Mash-Up Winner: Linda G. Hatton

 

Linda Hatton 2

Cottonwood

 By

 Linda G Hatton

 

After shutting off my car, I leaned in towards the mirror and picked a bit of cottonwood fluff from out of my hair, my eyes dropping down to the laugh lines around my mouth. Fear of being alone had scared the action out of me all these years, causing me to stay with my husband, and wait for years for things to get better.

Only they didn’t.

They got worse.

Shrugging off the memories, I grabbed my things and slammed the door shut. Having tossed my crinkled duffle bag and flip-flops onto the log-cabin bed, I skipped down to the lake, the weathered boards of the dock creaking under my feet all the way to its end, where reeds poked up, reaching for the sun through the green of the water.

All I’d wanted to do on the drive towards my overdue getaway was to plant myself down, thrust my feet into the coolness of the water, let it cleanse my wounds.

Close your eyes and relax, I told myself.

My husband, Gordon, and I had struggled for ten years, limping along our marital path until we had taken opposing roads. To him, I was too quiet, shallow, moody. I thought of the kids too much, and not enough of him.

My reasons were different. He was never home, emotionally. While he sat on the couch, his mind lived in some isolated land, far away from me.

We were both lost in our own worlds. Never to be found? I didn’t know.

I hoped my time away would help me figure that out.

Off in the distance the sound of tiny feet slapping onto the stone path led into the sound of giggling children. A crowd of people guided by a forest ranger came towards where I was sitting. “And here we have the mysterious cottonwood trees,” he said.  

Taking a deep breath, I eyed the group. The couples looked content. But most of the children had other things in mind than listening.

A pair of young boys darted onto the dock near me.

“You get yourself back over here before you fall in,” a red-faced woman said, taking them by the wrists and directing them back to the cluster of people.

The ranger continued on, “These trees were once known as widow-makers. They would drop their limbs, killing the tree-cutters working below on the forest floor. There was a myth that the trees’ spirits were crying out for their freedom to live. When their pleas went unheard by the loggers, the trees resorted to dropping their limbs in an attempt to scare the workers away, but instead made many a woman a widow instead.”

The women in the group seemed captivated by his story.

“Now let’s go check out the water,” the forest ranger said, guiding them down close to where I was sitting.

Out of the corner of my eye, something floated towards me, and then danced around, hovering just above my left nostril. Turning sharply to the movement, I was greeted by a clump of soft cottonwood down. In a moment of surprise, I sucked in a hard breath, ingesting the fuzz, causing me to gasp and choke at the unwanted visitor.

Pausing, the ranger turned towards me. “You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay,” I said, coughing it out of my airway and then laughing. “Just choking on cotton fluff.”

He smiled and nodded, then splashed his hand into the water below.

I thought back over his cottonwood story. The trees were crying out for their freedom to live. They didn’t mean to harm anyone. It was their nature.

Everything finally made sense.

I had to talk to Gordon.

My sudden hop to standing caught the ranger’s attention.

“See you later,” I said.

Hurrying to my cabin, I realized maybe there was hope for us, Gordon, and me. We didn’t allow each other our freedom; we could change, I knew we could.

As I dashed inside, I shuffled my hand around inside my handbag, grasping for my cell phone, vibrating when I picked it up.

I hadn’t been expecting any calls.

Dialing through to voice mail, the shaky voice of my sister asked me to call home.

“Julie?” I said when she picked up. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Gordon,” she said. “He was in an accident earlier today. I couldn’t get a hold of you. He went to the hospital, but he—he didn’t make it. I’m sorry, Jamie, but he’s dead.”

Dropping the phone down in shock, I wondered how it could be.

Gordon dead. There was no way.

When my eyes turned upwards, I noticed a plaque hanging on the wall, in honor of the mighty cottonwood trees: Widow Makers it said.

It was no coincidence I had been surrounded by the widow-makers that day; only I hadn’t recognized their warnings.

A numbness took over me.

It wasn’t what I wanted yet it was too late. Now I had no choice, but to stand tall like a cottonwood tree, reaching my arms up and out to freedom. 

 

Congratulations, Linda!

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