Blue-white diamond sunlight filters through the meager canopy of branches. Wet leaves dampen the sound of Rachel’s footfalls and cling to her bare feet. Her arms embrace each other, hands rubbing away her shivers and prickled flesh. The salt trails of her tears dry on her face leaving her skin taut.
Stars littered the sky when she walked away from the house full of grief-stricken people; so many family members and friends sitting shiva for her parents. Her little brother, Bartholomew, huddled in an overstuffed armchair in the corner of her grandparents’ living room. His wide eyes searched the room for the hugs and kisses that never came. Eventually, he fell asleep.
The forest stands in stark contrast to the house she left. In the stillness of the woods she can hear her own heartbeat, her own breathing, and the rhythmic sounds soothe her. If she had brought Bartholomew, he would have peppered her with the endless questions of a five year-old. “Are Mom and Dad in Heaven? Who will we live with? What color was the truck that hit them? Was our car wrecked? Why aren’t you wearing any shoes, Rachel?”
And like she has done for the past five days since her parents were killed en route to the pediatrics conference in Florida, she would say, “Yes, Bartholomew, they are in Heaven. We will stay with Nana and Papa. It wasn’t a truck; it was an RV. We’ll get a new car in two years when I’m old enough to drive.”
As for the last question, she would have encouraged him to remove his socks and dress shoes, to feel the cool earth beneath his tender feet if only to distract him from his sadness. But he isn’t with her, and her sorrow hangs heavy in the dewy morning air.