August 1, 2013 Comments Off on Forest Breath by Hailey Hartford
Dad had such a distinct scent. It was like he had spent all day in the trees, soaking up their pasts in his breath. The oak collected on his tongue, sap coursing through his veins, pine needles trapped in his beard. It was as if he had lived all of their hundreds of years, the way he talked, like he had been roaming the earth since there was nothing but those trees. He would always sit me on one knee and give me advice. It never made much sense, but I figured that’s how trees talked anyways.
He would tell me how to use the stars as a map, so I would never get lost, or which plants I could touch and eat while I was out hiking. He’d tell me what kind of snakes to watch out for and how to tell where north was when I couldn’t see which way the sun was headed.
I could tell he loved me. The way those big aspen lips kissed me goodnight. He never felt as wooden as he smelled. That was the best part about him. Whenever I told him that, he would laugh.
“Things are not always what they seem,” he’d say as he lifted me up from the sofa to his knee while grabbing whatever toy was in my hand to play with himself.
One day, after doing so, he stopped laughing and looked at me. He took me off of his knee, and walked out the door. He paused at the entrance and beckoned me forward.
He kept walking out into the woods, and he didn’t say a word. I had to run a few times to keep his pace — his feet were almost double the size of mine and where his legs ended is where my head stopped. I was too short of breath to ask him where we were going, so I didn’t pay much mind to his silence.
We passed about every tree imaginable, and I figured this was the path where he gathered all the scents. My head was lost at their peaks, and my eyes often caught sight of the receding sunlight. Panic never mounted though, because I was with my dad. He knew these woods better than anyone, practically was part of them himself.
He stopped, and I bumped into the back of his legs. He bent down and sat me on his knee.
“I’m not going to be around forever. You’re going to have to learn this forest like I have. Do you remember all my lessons?”
I nodded, and he smiled.
“I’ll hold you to that. Close your eyes,” he said.
I did, and when I opened them again, he was gone. For a moment, the forest started to choke me. But I calmed down and thought of what he had taught me. As I started my journey back home, I felt the trees start to cloud my scent just as they had done to my father.
© 2013 Hailey Hartford
Hailey Hartford lives in Florida and attends Full Sail University for her BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment. She has had poetry accepted for the Pulp Zine, and flash fiction accepted for Linguistic Erosion.