June 21, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Allie Mariano
The path through the woods stays straight for nearly half a mile, though a mile, even a half a mile is a distance beyond your comprehension. It could be forever. It could go on until you are grown, until you are old, until you smell flowery and bitter like your mawmaw. You can see the path from where you sit, you see trees standing tall, reaching up, you see some that are toppled, sideways. You are young. Let’s say that you are four. You don’t know what is beyond the tree line. You don’t know that the path is straight for one half mile.
The things you do know: your house is snug, safe, a distance from the trees. You know that you are not to go past the tree line. You know that your mom just carried a basket, full of your bed sheets to the basement.
She will be back.
You know this.
Where you are is the midpoint of the yard. Where you are sitting is in the soft grass, playing with plastic food containers, stacking them into towers. Tall, tall towers. You look to the path.
A squirrel dives from a low branch to the path and stops, looks at you. He sits comfy on his haunches. Let’s say that even at four, you know about limits. About testing rules. The path is a straight line, it is beautiful, you think. Or, it is a thing of wonder. It strikes you how it seems to get smaller as it points away from you, like a triangle. The thought of a triangle makes you smile.
The squirrel turns his head, looks around in that anxious, squirrel way.
The squirrel makes you smile too.
For you, scamper is not a word, but a feeling. It is the heart of a type of movement. You have moved as this squirrel has, at school, at recess, away from your mom at the store.
You want to scamper too.
You push yourself off the ground, the tall, tall tower topples, but you begin to scamper. The path is straight ahead and everything feels wonderful, as if you’re in the act of being created, scrawled into life by God’s hand. The squirrel has vanished and you are encased in green-filtered light, and the air smells like wet dirt, like mushrooms, like roots drawn from the ground.
Your scamper slows to a walk, and your face is hot, breath rises quickly. It escapes quickly. Your ears thump.
You stop – the path keeps going.
You think again about rules, about how there are things you should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes, you throw your backpack on the floor, though it is supposed to go on the hook on the wall. Sometimes you kick your shoes off and send them flying. Sometimes you cry loudly because you want an ice cream and mom tells you no. Those are times that you are in Trouble. The fear of Trouble rises in the back of your throat, it momentarily wets the corners of your eyes.
Something snaps in the distance. It sounds like when you snap your fingers in music class, while the teacher hits a little drum. You like this sound. You snap your fingers, once, twice, and one more time.
The squirrel is suddenly in front of you, as if by magic. He holds an acorn and watches you with black eyes like plastic beads. His cheeks puff out, and he looks to be munching, another word that escapes you, but that you know by heart. You want to watch him, but you also want to munch on an acorn.
You look to the ground, there are so many! You pick one up and hold it in front of your face. It is green and brown, and the colors morph seamlessly on its smooth surface. It doesn’t have a cap. You roll it between your hands and pop it in your mouth. At first, the metallic taste of dirt, the smoothness on your tongue, you bite down, like it’s candy. You expect it to be sweet.
An awful bitter taste floods your mouth. You hear your name, called from a distance, but you are choking, crying, spitting, and crying. Everything is blurry and terrible, and the squirrel is gone. You didn’t get to see him scamper.
You hear your name again, closer, and you thump to the ground. You look at your hands. They are covered in dirt, and you snap one more time. It makes you feel a little better, but the bitter taste lingers.
You close your eyes and think of your mom. She is a thing of wonder. She is more beautiful than a triangle. You feel the tears again, burning the corners of your eyes. The acorn, burning your mouth. Suddenly you are up, up, up. The scent of clean laundry envelops you.
Allie Mariano is a writer and English instructor. Her writing has appeared in CutBank, Another Chicago Magazine, Day One, New Orleans’ The Times-Picayune, and other places. Her short story collection, Dead Women and Other Stories, was a finalist for the Black Lawrence Press 2019 Hudson Prize. She lives in Little Rock, where she is working on a novel. When she’s not writing, she can be found biking in the Ouachita Forest.