Girls in the Woods by Madeline Anthes

Years later, children will tell your story around campfires. They’ll sit shoulder-to-shoulder, clutching their elbows, whispering about you.

Of course, you can’t know that now.

You just know he’s late.

You’ve worn a white silk dress that grazes your knees. You want him to see you as a bride. You’re wearing soft flat shoes and your feet are sinking into the wet earth. The trees are dense here, and it’s dusk dark though it’s only noon.

You always meet him here, but today is different. Today is a beginning. Finally.

You’re so used to sharing him that you’ve gotten used to the stings. The sickly smell of her in his clothes, her name appearing on his phone. But last week he took your hands in his and kissed your palms. He said he was ready.

So you’ve let yourself wonder what it could be like. No time limits. No hiding behind closed shades and locked doors.

You’ve never loved him in the daylight. You’ve never felt the freedom of a long glance, a hand on your arm when anyone might see. Now is your chance. He promised you. It feels like exhaling after holding your breath for too long. It feels like inhaling after drowning.

* * * *

Time is passing and you sit on a fallen log. Your dress will stain, but your legs are aching. You are trying to ignore the way your heart skips at every twig snap in the distance, every shrill of birdsong.

There is a breeze that rustles the high branches, but it doesn’t reach you below. You wonder what he’s doing. Maybe she wanted to talk. Maybe she put up a fight. A thrill of victory courses through you. It feels good to win.

But as evening sets in, you let yourself doubt him. Only a little. Evening softens the green around you, blurring the drooping limbs in a smoky haze. You should feel scared, but you tell yourself you know these trees. You’ve waited for him before.

You have faith in him. Isn’t faith what held this together all these months? Isn’t faith all you had on the days he went back to her and you were left in a tangle of sheets and an empty apartment? Didn’t he tell you over and over to believe in him, to trust him? And you did, because you had to.

Then true darkness sets in, and the night insects and frogs start their rhythmic chanting. It’s too dark to find your way out, and he told you he was coming for you. You want to believe in him, so you do. You stay and wait.

You pat the ground and find a soft patch of forest floor, curl your body in a tight ball, and try to sleep. You close your eyes against the pressing night, ignoring the scuttling of aphids and beetles. The night will pass, and morning will come.

You don’t know that you’ll wait for days. Your body will start to fail you, so you’ll sit on the forest floor and fuel yourself with hope. With each inhale you tell yourself he’s coming, each exhale you tell yourself to believe.

Soon your skin will grow soft with moss, and your scalp will sprout ropy vines. Your bones will dry into porous wood, and you’ll softly, softly dissolve into the soil. You’ll become the nurse logs stretched across the forest floor, new tree roots straddling your disintegrating body. You’ll become the underbrush and thickets, rustling with whispers. You’ll become the stillness in the ferns, the warm summer wind that bends the canopy.

You will become the earth itself.

You don’t know that one day the campfire boys will hold flashlights under their faces to scare the girls. They’ll say you’re still roaming the woods, looking for revenge.

You don’t know that the campfire girls won’t believe them. They will shiver and cry for you, hear your voice in the crackling fire. They will grip the logs below them and wonder if you are watching them. They will hope you are.

You’re one of them: a lost girl in the woods, raised to believe, to keep faith in broken boys. They would have waited too.

 

Madeline Anthes is the Acquisitions Editor for Hypertrophic Literary and the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. Her writing can be found in journals like Whiskey Paper, Cease, Cows, and Jellyfish Review. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes and find more of her work at www.madelineanthes.com.

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