My father used to tell me not to wander off into the woods for the secrets it held were too many, and one should not trust any being with so much to hide. He’d lock the door of the cabin from the outside and fetch some firewood while I stayed inside and read old stories he had written for me in a leather journal. He’d come home late at night with lumber over his shoulder and a fresh piece of meat in his hand. I would help him skin the animal and light a fire. Then we’d sit near the fireplace to eat. I’d put my head on his lap and he would sing with his deep voice until I’d fall asleep.
It was the day of the winter solstice when the sun left the sky before he arrived. I left the journal by the ashes of the fireplace and sat in front of the door, watching, waiting. The wind grew cold and snow blew through the windows. I stood up and closed them but even so, the wind still found its way through the cracks on the wall and into the cold cabin. I was not sure how much time went by that I sat in the cold, waiting for the doorknob to move. It didn’t.
My teeth chattered. I could not feel my hands for the cold was freezing them into ice. When sunrays began to peek through the window, I went upstairs to my room to get a thick winter coat. As I passed my arm through the left sleeve, a thought hit me. The image of my father lying in the snow, white face and blue lips, barely breathing plagued my mind. I went down again and walked to the door.
I tried to open the cold doorknob but it would not move. I knew my father locked the door whenever he left but I had never tried to open it. I walked to the window and pushed on the crystal. Wind flew inside and snow like needles hit my face. I bit my lip and sat on the window sill, allowing every part of my skin to feel the deep, penetrating cold.
I let my foot fall into the snowy ground and I lost my breath. I had lost count of the years I had spent in the cabin without ever stepping outside. I couldn’t tell if the chills on my spine were from the cold or from the fear.
I forced my other foot to touch the ground. I pushed myself off the window sill and allowed the snow to fall onto my skin. I looked up and saw the sky. Bright, white, staring right down at me and I was staring right back at it. I let the cold snowflakes kiss my skin and melt into them.
I turned my gaze down. The forest was quiet. Still. Not even the winter breeze could disturb its balance. I feared getting lost in it. It was so precious, pale white gowns of snow covering the dying green leaves. Figures like ghosts formed in between the branches as the snowflakes fell. I feared losing myself in it. It stared into my eyes and I stared back. I wouldn’t let the fear stop me.
I took a step, and then another and another. The sun rose and shone white over the sky. I kept walking and the white swallowed me. Everywhere I turned, I saw silvery white. I touched my fingers against each other but felt nothing. I could have sworn needles were clawing at my legs but each time I looked down, all I saw was the same thick fabric covering them.
The sun passed through the sky with ease and I began to think about my father’s lie. The forest did not hide a single thing from sight. Everything was right there, clear to the eye If one looked at just the right spot. The white owl and the winter fox didn’t seem to be hiding for me. They became part of the forest and I could see their figures clear in between the trees if I looked for them. The forest hid nothing for the ones who dared ask.
I never did ask my father about the locked door or the stories in his journal. I never questioned where he went each day and how he returned with fresh meat and lumber each night. I never asked. I accepted it. And alone, without answers or someone to give them to me, I was helpless. If my father never returned, how could I find my food or keep myself warm? What would I do if the stories in the journals ran out? How would I sleep if his warm hand didn’t sing for me?
I stopped and dug my boots into the snow. I let the cold water sip in and flow through my fingers. My questions were growing and no answers existed. I focused on only the one question. What if he didn’t come back? I cursed myself for choosing said question to try to answer for “if” questions were the hardest to answer.
I let my arms go numb in the cold and closed my eyes. If he didn’t come back, I’d find a way to answer my own questions.
I opened my eyes and the white blinded me. I could answer my own questions. I never did think of that. If he didn’t sing, then perhaps I could listen to wind. If the stories ran out, I could make my own. If I couldn’t find food or warmth at home, then maybe I should look for a new home. If he told me not to go outside because it would force me to ask questions, then just perhaps I should ask why. And maybe I should say no.
I squinted my eyes through the white. Brown stones hid between the layers of snow. I walked to them. The trees stopped where the stones were laid out. I dared step on one of them. My foot slipped but I forced it to remain in between the stones. It looked like a path, one I had only read about. I raised my head and looked forward.
Cabins, many of them but they weren’t like mine. Their roofs were bright red and smoke came out of their chimneys. Small silhouettes moved across the snow from cabin to cabin in thick coats and with warm bread. It looked so warm.
I stepped into the path and walked forward.