Great Openings Contest Nonfiction Runner-Up: Temper the Wind by Brenda Wilbee

Where are the trees?

I shift into first, then bump slowly across the cattle guard into Meteor Ranch. I tap the brakes and stare in dismay at the empty drive ahead. Double-breasted stumps, this is all that’s left of the mighty eucalyptus? Of all the scenarios and images I’d trotted through my head, I’d not expected the trees to be gone.

I’d been nine in 1962. The drive back then had been flanked on both sides by eucalyptus trees so heavily limbed they created a leafy tunnel all the way up to the ranch. I’m thirty-something now, a few years shy of my mother’s age when we first arrived, our family seduced by the trees into once-upon-a-time without happily-ever-after. True, we’d escaped, but God knows I carried away more ghosts than we’d run from. And true, for a while I’d stopped pulling out my hair.

Why am I back?

On a simple level, I hope to learn what became of the refuse of humanity fated to this place. I yearn to find Richie. His childhood face never strays far from conscious thought; at night he can haunt my dreams. Ten-year-old Dale I know is dead. He would not have survived a night in prison for the criminally insane. Do they still call it that? Prison for the criminally insane? Old Howard would be gone. I can’t help but smile. Once he’d sent Grammy scuttling. A sinner amongst the saints cobbled together to do God’s work in this place, he’d been the only one she couldn’t manipulate. Without vestige of religious sensibility, he offered no guilt to be milked or grief to be exploited. But then I remember I could have been knifed in the face that day and sober up in a hurry. On a deeper level, I want to see if the shadows are as black as I remember. Maybe they’re blacker. Maybe I’m hoping to vanquish them altogether under the high noon of adulthood. Mostly, and this is a secret, I’m wondering if I’ll find the rook, black as sin, still sitting on Grammy’s left shoulder.

Note from Inspire Christian Writers: This piece has been reformatted for the Web.


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