Johnson County Library and The Writers Place are pleased to announce that Sarah Donohue has won the open category of our writing contest on the theme of TIME with "Grounded".
Donohue has been writing a weekly column in the Estes Park News in Estes Park, CO for 12 years. In 2017, she published "Slices of Life, Estes Park; Best of The Thunker Columns," a collection of favorite columns from the first 10 years. She currently lives in Lenexa and does seasonal work in Estes Park, supervising the hiking program for YMCA of the Rockies.
Gone hiking. Back about 2:00.
She put the note on the kitchen island and looked around the room. The morning sun cast lacy tree-shadows across the empty table. There were no dishes out, no stray coffee cups in the sink. The pendulum on the cuckoo clock marked time in slow motion. As she watched, the clock—and its ticking—stopped.
She knew no one would see her note.
Three nights ago, when she told her husband she’d been to see a lawyer, he simply nodded like a boat stalled on stagnant water and looked away with an empty stare. He was a man who didn’t allow himself to shed a tear when his father died a year ago, or when his sister died six months later; he certainly wasn’t going to break down over news that his wife wanted a divorce.
Years earlier she had suggested they go to counseling. She wanted to be cherished. He told her to get a prescription for Prozac. She yearned for the touch of his lips on hers. Following a kiss, he would wipe his mouth like a child after the requisite peck on his old aunt’s cheek.
She was lonely in her marriage and had reached the point of hopelessness. She knew she had to make a change, get out from under his cool distance, his control of the money, his unwillingness to stand up for her when his grown daughters bullied her.
He left the tormenting process of separating up to her. Instead of dividing pots and pans, silverware, pillows and towels, she went for a hike. She wanted desperately to understand what went wrong. If she hiked long enough, maybe the answer would come. She could have tried longer to make it work; could have stayed, tending to his needs while hers got swallowed by the black cloud hovering over them. What she chose instead was to leave him. Either way, she was alone.
The hike was short but steep. It was good to feel her heart pound against her hollow chest as if to say, “You are alive, so start living again!” She came home and strolled through the garden, a plot they’d toiled over together, and noticed that her grandmother’s irises were the only plants showing their bold faces against the cold, high altitude spring. Just as she’d nurtured his daughters, for years she’d tended the garden with spades of gentle, tender care and buckets of hope, but nothing much came of it.
She knelt near the irises and scooped up a handful of soil. The grit was cold in her palm, but it smelled of the promise of spring. She spread her fingers and watched the dirt fall back to the ground. She saw more green then. There were tender shoots surrounding the iris, running down the garden’s edge, filling gaps where she’d planted daisies last year, which barely reached full height before autumn’s first frost.
Weeds! So early in the season! She pulled on one plant and with little resistance, it came out of the soil. There was another, and she tugged on it. She yanked at another one. Reached farther and pulled another. Leaned on one hand and wrenched another from its roots. More and more young weeds! She scraped her knees on the rough pebbles as she worked her way down the garden path. Her hands reddened with cold, pulling weeds from the dirt. Grabbing. Tearing. Clawing. Sobbing.
On her knees, she keeled forward until her forearms planted on the dirt. Her forehead rested on the soil between her arms, pressing into the loam. She wanted to grow roots there, sink deep into the earth, bury her pain and grow a new life. As she lay with her face touching the ground, she ached to wither and die, to decay until she became part of the soil.
She stayed this way until her legs grew numb. As branches became silhouettes against the dusk closing in, she lifted her head, the skin of her face tight from dried tears. Shivering, she rose slowly and with dirt clinging to her forehead, she walked deliberately into the house. She went directly to the cuckoo clock, pulled the chains to wind it, and tapped the pendulum. The clock began ticking again.