Patricia Hunt
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Going Home

It had been thirty-two years since Reanna had made a cake. But it was her fortieth birthday and she wanted to do something special for herself. She pushed the hair away from her eyes with the back of her icing-covered fingers, and paused to admire her creation. A bit of a slant on one side, but all in all, not bad.

After wiping her hands, Reanna opened the old fridge, its white surface hidden with photos of long-ago happiness. She pulled out a pitcher, refreshed the ice, and placed it on a tray with two tumblers. The screen door creaked to life as she backed her way onto the porch.

"Want some iced tea, Paul?"

"Hmm."

Taking that as a yes, Reanna poured two drinks, put one in front of Paul, then sat in the weathered wicker chair across from him. She sipped slowly, the clinking ice cubes filling the silence, and read the headlines on the newspaper hiding Paul's face.

"I made a cake," she said. "We can treat ourselves after dinner."

"Sure," the paper replied.

Reanna sighed and moved her gaze to the woods surrounding the home of her childhood. She loved it here. Quite a commute to the city, but well worth the seclusion and peace. Her mother had died, leaving her the house, and Reanna and Paul had dreamed of raising a family here. But after many failed attempts, they discovered her womb had gone cold, and then so had her marriage. She'd given up on the adoption argument long ago. The silence was easier.

"I think I'll go for a walk," she said, placing her empty glass on the table beside Paul's untouched tea. "Want to come?"

"Not really."

"All right then. I'll be back in time to make dinner."

The paper snapped itself straight, and Reanna walked down the porch steps.

***

"Paul!"

She knew he couldn't hear her, hadn't changed his mind about the walk, but it didn't stop her from calling. Just as she knew she shouldn't have attempted the sharp, wet rocks around the lake in her sneakers.

"Damn." It was painful to scream. Painful to breathe. A rock bit into the tender hollow beneath her shoulder blade, and when she tried to shift her body, it screamed an agonizing objection.

Reanna gazed up at the sky, the leaves swaying to a wind-song above her, sunlight streaming through the cracks. The hair at the back of her head felt warm, wet. She lowered her eyes and saw the bottom tread of her sneaker facing her. That didn't look right.

"Paul, please! Help me!"

Something buzzed in her ear and she blew her breath sideways in an attempt to shoo it away. Mosquitoes feasted on the bare skin of her legs and arms. She moved her gaze to the left and saw a raspberry bush, a bee humming around it, plump red berries speckled against the green, and she closed her eyes.

***

"Time to go, pumpkin."

Reanna's face dropped into a frown. "But Mommy said if I filled my bucket, I could help her make jam."

Her father smiled. "Five years old and making jam? My, aren't you the big girl." He poured freshly picked raspberries from his own bucket into hers. "Now let's go. It's getting late."

Reanna's excitement from her new bounty quickly vanished. Her tummy grumbled from eating too many berries, plenty more than had made it to her pail, and her feet were tired. It was a long way to the house.

"Carry me home, Daddy? Please!"

He placed her bucket on the ground, swooped Reanna up into his arms, and twirled her around. She pulled her head back and let her long curls sway out in the wind, giggling, forcing the berries to stay in her stomach, and watched the tops of the trees and clouds revolve.

***

The world was spinning.

"Paul," she squeaked. Her throat had screamed itself raw, but at least she couldn't feel the bugs any longer. Can't feel much of anything anymore, can you, Reanna? The sun had gone from her line of vision and shadows danced across the leaves in the trees above her. It would be dark soon.

"Shit, Paul," she whispered. Haven't you even wondered where the hell I am?

***

"And there's the Big Dipper," Daddy said, pointing to the night sky. "Do you see it?"

"Uh-huh." Reanna couldn't really see it, but she didn't want to say so. She was just happy to be curled up in the thick sleeping bag, listening to the comfort in her father's voice. Camping in the backyard with him was one of her all-time favorite things to do.

She snuggled deeper into the sleeping bag and gazed up at the stars. There were so many, and so bright--like people in the big city. "Is that heaven, Daddy?"

"You know, pumpkin," he said, pulling her closer, "I think in many ways, it is."

***

The stars blinked at Reanna. Lots of stars. Means it's going to be a nice day tomorrow.

She heard a rustle beside her and tried to turn her head, but she couldn't. "Paul?" Her voice left her throat as quiet as a breath. The stench of her own urine reached her nostrils.

Another rustle. Low to the ground. Nothing heavy. Not Paul.

"Go away..." Please go away.

For a long time afterward she heard only silence, drifting in and out, leaving her hazy mind to concentrate on how cold she felt. Freezing.

Reanna opened and closed her lips a few times to separate the paste that glued them together. She didn't hear any more rustling--all she heard now was her shallow breath, the buzz of mosquitoes and crickets, the wind in the leaves, and the rumbling complaints of her stomach.

***

"Want to lick the spoon?"

Reanna bobbed her head up and down in an excited nod as she watched her mother poke eight white candles into the cake. Taking the spoon, Reanna coated her tongue with thick, pink icing. Richly sweet and grainy.

"Run, tell Daddy it's almost time for cake and presents."

Reanna took one last lick, then raced outside, the screen door slamming behind her. She ran to the side porch, jumping over the rails, her dress swooped out like an umbrella before her feet landed safely on the ground with a thump. Her daddy was splitting logs by the old shed near the woods, and she alternated skipping and running, moving as quickly as she could through the tall grass toward it.

"Daddy! Mommy says to come to the house now. It's time, it's time!"

She raced around to the back of the wood shed and froze. Her father lay on the ground, his eyes open to the sky.

***

The slender crescent moon was lost to a sea of stars. Some close and bright, some far away and faint; the small ones living in clusters, like fine flour dusting the black. Reanna focused on the star directly above her. Even through the haze of her vision, it shone brighter than any other.

Her lips cracked as they parted. A single breath, soft and slow and shallow, escaped between them. She centered on the star, watched it fall toward her like a glowing sphere in a tunnel of darkness.

Carry me home, Daddy.

***

Far away, near a calm lake, the moon reflecting on the dark water's surface before it lapped up to the rocky shore, a woman lay cold and still. The woods were sleeping--secluded and peaceful. Everything looked just as it always had, and only the stars watching over her would ever have noticed the change.

 

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