A more delicate world

The house sat on acres of empty land.

There were mountains to the east. She used to stand before the house on snowy grass and watch them sink into the ground in the early morning. The pale sun managed a few moments of warmth and radiance but emerged too weary for its trek across the blank sky. Her breath formed lazy mists whisked hastily away by the bitter wind. Cocooned in her woolen coat she was perfectly thermally content, but she longed for apricity.

She knew at least two kinds of warmth: of opposition and of accord. Alone in the gelid air she felt conflict. Heat, insulated and fortified, a miniscule ember in the infinite atmosphere, bore dauntlessly the winter’s endless seige. It enveloped her and sheltered her, dissipating slowly, sacrificing itself for her sake, so that she might wander among the icy, bristling blades.

In her old home, so many miles away, warmth was different. There she felt only harmony. The flames licked at the gentle breeze, and the breeze stretched the flames, twirled them, shaped them masterfully; it extended their reach through the night and mixed them into the auræ and souls of those lucky enough to feel their playful hands.

She looked nearer and saw skeletal oaks emerging from the landscape’s gentle curves, so too like hands reaching into the void. But the gales here didn’t flirt; they were not playful. They were powerful; they were commanding. They tore terrified foliage from these fingers and bore each leaf great distances to foreign lands. They left nothing but empty frames, fractal wooden forms devoid of (seeming) life and color.

Years ago she would have run to the trees and leapt into their dead, spindly embrace, scrambled up the sturdy trunk and rough limbs until she reached a more delicate world of twigs and branches. She would have inhaled deeply the frigid air and felt it fill her lungs, pressing outward, yearning for freedom, and she would have exhaled, pushing softly against the wind with her breath, watching the moisture crystallize and then dematerialize. She would have felt the bark beneath her fingers, gripped it tightly, felt not pain but simply the joy of existence—the harsh, unbridled sensations that reminded her how alive she truly was.

She watched the trees now and longed for those sensations. She’d climbed those darkened branches more recently but hadn’t found them.

To the west was a road: long, paved, thin, and improbably straight. There were seldom any cars on it, save her own and her family’s, but she spent many an hour roaming its inexhaustible expanse in her Cooper S. She drove with the windows down and her foot flattened against the accelerator, letting that icy wind snatch at her clothes and hair, letting that rushing wind render all other sounds mute.

And sometimes she would stop, suddenly. The windows would cease to be sufficient, and she would throw open the door to her tiny metal prison. She would race down the road on foot for miles, until she could sprint no more, and then she would fall onto her back and lie in the asphalt. She would stare up at the unclouded sky with its feeble disk of light, and she would close her eyes and stretch her hands and feet across the lukewarm tarmac. This was the closest she had come since she had sat atop those trees and felt alive.

Alongside the road for many miles ran the creek, whose soft and intimate sound was barely audible over the wind. Too small to permit swimming, and too cold irrespective of that, it captivated her predominantly on account of its native inhabitants. Few fish were audacious enough to traverse these waters, but occasionally she encountered a sufficiently motivated one. The stream was shallow and pellucid, so she could observe as these more daring denizens went about their lives. She wondered now and then if they were bothered by the cold, but having no common language nor manner of communication she usually put the matter aside posthaste.

She would walk back beside the creek, back to her car, and then drive back beside the creek, back to her house in the empty land, back to the mountains and sun and trees and familiar wind. Back to the rimy wooden steps before the front door, past the middle step that she always skipped because it creaked loudly, through the heavy wooden door that stuck slightly in its frame and shuddered violently when she finally freed it, over the threshold and into the dim interior. She would find the only well-lit room in the house, with the wide window facing east, and she would lie in the cushioned sill.

And sleep would wrap itself around her and carry her away from the mountains and sun and trees and familiar wind, away from the acres of empty land.