It was morning, and the day was white and soft with a low fog that had started the night before in the treetops and slowly shrugged to the ground. Our water line had frozen, which happened a lot in the winter. So many days we walked behind our father looking for the source of the freeze, feeling the black, rubber line for give and pressure, cutting branches in our path, making things clear again. I watched the forest floor for flowers that only showed in spring and summer. Hearts bursting with love with its pink hood and suspended beads of orange blood. The half-moon purple petals of a bluebell. Some bright hue in the endless bald of white and brown days.
We followed behind our father and his handsaw. The saw was a metal trapezoid with a glossy handle and a matte gray blade. In its usual place on the wall of our kitchen, the saw made a fine-toothed fence around the pink cabbage roses of the wallpaper. In our father’s hand, it swung with the strides of his body, occasionally knocking against his knee-high wading boots. My brother’s knit hat kept sliding off his head, and I kept stopping to pick it up, brushing the leaves from its red wool. We walked up the mountain past the young pines and into our rented 80 acres.
We passed an old calcium cave, a place we were told never to go. But on summer days while our father worked and our mother washed a sink full of cups, then plates, then silverware, we’d walk up the mountain to stand at the entrance of the cave and gulp its constant air. We hoped we were swallowing quartz particles, smoky and smooth, rose and yellow. We’d reach our hands into its cool mouth, feeling nothing but a cellar-like air, seeing only darkness.
Half-way up the mountain, we found the bad spot in the water line. We knew how our father fixed it, and we would do the same ourselves one day. We watched him as he loosened the metal cupping, and opened the soft black pipe. We saw a finger of ice slip out, and all the pent up water flowed again. The source of the water was a shallow spring that came up warm out of the ground and cooled its way down the mountain and into the pipes of our house, where in summer our mother added icy drops of it to her pie crusts.
The forest was quiet in the winter, a kind of quiet with its own presence, an alive nothingness that spied on us, watching our snow-suited bodies walk up the trail, watching the puffs of breath leave our mouths. My brother was small, a grown baby with bursts of baby emotion and the chestnut eyes of a singer/songwriter. I wish I could reach back to the girl-me and tell her to pay more attention. One day—when he was nearly a man—my brother would die. And for the rest of my life I would dream of his body in an unzipped body bag or under a mound of red clay, shut in the earth, sockets crumbling, expressions falling away.
Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s stories have appeared in Nano Fiction, Elm Leaves Journal, Glimmer Train, Florida Review and others. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her chapbook won second place in the Jeanne Leiby Chapbook contest. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband, son, and daughter.