveways and sometimes mere pathways were obscure and far apart. The wind gnawed at my lower-lip as I plowed through the rising snow and slush praying for a pathway, or sign of an occupied house hidden by trees. The trees swayed in circles and bobbed their limbs, their delicate whispering tickling, and then biting savagely at my reddened cheeks. It was when the forest heaved a terrifying gust that I crouched defensively in a padded wall of snow. I shivered, regretting my decision to leave the car. I buried my reddened hands deeply into my jacket, remembering the dry envelope, the moisture under my arms from the long minutes in the heated post-office, and the crimson rush in the tip of her finger.
The wind quieted. I blearily surveyed the dissolving road and pulled my body into a stance, but the snow absorbed each struggling footstep. I returned foolishly to a mode of defense with the sound of a subtle snap in the tree overhead. With a moment passing, a twig whisked along falling needles and stuck like a spear in the snow beside me. I spotted a sudden dot of red high in the bleary pine. The spot red trembled on the still branch, sprinkles of snow drifting down, and catching on my eyelashes. I blinked furiously, pulling myself closer to the curious bleeding of the quiet tree. I sank my feet into the heap of waist-high snow. I crawled, my lips frozen and my mind probed by wonder. I threw my arm out to catch a branch, but was startled by a harsh *crack* and a flaring sting of hollow wood against my frozen arm. I cried out, a glorious blood-tinted cardinal disappearing in the darkening forest.
I cradled the burning arm and scraped my numbed fingers along the crystallizing snow. I winced as my fingernails caught on wooden splinters. I carefully smoothed my palms over the rough white edges of a mailbox. ‘Thank, god,’ I thought. ‘A sign of life.’ I peered around the cardinal-pine to see the barely-visible path among the trees. Warm blood rising in my once disheartened temples, I dug away at the front of it, prying the lid to reveal an array of soggy envelopes.
Delicately fitting them into the inner pocket that had contained the pallid letter, I buttoned my coat and half crawled, half plowed through the sharply twisting forest path. Quietly I hoped for a warm glow of hospitality to appear suddenly around each corner, as the sky was fading and fat flakes of snow were more rapidly swirling around my general numbness. With each disappointing turn of the path my stranded car grew more distant, and the panic-beat of my heart alone heated my core. Shivering tension locking in my neck, I turned a corner and my foot struck sharply on a pile of stones. Opening my vision my now sluggish perception encountered a clearing with a very old fashioned snow-covered well. The rope was frayed and the rotted bucket was most likely lost in its depths. I searched the clearing, my focus returning to the curious, crude pile of snow-covered stones. I spotted the continuation of the path and followed it, remembering the addressed envelopes in my pocket. The path grew narrow, and I pulled at the branches, and fought through snow closing around my vision. I viciously yanked a rotted branch and a flood of snow broke loose, pulling my feet from underneath me and sliding me down a gentle slope. There was a sudden lack of trees surrounding me. Turning my head sharply my heart leapt with the sudden discovery of a snow-laden wooden cabin. Like a stone hitting the pit of ice forming in my stomach I realized that something was wrong. The blackened chimney was stopped up with snow, the windows as the extinguished eyes of a corpse.
As the foolish notion of death crept into my mind a familiar spot of red shot into my vision. Anger melted the ice in my chest as the quivering cardinal nibbled at its snow-speckled feathers. Icy wetness seeped onto my bare skin and there was a dim flicker in the uppermost window. I held my breath as the light spread, trickling down to the tiny, curtained door. I nearly cried as a withered face appeared between gaps of warm light. I recovered my stance and skated desperately over the snow, the figure forming an outstretched arm, a skirted leg, and the overall round appearance of an old woman.
She grasped my arm tightly and loudly shut-out a draft of cold air. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the cabin, I took in the delicate strands of yellow-white hair like old lace falling down her back. She silently drifted to the lifeless fireplace and proceeded to tear strips of newspaper. I noticed a silver, Victorian-rose bracelet dangling from her narrow wrist. She expertly ignited the paper, tenderly nourishing its growing flame with dry kindling. My mouth still numb, I remembered the snow-covered chimney and reached my hand out awkwardly for a first word. She kept her back to me, and with surprising vitality heaped a log over the steady fire. I decided against the warning and watched in amazement as soot-colored water dripped down the chimney, hissing on the warming bricks, yet missing the flame entirely.
“Haven’t had company in the longest time.” Her voice was sharp, and yet traced with a mild southern accent. She revealed a matte, creased face with keen, sterling eyes that locked politely on mine. My lips thawed and I gratefully kneeled at the fire, painfully feeling life return to my frozen hands.
“You have no idea how thankful I am that you live here.” I said, pitifully. “My car is stuck in a ditch and there is a dreadful amount of snow out there.”
“Oh, it tends to snow around here,” she pointed out obtusely. “Seems to be always snowin’ around here.”
“Well yes,” I returned. “I live here. Only a few miles from here, in fact.”
“Isn’t that just nice,” she pleasantly hung a blackened pot over the fire. “I bet you know the Evingstons.”
“Well, I don’t know that I do.” The heat rushed at my face. “All that I really know about where I live is that there are other people, and they like to be left alone. Now where, and who they are I’m not quite sure,” I laughed.
“Oh, but they are very nice people!” She seemed surprised.
“Well, what I meant was that I’ve never happened across them.” I brushed the soot from my trousers.
“Oh.” The woman opened a dusty cupboard over the sink that was empty, except for a small tin of black tea. “I’m sure there are a few leaves in here for a guest,” she smiled to herself.
I began to examine the one-roomed cabin curiously. There was a great deal of dust in the kitchen, and it was stripped of décor, save for rotted-flowered curtains dangling limply from each frosted window. There was an oil lamp throwing light from a large table in the center, leaving eerie, unlit corners. As the woman bent over the fire, blowing off and dropping dusty tea leaves into the bubbling pot I noticed a dry, barren Christmas tree in a dark corner. On the floor in edge of the light there were shattered red glass ornaments with fallen, bone-dry limbs attached. I shivered.
“Do you…live here?” I asked. She turned to me, surprised.
“Yes, I’ve been here since I was…” Her silver eyes reflected golden firelight. “Fifteen.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I was married here.” Her withered face beamed. “The boys called me “Bunny,” she laughed good- naturedly.
“Psh. I’m sorry,” I apologized. “I’m Carter.”
Her cheeks rounded like apple-halves and she pulled a chair to the fireplace before handing me a chipped bowl of dust-laced tea. I smiled graciously. “May I call you Bunny?”
“If you would like,” she giggled. “Brings back old times.” She locked her ankles girlishly.
I sipped in silence as I reflected in the firelight the oddness of Bunny’s existence. Sooty water was still hissing along the bricks, the fire blazing cheerfully. Her overall plumpness, the withered roses in her cheeks, and the trace-Southern accent that bubbled occasionally with her speech sucked the drabness from the atmosphere. Even so, the cabin frightened me.
I blocked the crumbling tree from my vision like it was a corpse putting a damper on Christmas.
“My entire family died in this house,” she shattered the silence.
“…Really?” I choked. “How many were you?”
“Well, there were my parents, and my brothers,” she smiled sadly. “And there was my husband.”
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.
“One of my brothers left early, though,” her eyes glittered. “He may still be living.”
“Do you know where he would be?”
“Oh, no,” she laughed. “I don’t expect that he’d want me to know, either.”
“I understand,” I said foolishly.
“I expect he’s alive somewheres.” She took my chipped bowl and poured what had cooled into the boiling pot. “Sometimes, I even wonder if he remembers.” She smiled, handing me more hot tea. “And where are you from, Carter?”
“I’m from a little town in Colorado,” I began. “I suppose it isn’t too different from this one.” She bobbed her head, smiling.
“Good memories?” she questioned.
“Oh…yes,” I contortioned a smile. “My childhood.” The silence returned, but the crackling fire seemed to be vomiting memories into the dark cabin. I shut my burning eyes and listened to the shrieks outside my childhood home. I remembered her panic-filled taps and the breathy squeals of fright through the locked door. I felt a tear drift down my cheek, glancing quickly at Bunny who was looking directly at me.
“Frightful memories,” I admitted, touching my forehead. There was something about Bunny, the crackling fire; the dusty cabin and heavy snowdrift that made me want to tell her everything. Her gray eyes remained on mine, pulling the rusted, locked-away secrets from my heart. “There was a…friend of mine,” my words were blood-stained and trembling, like the cardinal on the pine. “I was a teenager actually. Well you see, she was a close friend of mine, and she was killed.” I looked at Bunny, my hand falling on the envelope-pocket. “That is I think she was.”Her eyes were sympathetic. I allowed myself pause as the taps in my mind quickened, and the sobbing behind the door grew heavy. I felt myself in the corner, crying her tears, already mourning for her loss.
“I intend to find out.” I felt the snowfall through the window behind me, and let another tear fall. “It was actually on a day like this, such heavy snow.” The steady fall of glittering flakes rushed hurriedly in my mind, and I felt that longing to get up and open the door, to save her life. I imagined his eyes that I feared, and a heavy axe in his hand, I had convinced myself it was too late to save her.
“Her father was drunk, and a madman, he followed her to my door.” I nearly whispered. “And I am a coward.”
Bunny’s stony expression thawed and she touched her age-worn hand on my shoulder. I gritted my teeth.
“I was a man, and I left. I ran away from that house, and that town, and her memory. I ran away, I don’t even know if she died and I ran away.”
“And you have been running away ever since,” Bunny finished. I looked at her, boyish tears falling from my cheeks.
“I’m always afraid. I LIVE fear!” I cried, staring truthfully into her eyes. “Bunny, do you ever fear?” my voice quaked. “What do you even fear, Bunny, you, all alone in this cabin?”
Her smile had oddly faded into a sickened expression, her moist eyes maintaining a subtle calm.
“Being forgotten,” she whispered. I stared at her, and now I reached for her arm, the darkness lurking in the corners of the cabin, the snow outside falling heavily around us. My eyes lighted.
“But I am facing this; I told you I was going to find out if she is dead.” I touched my hand to my pocket. “Today I mailed the letter that I have been carrying with me for years. I’m sending it to her old home; maybe her family still lives there. Maybe they will get it to her; maybe…if she’s alive they’ll tell me she is.”
Bunny watched me curiously as I patted my bulging pocket assuredly.
“Bunny, if she is alive I can forgive myself.” I looked back into the fire. “And if she isn’t…I will at least be sure.”
“And even then you should forgive yourself,” she said wisely.
Nearly forgetting, I pulled the bundle of letters that I had taken from Bunny’s mailbox and held them out to her.
“I don’t think you’ve checked your box in a very long time,” I laughed. Her fire-lit eyes fell hungrily on the soggy, yellowed envelopes and their smudged addresses, and she smiled a deep, sentimental smile. I pushed them closer, but her hands only twitched in her lap.
“Somebody remembered,” she beamed.
“Well, you can take them,” I laughed, still pushing them closer.
“Oh, no.” She said lightly.
“No?” I looked at her. “Then what should I do with them?”
“Just put them back where you found them, dear.” She laughed.
“Really?” My fingers tightened around the bundle, a drop of water running from the corners. “Are you sure?”
“The mailbox,” she began simply. “I suppose that’s where they belong.”
I looked out the window.
“You’ve been so hospitable, and I’m sorry. I’ve unloaded such memories,” I said, suddenly embarrassed. She smiled that haunting smile.
“What matters most will all eventually, just become a memory. Even when we walk away from it, it never fully leaves us.”
“I will remember you,” I said, slipping the strange letters into my pocket and buttoning my coat.
“And the most terrible things,” her eyes glittered in the firelight. “They stay with us too.”
“It doesn’t seem right,” I looked deeply into her shadow-split face.
“You have to make it right, and be free. Besides, without terrible things, how would we know what is good?”
“Bunny, you are simply profound,” I laughed.
“I’ve had years to think.”
“It’s stopped snowing,” I glanced at the window as she stepped out of the dying firelight. “Hey,” I flushed. “You don’t have a telephone, do you?”
“No, never have,” she laughed through the darkness.
“I should bundle up, and get back to my car before it gets too dark to flag someone down,” I said dreading the cold blasts of air whisking through the threshold.
“I am sorry I can’t help you further,” she said quietly. “And I wish you well with your life.” I could see her half smile through the dying flickers on the rough, cabin walls. I took her thin hand, drinking deeply the fading wrinkles around her sharp gray eyes, the cascades of lace falling to her shoulders, the subtle color growing pale in her cheeks.
“It was enlightening to meet you, Bunny.” Her hand was fragile, and crumpled in mine. “I will come back to see you…I don’t know how you are living out here all alone.”
“I will look forward to your visit,” she whispered.
“Goodbye…” and the door shut behind me.
For weeks I watched winter die and spring wash over frozen ground. The days grew longer as I walked to my mailbox, kicking over old stones with the possibility that it would be tomorrow…maybe that I could begin again. Time kept moving, dripping away the icicles under an intensifying sun. Wildflowers were for graveyards, the birds were only mocking me. I was in limbo, letting my house crumble around me. Something needed to be done, but it was not until the cardinal dared appear again that I remembered my promise to Bunny.
I returned to the cabin, and ivy was now creeping over the windows, the remnants of an unkempt garden no longer hidden by the snow. The persisting foliage gave me a smile, Bunny’s colored cheeks blossoming in my memory. And yet, behind the cheerful door it became cold and frightening, and without her fire-lit eyes. I searched, but there was nothing hidden except for the dusty tin of black tea and the unlit, bone-dry Christmas tree.
Alarmed, and walking the green path to the narrow clearing, my eyes fell on a thickening patch of wildflowers poking through the once snow-covered rocks and the rotting well. Bleached bones, drying letters and the decorated Christmas tree had been crumbling unnoticed in the dark. Bunny had been lost for years, kneeling behind the well, her Victorian rose bracelet hanging loosely on her wrist.
There was little to be revealed about Bunny, for years had eaten the evidence of her quiet life. Yet what was known, and what would become a memory in stone I laid in peace by the little cabin.
I finally answered the persistent knocking on my door. It is now the familiar smile, the sudden flood of tears, and the steady happiness behind your eyes with which I live. I know I am forgiven because you said it, with your own words. So maybe now, we’ll walk together along the grassy path beyond the ghastly well, and to the stony shade of the quiet cabin
In the Memory