She stepped onto road and there was one before she even started. As she stretched her hamstrings and twisted her back the deer pranced away into the woods. Her right hand shook. She took a deep breath and started running. Her legs were heavy. The vibrations from the thud of her feet coursed through to the top of her head and into her fingertips. She was out of step. The gravel was freshly laid and her feet were landing every way but straight and flat. She stumbled, tripped by the road and pushed by the wind.
Normally she’d look around. She liked to find the shine in the trees especially now that the leaves were changing. Her road was usually rich with gold and splashes of red. Today the gray sky dulled the scene. The truth of the color was on display. All the richness was just flair before death; flowers on a casket. Brown leaves swirled past her. She didn’t want to see the tangled mess of trees and grass today. She wanted a straight road. She wanted to run past the stop sign at the intersection and keep going until her broken hand healed.
A squirrel scuttled across the road ahead of her. Preparing, no doubt, for lean times. Richard was already prepared. He remembered when they got snowed in for two weeks last year. He remembered being hungry. She remembered running out of places to hide. When the plow finally came through they went to the Crowbar where everybody was swapping stories of cabin fever. He had laughed, mentioned casually that they almost didn’t make it, she’d shivered when he looked at her. Now, her body was bent against the wind but she was starting to find a rhythm. Each breath hurt but the pain came in even increments. It was easy to manage when she knew it was coming.
He’d always surprised her. Birthday presents a week before her birthday, chocolates just because he’d been thinking of her, and the most ridiculous grand gestures. He’d never lied about who he was, she’d just been distracted by roses on Tuesdays. She was lucky. She still believed that. So many of her friends were stuck in dull marriages with no passion. She was always surprised, always on her toes. Her mouth tasted metallic as she reached the top of the hill. She could see the stop sign from here.
A flock of birds only counts as one. They’re all headed in the same direction, after all. Her feet churn faster, letting gravity help her to the stop sign. She flies by it and stops in the middle of the intersection. Nobody was on the road. They almost never were. She closed her eyes and spun in a circle with one arm stretched out and pointing. A game she used to play, a real life choose your own adventure. When she was little she thought the least explored places were the most exciting. She could discover them and everybody would be jealous of the land that was just hers. Even with her eyes closed, even spinning around, she was suffocated with the truth of land unexplored. It’s desolate.
She spun until even the dark underside of her eyelids looked unstable. She stopped, opened her eyes, and laughed. Her pointed finger, numb with cold, was stretched back the way she’d come. She dropped her left hand and looked at her right. It was starting to discolor. It was hot with pain. She could keep running. She didn’t have to keep choosing this adventure.
A truck was coming down the road. Dirt scattered under its wheels, a cloud of dust billowed up behind it. She stood her ground. The wind bit through her clothes. Her muscles twitched. She could smell leaves and grass beginning to rot. The truck slowed to a stop. She looked back down at her right hand. She never knew it hurt so much to hit. She’d never seen Richard look surprised before. He’s fallen backwards off the porch. The truck door slammed shut. When he landed, the look of surprise was still on his face. Footsteps crunched to a stop.
“I stood my ground.”
Image: Ivana Cajina