Steps

She recognized the steps. Stone steps which looked far colder than she ever remembered. But did she really remember anything from that time with clarity? She knew the answer; need not say it to the chill morning air.

The steps were another marker to the place she was going. Like the ones she had passed, paused on, they increased her feelings of anxiety, and she thought about stopping. It would be that simple. She did not have to go back. She had a life, a full life with no gaps which would keep her busy until she was done. She did not need this. She did not.

She stopped, turned and sat on the second step down, her lower back resting against the vertical of the stair above. It was a feeling she’d always liked; a security she never questioned. Yet security was a fickle beast that fed on innocence and asked for repayment at the very worst of times.

It had asked much of her and simply laughed and pointed and blamed whenever it had whipped the rug from under her feet. That was why she was going back. She knew the day would come when the house would ask for its own repayment, and she did not believe she would survive that fall unless she was the instigator.

The cold of the steps came through her clothes, seeped in slowly, made her uncomfortable. If the plan was to keep her moving, she denied it and took in the view the seat offered. Before her, the land fell away, until some way down, trees forced themselves out of the stony ground. They were coniferous, their deep green offering sanctuary and mystery at the same time. She had played in those trees, got lost in those trees, found herself in those trees. They were a part of her childhood, and she believed that, on the right day, in the right conditions, she could venture down into its depths and come face to face with her young self, her other self, and she would smile.

She thought the child would look up at her, perhaps take a step back, but wonder all the same. The gaze in her eyes would be familiar, after all. The lips remained the same whichever way they turned. It was not difficult to frighten a child, she knew, but if she did it right, she believed there was enough common ground to form a friendship.

Beyond the tips of the trees, and several miles further out she could see the water, as grey as the steps under this sullen sky. She remembered the water, too, though with less relish. The water was dangerous, needy, clamouring, and she had found out in the hardest way. That had been one of the first times security had surprised her with its sudden disappearance, and what miracle had it been, what god had answered her floundering arms and allowed her to catch hold of that old wooden pier. She had not seen or felt the splinters in her hands until she had caught her breath, her sweet breath, and had walked back to the house holding her palms down and away like it’d never really happened.

There had been many days since where she’d wondered whether she had, in fact, drowned on that warm August day and that everything since had been her own personal hell. She knew that was dramatic, but like false accusations in the heat of an argument, doubt remained in the silence.

Beyond the water, she saw the other side. It was filtered by mist but the town she remembered still rested on the hill that rose from the deep. People were alive over there; were going about their business – working, sleeping, hoping, yet she could never remember seeing anyone. There were times the town had become her own personal plaything, her mind inventing the inhabitants and moving them between one place and another. She wanted to make them happy. She wanted to see them smile. She had known something of love and had simply imagined the rest.

She wondered just how insular her life had been, was still. She felt an urge to scream but kept it inside; opened the box in her chest and tucked the exclamation at the back, where there was still a tiny piece of room. She surveyed the contents for a moment, raised a finger to her lips, then gently shut the lid and half-turned the key. She never fully locked that box; she knew it might be needed at a moment’s notice.

Yes, this place was so familiar. It had once been all she knew, and that was how the house had wanted it. She thought everything was hers, and yet nothing was; she was the property. The young frail body, with eyes that would dart for approval, watch for reproach. She felt a tug at her temple, looked down as was surprised to see her hand tightly winding her hair around nervous fingers; oh, how she’d once longed for forbidden braids.

She breathed in deeply, understanding everything she could and exhaling the rest.

“I loved you, once,” she said to herself.

She thought she heard a sound, a branch snap in the black of the woods and she stopped and waited. No one was there, of course, not least her younger self, yet she raised her hand and waved in a show of hope and solidarity.

“I’ve come for you.”

She turned and moved onto the top step. They were strange steps, indeed. Just four set into an incline in the hillside. Were they ever any more than this? Was there ever something at the top or at the bottom? She wanted to think there had been, but she doubted, still.

Perhaps, if she survived her insecurities, she would come back and change it. Build a glass house to keep out the wind but let in the view. It was possible to change things, she knew better than most.

She turned and made her way up the hill, to the next landmark, feeling the weight of the steps behind her. She was thankful they had survived, would survive, and wondered who might sit on them, next.