They had been walking for hours, yet were within a mile of the home they’d each known intimately for eighteen years. The forest had miles of trails; there was no shortage of paths. They wound through maple and oak clusters, crisscrossed back and forth, and paralleled creeks and hillcrests. There was little noise in the forest that day, as fall had just begun, and it was too early for no dry leaves to crunch beneath their boots. Sparrows and blue jays were taking a siesta in the trees, or else were overtired from two seasons of chirping and cawing. The wind was nearly still, but brisk enough during the too-few gusts to chase any buzzing mosquitos who survived the blazing summer.
And the pair, a grieving brother and sister, had not spoken a word.
They skirted a rare clearing, the trail not daring to mar a burgeoning grave of yellow blossoms from the shamrock carpet. James squinted his eyes from the flowers, not because they were too bright but because their mother never came home from her afternoon walk without a poesy of them. A mini centerpiece of the yellow blooms, drooping limply over the rim of a shot glass, was ever-present at their mom’s kitchen table. Their mom never bought a real vase in her life, the elegant kind with cut crystal that makes little rainbows in the sunlight, but she swore that shot glass, a souvenir from some tacky Route 66 tourist trap, would come in handy as a vase. Mom was like that, James thought, always finding treasures which others looked right past.
James was focused on the dirt in front of her feet and pushed the memory – remembered, cherished, and re-cataloged – into the blackness.
Jackie was similarly lost in thought. She recalled their mother always pulling their father along with them on Sunday hikes. He hated them, but they became a ritual nevertheless, both her pleading and the subsequent exercise. Their mother was like that – always doing what was best for them even if they complained. Jackie supposed all mothers were like that, but theirs excelled. Jackie had hated her for it, in the rebellious teenager way, but somewhere inside she never stopped hating her, even though her love for her mother far exceeded these dark feelings.
Jackie stopped abruptly; they were walking along the stream again, the sunlit area where they’d always found keepsake rocks along the streambed. A flash of pink winked at her, so she stepped carefully through the rougher brown rocks to reach her prize.
“Mom would’ve liked this one,” she said. She rinsed it in the tepid running water and held it up for her brother to see.
The rose quartz chunk was included, so that the sunlight tumbled and bounced through the specimen, but it was a perfect hue, and as big as her fist. It was maybe the best quartz they’d ever spotted there.
“Yes,” James whispered. “She would.” He paused, swallowed, and looked through dappled sunlight to the sky. “Bring it to the viewing tomorrow. We’ll put it in with her.”
Jackie swallowed too, overcome first by the sadness of their mother never seeing the stone’s rare beauty, then anger that she would never see anything by her daughter’s side again. Jackie had created every memory of her mother that would ever be made, and all Jackie’s heart could do was blame her mother for that. The anger swelled like a red demon until Jackie was able to think and feel logically again, and the sadness took over.
She clutched the rock to her chest hard enough to bruise. “Yes, for mom.”
Katherine Benfante is an engineer by training and a writer by passion. She am currently raising her two daughters in rural New Jersey while writing in all the spare time she can carve out of each day.