First published in Apollo's Lyre (2009) - read editor interview
Hazel rested on a tree stump while she waited for Gordon to catch up. An ashen hand, its veins prominent, protected her eyes from the setting sun as she squinted through the maze of pines, maples and oaks, wondering where he was. She couldn’t get home without him.
A twig snapped to her right, and Gordon stepped into the clearing.
“I can’t see Jack and Amy anymore,” he said. “Don’t hear them either.”
Hazel saw the worried look on his face. “I’m sure they’ll be along.” She gazed at the buttercups, violets, and honeysuckle dancing in the breeze in an attempt to hide her own anxiety.
“I hope so. It’s getting late.” He pulled the red and white bandanna from around his neck and wiped the sweat from his face and the top of his head. “Shouldn’t have done all that bending over.” He put his hands on his back and arched his stomach forward. A groan escaped through wrinkled lips. “I sure wish we’d found Amy’s ring.”
“Me, too.” Hazel took off her metal-framed glasses and blew a strand of curly grey hair off the left lens.
“I can’t imagine she and Jack strolled this far into the woods last night,” Gordon said. “They weren’t gone that long.”
“They’re a lot faster at some things than we are.” Hazel greeted Gordon’s eyes with a mischievous grin, one she hadn’t allowed out for a while.
“When they told us about the ring and asked if we could help them find it, I wondered how it got lost in the first place.” He smiled back. “Maybe now I know.”
Gordon walked to Hazel and laid his hand on her shoulder. He scanned the woods while Hazel inhaled the floral fragrances offered by the forest. Neither one spoke until Hazel said, “It may be just as well if we don’t return.” She put the glasses on. “You know how much of a burden we are to Jack and Amy.”
“What are you saying?”
“Didn’t you hear them arguing last night?” Hazel reached up and took Gordon’s hand in hers. “They can’t afford to feed four, especially now that Jack’s lost his job.”
“Damn that Frank Reynolds. If he hadn’t run off with our retirement money—”
“Calm down, dear. It’s not your fault.” Hazel felt the tension in Gordon’s hand.
Gordon closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.
“Once I find a job we’ll be able to help out,” he said.
Hazel grinned and grimaced at the same time. With Gordon’s bad heart and the arthritis crippling her hands, she knew no one would hire them.
“We should get going,” she said. “We can follow our tracks back to the house.”
“It’ll be dark soon. We won’t be able to see them.” Gordon looked into the woods. “If it hadn’t rained most of the day, we could have started looking earlier.”
Hazel patted Gordon’s hand. “Well, like I said, it’s probably just as well. If we’re not around, Jack and Amy stand a better chance.”
Silence prevailed as they bowed their heads. Wispy orange and yellow clouds watched over them from the horizon. Hazel intoned a prayer and Gordon joined in, their voices soft and shaky. The screech of a hawk flying unseen above the trees accompanied their amen.
“Did you hear that?” Hazel said.
“It was a hawk.”
“No. I thought I heard voices.”
“Mom? Dad? Where are you?”
“Jack?” Gordon said. “Over here.”
Jack and Amy stepped into the clearing. “You’re okay,” Jack said.
Hazel watched the worry melt from Jack’s face as he reached for Amy.
“We...,” Amy said, her hands clamped to Jack’s arm.
Hazel noticed the wedding ring on Amy’s finger. It was the ring she and Gordon had been asked to help find.
“It’s all right,” Hazel said. “We understand.” She walked over and put her arms around Jack and Amy. Gordon followed.
“We want you to come home with us,” Jack said. “We can make it work.”
And they did.