The lingering smell of a new coat of blacktop added an offputting layer to the earthy freshness of the morning prairie path before me. Things have to be done; I understand. We don’t want well-intentioned joggers slipping on the loose gravel of an unkempt trail.
When you have been to most of the places, when you have tried as much as you know how, when there’s nowhere left, you have to go deep inside yourself.
The woods adjacent to the path had grown thick enough to be its own backdrop, as long as one did not look too hard. Just on the other side of the dense grasses, weather-beaten trees, blooming thistle taller than me, and even what may have been an obscured fox den, I could see a garden shed, a whirling miniature windmill, a series of intentional annual plantings in a perfect parade of red and yellow, the remnants of last night’s marshmallow roast in a sand-and-stone fire pit, and a lonely tire swing. I could see the backyards of people that had no names or faces, at least not known to me.
There was a wooden bridge that stretched from the edge of one of the backyards into the woods, just to the other side of where I stood. Another had a worn patch of grass and some stepping flagstone that led away from the yard, toward the prairie path. These people could slip right from their own properties onto this path, for a morning run, to walk a dog, or to get lost, as is my habit, in a mid day reverie.
A dark thought passed through me even as I squinted from the brightness of the sun. Something sinister could happen; someone could be lurking between the woods and the family homes. Maybe nobody would even know. How do you know when you really are safe, when there are no ill intentions, and when you have served all of your time? I could go there, and nobody would see.
Perhaps we don’t realize how influential someone has been until they leave us. There is time for so much, but no time at all. If you fully give in, offering all that you have, can’t there be more? Won’t it keep going?
Every so often, there was a tiny flash or a sparkle of some sort. A butterfly, the bluest I’ve seen, and a tiny ground squirrel. These are the fairies in the woods, the spirits of those who walk there, those that are unaware that the darkness may sometimes fall.
When I know I am not strong enough, when I am sure that this must be the last time, when I just couldn’t keep it from happening, even as it tears into my skin and wreaks havoc on my aging body, it somehow lessens, and though there is no softness, it is not as dark, and it is not time.
When I am feeling vulnerable or strong, I am just to the side of the other. I am just a step away from what might be unthinkable, yet there are wild geraniums and foxglove all around.
I can’t go anywhere else; no one can, because this is today. Past the clearing, the new blacktop meets the sidewalk where the grass has been clipped. Cars pass by along the city road, and the people that I do not know have gone from my thoughts.
At just the right moment, though, there will be a woodland sprite peeking from a hollow in the brush, and I will see him, no matter where I am.