It had been many years since she last returned. By then there were no family or friends left in town to greet her. One by one they had all exited – this one from divorce, that one from disease, and still others who had simply headed down the main street, around the bend and into the fog.

It was this same fog that she walked through from the bus station to the edge of town. She crossed the freight tracks and stone bridge, then turned south down the dusty road bordering the family land. In the opaque air it seemed nothing had changed, even now after her father’s demise. The land rolled with unmown hay, the fence posts stood sentry, awaiting mending. But as she drew nearer the homestead the fog thinned, and she saw there were no more trees left in the yard except one. Jagged stumps betrayed the wild swings of his drunken rages, timber poorly bartered when the crops failed again, and again.

Only the weeping cherry remained. The tree beckoned her to shelter beneath its outstretched arms anew, and to see his last words in the hatchet half buried in its trunk. She wiggled this back and forth until the blade dislodged, and the leaves rustled in relief. Above the fresh notch, the weathered bark bore witness to her childhood carvings. She traced her fingertips along the shapes and figures she had first conjured in the old shed to which her father was prone to banish her. For unfinished chores, or untimely manners, or no misdeed at all when fever took her mother and he wished to despair with drink unmolested. The shed still stood behind the tree, bare before the horizon. She unlatched its door, and peered inside.

There were his rusted tools hanging on the wall. There was the damp smell of earth and cobwebs, the same cracks between the planks that would tease of an outside that was forbidden. There had been the silence as well, save her shallow breaths and whispered pleas, the vise gripping her chest while daylight slowly smudged away until the unseen night things rubbed their eyes, began to stir, and she knew he had forgotten to retrieve her again. How she yearned to open the door right then, or to hack it into a million pieces. Not to creep back into the house, no, but so that she might slumber beneath the weeping cherry like a wayward sprite in the olden times, with branches canopied above her and the world pitch black despite a bejeweled sky promised in the just beyond. She asked once more for the intoxicating blossoms to cast the spell for sound infant sleep, notwithstanding the miles she might someday travel to leave that place or return, with her thin limbs curled and her tiny fists clenched, an axe head cradled against her chin.

***

Hun Ohm is a writer and intellectual property attorney. He lives in western Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in New Flash Fiction Review, JMWW, Bull, Necessary Fiction, The Citron Review, Literary Orphans and other publications.