part two | (read part one)
The morning mist hangs heavy against the window. It makes the sun look hazy in a dreamy sort of way. I watch it paint watercolors across the hardwood floor. Below that floor I hear soft, shuffling footsteps. I hear the clink of a teaspoon in a coffee cup.
It is summer now. The schools have closed their doors.
I know this because the weather has warmed, and because I saw all the kids spill into the streets in droves. They zipped by on bicycles and skateboards and scooters, all of them hollering and high-fiving one another. I wondered what it might be like to be down there with them. To be a part of their crowd. To run out of the large, red double doors of the school and celebrate two whole months of freedom.
Mother does not believe in school.
“They’ll teach you bad morals,” she says.
“How can morals be bad?” I ask, but she never answers. She tells me, instead, to recite the poems I was to memorize last night. To do the algebra equations she has written on the rickety easel chalkboard in the living room. To go upstairs and to read.
Mother has stocked shelves upon shelves of books that I’m allowed to read. She reads them all first, to make sure they are acceptable, and then lets me have them. I keep my favorites lined in neat little rows on the high shelves in my bedroom. Mother tells me that I should not read the same books over and over again, but I do it anyway. Why have a favorite book if you cannot visit it from time to time? If you do not peek your head back into its world, you may forget its wonder. That’s why I read fairy tales again and again. Adventures. I dip my toes back into worlds were the princess escape their towers and slay their dragons and marry princes who love them. I read them and I imagine myself in them.
I am to read ten pages before breakfast. I do this as I listen to Mother in the kitchen. There is a sizzle on the stove. The tap, tap, tap of an eggshell cracked against a ceramic bowl.
I read two lines before I notice a shadow down there on the street.
I leave my book face-down on the bed, brave heroine paused mid-heroic, and lean over the sill. The morning mist is settling now into a soft dew across the grass. There is a boy on the sidewalk. He looks determined. He is on a quest.
He is heading toward the woods.
Woods, I know, are dangerous.
“You are never to go in them,” Mother says, and all the books I’ve read have backed her up. But the boy is going to the woods, and he is going there alone. This is dangerous. I know this, too, because in all the books lonely adventures end only in tragedy. I look down the road but the boy has no friends behind him. I strain to see ahead but there is not one in front of him.
Downstairs, I hear a needle drop into the tiny groove of one of Mother’s records. I hear her humming. I am to go downstairs when the record stops. This is our routine. Mother likes routines. She likes schedules that are strict and girls who obey them.
I listen to her humming and I watch the boy walking down the street. I watch him approach the tall trees. I watch him hesitate at the mouth of the woods and, overcome, I yank the window open.
“Hey!” I shout. Then I bite my tongue.
I wait, but it seems that Mother has not heard me. The boy has not heard me, either. He steps into the woods. Anxious, and a bit thoughtless, I climb onto the roof. “Hey!” I shout again, but the boy does not hear me. I scale the roof like the hero of an action-packed adventure novel. I dangle from the gutter and I count to three. I let go.
The ground knocks all the breath from my lungs.
I lay there, stunned, for one second and then two and by the third I suck in air like it is my first time breathing, like I am a newborn shocked by the cold of the world. I bolt upright.
I see Mother’s shadow in the kitchen window. She is scrambling eggs. She sips her coffee. She looks at the window and then down at the stove and then, to my horror, back at the window.
She screams my name, “Rose!”, but it is muffled by the thick glass.
I scramble to my feet. My ankle hurts but I run away, lopsided and lame. I run down the road where the boy had gone. I cannot see the boy anymore, but I run as though I can. I run as though he is the moth-flame I am drawn to. The wind blows back my hair and my lungs burn like two small fires in my chest.
I run past the trees.
I run into the dark.