Silver Birches

The young man dressed in white helped her out of the car. She didn’t look around, but buried her chin in the collar of her gown.

They walked through the open metal gates together, and in the garden he let go of her arm and stood quietly. The crisp smell of winter filled her nostrils, and another smell, sweet and earthy like tree bark that’s just been ripped off. She looked up.

‘Birches!’ She gasped, her brows folding the ageing skin between them. ‘I know these birches!’ the memory burned her eyes, and she looked away, blinking repeatedly.

She began to walk alone, listening to her feet crush the thin ice on the gravel path. A squirrel jumped from a tree and rustled through a pile of dead leaves, startling her.

‘What is this place?’ she demanded, and the man gestured towards the white house at the far end of the garden. She looked, but her whole body turned around instantly, instinctively. She stood as still as the frozen grass blades, staring blankly.

After a while she cleared her throat and smiled, looking towards the top of the little hill ahead, where an old wood arch stood rotten. She bent over, swiftly pulled off her shoes and socks, and threw them as far as her weary arm could manage. The man rushed to her and grabbed her arm but she screamed and pulled it back fiercely.

She ran up the hill, then down again; spun around and threw herself onto the thawing grass, rolling over and over. ‘I’m the yellow dog’ her mouth blurted out unexpectedly, as if it was another’s. The unclaimed words startled her and her face dropped, as if pulled by a heavy weight hanging from her eyelids. ‘The yellow dog who ran through the arch, when there were roses wrapped around its legs and hanging from the top.’ The mouth continued. She squinted; ‘Yes! There were white roses, big as a man’s fist! and there was a yellow dog..’

Suddenly she laid still on the grass, then curled herself so tightly her knees pressed against her eyeballs. The man came and lifted her, unsettled by the inhuman screeching that now echoed around the silver birches; her legs dragged behind so he picked her up and carried her to the car the way you’d carry a sleeping child. Face buried in his neck, her cry grew quiet and she began mumbling made up words..

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