“Not much farther to the top. You can make it!” his mother with a smile on her face shouted down at him. Ethan felt disgusted with himself and dubious about her pronouncement. She would say almost anything to encourage him to push past his own limits.
Still parenting me, even in my thirties. Damn, when did I get so out of shape?
A week ago, his mother had convinced him to carve time out from his schedule for a hike with her at their favorite nature preserve. Early that morning, they had set out on their long trek through the contorted landscape of the oak tree forest. Initially walking together, he had talked almost non-stop about his job, his possessions, and virtual stuff which had become his life. After the first steep slope, he began to trudge behind his mother on the trail. Trading talk for breath, he fell silent to focus on keeping up with her fast pace. Still, she had easily clambered up another hillside to outdistance him. In the shadow of an ancient oak tree, his lean mother waited for him to catch up with her.
“C’mon, you’re almost there,” she urged him on. “We can take a water break in the shade.”
He huffed his way past, leaving her standing in the cool shadows. When she caught up with him, she pleaded with him to slow down and stop for rest and water. He sped up to pass her on the trail. She, in turn, sped up and dodged ahead of him. Overtaking and jostling the other a few more times was a hiking game they had shared when he was a boy. At the top of the hill and breathing hard with laughter about their mutual hereditary stubbornness, they stopped to sit on a moss-covered boulder. Silently, they watched crow parents swooping under their progeny to teach them the dynamics of flight.
“Ethan, are you lonely?” she ventured, as she placed her hand on his shoulder.
Ethan looked into his mother’s concerned face which age had already redrawn with wrinkles around her eyes. She always knew what was bugging him, no matter how well he camouflaged it with the excuse of his work demands. With only four words, his mother broke the spell he had cast to shield himself from others. His unconscious solitude had morphed into loneliness in the urban nest he had tightly woven around himself.
He looked away to watch the crow family fly off in the distance.
“Mom, how is it you know me better than I know myself?” He said, as he pulled out a water bottle and offered it to his mother. She declined in favor of her own water bottle. He took a swig of water. She pulled out a bag of trail mix which they shared, as they caught up on each other’s lives.
Leaving their boulder perch, mother and son slowly walked and talked at length until the trail’s end. They silently paused to appreciate the valley ridgeline ahead. The setting sun had drawn long shadows of their bodies over the illuminated tall, golden grass. They could feel the gentle breeze that caused the meadow to be a constant wave of motion.
His mother had suddenly sprinted into the grass to pick out a black feather caught in the sea of gold.
“For my son,” she said with a smile, as she offered the crow’s feather to him.
Page one excerpt from Road Noise Short Stories To Thrill and Chill 2016 © Belinda A. Allen