A week after their not-a-one-night-stand at her place, Ray invited Edie to his house. The house lived in the center of its own small forest behind a suburban industrial park. Edie stayed over, then simply stayed. Although, staying implies a passivity where in fact there was grasping intention to establish herself. She thought it was Ray that seduced her. By the time she realized that Ray, the woods, and the declining wooden house were one symbiotic compound, it was too late. Edie spent most of her time enshrouded in the lofted bedroom with the floor-to-ceiling window. She was the character in a Grimm’s tale glass house, a wanderer who ended up here.
After a while, Edie stopped going to work and having dinner at her mom’s house on Sundays. In the still hours, she denied sleep to stare out the immense windowpane. The canvas of branches, switches, leaves and needles quieted her internal mechanisms, bringing equilibrium. Making a chrysalis of Ray’s blanket, she would focus on a gnarled protrusion or maze of moss until everything else was extinguished. Even in the blackness she could sense the trees breathing. As fall turned to winter, stately giants and lithe saplings stood naked, groping, enduring. Edie was beholden.
Come spring, Edie found that she couldn’t leave even if she wanted to. Jack-in-the-pulpit emerged on the forest floor in tender vernal glory. Crocuses periscoped through snowmelt detritus. Robins broke the spell with insistent 3 a.m. calls to action. Edie envied their gumption. But months of staring out that window had made it impossible to disentangle herself from Ray’s house. Over time, her muscles had rooted through floorboards and between foundation cracks in a perverse reversal of tenacious growth. Cracking a window became elemental to survival, her body mainlining oxygen, taking hits of sunshine. Ray complained about raking up her lost hairs that entwined with the shag rug.
The morning Ray wound his uncle’s grandfather clock forward for daylight savings, the latent timelessness offered an escape hatch from her waking dream. As he manipulated the large hand with the small key, Edie rewound. Spring, then winter, then fall uncurled like a primordial fern. She’s in front of the bedroom window, enchanted. She’s following him up the creaky pull-down staircase. There’s Ray, emerging from a grey-green pine door. It’s a tree house — no, it’s a wooden house obscured by trees. She’s walking up the gravel driveway. Is this a trick? The forest swallows Edie. A trucking company, a warehouse. Never been to this part of town. Car keys in hand, pulse stirring up arterial sediment thinking about the guy from the bar who smelled like woodsmoke.
Reminded of what it felt like to be an autonomous person, patron, friend, daughter, employee, Edie yielded to the inevitability of a return to the outside world. However, she was no closer to knowing how to untether herself, and several months passed. Leaf-flushing time came and went. Whereas in the winter she’d clung to the scaffolding of her new life, now she suffocated in summer’s humid thicket. The unceasing commotion of the gossiping leaves and squirrels and cicadas got on her nerves. In spite of that, Edie stayed, an apathetic lie-in. Then, in August, Ray cut himself loose. With a mercifully quick pass of the sickle, Edie fell away. The deprivation felt like dying, but of course it didn’t last.
Several years later, Edie went back to see if the place had changed. She wondered if there would be a presence there to embrace or reproach her. More likely, she feared, time had written an epitaph of indifference. Driving up the street, she saw that the house and trees had been cleared to make space for commercial real estate. She lingered, hoping to suffer a phantom pain; but there was nothing left to ensnare her, nothing left to invade.
Sandra Yauch Benedetto is a Chicago-adjacent mom, sometime teacher of high school students, and perpetual seeker of sunshine. She adheres to science and her dog’s gaze. She likes to write short things.