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My daughter tiptoes into the room, and I pretend to be asleep in the
recliner. She whispers, "I'll be right back, mom." I hear the front
door close, a car door slam and an engine start. Now is my chance. She
won't be gone long.

I push myself out of the chair, unfolding my old and creaky bones. I'm
tired of boots. I pull a jacket from the hook, leave my walker by the
door, and go out in my slippers. I follow the call of the chickadees
into the woods. The path is covered with patchy snow and mud, and the
sharp scent of newly unfrozen water mingles with the richness of
warming earth. I fill my lungs and expel stale recycled air. My jaw
and shoulders loosen. I come closer to exquisite emptiness.

I hobble along, feet sucked by mud or crunching snow. I am untethered.
I have no compass, no clock, no map, not even any breadcrumbs.
Squirrels run spiral chases up oaks, and unseen birds chitter in bare
intertwining branches. The first slash of green pushes up beside a
tiny brook.

I sit down on a large rock in the sunlight and wait. I will sit here
forever. The trees will bud and leaf, the forest will grow a carpet of
green, the birds will build nests with my hair. Perhaps a prince will
pass by, or Hansel and Gretel or The White Rabbit, and all that will
be left of me will be a pile of pretty white bones. But I become
restless. It won't be that easy. I get up and keep walking.

I walk until I come to a fork in the road. I cannot remember the poem.
It was once my favorite, I think. The air trembles. I hesitate, peer
down each path, and mutter aloud, "Which way path should I take?"

And from above a voice, a distinctly British voice answers, "That
depends on where you want to go."

I stagger back and look up. Leaning against the trunk, legs stretched
and ankles crossed, John Lennon lounges on a stout branch. He grins
like the Cheshire cat, round glasses glinting in the sunlight.

"Oh!" I say, "I'm not really sure that I care."
 
"Then it doesn't really matter which way you go!" he says.
 
 "As long as I get somewhere," I explain.
 
"You're sure to do that," says John, "if you walk long enough. And he
disappears."

I walk on, not noticing which path I take. My feet are cold and wet,
and my legs begin to wobble. I pick up a large stick to steady myself,
and keep walking. I slide on ice covered by wet leaves and fall, but
nothing breaks so I get back up. I walk until I can walk no longer,
and then I find a spot, a small clearing a bit higher than the path,
and I lie down in the sun.

I hear robins digging through the leaf mulch, water trickling. Farther
away a train whistle, an airplane engine, but all around me, a soft
echo, "The magical mystery tour is dying to take you away, dying to
take you away, take you today." I am slipping, slipping into peace,
melting into the earth. I am almost there.

And then I feel the thudding of footsteps and hear a shrill, insistent
yelping.

"Mom! Mom!"

I should have covered myself with leaves. I should have wandered
farther from the path. The birds scatter. The singing stops. My
daughter sits beside me, panting, shaking me.

"Mom. Mom, are you okay?"

I open my eyes.
 
"Oh, thank God. Don't worry. I'm calling for help." She yells
directions into her cell phone.

I look up and see John sitting in the tree above me, legs dangling. He
winks at me, shrugs, and sings, "You say goodbye and I say hello." 


Jeanne Holtzman is an aging hippie, writer and women'shealth care practitioner, not necessarily in that order. Her
work has appeared or is upcoming in various print and online journals including Night Train, The Los Angeles Review,
Dogzplot, Hobart (web), The Best of Every Day Fiction and flashquake.
You may reach Jeanne at J.holtzman@comcast.net
 



I am lucky to be a member of The Flash Factory, a private office in the online writer's community, Zoetrope.com. Each week the factory sponsors a prompt-driven contest. I wrote 'Once There was a Way..." in response to a prompt to write a story that takes place in a tree. My parents are elderly and failing, and end of life issues are much on my mind. I'm not quite sure how John Lennon wound up in that tree, but once he did, the story took on its fairy-tale feel. The group helped me clear up some uncertainty at the beginning of the first draft as to the gender of the protagonist. One reviewer suggested the story would work better without John Lennon, but I was quite fond of him up there,
so he stayed!

  


Copyright 2009