To the Father, a Short Story
“If Creature only knew that its existence is one latent prayer to the Father....” Hans Urs Von Balthasar
I have been keeping busy these months. Only for a moment, I lie still in the morning’s cold and the dark. I boil water on the stove with snow from the back door as dawn makes the treetops silver and the window panes gold. I sit for a long while at the kitchen table mending.
I have been keeping busy these months. I hang my wash in the back room, I scrub the floorboards. I gather berries at noon, I chop wood, my hands grow stiff. I follow tracks, I shoot a doe at dusk, when the treetops are silver again and the setting sun gold, and I know down by the creek the foxes and otters are scurrying. I haul potatoes from the cellar, I eat my dinner stew standing, studying the stars through my windowpane when the kitchen fades dark.
A week ago, I watched the black shadow of a bear slinking where the trees meet the grounds. He did not see me, quiet behind the windowpane in the night.
I blow the candle out in the attic, shivering in the cold dark under a cold quilt. My half-sleep is pierced by wolf-cry. Senseless fear overtakes me, and I cry.
Sometimes I just cry because I am alone.
Only in dreams can the clock rewind. First frost sweeps the hillsides. Backward, autumn geese fly. A thousand deer trample the forest clearing. A barn owl shrieks. A bear claws the back door. A great heron takes flight, on the lakeshore. A great gust sweeps the oak trees and birches that line the grounds, heralding the kind of storm that rends limbs and strews a blanket of leaves.
Fireflies and mosquitoes flit in the tall grasses. Schools of salmon are brimming in the flooded stream. Larks sing, perching in the eaves. Deep in the wood, through damp, brown leaves, peep lilies. The evergreens offer new branchlets. I lie on a riverbank soft in spring. In the garden, the reddest of roses break the earth. Ferns, melons, sunflowers, violets. Tomatoes and radishes.
I crouch, I caress the leaves of a new sapling.
Treading the frozen garden this morning, faintly remembering somebody, some undergrowth maybe breaking under feet...
Night falls, and a new, fiercer wind berates the window panes, berates--I vividly see--the birches and oak tree. I study the fire, embers glowing. Something in me compels me closer, drops of sweat bead my forehead, and I close my eyes and hold up my chin as the heat engulfs me.
The chimney howls new fury, the fire sparks, fuming. For too long I’ve laid in bed, distraught desire gnawing on my sanity. If for but a minute, I will let it run wild. Bank to brush, set the whole woods ablaze. Let the wolves cry. Let the owl shriek. Let a thousand deer trample me. Trembling, I will embrace the bear where the grounds meet the birch trees.
Desire grieves, cleaves, bellows, screams, sinks its teeth in me. There is an Other. A somebody, not a mere doe breaking brush.
“How deep is this deep?”
“Are you afraid?” you ask, smiling. A big wave heaves beneath our little boat and, shivering, I crawl to you. You put the oar at rest, and nestle your chin in my shoulder, your forearms encircling me and pulling me closer. Safe between your knees, I see the great expanse of lake, I see faintly mist-covered shores. And we are quiet.
It was that same quiet when we followed the doe in the woods, setting sun behind sprouting trees. “Look at her spindly legs,” you whispered. A shot rang out and I clung to your knee. After a moment of silence, you knelt down, kissed the doe’s slender neck, and said: “We will do good by her.”
I sat on the back porch twirling lilies as you chopped hickory. Your strong hand steadied me as we waded into the creek, slipping on mossy rocks. At night, we sat in the rocking chair, and I stroked your beard as you fondled my hair. I’d catch your handsome face in the glance of the picture frames as you carried me up the stairs.
You knelt close to my ear and sang to me the story of Creation as I fell asleep, studying the stars through the windowpane, your beard’s bristles on my cheek. If I woke to wolfcry and senseless fear overtook me, we sat on the stairwell and you cradled me, and I dozed off in my mind to us dancing when the sun came in through the high windows of the west, our shadows garnet against kitchen walls blushed gold.
I listen. The howling wind hushes in the chimney. The lakeshores are still. Deer cozy closer together under the evergreens.
And I have the strangest sense that, somewhere in the wilderness beyond lake and wood, a branch is broken under sojourning foot.
Abigail Herrick is a sophomore studying English and education at K-state. She delights in Jesus Christ in literature, art, and conversation and her love language is dance parties and coffee at unseemly hours of the night.