The Tree Falling in the Woods

Ferguson Porter

The sound of the stones skipping along the water could only be heard by those who stood at the shore. Oliver Harmonie stood at the far end of the shore, skipping stones in the direction of his family’s private cabin – known simply to the members of the Harmonie family as The Cabin. After three or four or sometimes five skips, each stone fell into the water, never making it to the other side.

The air was cold and Oliver was alone.  The half-day journey from his large family Christmas to the isolation of The Cabin was just as arduous as it was monotonous. Once there, Oliver felt a great sense of accomplishment and peace. He threw the last stone he had and circled the large pond to go back to The Cabin. Every now and then he heard a twig snap under his feet.  He stopped at the large tree on the side of the pond near The Cabin’s front door. He traced his fingers around the carved-in names of himself, his brothers and sisters.

When his father, Thomas, had bought The Cabin five years earlier, Oliver was fourteen. It was a Christmas gift bought for the whole family, but bought especially for Oliver’s mother. Thomas wanted to own a secluded paradise for his wife and his family, far away from the traits of the metropolitan where they lived – four-lane highways, bright skylines, and airplanes flying overhead. He surprised them on Christmas Eve by renting a van and driving his wife, his children, and all of their wrapped presents to their new dwelling. For that Christmas, Thomas gave Oliver a pocketknife with his initials emblazoned in gold cursive letters on the light brown handle: ODH. Oliver used that pocketknife to carve the names that were still on the tree.

Oliver stepped inside to the smell of cold wood and dust. The Harmonies had not been back to The Cabin since the previous summer. That was the last time they would all be gathered together as a family on a regular basis. Oliver had graduated high school and Thomas wanted to make sure they spent time together as a family before the summer, and indeed life, got away from them.

The phone on the far side of the cabin rang at the moment Oliver turned on the lights; it was a ghostly coincidence. Oliver sighed heavily, knowing that it was his mother, Marion, on the other end of the line.  He dragged his feet as he walked. The phone was secured to the wall right above the long countertop and beside the back door. Oliver jumped up on the kitchen counter and snatched out the phone mid-ring.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Oliver? Is that you?” Marion asked.

“Who else would it be, Mom?” Oliver said with a half-smile

“You were supposed to call when you arrived.”

“And yet you are the one calling when I arrived.”

“You just got there?”

“Yes. I just got here.” Oliver knew better than to tell his mother the truth. He had arrived half an hour earlier but had yet to actually go inside The Cabin.

“How is the place?”

“Oh. A little dusty. A little cold. But it’s cozy.”

“It’s not cozy, Oliver. It’s a relic in the middle of nowhere.” Despite his intentions, Thomas had miscalculated how much Marion would appreciate his extravagant Christmas gift. “But you’re okay, aren’t you?” Marion was still unsuccessfully hiding her panic.

“I’m fine, Mom. Just ready to unpack and get some food and relax.”

“You could just as easily have stayed here to relax. For heaven’s sakes, you’ve been away at school. It’s just so unsettling that I don’t get to see you everyday.”

“I know. It was different for me too. It took a while, but in an odd way I started finally to think of my tiny little dorm room as home. I was walking back one night when – ”

For a split second, Oliver’s stomach dropped. There was a clear change on the other end of the phone and he was worried that his mother, known to be reactionary, made a hostile gesture at the mere mention of Oliver considering another place his home. He could hear the sounds of a muffled conversation between Marion and someone else. Marion had turned the phone away from her; all of the voices became momentarily foreign. Next came the sounds of the jostling phone as Marion returned. “Oliver?”

“I’m still here.”

“Your brother wants to talk to you,” Marion said. “Apparently I am needed to help Lila. I’ll see you in a few days. Love you.” Oliver was relieved. Had she been paying attention to his last few sentences, she would have commented.

“Love you too, Mom.” He lowered his head to scratch behind his neck. Even the most banal conversations with Marion caused him to randomly itch in unexpected places.

Neil Harmonie was twirling the telephone cord in his hand as he watched his mother leave the room. “I’m offended she didn’t say ‘Your favorite brother’,” he said.

“Hate to break the bad news to you.” Oliver lifted his legs from dangling along the lower kitchen cabinets to underneath him and into a cross-legged position.

“You mean I’m not?”

“I suppose you were, but Phillip’s just so much more fun at this age than you were.”

“Wow. He doesn’t have to deal with you picking on him all the time. You’re a terrible older brother. Clearly the worst of all time,” Neil said. Oliver laughed. Neil continued, “You haven’t even said ‘thank you’ for getting Mom off the phone.”

“What did you do?”

“Well Lila helped, but I’ll take all the gratitude and I’ll take it now.”

“Thank you, Neil.”

“You’re welcome, Ollie.”

Oliver hated to be called by anything shorter than the name he was given, as did the rest of his brothers. Neil, being the only one of the five brothers without a multisyllabic name, was immune to this weakness. He exploited it anytime he could get the chance. Oliver did not give in to the bait.

“So what do you think of what Dad did?” Neil finally said.

“He certainly keeps trying to buy a woman’s love even after seven kids. With houses no less,” Oliver said while rolling his eyes.

“I’m serious.”

Oliver shifted the phone from one ear to the other. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know. Mom and Dad sat me and Lila down earlier today. They said that they both spoke to the school board. If we wanted, we could graduate as planned, since we already started high school at Central. The others have to go to Royal Park High. You should have seen Lila. She was jumping out of her skin to make sure they knew where she was going.”

“Does she think she’s going to fit in more at Royal Park?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“What did you say?”

“I said I’d think about it. Mom was…” Neil took a heavy breath. “…concerned that I might stay put and not change schools. Concerned. That’s the word she used.”

Oliver let out a groan. “She thinks we should all aspire to something transcendent.”

“No. She thinks we should all aspire to be you. Graduate top of our class. Homecoming King. Prom King. Full scholarship to college. And all that other shit you did.”

“She expects Lila to play baseball?” Oliver joked, hoping his brother would share in the humor.
“You know what I mean. The bar has been set.”

The serious tone of Neil’s voice shot like loud waves of terror through Oliver’s ears. “Then what does it matter where you or Lila or any of us graduate?” Oliver asked.

“I think that she thinks that because you’re so magnificent you were able to achieve greatness in spite of where you graduated high school.” Oliver did not respond. His sympathy was growing for his brother on the other end of the phone along with the rest of his clan. “Look, I’m not putting anything on you. This is her shit. We just have to live with it.”

“At a new house, no less.”

“You keep saying that. ‘No less.’”

“Sorry. Hey, you get your own room now. That’s something to look forward to.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine either way. Vic and Quin are going to get the big room at the end of that hallway. Think they’ll keep doing that in college? Living together?”

“Oh god, let’s hope Quincy gets into college.”

“He’s twelve, Ollie.”

“I love him as much as any of you, but he and Victor are going to go in very different directions. I promise you.”

“Okay.” Neil said. “You want me to get off the phone before Mom gets a chance to come back on?”

“Please. Thanks.”

“Sure thing. See you next year.”

“I’ll be back in three days…”

“1993, Ollie.”

Oliver could not help but smile. His brother was clever, but also very cheesy. “Right. See you next year. Bye, Neil.”

“See ya.” Oliver heard the click on the other end of the line.  He secured his own phone back into the cradle.  He sat at the counter while running his hands over his short red hair. To his right, he turned to look through the tightly sealed kitchen window. Coldness through clear glass made Oliver dream of a better world.

He hopped down off of the counter when his legs needed him to make them move and walk.  He took in his surroundings and made a mental note of what was around him: the kitchen, the breakfast table, the living room, the couch, the fireplace, the desk, the doors that led to the bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets. Oliver made sure everything was where it needed to be.

The large writing desk resided as far from the kitchen as the floor plan would allow. Its privacy in the corner made it stand out to Oliver. Alone in the center of the desk was a black fountain pen. When Oliver rolled the pen using his right index finger, the distinct ovular separation of dust appeared. Oliver blew away the dust.
He pulled back the wooden chair and opened the top left-hand drawer. He had remembered correctly where his father had kept stacks upon stacks of blank pages of paper. Oliver pulled out two sheets of paper. He slid the pages side-by-side on the desk. He uncapped the pen and put it to the first sheet of paper.

The drive from The Cabin to the nearest grocery store took twenty minutes as the crow flies. After writing a genuine, eager letter to his brother, Oliver took out another sheet of paper from the living room desk. He made a precise list of groceries to get: milk, eggs, bacon, cereal, white bread, butter, peanut butter, apples, bananas, cans of chicken noodle soup and tomato soup, frozen chicken, potatoes, a head of iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, croutons, ketchup, oatmeal, cigarettes and vanilla ice cream. The letter to Neil was folded and lying in the middle of the bench seat. Beside the pieces of paper was a black book. The book was not too large in size but voluminous in pages. The book prominently boasted a raised “H” in the center of the cover.

As Oliver walked up and down the grocery aisles, he had a strange sensation of being unable to imagine what each item of food tasted like. The sweetness of an apple’s crunch became obscure to him. It overwhelmed him, so he picked up the reddest apple he could find and bit into it. Remembrance and then relief filled in him. As he continued fulfilling the items on his list, he ate the apple down to the core.

“I need to pay for another apple. I ate one while I was shopping,” Oliver said to Linda, the middle-aged woman working at the checkout lane. She did not look up as she slid the cans of soup across the electronic scanner. She said nothing as she continued to pass through Oliver’s items from one side to the other. Along went by the milk, the eggs, the ice cream, and the rest of Oliver’s groceries. Still no response. “Ma’am?”

She refused to look up at Oliver. “Don’t worry about it,” she said.

Oliver wanted to say more, but only managed a politeness. “Thank you,” he said.

“He pays for what he takes,” Frank Beasley said gruffly. Oliver turned to his left to see Frank, a stooped elderly man with a white beard. Somehow Frank had entered Oliver’s proximity undetected. “I don’t own a food shelter. I own a grocery store.” Frank was admonishing the woman, not Oliver.

“I didn’t mean to cause any trouble, Sir,” Oliver said.

Frank waddled closer and patted Oliver on the back. “No trouble, son. I appreciate you being an honest man about it.” Frank gave a quick glare at the woman who was frenetically punching a series of buttons to add the additional apple to Oliver’s tally.

“Thirty-three dollars and forty cents please.” Oliver handed her two twenties. She quickly made his change and placed the bills and coins in his open palm.

“I can’t say I’ve seen you around here before, son.” Frank said.

“My family has a cabin not too far. East of the river bend.”

“It got a big tree in front?”

“Yes, Sir,” Oliver said as he jammed the money indiscriminately into the pocket of his jeans. He moved over to the far side of the lane. His groceries were now bagged and waiting for him.

“That was the Thompson’s place for years. Jerry’s no-good boy Johnny sold it instead of keeping it in the family. You go squirrel hunting too?”

“No, Sir, I don’t.”

“Be mindful out there,” Frank said. “I never got the hang of it.”

Oliver lifted up the full paper bags, one in each hand. “Sorry again for the trouble.” He smiled politely at Frank, then turned out of sight and let the smile disappear.

Oliver put the bags of groceries on the far side of the bench seat. The black book was still in the middle of the seat, as was the letter. He took the letter and stuck it between the center pages of the black book. Oliver looked at the book. For a moment he considered if he would actually go forward with his second errand or if he would just return to The Cabin with his supplies. He started the truck engine with the decision made. 

At the red light of River Road, Oliver turned left. He proceeded two blocks before making another left and parking at the corner of River and Hyde. He parked on the side of the street in front of Benny’s Bakery. Proudly displayed in the window of the bakery: “open since 1941.” The post office was on the other side of the street and Oliver had to wait momentarily for another passing car before walking deftly to the entrance. The black book was under his right arm.

The post office had not yet closed. Oliver opened the door and heard the quant ding of a bell from just above him. That was followed by a hearty “Welcome!” Margaret, the perky woman in her thirties behind the counter, startled Oliver. He was unused to the personal environment of small town operations.

Oliver placed the black book on the counter. “I need whatever box I can ship this in please.”

“Certainly. Running behind on Christmas?” Margaret asked.

“Something like that,” Oliver said.

Margaret reached under the counter. She pulled out a brown box that was already folded at the sides and taped at the bottom. Oliver thought that miraculously she had been ready and waiting for him to arrive with that request, with the perfect box available for his use. Oliver’s private self-amusements brought him an odd joy.

Oliver was in love, but he had to be sure. He was waiting at The Cabin for Caroline Monroe, his girlfriend since his junior year of high school.

Although they were still committed to dating each other, they had not seen each other since the previous August, before they left for their freshman year of college. Oliver went to Austin where his scholarship took him. Caroline went to Oxford, Mississippi at the convenience and insistence of her father. Since he happened to be moving the family there, there was no reason why Caroline should not go to her father’s alma mater. The couple decided to damn the distance.

Oliver’s patience was waning with the sunlight. Despite his usual clear-headedness, he was unable to compensate for the fact that Caroline was driving from a greater distance than what he had driven. She was overdue by an hour and he worried that she may not be able to find him in the darkness.

He paced the porch for twenty minutes. The cigarette smoke in his lungs did its best to calm his nerves. Oliver was paranoid, as well as cautious, that if he started smoking on campus with his friends then he would not be able to stop. He did not want to affect his relationship with his coach, especially in his first year. Moreover, he dare not put himself in the trap of having to explain the smell to his mother. He decided that cigarettes were worth experimenting with on this short sabbatical from his family. After all, the sabbatical itself was an experiment.

When he floated the idea to his father, Oliver worded his request carefully. “I want to spend a few days down at The Cabin. I want to take some time for myself to relax before the semester and before baseball starts.”

Thomas Harmonie had two simultaneous reactions: “I don’t see why not,” and then, “Your mother…she’s not going to go for it. Let me talk to her.”

Before Oliver could mentally recreate the conversation between his parents, a pair of headlights beamed through the haze of cigarette smoke. He dropped his first cigarette on the bottom step. He crushed it with his heel, stepped onto the browning grass and waited.

Caroline Monroe was just as blonde and as beautiful as Oliver had remembered her. She was taller than most girls, which made her perfect for Oliver, who was still half a foot taller than her. Her hips moved in the outgoing daylight.

“You were right about this place being out in the middle of nowhere,” Caroline said. “It’s pretty though.” The inside of Oliver’s head spun as Caroline became three inches away from him. “You look terrible.”

“I must be tired,” he said.

“I’m the one who flew and drove today.” She touched his forehead.

“I’ll be fine.” Oliver had not been listening. “What do you mean you flew?”
Caroline sighed. “That’s fifteen hours of driving I avoided, Oliver. What difference does it make? I made it. Finally. I’m here.” He stared through her. “Don’t look at me that way. I know I’m late.” She turned back to her car. “I hope you have food like you promised because I’m hungry.” She took out her suitcase from the trunk. Prideful, she would not ask for help in lifting it.

“I bought food earlier. I’ll cook dinner soon.” The trunk slammed. She had finally, fully arrived.

Cooking dinner was easy, but having the dinner was exhausting. The lives of Oliver and Caroline had previous been linked to each other. Now they were separated by a hollow ocean of new memories and unknown friends. In conversation they could not be casual or even generous with each other. Even their silences became strained, and thus every sound made from food on the plate, a utensil being moved, or a precise chew had a  grating effect on both of them.

This was the first time Oliver felt unable to understand a person he loved. He had never considered that a person he had known so slowly, deeply would ever one day return to him as a stranger. “Have we both changed that much?” he wondered. He asked her this and she did not say anything. Now with the silence of admission, they ate the thoughtfully prepared dinner.

Afterwards, Oliver ran cold water in the sink to clean the dishes while Caroline ran hot water in the shower to clean her body. When he was finished cleaning, Oliver desperately desired another cigarette. He went outside where the air had gotten even colder. He sat down on the grass and leaned against the large tree. His head and shoulders covered the names of his brothers and sisters, save for his name and Neil’s. From that position, Oliver stared torpidly at the water he was hours earlier delighted to see.

Somehow, despite the events of the day and her well-earned fatigue, Caroline still craved sex. She wanted to make this perfectly clear to Oliver. As he sat at the foot of the tree, she called to him from the doorway. “All of her harmony! All of her harmony! Come and get it! All of her harmony!” He wanted to hate the way she mocked his name, but Oliver could never hate anything about Caroline.

He found her bare skinned in his family’s private getaway, statuesquely standing with her arms at her sides. Her unclothed body cast an imposing fear over Oliver. Although they had managed to have sex together five times during the previous spring, Oliver had seen Caroline naked only once, their very first time together. Back then their connectivity was expressed through sneaky creativity.

Oliver avoided her eyes, choosing to focus on her smooth stomach. “I know I invited you. And I know you came,” Oliver said. She scratched her right ankle with her left foot, waiting for him to resume speaking. He looked up at her. “But is this really such a good idea, Caroline?”
Now Caroline’s nakedness was unprotected vulnerability. “I wanted to see you. I really did. It’s been so long I can’t remember so many things about you.” She looked to her right. “Can I use that blanket?”

“Sure.” He hurried to the couch. He took the full-length red blanket off of the head cushions and wrapped it around her body. “If you want, I can make a fire.”

“Okay,” Caroline said.

On one side of the fireplace there were stacks of freshly cut wood. On the other side was a small box filled with pinecones. Oliver took three logs off the top, then a pinecone from the center. He took a match and lit a fresh cigarette.

Then he held the match against the pinecone and let it burn away.  The pinecone ignited into the logs.
Oliver sat down behind Caroline. She tried to wrap the blanket tighter. “Where did you learn to make a fire?” she asked.

“My dad taught me. Feels like he taught me everything I know.”

“Everything? I doubt that.” she asked.

“If you mean sex…” She nodded hesitantly. “Well, he taught me his way. Even in having that typical, awkward talk he was a still little too…” His voice trailed into hers.

“Clinical.”

“Exactly. You know my Dad.”

“Yeah,” she said. She felt the need to add something. “I guess he’s not so bad. A little too bookish.”

“Bookish. I’ll have to remember to call him that sometime.”

“Just don’t tell him it was from me, okay?”

“He’s always liked you.” The fire was burning at its highest.

“I know.” She allowed Oliver to hold her close.

Oliver and Caroline stayed in the same spot for as long as the fire would let them. They had no inkling to do anything other than to sit and to stay and to stare. Caroline did not care that Oliver kept smoking behind her. The smell and the rhythm of his deep breaths were comforting. When the last ember went out of the fire, Oliver tried to play the part of the romantic leading man. “Would you still like to go to bed with me?” he whispered in her ear.

She paused between each word. “Yes. I would.”

Through the strain of the day they were finally at a familiar, comfortable place. He walked with her, still naked underneath the red blanket, to the master bedroom.

Oliver knew that he was to disrobe, joining her in equal nudity, but he was clueless as to the procedure. Oliver danced around any direct question. “Should I, um, you know? Or did you?” He made a flimsy gesture toward his shirt.

“Oh. You should just go ahead, I guess. I mean it’s easier, right?”

“Really? Cause I thought… I didn’t know if you were, um, tired.”

“I’m tired, Oliver.” She moved around to her side of the bed. “But I’m still naked and I’m still going to get into bed with you.” She dropped the blanket and quickly got under the covers. Her beautiful body was a blur.

Oliver sat at the edge of the bed. He unbuttoned his shirt and revealed his back to her. He threw the shirt in the corner.

“When did you start smoking?” Caroline’s voice sounded distant even though they were beside each other.

“My roommate in my dorm smokes. He goes outside all the time. Sometimes I join him. He’s a nice guy. I got lucky when the school put us together. I hear about guys in different dorms that hate each other. I mean really hate. How shitty is that, to have to share a tiny room with someone you hate.” He pulled his boots off of his feet. “Anyway, college. To answer you.”

“Can I have one?”

He gave no answer and left the room. Her eyes never left the ceiling. He returned with a cigarette in his mouth and another in his left hand. In his right hand was a match. He gently placed the cigarette in her mouth. He dragged the match across the wall, sparking the flame into existence. He lit her cigarette first. After lighting his cigarette, Oliver waved his fingers and the flame died.

“I don’t have an ashtray,” Oliver said.  “I’m just letting them go. I can clean up tomorrow.”
Caroline took to smoking naturally. Her fingers held the cigarette as if it had always been a part of her. “Oliver?”

“Yeah?”

She exhaled the smoke. “Never mind.”

Oliver moved around back to his side of the bed, hoping that the air had not soured. He drew in the cigarette before leaving it dangling off the edge of the nightstand. His belt and his jeans hit the floor before he hit the bed. Oliver moved closer to Caroline. She licked her middle finger and her thumb. She then efficiently stubbed out her cigarette between those two fingers.

Caroline moved her body into Oliver’s body. That night they stayed intertwined together as much as they possibly could.

The candle of the morning sun gave Caroline a halo as she stirred in the empty bed. Her dreams of apricot flavored wine from a glass made entirely of diamonds vanished as she awoke, never to be remembered. Oliver had risen half an hour earlier without her knowledge. He had missed the once in a lifetime sight of seeing her in the perfect light.

Caroline arrived in the kitchen to the distinct smell of bacon. She was wearing a matching set of a blue sweatshirt and sweatpants. Oliver was standing at the stove, turning the bacon in one frying pan then scraping out the eggs from another onto two plates.  “Good morning,” Oliver said without turning around to see her.

“Hi. Good morning.” Caroline sat down at one end of the breakfast table. As she watched Oliver cook for her, she began to resent his kindness. He was always so giving and here he was continuing, even with the inevitable end creeping towards them. That was when it occurred to her that no matter how hard she tried, she would never love Oliver as much as he loved her.

She cried silently, slightly. She tried to wipe her face before he could notice. Oliver set the plates down on the table and sat down beside her.

“It’s not your fault, Caroline.”

“What do you mean?” She covered her hands with the wrists of her sweatshirt and wiped away her tears.

“I just…I know this was a colossal disaster. I don’t know what I was was thinking.”  Oliver picked up his fork. “Okay. It just sucks that after waiting all this time we now feel so…”

“Incompatible.”

“Yeah.”

They slowly ate their breakfast, and both of them agreed that it was delicious.

 

Sometimes in silence the worst thing to do is to think. Oliver Harmonie, with the eggs chewing in his mouth, was thinking at a rapid fever. He was thinking about the first time he saw Caroline in the hallway talking to a red-haired girl, whose name he could no longer remember. Then there was that time at lunch where Josh Cooper made her laugh so hard she fall out of her chair and Oliver caught her. The first time they kissed she tasted like peppermint. The dress she wore to senior prom was scarlet.

Then he thought about how their wedding would be, and what their children would look like, and what names he wanted to give them. All of their future together had gone from stone carvings to pencil sketches on tissue paper.

Oliver had planned it all out, starting with this perfect excursion for both of them. Now he had no idea what to do with his time in the isolation, or with the rest of his life. Everything had gone so wrong.

“What’s rattling in your head?” Caroline spoke with bacon crunching.

He bit into the eggs again, never looking at her.

 

Caroline packed efficiently. Most of her clothes and items were still in the suitcase. With minimal effort she was resetting her life from the previous day.

Oliver waited on the steps, smoking. He was enjoying the taste of the filtered tar with each passing puff. He looked at the car that Caroline had rented and drove to see him. It was parked next to his truck. More memories of the times spent with Caroline in that truck came to him - some romantic, some benign. And the car of hers produced no memories. She had returned to him as a stranger in an alien vessel.

Caroline walked past Oliver. She marched down the steps and put the suitcase back in the trunk of the car. She slammed the trunk shut, forcefully, but not yet with anger.

Oliver had not said anything to Caroline for nearly a half an hour. He had become callous and she knew that look on his face. Normally, he would stonewall her until she gave in. She could hold out not speaking to him for a great length of time, but this time was running short.

“Oliver, this doesn’t have to be…” She waited for him to step in like he had so many times before. Instead he smoked when he should have spoken.

She stood at the car, put her hand in the driver’s door latch but could not bring herself to open the door. “I don’t have to go, you know.”

Oliver grumbled, but looked away from her.

“You have never been this cruel, Oliver.” Stonewalled again. “I cheated on you!” she blurted out.

Finally, he engaged with her. “You…you’re lying.”

“I’m not.”

“Why would you do that to me?”

“I didn’t mean to cheat. I just…well there’s no easy way to explain, but—”

“I mean why are you even telling me this at this point. We’re…going our separate ways. Maybe that’s part of the reason. We’ve been apart for nearly five months and we’ve changed since we last saw each other. Just because you —”

She cut off his words and cut out his heart. “It wasn’t at college. It was last spring. Before we left for college. Before we even graduated.” There was a prolonged hush in the open air before she added, “It just happened once. But it happened. I’m so sorry.”

 

Oliver blew out more smoke and stubbed out the cigarette on the step. He was seething, but his breathing had never been so still. “Go home,” Oliver said. He stood tall on the porch and looked at her. “Go home, Caroline.” He repeated. “Drive away. Just…just go.”

 

“Oliver, please you have to hear what happened. It’s about your – ”

The door to The Cabin closed. Caroline was now on her own.

Even at his most angry, Oliver was always collected and strict, never losing his temper in a violent burst. This time he made an exception. He picked up his plate off of the table and moved to the far side. Then he pulled back his right arm, his pitching arm, and catapulted his plate into the refrigerator door. The plate’s shards shattered in all directions.

Before the remaining eggs could slither completely down the refrigerator door, Oliver dashed out the back door. He kept walking until he made sure there was no hope of him turning around and making amends. He made it just over three hundred yards before he started to hyperventilate. His legs buckled and he fell headfirst into the ground. Luckily, he fell into a spot that was made of only soft dirt and avoided the large boulder three feet to his left. Oliver rolled onto his back and saw the clouds through the trees. All of the leaves danced in rhythm to the left. He watched them for ages and smiled.

In a singular feat of abdominal strength he lifted his torso upright. He pulled his legs closer to him and rested his arms on his knees. Oliver thought he heard the sound of a car being started, so he hung his head down between his arms and legs. Regret flushed out of him.

He felt the sun move, shining more light and warmth through the trees, and decided there was no point in feeling sorry for himself any longer out in the woods. He could easily do that in The Cabin. Oliver swatted away the leaves off the back of his legs. He inhaled deeply then steadied himself trying to find the right direction home. The thunder of guns was imminent as he walked the wrong way.

Oliver wondered if he would ever tell his family what had happened with Caroline. Then he wondered why he would bother doing so. His parents would not have any idea. He made sure of that from the beginning. His younger siblings from Lila on down would not care. Only Neil would keep Oliver’s confidence if he ever decided to tell the story. Still, the secret he had already entered into had not gone according to plan, but maybe his time alone at The Cabin could be salvaged into peaceful reflection.

A not too distant branch cracked. A bang echoed. Buckshot sprayed violently into Oliver Harmonie’s craning-to-hear neck.