January 15, 2021 by Revolution John
My wife dropped the lid of our wedding gift box and gasped.
“You remember it, don’t you?” her aged father said, taking the old doll out of the box. “You slept with it every night.” He thrust the doll towards Jane, expecting her to embrace it.
She did not. His shaking hands fumbled the doll and it tumbled to the floor. Its dress quietly settled over its head and torso, revealing peach fabric legs that were capped by painted on black shoes. She blushed.
A wind, cold and bittersweet with leaf mold, slammed the front door open and into the one room cabin. She stared past her father’s shoulder and into the forest. Decayed, bloody brown leaves, raised by a gust, swept through the air and skittered across the floor. A moist leaf, ragged and veined, hit and stuck momentarily to her chest.
Suddenly, she fled past her father, into the forest and the wilding wind storm. He turned around and peered into the storm. He ran after her.
I stepped over the threshold and into their wake. She was running, straight and true, a cyclone of leaves kicking up at her heels. She was already very far away. Her father was well behind her, his thin legs going more sideways than forward like a grotesque string puppet. I followed.
I quickly caught up with her father, yet I couldn’t pass him no matter how hard I tried. Her father was calling her name, but his voice was drowned by the wind. He reached towards her, then jerked his arms out to the side to keep his balance in the tangled rushing carpet of leaves and fallen boughs.
She stopped and turned towards us. A blast pushed us back. Masses of her wavy, dark hair blew steadily across her face leaving only bits of her pale skin, red lips and one eye exposed. She looked like a slashed portrait. Vividly, her lips formed the word “No!”
She started running away again. Faster this time. He and I ran harder, but still remained far behind. Her father screamed “I’m sorr!” The wind growled just then, nearly knocking us off our feet. He buried his face in his gnarled, blue-lined hands. “I’m sorry!” He stretched his arms out to her.
He and I started to run side by side again. I looked back and forth from him to her. She got caught momentarily by a branch that hung low, perhaps to whisper its own demoralizing tale. Her blouse was now drenched and ripped. A large piece of the back flapped in the wind.
I fell hard to the ground. She had stopped running. The edge of the forest was in sight behind her. Looking back, I saw that I had stumbled over her shoe. Her father staggered just ahead of me. She turned towards us, crouched and put her hands on her knees. Her back arched up and down with her heavy breaths.
“It’s too late,” her lips said.
“Never!” he cried. “I loved you! I love you!”
“No! That wasn’t love!” I could hear her. I could hear her!
She sank onto her knees, her head bowed, her wavy hair drawing a curtain on her face.
He said, “I loved you. That was al…”. The wind took his words. He walked towards her. She looked up and moved her hair aside.
“You never did! I loved you!” Her voice howled across the wet field between us.
She took off again towards the forest’s edge. I got to my feet, pulling myself towards her on a magical, warm current that travelled the space between us like a magic rope. I had to reach her before he did. As the distance closed between us, I saw her hair coming undone. Her skirt sagged. Her breath was fast and hard even though she was slowing down. She wobbled over the crest of a hillock and fell out of sight.
The wind calmed. I kneeled beside her twisted body. She lay on her side and her chin rested on her chest. One arm was tucked underneath her and the other was thrown back and away from her body, palm upward. Her legs were curved into an unnatural knot. The loose flap of blouse ruffled in the breeze, exposing her scratched back. Her bare foot was shoed with mud. I straightened her skirt and pushed her hair away from her blackened eye and the split in her lip. She was broken. She had been broken.
Now she was whole.
JANET SAVAGE lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two dogs. Previous work has been accepted for publication in Every Day Fiction, A Harvard Magazine for FairyTales, and Stanford Magazine.