Mother always told me to stay out of the forest. I tried to heed her words, of course, but the longing to explore was stronger. Only a few steps in, I’d tell myself, but that was just enough to be seduced by woodsy scents, by sun and shadow, by moss and stone. With each broken promise, I’d find myself further down the path.
I’d bring home secret gifts; stray bird’s feathers, bluebells by the bunch or a scattering of acorns. Each one was a silent plea: Mother, share in my found beauty. Mom only grew more distant. We were two ghosts living in a silent house. I don’t know which of us felt more betrayed.
One afternoon, I stumbled upon a cottage deep in the woods. It was surrounded by wildflowers and row upon row of vegetables and fruit trees. I raised a perfect peach to my lips and as its juice dripped down my chin, I heard a song drift through the window. Each charming note rang with the sound of my name. It was hard to leave, but I plucked three red apples and brought them back with me.
When I went to my room, I discovered a brilliantly colored leaf tucked between my pillows. It trembled in the light, all glow and shimmer, and I saw that the veins spelled out a single word: COME. I didn’t even bother to pack; I left the apples on the kitchen table, put one foot in front of the other and fled into the forest. I hope you enjoy the fruit, Mother.
I ran through the woods in the fading light. By the time I got to the cottage, my hair was filled with brambles and burrs clung to my limbs, but I saw that the door stood open and just inside there was a table set for two. A woman was bent over the oven, obscured by a cloud of steam rising from a fresh-baked pie. “Sit,” she said, and I did.
She set the pie between us and I stared into her face. How could I fail to notice that the green of her eyes so closely matched my own? She had soil under her fingernails and bits of bark clung to her apron. She took a single key out from her pocket and placed it in my hand. “I’m glad you finally found your way here,” my mother said with a radiant smile, “Welcome home.”