Running, running, running…
The night is pitch, a blanket of darkness that engulfs the landscape and blinds those who dare to tread. Don’t go out after dark they say for even that which is known becomes strange. They want to scare us, to keep us away, but away from what? The darkness cannot hurt you anymore then the day.
People still die in the sunlight, are lost in the morning, and tortured throughout the afternoon. Anyway I know where I am going, for it calls to me. Where others would adhere to feelings I succumb to the cry of need that it awoke that day not too long ago…
The tiny woman shouts, with hands flapping beside her head like two overzealous hummingbirds as she rushes to where the wedding party has been smashed into the perfectly posed memory by Suzie Smalls, wedding planner, who now rushes to correct a pinky moved just out of place. I hate weddings, I always have, so don’t ask me why I’ve even shown up.
With a flash we are released from our unnatural positions.
This is asked with sardonic tone. Nick knows well enough that I am hating every minute of this parade, but I promised my mother even though she would never live to see my special day…it was the least that I could do.
I turn to Nick, a full body eyeroll, but with a smile. We have known each other since we were children catching fireflies. He knows me inside out…
Will he understand?
“Are we there yet?”
I ask as though this were some road trip that I was eager to get to the destination of.
He answered as he rubbed my crossed arms reassuringly. I looked at him thinking how he was far too good looking to be so kind. He was tall with broad shoulders, sandy hair, and Grecian profile. He could have been sculpted, could have been a Gladiator whereas I was never anything special. I was not plain, but I was never anything outstanding. I had long straight black hair that I kept down but tucked behind ears, I was fairly pale with large eyes but a rather blank stare and a mouth that couldn’t help its naturally melancholy downturn. I guess it was the luck of geography that won Nick to me. That and perhaps our storyteller hearts, yet still there is difference, where his lent itself to fairytale and whimsy mine sank its claws into the psychology of myth and the credibility of its lore.
Too curious and too much a thinker, I was always taking things that one step further, and perhaps too far. I question everything, every angle, and fact. I want to know that there is a reason behind every motive and a logical answer to every question. I do not like this notion that we can just say that something is because we say it is so. I suppose it could be a lot to take, but here Nick was taking me…till death…
It was the least that I could do.
“At least the venue is intriguing.”
Nick said, attempting to make me feel more at home in such an unnatural thing as my own wedding party. We were in a large, yet somewhat secluded park set before a densely wooded forest where only one long road disturbed its scenery, running straight into the forest with only one lone stop sign placed just before its entry into woodlands. I wondered at its awkward placement and Nick must have seen my doubt, for he seemed to answer my thoughts before they could form themselves into question,
“It’s more of a warning then a road sign.”
I turned to him with skepticism on brow, but he only looked amused.
“I told you the venue was intriguing, Amelia. It’s steeped in local folklore.”
“In local ghost stories, you mean?”
“Science fiction is just a prelude to science fact.”
This was always how Nick liked to approach things, with an open mind soaking up every version of truth that he could get his hands on. I much preferred my mind to be opened by fact and liked to come into things somewhat skeptical and with a more cynical edge.
“And what is it a car should fear from driving through?”
I asked with a sigh, turning to really examine this part of the wood. It seemed as any other to me, thick with trees tall and thin, compressed in their proximity to each other, so intertwined that alive or dead they were keeping each other up. In their close-knit bondage it was hard to make out what lie beyond, and, in fact, what lie within. It was about two in the afternoon, the sun still out, yet inside their perimeter all seemed obscured by the darkness their concretion created.
It sparked mystery into the heart of the observer, and yes, in me. What was it that lay within the walls of its bounty? What was it that seemed to be kept so secret and shrouded?
“The want of it, I suppose.”
Nick said in response to my taunting.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, it makes you pause and have to rethink where you are.”
He was doing what he usually did and unifying the perspective of the whole. His way was to hear the stories for the thread of truth; mine was to see it for the cracks. Different means but the same end goal, together we seemed to find balance.
“How existential of it.”
I said with sardonic lace, yet I did not turn away, instead my focused honed in on the red octagon of warning sign and road -which seemed unnatural splitting one side of forest from the other with no real effect to its density, as though it had drawn itself like a curtain to allow the road to be paved through – but how this sign transfixed me now as my eyes followed the curve of broken infinity that began its commanding statement.
STOP! It seemed to shout in demanding tone as it stood as sentry to this grand woodland. I felt somewhat affronted by its authority — how had it been granted custodianship of such a kingdom? What made it the abettor of who’s allowed in or out, of whose reasoning is sound enough to grant it entry? It was like a bouncer, capable of deeming who is cool enough and popular enough and pretty enough.
I don’t know that I ever was. Nick was. My mother was. I wonder, was she disappointed to have such a vapid daughter? It’s not that I was a disappointment, I was just never extraordinary. Nothing about me seemed to stand out. Even though I was persistent in my questioning I was never so to the point of rudeness or impertinence. I would simply seek the answers to my questions, collect my data, and reflect. It’s not that I was quite, or shy, or introverted even, I was simply there. I wonder what that must have been like for a woman — my mother — who was the center of whatever orbit she fell in to. She was a star on earth; she was vivacious and achieving making people feel as though she were just as special as she. Not me though, but not for lack of trying, just for lack of me. You see I never wanted to be anything more then what I was. What I am.
The sudden sound of my name and touch of Nick’s hand on my shoulder shocked me from this reprieve, only to shock me more when I came to the realization that I had been moved — no, moving — towards the very stop sign on which my focus had been transfixed. I turned to Nick now, the cord of connection severed, only to find him somewhat out of breath as though he had come running after me, but how could that be?
“What are you doing?”
I blinked up at him unsure of how to answer with anything but the truth,
“I was thinking about my mother.”
I can’t decide if Nick’s expression read of relief or heartbreak, but he scooped me up so thoroughly into his arms that everything else that was pulling at my mind seemed to calm. You see Nick is the only one that saw my mother’s complete deterioration, who was there when I was called back from college to be with her. In the end it was more as nurse then as daughter, more as a thing then as myself, but I never questioned the sacrifice. He understood the toll it had taken, though I don’t know that I ever could. I did what needed to be done until it was; until she was gone and I could give her no more. Yet here we stand now in the field of our wedding venue, three days until the big day and I’m still giving, yet I’ve never questioned the promise.
She had whispered to me as she lay in the soiled and matted sheets of what would be her death bed, I had changed them just that morning but it was never enough. I bent down beside her — pausing in the chores that kept me busy between her lapses of consciousness — and took her hand in my own holding my breath, anticipating each time to be the last.
“I just wanted to one day see you take center stage,”
She said as she weakly reached up to pull the hair out from behind my ear.
“Wanted to see you on your wedding day, when every woman gets to be a star.”
“But I’m not a star, mama, I’m just me. Only as dust will I be my closest to a star, not before.”
I said hoping to amuse and change her train of thought, but she persisted,
“Promise me that chance,”
I tried to brush my hair back but she took hold of my wrist with such extreme determination and strength that I was frozen in my tracks.
“Promise me that even if I’m not here with you I’ll get at least that one chance.”
I wasn’t sure what to do and was concerned for her blood pressure.
I uttered hoping to appease.
“On your wedding day.”
She said in serious tone half pulling herself up — she hadn’t lifted her own head in weeks! She was agitated and I feared the fevered reasoning, so with quick step I fell into line,
“I promise that on my wedding day you will see me be the closet I can be to a star.”
I said quickly and concisely, thankful when her grip relaxed and she fell back into slumber with a smile on her lips.
I had to get out of there, had to get some fresh air to vent my frustration. Why could she not just accept me for who and what I was? Accept me for my neutrality as I accepted her for her shine? It wasn’t until I went back in to find her with the same smile unmoved and no more breath in her body that I realized what a binding last request it had been.
So here we are, Nick and I — he understanding all too well the responsibility of what a parent leaves behind, he with a philosophers heart and genius left to run his father’s auto shop due to an untimely heart attack — planning my mother’s dream wedding because I promised…
Was it really so bad a thing? So awful a wish? She really only ever wanted me to shine, to see me shine, to see me.
I am jerked from Nick’s quieting embrace by Suzie who has the photographer stealing our moment, however it is the sign I turn to; the warning…and the trees.
It is said that those who go into the forest seeking are never seen again. That the forest only allows those with clear purpose to cross its threshold and see through their destination. That is the jist of the lore at least, though it sounded more like a tale of morality to me when I was really hoping for more of a Bell Witch haunting, at least that could have kept my interest longer.
It was all I could do to get through rehearsal to follow the lines of the interwoven trees, and etch the collective shapes like intricate lacework with my eyes. What must it look like from the inside when the light of the moon hits it?
I imagine a disco ball effect and am filled with the happy memories of Nick and me in his basement apartment lying among his scattered record collection and makeshift crate furniture. He had this lamp, its shape like an orb with a bunch of small flashlight bulbs scattered about its surface, some red, some gold, some white, it would roll upon its mechanic platform and switch between the colors while we sat in the darkness listening to music as it played its light show upon the walls and ceiling, Nick’s arm wrapped around me as he narrated stories or just talked to me. One night he stood me up and we just swayed to the sound of the crickets as the lights sparkled like diamonds in the sky upon us. This was my only escape, night my only escape from my mother’s care and feel like myself again.
We neither of us wanted a big wedding, just to be together, but we’ve made the most of it…
Suzie is frustrated but when I look to see why I see the entire wedding party staring up at me as Nick and I stand at the altar, but it is not him I see across from me but the forest, but the sign…
Nick utters with compassion. I have lost myself in the distraction from rehearsal. I turn to him as they all wait for me to say something I am at a loss to say. All I can think of to ask is,
“We don’t have to do this.”
Nick tells me once we are alone. Soon we will have to separate so we can be reunited, on display, in front of our friends and loved ones.
“You know I promised.”
He comes closer to me in hopes of bridging the gap, of pulling me away,
“But some promises are meant to be broken.”
I turn from him to look out the motel window in the direction of our venue. It is only a few miles north; I believe I can see the top of the forest’s trees. I wish that I could turn and take Nick’s hands with abandon and just run out of this place and down our own path, but I cannot, something is compelling me to see this through. It’s just what good children do.
“Not this one.”
I say, turning to him with great difficulty, for I know somehow that I’ve made my choice so what is the point of looking to him with half a heart and confirming the denial of what I really want to be doing?
Did he know?
Regretfully he kisses me goodnight and I am left alone with my thoughts and feelings, but they are still, like when taking care of my mother. Mechanics of a human meant just to serve. I do not have time for myself so I’m left alone with nothing. I need to get out, get some fresh air.
Running, running, I soon find myself running as the night air flashes against my flesh, cool and reliving. I find I don’t need to think. I know where I’m going, the road ahead is clear, after all…I promised.
Stone cold I break from my zombie state. I stand before the sign, before forest made darker by the night, limbs silhouetted by star spattered sky looking like stretched out extremities of some gargantuan spiders extended crawl. I blink at the now empty field to my right stripped of our party’s decoration. They will reset up tomorrow — funny how collapsible the special day is.
I turn back to the sign, to the red carpet of road that leads into the void of path. I stare into its abyss for I know not how long. What would be the harm to walk in? To walk the road, a clear path after all, it’s not like I have to wonder among the trees, and besides I know where I am going. I’m getting married…
Something in my brain responds,
“You’re going to be a star.”
Before I know at all what I am doing I have entered with clear destination on mind, because in the end the closest I could ever be to a star is dust.
Amelia lived as some would consider a nothing, but in order to shine and be seen nothing is exactly what she had to become.
Some things we should never try to comprise for we can only ever be ourselves… even if in their way.
No one ever saw Amelia again.