BY HOLLY CORMIER
I stepped softly along the dim-lit trail. Your footsteps were a few feet ahead of mine, heavy but quiet. The trees filtered in a distant light, and the leaves shone an emerald green against the sky. My breathing was calm, but I could hear yours over the song of birds, a ragged, tired breathing in rhythm with your steps. Your arms hung limp, swinging like corns stalks in a strong breeze. I did not speak. I knew better than that. I just followed behind you, weaving silently through the bushes of our trail, keeping a watchful eye towards the woods in case of danger. I was always taking care of you.
The river in the brook that day was high, and the resounding current bounced off the dense canopy above. We walked down the hill that overlooked it, footsteps muffled by the raucous rush of water. Over it ran an old wooden bridge, built without a railing. I recalled the day we first happened upon it, back when I would lead you along these paths with confidence. I had run down the hill and leapt upon the bridge, swinging out over the side to watch. With your hands outstretched to grab me, you pleaded with me to be careful and not lean any further. Instead, I grabbed your hand with a grin and pulled you towards the edge. Your heart raced as we held hands steadily along the edge of the bridge, peering deep into the icy blue. We had stayed that way for only a few minutes, but walking back that day you swore we were there for hours.
But now I watched as you stepped onto the bridge, pause, then with a halfhearted smile lean out over the water. I dutifully followed, watching your every move. Because the water was high, some of it splashed onto the wooden planks, right where you had chosen to stand. Your shoes - not sneakers, of course, you never seemed to wear the right kind of shoe - had no grip along the edge and I saw you slip before you even knew you were falling. I yanked at the back of your shirt, just enough to steady your body back onto the bridge. I let go and stepped back, watching as you turned to me. Your eyes met mine for only a few seconds before you sighed and shook your head. Turning coldly away from me, you continued across the bridge and down the trail. I never let you fall.
The bag you carried on your back was full, rattling every so often with the sound of keys and glass. It was a common sound, the kind I heard every time we came up to our spot out here in the wild, away from the rest of the world. The clearing up ahead was dimming with the coming clouds, hanging heavily with the promise of an afternoon drizzle. I smiled as the sound of rain filled the air, and as I looked up at you, I knew you were smiling. From the way you held your head a little higher and your shoulders a little stronger, a kind of light shone from within your soul as you broke through the edge of the forest. My own light shone as well, a gentle kind, just enough to guide us to our favorite place. It was a rocky outcrop overlooking a shallow valley, perfect for a picnic.
You put down your bag, and pulled from it a blanket. Spreading it out, you glanced up. A few drops of rain graced your cheek, trailing down your face before landing on the granite stone. You wiped the moisture away, and continued to unpack our lunch. I joined you, brushing away the dirt and sitting cross-legged across from where you sat. I looked somberly at the setting you brought: two glasses, two plates, a bottle of wine, and one sandwich. You filled your glass with wine, and I watched as mine filled with rain. The dead can never eat, love, but I will always be by your side.