In the family myth, my dad once climbs a mountain with a friend just before nightfall. The two of them have to find their way back down in the dark. The mountain is really a long, round-topped hill in my grandparents’ backyard. It is overgrown with the squalor that encumbers all landscapes in the South, a tangle of weeds mourned every evening by fireflies and the constant sawing of cicadas. These creatures overtook the hillside long ago and never relinquished it. The devious terrain, whose shape is hidden beneath rotting kudzu and deteriorating plant matter, is green. So very green.
I’ve often imagined it this way: Under a painted sky, they listen to the cicadas sing. The cracked driveway where they sit, bored, still holds the day’s warmth. One of them suggests the mountain. They lock eyes and stand in unison. They think they have time, all the time in the world. And so, they begin.
Even as night keeps coming, coming—they rise with the land, walking the swell of the wave, stepping over loose limbs and poison ivy that grows like a cash crop on the forest floor. There is a point near the top when time stops, and the pendulum swings downward. Their laughter dries, and they notice all they cannot see. The dusk has leaked away. And they soberly turn to watch the last of the blue twilight drain off some western ledge. The trees offer raised hands, silhouettes for a moment longer, before the stars prick their way into the blackness. Lightning bugs emerge. Their echoes light little fires on the edges of things. There is no moon.
The silence is heavy when they open the storm door and step into the well-lit kitchen, leaving their muddy shoes on the step outside. It is midnight. They smell of dirt and damp fear. My grandmother sits at the table, slowly stirring her tea. The clock above her ticks into the quiet room. It is the same one that hangs above the couch in my living room. Though it is silent now.
She looks up. Don’t wake your father, she says.
Anna Oberg is a professional photographer based in Estes Park, Colorado. When she’s not arranging family portraits with the perfect view of Long’s Peak as backdrop, she focuses on writing tiny memories and small stories. She has been published in The Festival Review, Burningword Literary Journal, The Maine Review, Split Rock Review, and decomp Journal, among others.
Photography by: Anna Oberg