Where Charlotte Lay (A Prequel to Book Three of the Lee Harding Series)

Beth Everett

Monday, November 30, 2015

   

Where Charlotte Lay


In the land of lenticular clouds and luminous moss­, where the rain falls like ashes, sat an old Red Cedar. The tree had barely survived the clearing that had made way for the dairy farm in 1892. The farmer was too done in to take it down. For the next hundred years the tree reached up in ribbons and fans. Her skirt draped the grassy carpet beneath it, allowing rusty branches to reach back into the soil and give birth to more fragrant life.
       As the world changed from cart to car, the cows disappeared from the clearing. The farmer’s grandson traded tractor for briefcase. With the help of the crow and sparrow the land began to take back what was once its own. The tiny farmhouse lost its legs and crumpled into the ground like a tired beast. Eventually, the backside of the Cedar’s petticoat touched the damp sunless part of the woods it was once part of, creating a secret unzipped place where the inside of the tree could be accessed.  

       Charlotte thought the tree was magic, because when she’d hid from her father on that first night, it was with the tree’s full blessing. She’d wrapped herself in her hooded parka and snuggled in the warmth of the softened ground next to the trunk, where years of falling sprays and leaves created a welcoming nest. She’d heard his shouts that night, calling out with anger, and then later in feigned concern. The bruise on her face pulsated and she thought she’d heard the tree warn her to be still.

       She began to visit often: sometimes as the household rage boiled over, other times because she longed for the scent that was left upon her clothes, or to catch the golden glimmer of it’s sap when the tiniest bit of sunlight made it down through the canopy. She would sit in the rain and read her favorite book without even a drop of water touching the pages. 

The underside of the Cedar had many loving arms that bent gently to the ground and provided her with seats on which to contemplate and steps that she’d once climbed when feeling brave. Mostly though, she preferred the protections of the spongy ground, with the furry softness of pillowed bark as a backrest.

       Once she brought a boy to her most sacred spot, blindfolding him before she led him through the undergrowth, through the secret opening that held her shape. She thought she’d loved him when they pressed against each other in forbidden heat under the safety of the tree’s folds. But he’d laughed when she showed him the shimmering sap, and had tried to unbutton her jeans with force and so she let him go.

       In the black wet time when Charlotte’s mother died, she had spent three days curled up under the branches of evergreen. She’d felt tiny cones fall into her hair and covered herself in braided leaves and nestled into the enormous trunk and cried unremarkable tears.

Sheltered from the wind and rain, the young woman dreamed of limbs that could hold her tenderly and pull her into the earth. She felt a vibrating life force when she lifted her hand to a low branch and held tight as if to weld to it. She would be of the tree, sinking slowly each day until soon she was no longer able to stand.

       But she was not of the tree, and when she finally crawled out of the darkness to drink the water that beaded on to the flat sprays of leaves, Charlotte was still alone in the woods, without roots or the ability to soar high enough to touch the clouds – as insignificant as she’d been on that first perfect night, when she thought she’d found home. It was this nothingness that she took with her, back to the house of loneliness and fury.

       She returned through the back screen door, which gave her away with a squeal then slammed behind her.  Her father was frying an egg in a cast iron pan on the stove that was normally connected to her mother. He looked up, but didn’t ask where she’d been. She patted her hair, as if to let him know that she was aware of the mess. He let her pass without speaking.