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I approached the cabin by a trail not well-traveled. My boots made steady imprints in the leaves. Old trees, dull and gray, lurched at me from every direction.
I marched slowly on. I was happy to be alone for just a little while so I could think and ponder. I had a lot on my mind, as always. I wasn’t one of those people who could just form a conclusion and move on. I had never been that kind of person.
With each footstep, I felt just a little bit heavier. Imperceptible at first, but after so much distance, it felt like I was carrying a boulder. Even so, I kept moving.
While I was still a ways off, I heard footsteps. Careless, or perhaps carefree, she approached.
She ran to me and wrapped her arms around me. I breathed in the scent of fresh clothes and sweet hair. I had combed this hair a thousand times. Here, whatever the circumstances, and whatever my feelings, I felt at home.
“I’ve been waiting for you. What took you so long?”, she exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, darling. Traffic, you know?”
My mouth curved upwards in what I was certain was an irredeemable smile, but she didn’t flinch. Perhaps I was a better liar than I thought, or maybe she was too lost in excitement to judge. Her smile, of course, was as beautiful as ever. It would light up the blackest of rooms. I didn’t deserve it.
“Come on, let’s go.” She waved me forward, and went on at an excited pace.
We walked the rest of the way. I found myself struggling to match her pace.
She chirped on about all sorts of things; the weather, some new clothes she found, some plans she made with her friends; but I could tell her mind was on the cabin. I stumbled my way through the conversation.
We walked on the back of the serpentine trail, following its gentle ebb and flow. The trail was absolute, and could only lead to one place. Eventually, we rounded one last turn.
In the short walk, she had made me feel comfortable; made me forget myself. But all was lost when my eyes fell on the cabin. My back tightened. I felt something in my throat working its way down. Dread filled my stomach.
Her face, though, didn’t change one bit. She gazed up at the cabin. A dream, alive and on fire, lived strong in her heart.
“One day it’ll be done. It’ll be amazing. We’ll have holidays and birthdays here. We’ll have weddings here. The next hundred generations will adore it.” She stopped and stared a moment longer. “It’ll all be worth it”, she sighed.
The joy in her voice shot at my heart, and it ached. It was something I expected but mourned all the same.
I joined her in gazing up at the cabin. It had become dark now. As my eyes steadied, I saw only dirty piles of wood, one stacked on top of another. I closed my eyes slowly. I opened them again. Still, regrettably, the image before me hadn’t changed.
I heard her behind me. I turned. She was struggling to hold onto a bundle of sticks. She threw them down inside a circle of stones. “It’s late. Let’s make a fire for the night and get some sleep. We need to get to work early.”
. . .
The fire roared to life. Before long, it had quieted to a dull flame. We watched the embers fade into darkness, one by one. I gazed deep into the dying embers, and sighed.
Time marches on, and wears on us all. To be everything to everyone is a fool’s game. And now I am a fool, struggling to keep just one simple dream alive for this beautiful creature. Even to those we want to give the world, we can barely come up with scraps.
I dared to look in her direction. Her eyes were still twinkling. Every second I watched her, I felt my heart beat just a little slower. Her liveliness reflected a terrible sorrow in my own heart.
I turned away from the cabin and sighed.
. . .
The steady rhythm of a hammer against nails woke me.
Still groggy, I sat up and turned my head. There she was, balancing herself gingerly on a ladder.
“You’re such a sleepy-head”, she said. “Have some coffee. I’ve already been up for hours. Look! I already put up three planks!”
I took my time standing. To my surprise, the night’s rest hadn’t stiffened my muscles like I thought it would.
The sun was bright. Not too far away, birds and squirrels were busying themselves with their morning chores.
I watched her a while, working away. A fine hammer. New, clean wood. The smell of it was fresh and strong. I breathed in deeply, and it filled my nose and my lungs.
I took a sip of my coffee. Black. Not too acidic. It had a bold flavor that stayed with you for a moment after you had swallowed.
I watched the hammer, smacking the nail, driving deep into the wood.
“Oh, come on! Hurry it up, will you?”, she begged me, somehow maintaining her smile and joy.
I took a sip of my coffee.
My eyes fell to the cabin, then to her. Then to the cabin.
I took a sip.
“Okay”, I said. “Let’s get to it.”