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Neil Moralee, Watchers in the Wood, flickr Familiar by Dorcas Casey

Neil Moralee, Watchers in the Wood, flickr, Familiar by Dorcas Casey

Walking her dog beside the wood one afternoon in July, Maja noticed for the first time a black mattress in a clearing of trees. The mattress was tucked inside the canopy of green leaves, almost indetectable. The week before she had seen a huge pumpkin there. It looked fresh and it wasn’t Halloween. She had thought at the time it was odd. Pumpkins of course didn’t grow in a Florida wood.

She stopped to observe the clearing. The clouds were gathering. The trees and vines and undergrowth was taking on an intensified darkness like it did on a rainy Florida day in summer. Her dog sat her little white bottom on the warm asphalt of the street, unfurling her long tail and sniffing the wind which sure smelled to her of the rain drops and wet street and wet earth to come.

Twenty years ago, her mother had flown down from Pittsburgh to be her with her for the delivery of her first grandchild. Maja was due on Halloween. When he didn’t come on time, they tried all kinds of silly tricks – walking backwards, primrose oil, eggplant parmesan, driving down a bumpy road. A week later, Maja had still not delivered and her mother had to go home on her return flight.

The night before she left, she entered Maja’s room where Maja was getting ready for bed. Abel was still at work.

“Maja,” she said, pointing a long nailed finger at her, her face framed by the darkness of the room, the only light being at the light on Maja’s dressing table where she sat, removing her earrings. “I know you have delayed the child on purpose! Don’t try to hide that from me now, girl.”

Maja, mute like she had always been over her mother’s extreme paranoia and superstitions, said nothing. Eventually her mother drifted from the room.

Maja shivered that night in her bed to think of it, the tightness of her swollen belly indeed hers and hers alone, thank God. Her mother’s absurd accusation she had prevented the birth reminded Maja of her loneliness growing up, her fear.

When Maja moved to Orlando with Abel, she had been grateful for the very odd climate, the exotic green an over exuberant lushness. It reminded her nothing of home, the cobbled and slightly frail seeming streets, the huddling of old dark buildings and homes so close to one another, the grayness of the days fall until late spring. She had gone back for her mother’s funeral right before Justyn’s tenth birthday.

In the wood there was something over the black mattress, something standing there, large and hunched. In the place that seemed to be its face, Maja observed the dark penetrating eyes, the ugly open maw. Was it a person or a tree? She had a horrifying thought it was some form of her mother. She gathered herself and made her way to her porch.

She knew she should call the police, or someone. But she would let the mattress set out there for the night.

Justyn was safe in his liberal arts college up in South Carolina. He would have laughed good naturedly at his mother’s belief there was someone in the woods.

How much that had cost her, she had thought, that laugh of his, its nurturing and its preservation.  It had been well worth it.

She went inside her three story townhome and locked the door.

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