Bev Jackson

The Clearing

There's no reason to go back. I've managed to walk away now, weaving slowly through the muck that surrounds the cabin, my footsteps disappearing into the quicksand of wet Maryland clay. The rain pelts my face, feels good on my not skin. I feel the downpour cleansing my hands, her blood dripping into the red ooze, though it's too dark out here to see.

I remember the hollow tree stump that lays in the east meadow. I turn and head in that direction. It is a place to sit, to take the weight off my wobbly legs. Emma and I used to go out there after supper in the summer, me with a book and her with a piece of sewing or darning, the baby asleep in a basket. The orange sun would set the woods ablaze as it dipped, infusing the air with an uncanny chill as if a furnace was turned off, and we would hurry back inside. That is how I feel now. Like the switch has been pulled and the whole world as I know it has turned cold and dark. But there's no reason to go back.

When we had the child, Emma was ecstatic. She sang and we made love while the baby slept. The infant seemed to bring us luck. I got work in the dairy at the Tuckers, then helped harvest Joe Mason's crops. The diaphanous future was just beginning to take a shape, and even the crowded cabin seemed spacious and full of light. We didn't know how it happened. The doctor said it was viral, possibly from the cow or our sow. He said it could even be from the chickens. The little thing fell into a coma and one morning I woke up to the sound of Emma's screams.

People wouldn't understand what a thing like that can do to a woman. Emma couldn't help herself. I couldn't help myself either. The grief gets you like a big dog shaking you in his jowls and you know you're done for. I couldn't help the drinking. She couldn't help the icy cubicle of her private sorrow or the fiery, pent up rage that would eventually lay me low. She blamed me. She had to blame someone.

I sit on this log and the rain comes down with a final certainty that gives me peace. The wound doesn't hurt much. It is like a foreign thing. A torch burning in my chest. I don't want to touch it. It was Emma's solution, and perhaps it was the right one. Our luck eked out, like my blood, like Emma's blood from the round hole I put in her temple. It was hard to walk away. There's no going back.

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