What Lies Beneath

By Danielle McDonald (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

She lifted the steaming porcelain cup to her pruned lips and sighed a sigh that spoke volumes of her past. Her granddaughter observed her, searching behind the façade of a primitive woman. As she watched, her mind wandered to thoughts of her grandmother’s past. She helped her from the white iron chair and through the French doors, past cracking pots of flowers. Before long, the secrets would be sealed forever. As her grandmother settled her round body into the plush chair, she seized the opportunity. She shouldn’t have, but she did. She looked into gray eyes that held more behind them than imaginable. Crouched next to her, she squeezed the woman’s crumbling hand. As the story began to unfold, she wove an intricate web of a forgotten life that to a young girl was magical and far, far away.

I remember the wooden door well. It was surprisingly sturdy with its intriguing, curved oak structure. The iron fastened to it was dark and intense. It was hidden beneath a mess of bushes, but although it could not be found with out searching, does not make it weak. The door, perhaps the most vivid of my memories, was a strong barricade into that world. Ah, my darling, to see the door again.

I was a silly girl, thinking he actually loved me. I am sure he thought as much, otherwise he would not have asked me to go with him. Father owned a book binding company and Jack’s parents worked in the factory, so naturally, he did not approve. I understood that going with him meant that I was giving up everything, but he was my everything.

The door creaked and the sun shone through the willow trees. The door opened to a wooden bridge. It was also oak; however, its rails were made from petrified wood that was tangled into itself like antlers. It was not until we crossed it, dear, that I noticed the house it loomed over. As our feet pressed into the soft ground and I pointed, a woman appeared from it, peered at us with warning eyes that caused my stomach to lurch, smiled sweetly and retreated to her humble home. Jack must have seen the worrisome look in my eyes, because he grabbed my hand and pulled me after him into a field of unknowns. 

We reached the edge of the field and inquisitively looked at a round door in the side of a hill. It was like the oak door I spoke about earlier, except smaller and purple. Jack let go of me and knocked on the door and a dirty family came out of it. We sat on tree stump chairs, with the seats carved into the logs and backs that were rotting away from the morning dew. I suppose the man who spoke was the father and the rest remained eerily silent. I was being foolish and not listening, but gaping at what I saw. Around those chairs stood a hollow hay fence, with what seemed to me a rabbit path in the middle. Oh, my childish thoughts. The trees were personified with clay faces on them and it frightened me that I had not noticed that before. I moved my stump slightly across the moist ground to be closer to Jack, who was swallowed up in his conversation. Our hosts watched me with the same empty but warning eyes as the first woman, framed by filthy faces.

Jack jolted from his stump and hastily followed the man across the field. I stumbled to catch up with him. I put my arm in his and as I glanced back I saw a last look at the people who were hauntingly staring at the place where I once sat. Once we were on the north side of the field, Jack and I were instructed to wait outside of a breathtaking castle. Its threatening wooden stairs and sheet metal walls were comforting but in the similar way it is comforting to know that the dead are held back by the very ground you step foot on. I spun around like a child in a toy store, taking our new life in. I saw in a clearing up ahead that there was a flattened bridge and a small, mossy hut in the center. Jack followed my eyes and his lips made my ears hot when he whispered to me that it was ours. I smiled and turned into him and his arms were the belt around my waist. Our guide clattered down the wooden stairs and Jack pulled away offensively quick, a soldier at attention.

With two slender fingers, the man summoned us to trail after him. After a few moments of walking, I attempted to continue that previous moment with Jack, longing for his reassuring touch. We trekked across a suspension bridge, hung between two trees and I looked deeply into his eyes to communicate to him what I needed. What I saw, although familiar, was only recognizable to me because of the previous looks from that day. I saw Jack underneath, but he was being eaten by the warning eyes of the others.

Now that spooked me, precious. I reached my hand out to touch him, to see if he was real, but when I touched him, my hand was cold against his skin that had once blushed at our contact. With tear brimmed eyes, I squinted at his face again. His eyes looked back at me, empty. Memories of our life together flooded my head and made me dizzy. My thoughts and fears consumed me at that very moment. I no longer knew this man. I pressed my lips against his in one final attempt, to no avail. It was as if I had kissed a stone, there was no recognition in his body. I pulled away and sobbed against his face. I did not know what I should do, my dear, but make that decision. My hands flew back from his body and I ran. I ran as hard, as fast and as quietly as I could from that world, never to return again.

Today, I can not bear to think of it. My daughter is the only fruit I have from that man. I wish that I had not made a decision to run away from him as I did, but other times, I know that it was the only way to save me from being with a person who put me so far behind other things that when it came my time, he had forgotten what I was to him. Darling, I went back a few years later to part the bushes in front of that door, but when I went to find it, I could not. I only could see that door because your grandfather made me believe it was there and since the day he did not believe in me, I have not been able to believe in myself.

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