Jack Gant lumbered back and forth, head tilted down as if he were examining the wood boards of his cottage’s living room. Tall and broad shouldered, he carried some extra girth on his forty-ish frame. His brows met at the brink of a deep furrow which was immutable; caused by a penchant for scowling, reinforced with his preoccupation somewhere deep within himself.
Gant was an impatient man who mentally sorted each day’s chores, as if entering them in a file folder. Inordinately disciplined; any waste of motion annoyed him, and he rarely veered from his customary course.
He awoke this morning to the seventh day of a constant deluge of rain. Walking to his bedroom window, he stared at a dark gray weeping wall, with beads of drops clicking against the glass pane.
The forecaster’s prediction was for continued rain. Gant’s housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, who cleaned and cooked for him, called, “I’m sorry but there is no way I can get out until this horrible flooding ends. I can’t remember this long a spell of disruptive weather.”
“Of course,” he replied in a tight voice. Mrs. Doyle had never been away for an indeterminate time since… He hung up muttering, “I won’t think about it.”
The drumming rain disrupted the man’s routine. Customarily, he passed the mornings working in his garden, and taking short walks. The afternoons were spent cocooned in his favorite chair reading, and listening to a disc from his eclectic range of music. His housekeeper went about her work brusquely, needing few instructions, and left him a hearty dinner. She was the only one he could abide frequenting his home. A shot of scotch completed his meal and he retired early.
For the first time he faced a complete disconnect from his outside environment. No outdoor pursuits, or sounds of Mrs. Doyle bustling around in the house as a shield to suppress the sickening flashbacks that were surfacing.
Gant and his housekeeper no longer spoke of it, but his gratitude for the woman would last forever. Five years earlier, his wife was killed by a drunk driver. A double tragedy. Their son, Joey, had developed leukemia at two. His beloved, courageous wife did everything possible to make every day precious.
After Pamela’s death, Mrs. Doyle amazed him. That crisp, no-nonsense woman was there for Joey’s growing needs, and there two years later when the last trace of life flowed away from the boy. After that, she remained to tend Gant’s home and observed his withdrawal with sadness.
When Joey died, the man who had brimmed with life — withered. His bitterness drew him inward. A festering wound, only placated by a forced forgetfulness, and the one person he relied on for human contact, Mrs. Doyle, enabled him to survive.
Today, Gant entered his living room, lined on two sides with book shelves, selecting a favorite book of poetry. Usually content to be alone, now the isolation was unbearable. Slumped into his worn leather chair, Grant was engrossed in a poem, when the rain stopped. He became aware of the silence. He was freed, and rushing to the door, breathed in the clear air.
Gant felt a compelling need to walk in the woods. Unfamiliar with the trails, he took a ball of string and a pocket knife with him and chose one artery from the abundant ones, slipping loops of string on the branches to guide his return.
The hibernating sun was dominating the sky, its mid-summer heat drying the curdles of mud that had collected. Bushes bowed from the deluge, glistening with translucent liquid bubbles. The trees in August blazed with a riot of orange and plum; the sun’s rays heightened the colors. He shielded his eyes from the amplified glow. Cascading like a waterfall, the longer branches formed tiers over lower ones.
He trudged ahead, conscious of the pungent earth smell mingling with bushes and flowers. The intoxicating blend made his breath come short and shallow.
Deep in the woods, an abrupt turn on the path led to a thick remnant of a tree, large in diameter and perhaps four feet high. It sagged precariously to one side. Apparently, one of nature’s malevolent caprices had torn away the greater part of it. The remaining stump was large and twisted. The top reminded him of ragged, spear shaped sharks teeth . It had fought fiercely to hold on to its larger member before it was ripped away, causing its death.
But was it dead? Gant noted what appeared to be a tousled head of sprightly green that drew him closer to the shamble of the trunk. The interior had been gnawed away by forest creatures profiting from the trees demise, but to his astonishment, a sapling was growing in the center of the hollow. Strongly rooted, with a thick sturdy trunk, it stood tall and fearless. Its leaves were turned to the sun, demanding their rightful nourishment. The tree was shattered, but life had cheated death.
A spark of joy radiated through the man before he could summon his defenses to block his feelings. For years Gant had suppressed his grief. Each year another layer of forgetfulness diminished his intolerable pain. He had chosen to abandon precious memories with the bitter ones; to live a “non-feeling” existence.
Now, unexpectedly, this simple renewal of life touched him and was threatening to dredge up everything, disrupting his peace. He raged against it, but his glowing blue eyes were fixed on the sapling — so strong, so beautiful.
Dissonant thoughts were clashing, parrying for dominion over his mind. He was aware that sweet memories and tragic ones were inexorably entwined. The incident left Gant’s nerves raw, exposed.
“I must go home and think,” he shouted into the apathetic woods.
Turning abruptly, he walked away, following the markers that provided safe passage home, but long before reaching his destination, Gant knew he would return to the courageous new growth that opted for life.
He would return again and again.
Robin Haver Savitt says: “For much of my adult life, I lived in Brooklyn, NY, and worked in an ad agency creating in-house ideas for products, always writing prose and poetry for my own pleasure. In the last few years I have attended creative writing groups and gained enormously from my exposure to their talent. Now they have encouraged me to send my work out for publishing.”
This story is sponsored by
Hydra House — Publisher of Pacific Northwest science fiction and fantasy, including K.C. Ball’s collection of scifi shorts “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities” and Danika Dinsmore’s middle-grade fantasy “The Ruins of Noe,” sequel to “Brigitta of the White Forest.”