by Mary Eileen Ball
The woods are full of sound. To my right, something plops onto the leaves. I hear scurrying, coming from deeper in. Something moves high up in an oak to my right. And there is that density there, as if there is an invisible boundary between the edge of the yard where I am standing and all those trees, surrounded by a thickness in the air.
My son shoots forward and ducks under briars. He is next to a small tree, an I-don’t-know-what. “Come here,” I say, unable to get to him with the briars in the way.
He smiles at me and, saying nothing, walks two steps deeper in.
“Come here!” I say again, this time with more feeling. The briars are almost a wall. I look around and see no place to get in without tearing my arms.
He smiles again, but walks in deeper. We are only ten feet apart, but it might as well be a mile. That is the distance between us and the river, and my husband and I decided that our four-year-old was not ready for swimming lessons.
He walks in still deeper. “There could be snakes!” I say. This gives him pause. He takes a step toward me, then another. Then he stalls, looking down at a pile of leaves that are moving.
I rush in and grab him, tearing the arm of my maroon jacket while grabbing his arm. His brown eyes round in surprise. “Come on.” A thorny bush is between us. “Duck and crawl, crawl.”
And amazingly, he does it. He ducks under the thorns and crawls to me. I pick him up. “Let’s go inside. No more adventures for today.”
“No more ventures today,” he echoes. For a moment I flash on him, riding a bike without training wheels, taking the keys to the car, going on a first date. Would he always come back? Or would the woods pull him away into a density of his own life, missed birthdays, two-minute phone calls.
I said a short prayer, “Lord, let him always come back.” And we turned our backs on the woods.
Mary Eileen Ball lives with her husband and young son in the Deep South.