INTO THE WOODS

It’s weird how much people change. For example, when I was a kid I loved all of these things—like horses and the Fat Feast and Goose Point—and over time all of them just fell away, one after another, replaced by friends and IMing and cell phones and boys and clothes. It’s kind of sad, if you think about it. Like there’s no continuity in people at all. Like something ruptures when you hit twelve, or thirteen, or whatever the age is when you’re no longer a kid but a “young adult,” and after that you’re a totally different person. Maybe even a less happy person. Maybe even a worse one.

Here’s how I first discovered Goose Point: one time before Izzy was born my parents refused to buy me this little purple bike with a pink flowered basket on it and a bell. I don’t remember why—maybe I already had a bike—but I flipped out and decided to run away. Here are the basic two rules of running away successfully: Go somewhere you know.

Go somewhere nobody else knows.

I didn’t know these two rules then, obviously, and I think my goal was the opposite: to go somewhere I didn’t know and then be discovered by my parents, who would feel so bad they’d agree to buy me whatever I wanted, including the bike (and maybe a pony).

It was May, and warm. Every day the light lasted longer and longer. One afternoon I packed my favorite duffel bag and snuck out the back door. (I remember thinking I was smart for avoiding the front yard, where my father was doing yard work.) I also remember exactly what I packed: a flashlight; a sweatshirt; a bathing suit; an entire package of Oreos; a copy of my favorite book, Matilda ; and an enormous fake pearl-and-gold necklace my mom had given me to wear on Halloween that year. I didn’t know where I was going, so I just went straight, over the deck and down the stairs and across the backyard, into the woods that separated our property from our neighbor’s. I followed the woods for a while, feeling really sorry for myself and half hoping that some hugely rich person would spot me and take pity on me and adopt me and buy me a whole garage full of purple bicycles.

But then after a while, I got kind of into it, the way kids do. The sun was hazy and gold. All the leaves looked like they were haloed in light, and there were tiny birds darting everywhere, and layers and layers of velvet-green moss under my feet. All of the houses dropped away. I was deep in the woods, and imagined I was the only person who’d ever come this far. I imagined I would live there forever, sleeping on a bed of moss, wearing flowers in my hair and living in harmony with the bears and foxes and unicorns. I came to a stream and had to cross it. I climbed an enormous, high hill, as big as a mountain.

At the top of the hill was the biggest rock I’d ever seen. It curved upward and out from the hillside like the potbellied hull of a ship, but it had a top as flat as a table. I don’t remember much about that first trip other than eating Oreos, one after another, and feeling like I owned that whole portion of the woods. I also remember that when I came home, my stomach cramping from all the cookies, I was disappointed my parents hadn’t been more worried about me. I was positive I’d stayed away for hours and hours and hours, but the clock showed I’d been gone less than forty minutes. I decided then that the rock was special: that time didn’t move there.

I went there a lot that summer, whenever I needed to escape, and the summer after that. One time I was lying stretched out on top of the rock, staring at the sky all pink and purple like the stretch taffy at carnivals, and I saw hundreds of geese migrating, a perfect V. A single feather floated down through the air and landed directly next to my hand. I christened the place Goose Point, and for years kept the feather in a small, decorative box wedged into one of the stone ridges running along its underbelly. Then one day the box was gone. I figured it had been blown away during a storm, and searched through the leaves and undergrowth for hours and, when I couldn’t find it, cried.

Even after I quit horseback riding, I climbed up to Goose Point sometimes, though I went less and less. I went there one time in sixth grade after all the boys in gym class rated my butt as “too square.” I went there when I wasn’t invited to Lexa Hill’s sleepover birthday party, even though we’d been partners in science class and spent four months giggling over how cute Jon Lippincott was. Each time I came back home, less time had passed than I expected. Each time, I still told myself, though I knew it was stupid, that Goose Point was special.

Then one day Lindsay Edgecombe came into Tara Flute’s kitchen when I was standing there and put her face to mine and whispered, “Do you want to see something?” and in that moment my life changed forever. Since that day I’d never once been back.

Maybe that’s why I decide to take Izzy there, even though it’s absolutely freezing outside. I want to see if it’s still the same at all, or if I am. It’s important to me, for some reason. And besides, of all the things on my mental checklist, it’s the easiest. It’s not like a private jet’s just going to park itself outside my house. And skinny-dipping now will get me arrested or give me pneumonia or both.

So I guess this is the next best thing. And I guess that’s when it starts to hit me: the whole point is, you do what you can.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” Izzy’s bobbing next to me, wrapped in so many layers she looks like the abominable snowman. As usual she has insisted on accessorizing, and is wearing pink-and-black leopard-spotted earmuffs and two different scarves.

“This is the right way,” I say, even though at first I was positive we were in the wrong place. Everything is so small . The stream—a thin, frozen black trickle of water, and cobwebbed all over with ice—is no wider than a single step. The hill beyond it slopes gently upward, even though in my memory it’s always been a mountain.

But the worst part is the new construction. Someone bought the land back here, and there are two houses in different stages of completion. One of them is just a skeleton, rising out of the ground, all bleached wood and splinters and spikes, like a shipwreck washed up onto land. The other one is nearly finished. It’s enormous and blank-looking, like Ally’s house, and it squats there on the hill like it’s staring at us. It takes me a while to realize why: there are no blinds on any of the windows yet.

I feel heavy with disappointment. Coming here was obviously a bad idea, and I’m reminded of something my English teacher, Mrs. Harbor, once said during one of her random tangents. She said that the reason you can never go home again—we were studying a list of famous quotes and discussing their meaning, and that was one of them, by Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go home again”—isn’t necessarily that places change, but that people do. So nothing ever looks the same.

I’m about to suggest we turn around, but Izzy has already leaped across the stream and is scampering up the hill.

“Come on!” she yells back over her shoulder. And then, when she’s only another fifty feet from the top, “I’ll race you!”

At least Goose Point is as big as I remember it. Izzy hoists herself up onto the flat top, and I climb up after her, my fingers already numb in my gloves. The surface of the rock is covered with brittle, frozen leaves and a layer of frost. There’s enough room for both of us to stretch out, but Izzy and I huddle close together so we’ll stay warm.

“So what do you think?” I say. “You think it’s a good hiding place?”

“The best.” Izzy tilts her head back to look at me. “You really think time goes slower here?”

I shrug. “I used to think that when I was little.” I look around. I hate how you can see houses from here now. It used to feel so remote, so secret. “It used to be a lot different. A lot better. There weren’t any houses, for one. So you really felt like you were in the middle of nowhere.”

“But this way if you have to pee, you can go and knock on someone’s door and just ask.” She lisps all of her s ’s: thith , thomeone , jutht , athk.

I laugh. “Yeah, I guess so.” We sit for a second in silence. “Izzy?”

“Yeah?”

“Do—do the other kids ever make fun of you? For how you talk?”

I feel her stiffen underneath her layers and layers. “Sometimes.”

“So why don’t you do something about it?” I say. “You could learn to talk differently, you know.”

“But this is my voice .” She says it quietly but with insistence. “How would you be able to tell when I was talking?”

This is such a weird Izzy-answer I can’t think of a response to it, so I just reach forward and squeeze her. There are so many things I want to tell her, so many things she doesn’t know: like how I remember when she first came home from the hospital, a big pink blob with a perma-smile, and she used to fall asleep while grabbing on to my pointer finger; how I used to give her piggyback rides up and down the beach on Cape Cod, and she would tug on my ponytail to direct me one way or the other; how soft and furry her head was when she was first born; that the first time you kiss someone you’ll be nervous, and it will be weird, and it won’t be as good as you want it to be, and that’s okay; how you should only fall in love with people who will fall in love with you back. But before I can get any of it out, she’s scrambling away from me on her hands and knees, squealing.

“Look, Sam!” She slides up close to the edge and pries at something wedged in a fissure of rock. She turns around on her knees, holding it out triumphantly: a feather, pale white, edged with gray, damp with frost.

I feel like my heart is breaking in that second because I know I’ll never be able to tell her any of the things I need to. I don’t even know where to begin. Instead I take the feather from her and zip it into one of the pockets of my North Face jacket. “I’ll keep it safe,” I say. Then I lie back on the freezing stone and stare up at the sky, which is just beginning to darken as the storm moves in. “We should go home soon, Izzy. It’s going to rain.”

“Soon.” She lies down next to me, putting her head in the crook of my shoulder.

“Are you warm enough?”

“I’m okay.”

It’s actually not so cold once we’re huddled next to each other, and I unzip my jacket a little at the neck. Izzy rolls over on one elbow and reaches out, tugging on my gold bird necklace.

“How come Grandma didn’t give me anything?” she says. This is an old routine.

“You weren’t alive yet, birdbrain.”

Izzy keeps on tugging. “It’s pretty.”

“It’s mine.”

“Was Grandma nice?” This is also part of the routine.

“Yeah, she was nice.” I don’t remember much about her either, actually—she died when I was seven—except the motion of her hands through my hair when she brushed it, and the way she always sang show tunes, no matter what she was doing. She used to bake enormous orange-chocolate muffins, too, and she always made mine the biggest. “You would have liked her.”

Izzy blows air out between her lips. “I wish nobody ever died,” she says.

I feel an ache in my throat, but I manage to smile. Two conflicting desires go through me at the same time, each as sharp as a razorblade: I want to see you grow up and Don’t ever change. I put my hand on the top of her head. “It would get pretty crowded, Fizz,” I say.

“I’d move into the ocean,” Izzy says matter-of-factly.

“I used to lie here like this all summer long,” I tell her. “I’d come up here and just stare at the sky.”

She rolls over on her back so she’s staring up as well. “Bet this view hasn’t changed much, has it?”

What she says is so simple I almost laugh. She’s right, of course. “No. This looks exactly the same.”

I suppose that’s the secret, if you’re ever wishing for things to go back to the way they were. You just have to look up.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям