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Rated: 18+ · Prose · Contest Entry · #2216650
Written for the Character Contest. This may become part of a mystery romance
I drove through town to see what had changed since I had last ventured home. Not much.

At the light, I noticed an old man standing at the corner. He was working on lighting his pipe. He was familiar, like a fixture of this town. Mr. Proctor. Every Friday he would amble down to this corner and talk to everyone who passed along. He’d been doing it for years.

While his wife shopped and did their laundry, he chatted to everyone he met. It was like he was getting his social fix. One to last him the full week. Then he and his wife would return home to their farm. A farm that was only a few miles from my own family’s place.

A smile tipped the corner of my mouth as I remembered Mr. Proctor’s granddaughter, Emma Harper. Now there was a memory I could hold onto. Emma had been a grade behind me. Smart and funny, though few people knew that, because she was so shy. I knew, because Emma often came with her grandmother to visit my mother.

I could still remember the first time I’d met her. She hadn’t started school yet. She’d hidden behind her grandmother’s skirt, peeking out at them. Wide eyes watched my brothers lunge for Mrs. Proctor’s basket. But when my mother had called a halt to that; my brothers had slunk back and Emma had looked over at me. I smiled.

She didn’t. She watched me when I moved closer and took the basket when my mother had asked me to. I’d been polite and Emma seemed to relax and move out from behind her grandmother.

Emma took a seat beside me at the table and looked warily over at my brothers. She seemed relieved when my mother had sent them outside. They’d gone, grumbling all the way. I knew I’d pay for ‘kissing up’ later.

With them gone, Emma had relaxed and smiled for the first time. An angelic smile. I had been smitten.

I wondered if she had been back to visit since moving away. She’d left the summer before grade seven after her mother got transferred somewhere. I still remembered the last time she’d come to visit. We had hiked down to the creek and talked. We could always talk. With other people I kept to myself, but around Emma... I was drawn in like a moth to a flame.

She’d asked to see my sketchbook, the one I always carried in my back pocket. She had this awestruck look on her face. I wanted to look away, embarrassed, but I could not take my eyes off her. When she got to the sketch I had done of her, she smiled and looked over at me. I almost forgot to breath.

I usually acted tough to keep my brothers from beating the tar out of me, but on that last day, while looking at me so intently, she had said something that made me want to be better, do better. She’d said “I like you just the way you are, Greyson Dante.”

There was a sureness in that statement and I believed her and from those words I was able to believe in myself.

Just thinking about her brought an ache deep within. No one, except my mother, had been so earnest and forthright with me. I wondered what she would think of me now. Artist extraordinaire.... or so I had been told.

By the time I pulled off the highway and slowed down for the gravel road full of ruts, I was trying to wrap my head around being here. The trees thickened and enclosed the road like soldiers at the ready. Behind me a plume of dust swirled obliterating where I had come from.

The further in I drove, the more confining it felt. Can you experience claustrophobia out in the bush? I reminded myself to relax and let my knuckles ease. I pulled in deep breaths, slowing down further as I rolled down my window.

Above the sound of crushing gravel, I could hear birdsong. I pulled to the side of the road and cut the engine. Letting the dust settle and my nerves gain some footing.

“I am somebody,” I reminded myself. “This place does not define me.”

I let that mantra sink in and when I felt a little steadier, I started up my truck and continued the next two miles until I came to the spot where the trees gave way to a muddy lane up into the tree covered hills. I stopped again, this time letting the truck idle as I pulled in the clean air and let my nerves settle again. The mantra rang through me as I eased forward into the lane.

The ruts were worse here. I let my truck follow the bumps and hollows, easing up the lane like a wounded animal. When I got to the clearing where the house stood carved into the bush around it, I cut the engine and sat in the silence a moment.

The sound of dogs barking brought me back to the here and now. I climbed out of my truck and stood firm awaiting the horde. They were a mongrel bunch. Four of them. The largest was a Doberman.

At the back of the pack was an old hound dog. She was the only one not snarling. I watched as she sat and let out a mournful howl. I’d know that howl anywhere.

“Sadey May,” I called out praying I was right. She let out another mournful howl then ambled toward me. The other dogs slowed and let her pass. They stopped their snarling.

By the time the hound dog made it to me, she was quivering with excitement. She was my old dog and remembered me after all this time. I bent down and gave her a firm rub down. The other dogs circled around sniffing at me.

As I stood there surrounded by the horde, I heard the screen door squeak open. When I looked up, my mother was standing there beaming over at me.

“I see you’ve met the beasts.... and calmed them like I knew you would. The dog whispered has returned.”

“Hey, Mama,” I said grinning over at her. No one had called me a dog whisper in a long while.

“Come give your old mother a hug,” she ordered as she held out her arms.

I obliged. It felt good to be wrapped up in her arms again.

“I’m so glad to see you. I can’t believe my baby came home.”

“Your baby is 30 years old.”

“To me, you’ll always be my baby,” she said as she patted my cheek.

“Are the guys around?” I asked wanting to get my bearings.

“Nah. They got a place on the other side of the mountain.”

“They been over since... Dad...” I let my thoughts trail away not wanting to upset her.

Her gaze fell and she shook her head, “nothing around here they’d want. Took most of the stuff they wanted when your father was laid up.”

Shit, I swore. “They couldn’t even wait...” I began, then let it go seeing as how it seemed to upset my Ma.

“So how have you been?” I asked hoping to change the subject and get her talking. It helped. Her smile returned and she told me all about how some of the neighbours had been helping out. As she fixed tea and gathered some bits of food to make a lunch, she told me about the meals the Proctor’s had brought over. She also told me about how she was managing to sell some of her homemade jams and picklings. A lady friend of the Proctor’s was willing to put some of her fixings in her shop in town.

“Thanks great!”

“It’s nice to think my things just might make someone else a little, oh I don’t know...” she trailed off. Her smile bright. It was good to see her like this. Not shoved under the cloud of my father’s harshness, but lighter, and happier.

When I told her this, she blushed and laughed. I don’t think I had heard her laugh in a very long time. I had worried she’d be crushed after my father’s death, but apparently, losing him meant re-finding herself.

Over the next few days, I settled in. I took over the extra bedroom in the back and cleared out all the junk that had gathered there over the years. This had been the room I had shared with my brothers. It was not a big room, but not having to share it made it feel a little less constrained.

My mother said nothing when I cleared out the other beds and took the junk to the dump. In fact, she added a few things of her own to the load. She was shedding off an old life and trying to make the most of this new one.

When the room was set up, I moved on to my father’s work shed. It was set back from the house, back into the trees following an even ruttier lane than the one from the road.

Standing out in front of the place, the memories billowed. I could almost hear the old man bellowing, telling me what a worthless little bastard I was. I blew out a breath and scrubbed a hand down over my face. Feeling a nudge on my leg, I looked down to see Sadey May looking up at me.

“Hey, girl,” I said reaching down to rub behind her ears. She let out a low moan. “Love to set a match to this... but it would damage the trees.” I looked out at the bush around us. It really was beautiful out here. After a deep sigh, I whispered, “I could level it.”

“You could.”

I whirled around to see my mother making her way over to me. I searched her face for any sign of pain, but I saw none.

She gave a small smile, one tinged with sadness. “I know he treated you badly...”

“He treated us all badly, mama.”

She nodded and let out a sigh of her own. “You being here is a balm, Greyson.” She reached for my hand and I took it. “You have always been that for me.”

“So why not come away...”

She shook her head as she said, “this is my place.”

“But you deserve so much more...” I began, but trailed off when she gave me a wistful smile.

“This land is in my veins. I cannot leave. Life has not always been easy, but staying has been my choice.”

“But,” I stopped when she held up a hand to silence me.

“You got out. You got an education. You’ve made something of yourself. You needed to do that... for both of us.”

“But I’m back now.”

“You are, but you’re your own man now, not a boy that can be crushed.”

We were quiet for several moments. Each of us listening to the ruckus of bird calls and watching the breeze ruffle the new foliage. Spring clung to the air sending up a freshness, a newness to the world around us.

Mama squeezed my hand and then looked back at me, “You belong here too, but you must carve out your own place.” I looked down at her unsure and she smiled, “you’ll find your way and if leveling the place will help, then do it.”

“You sure?”

She nodded and smiled. It was a brighter smile, more brilliant.

Within the week I had the shed demolished and with some neighbourly help, I began to build a workshop of my own. One I felt inspired to work in and one my mother was only too happy to come out to and spend some time creating her own work. I just needed to convince her she could do it too.

Words = 1990.

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