Our Forest by Penny Wright
This short story was inspired by a photograph I saw of a pair of children walking into a forest together.
Our parents were arguing in the kitchen again.
It was starting to seem as though this was becoming a nightly routine. Father would come home from work, already upset at something his boss said to him or that a co-worker didn’t do, and he would look around the house and immediately find something to take his anger out on Mother about. It was typically something small and pointless, like a pair of shoes being in the middle of the floor, but he would yell at her, then she would yell at him, and it would continue on like that for hours.
The fighting bothered me, for sure, but I’ve always been more concerned about how it seems to affect Thomas, my little brother. Thomas has been my closest friend since he was born, his little baby hands held in my own as he learned to walk and then started following me everywhere I went. He’s so quiet and so well-behaved, and as a result, is easily forgotten when our parents attack one another. They don’t see how much their yelling bothers him, but I see it, and all I want to do is protect him from it.
It’s high summer here, and the sun is still up despite it’s being dinner time. The fighting is a bit louder than normal, and Thomas is hiding in our room, staring out the window. I grab his hand.
Thomas doesn’t speak, but dutifully slips his shoes on and follows me out of his room and down the front steps of the house. He doesn’t question, and I know he would follow me anywhere. Our home is set in front of the woods of a national park. Our grandparent’s refused to sell the land to the park, even though all of their neighbors did, and now we’re the only family in this part of town for miles.
We’re not supposed to play in the forest according to our parents, because there are bears and wolves and wicked people, but I’ve been sneaking in since I was old enough to play outside on my own. It’s the place I find most relaxing, and I forget all of the things that make me unhappy as soon as I walk past the first line of trees. I’ve never taken Thomas out here with me though. I’m not sure why I haven’t, but tonight is as good a time as any.
We walk deeper and deeper into the woods, Thomas still holding my hand and walking slightly behind me on my left. The ground is still damp from an afternoon thunderstorm, and it lends a misty, almost magical quality to the forest. Unseen birds chirp to one another among the branches, and we inhale the green scent all around us.
I stop walking for a moment and look down at Thomas, whose eyes are wide and looking all around him. He’s only six years old, but I can tell that his first impression of these trees and his surroundings are going to be something he remembers for a long time. Behind us, we hear a soft noise, and turn to see a small red fox walking along a downed tree, giving us only the briefest of glances before skittering off. A bluebird lands on a branch in front of us, chirps, and takes off again.
Thomas is smiling, something I haven’t seen in weeks. Our parents and their fighting are all but forgotten in his new surroundings, and I wish I could keep him out here with me forever. We walk further into the woods, his smile growing with every step.